Jan. 24, 2020 — Public health officials in Washington state are following 43 ”close contacts” of the first U.S. patient diagnosed with a coronavirus that came from China and has sickened hundreds of people and killed more than two dozen.
The CDC confirmed the Washington state resident’s diagnosis Tuesday. By Wednesday, state public health officials had identified 16 close contacts. By late Thursday, the total was 43, said Kathy Lofy, MD, the state health officer for the Washington State Department of Health.
he patient had returned to the United States from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began in late December, traveling through the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Jan. 15, according to the CDC. He sought care at a medical facility in Washington. Based on the travel history and symptoms, health care professionals suspected the new coronavirus. Symptoms include fever, cough, and trouble breathing, the CDC says. Health care officials collected a respiratory specimen and sent it to the CDC overnight, and lab testing confirmed the diagnosis.
Lofy says that 43 is probably close to all of the patient’s close contacts, but that more may be identified. “A close contact is someone who has been within 6 feet of the patient for a prolonged period of time while the patient is infectious, or someone who has had direct contact with the person,” she says. The direct contact could be, for instance, contact with the respiratory droplets from the infected person during a sneeze or cough.
Health officials are calling contacts once a day to see if they have respiratory symptoms, Lofy says. “We will talk to the contacts, educate them, and ask them to closely monitor their symptoms. If they develop symptoms, they are told to immediately isolate themselves.” Asked if any close contacts have been quarantined, she said, “We are not currently restricting the movement of contacts.”
As of late Thursday, “the patient is still in satisfactory condition,” says Casey Calamusa, a spokesperson for Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, WA, where the man is hospitalized. “He is in an isolation unit.” Hospital infectious disease specialist George Diaz told CNN that a robot is helping doctors take vital signs of the patient and with other tasks, so that medical staff members have less exposure to the patient.