The news has been grim this week.

Professional sports, concerts and other entertainment events both locally and nationwide have been suspended or cancelled and travel bans are in effect.

In Virginia, most colleges have switched from in-person to online classes for the remainder of the semester and all K-12 schools will be closed for at least two weeks.

On Saturday, Virginia reported its first death due to the coronavirus and earlier in the week someone tested positive in Harrisonburg.

And in the Waynesboro area, many stores are running low on toilet paper, bread and canned goods.

“For potential risk, if coronavirus or COVID-19 would come to the Shenandoah Valley, my concern would be for the elderly,” said Dr. Allison Baroco, medical director of infectious diseases at Augusta Health in Fishersville.

COVID-19 has been spreading since Christmas with no signs of it slowing down, Baroco said this week on WSVA, a radio station in Harrisonburg.

Valley residents most at risk are over age 50, as well as anyone with a chronic illness, she said.

Baroco said residents need to be prepared if coronavirus spreads to the Valley, cautioning anyone with a suppressed immune system to avoid crowds.

Augusta Health has a web page available to share information about the coronavirus, as well as answer questions.

“There’s a lot that we don’t know, and I know that’s causing anxiety with the public,” Baroco said.

It is important people take precautions, Baroco said.

“The best thing we can do as a society is wash our hands,” Baroco said.

Augusta Health has managed many mild and severe flu seasons in the past, according to a post on its Facebook page on Friday. If COVID-19 hits the Valley hard, Augusta Health has an emergency plan in place to handle a sudden surge of patients, according to the post.

“We are prepared for coronavirus,” Baroco said on WSVA. “We have the appropriate supplies and areas of isolation needed if this virus comes to the area.”

If and when a patient at Augusta Health is suspected of having the novel coronavirus, Baroco said the hospital can get test kits from the Public Health Department and commercial laboratories.

“We do have access to the kit,” Baroco reiterated.

The novel coronavirus test is a swab similar to that for influenza, and would be evaluated by the Public Health Department or a commercial laboratory, she said.

If anyone thinks they have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, Baroco urges them to call their healthcare provider for medical advice.

“The best thing to do in any health area, whether it be Augusta Health or if you are traveling outside this area, is to call ahead and seek guidance before going to that particular doctor’s office, urgent care or hospital so they are aware you potentially could have this virus,” Baroco said on WSVA.

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