CRS health official keeps close eye on coronavirus

By Carol Zimmermann | Catholic News Service
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A woman wearing a mask is seen at a subway station in Shanghai Feb. 13, 2020, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the coronavirus. Around the world, people are paying close attention to the coronavirus, which has infected more than 64,000 people and killed at least 1,383 as of Feb. 14. (CNS photo/Aly Song, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — The coronavirus has the world’s attention.

The disease, which surfaced in China last year, has infected more than 64,000 people and killed at least 1,383 by mid-February. It has spread to 24 countries and been labeled a global health emergency by the World Health Organization.

Suzanne Van Hulle, the global public health expert for Catholic Relief Services, is paying particularly close attention to the spread of the virus, also called COVID-19, to ensure CRS staff members in Asia are safe.

She said she and other CRS officials are monitoring the situation on a daily basis to see where new cases are showing up and would be willing to adjust programming so that staff members are not in contact with the deadly virus.

“We are tracking the outbreak closely,” she told Catholic News Service Feb. 14 from her Washington office.

CRS, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, has programs across Asia but no staff members in China. They have a regional office in Cambodia.

For now, the agency is encouraging employees to be vigilant about hand-washing and to monitor their own symptoms, particularly if they have been near anyone exhibiting signs of the virus.

CRS also has urged its employees in Asia to wear protective masks or clothing if they wish and also not to go to that region if they don’t want to.

“We encourage our staff to feel safe,” she said.

CRS’ Van Hulle knows from experience the potential effects of a deadly virus. She was working in Sierra Leone with CRS’ health team in 2014-2015 in response to the Ebola outbreak.



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