Hundreds of people in Washington state are under public health supervision for the novel coronavirus, state officials said on Feb. 17. The 712 people being monitored are at risk of having been exposed to the virus, the Washington State Department of Health said.
“The number of people under public health supervision includes those at risk of having been exposed to Novel Coronavirus who are monitoring their health under the supervision of public health officials. This number includes close contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases, as well as people who have returned from China in the past 14 days and are included in federal quarantine guidance,” the department said in an update on its website.
The first confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus in the United States was in Washington; the Snohomish County man was treated and has been released from the hospital. Twenty-four others have tested negative for the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close contact means being within about six feet of a person who has the virus for a prolonged period of time. Close contact can also mean direct contact with secretions from a person with a confirmed case.
While hundreds are being monitored in the state, there are no persons under investigation (PUIs), the department said. A person under investigation is an ill patient who might have the new coronavirus. Because there are no PUIs, there are no pending test results.
Still, testing for the virus is occurring in Seattle, one of five major cities where people who show flu-like symptoms will be tested for the new virus if they test negative for the flu.
“This is an extra layer of our response that will help us detect if and when this virus is spreading in the community,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said last week. “All of our efforts now are to prevent the sustained spread of the virus in our community, but we need to be prepared for the possibility that it will spread.”
Coronaviruses typically circulate among animals but can, in rare cases, jump from animals to humans before starting to spread from person to person. Some viruses are man-made. Officials in China or at agencies elsewhere have not confirmed the origins of the new virus, and the World Health Organization has left open the possibility of the virus not originating with an animal.
Coronaviruses spread to humans through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, through close personal contact, and through touching an object or surface with the virus on it and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes. A fourth way, which occurs rarely, is fecal contamination.