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FAQs: Answering your questions on the coronavirus in Colorado

Here's a roundup of some of the most common questions people are asking right now about COVID-19.

DENVER — Colorado's first COVID-19 case was announced on Thursday, March 5.

COVID-19 is a virus that first appeared in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. 

Below is a list of frequently asked questions regarding COVID-19 in Colorado.

How many people have been tested for COVID-19 in Colorado?

NUMBERS: Colorado COVID-19 cases

What are the most common symptoms of COVID-19? 

Fever, cough, and shortness of breath. However, you can also have more systemic symptoms of fatigue, muscle aches, headaches. Some percentage of people have nasal congestion or sore throat and a very small percentage of patients have gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea or nausea.

How do I know if my symptoms are consistent with the coronavirus or the flu or a cold?

You can’t tell based on symptoms alone. There is a significant amount of overlap in symptoms and if you suspect you may have COVID-19 or are aware that you've been exposed to the virus, you need to contact your healthcare provider.

Why are we now being told to wear masks when before we were told they don’t work?

The masks are being recommended now when they weren’t before because there appears to be more asymptomatic spread than was previously appreciated. 

There is also new evidence that the viral particles may linger in the air longer than previously suspected. Because of these reasons, the CDC is now recommending homemade cloth face coverings (not surgical grade masks, which need to be reserved for healthcare workers) for everyone. 

This is meant more to protect OTHERS from your droplets rather than to protect you from others. The fit and the material of the covering are important (tight-fitting, pillowcase or tea towel material) and be careful about touching your face more with the mask as this could increase your risk. Don’t stop social distancing because of a false sense of security as this is still important to protect YOU.

RELATED: Hospitals worry of shortages as first responders, medical workers use more protective equipment

Should I cancel my travel plans?

9Health expert Dr. Payal Kohli advises that there is a risk of contracting COVID-19 when traveling no matter how young or healthy you are.

There is a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 when surrounded by other people in an enclosed space, which happens often when traveling, Dr. Kohli said.

Dr. Kohli advises that if you are elderly, immunocompromised or have any other underlying problems, you should avoid traveling for at least the next few weeks, if possible.

What is the risk to kids?

Multiple studies have reported a low rate of infection in kids. In one study of 72,314 people from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the rate of infection in kids 1-10 years and in 10-20 years was under 1%. 

In another study of 1099 people published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), there were only 0.9% of infections in kids under 15 years. The rate of infection in kids is low, either because they are not getting the infection (have relative immunity), the symptoms are mild and therefore the infection is undetected or because they have a low risk of exposure.

Regardless of which explanation it is, the risk in kids is low. Small studies in infants who have been infected have shown a low risk of critical complications.

How many tests can the state lab examine each day?

Gov. Jared Polis said that the state lab has the capacity to examine 250 tests a day. He also said the state is working to greatly increase testing capabilities in the future.

Scott Bookman, the COVID-19 Incident Commander for CDPHE, said nearly 100 tests were being performed a day as of Saturday, March 7, as the disease becomes more widespread and testing criteria is loosened by the CDC.

Bookman said that the state is currently not testing at capacity because it is working to identify people who may have COVID-19 before testing to preserve limited resources.

Bookman said CPDHE is working on sentinel surveillance to identify potential asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers. 

How long does the virus last on surfaces?

This is relatively unknown at this time. However, this depends on what type of surface it is, what the environmental conditions are, how many viral particles were inoculated on the surface. Scientists estimate the virus may be able to last on the surface for several days.

What is the criteria someone must fit to get tested for COVID-19 in Colorado?

The state is following three guidelines provided by the CDC when determine whether to test someone for COVID-19.

The first guideline officials are following is focusing on anyone who has had known contact with a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 and are starting to show symptoms, Bookman said.

Bookman said officials are focusing on people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 and have visited areas where COVID-19 is showing community transmission.

The third criteria for testing are cases of severe respiratory illness who have had other causes ruled out, according to Bookman.

How long does it take to get test results?

It takes 48-72 hours to receive test results, Polis said.

What is the state doing to respond to COVID-19?

Colorado State Emergency Management is currently operating at Level Two.

CDPHE Executive Director Jill Ryan said more than 100 employees have been deployed to this response, and they are acting on all positive cases as if they were confirmed to slow the spread of the virus.

"We have pandemic response plans ready to go. We have the infection experts we need. Most importantly, we’ve built strong relations hips with local health governments," Ryan said.

Can a person refuse quarantine?

Denver Public Health (DPH) said there is an appeals process people can go through that would send them before a judge if they say no to quarantine.

"When we talk about quarantine, we can do it voluntarily or enforced," DPH said. "We have the city attorney approve these orders. We have to have justification for them. We have a real, specific reason that we think somebody was specifically exposed."

Who is responsible for making sure people comply with a quarantine order?

DPH said it works with local law enforcement agencies to conduct daily check-ins, but said there is an honor system component. 

"We don’t go physically all the time, it depends on the level," DPH said. "If they are calling us and reporting their temperature and whatever symptoms they’re supposed to log, we can touch base with them and say, 'Hey, were you able to stay in today? Did you do anything you weren’t supposed to?' So it is a little on the honor system.”

How is jury duty being handled?

The Colorado Judicial Branch (CJB) said court operations are currently proceeding and regular business will be conducted, including jury trials.

Anyone summoned for jury service who is experiencing any acute respiratory illness symptoms, flu-like symptoms, has a fever, or is cough or sneezing is asked to not report and submit a postponement request.

Click here to fill out a postponement form on CJB's website.

Jurors who do report are asked to take steps to protect themselves by frequently washing hands and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

Will there be enough bandwidth to cover internet needs as more people work from home?

Internet service providers have a good deal of bandwidth available, according to Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) Professor Steve Beaty.

"Much of our infrastructure is built out for very high bandwidth sorts of speed," Beaty said. "There is essentially fiber optics that optical cables [bring] close to most people's homes, if not into most people’s homes."

"The internet services providers — be they phone or cable — I think they have quite a bit of bandwidth available," Beaty added. "They probably haven't essentially at this point maxed out — they've overbuilt, which I think is very good...at this time."

Beaty said the trouble might be for people in remote areas of the state who already don't have access to fast internet.

When a lot of people sign on at the same time, like in the morning or evenings, there could be some internet speed slowdown, Beaty said.

What is the coronavirus, and what is COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from common cold to more severe diseases, such as Middle East Repository Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO said a novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified by humans.

The coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, is the name given to the disease caused by the strain of coronavirus that is responsible for the current outbreak (SARS-CoV-2).

Where did COVID-19 originate?

COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan, China and first reported to the WHO on Dec. 31, 2019.

COVID-19 is believed to originated from animals because coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted from animal to human. However, health officials have not yet determined the specific species that originated the virus.

Who is at the highest risk for suffering serious COVID-19 symptoms?

At least 80% of COVID-19 patients will recover with self-treatment and the use of over-the-counter drugs to help combat the virus.

About 19% of adults may have a serious or critical illness requiring hospitalization. The groups that are the highest risk include the elderly (risk increases in a graded fashion with age), those who are immunocompromised or those with chronic medical illnesses like lung disease, heart disease, obesity or diabetes.

According to Bookman, who is with CDPHE,  you must be in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 for a significant period of time to catch the disease. "This is not a thing that's simply transmitted by walking past somebody, or evening having casual contact," Bookman said.

What precautions can you take to avoid COVID-19?

  • Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Stay home from school and/or work if you think you are sick
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with tissues, and then throw the tissues away
  • Regularly use disinfectant products
  • Continually wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds at a time, or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if water and soap are not available

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Patients with COVID-19 will have mild to severe respiratory symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC.

The CDC warns patients with severe complications could develop pneumonia in both lungs.

What should you do if you think you contracted COVID-19?

If you believe you may have contracted COVID-19, you should contact your health care providers immediately.

Officials said it is vital to call ahead before going to a doctor's office or emergency room to prevent the spread of illness. Callers should relay their symptoms, should mention if they have potentially been exposed to someone with COVID-19, and should mention any recent travel to a country experiencing community spread. 

Is there a cure for COVID-19?

There are currently no vaccines or cures for COVID-19. However, researchers in Seattle are recruiting participants for clinical trials on a vaccine that’s being developed.

RELATED: Coronavirus vaccine ready for clinical trials in Seattle

Can you contract COVID-19 from a pet?

There is no evidence that pets have been infected or could spread the virus that causes COVID-19, according to WHO.

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