Three new Utah cases of COVID-19 appeared since Wednesday after three people, including Utah Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell tested positive for the novel coronavirus sweeping around the globe.
Shortly before the Utah Jazz were to tip off in Oklahoma City, news came that Gobert had tested positive, making the team’s star center the fourth Utahn to have contracted the contagious disease. (That game was postponed, and the NBA said it would suspend its season after Wednesday’s other contests concluded.) Mitchell’s positive test came Thursday.
The other new patient is a man in Summit County, under age 60, who is recovering at home. Before he fell ill, he traveled to Austria and had close contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19, according to Keegan McCaffrey, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health.
“We have identified and contacted everybody who may have had close contacts" with the Summit County man, McCaffrey said at a news conference Wednesday. Because the man self-reported so soon after returning home, he came into close contact with only five people in Utah, making public health workers’ jobs easier.
“Those individuals are going to be monitored by the local or state health departments and monitored for respiratory symptoms and tested if needed," McCaffrey said.
Within days of the man’s return from Europe, he called his health care provider through Virtual Urgent Care, and explained his travel history and symptoms. University of Utah Health clinicians prepared for his visit, including arranging to collect a clinical sample without having him enter the facility. ARUP Laboratories tested the sample, which was later sent to Atlanta for a confirmation test by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
For now, the case is considered “presumptive positive” for COVID-19. Symptoms typically mirror the flu, with fever, cough and shortness of breath, said Richard Orlandi, chief medical officer for the University of Utah’s department of ambulatory health.
“So much went right in this case. The patient self-identified his symptoms. He was aware of symptoms, he knew to call ahead of time to his health care provider,” Orlandi said at Wednesday’s news event at the state Department of Health in Salt Lake City. “We were then able to discuss his symptoms with that patient through a virtual urgent care telehealth visit, then arrange for testing at one of our health care centers outside of the center in an isolated area so that we could minimize exposure to anybody else.”
In Gobert’s case, the Utah Jazz said that a player, who was not named in the team’s release, had seen his symptoms diminish during the day, but, as a precautionary measure he was tested for COVID-19. A preliminarily positive result came back right before the game in Oklahoma City.
“We are working closely with the CDC, Oklahoma and Utah state officials and the NBA to determine how to best move forward as we gather more information,” the team said. “The individual is currently in the care of health officials in Oklahoma City.”
The Jazz played in Cleveland, New York, Boston and Detroit earlier this month before returning to Salt Lake City for Monday’s game against Toronto. That busy road schedule may make it difficult for public health officials to identify everyone Gobert came in contact with in recent days.
In a joint statement issued late Wednesday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox wished the Jazz player, whom they did not identify, well and said state officials are working closely with the CDC and NBA to gather more information on his case.
“We, along with the Utah Department of Health, are actively working to identify how long the patient has been experiencing symptoms," the leaders said, “and are working to identify individuals who have had close enough contact with the player as to have been potentially exposed.”
Last week, Herbert declared Utah to be in a state of emergency. The CDC announced Wednesday that the state will receive $6.4 million to support its planning, response and communication about COVID-19.
To date, 136 tests have been performed in Utah through the Utah Public Health Laboratory, according to McCaffrey. The testing completed for the Summit County man was among the first work done in Utah by a separate clinical lab, he said.
Outside some U. facilities, officials have set up tents to receive patients for testing so they don’t have to enter the building, potentially spreading virus to health care workers and other patients.
“It’s not a drive-thru testing yet,” Orlandi said. “We are actually planning for that because we feel that these needs are going to continue to rise.”
While none of the known Utah cases were contracted in Utah, Orlandi believes the state must prepare for such an inevitability.
“I suspect that we will be continuing to see more cases in our community, in Utah, along the Wasatch Front and other areas as the weeks roll on,” Orlandi said. “The Department of Health is doing a fantastic job identifying people who have been exposed to patients who have been identified and try to contain the spread of this virus. But notwithstanding that, we are going to see more cases.”
The state of Utah has enough coronavirus test kits, state epidemiologist Angela Dunn said Wednesday, adding that about 50 specimens are being taken a day — two per person, a nasal pharyngeal and an oral swab.
The shortage, Dunn said, is in personal protective equipment, or PPE, the gear health care providers wear when administering the tests. “We want to be really thoughtful about how we use that PPE," Dunn said, “because that is in short supply across the nation.”
On Tuesday night, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall had declared a state of local emergency in anticipation of a coronavirus outbreak, while acknowledging there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Salt Lake City.
Acting “preemptively” will help “ensure our city’s financial stability, and the continuity of vital operations” if the virus spreads, she said in a news release. The declaration gives Mendenhall authority to impose restrictions like curfews and containment areas in the event of an outbreak, and provides access to state and federal funds “if necessary,” the release said.
“While we hope that we won’t have to use any powers under this declaration," Mendenhall said, “ultimately the best thing we can do as a city for our residents is to be prepared.”
Salt Lake City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade plans to proceed as planned Saturday, according to the event’s organizers, who spoke to the mayor’s office Wednesday. The parade, the third largest in Salt Lake City, will begin Saturday at 10 a.m. at the intersection of 200 South and 500 East, and travel west to State Street.
Meghan Gibson, president of the Hibernian Society of Utah, said Tuesday that her group — which supports the proliferation of Irish culture — expects between 10,000 and 15,000 people along the route. The society also organizes the annual Siamsa, the Irish celebration at the Gallivan Center, at 239 S. Main St., planned from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
“We, as public health [officials], are not at this point recommending broad-scale closures of mass events. However, we are monitoring, and if we do identify local or statewide transmission, that posture might change,” McCaffrey said.
“It’s wise for business leaders and mass gathering [organizers] that are hosting these events to consider the risk to people coming in and to the community, " he added, suggesting having contingency plans and "understanding what we can do to still have those good beneficial social gatherings, but maybe in a different format, like over online.”
Four Utah patients now have been diagnosed with coronavirus, with another patient placed in isolation here after being diagnosed in California. At least three of Utah’s patients appear to have contracted the virus while traveling, health officials have said.
[Read more: Utah prepares to keep providing meals to students in need if coronavirus causes school closures]
On Tuesday, health officials announced the diagnosis of a woman who was hospitalized last week at McKay Dee Hospital in Ogden after travels to Nevada, Florida and the Bahamas. Her positive result was returned on Monday, Dunn said. The state has tested three people with whom she had close contact, Dunn said on Tuesday.
Another patient, diagnosed on Friday in Davis County, had been a passenger in February on the Grand Princess cruise ship, before a later voyage ended under quarantine following an outbreak onboard. The cruise line last week alerted previous passengers of possible exposure to the virus.
Health officials said they have contacted about 10 people seated near the patient at a sold-out basketball game on Feb. 22 in the Marriott Center at Brigham Young University. Those people will not be tested unless they develop symptoms.
Meanwhile, a St. George man on Tuesday received word that he still was testing positive for coronavirus weeks after the Diamond Princess voyage that saw the outbreak. Mark Jorgensen was diagnosed while in quarantine at an Air Force base in California. His wife, Jerri, also contracted the virus and was treated in Japan. Mark Jorgensen spent a few days in isolation at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray and then returned to his home in St. George, where he remains under orders to quarantine himself. He has not developed any symptoms.