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Returning From China? Here's How The Health Department Checks For Coronavirus

Luke Jacobs oversees the Columbus Public Health response team for infectious diseases.
Paige Pfleger
Luke Jacobs oversees the Columbus Public Health response team for infectious diseases.

With nine deaths linked to COVID-19 in the U.S. so far, health officials around the country are playing close attention to recent travelers.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are monitoring travel, and notifies the Ohio Department of Health anytime someone returns from a trip to China. The state then notifies the local public health department, which gets in touch with the traveler.

The person is then placed in a 14 day self-quarantine and monitored by local health officials for signs of coronavirus.

“It’s similar to our response efforts with Ebola back in 2014,” says Luke Jacobs, who oversees the Columbus Public Health response team for infectious diseases. “We had travelers coming from affected areas, we would make sure we had contact with them, and they were reporting their temperature daily with our staff.”

Columbus Public Health has received 32 notifications from the state health department of people traveling to Central Ohio area from China. Of those, 23 people met the criteria for investigation, and Jacobs says his team is currently monitoring 11 people at home.

So far, 12 people have completed quarantine, including local couple Suzy Situ and her boyfriend. They visited her family – some of whom she hadn’t seen in years – in Guangzhou, China in January.

When they returned, they were quarantined together in her apartment.

“Our Columbus Public Health contact called us every morning at around 10 a.m. asking for our temperature, our symptoms, who’d we been in contact with,” Situ says, “Just making sure we had been at home and stayed home and didn’t enter any public areas.”

Situ says the hardest part was getting groceries, which she ended up having delivered.

Travelers from China are the only ones being currently monitored and required to self-quarantine. As coronavirus spreads, with significant outbreaks in other parts of the world, Columbus Public Health officials say they are waiting to hear from the federal level if the travel advisory is expanded.

Jacobs says they are keeping in touch with the CDC, the World Health Organization and the Ohio Department of Health.

“It’s hard to tell where this road ends,” he says. “As long as we keep taking measures like this, taking proactive measures to protect the public health, we may not be able to stop it from coming into our community but certainly we can be prepared, and we are prepared for the reality that we could have community transmission.”

Jacobs says the best thing anyone can do in the meantime is to wash their hands.