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Coronavirus case in Las Vegas, 2nd case reported in Washoe County

Updated March 6, 2020 - 4:09 am

A second presumptive case of COVID-19 in Nevada was reported late Thursday in Washoe County, hours after the first was announced in Southern Nevada.

The state’s first presumptive case was announced by the Southern Nevada Health District, which said a man in his 50s who recently had traveled to Washington state and Texas was in isolation at a local hospital.

UPDATE: Southern Nevada man positive for coronavirus in serious condition

Late Thursday, Washoe County health officials reported a second positive case, a Reno man in his 50s who is linked to one of the cruise ships affected by the virus.

His condition is stable and he is self-isolating at home, the Washoe County Health District said in an advisory. But the man has a family member who is a student at Huffaker Elementary School in Reno.

UPDATE: Students at Reno school being tested for coronavirus

Health officials said they asked the school to close Friday out of an abundance of caution, and the district has informed parents of the closure. There are no confirmed cases at Huffaker Elementary. The county has scheduled a news briefing Friday morning.

“The Health District’s top priority right now is to investigate this case and identify close contacts,” Kevin Dick, district health officer for the Washoe County Health District, said in a statement. “Our staff is working with the school district to help ensure safety for students and faculty at Huffaker, as well as the community.”

The Reno man was a passenger on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which remains in quarantine off the coast of San Francisco because of an outbreak with 3,500 passengers and crew. A Placer County, California, man who had traveled on the ship has died from the virus.

The Washoe man’s test has been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation, the advisory said.

First case

In the Southern Nevada case, clinical specimens tested by the health district yielded a positive result Wednesday evening for the respiratory illness, health district officials said. The case still must be confirmed by the CDC, but officials estimated the accuracy of local tests at 95 percent. Confirmation is expected in the next day or two.

Despite the development, “the risk of transmission of coronavirus in Las Vegas and the country is low,” said Dr. Fermin Leguen, acting chief health officer of the health district.

At a news briefing, health district representatives said public health officials would be reaching out to people who came into close contact with the patient to determine if they had been infected by the new coronavirus, which has spread around the globe from China.

Health officials declined to provide many details about the man or his condition, but said he had an underlying health condition and was tested for the coronavirus after he displayed lower respiratory symptoms.

Asked if the man’s current condition was life-threatening, Leguen said that it was “hard to say.”

Health officials said they were hoping for the “best outcome” for the patient.

Symptoms of COVID-19 range from mild to severe. Although 80 percent of patients with documented cases have had mild symptoms, some people will develop pneumonia.

As of Thursday night, there had been 230 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., including 44 among passengers from the ill-fated Diamond Princess cruise ship. Twelve patients have died in the U.S. — 10 in Washington state and one in Northern California.

Patient at VA hospital

A spokesman for the VA Medical Center in North Las Vegas confirmed that the patient was a military veteran who was a patient there, had “presumptively tested positive” for COVID-19 and remains at the hospital.

“The risk of transmission to other patients and staff remains low, as the veteran is being cared for in isolation by staff who are specially trained on the latest Centers for Disease Control treatment guidelines and utilizing personal protective equipment and infection control techniques,” said Charles Ramey, chief of public affairs for the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System.

“VA is screening veterans and staff who present with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath who meet the CDC criteria for evaluation of COVID-19 infection,” Ramey said in the statement. “Per CDC guidance and VA protocols, individuals known to be at risk for a COVID-19 infection are immediately isolated to prevent potential spread to others.”

Leguen said the patient has a child enrolled in school but did not name the school. He said the student was being kept out of school and monitored but had no apparent symptoms of the disease.

“We are working very closely with the school district on this, sharing information, and they already are aware of that,” Leguen said.

Health District officials declined to say whether the patient lived with the child or other individuals.

Recent travel

The Southern Nevada patient reported a recent travel history to Washington state, where person-to-person spread of the virus within the community is being reported, and Texas, which recently reported its first travel-associated case, the district said.

Kimberly Hertin, disease surveillance supervisor for the health district, said that the Clark County COVID-19 patient was not experiencing symptoms during his travel, which health officials confirmed was by plane. Health officials believe that the disease primarily is spread by airborne droplets from a patient’s sneeze or cough.

District officials said they could not provide the dates or further details of the man’s travel.

The health district is “gathering information from every source we can,” Hertin said. “That investigation is literally happening as we speak.”

Local testing

Leguen said his agency “just a few days ago” began to test for the virus. All testing for the coronavirus initially was done by the CDC, and more recently state and local laboratories have gained that capability. The health district has tested fewer than 10 patients, all of which except for the one have tested negative for the virus.

Leguen said the CDC updated criteria for who will be tested earlier this week. Previously, testing had been mostly limited to people who had been in close contact with a person with a confirmed case or who had recently traveled to the epicenter of the disease in China.

The CDC on Wednesday updated its guidance to state that “clinicians should use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested.”

A physician now can order a test for the virus, and specimens are then sent to a public health laboratory, health authorities said.

Health district officials urged people concerned about their symptoms to contact their primary care provider. If they don’t have a primary care provider, “an individual can go to an urgent care or quick care clinic,” but should contact the clinic first, a spokeswoman said.

“A health care provider will do an assessment of the patient’s symptoms and history and consult with the health district regarding testing as well as coordinate with the health district,” the spokeswoman said.

A week ago, state health officials said that seven people in Nevada had been tested for COVID-19 at state and federal labs and that all of those results had come back negative. Since Feb. 11, the Nevada State Public Health Lab has had the capability to test for the virus. As of last week, it had the ability to test several hundred specimens and was expecting its capacity to grow in the coming weeks.

State officials last week estimated that about 200 people across the state were being monitored for the virus and had been asked to self-quarantine after returning from travel in China.

If a patient has COVID-19 symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and fever, “in most cases, these symptoms are going to be some other virus,” said Dr. Amy Stone, an assistant professor with Touro University Nevada in Henderson.

“If you have not been in contact with someone you know for sure has the virus, and you have not traveled to an area where there’s a high case rate — China, South Korea, Italy — then the likelihood that you have the coronavirus is very low,” said Stone, an immunologist who studies viruses.

Having one case of COVID-19 in Southern Nevada, “does not mean that we’re going to get a large outbreak,” Stone said.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Bill Dentzer and Colton Lochhead contributed to this report.

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