The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare confirmed the state’s first case of the novel coronavirus on Friday afternoon.
The case involves a woman in her 50s in Ada County, said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator of public health for the Department of Health and Welfare. The woman has experienced mild to moderate symptoms that didn’t require hospitalization, and she’s recovering well, Shaw-Tulloch said.
The woman had returned from a conference in New York City, Shaw-Tulloch said. Three other attendees at that conference have tested positive for the coronavirus.
A sample from the woman’s nose and throat was taken late Thursday and tested Friday morning. The woman has self-isolated in her home, said Brandon Atkins, a program manager for the Central District Health Department.
Idaho officials are working with facilities the woman visited upon returning to Idaho and are tracing her contacts. The New York conference ran through early March and there is a low risk that she spread the virus, Atkins said. She traveled through the Boise Airport but is not known to have visited any schools, he said.
The woman “was not symptomatic while flying,” so the risk of transmission during the flight was low, Atkins said. The priority for health officials is people who were close to her since she began displaying symptoms.
Gov. Brad Little said the state was “fortunate” to have a lot of details about the patient and how she could have contracted coronavirus. He also said it’s “important to maintain some patient protection” so people feel comfortable coming forward when they’re sick.
Few Idaho schools have reported any closures, and this case won’t change the state’s stance, Little said. That’s because of the details known about the case.
“Each set of circumstances warrants a different action,” Little said. “… Our goal is to smooth that curve (of virus spread) to where we don’t overrun our health care capacity.”
Little declared a state of emergency for Idaho on Friday morning, after working with the Idaho Legislature in early March to free up $2 million of emergency spending for a potential outbreak. President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency Friday afternoon.
COVID-19, the disease that emerged in China in 2019, is caused by a new type of coronavirus. Other types of coronavirus, such as the common cold, can infect humans but have mild symptoms. Scientists and medical providers are still learning about the new virus and are working on potential vaccines and treatments.
The virus has spread from China to many other countries in the past several months. The first cases closest to Idaho were confirmed in Washington and Oregon in January and February.
The new coronavirus is believed to have a higher mortality rate than seasonal flu, especially among the elderly and people with other health conditions or compromised immune systems. Public health experts stress the importance of hygiene and self-isolation to slow the spread of the virus.
WHAT IF I THINK I HAVE THE CORONAVIRUS?
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says to call a medical provider if you:
- Have been in an area during the past 14 days where people have been infected.
- Are concerned you might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
- Have symptoms of fever or cough.
The symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, sore throat, joint and bone pain, headache and chills.
One challenge of the new virus is that it’s hard to tell apart from influenza, because they share similar symptoms. It’s more likely that people with flu-like symptoms have the flu, which was widespread in Idaho at the start of this month. Medical providers can administer rapid flu tests to confirm that infection.
If you think you might be infected with the new coronavirus, the state recommends contacting your medical provider first. If you don’t have a primary care provider, you can call 2-1-1 or call a local health care clinic, according to Christine Hahn, the state’s chief epidemiologist.
“We do recommend anybody with respiratory symptoms call ahead,” Hahn said at a press conference in early March. Whether a person is planning to go to a clinic, urgent care facility or hospital, she said it’s important to call and “ask if they can be seen, and let them know they have respiratory symptoms.”
Some people may be eligible for a coronavirus test. Health care providers can order a test for anyone they believe needs one, but as of mid-March they were following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and giving priority for tests to people sick enough to be hospitalized and most likely to have been infected.
Private labs are taking over some of the testing. LabCorp is “a large commercial lab that is running samples from Idaho for COVID-19,” Central District Health spokeswoman Christine Myron said. Quest Diagnostics, another commercial lab, is in the process of expanding to do COVID-19 tests for several of Idaho’s neighboring states, but hadn’t started taking tests from Idaho as of March 10, she said.
“At this time, the CDC doesn’t recommend testing of people who do not have symptoms,” Myron said. “Because of the limited number of tests, there is still a need to preserve them for the sickest and those with the highest risk of infection.”
Patients aren’t charged for tests that are run by Idaho’s lab, which is in Boise. But that lab is limited in how much it can do. It could run only about 15 tests a day as of early March. Each test takes five hours.
Quest Diagnostics, another commercial lab, is in the process of expanding to do COVID-19 tests for several of Idaho’s neighboring states, but hadn’t started taking tests from Idaho as of March 10, Myron said.
Idaho’s five largest health insurers have announced that they will pay for COVID-19 tests at no cost to the patient.
There is a possibility that some patients could end up being charged by a private lab, if that lab is out of their insurance network.
HOW DO I AVOID CATCHING IT?
Most cases of coronavirus are not severe. But people who have mild symptoms or no symptoms can spread the virus to people who are more at risk — such as the elderly and people with respiratory issues and chronic health problems. So it’s important that Idahoans take steps to keep themselves and other people safe, public health officials say.
Those steps are the same ones that protect from the flu. The CDC and other public health agencies say to:
- Wash your hands often. Wash for 20 seconds with soap and water. It’s especially important after using the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
- If you can’t wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content. As the region experiences a shortage of hand sanitizers in stores, you can make your own by mixing aloe vera and rubbing alcohol.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Cover your cough or sneeze. You can do that with a tissue (throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands afterward) or by coughing or sneezing into your elbow.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. You can do this with regular household cleaners or cleaning wipes.
- Don’t use a face mask if you’re healthy. If you’re sick and have symptoms of COVID-19, you can wear a face mask to keep from infecting others if you cough or sneeze. “The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility),” the CDC says.
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