A health care professional who works at hospitals in Weld and Larimer counties has been identified as one of the nearly three dozen people who tested positive for the coronavirus in Colorado, The Colorado Sun has learned.
People who came into prolonged, close contact with the woman in a Banner Health emergency room are being notified and asked to home-quarantine for 14 days, according to a source close to the investigation who spoke to The Sun on the condition of anonymity.
The woman may have been infected by a friend, who had recently traveled overseas, the source said. The friend had sought a test for COVID-19, but was denied because she didn’t meet the strict criteria that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has in place due to the limited capacity for testing, the source said.
The source didn’t know how long the women had been ill, but said both are now confined to their homes, one in Larimer County and one in Weld County.
Results from a COVID-19 test on the friend are pending, according to the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment. Postitive tests for 11 additional people were reported Thursday morning by the CDPHE, but none corresponded to the friend’s location.
The health care professional is a “team member” at Banner Health, according to an email sent by hospital managers to some employees this week. A copy was obtained by The Sun.
She works at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley and at a Banner facility in Larimer County, said the source, who added that the woman didn’t work with any high-risk populations. Banner runs both McKee Medical Center in Loveland and Banner Fort Collins Medical Center.
The woman was treated at an emergency room over the weekend, but the source did not know at which Banner facility. The woman, in her 50s, was diagnosed with pneumonia and her COVID-19 test came back Monday, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The source did not know what job the woman has, nor whether she worked with the public or behind the scenes, but said she had been a nurse at one point. The woman hadn’t been at work for an indeterminate time because she hadn’t been feeling well, the source said.
Health investigators believe the greatest exposure risk for coronavirus was to those who treated her in the ER, and not to anyone she may have seen on the job or in the community, the source said.
Guidelines from the CDC outline specific infection prevention practices that should be taken if a patient is suspected of having COVID-19, including having health care providers wear a respirator or mask, gloves, gown, eye protection, and caring for the patient in a single-person room with the door closed if possible. In this case, the woman didn’t meet the CDC standards for being at risk of COVID-19, so it’s not clear if she was treated as a possible coronavirus case initially.
County recommendations call for anyone who had direct contact with a COVID-19 infected person (within six feet) for at least 10 minutes to be notified and placed into home-quarantine for 14 days, and to be tested if they show symptoms. As of Wednesday, none of the ER workers were showing symptoms, the source said.
David Lozano, a spokesman for Banner Health in Phoenix, where the company is headquartered, said Wednesday that he could not comment on anything relating to the story, including whether anyone at the hospitals had been at risk of being exposed to the virus.
A meeting between Banner and county health officials was scheduled for Thursday, but was canceled by the hospital, the source said. Banner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Current CDC guidelines for COVID-19 testing look for two criteria, such as fever or signs of a lower respiratory illness like a cough or trouble breathing, along with a history of recent travel to an area with ongoing community transmission.
In the case of the health care worker, it was her friend who traveled, not the woman herself, the source said. The friend had also sought medical care, but because she only transited through South Korea and the other countries she visited weren’t considered at risk for COVID-19, CDC guidelines said she didn’t need to be tested.
She was tested after the health care worker was identified as presumed positive on Monday. A person is considered presumed positive until the state tests have been verified by the CDC.
Weld County spokesman Eric Aakko said Thursday the county was working with Larimer County and North Colorado Medical Center on appropriate followup, including notification of close contacts.
An adult who had contact with the health care worker at home is now also in self-quarantine, according to Katie O’Donnell, a spokeswoman for the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment. That person has not shown symptoms and so hasn’t been tested, O’Donnell said.
The health care worker is among 33 people in Colorado who by Wednesday had tested positive for the virus, including 9 patients newly diagnosed in Aspen.
Gov. Jared Polis issued an emergency declaration on Wednesday and told Coloradans on Wednesday to prepare for more infections.
“This will get worse before it gets better,” he told reporters, calling the outbreak a “test of our Colorado character” that has no end in sight.
“There are more difficult days ahead,” he added.
This story was updated at 3:36 p.m. on March 12, 2020.