Utah’s second coronavirus case reported Tuesday

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Department of Health State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn answers questions as Utah health officials announce the state's second case of COVID-19, at the Utah Department of Health in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

A Utah patient is in “serious, but stable, condition" with coronavirus — the state’s second case of the virus, health officials reported Tuesday.

The patient is being treated at McKay Dee Hospital in Ogden after, health officials say, she apparently contracted the virus while traveling.

“Prior to becoming ill, the patient traveled extensively outside Utah and the U.S. and is believed to have been exposed to COVID-19 during those travels,” according to a statement by the Utah Department of Health. Health officials did not specify the locations where the woman recently traveled.

The patient is older than 60 and lives within the Weber-Morgan health district in northern Utah, health officials reported.

County and local health officials are trying to identify and reach out to anyone who may have been in close contact with the patient, and learn whether they have experienced fever or a cough — the key symptoms of coronavirus, health officials said.

“The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to what someone may be experiencing as the result of seasonal influenza — namely a fever, cough, or shortness of breath,” according to the statement. “These symptoms on their own are not worrisome and should not cause alarm. But if someone exhibits these symptoms who has recently traveled to areas with widespread COVID-19 illness or has been in close contact with a known positive case, that individual should immediately notify their health care provider, who will coordinate with the appropriate public health officials to determine next steps.”

[Read more: Complete coverage of the coronavirus]

So far, health officials have tested three people who have been in close contact with the woman since she returned about a week ago after travels in Florida, Nevada and the Bahamas, said Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist.

In the past week, the state has obtained more test materials and now has the ability to run about 50 tests per day — enough for about 25 patients per day, Dunn said. About 100 Utahns had been tested as of Tuesday, Dunn said.

“We have drastically increased our testing capacity over the past week, even days, so the number of tests that we do every day has increased exponentially,” Dunn said. “We are testing more and more patients.”

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Now the state has expanded testing to people who have not experienced symptoms if they have had extensive, close contact with a confirmed patient, or if they have had some contact with a confirmed patient and are at risk of developing a serious illness, due to age or underlying health conditions, Dunn said.

Previously the state was testing only people who were at risk of exposure if they were symptomatic.

Meanwhile, ARUP Laboratories in Salt Lake City announced it would begin testing for COVID-19 starting Thursday, with the launch of a new test.

On Feb. 29, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave a number of certified labs permission to begin validating testing for COVID-19, ARUP explained in a statement. ARUP’s new test will be available to physicians pending review by the FDA under an emergency use authorization, the lab said.

“The collaboration with government agencies has helped us to fast-track this test and get it into the hands of physicians faster,” ARUP CEO Sherrie Perkins said in the statement. Earlier this week, she attended a meeting to discuss coronavirus testing with Vice President Mike Pence and the government’s Coronavirus Task Force, the statement noted.

The patient from the Weber-Morgan health district is the second to be diagnosed with coronavirus in Utah after contracting it elsewhere. A Davis County man tested positive for coronavirus on Friday, after he likely was exposed to the virus on a cruise ship in recent weeks, health officials have said. The man had traveled on the Grand Princess cruise ship — but on a voyage prior to the one that ended last week with the ship floating for days off the coast of California under quarantine due to an outbreak of COVID-19.

The man, who like the second patient is over 60 years old, visited a health facility Friday and was tested after the cruise line notified him of the outbreak, health officials have said. The man did have symptoms but did not require hospital care and was ordered to isolate himself at home, health officials have said.

In searching for people who had contact with the man, health officials learned that he attended a packed basketball game on Feb. 22 at Brigham Young University’s Marriott Center, the school announced Monday. The man was experiencing mild symptoms at the time, health officials said, but had not yet been notified that he may have been exposed to coronavirus.

Health officials said they have contacted about 10 people who attended the game and were seated near the man; those people will not be tested unless they develop symptoms.

Asked whether people without symptoms could still spread the virus while going untested, Dunn said: “We’re learning still a lot about COVID-19. We follow our federal guidelines from the experts at the CDC and, right now, they’re recommending that we go from symptoms, moving forward, because we just don’t have the evidence of asymptomatic spread at this point.”

Only those who were within six feet of the patient for a prolonged period of time are considered at risk, Utah County health officials said — though Dunn acknowledged the virus can survive on surfaces for one to two days.

Asked why distance radius, rather than surface contact, was considered the defining risk factor, Dunn said that risk can be mitigated by hand-washing.

“That’s why hand hygiene is really important, because you’re touching surfaces all the time that have a variety of germs on them,” she said.

About 19,000 people attended the Feb. 22 basketball game against Gonzaga.

Also Tuesday, the organizers canceled the Canyonlands Half Marathon and 5-mile run scheduled for Saturday in Moab. The promotion company, Mad Moose Events, said in a Facebook post that it was worried it could not meet the safety concerns of officials in Moab and Grand County.