A woman in her 40s from Gunnison County has tested presumptively positive for coronavirus-19 (COVID-19), according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The CDPHE’s laboratory on Tuesday identified three presumptive positive cases for COVID-19, based on testing overnight. The Gunnison County resident was one of the five, as were a man in his 30s from Eagle County, a man in his 50s from Arapahoe County, a female Denver teenager and a man from Jefferson County in his 50s.

As of Tuesday evening, the state’s COVID-19 cases stood at 17, with one indeterminate case having been reported Monday.

A presumptive positive is one that has been detected by the CDPHE’s lab, but which is awaiting official confirmation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Coronavirus-19 is a new strain of coronavirus (a family of viruses that includes the common cold) not previously seen in humans. It is linked to upper respiratory illness, the symptoms of which can include fever, cough and, especially, shortness of breath. Symptoms usually present within two and 14 days of exposure. 

Cases range from very mild, to severe, to fatal. Coronavirus-19 had killed about 30 U.S. residents as of Tuesday and more than 4,000 worldwide, according to published reports.

Most COVID-19 cases are mild. Older people and those with severe health conditions, such as lung disease or diabetes, appear to be at a higher risk of a serious COVID-19 illness, the CDC said.

At present, the immediate risk of exposure to the virus is thought to be low for most people. 

People in places where there is ongoing community spread are at elevated risk of exposure, as are health care workers taking care of COVID-19 patients, those who come into close contact with those afflicted and travelers coming back from areas where community spread is occurring.

The CDC reminds the public that the situation is rapidly evolving, which can change the agency’s risk assessment. Widespread transmission of the virus is “likely” to occur at some point in the United States, per the CDC, which said that could lead to large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time and the possible overloading of public health and health care systems.

People should stay out of the emergency department unless they are acutely ill, Montrose Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Leann Tobin said Tuesday. That will help keep beds and resources available for people with severe cases of COVID-19.

Most who become severely ill are older or have underlying health issues, Tobin said. “Those are the people we want to be able to save the hospital care for,” she said.

The hospital’s leadership believes it currently has enough beds for COVID-19 patients who would require hospital care.

“Probably most of us (wouldn’t) need hospitalization,” Tobin said, adding that MMH has an influx plan in place for situations of widespread illnesses, as well as memoranda of understanding with health care partners.

“We have practiced that. We do have those plans in place,” she said.

The hospital is ensuring it has the right protective equipment for staff, and is updating training regularly, she also said.

People with symptoms of COVID-19 should call a medical care provider to determine whether testing is necessary and how to obtain care and testing, the CDPHE said.

To be tested, people need to meet one of three criteria:

1. Fever or signs of lower respiratory illness and having had close contact with a lab-confirmed COVID-19 patient within 14 days of symptom onset;

2. Fever or signs of lower respiratory illness and a history of travel to areas with ongoing community transmission within 14 days of symptom onset;

3. Severe acute lower respiratory illness (such as pneumonia) requiring hospitalization, without alternative explanatory diagnoses, and no source of exposure has been identified.

“If you just think you have a cold, we’re asking you not to come here,” Tobin said. “Call your doctor. We ask that you talk to your care providers. If they think you need to be tested, they will (refer) you to the health department.”

Those with symptoms, who have not been tested, should stay home and do what they can to prevent spreading COVID-19. 

The CDPHE recommends those with the virus or who suspect it, stay in separate rooms to the extent possible; at minimum, try to stay 6 feet from others. Cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands frequently and clean high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, faucets and handles, with regular cleaners every day.

Everyone should practice good hand washing and hygiene, regardless of illness. 

Health care providers and public officials want to keep people informed, but do not want to sow panic, Tobin said.

“There’s so much fear out there. Just because you get it doesn’t mean you’re going to die from it. It’s changing every single day,” she said.

“It’s only a matter of time before it’s here,” Tobin said, reiterating that for most patients, COVID-19 is not deadly. 

“We just need to make sure we’re smart about how we handle it. We’re doing everything we can to prepare for it.

“We don’t want to be too lackadaisical, but at the same time, we don’t want to go over the top.”

The CDPHE says although it is normal to be worried upon hearing about a disease outbreak, the public should not direct fear and anger toward those who are ill, and should also consider whether their conduct serves to make people safer, or if it creates more fear and harm.

“The risk of COVID-19 is not at all concerned with race, ethnicity or nationality. Blaming others will not help fight the illness. Seeking and sharing accurate information will,” the CDPHE said.

“We are working really hard to only give out facts and listen to the CDPHE and CDC,” said Tobin.

You can call the state’s helpline for COVID-19 for general information at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911, or email cohelp@rmpdc.org.

You can also visit https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/2019-novel-coronavirus for fact sheets, recommendation, testing and resources.

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