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MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. -- On Jan. 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading national public health institute of the United States, and the Washington State Department of Health announced the first case of 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S. in Washington State.

On Saturday Feb. 29, the governor issued a statewide emergency declaration after a man in Kirkland died of COVID-19, the first such reported death in the United States. Sadly, there have been 10 deaths, and 39 confirmed cases in the state of Washington to date. California announced its first coronavirus-linked death Wednesday, bringing the overall death toll in the United States to 11 at the time of this publication.

In response to this public health threat, Madigan Army Medical Center is coordinating with 1st Corps, Army Public Health, and local public health authorities for guidance, collaboration and response planning. Madigan is also working with community partners in order to ensure that we keep patients and all of Madigan's staff informed.

Now is the time we plan, and not panic, to ensure we stop the virus' spread. The best way to protect yourself is to have accurate information and exercise sound practices that are proven to stop the spread of respiratory illnesses.

There are a few important steps that everyone can take in order to reduce the risk of getting any viral respiratory infection, such as the common cold or influenza.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Do this frequently and thoroughly, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth and cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze; then throw the tissue away. It is important to stay at home, away from others, if you are sick in general. Also, clean and disinfect routinely touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

It is also important to know that those who are older and have pre-existing health conditions should routinely practice these preventive measures as these groups can be more susceptible to illness.

Lastly, a note on facemasks. The CDC does not recommend wearing a facemask except for those with symptoms of COVID-19. However, healthcare workers and people who are taking care of patients in close settings, at home or in a health care facility with COVID-19 symptoms should wear them. We want to make certain there is enough supply for those providing care to those who are getting treatment.

A number of symptoms have been associated with cases of COVID-19, however according to the CDC, fever, cough and shortness of breath are the main symptoms of concern. Exposure to COVID-19 is a critical component in identifying potential cases. If you have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, you could have been exposed to the virus.

Before arriving for treatment at any healthcare provider or medical facility, call your healthcare professional beforehand if you have symptoms, or have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19. This will ensure the appropriate precautions can be taken to protect other patients, staff and the JBLM community.

If you have symptoms and have been exposed, the MHS Nurse Advice Line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help you get the assistance you need. Call 1-800- TRICARE (874-2273), Option 1 to speak with a registered nurse from the comfort of your home with your health concerns.

Whenever there is a public health crisis, disinformation and myths can be dangerous. If you hear a rumor or come across other information, especially on social media, verify it at the CDC's website at https://www.cdc.gov to ensure it's accurate. Help keep your community healthy by only sharing accurate information.

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