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Portland Fire Chief Jeff Morris gives the Portland City Council information about coronavirus and its potential impact, and what is being done locally and statewide to help prevent its spread.

PORTLAND – Coronavirus has sparked worldwide concern, and although the disease has been largely limited to China and a few other isolated cases elsewhere, social media, news coverage and public conversations have all created heightened awareness of the potential threat.

Portland Fire Chief Jeff Morris talked to Portland City Council members on Tuesday, Feb. 4 about the issue, and said it is important to separate fact from fiction regarding coronavirus.

“You can’t hardly turn on the news without hearing something about coronavirus,” Morris said. “There’s a lot of incorrect information out there. What we do know is that it was first recognized in Wuhan, China in early January 2020, and it originated at a wildlife market.

“Previously, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) also came out of China and it originated with cats.”

Coronavirus is not actually a new virus, Morris said, adding that there are seven different strains.

“This one is a little more aggressive, and it progresses into pneumonia quite rapidly,” he said.

Precautions that are routinely taken to help prevent the spread of the flu are also recommended to help prevent coronavirus.

“Hand washing is important, respiratory hygiene, which is coughing into a tissue or your arm (instead of the open air), keeping a good social distance from people, especially if you are sick, seeking medical care only if you have a fever, and getting the pneumonia vaccine for those who are elderly or medically risk,” Morris said.

One myth that is sometimes repeated is that coronavirus is a worldwide pandemic, he said.

“That is false, but there is an emergency state,” Morris said.

The typical incubation period for the virus is 2-14 days, and Morris said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a quarantine for up to 14 days for those who have traveled to areas where the disease has been detected.

“Another myth is that coronavirus is always fatal, and that is false,” Morris said. “In China, there have been 17,000 confirmed cases and 427 fatalities.

“In the U.S. there have been 11 confirmed cases,” he said, referring to a map that showed coronavirus in Washington, California, Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

“This is by no means anything to take lightly but it’s not as predominate as the flu,” Morris said.

In Texas, emergency management coordinators from throughout the state held conference calls to discuss coronavirus and other concerns, and fire departments and first responders are keeping tabs on developments.

“Texas in particular is keeping a very close watch on who and what is coming into our state, and with the DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) Airport, we have one of the busiest airports in the world,” Morris said.

“Ships coming into the Port of Corpus Christi are required to report any sick patients coming in. There is also a global restriction on travel to affected regions.”

One of the organizations closely monitoring coronavirus developments is the Texas Association of Fire Chiefs, Morris said.

“We have a very low risk at this point for first responders, and masks are used when anyone is suspected to have the flu or similar illnesses,” he said.

Portland Mayor Cathy Skurow said she has also stayed informed about the virus.

“I have been dialed in on some of the calls,” she said. “Officials are working behind the scenes to keep us safe.”

Some of the most basic tips can help reduce coronavirus and flu threats, Morris said.

“It’s important that people wash their hands and practice good hygiene, and if you’re sick, stay home,” he said.

Jeff Osborne is editor of the News of San Patricio and the Refugio County Press.