Health officials in Indiana are just beginning the huge task of determining the extent of COVID-19 here, after a Marion County man tested positive on Friday for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
The infection is the first such case in the state, and one of more than 250 discovered so far in America. More than 100,000 cases have been recorded worldwide, with nearly 3,500 deaths.
The immediate job for state officials is to determine who the patient came into contact with in recent days, including family members, co-workers and chance contacts.
That will require lots of manpower, more than the state has on hand, said Dr. Kris Box, Indiana state health commissioner.
“We are going to need additional epidemiologists to be able to go out and investigate these cases, do follow-up and trace contacts,” Box said at a press conference Friday morning. She said she expects to see other cases in Indiana.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has declared a public health emergency, the first step in getting federal funding to help control and stop any spread of the coronavirus.
President Trump signed a bipartisan $8.3 billion package Friday morning to provide emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreak. About $2 billion of that will be used for public health measurers in the U.S. to help prevent the spread of the illness. The remainder of the money will be used for developing treatments or sent overseas.
Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said she will need funding to help an eye on cases here.
“When you’re quarantining someone and have to isolate them, you run into a cost associated with that,” she said. “We’ll have to have a lot of outreach and daily monitoring of individuals.”
The patient was a contractor who was working at a conference in Boston, but was not an attendee, Box said. It’s unclear how long he was in Boston, which conference he was working on or how many people he came into contact with.
CNN reported that three people who attended a meeting last week at Biogen’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the company.
The Indiana State Department of Health confirmed Friday afternoon that the Indiana resident who has been been diagnosed with COVID-19 was in contact with people attending the Biogen meeting. The Indiana resident didn’t attend the meeting, said Jeni O’Malley, Indiana health department spokeswoman.
He returned to Indianapolis on Wednesday by airplane, where he was in contact with others.
“He had contact with people on the plane,” Caine said. “The state department of health has contacted the airport and airlines.”
She said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency based in Atlanta, is leading the investigation with the airline. It’s customary to contact all the passengers within two rows of an infected patient, she said.
“You also have to be concerned about the stewardess and the folks roaming down the aisle,” she said.
In the meantime, the state health department is hoping the federal money can help with the purchase of masks, which are needed for patients who are in quarantine and for health workers.
The funding can also help with lab tests and for reinforcements for the state coronavirus hotline, which was set up last week to take calls from health care providers and the public with questions about the virus.
The state has tested 12 people in recent days and is monitoring about 35 in all, Box said. All are under quarantine, but not are exhibiting signs of illness.
Across the U.S., 80% to 85% of COVID-19 cases are mild cases and patients do not require hospitalization, she said.
The Marion County patient who tested positive is “actually pretty healthy,” she said, and is not under any medical treatment. He has a mild fever and slight cough, she said.