Cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands and stay home when sick. That’s the message health officials are sending in light of the aggressive flu season and concerns about the potential spread of novel coronavirus.

The Rock County Public Health Department has been connecting with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control on preparedness in the event anyone in the county gets exposed to the 2019 novel coronavirus, according to Public Health Nurse Anne Weirich.

The novel coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. As of Tuesday, 12 people had tested positive for it in the U.S. with 68 tests pending. There were people with novel coronavirus identified in both Wisconsin and Illinois.

The 2019 novel coronavirus is a level 1 communicable disease which would require the health department to immediately reach out to identified contacts of those who have been infected, and quarantine them.

“Local health departments are ready in case there are contacts in our county,” Weirch said. “There is a plan in place and people shouldn’t worry. We are watching it and know what to do.”

On Feb. 5, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), UW Hospital and Clinics, the local health department, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the first case of 2019 novel coronavirus in Dane County. The infected person had traveled to China.

Nine contacts, or people the infected person had significant contact with, were identified and quarantined. None of the contacts were from Rock County.

Some of the criteria for being considered a contact would be someone who was within six feet of an infected person for a significant period of time. It could also include people who were in a waiting room with the infected person if the infected person was not wearing a mask.

If the event there is a person who is considered a contact of novel coronavirus in Rock County, the health department would work to locate the person as soon as possible.

The infected person would be quarantined, meaning they would have to stay in their home for 14 days or until their test results cleared.

The health department is staying abreast of the situation via three webinars a week with the CDC as well as regular webinars with the state and internal staff within the Rock County Public Health Department.

Symptoms of the novel coronavirus include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, which may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after someone is exposed to the virus. Symptoms have ranged from a mild illness to severe pneumonia. Travelers returning from China or contacts of patients with a confirmed case who become ill should let their health care providers know of their possible exposure before arriving at the health care facility, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Service.

Although novel coronavirus is a risk, Weirch said it’s more likely people could get the flu.

There have been 1,215 flu associated hospitalizations in the state of Wisconsin this flu season. Incidences of the flu have been almost three times higher than last year.

“Our biggest concern is influenza. People need to continue to monitor for that, wash their hands and get the flu shot if they haven’t done so and stay home if they are sick,” Weirich said. “The flu shot is not as effective as we would like but it offers protection.”

At Beloit Health System 90 patients tested positive for influenza the first week of February, for a total of 430 positive cases for the 2019-2020 influenza season to date, according to Beloit Health System Infection Prevention Coordinator Anita Henningsen.

While Influenza B has been the predominant strain since the beginning of the 2019-20 influenza season, Influenza A is quickly on the rise. Of the 90 new cases this past week, 47 were Influenza A, while 43 cases were Influenza B. This brings the season total to date for Influenza A to 170 and for Influenza B to 260. The majority of inpatient admissions have been for Influenza A as well, Henningsen said.

There have been 632 cases of influenza in Winnebago County for the week ending on Jan. 25, according to the Winnebago County Health Department.