Early Monday we heard about the first case of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, identified in Larimer County. After two more were announced this afternoon, that brings the total up to 11 cases of the virus in Colorado.
Between new cases, closures, cancellations and quarantines, there's a lot happening, including how leaders and health officials are reacting.
KUNC's Michael de Yoanna joined Colorado Edition with more on the latest.
Erin O'Toole: There's been a lot of news on this since the first presumptive case was announced only last Thursday — a man who had travelled to Italy and then visited Summit County. What do we know about the cases so far?
Michael de Yoanna: MOST of the cases are kind of like that one. They involve people who were traveling. You mentioned Italy. That's also where a woman in her 40s went before becoming a coronavirus case in Douglas County. 16 million people are under quarantine in Italy. There have been more than 460 deaths there. In one of the two cases in Denver, the patient had been on an international cruise.
And are people returning from international travel how the virus is spreading into Colorado?
We don't know. At this point, health experts say recent travel is one of the indicators they look for in determining if a person might have the virus.
How do people know if they have the virus?
Health experts say a person could be carrying the virus for up to two weeks, maybe more, before showing signs of symptoms. But it could feel like the flu or a cold because the symptoms are fever, cough, shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infections lead to pneumonia.
We went from no cases less than a week ago to 11 cases as of Monday afternoon. Do we know what accounts for the uptick in diagnoses? Is it just that Colorado has just begun testing for the disease?
That's certainly part of it. Testing became available only about a week ago, on March 2. Also there are more than 500 cases in the U.S. now, so it's not like Colorado is an outlier. Other states have many more cases. It's in most states at this point, and it spreads like the flu — through droplets that come from coughing and sneezing. Health officials say it's hard to prevent. They work to contain cases as best they can.
And there's also the increased risk to vulnerable populations — people with chronic health issues such as diabetes, people with compromised immune systems, as well as older adults...
Right. That's why health officials will turn to quarantines in people who've come into contact with people who've been diagnosed with the virus. In Denver, seven people were placed on quarantine last week for that reason.
How do health officials identify those people who MIGHT be linked to a COVID-19 case?
What's going on today in Larimer County is a perfect example of that. A woman in her 50s is considered a presumptive virus case pending official confirmation from a federal lab. She's also contracted pneumonia. This has triggered an investigation by the state and county. I spoke with Larimer County's Director of Public Health, Tom Gonzales, about it:
GONZALES: So yeah, behind the scenes it's lots of phone calls. You make that one call and another couple calls build from that phone call. We just try piece that all together and get as much information as possible at that time.
In other words, your phone might ring if health officials believe you've been exposed. The aim is to isolate potential cases and to prevent the virus from spreading. And there's this advice that health officials are repeating:
GONZALES: If you are coughing or sneezing, you can prevent that by sneezing into a tissue or your armpit and washing your hands often. And if you are sick — if you've got a fever, if you've got a respiratory... stay home. And if it gets worse, seek your medical home; your medical provider.
What about people experiencing symptoms? When should someone go to get tested? If you have any symptoms of it is it good to know that you have it so you don't accidentally spread it to at-risk populations?
If your case is mild, just stay home. But if it gets worse, see a doctor. When possible, call first so they can prepare for your arrival. That includes the emergency room.
As far as access to care or affordability, there are a lot of questions and I haven't been able to get solid answers yet. There has been some action on that front. Today, Gov. Jared Polis signed an order to remove cost barriers for patients who are tested. It directs insurers in the state to waive co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles as well as some associated prescription and tele-medicine costs.
How do I know if I qualify for that?
As we know, many people can't afford insurance — even if they have it. But if you are insured, pull out your insurance card and if it has the letters "CO-DOI," you should be covered.
What questions do you have about the coronavirus, how to be prepared, or response plans in your schools or from the Capitol? Let us know below or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.