Watch Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and state health officials deliver a briefing on the state’s first presumptive cases of COVID-19.
Colorado has its first two presumptive cases of the coronavirus, COVID-19.
The first is a man in his 30s who was visiting Colorado from California and became ill in Summit County, Gov. Jared Polis said at a Thursday afternoon news conference. The patient is now recovering in isolation in Jefferson County, where he will remain until he is cleared by health officials.
The second case is an older woman in Douglas County who returned to Colorado from an international cruise. She is isolated in her home and “has had limited public contact,” according to the Tri-County Health Department.
TCHD did not specify where the woman had traveled or provide any more information about the cruise. It said the case was not connected to the Summit County case.
“We are hoping that she recovers quickly,” TCHD executive director Dr. John M. Douglas, Jr. said.
Meanwhile, officials in Grand County announced a third possible case late Thursday. In a Facebook post, the county’s Office of Emergency Management said a person “suspected of carrying novel coronavirus” was transported from the county to the Front Range for testing earlier Thursday. The results of that test should be available by Friday afternoon. No other details about the possible case were released.
State officials have been preparing for cases of COVID-19 for weeks, and, earlier this week, Polis ramped up the state’s emergency operations system to handle a potential outbreak. The state last week gained the ability to conduct testing for the virus at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s lab.
Polis said the state has so far conducted 93 tests. All but these two have come back negative, though 38 tests are still pending.
But the announcement Thursday marked a major shift for Colorado’s response to the virus, from preparation to containment.
“We have been preparing for this moment, (and) we are now in execution mode for this plan,” Polis said.
The first patient had recently returned to the United States from a trip to Italy, where more than 3,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed. Polis said the man’s traveling companion in Italy had previously tested positive for the disease, but the patient didn’t know about his diagnosis until after he had been in Colorado for several days.
On Feb. 29, the man flew to Colorado, passing through Denver International Airport, before driving a rental car to Summit County. Polis said the man stayed with two friends and his fiancée at a condo in Keystone. He skied at Keystone and Vail resorts.
“He was asymptomatic at the time,” Polis said. “When he arrived here he was healthy.”
The man fell ill on Tuesday and went to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco. Peter Banko, the president and CEO of Centura Health, which owns the hospital, said hospital staff were made aware of the man’s situation prior to his arrival and so took appropriate precautions.
While at the hospital, the man was held in a negative-pressure room — a specially engineered room where air does not flow out when the door is opened — and hospital staff wore masks and other protective equipment when treating him.
On Wednesday, a sample was taken from the man for testing, and it came back positive on Thursday. Because the illnesses haven’t been verified by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the man and the second case in Colorado are still considered “presumptive.”
Polis said the man does not require additional medical attention at this time. Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, said the man is in isolation in a private setting — not a hospital — and the state is working to help coordinate food deliveries and other services for him.
In addition, two of the man’s friends and his fiancée have been told to quarantine themselves. The man and his fiancée are in separate locations, Polis said. Denver Public Health said in a statement that the two friends live in Denver and have “agreed to proactively quarantine themselves in their home and not continue their regular activities in the community until the full incubation period (14 days) has passed and it has been determined that they are not potentially infectious.”
Banko said four hospital workers treated the man. They are being monitored but are not in quarantine because Banko said they took the CDC-recommended precautions when treating the man.
Polis said people on the man’s flight, who were at DIA or whom he may have encountered in Summit County are considered low risks to have contracted COVID-19. The CDC says the virus is most contagious when the afflicted are showing symptoms.
“There’s no reason to believe at this time that more travelers were exposed,” Polis said.
Polis urged the public to stay calm.
“Coloradans get sick every day,” Polis said. “I don’t want anyone to panic because of this.”
Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said her department has assigned more than 100 people to work on COVID-19 response.
In addition to testing samples from people suspected of having the virus, CDPHE is also standing up a “sentinel network” in hospitals across the state, to test samples from patients that have previously tested negative for the flu. The goal is to catch any cases that may be circulating but not showing severe symptoms.
Though CDPHE has said it has the capacity to test 160 samples a day, Polis said the state could potentially test up to 300 samples a day and is working to increase that.
“The more we can test, the quicker we can identify, the higher the likelihood of containment is,” Polis said.
If an outbreak gets bad enough, Polis could declare an official emergency, which would give him broad power to order quarantines, ban public gatherings, suspend state rules and take other actions. The governor said he won’t hesitate to invoke his emergency powers if necessary, but at this point he doesn’t think that’s the right step.
CDPHE is encouraging people to wash their hands with soap and water and stay home if they are sick.
More than 200 people in the U.S. have confirmed cases of the virus as it spreads across the nation. Several people in Washington and California have died.
The virus, first detected in China, has infected more than 90,000 people globally and caused over 3,100 deaths.