No coronavirus detected in Four Corners area
In recent weeks, the world has watched with great interest the story of the Coronavirus or 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) as it has spread throughout China, now infecting more than 60,000 Chinese and leaving more than 1,500 dead as of last week.
The Coronavirus had also infected 15 Americans as of late last week, who either traveled to Mainland China in recent weeks or had contact with someone who had. The Coronavirus story hit close to home two weeks ago, when it was reported that two San Juan County residents might have been exposed to the virus.
A joint press release from San Juan Public Health and Utah Navajo Health System’s Public Health agency stressed that, “The pair don’t now have the disease but are being evaluated in order to ensure they will be isolated and referred for medical care if they develop symptoms… Based on the information currently known about the patients’ activities, there is no immediate health risk to the general public,” the statement said.
According to Kirk Benge, Director of San Juan Public Health, the pair, whose names have never been released, should not have even been a consideration. They didn’t fit any of the risk categories established by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) when screening for possible exposure to the virus. It turns out they had a layover in China, waiting for a flight. But more than a month had already passed since their layover, and they were no longer at risk by the time they got home.
According to Benge, the CDC has initiated a screening and isolation process at U.S. Airports for people arriving here from China. The risk category at airports will be a higher risk, he added. The CDC has several categories of risk, ranging from high to medium and no immediate danger.
“The two from San Juan County didn’t fit in any category and probably shouldn’t have been a concern,” Benge added.
However, he said, the incident was good for the county. San Juan County was the first Utah county to practice the protocols established by the CDC for evaluating lower risk individuals, who might have been exposed to the Coronavirus. San Juan Public Health and UNHS Public Health worked together to ensure there was no danger in Monument Valley, where the two individuals live.
“UNHS Public Health Nurses tried to follow up right away, but the two were still driving home,” Benge explained. “The UNHS nurses did a great job when they finally met with the two and did their evaluation, but when rumors began circulating about the virus being in San Juan County, we felt we needed to issue a statement to get out in front of the rumors and let the public know there was no risk.”
A subsequent press release from San Juan and UNHS Public Health agencies on February 7, read as follows:
“Public health nurses have completed a thorough investigation and determined there is no risk of infection regarding two individuals who recently returned to Utah from Mainland China. CDC screening efforts had previously identified two travelers as potentially having been exposed to novel coronavirus.
In both cases, public health investigations revealed that the individuals are now safely past the infectious window. Neither is infected and they do not pose a risk to the community. Both of the individuals involved currently have no travel restrictions and can freely move about their normal activities.
San Juan Public Health (SJPH), Navajo Department of Health, and Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS) remain on alert and ready to respond if any future travelers are identified in ongoing screening efforts.
SJPH and UNHS would like to thank staff and community members that assisted in this response. We also thank the two individuals for their willingness to cooperate with investigations. We thank the Navajo Department of Health, San Juan County, and the Utah Department of Health for their assistance during this event.”
“This was a great exercise for us because we learned how to coordinate with UNHS Public Health and we worked together really well,” Benge added. “We’re watching and we’re taking this seriously. We’re ready to respond as needed. What they are doing at the federal level is good. It will give us time to prepare and respond appropriately, if needed. We now know how to respond and who should respond.”
Cari Spillman, Compliance Program Manager for Blue Mountain Hospital, explained that BMH is also taking precautions against possible exposure to the Coronavirus, especially in the Emergency Room. Spillman said those coming to the ER now have to answer questions added to the normal paperwork for the ER. These include questions about the patient’s recent travel history and if they have been to Mainland China. Do they have any acute respiratory illness or fever. If they answer yes to these questions they are asked to wear a mask and the county health department is contacted.
“The best thing you can do to prevent exposure to this virus is wash your hands a lot and avoid people who are sick or coughing, unless you’re wearing a mask,” Spillman said. “It’s the same precautions you take to avoid getting the flu.”
Benge cautions residents about possible false news reports and rumors found on social media sites. These reports tell of cases of the Coronavirus in southwest Colorado or other parts of our area. He said there are no cases of the virus in southwest Colorado or San Juan County or anywhere else in the Four Corners Area.
“There are no local cases,” he stressed.