On Wednesday, Feb. 26, Gov. Roy Cooper’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 Task Force called for North Carolinians to take advance measures to prepare for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus – officially known as “COVID-19.”

The plea from state officials includes suggested actions for businesses, schools and health care providers in addition to the advice offered to individuals.

The Wednesday, Feb. 26 press release stresses that, as of now, there are no confirmed cases of the new disease in North Carolina. The announcement from the state came in the wake of another statement by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which indicated that all Americans should be anticipating and preparing for the possibility of a widespread COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

Ever since the threat began to materialize late last month, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and NC Emergency Management have been operating a team to coordinate efforts across the state. That group has now become the governor’s task force.

Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, the state health director and the chief medical officer for NCDHHS, stated in the release that the best time take to steps to mitigate the threat is before any outbreak hits.

“We are asking North Carolinians to continue to plan ahead for the possibility of the spread of the infection, while the risk for North Carolina is currently low,” she said.

The worst might never happen in this state, but the health officials said it’s better to be “over prepared.”

In addition to the usual advice for individuals – wash your hands frequently, try not to touch your face with unwashed hands, etc. – the new statement from the task force goes further and offers measures to be taken by businesses, hospitals and schools.

For instance, businesses should have plans in place for employees to work remotely, and should also be cross-training employees to make sure key functions can be maintained. They are also called on to review absenteeism policies to be certain that employees aren’t being encouraged to come to work if they’re sick. In addition, the state suggests, businesses should “establish a relationship” with local health departments in order to get good information to their questions regarding the disease. Businesses should also check the CDC website periodically for updates and guidance for workplaces as the precautions are put out.

According to state health officials, “The [coronavirus] outbreak has been accompanied by a global flood of misinformation from unreliable sources,” and therefore everyone should be thoughtful about what they read or hear about the virus and make sure they “separating rumor from fact” before acting.

Hospitals, the state instructs, should review policies and procedures for infection prevention and mitigation, and should make sure all employees are aware of ways to maximize the use of telemedicine. They are also being told to have triage procedures in place in case they become overburdened. According to the state officials, hospitals should also implement methods to prevent sick people from coming to clinics and emergency rooms if they have mild illness and do not need treatment.

Colleges, universities, other schools and child care facilities are instructed to review absenteeism policies and procedures to make sure that children, students, faculty and staff aren’t being encouraged to show up when sick. Like businesses, they should direct questions to local health departments.

Task force officials also had some general advice for everyone.

“No one group, ethnicity or population in the US is at a higher risk for acquiring COVID-19 infection than others. While some people may be worried or have concerns about COVID-19, it is important to not let fear and anxiety lead to social stigma towards friends, neighbors or members of the community. Treat all people with compassion and speak up if you hear others making statements that cause stigma against people in your community.”

For more information on COVID-19, people can visit the CDC’s website at cdc.gov/coronavirus. North Carolina resources can be found on the Division of Public Health’s website at ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus.

If you have questions or concerns, you can call the COVID-19 Helpline toll free at 1-866-462-3821. To submit questions online, the state is asking people to use a poison control resource. Go to www.ncpoisoncontrol.org and select “chat” to ask questions about the virus.