Gov. Jared Polis announces first two cases of COVID-19

Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday, surrounded by public health, public safety and Summit County officials, announced the first two "presumed positive" cases of COVID-19.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced its state lab has identified two "presumed positive" cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. 

Whether those cases are confirmed as positive will be up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which Gov. Jared Polis said would take about 48 hours. 

The first case in Summit County was a man in his 30s, who had known exposure to the virus through close contact with a person with COVID-19 outside of Colorado, the department said in a news release. 

During an afternoon press conference, Polis said the man, who is not a Colorado resident, traveled to Rome in mid-February with another person who later tested positive for the virus. The man came back to his home state and then traveled to Colorado via airplane on Feb. 29.

He was asymptomatic, the governor said, meaning he had a low risk of spreading the virus to others on the plane. Polis said they have been in touch with officials at Denver International Airport.

After arriving in Denver, the man and his fiancée rented a car and went to Summit County, where they engaged in "outdoor recreation activities" and stayed in a condo with two other people, both Colorado residents. The man developed symptoms on March 3 and went to St. Anthony's Hospital in Summit County for testing on March 4.

He was then transported to a lower altitude "for his health" and went to a facility in Jefferson County. He is in isolation and will remain so for 14 to 21 days, Polis said.

The fiancée and two Colorado residents are in voluntary quarantine pending quarantine orders. 

Denver Public Health announced that the two Coloradans are both Denver residents. Spokeswoman Ann Williams of Denver Public Health and Environment added that while they are in voluntary quarantine for 14 days they will not be tested unless they show symptoms of the virus. 

Peter Banko, the CEO of Centura Health, which operates St. Anthony's in Summit County, said the exposure at the hospital was limited to four people, who followed all CDC guidelines for care of the patient, using personal protective equipment and putting the patient in a negative pressure isolation room. Centura has had a plan in place to deal with the virus for some time, he said, and opened an incident response for the company's 17 facilities in Colorado earlier this week.

Polis could not say just what the outdoor activities were, whether it was at a ski resort, or other winter sports activities. The state is acting on all “presumptive positive” cases as if they were confirmed because a quick response is essential to minimize the spread of the virus, Polis said. 

State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said the risk to Coloradans from COVID-19 is low. The man did not put "many others" at risk, she said. The department is working with local public health officials to contact anyone else who could have been exposed, although she also pointed out that in order to be exposed someone would have had to have direct close contact with the patient, such as in a confined space and for more than 10 minutes.  

The second case involves an elderly woman from Douglas County, Polis' office announced late Thursday. She returned to Colorado after international travel and is isolated at home. 

As of Thursday, 93 people have tested negative; tests for an additional 38 are pending.

The state has a "comprehensive plan in place," Polis said, referring to a plan announced two days ago. "We've been preparing for this moment and now are in execution mode of this plan. We have highly competent officials working to contain the spread and full confidence in our state officials and health professionals to respond to this threat." The state will also ramp up its texting capacity, he said.

“We are hopeful that the patient will have a swift recovery,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a statement. “Like other states, we expected to begin seeing cases in Colorado and that is why we have been preparing for the past couple of months, in conjunction with local public health agencies and healthcare partners. Our goals are to protect the public from the disease, get people the care they need, and minimize disruption to daily lives."

Ryan told reporters Thursday that the department has a "pandemic response plan ready to go" with tools to monitor travelers, and all the infectious control expertise they need. The state is taking an aggressive approach to testing for COVID-19, she added. But in testing more frequently, "we're going to start to see cases more frequently." 

The department continues to work closely with CDC and public health agencies across the state and is committed to protecting the health and safety of Coloradans. Health officials advise Coloradans to stay informed, take simple disease prevention measures, and prepare: 

  • Practice good hygiene. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water. In the absence of soap and water, use hand sanitizer; use your elbow or sleeve to cover coughs and sneezes. 

  • Stay home if you’re sick; keep your children home if they are sick. The illness can last for many days so  make preparations now to work from home if possible.

  • Coloradans are advised to always be prepared for an emergency — like a large snowstorm — and have a plan for family.  Make sure to have 72 hours of key supplies on hand like medications, infant formula, diapers or pet food, for example. FEMA guidance for pre-pandemic COVID-19 preparedness is available on Ready.gov.

  • Stay informed with reliable, up-to-date information. People who have general questions about the disease can call CO HELP at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911 or email COHELP@RMPDC.org, for answers in English, Spanish, Mandarin and more.

The state will provide timely updates on any additional cases that test positive at the state lab.

Two of Colorado's congressional delegation responded to the news of the presumed positive cases. Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, whose district includes Summit County, said in a statement that the spread of coronavirus into Colorado and into Summit County "is understandably concerning. Although at this point these cases appear to be isolated incidents and unrelated, I am in close communication with state and medical officials who are well-prepared to respond to a possible outbreak ... . As with any public health crisis, I urge all Coloradans to seek accurate, validated information and heed the recommendations of local, state, and federal officials to protect themselves from the virus.”

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, pointed out that the Senate had approved $8.3 billion Thursday "for efforts to contain and combat the spread of COVID-19 and I will continue to work [with] my colleagues in the Colorado congressional delegation and the Governor’s office to provide necessary resources as we work together to address COVID-19.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Denver, added that the measure allocated at least $9.3 million for Colorado.

“The health and safety of every Coloradan remains my top priority and I am grateful to our state’s health officials who have been working diligently to care for and protect our communities," Bennet said in a statement. "Tonight, our thoughts are with the affected patients and their families. In the face of this public health crisis, I urge all Coloradans to heed the advice from public health officials when it comes to caring for their families and themselves.”

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