MILTON — On the heels of the announcement that a Weis Markets employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, two area physicians are stressing the importance of regular hand washing as a means to prevent the spread of germs.

Dennis Curtin, director of public relations for Weis Markets, said the employee diagnosed with COVID-19 was last at the company’s Milton store on March 18.

Since the diagnosis, he said one other employee who worked directly with the individual went into self-quarantine. No other cases of illness among store employees have been reported.

In recent weeks, Curtin said the store has been diligently cleaned and sanitized. An “enhanced cleaning” took place at the store Tuesday evening.

On Thursday morning, Evangelical Community Hospital announced that two individuals tested for COVID-19 through the hospital tested positive for the virus.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Department of Health was reporting no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Northumberland or Union counties. There are four reported cases in Montour County, three in Columbia County and one in Lycoming County.

The Department of Health reports COVID-19 cases based on the county where the individual diagnosed resides.

Amit Mehta, M.D., department director of Geisinger Community Practice, stressed the importance of regular hand washing as a way to help prevent the spread of the virus.

“Any time you touch something that someone else may have handled, you should wash your hands as germs can be transferred by touching a common surface,” he said.

“Washing hands is an important step we all can take to help prevent the spread of germs, like viruses and bacteria,” Mehta continued. “COVID-19, like many respiratory viruses, is spread through close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands.”

Without regular hand washing, he said germs can make their way into one’s body when eating or drinking.

“We often touch our face, eyes, nose and mouth without even thinking about it during the day,” Mehta said. “This contact releases germs into our body, challenging the immune system.”

Rutual Dalal, M.D., medical director of Infectious Diseases at UPMC Susquehanna, also spoke on the importance of regular hand washing.

“Clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are unavailable,” he said. “Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose.”

Dalal said most germs are spread by hand contact.

“All of us touch our face hundreds of times a day without being aware of it,” he said. “Viruses can persist on non-porous surfaces, like elevator buttons and door handles, for many hours.”

Cleaning surfaces which receive regular use is important, the two physicians said.

“Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and washing hands are always important measures to prevent the potential spread of germs,” Mehta said.

“If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with a simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others,” Dalal said.

“Studies suggest that coronaviruses may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days,” he continued. “This may vary under different conditions, such as the type of surface, temperatures or humidity of the environment.”

Dalal said the best way to reduce the spread of coronavirus is to limit the number of people individual’s interact with and keep six feet away from them.

“People can be infected, and the evidence suggest they can transmit the virus, a couple of days before they feel sick,” he said. “Children have milder symptoms, or even no symptoms, and yet can be infected and transmit... The best way to protect our most vulnerable fellow citizens and loved ones is to maintain social distancing measures.”

Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email kevin@standard-journal.com.

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