Gov. Phil Murphy is trying to assure Garden State residents not to panic about the coronavirus that has killed more than 100 people in 16 countries.

During a Wednesday afternoon news conference in Newark, Murphy said everyone should know no one in New Jersey has tested positive for coronavirus, but “our state health authorities are on full alert for any possible cases of coronavirus and that we have in place strong preparedness protocols.”

He said the state Health Department has instructed hospitals across the state on how they should evaluate patients exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus, “including the taking of a full travel and potential exposure history, which is a crucial metric when determining whether a patient meets specific criteria for CDC testing.”

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli stressed the risk to the general public remains low, but “this type of virus has never been seen in humans before."

"The department is closely monitoring this rapidly evolving situation," she said.

Persichilli noted patients with coronavirus have reported mild to severe respiratory illnesses, with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath.

She said to deal with this possible threat, the Department of Health has convened an internal preparedness and response team, which is meeting daily and monitoring the situation with the CDC. Doctors across New Jersey have been told if they suspect someone may be infected with coronavirus, "mask the patient and send them to the local emergency room. When the patient shows up at the emergency room they are immediately triaged. They should be placed in a negative pressure room," Persichilli said.

Murphy stressed while there are no suspected cases of coronavirus in Jersey right now. Medical professionals ruled out one potential case last week, and another patient tested negative days later.

“We will continue our close partnership with both the CDC and other appropriate federal agencies to expedite testing of any potential coronavirus cases," Murphy said. We will not shy from our most vital responsibility, ensuring the public’s health and safety.”

Persichilli said the CDC believes symptoms may appear as few as two days after exposure, or as long as two weeks after exposure.

She pointed out as of mid-afternoon on Wednesday, there were only five confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States — one in Washington state, one in Illinois, one in Arizona and two in California. And all of these individuals had traveled to China.

New Jersey's coronavirus hotline — 1-800-222-1222 — is operational at all times to answer questions.

Persichilli said more than 100 calls have been received over the past 24 hours, and “the three top concerns are, 'Am I at risk,' 'What to do if I have had recent travel to or from China,' and school and classroom concerns.”

She noted right now only the CDC has the capability to test for coronavirus but soon, state public health laboratories in New Jersey will also be conducting testing.

More information about coronavirus is on the state's Department of Health website.

Health officials have indicated there is no way to predict whether there will be a major outbreak of coronavirus in this country, in the coming weeks and months.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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