Two Cases Of New Coronavirus Found In Colorado

A transmission electron micrograph shows Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus particles (colorized yellow).

Updated March 6, 2020 @ 4:16 p.m.

Colorado health officials announced the state had its first two presumptive positive cases of the new coronavirus Thursday.

In a release, officials stated the first patient identified was an out-of-state visitor to Summit County, a male in his 30s. He's in isolation in Jefferson County.

The second, unrelated case is an elderly woman from Douglas County. She traveled abroad on an international cruise and returned to Colorado. The state says she is currently isolated at her home, following CDC guidelines.

The Tri-County Health Department, which serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, is investigating the Douglas County case.

Three more presumptive positive cases were confirmed on Friday, March 5, two in Denver and one in El Paso County.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have to confirm the results of all five tests.

The first patient traveled to Italy in mid-February. A travel companion of his was later diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The patient arrived at Denver International Airport on Feb. 29. He did not show symptoms while traveling, meaning there was a low chance of transmission in the plane and at the airport, state health officials said.

"Therefore there is no reason at this time to believe that other travelers were exposed per current CDC guidelines," Gov. Jared Polis said at a press conference.

The patient then traveled in a rental car to Summit County, where he met with friends from Colorado. They all stayed in the same condo in Summit County as part of a ski trip. He skied at Keystone and Vail resorts, both before experiencing symptoms, Vail Resorts said. The Coloradans are currently under quarantine orders in Denver.

Summit County has identified the condo unit and said no other guests have checked into it since the infected person's departure.

The patient first developed symptoms on March 3, and he went to St. Anthony's Summit Medical Center in Frisco. A sample was taken on March 4 and the test came back positive on March 5. The patient, wearing a mask, traveled to Jefferson County in a private vehicle to remain at a lower elevation. The patient's partner traveled with him and is also under quarantine.

Polis said the patient would likely be in isolation for at least 14 to 21 days.

"The patient's travel did not put many others at risk," said state epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy. The state is working to contact everyone who may have come in contact with the patient to quarantine them.

The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment is keeping the first patient's travel companions under a two-week quarantine order, accounting for the full 14-day incubation period of COVID-19. The two are not symptomatic and will not be tested until they display symptoms.

DDPHE says people under quarantine orders are instructed to stay at home and avoid school, work and public transportation. They are not allowed to have visitors and will get contacted by public health staff daily.

Centura CEO Peter Banko said the hospital in Summit County was aware the patient had concerns about his illness ahead of time, “so we were able to take the appropriate cautions.”

Herlihy cautioned the risk of transmission to most Coloradans remains low, as direct contact with the virus, whether through a person or a contaminated door handle or object, is required for transmission.

In response to a request for comment, Sara Lococo, a spokeswoman for Vail Resorts, said in a statement:

“We were made aware of one presumptive positive case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Summit County, Colo. We are in contact with Summit County Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and will follow their guidance and recommendations."

They said they do not expect disruptions to resort operations and are asking employees to follow CDC guidelines. "The health and wellbeing of our guests and employees is our top priority and we will continue to take all appropriate precautions."

Gov. Jared Polis addressed the cases Thursday afternoon. Watch his remarks and those of Colorado health officials here.

CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan said she anticipated they would announce additional cases soon, as the state ramps up testing. As of March 5, the state has had 92 negative tests and the two positive ones. Thirty tests were still pending.

The Denver International Airport said it is prepared and has run through quarantine simulations with other local agencies.

"We looked at what happens and walked through a contagion situation where we had a patient, a fake patient, of course, a plastic patient transported from DIA, kept in isolation,” Gov. Jared Polis told Colorado Matters earlier this year. “So our administration is ready and we work closely with counties and with school districts to prevent an outbreak that would risk the lives of Coloradans."

The novel coronavirus has killed 12 people in the United States as of March 5 and spread to at least 19 states. It is present in more than 75 countries.

Worldwide, it has infected more than 90,000 people, killing more than 3,000.

As concern about the virus has spread across the country, so has misinformation. Medical supply stores around Colorado are sold out of medical masks. Experts say the masks aren’t the best way to protect yourself from the COVID-19 anyway.

"Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands, wipe down surfaces with sanitizing wipes. Keep your phone clean too," said Dr. Michelle Barron, medical director for Infection Control and Prevention at the University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus. "Stay hydrated, eat healthy. I mean, common things we recommend for flu actually are very much applicable for this as well.”

John Daley, Claire Cleveland, Natalia Navarro and Hayley Sanchez contributed to this report.