As if the world needed something new to worry about in 2020, now there’s the threat of a global pandemic, and authorities in North Carolina are ramping up to address that threat before it gets here.

This week, state health officials got a brief scare that the new “2019 coronavirus,” which is thought to have originated in Wuhan, China, had arrived in North Carolina. It proved to be a false alarm but the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is using the case to sound warning alarms.

NCDHHS sent out a press release on Friday, Jan. 24, stating that the department was investigating a possible case of the deadly new disease in North Carolina. In that release, NCDHHS stated that the traveler, who had returned from China and had passed through Wuhan, exhibited symptoms that could be the result of the virus.

The patient flew into Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Thursday, Jan. 23, with “mild respiratory symptoms” and he or she was held in isolation at Duke University Hospital.

Though that traveler tested negative for the virus, state officials are telling everyone across North Carolina to be very aware that the disease could strike here.

Zack Moore, a NCDHHS epidemiologist, continued to assure state residents that they’re likely safe from the virus at present.

“If you haven’t traveled to Wuhan in the past two weeks, your risk of infection with this virus is very low,” he said.

State officials are cautioning any travelers to Wuhan who develop a fever or respiratory symptoms, including a cough or difficulty breathing, within 14 days of leaving that city, to contact their doctor right away – and to call ahead before going to the clinic, urgent care or emergency room so that appropriate steps can be taken to avoid exposing others.

Testing for the 2019 coronavirus is currently only available at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); however, the NC State Laboratory of Public Health is now preparing to implement that test and distribute it to state public health laboratories.

NCDHHS is also encouraging doctors and clinicians to arrange for testing through local or state public health departments if they see patients with any signs of infection who recently traveled to affected areas had any contact with an infected person.

Health officials state that, while people should be alert to the new threat, there’s no cause for panic in this state.

“At this time of year, respiratory illness in people in North Carolina is most likely due to infection with influenza or viruses that cause the common cold,” the department’s press release stated. “People should take precautions to protect themselves and others from these infections, including washing your hands, covering your cough, avoiding touching your face, and making sure you have gotten your annual flu shot. “