Utah Health Officials Preparing For Possible ‘Community Spread’ Of Coronavirus

Feb 28, 2020, 6:02 PM | Updated: Mar 2, 2020, 3:10 pm


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah health officials are preparing for a potential outbreak after a case of COVID-19 was contracted through “community spread” in California.

Doctors don’t know how or when the Sacramento, California, woman got the coronavirus and local health officials said that impacts testing and the way communities will prepare.

“It is possible that this is the first instance of community spread of COVID-19 in the United States,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health.

Dunn said the risk for catching the coronavirus in the U.S. or here in Utah remains low, but when the California woman tested positive without meeting any of the normal risk factors, that raised new concerns.

The risk from that patient is said to be low. She remained in isolation on a ventilator in a northern California hospital. The woman had not traveled to an affected area nor knowingly been in contact with anybody with the virus.

“So, it is possible that this person did come in contact with someone who had COVID-19 and didn’t know it,” Dunn said.

When epidemiologists don’t know how a person contracted the virus, they call that “community spread”– in other words, picked up in public.

Authorities confirmed a second possible case of the virus spread through the community in Santa Clara County, California.

“This development is certainly concerning and it represents a turning point in this outbreak,” Dunn said.

However, she added it was not totally unexpected. This could be an indication that our response in the United States and Utah could start to look like what we’re seeing in China, Japan and Italy.

“It certainly elevates our preparations and planning to another level,” she said. “So, the idea of community transmission in the U.S. puts us on a higher alert.”

She said they will have more communication with the Centers for Disease Control about the status of the virus. It will also impact preparations for the virus here in Utah.

“We will be preparing more directly with our healthcare systems for a potential surge of patients,” Dunn said.

Not necessarily just COVID-19 patients, but patients showing up with fever and cough wanting to be tested. So far, all of those test samples have been sent to the CDC. Next week, they will start testing for the novel coronavirus here in Utah.

“That changes the turnaround time,” she said. “So, it goes from a three-day turnaround time by shipping to the CDC to potentially a 24-hour turnaround time here in Utah.”

Following the discovery of the case in California with an unknown cause, the CDC also changed its testing guidelines for the coronavirus. A patient no longer has to have a travel history to China or have been in close contact with someone who had been there. Testing for coronavirus is now advised by the CDC when a clinician or patient suspects coronavirus.

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Where in the world has the coronavirus already appeared? See the map here.

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How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC does not recommend wearing a facemask respirator to protect yourself from coronavirus unless a healthcare professional recommends it.

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Utah Health Officials Preparing For Possible ‘Community Spread’ Of Coronavirus