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Can pets spread virus? Is China in the clear? Your COVID-19 questions, answered

An illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the 2019 novel coronavirus. This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China.

As the novel coronavirus spreads and the situation changes seemingly by the hour, it can be difficult to keep up to date and know exactly what’s going on.

Here’s a look at some of the questions people have been asking about the COVID-19 outbreak:

Is the virus currently in Southwest Colorado?

As of Thursday afternoon, there were no confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in La Plata, Montezuma, Archuleta, Dolores and San Juan counties, according to San Juan Basin Public Health. But San Miguel County, where Telluride is located, reported its first case Thursday night.

Health officials confirm there’s a shortage of tests in the area and say they are acting with the assumption the virus is already circulating in the community. They urge people to practice social distancing.

Wednesday afternoon, the health department asked anyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 – cough, fever and shortness of breath – or anyone who had been exposed to the virus to take measures to self-quarantine or self-isolate.

What is the importance of testing?

Testing for COVID-19 is important because it allows people to know they are infected and receive the care they need early. It also allows infected people to take the necessary steps to reduce the chances of spreading it to those around them.

On a larger level, testing gives public health officials and first responders an idea of how many people in a community might be sick so they can draft an appropriate response to the spread of the virus, including knowing the potential impacts to local resources like hospital beds and ventilators.

What is social distancing, and why is it important?

Public health officials are encouraging “social distancing” – deliberately increasing the physical space between people – saying it is one of the most important and effective ways to reduce the community transmission of COVID-19. “Social distancing is one way each of us can help reduce the impact of this disease, especially for those in high-risk populations,” according to San Juan Basin Public Health.

Stopping or slowing the spread of the disease helps the health care system more efficiently care for patients overtime without overloading the health care resources in an area, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some people have been referring to it as flattening the curve – reducing the spike of cases and stretching it over a longer period of time.

Can dogs and cats contract and spread the virus?

According to the CDC, the virus – while it emerged from an animal source – is spreading person to person.

There have not been reports of pets or other companion animals getting sick with COVID-19 or of being a source of the infection, according to the CDC. Although the health agency did advise people to always wash their hands after being around animals “since animals can spread other diseases to people.”

The number of COVID-19 cases has decreased in China. What does that mean for the longevity of the disease?

Over the past week, China – where the pandemic likely originated – has reported a rapidly decreasing number of cases. Public health officials from the World Health Organization attribute the decrease largely to strong social-distancing measures like locking down entire cities, confining tens of millions of people to their homes, fever checkpoints and rapid response to positive cases.

But Harvard University epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch recently said cases in China could increase when the control measures in place are lifted.

What percent of people over 65 have died from the virus?

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that 80% of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have been among people 65 and older. Seniors are considered one of the most at-risk populations for serious illness and death from the virus.

Also in the report, the CDC analyzed 40 deaths, finding that half were people between the ages of 65 and 84, with 15 among those 85 or older. According to the CDC, no one 19 years old or younger has died from coronavirus.

As of Friday, 201 people in the U.S. had died from the virus, according to the CDC website, and there was a total of 15,219 cases.

If you’ve traveled overseas, should you self-isolate or self-quarantine?

At this time, the state health department urges self-quarantine for people who don’t have symptoms but have been in close contact with people who have symptoms and staying away from others for 14 days to see if one becomes ill.

Why does Gov. Jared Polis believe high country communities are especially at risk? Is Durango considered the high country?

According to a spokesman with the Colorado Governor’s Office, the state has gathered data showing there is community transmission, sometimes widespread, in certain areas of the high country like Pitkin, Summit and Eagle counties.

La Plata County is not considered one of those high- country communities. But, the state is prioritizing testing in certain areas to better understand where and how much transmission is occurring.

“It’s critical that we are gathering data in all areas of the state, especially areas where there hasn’t been a lot of testing,” the spokesman said. “We encourage all communities to take social distancing seriously and to make the best decisions for their community.”

What is Mercy Regional Medical Center doing to protect its staff?

A spokeswoman for Mercy said staff members are being directed to continue best practices, like hand-washing. When visiting a patient who may have coronavirus, medical providers are required to wear gloves, a gown and a mask.

Staff are asked to self-monitor their own health closely, looking for any of the early symptoms of the virus like a cough, runny nose or sore throat.

If employees do show signs of the virus, they are asked to self-isolate or self-quarantine to avoid getting other staff members sick.

What is considered an ‘essential business?’

Many public health officials are urging people to limit work and travel to “essential businesses.”

Essential businesses and services include medical facilities and pharmacies, trash collection, grocery and household goods, gas stations, construction, food processing, agriculture, industrial manufacturing, post offices, banks, insurance companies, auto repair, laundromats and veterinary clinics.

Nonessential businesses are considered community and recreational parks, gyms, casinos, ski resorts, bars, concert venues, sporting events, shopping malls, movie theaters and restaurants (excluding takeout and delivery, which is generally allowed).

Polis has banned nonessential personal services, including hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlors, barbershops, massage parlors and spas.

lweber@durangoherald.com and jromeo@durangoherald.com

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