Update: After this story was published, Westword received a statement from state public health officials indicating that they're investigating another possible case of the coronavirus in Colorado. The article has been updated to reflect that.
As a new virus causing respiratory illness spreads around the world, Colorado health officials are prepping for its arrival here.
"Though Colorado has no cases of the 2019-novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), we’re taking it very seriously, closely monitoring the outbreak and developing Colorado’s response," Deanna Herbert, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, wrote to Westword in an email January 24.
Herbert later followed up with a statement indicating that the Department of Public Health and Environment is now investigating a possible case of the new coronavirus: "We are working with Centura - St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood to investigate a possible case of novel coronavirus in an individual with a history of travel from Wuhan. Results from CDC to determine whether it is a confirmed case will not be available for several days. Upon the patient’s arrival, the hospital took all precautions recommended by CDC. These included that the patient wear a mask and be placed in an isolation unit as a precautionary measure until diagnosis. The health risk to the general public is still considered low."
The spread of this new form of the coronavirus, which is part of a large family of other viruses, began in Wuhan, a Chinese city of over 11 million people that's about a nine-hour drive from the coastal city of Shanghai. The virus, which causes flu-like symptoms, was first identified on December 31 and has killed at least 41 people in China and infected more than 900 people across the globe, according to CNBC.
Colorado health officials had recently been investigating a possible coronavirus case involving a person in northern Colorado who had traveled to Wuhan. However, that was ruled out following a negative test result.
Public health officials have so far confirmed two cases of the virus in the U.S. But Colorado health officials say they're preparing for the worst.
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"Our efforts right now include assembling teams to begin working on key issues such as infection control, case investigation, contact notification and communications, so we are prepared to respond if we do have a case. We are also working closely with health care providers and local public health agencies across the state, sharing reporting, testing and infection control guidance," Herbert said.
In the past two decades, there have been two other worldwide outbreaks of coronaviruses. In 2002 and 2003, an outbreak of SARS led to the deaths of almost 800 individuals. In the past decade, 858 people have died after contracting the MERS coronavirus, which has a 34.4 percent fatality rate.
"It is too soon to know how severe 2019-nCoV is compared to other coronaviruses or how easily it can spread between humans," Herbert continued, adding that although there is public health concern, the health risk from this new coronavirus is low.
"Just as we recommend for other respiratory viruses, the best way to remain healthy is by washing your hands and staying away from others who are ill. And, if you become ill, practice good health hygiene (washing your hands, covering your coughs) and stay home when you are sick," Herbert concludes.