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Erie County prepares as coronavirus concerns spread

The University at Buffalo postponed its annual Chinese New Year gala, citing concerns from community members about attendees who may have traveled abroad recently.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Erie County says it's helping local health-care facilities and providers prepare for the coronavirus as concern spreads nationwide.

There are two confirmed cases in the United States of coronavirus, which is a respiratory illness that may cause mild to moderate symptoms. One of those cases is in the Seattle area, the other in Chicago.

The Erie County Department of Health says it's prepared to help health-care facilities and providers identify patients who have "novel coronavirus symptoms and a travel history to affected areas in China, or close contact with a confirmed case or of a person under investigation."

"At this point we have no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Erie County, and we are closely following the most recent guidance and recommendations from CDC and New York State Department of Health to coordinate any local response," Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said in a Saturday statement.

"Novel coronavirus symptoms are similar to other respiratory illnesses, including influenza. We would like to remind Erie County residents to continue to take steps to prevent the spread of respiratory infections with frequent handwashing, staying home if you are sick, and avoiding close contact with people who are ill."

Several major airports across the country are screening passengers who traveled to Wuhan, China, where coronavirus has infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41, according to the Associated Press.

Buffalo is not one of them, but Toronto's Pearson International and New York's JFK are. The CDC is flagging passengers who need more testing, and possible coronavirus patients will be taken to the hospital immediately. 

With its high population of Chinese students, the University at Buffalo is also taking necessary precautions. 

It postponed its annual Chinese New Year gala because there were general concerns from community members about attendees who may have traveled abroad recently.

The university says it's not aware of any students, faculty or staff who have been exposed to the coronavirus, but added that it's monitoring the progression and taking necessary steps to protect the entire community.

On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued the state's response plan to the virus after reports that four people in New York State were under investigation by health officials for the coronavirus.

Officials say the four people are in isolation while tests are being conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of those cases tested negative, and three others are still pending. 

"As we learn about the first confirmed cases of this novel coronavirus in the United States and potentially in New York, I want to assure New Yorkers that we are prepared," Governor Cuomo said Friday.

"We are undertaking a wide-reaching and rigorous effort with all stakeholders, including healthcare providers, airports and federal health officials, to put in place the appropriate precautions to keep New Yorkers safe. The symptoms of this virus are very similar to a common cold. If you are concerned that you might be ill, please follow our guidance to protect yourself and others."

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