When the news about the coronavirus emerged, the members of Arkansas’s health care and medical communities began putting in place the plans to fight the illness.

More than two months ago, the Arkansas Department of Health designated 74 of its employees to work exclusively on COVID-19. These doctors, nurses, and other agency employees communicate regularly with local, state and federal partners.

So far, we don’t have a confirmed case.

The Department of Health considers every report significant and will work with the appropriate partners to investigate each. In the event there is a confirmed case, the department will publicize that information as soon as possible. The health of the general public is its first responsibility.

There are several ways the federal and state governments are cooperating to prevent the spread of the virus. Most of efforts are focused on people who have traveled internationally in the past several weeks.

The United States is routing each incoming international flight through one of eleven airports. The Centers for Disease Control distributes flight manifestos that identifies every passenger who has visited a Level 2 or Level 3 country. China and South Korea currently are the only Level 3 countries. Travelers are screened for fever or other symptoms before they are allowed to board a flight to their final U.S. destination. Anyone who tests positively will not be allowed to leave the city where they arrived until symptom free for fourteen days, which is the incubation period.

The health department will ask those in Arkansas who exhibit symptoms to voluntarily remain in at home in a voluntary quarantine for fourteen days. Those who test positive for the illness will be ordered to remain in isolation in their home. If an infected person refuses to remain in isolation and endangers the health of the general population, agents of the health department or law enforcement may get involved.

We all can take the simple, common-sense precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus that we take to avoid spreading a cold or the flu. For instance, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, throw away the tissue, and wash your hands for thirty seconds. If you don’t have tissue, cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth if you haven’t washed your hands recently. Clean and disinfect telephones and other objects that many people touch. Stay home when you are sick.

In Arkansas, the Department of Health is the lead agency for monitoring COVID-19 and responding to all concerns. The department has set up its command system and will receive daily reports from around the state. The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management is prepared to activate its operations center if that becomes necessary.

One of our nation’s biggest challenges during this time is rumor control. Many in our nation are understandably on edge and are quick to pass along unsubstantiated information. If you hear of a possible case, call the health department in your county. The Department of Health will use all of the communication tools at its disposal to report any case as soon as it is confirmed.

We are following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control. Arkansas is as prepared as possible to handle an outbreak of coronavirus. We learn more about the virus every day, which strengthens our ability to fight it. More importantly, we are working diligently to prevent COVID-19 from moving into Arkansas.

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