Updated at 7:45 p.m.
FAIRFAX — Virginia’s second presumptive positive case of the new coronavirus was announced Sunday morning by the Virginia Department of Health.
The second patient, a Fairfax City resident in his 80s, was hospitalized on Thursday after beginning to experience respiratory symptoms on Feb. 28, according to VDH. Health officials said the patient had recently traveled on a Nile River cruise on which other passengers tested positive for the virus in Egypt. The Pentagon on Saturday evening confirmed a Marine stationed at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County was Virginia’s first case of the virus, officially known as COVID-19.
Fairfax County Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Schwartz said during a Sunday afternoon news conference that the two cases were unrelated and there are no new recommendations, only that residents continue practices such as regular hand washing and covering coughs.
“It’s important to emphasize the exposures occurred overseas, there were very limited exposures between the time the individual became ill and when he went to the hospital, and therefore we don’t believe there’s substantial risk in the community and we are not recommending any events be canceled or any venues be shut down,” Schwartz said.
A presumptive positive case means that a public health laboratory has received a positive test result but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to confirm it.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said VDH is working with the CDC, Fairfax Health District, Prince William Health District and the Department of Defense to help identify people who had contact with the two who tested positive, but public risk remains low.
“VDH successfully responded to the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 to 2010 and that work serves as a very solid foundation for the work we’re doing in response to COVID-19,” Oliver said.
As of Sunday afternoon, the CDC has tested 1,583 people for the coronavirus since January. More than 300 cases have been confirmed within the U.S., including in New York, Washington state and California, and 21 people have died nationally.
Dr. Denise Toney, director of the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, said the state has two test kits and more have been ordered already with an expected arrival of sometime next week.
She said each kit can test approximately 150 to 200 people depending on the number of specimen types needed or repeat tests need to be done. She said VDH has reached out to university hospitals and other private laboratories to discuss their testing capacity as well and is confident they will be able to run as many tests as need.
“Currently, we have adequate capacity to test all the specimens or all the patients that we’re currently receiving,” Toney said. “We anticipate the access to testing to continue to increase each day.”
The Marine, who has not been publicly identified, was being treated for the virus at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, a military treatment facility run by the Department of Defense.
“We are working closely with federal, military and local partners to respond to a COVID-19 case at Ft. Belvoir,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a tweet Saturday evening. “The risk to Virginians remains low, but please continue to stay aware and take basic health precautions.”
State Epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake said Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, performed the tests for the Fort Belvoir patient, and the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratories Services in Richmond tested a sample from the Fairfax City patient.
She said at this point there were no signs of the virus spreading in Virginia and as of Sunday morning 44 Virginians had been tested, with 36 being negative, two positive and six awaiting results.
The first Washington, D.C., case, announced Saturday, was reported on Sunday to be the rector at Christ Church Georgetown, a prominent Episcopal institution. The Rev. Timothy Cole was hospitalized and in stable condition, according to a statement from the Rev. Crystal Hardin, the assistant rector.
“Out of an abundance of caution, Christ Church has canceled all activities including church services until further notice. We recommend that concerned community members contact their health care providers,” the statement said.
Advice to the public continues to vary. The CDC urged older adults and people with severe medical conditions to “stay home as much as possible” and avoid crowds. A federal official told The Associated Press that the White House had overruled health officials who wanted to recommend that elderly and sick Americans not fly on commercial airlines too. A spokesman for U.S. Vice President Mike Pence denied that.
People across Virginia have begun taking precautions as the virus has marched across the country, with cases also appearing in Tennessee, Maryland and North Carolina in recent days.
McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond plans to begin screening all guests and employees starting Tuesday and is canceling its valet services to limit the chance of transmission, according to its website. Veterans are urged to arrive to appointments an hour early and any experiencing flu-like symptoms are asked to call the medical center before arriving.
Pulaski County, southwest of Radford, is closing its schools on Friday to allow teachers to develop lesson plans in case schools need to close because of the coronavirus. The school division is also working to thoroughly clean all buildings.
A Catholic church in Chesterfield has suspended the tradition of sipping wine from a community chalice during communion and drained the holy water basin in which churchgoers dip their fingers before Mass.
Some grocery stores in Virginia were limiting the amount of hand sanitizer, soap and cleaning supplies that customers could buy. Employees at some stores reported being sold out.