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A second case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has been diagnosed in North Carolina, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services said Friday.
Health officials say the two cases are unrelated.
The news comes the same day state leaders are asking for more testing kits from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new patient is a Chatham County man who traveled to northern Italy in late February in an area with a COVID-19 outbreak, according to state officials.
The test, conducted in North Carolina, is “presumptively positive,” the state said, and will be confirmed by the CDC.
The person is “doing well and is in isolation at home,” according to the state.
More cases expected
In a news conference on Friday afternoon, Gov. Roy Cooper said North Carolina expects more cases with increased testing. But that North Carolina and other states need more COVID-19 tests from the CDC, he said.
North Carolina has been “preparing diligently” for this outbreak before it identified its first case and the state’s plans have been relying on the CDC’s assurance that it will get additional test kits, Cooper said.
The governor has spoken with Vice President Mike Pence, and NC Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen has sent a letter to federal health officials outlining the state’s “critical need” for testing supplies.
“We are doing everything that we can to get more test kits,” Cooper said, “and we aren’t out of them yet.”
Currently, the state lab has enough supplies from the CDC to test approximately 150 people, Cohen said, and they’re working to get more. The state has also gone directly to the manufacturer, which has sent supplies to test an additional 500 people.
“While this amount is less than we need to test everyone that meets the new CDC guidelines announced earlier this week, it’s a start,” Cohen said.
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She said the state also signed an agreement with UNC and Duke so their health care facilities can test individuals. But the shortage of testing supplies will hamper their ability to test the number of people that NC should be testing, Cohen said. Physicians and health care providers are now able to request tests from NC-based Labcorp.
Officials report that they’ve had 10 negative tests.
“As testing increases, we know that the number of confirmed positives will go up,” Cooper said. “I understand that people are worried. ... The health and safety of our state is a top priority, and we will continue to approach this situation aggressively.”
Cooper encouraged North Carolinians to continue common sense steps to stop any potential spreading, including washing their hands, covering their face when they cough or sneeze and staying at home if they’re sick.
“We must rely on facts instead of fear,” Cooper said.
The new NC coronavirus case
The new case comes after North Carolina reported on Tuesday that a Wake County man had been diagnosed. Officials think he was exposed at a long-term care facility in Kirkland, Washington, the site of an outbreak, and then returned to North Carolina.
In the new case, the Chatham County man experienced “mild flu-like symptoms” in Italy, but his fever went away, the state said. He flew back to the United States the day after his symptoms subsided. The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory on Feb. 29 to avoid travel to Italy, particularly Lombardy and Veneto, two of the places with a high concentration of reported illnesses.
Officials said the man has not experienced any symptoms while in the U.S. and has been isolating himself since his return.
The man was a “contact” to a case in Georgia, the state said, and Georgia health officials contacted their North Carolina counterparts. Health officials didn’t answer questions on the specifics of how the infection was transmitted.
“This person must’ve had close contact with someone who was a known positive,” said Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, NC’s health director, in an interview with The News & Observer. “It means they were with this person within three to six feet for a prolonged period of time.”
Officials with the Chatham County Public Health Department went to the man’s home to collect samples for testing. The “presumptively positive” test result came back Thursday night, the state said. He will remain in home isolation until follow-up tests are negative, the state said.
Nurses specially trained in the control of infectious diseases are monitoring the patient and wearing protective equipment when they visit the home, according to Chatham County Health Director Layton Long.
The man’s wife is in the house with him and is in quarantine, but she does not have symptoms. She will remain in quarantine for two weeks.
‘Close contacts’ to be identified
Because the man experienced symptoms before his return flight from Italy, the CDC will identify close contacts on the flight and notify the other public health agencies.
State officials say the man flew through John F. Kennedy International Airport to Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Airports do not play a role in “contact investigations,” according to RDU Airport.
“CDC asks the airline for the flight manifest, which contains passengers’ names, seat numbers and contact information for passengers who were seated near the patient,” according to RDU’s website. “Public health officials will call the contacts and educate them about how to watch for and report symptoms of the illness that is being investigated. CDC does not release any information about the patient or the contacts to anyone other than public health staff working on the investigation.”
State health officials
said people walking through an airport, grocery store or library would not be considered at risk.
“We think there may be people that we haven’t tested that should have tested,” Tilson said. “Right now, because of the limits in our supply, we’re trying to prioritize the testing for those people who might be at the highest risk.”
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There have been 164 cases of coronavirus reported in the United States and 11 deaths from the disease, as of March 6, the CDC said. There are also 110 cases under investigation.
Nineteen states have reported the virus. Georgia’s first cases of coronavirus were reported March 2 involving a father and 15-year old son, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One of them had recently come back from Italy.
Coronavirus is primarily a respiratory disease, with symptoms similar to seasonal flu. According to the CDC, symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
“We know that it’s scary, we know that this is a new thing, we know that we’re learning more and more every day,” Tilson said. “And that’s a really anxiety-provoking thing for people, but I want to say be prepared, don’t panic.”
Flu is still a much bigger threat for people in North Carolina, Tilson said. But all the things you can do to prevent the flu are the same things to prevent coronavirus.
North Carolina’s first case
Ten days after the Wake County man returned home through Raleigh-Durham International Airport, he tested positive for the illness, The News & Observer reported. At the time of his return, he was “not experiencing symptoms” and presented no “identifiable risk” to travelers, according to RDU. His flight route has not been released to the public.
State health officials treated the Wake County man’s case as an isolated one, and said no one who had been in contact with him had shown symptoms or been tested, The N&O reported.
Officials would not say where the man had been since his return or how many people may have had close contact with him. They said they were following CDC guidelines.
Those he had come in contact with were asked to limit their travel as a precaution. That included some people in Wake County and other parts of the state who were asked to voluntarily quarantine themselves and check their temperature twice a day because they had been within six feet of the man after he started exhibiting symptoms.
“At this time, the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Wake County is still low,” said Chris Kippes, director of Wake County’s division of public health, at a March 4 news conference.
Wake County staff traveled to Washington
At least three Wake County employees have been identified as having recently traveled to areas with a high-risk of COVID-19, according to Leah Holdren, Wake County communications specialists.
“None of these individuals showed any symptoms; however as a precautionary measure, the Wake County Medical Director advised that these employees work from home pending her consultation with NC DHHS and determination of whether the individuals met CDC exposure criteria for testing,” Holden wrote in an email. “To date none of the individuals have shown symptoms or met exposure criteria. In the event that any employee or other individual met the exposure criteria, a test would have been requested from DHHS.”
No Wake County Health and Human Services employees were in King County, Washington — home to the Kirkland-nursing home at the epicenter of the county’s coronavirus outbreak — but some Environmental Health employees were at a work trip in that area, said Wake County Commissioner Greg Ford.
The Environmental Health workers traveled to King County in February for a work conference and weren’t in the nursing home, according to Ford.
“We have no confirmation, no tests, suspected (COVID-19) cases of any kind of Wake County staff,” he said. “I can assure you. I would know. Our county manager would know. Our health director would know.”
Changes and cancellations
As the coronavirus has spread, area companies have started canceling events and conventions, including Cary-based SAS Institute and Raleigh-based software company Red Hat. Instead, the companies are offering virtual alternatives.
The BrickUniverse LEGO Fan Expo, scheduled for Satuday and Sunday, canceled its interactive exhibits over COVID-19 fears. Attendees who are sick are encouraged not to attend and to email email@example.com for tickets to the 2021 convention.
Meanwhile, UNC-Chapel Hill became the first Triangle college to restrict domestic travel, particularly to places in the United States where there are states of emergency. That includes California, Washington and Florida.
North Carolinians with questions or concerns about COVID-19 can call the state’s phone line toll-free at 866-462-3821.
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