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By Peter Greaney, M.D.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise worldwide, public health officials are concerned that individual carriers with only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all, are spreading infection without realizing they are contagious.
New cases of the virus were reported in northern California, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington state, New York and Florida over the weekend, bringing the U.S. total to 89 cases as of Monday morning. To date, six related deaths have occurred in Washington. The New York Times reported Sunday the virus might have been in Washington state for weeks, and up to 1,500 people might be infected there.
It has been about a month since I wrote about the urgent need to identify the novel coronavirus “reservoir” of infection. Sadly, we are no closer to confirming where it is, whether adults or children who appear well are a source, or if fecal-oral contamination is a significant route of exposure in addition to infected droplets of saliva and mucus. The existence of a reservoir is indisputable given that the U.S. residents whose illness was confirmed in the past few days have not traveled and haven’t had any known contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
In Washington health officials are focusing on a group of cases that lack a clear path to exposure. Those cases, and several others outside of Washington, suggest there may be wider, undetected spread of the virus in some American communities. Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the nation’s coronavirus task force, said Sunday that more testing kits are being produced and distributed so infection can be more quickly detected and contained.
Another intriguing aspect of the investigation is connected to a coronavirus patient in Hong Kong whose dog was placed in a 14-day quarantine following a “weak” positive test for COVID-19. There is no evidence that pet cats or dogs can be infected with the virus or be a source of infection to people, or vice versa.
This is a great time to fine-tune your personal and business disease prevention and response preparedness plans while we wait for more information about how the virus is spread. For the time being I’m going with this motto: “Don’t be scared. Be prepared.”
Dr. Greaney is Executive Chairman and Chief Medical Officer of WorkCare.
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