Officials: New Jersey is prepared for a potential coronavirus outbreak

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New Jersey health officials say that there is no need to panic if a potentially deadly virus originating in China comes to the Garden State – as they are prepared for such an occurrence.

The virus has sickened hundreds in China, leading to the deaths of dozens of people in that country. At least three cases of the virus are now confirmed in France and two more have been confirmed in the United States – outside of Seattle and in Chicago.

But a potential scare in New Jersey Thursday night has health officials trying to keep the public calm. A 25-year-old Englewood woman was transferred to Hackensack University Medical Center after she experienced symptoms similar to the coronavirus. Tests showed that she was not infected with the illness.

“The actual mortality rate being reported now isn’t that high,” says Dr. Tanaya Bhowmick. “It’s about 2%-3%, which isn’t all that different from the flu.”

RELATED: China reports over 1,280 virus cases, death toll at 41 
RELATED: Officials: Patient taken to New Jersey hospital does not have Wuhan coronavirus 

Bhowmick is an assistant professor of medicine, specializing in infectious diseases at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. She says that she does expect to hear about more cases of coronavirus in the U.S. But she says that New Jersey hospitals are prepared.

“[The symptoms] are very vague, nonspecific symptoms, so it could be a regular cold virus that’s circulating,” she says.

Bhowmick says that if a patient does come in showing some of the symptoms of coronavirus, they will be asked a series of questions.

“We did this with Ebola as well. ‘Have you traveled anywhere recently?’ and then if they are identified as a person of interest, then they’ll be put in a special isolation room to try to prevent any spread of infection,” she says.

RELATED: New Jersey senators call for coronavirus testing at Newark Liberty Int'l Airport 

Many Chinese cities are basically on lockdown, including Wuhan - where cases have been concentrated. Some U.S. airports are now screening passengers from China, including John F. Kennedy International Airport. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez say that Newark Liberty International Airport – the country’s fifth-largest airport – should also be added to the list.

"Because it’s novel and not heard of - it makes it more exotic and scary,” says Bhowmick. “In the U.S. we are at a lower risk and that's what the CDC and WHO have been saying.”

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli issued a statement Friday afternoon, saying that the coronavirus is understandably concerning, but that the risk is still low. The New Jersey Department of Health outlined its preparedness activities related to the illness. The agency says that it is working with hospital CEOs and local health partners to create a website with more information about the preparations and the illness.

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