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Officials: UD faculty member is first Del. coronavirus patient

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Delaware announced its first confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 11. PHOTO COURTESY OF CDC

NEWARK – Delaware has its first presumptive positive case of coronavirus, a New Castle County man who is a member of the University of Delaware faculty, officials reported.

The news was announced by the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) on Wednesday afternoon, saying the patient is a man over the age of 50 who is not severely ill and self-isolated at home as soon as symptoms appeared. He was exposed to another confirmed case of the coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, in another state, DPH officials said, declining to disclose further information about him.

His diagnosis is deemed a “presumptive positive” because final confirmation from a test at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still being awaited, officials said. A test in the state made the initial positive diagnosis.

Epidemiologists from DPH are working to identify any close contacts of the individuals who were possibly exposed, officials said. If other people are found to have possibly been exposed, state health officials will provide guidance to these individuals and monitor them closely for the development of symptoms.

DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay addresses media during a March 11 press conference about the state’s first confirmed coronavirus case. PHOTO COURTESY OF DPH

“The patient is doing well. We understand that news of a positive case in the state is concerning, but this is something we have been preparing for over the last several weeks,” said DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay in a statement. “DPH is working closely with CDC, hospitals, clinicians, and other medical providers to proactively identify and respond to any possible cases of the coronavirus disease 2019. We will continue to keep the public fully informed as additional information becomes available.”

Following the confirmation that a University of Delaware faculty member was tested positive for the coronavirus, the university will be closed March 12 and 13, starting its scheduled spring break early. When courses resume March 23, all learning will be done online for the remainder of the spring semester. While dorms will remain open to students, the university is prohibiting school-sponsored international travel, spectators at athletic events and public gatherings at large university events, such as the annual UDance fundraiser.

In sports, UD also required the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association to play its annual semifinal and final high school basketball games before empty stands at the Bob Carpenter Center, leading the DIAA to move its tournament’s most high-profile games to home or neutral courts to ensure they are played.

Students, faculty, and staff who have concerns about potential exposure risks should contact the University of Delaware’s Call Center at 302-831-1188 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Delaware was notably the only mid-Atlantic to not have a reported positive coronavirus case as of Wednesday morning, and was one of only 12 states nationwide to not have one. Neighboring states Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland have been dealing with a growing number of cases in recent days, with many cases traced back to large gatherings or overseas travel. By Wednesday night, only eight states nationwide had yet to report a single positive case.

The global outbreak of COVID-19 was first detected in then city of Wuhan, China, in December and has steadily spread across Asia and Europe until reaching the U.S. earlier this month. There have been 121,564 cases worldwide, and more than 4,373 deaths – the vast majority of which are in China. The U.S. has seen about 1,000 cases and reported 31 deaths.

In Delaware, DPH has tested a total of 31 individuals for COVID-19, including the individual who tested positive for the disease. Of those, 21 tests returned negative results while nine are awaiting test results.

Those who have traveled to China, Japan, Iran, Italy or South Korea in the last 14 days or been in contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 are at the greatest risk of contracting the virus.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are most similar to lower respiratory infections with patients having fever, cough, and shortness of breath. There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. While in some cases illnesses can be severe and require hospitalization, many individuals infected with COVID-19 recover by resting, drinking plenty of liquids and taking pain, and fever-reducing medications, DPH reported.

Of growing concern, however, is community spread, which has been detected in the states of California, Washington and New York. Spread of the virus among Americans who haven’t traveled overseas will proliferate the cases in the country, potentially to the elderly, very young and immuno-comprised who are at greater risk of more severe health complications.

DPH is advising those individuals to follow guidance issued by the CDC encouraging them to “avoid crowds as much as possible” to reduce their risk of contracting coronavirus disease.

If you are in the higher-risk groups for getting very sick from COVID-19, the CDC recommends you should:

  • Avoid non-essential travel such as long plane trips and defer all cruise trips worldwide.
  • Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated space, as much as possible.
  • When you go out in public, including to doctor appointments or dialysis, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
  • Take everyday precaution to keep space between yourself and others.
  • If an outbreak does occur, stay home as much as possible.
  • Stock up on supplies, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, food and water, and other household items.
  • Have a plan in the event you get sick, including discussing with household members, other relatives, and friends to discuss what you might need.

For the latest on Delaware’s response, go to de.gov/coronavirus or call the state’s Coronavirus Call Center at 1-866-408-1899.

By Jacob Owens


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