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Health officials working to identify Utahns who interacted with coronavirus patient before illness was detected

COVID-19 patient was home a week, unaware of infection

Dr. Angela Dunn, Utah state epidemiologist, speaks alongside Gov. Gary Herbert, right, during a press conference in the Emergency Operations Center at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 6, 2020. Officials announced the first known case of COVID-19 diagnosed in Utah. Also appearing are Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, left, and Brian Hatch, director of the Davis County Health Department, second from left.
Dr. Angela Dunn, Utah state epidemiologist, speaks alongside Gov. Gary Herbert, right, during a press conference in the Emergency Operations Center at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 6, 2020. Officials announced the first known case of COVID-19 diagnosed in Utah. Also appearing are Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, left, and Brian Hatch, director of the Davis County Health Department, second from left.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s first native case of coronavirus has been confirmed, but what those in state do next is “key,” Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said on Saturday.

Officials say the patient is a person who was aboard the same cruise ship that is now quarantined off the coast of California, though this unnamed Utahn completed his/her journey on the ship over a week ago and has been home, in Davis County, not knowing they were infected with the novel coronavirus.

“Our local/state health departments are working to identify everyone that could have been exposed to the disease,” Cox, who heads the Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force, said in a series of tweets. “But we recognize that over time it is likely we will see community spread and the potential for social distancing measures.”

He said that while the risk of contracting the illness is still low in Utah, it is very important how Utahns respond to the latest development.

“What we are learning from China and other places is that when we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system the mortality rate drops significantly! THIS IS THE KEY ... and why each of us doing small things could save someone else’s life.”

Cox emphasized what state, national and international health officials have been saying all along — wash your hands, and “if you have a cough, fever or shortness of breath — even if you think it is just a cold — please, stay home from work/school/church.”

Keeping community spread at a minimum, he said, will protect the most vulnerable — those with already compromised immune systems.

State and health officials issued a letter to all faith leaders in the state late Saturday encouraging them to share the important message with their congregations.

A state of emergency was declared in Utah on Friday, just hours before the first case of coronavirus was confirmed by officials. The reason for the declaration was to make ready the resources, primarily financing, that would be necessary to address an influx of patients in the state.

“Our No. 1 focus is preparing for the arrival of novel coronavirus,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement on Friday. “Issuing this declaration now allows us to take additional proactive steps that will make a big difference in how effectively we can respond once we start seeing COVID-19 diagnoses in Utah.”

Utah officials have set up a website, coronavirus.utah.gov, for more information, as well as a the Utah COVID-19 information line, 1-800-456-7707, to answer questions.

Anyone with symptoms that appear to be related to coronavirus is asked to first telephone a medical professional.

“The system is being heavily taxed by people showing up in emergency departments and doctors’ offices who don’t need to be there,” the letter to faith leaders reads. “This jeopardizes the care of those who truly need medical attention.”

It says to only seek medical care for coronavirus if a person has traveled to an affected area or had close contact with someone who has, and if that person also has symptoms.

The letter also contains information on home isolation protocol, which includes staying home when symptoms do not require hospitalization. Anyone with a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus will be asked to remain isolated until they no longer pose a threat of infecting others, officials state.

While Cox hopes Utahns won’t need to act on the emergency plans they’re making in case they get sick, “it’s heartening to know that no state is more prepared than Utah,” Cox tweeted. “We will work together in our communities, as friends and neighbors, to weather this storm. We always do.”

There have been at least 381 confirmed cases in the United States, the majority of those in Washington, where more than 102 people have tested positive and 16 have died, including 14 at a nursing home. More than 100,000 people have become infected with this strain of coronavirus worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

The Grand Princess cruise ship, on which the Utah patient had likely traveled from San Francisco to Mexico between Feb. 11 and 21, was returning from Hawaii when it was held at bay, off the coast of San Francisco awaiting further instruction. Reports show at least 21 people aboard have tested positive for the virus, but officials have determined there has been transmission of coronavirus between passengers.

In addition to the latest confirmed case, three Utahns contracted the virus while aboard a different cruise ship, and one has been treated in Utah.

Mark Jorgensen, of St. George, has been under quarantine a number of weeks, after he and his wife contracted the virus aboard the Diamond Princess in Japan. He was briefly treated in an isolation unit at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray before returning home Friday, and while he tested positive for coronavirus, Jorgensen never experienced any symptoms. He is under state order to not leave his home until two consecutive negative tests for COVID-19 can be obtained.