It's been nearly two weeks since a member of the Arizona State University community was diagnosed with the 2019 novel coronavirus, a deadly disease that has infected over 31,000 people in Asia and killed over 600. There are 12 confirmed cases in the United States, mostly in California.
Since a case was confirmed in Tempe on January 26, the Arizona Department of Health Services has been working both with ASU and the Maricopa County Department of Public Health to contact everyone the infected person had close contact with and get those people tested and monitored for any symptoms.
Chris Minnick, a spokesperson for the DHS, told Phoenix New Times the agencies have contacted multiple people but "cannot say definitively that we have contacted everyone as this could change as the investigation evolves."
"We have sent several samples to CDC for testing and so far we do not have any additional confirmed cases," Minnick said. As of Friday morning, every sample sent to the CDC has come back negative (besides the samples from the infected person that were sent to the CDC).
Minnick said that dozens of samples have been sent to the CDC for testing so far, though many of those samples could be from the same people being tested multiple times to confirm that they are still negative for the disease. Symptoms of 2019 novel coronavirus typically appear between 2 to 14 days after exposure.
The known Arizona victim of the infection has also been tested multiple times and will remain in isolation until the person is cleared of the disease, Minnick told New Times. The infected person had recently returned from traveling to Wuhan, China, where the viral outbreak began. According to the DHS, the ASU community member does not live in university housing, has only a mild case, and was not hospitalized.
As panic over the spread of coronavirus grows globally, the situation in Maricopa County at least remains under control. Cara Christ, director of ADHS, said the risk of the illness spreading in Arizona is minimal for those who have not traveled to China or come into close contact with someone who is confirmed or under investigation for the coronavirus.
"Close contacts of the case have been monitored by public health and no spread of coronavirus has occurred to date," Sonia Singh, a spokesperson for Maricopa County Public Health, told New Times on Friday morning. "However, monitoring is still ongoing for 14 days from the last exposure to the case."
The positive case at ASU created some hysteria at the campus, with students arriving to class wearing surgical masks and tens of thousands of people signing a petition to cancel classes. Meanwhile, seasonal influenza has killed an estimated 10,000 Americans since October. Asian students at ASU said the indiscriminate fear of the virus has prompted many racist encounters.
"I don't want to alarm anyone unnecessarily, but there was a student from China who showed up a week late with a doctor's note to [redacted] last," the email states, yet the screenshot cuts off the text after that point. Another commenter on Reddit stated that the rest of the sentence was, "Tuesday. It didn't sound like it was from coronavirus but I'll let you know."
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The virus causes symptoms similar to the flu and respiratory illness, including a runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, difficulty breathing, and a general feeling of being unwell, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those considered at risk of contracting the virus include people who have recently traveled to Wuhan, China, or have come into close contact with a person already infected with the virus.
The CDC expects more cases to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States. "The immediate health risk from the 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time," according to the CDC. Yet the CDC is still monitoring the situation closely and taking "proactive preparedness precautions."
To prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, the CDC recommends that you:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
The CDC also states that people who think they may have been exposed to the 2019 novel coronavirus should contact their health care providers immediately. The DHS guidelines state that anyone who has recently traveled to Wuhan and feels sick with a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing should seek medical care, avoid contact with others, not travel while sick, and wash hands frequently and thoroughly.