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Ask/Answered: Did the coronavirus cause the widespread illnesses in Cumberland County in January?
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Cumberland County

Ask/Answered: Did the coronavirus cause the widespread illnesses in Cumberland County in January?

From the Collection: Updated coronavirus coverage for Cumberland County and Pennsylvania series
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What was the cause of illnesses in the area in January?

As Cumberland County residents and children continue to hunker down under Gov. Tom Wolf’s directive to prevent the spread of COVID-19, one question has gained traction: was the coronavirus present in Cumberland County before reports confirmed cases?

There was a string of increased student absences at area schools and a circulating illness earlier this year that have some looking back and wondering about the cause.

Pennsylvania Department of Health Press Secretary Nate Wardle on Thursday said those illnesses weren’t due to the coronavirus but rather a combination of two other causes.

Tracking COVID-19: Charts detail the course of coronavirus in Cumberland County

“The department was aware of the high number of cases that circulated throughout Cumberland County during the early part of 2020, but those cases included influenza and the norovirus, which causes very different symptoms,” he said in an email.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of the norovirus are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain, though it can also cause fever, body aches and headache.

The CDC said flu symptoms are fever/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.

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Flu symptoms can mirror that of the coronavirus — fever, cough and shortness of breath — but the coronavirus hits the respiratory system, causing dry coughs instead of postnasal drip.

Wardle said the first case of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania was confirmed on March 6, and that was after a number of prior were tested the month prior to that.

“There is no reason to believe at this time that those illnesses circulating in January would have been from COVID-19,” Wardle said.

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