'It's a serious virus:' State health officials urge caution, preparation for coronavirus

MILWAUKEE -- A state health official says you're at a greater risk of catching the flu than the coronavirus. But healthcare professionals are staying prepared, communicating and monitoring people.

Nick Tomaro

"We really need to message right now that the risk to the American people is low," says Nick Tomaro, preparedness coordinator for Milwaukee's Health Department.

A message from the Milwaukee Health Department, as it continues to keep an eye on the coronavirus.

"It's a serious virus and something we have to be very cautious with," Tomaro says.

Continued with caution the same day the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency.

"That's not surprising, given the events in China," says Tomaro.

Over 200 people have died from the virus in China, prompting international officials to respond with the declaration.

"This is the top international body that is messaging to all the nations in the United Nations member states to say this is a situation of concern and a serious situation," Tomaro says.

"That it allows for additional resources to be funneled into governments that are having a very intense response to global health emergencies," says Stephanie Smiley, director of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The Department of Health Services says there are no confirmed cases of the virus in Wisconsin. Seven people have been tested -- one test came back negative, the other six are pending.

"We do have lots of people who are working around the clock on this, monitoring people who may have been exposed to folks or who are from the region," Smiley says.

Health officials say preparation is key.

Dominican High School

Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay is one of the Milwaukee-area schools taking extra precautions against the virus. Three students from the school, who are currently in China, have agreed to delay their return to the U.S. for two weeks out of an abundance of caution. The school sent a letter to parents informing them of the situation.

Wisconsin International Academy

A student at Wisconsin International Academy in Wauwatosa voluntarily quarantined himself after returning to school from a recent trip to China to visit family. That student has not shown any symptoms and was one of six students who made the overseas trip -- the other five are staying in China until the school allows them to return. Meanwhile, the school is helping those students remotely with academic support.

"We have had time to prepare and to really be able to respond if cases are identified (locally)," says Tomaro.

One state health official says the declaration triggers things globally that have already been put in place in the U.S. -- like screening at airports.

Thursday evening, Jan. 30, the U.S. State Department issued a level four travel advisory -- advising against all travel to China due to the outbreak.