Federal officials said Friday that the immediate risk to the American public from the new coronavirus that originated in China remains low.

They gave the assessment in a press call as a federal task force declared a public health emergency in the United States.

Also Thursday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency.

Locally, Nebraska Medicine infectious disease experts have said that influenza remains a bigger threat in this region.

Local officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that those who are concerned about the new virus take the same steps recommended for avoiding flu: Washing hands, avoiding sick people, staying home when sick and covering coughs with a sleeve or tissue, not hands. More information is available from the health system and from CDC at cdc.gov/ncov.

Both federal and local officials are taking steps to watch for and head off the spread of the virus.

Nebraska Medicine’s emergency room and clinics are screening patients to promptly identify and evaluate any suspected cases.

The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit has not been activated at this time, officials said. But they said it is possible the unit could be used for treatment if an American citizen living elsewhere in the world develops the virus, as it was with patients who had Ebola virus in 2014. However, patients with coronavirus may not need that level of care and may be treated in a regular hospital room or at home, with appropriate isolation methods.

The Training, Simulation & Quarantine Center, newly opened on the ground floor of the Davis Global Center on the University of Nebraska Medical Center/Nebraska Medicine campus, is not intended to care for people who are ill. Its purpose is to monitor people who don’t have symptoms but have had possible exposures to highly infectious diseases. Officials still are discussing whether it would be used to monitor family members or friends of people who have developed the virus.

The training and quarantine center is part of the Global Center for Health Security at UNMC. That center is an umbrella for biopreparedness, infectious diseases and high-consequence infections research, education and clinical care at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine.

Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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