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MN Health Officials Prep For Coronavirus; 2 Samples Sent To CDC For Testing

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota state infectious disease experts confirmed on Friday that they sent two samples to the Centers for Disease Control to be tested for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

Minnesota is one of 22 states testing for the deadly new virus that emerged late last month and has killed 25 and sickened more than 800 people in China. So far, two cases have been confirmed in the U.S. – one in Seattle and another in Chicago. In both cases, the people had recently traveled to the U.S. from Wuhan, China.

"This is considered to be low-risk to the general public, but we are enlisting everyone's help in a heightened state of vigilance," said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Earlier this week, the Department of Health sent an alert to hospitals and local health departments.

They want to know if someone comes in with respiratory illnesses (e.g. cough or shortness of breath) and had traveled to Wuhan, China within the past 14 days.

The state reported receiving several calls to its 24/7 staffed hotline. Those calls and subsequent interviews led the state to collect samples from two people fitting that criteria. The samples were sent to the CDC – the only place in the US where Coronavirus is currently being tested. While the Department of Health awaits the results, the two people are isolated in their homes. Their symptoms were not severe enough to require hospitalization.

Across the country, the CDC says 63 people are under review for the Coronavirus. Thirteen have completed testing and only two have come back positive.

This 2019 Novel Coronavirus is new so experts are still trying to figure it out.

"We do now have robust data on the severity of the virus, although many of the infections are thought to be mild, there have been severe infections," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, Minnesota's state epidemiologist.

The symptoms are similar to colds and influenza, which makes it difficult to confirm the virus without specific testing. It's unclear how contagious it is, but experts believe it doesn't spread through the air, but rather through coughing or sneezing.

"If you're someone in Minnesota out and about in your world, but haven't had any interactions [in Wuhan, China], the likelihood you have anything to do with Coronavirus is exceptionally low and you should be thinking about cold and influenza," said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health.

WATCH: State Health Officials Discuss The Coronavirus Outbreak

We're live at a news conference about coronavirus. While available information suggests a low immediate health risk for the general public, we consider any new infectious disease a serious concern and are taking precautions. Finding cases quickly and responding to them effectively is key. Fortunately, Minnesota has a strong disease surveillance system in place that includes partnerships with our hospital and clinic systems as well as local health departments. For all Minnesotans, the best protective recommendation we can give is to take the same precautions you use to avoid colds and flu: Stay home when you are sick, cover your cough, and practice good hand washing.

Posted by Minnesota Department of Health on Friday, January 24, 2020


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