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Coronavirus information from North Dakota health officials counters social media pranking – Bismarck Tribune

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US advises no travel to China, where virus deaths top 200

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, front, and other government officials wear protective face masks before a press conference in Hong Kong, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. China has moved to lock down at least three big cities in an unprecedented effort to contain the deadly new virus that has sickened hundreds of people and spread to other parts of the world. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, so does misinformation and prank posts on social media.

North Dakota’s Department of Health is working to counter that and to provide state residents with accurate information about the outbreak.

The agency has issued two news releases in the past three days about its efforts to monitor and prepare for the virus, despite the fact there are no potential cases in the state and only six confirmed in the country.

Gov. Doug Burgum even weighed in Friday, telling state residents in a statement that their “health, safety and well-being … is always our top priority.”

Spoof posts on social media this week have indicated coronavirus cases in Fargo and Williston. At least one urges the reader to get more information by clicking on a link, which instead produces a prank picture.

“Yes, we have seen inaccurate posts on social media and are doing our best to counter it with accurate information,” health department spokeswoman Nicole Peske said.

The flurry of information the department is posting in news releases and on its Facebook and Twitter sites — including one tweet that assures residents “There have been ZERO CASES of novel coronavirus reported in ND,” also is part of the agency’s general effort to keep residents informed, especially in “a rapidly changing situation,” Peske said.

The virus has infected almost 10,000 people globally in just two months. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global emergency, and the U.S. on Friday declared a public health emergency. The U.S. has announced significant entry restrictions and advised against all travel to China, where the number of confirmed cases Friday was approaching 10,000 and the death toll had surpassed 200.

North Dakota State Health Officer Mylynn Tufte said state officials have received calls from health care providers but that no potential case has met criteria established by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Providers calling to report on their patients means that they are taking this event seriously and that our surveillance is working like it should,” she said.

North Dakotans can reduce their risk of infection by avoiding travel to China, the department said. People who have traveled there should watch for symptoms of a respiratory illness for 14 days after returning. Signs and symptoms of the illness include fever, cough and/or difficulty breathing. People who develop symptoms should call a health care provider immediately, disclose the trip to China and avoid contact with other people. 

More information is available at www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus.

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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