People returning to Cowley County from certain states and countries will be under an isolation order to stop the potential spread of the coronavirus.

The order also applies to people who have had close contact with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases.

Public Health Officer Thomas Langer on Thursday issued a press release announcing the order that requires those people to remain in a place of isolation for two weeks or until contagion can be ruled out, according to the release.

“The probability of local residents contracting this illness remains low, but our overall risk level may be increasing as people who have traveled return home,” the release states.

In a phone interview, Langer added that the order comes out of an abundance of caution. He wasn’t sure if other counties in the region are doing the same thing.

“We do not want to spread this, especially to our elderly community where so far this has proven to be pretty devastating,” Langer said.

Also, hospitals and other health providers could become overwhelmed if the virus spreads quickly, like it has in other locations such as China and Italy.

People will be coming back from spring break trips soon and also leaving on trips as well, Langer said. Both Cowley College and Ark City public schools are on break this week; Winfield public schools are off next week.

“Our big concerns now is what may have they been exposed to, and what are they bringing back,” Langer said.

Those subject to the isolation order, which was effective as of Thursday, include people who:

• has traveled overseas from countries listed by the CDC as level 3 and 2;

• has had direct contact with somebody suspected of having or diagnosed with COVID-19;

• has recently have been to states with ongoing person-to-person transmission, which as of Thursday was Florida, New York, California or Washington.

“I know for a fact that we have people that may have gone to those areas, especially over spring break,” Langer said.

Those people would be asked to stay home and to avoid large gatherings. There is legal authority to enforce such an order, Langer said, but he added “that’s not the plan” and hopes to rely on people’s altruism.

“Physicians and other health care providers are authorized to restrict individuals to isolation in the home until confirmation that latent illness does not exist can be had,” the release states.

Those isolated would be monitored remotely and asked to chart their temperature and report any signs of illness, Langer said.

If symptoms did appear, the person would be taken for testing in an isolated fashion, Langer said. People who test positive could return home but would remain under isolation. 

Should I go places?

Langer said Thursday that he does not see a need yet to cancel local events, because there are no known cases here and no known person-to-person transmission.

“We’re going to be hopeful, but we’re going to be guarded,” he said.

The mortality rate is highest among those 70 and older and those with existing problems such as COPD, lung disease or undergoing chemotherapy, he said. On the flip side, children age 0-9 have shown no infection so far, although they could be carriers.

It is still cold and flu season, and now allergy season, which can complicate when people think they should get checked out.

Langer said those with a high fever (more than 101 degrees) and a painful, dry cough should contact a health care provider. The onset of those symptoms is usually fast, he said. Test will be done to rule out things like flu and respiratory virus before a COVID-19 test is ordered, he said.

“It’s multi-faceted and there’s a lot of layers and there’s a lot of protocol to try to follow, so that we can do this in professional logical and a nonthreatening fashion (to) folks, he said. “I just don’t want them to freak out.”

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