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17 in Virginia have been tested for coronavirus; health officials say state has no confirmed cases

RICHMOND — The number of people tested for novel coronavirus in Virginia had grown to 17 people as of Wednesday morning, but the state remained clear of confirmed cases, state health officials said.

Fourteen people have tested negative and three await results, officials said, as the state braces for a possible outbreak.

Novel coronavirus — which can result in fever, cough and lung disease — has begun to spread in the U.S., where there are more than 120 known cases and at least nine deaths. Virginia’s neighbor to the south, North Carolina, confirmed its first case Tuesday.

The World Health Organization announced Tuesday that the death rate for COVID-19 globally was at 3.4 percent, a number skewed by higher rates in Wuhan, China. Health officials said the disease at first glance appears deadlier than the common flu, but doesn’t transmit as easily.

“We are taking this seriously and I want Virginians to know we are doing everything we can to prepare for whatever scenario,” Gov. Ralph Northam said at a news conference Wednesday, flanked by the state’s top health officials, many in white coats. “We meet every day, look at what’s going on around the world. It’s a fluid situation.”

Officials encouraged Virginians to take basic hygienic precautions, like washing their hands and staying home if they are ill. The state is also encouraging anyone who has traveled to a high-risk area to stay home for 14 days to allow for any symptoms of COVID-19 to become apparent.

They emphasized that right now, the potential for spread remains low and will not affect access to transportation, schools and other infrastructure.

“Virginia is not a place where the virus has begun to spread in the community. The risk right now is low,” State Epidemiologist Lilian Peake said.

State health officials said that the state has acquired two testing kits provided by the Centers for Disease Control — which only issues one test kit at a time. Each kit can test between 50 and 60 people, depending on the quality of the sample and the need for validation, said Denise Toney, the state lab director.

The test kits allow Virginia to test for the virus in-house and yield faster results. Right now, someone tested for coronavirus in Virginia would have results within 24 to 48 hours, health officials said.

Northam’s administration anticipates the state’s preparedness for the potential pandemic will cost $9.7 million — with $3.7 million to be spent in the first 90 days and the rest within 12 months. Of that, about $6.1 million will be spent on protective gear and about $1.5 million on media and print materials.

“I would just assure the audience here that whatever resources are needed will be made available,” Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne said.

Asked what actions would be taken if anyone in Virginia tests positive, State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver said the state is “developing plans for all kinds of scenarios.” He said the state’s response to the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 and 2010 would serve as a blueprint, declining to expand further.

Peake said an individual who gets sick with the virus “would be treated wherever it’s appropriate,” and kept “separate from others.”

The first person to test positive for COVID-19 in North Carolina resides in Wake County in the northern part of the state and is being quarantined at home, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.

The resident arrived on a flight at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Feb. 22 without symptoms after visiting a long-term care facility in Washington state, where health officials have reported an outbreak.


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