By Anne Blythe and Rose Hoban
North Carolina has its first case of COVID-19, the new coronavirus that has spread around the globe since late last year, causing travel restrictions, quarantines, stock market plunges as well as public health scares and planning of epidemic proportions.
State health officials reported on Tuesday afternoon that a person in Wake County had tested positive in a lab test, conducted by North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health.
The state lab, located in Raleigh, has only been able to run diagnostic testing for COVID-19 for about a day. So, the results have been submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lab for further testing and confirmation.
The person, who was in Washington and exposed at a long-term care facility, health officials said, is doing well and in isolation at home somewhere in Wake County. State health officials declined to give any details about the person, including gender or age.
The person flew back to North Carolina from the Seattle area on a commercial flight. State Health and Human Services Sec. Mandy Cohen said local health officials are doing “contact tracing” with people who may have been exposed to the patient during transit.
“That includes going back to making sure folks on that flight are made aware,” Cohen said. “That work is just beginning.”
“I know that people are worried about this virus, and I want to assure North Carolinians our state is prepared,” Gov. Roy Cooper in a statement. “Our task force and state agencies are working closely with local health departments, health care providers and others to quickly identify and respond to cases that might occur.”
The release from Cooper’s office states that the case is an isolated one and notes that COVID-19 is currently not widespread in North Carolina.
Planning meets reality
North Carolina public health officials have spent months planning for the possibility that someone in this state would test positive for COVID-19. They’ve developed elaborate responses for a range of scenarios.
In early February, state health director Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson issued an order setting out requirements for reporting any suspected or actual cases to the state.
It’s a mandate for physicians or labs to contact the state when “novel coronavirus infection is reasonably suspected to exist. The physician shall make the report to the local health director of the county or district in which the patient resides.”
In mid-February, shortly after some of the early cases were reported in the United States, Zack Moore, the state epidemiologist, told North Carolina lawmakers that health care workers across the state were preparing for the worst while hoping they had overplanned.
“There are a lot of uncertainties so we need to acknowledge that we could end up with widespread transmission in North Carolina and across the country,” Moore said at the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services.
In announcing the case today, state health officials tried to tamp down any urge to panic.
“We have been preparing and continue to prepare to respond to COVID-19 or the new coronavirus,” Cohen, said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon to announce the first case. “We put together an aggressive containment strategy, of rapidly identifying suspected cases, testing them and doing any contact tracing.”
Health care facilities have been stockpiling supplies for health care workers and those diagnosed with the illness. Quarantine procedures have been in place for years and labs equipped to test for the virus have protocols for keeping the strain isolated.
Gov. Cooper created a task force in February to monitor the infectious disease as it spread from China across the continents.
The United States reported its first case of COVID-19 in late January. The first death in this country was reported Feb. 29 in Washington, where state officials confirmed a man with “underlying conditions” had succumbed to illness related to the virus.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses transmitted between animals and humans.
Symptoms can range from the coughs and runny noses accompanying a common cold to the more severe fevers, aches and thick flu-like congestion that can lead to respiratory pneumonia.
In most cases, people do not develop severe illness, according to the World Health Organization.
Past coronavirus outbreaks
MERS, or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, and SARS, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, are coronaviruses that caused outbreaks that moved to this country.
COVID-19, the newest coronavirus, was detected late last year in Wuhan City in China’s Hubei Province. The genome sequence shows it to be a betacoronavirus, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has its origins in bats, similar to MERS and SARS.
The CDC has been keeping track of the COVID-19 spread since its detection.
Great he has brought the deadly virus here to NC. What kind of idiot would go to an establishment where 7 people are dead because of this highly contagious, easy to spread virus? This is no joke. People are dying. I have no words to express how sorry I am for the people on the return flight and anyone else who this ignorant person was in contact with. It will only get worse because no one is restricting flights or travel. All planes, trains and buses should not be going anywhere, period! The more everyone travels the more cases and deaths until eventually it will be too late for all of us.
There’s a lot we don’t know about this person, including whether it was even known that coronavirus was spreading at the time he was in Washington state. States only have had the ability to test for the virus in the past week.
What’s likely the most productive thing to do is to keep oneself safe by frequently washing hands, coughing and sneezing into your elbow rather than your hands and staying home if you feel unwell.
What kind of steps does the government provide to truly know where he goes? How do we know if this man will truly be quarantined at home and not out at grocery store or eating at a restaurant this week or so? Is there a tracker on him? How can we trust him to stay home given he just flew right back from the Coronavirus hot zone facility in Seattle without thinking twice!
Where can you get tested for COVID? I have been to my Dr., am a high risk person as is my spouse and we both have been symptomatic for 3 weeks. We have also been under self quarantine for the entire time except to go to the doctor. Please help.
Call your county health department. They’ll be able to help you.
thank you – be well
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