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Richmond church holds virtual services over coronavirus fear

Posted at 5:06 PM, Feb 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-20 18:03:30-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- More than 100 Virginians who recently traveled to China are being monitored for the novel coronavirus.

Virginia Department of Health (VDH) officials confirmed 138 medium risk travelers and 11 low risk travelers are under public health monitoring for the coronavirus.

Medium risk individuals include those who have traveled from mainland China in the last 14 days, according to the VDH. Low risk individuals include US-based aircrew members and private travelers to the Asian country.

VDH officials said those travelers are asked to remain at home and avoid large public gatherings.

Worshippers at Grace Chinese Baptist Church of Richmond have been holding virtual services over fears of the coronavirus.

“The Sunday worship attendance dropped maybe 50 percent within the past couple of weeks,” said church member Diana Ding.

Ding is president of the Organization of Chinese Americans Central Virginia Chapter in Richmond.

In January, the group voted to cancel their Chinese New Year festival at the University of Richmond over fears of increased exposure.

“It was a very tough decision to cancel,” Ding stated.

The group also lost a large deposit after canceling the event.

Ding’s parents decided to self-quarantine in her basement for two weeks when they returned to Richmond from China on January 27.

“I brought masks and gloves when I picked them up from the Richmond airport,” she explained. “For the Chinese community as a whole we are limiting interaction with people who recently traveled to China, as well.”

There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Virginia. There have been 13 confirmed cases in the United States.

Dr. Michael Stevens, an epidemiologist at VCU Health Division of Infectious Diseases, said organizations need to be ready to address a potential outbreak.

The state's only unique pathogens unity, a self-contained unit to treat patients who tested positive for serious infections, is housed at VCU Medical Center.

“I wouldn’t encourage anybody to worry about it, but you should stay informed,” Stevens explained. “You’re far more likely to encounter viruses that are much more common like influenza.”

Stevens encouraged everyone to get their flu shot.

“You’re protecting yourself and you’re protecting those around you,” he stated.

The coronavirus can cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illness, like the common cold, VDH officials said.

The health agency urged Virginians to take steps to avoid respiratory illnesses, like getting a flu shot, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, staying home when sick and taking prescribed flu antivirals.

Additionally, health officials warned people traveling to China to avoid contact with sick people, animals, animal markets and animal products like uncooked meat.