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East Idaho prepares for potential coronavirus spread

COVID-19 warnings
A sign at Portneuf Medical Center tells sick people to wear masks.

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Coronavirus cases are on the rise and people around east Idaho are taking steps to prepare.

Idaho doesn’t have any confirmed cases, but some stores are already limiting the sale of certain items. At Costco, bottled water and toilet paper purchases are limited to five per person. At Fred Meyer, a five-item limit has also been set for sanitation and cold and flu items.

A sign on display at the Pocatello Fred Meyer Thursday tells customers about the five-item limit on certain products.

COVID-19 is edging closer to Idaho. 13 states, including bordering Washington and Oregon, have nearly reported 100 cases. The CDC reports 10 deaths in the United States to date. 

In Bingham County, a new list of guidelines is telling all county employees not to come into work for two weeks if they’ve been to any level three country or higher. Employees are also asked to consider postponing any travel to large events during the month of March. According to the memo, employees in violation of certain guidelines may face termination. 

Portneuf Medical Center said "quite a few people" have been taking a lot of masks. It should be noted that masks are not recommended for the general public.

"You're going to contaminate that mask if you're not trained how to use it," Louise Zalusky-Kamm, infection prevention manager at Portneuf Medical Center, said. "If you are immune-compromised, absolutely use a mask. If you are sick, use a mask so you don't get others sick."

Zalusky-Kamm says the hospital is ready in case the virus spreads. 

"We have a direct route into the ED. We have a travel through the hospital. We know all that," she said. "Our facilities guys are amazing and they are equipped to go ahead and put up a barrier as soon as possible."

Some area hospitals, such as EIRMC, have implemented controlled access protocols. Zalusky-Kamm said Portneuf has discussed it but decided against it for the time being.

The hospital has expanded its travel screening and is masking anyone with symptoms. Hand sanitizers can be found around every corner.

Recently, many people have been coming in thinking they may have the virus.

"Particularly cruise ship people - people that have come back on cruise ships - they are particularly worried because, you know, you had the Diamond Princess outbreak," she said. "So we have a lot of people coming in with, you know, not respiratory symptoms, but they’re just feeling kind of sick and they’ve been on a cruise."

Outside of emergencies like shortness of breath, having symptoms does not mean you should go to the hospital. It is recommended that you call the health department and walkthrough your symptoms over the phone.

The CDC is encouraging people to stay home from work when sick. All people should thoroughly wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, sick or not.

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