'No reason for the public to panic:' Wake County leaders trace close contacts of first positive novel coronavirus case

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Wake County leaders said they have been in close contact with the first novel coronavirus patient in North Carolina.

Officials with Wake County's health department held a press conference to assuage citizens' fears 24 hours after Gov. Roy Cooper announced a patient in Wake County had tested positive for the virus.

The Wake County man is currently in home isolation after contracting the virus in Seattle, Washington, and flying back to Raleigh-Durham International Airport in late February. The man visited a nursing home in Seattle that is linked to seven deaths related to COVID-19, the proper name for the new coronavirus strain that is spreading around the world.

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Wake County Division of Public Health Director Chris Kippes said the health department is treating this patient as an isolated incident and does not recommend canceling events or festivals in Wake County.

"At this time, there is no reason for the public to panic," Kippes said.

WATCH: Full Q&A with Wake County Public Health officials
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Kippes said public health officials have been reaching out for anyone who may have come in contact with this patient and said the patient limited their time in public spaces. Kippes clarified the current qualifications for at-risk individuals: anyone who came within six feet of the patient for longer than 10 minutes during the time that the patient was symptomatic. Those people are being asked to voluntarily quarantine themselves within their homes for 14 days.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people with COVID-19 are most contagious when they are coughing or sneezing. However, it's still too early to know if the virus can spread when the patient is not showing symptoms.

"Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads," according to the CDC's website.

Kippes seemed to downplay that information from the CDC.

"The key right now, based on what we know about this disease, is that you have to be symptomatic," Kippes said. "The information that we learn every single day about this will only serve to refine our approach to managing the situation."

Kippes declined to reveal where the man had traveled during the week he was symptomatic, nor would he say how many people they are screening for signs of the virus.

When asked about public safety and the spread of information, Kippes said different diseases require different types of public health response.

Kippes said if the disease was more infectious, like the measles, public health officials would need to post announcements asking for patients who have been in a particular location at a particular time to come forward. "That's not the situation for this disease," he said.

Kippes stressed the need for a coordinated public health strategy with leaders and the public.

"We want to continue to spread facts, not fear," Kippes said.

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'No reason for the public to panic': Wake County health leaders talk about how they are keeping everybody safe



Change to Holy Communion


On Tuesday, Rev. Msgr. David D. Brockman told members of the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral in Raleigh that holy communion from a shared vessel would be put on hold in an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. The Diocese of Raleigh encourages people who are ill to not receive communion from the chalice. That same practice is being encouraged while COVID-19 spreads around the world.

In an email, Brockman also asked members to refrain from shaking hands.

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"With the single occurrence of coronavirus reported today in Wake County, I am temporarily suspending communion from the Chalice at Mass at the Cathedral and at Sacred Heart and I also ask that the faithful when expressing the Sign of Peace at Mass, do not extend their hands to those in the Assembly around them, but simply turn and say "Peace be with you."

Gov. Cooper says a task force has assembled and state agencies are working with local health departments.

Festival canceled


This year's International Festival of Raleigh, scheduled for this weekend, was canceled due to the coronavirus risks.

"I know that people are worried about this virus, and I want to assure North Carolinians our state is prepared," Cooper said.

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COVID-19 Timeline


The infected patient flew into RDU on Feb. 22. Health experts have not released which exact flight or airline the patient was on.

RDU said the patient was not exhibiting symptoms while traveling, and thus was not identified as a risk to other passengers.

North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen said HHS would contact passengers who came in contact with the infected patient and check for signs of COVID-19, however, Kippes said Wednesday that health officials do not need to contact anyone else who was on the flight.

"Based on when our patient became symptomatic, we're no longer needing to pursue any information on the people who were in the airport or on the flight," Kippes said.

Though Kippes avoided questions about what particular flight the patient was on as well as where he has traveled since landing in Wake County, he said, "The best thing we can do as a public is to do things that are within our control. And those things are to frequently wash our hands, to cover our coughs and sneeze (sic), to stay home when we're not feeling well."

COVID-19 effects


Cohen said the infected patient is currently in isolation at home--meaning he is confined to one room--and is not expected to need hospital care.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Tilson said most people who develop COVID-19 symptoms do not have major complications from the disease.

"What we are finding is that for COVID-19, the vast majority of people -- more than 80 percent--have minor symptoms," Tilson said.

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Currently, the World Health Organization reports the global mortality rate for COVID-19 is 3.4 percent. But Tilson said she expects that number will drop over time.

"Older people, with underlying health conditions, seem to be at higher risk," Tilson said. "We see that children seem to fare very well. Only about 1 percent of the cases have been identified in children and seem to fare very well."

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