5 Wake County residents test positive for coronavirus after attending Biogen conference connected to 2 dozen cases

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Saturday, March 14, 2020
5 more test positive for coronavirus in Wake County
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5 more test positive for coronavirus in Wake County

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Five more Wake County residents tested positive for the novel coronavirus, officials said Monday.

All five patients attended a Biogen conference in Boston linked to more than two dozen cases.

An Indiana resident also tested positive for the novel coronavirus after a trip to North Carolina, according to a release from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The Indiana patient also went to the Boston conference, then visited Biogen's Research Triangle Park facility for work.


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Health officials said the Indiana patient had COVID-19 symptoms while in both Durham and Wake counties between March 2 and March 6. The patient tested positive while home in Indiana on March 8 and is in isolation at home.

Dr. Tilson, State Health Director and the Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, told ABC11 the state health department had no immediate information on when or where the Indiana man may have traveled while in Wake or Durham counties.

"Now the local health departments are starting to do that work. They're starting to do that investigation," she said.

Wake County officials are assembling timelines for where the five local patients went before isolating themselves at home.

The new developments in the local impact of the COVID-19 outbreak fueled more questions from viewers on our special ABC11 Facebook Live with Tilson about who else could be at risk.

Tilson said those with the highest risk of infection are people with household contact with a patient, the people who live with them.

But viewers wanted more information about who is moderate risk; the risk of infection if you're exposed to a patient for a short amount of time.

"What we're saying is close contact is someone who is within 6 feet of a person with symptoms for longer than 10 to 15 minutes. That's considered moderate risk," Tilson said.

Credit: NCDHHS

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COVID-19 is transmitted through the respiratory droplets in a cough or a sneeze, but Tilson told viewers that simply visiting the same place as a patient doesn't necessarily increase your risk; COVID-19 isn't the measles -- it's not in the air.

"Measles is spread by what we call 'airborne' - so it's much wider spread. And measles is incredibly infectious. So a lot of times (in measles outbreaks), we will say if you were in this place, in this time, let us know - this is not that," Tilson explained.

So far, officials have confirmed six presumptive positive tests for the novel coronavirus in Wake County. The first case was announced last week.

Durham and Wake health department officials are working to identify close contacts of the five Wake County patients and the Indiana patient.

Biogen is asking employees and contractors in RTP, Massachusetts, and Baar, Switzerland to work from home until further notice.

Before health officials released any information about the five Wake County and Indiana patients, Biogen told our newsgathering partners at the News and Observer that the company recognized that this "is a difficult situation for our colleagues and their loved ones. We are actively working with all relevant departments of public health and hospitals to prioritize the well-being of the people who may have been exposed to COVID-19."

RELATED: North Carolina businesses, events carry on with caution amid coronavirus concerns

Biogen said it informed employees who attended the management meeting and are symptomatic that, if they haven't already, they will be contacted by the public health authorities to be tested and they must quarantine themselves, not just from the public, but from family members as well.

Meeting attendees who are not showing symptoms, are being asked to stay in quarantine until further notice, and the people they live with should avoid social interaction and work from home, Biogen told the N&O.

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"If you have a known increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, a county public health staff member will contact you directly," said Chris Kippes, Wake County Public Health Division director. "If we have not contacted you and you do not have any symptoms, you do not need to quarantine yourself or take precautions beyond washing your hands, covering your cough, and staying home from school or work if you feel sick."

This comes as stock prices and bond yields plunged on worries about the effects of the virus.

Raleigh financial advisor Nina O'Neal, a partner at Archer Investments, said it's healthy to be concerned right now, but people shouldn't be afraid. She shared more financial advice with ABC11 here.

Earlier Monday, WSOC reported that a South Carolina resident who tested positive for the novel coronavirus flew through Charlotte Douglas International Airport. That person is isolated at home.

In a Monday statement, UNC said it is developing the capacity to continue course delivery remotely, should it be necessary.

"Several campus units and academic leaders, together with members of the campus information technology community, have put together a collection of resources that should help faculty and instructors prepare. We have an interdisciplinary team working on this and they will continue to develop our remote instruction strategy and update the site as new information and capabilities become available."

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