The New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) has put together a comprehensive response plan for the coronavirus (now officially named COVID-19) and remains on high alert, but the flu is actually a much bigger health problem for the state.
“We still believe that the risk of the virus being in New Jersey remains low,” said Marcela Ospina Maziarz, deputy commissioner for DOH. “And the level of preparedness is extremely high. This is something we work on every day.”
Maziarz was at NJBIA headquarters this morning as part of an update on health and insurance issues for NJBIA’s Health Affairs Policy Committee. The 50 attendees also heard from Shabnam Salih, who is heading up the newly created Office of Health Care Affordability and Transparency, and Justin Zimmerman, chief of staff for the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance, who explained the advantages New Jersey will enjoy by moving to a state-based health insurance exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act.
In response to the coronavirus, the Department of Health has launched a webpage that includes comprehensive guidance for employers and established a 24-hour hotline (1-800-222-1222) that has received 600 calls so far. The nearly two-month-old outbreak has produced more than 75,000 cases in 27 countries, but only 15 confirmed cases have been identified in the United States, none of which are in New Jersey.
Maziarz noted that the COVID-19 response is coming at a time when the department also is dealing with one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory. Fortunately, though, a lot of the work for the two diseases overlaps.
“This is just like any respiratory virus,” Maziarz said. “We do this work every year during this time, since New Jersey’s flu activity is still high.”
Preventative measures for the flu and COVID-19 are also very similar: Frequent hand washing, covering up when you cough, and staying home if you feel symptoms are at the top of the list. She also stressed that everyone should get a flu shot.