Health department officials say there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kentucky. The state has tested three people as of March 3.
Tests for two patients came back negative for the virus after the Kentucky Department for Public Health sent them out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. A third patient is still waiting on testing results.
“The potential threat of it, we’ve said this all along, is high. But the present threat is very low and most people are unlikely to be exposed to it at this time,” said Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack.
Stack said he does not know how many testing kits the state has, or, if the state is charging patients for the test. At the moment, Stack said the state has enough kits to test anyone who meets CDC and World Health Organization criteria.
When asked why the state isn’t testing more people, Stack said the state is following CDC guidelines.
“So, we follow those criteria and if we find a person that has coronavirus, we will share that information when and if appropriate,” he said.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health does not currently have the ability to conduct its own testing. However, officials say they hope to begin running their own tests early this week using “a modified version of the original test kit.”
Stack said the CDC’s original kits included a component that was not functional, but state researchers have since been able to identify a different approach that “yielded appropriate results.”
“I don’t think there’s any reason to be doubtful of the current tests. They just had to solve a problem that arose that was unanticipated,” Stack said.
A spokesman for the department said that once the state can test in-house, it will still send positive results to the CDC for confirmation.
As of March 1, the Department for Public Health announced that it has monitored 90 people for the viral respiratory illness. Last week, the state said it was monitoring more than 100 people.
Stack said the discrepancy is the result of the state reporting the data in real-time. State officials are making adjustments when it turns out people should not be included on the monitoring lists, he said.
For example, if a traveler came into Kentucky but actually lived in another state, they might be removed from the monitoring list. Many of those under monitoring have already passed the 14-day incubation period.
Kentucky health officials are following CDC criteria for monitoring, Stack said. The CDC only recommends monitoring travelers from mainland China, though there are travel restrictions in place for several other countries where the virus spreading, according to its website.
The New York Times reports at least 106 patients have tested positive for COVID-19 in 15 states as of Tuesday afternoon. Stack said the state is not currently monitoring travelers from other states, but noted the CDC is regularly updating guidance.
However, the CDC has stopped providing an updated count of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. It is now referring back to numbers posted on January 21, 2020.
The CDC reports that symptoms have ranged from mild to severe and can appear between two and 14 days of exposure. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
To minimize exposure and transmission of the virus, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, cover your coughs and sneezes, and avoid public gatherings if you feel sick.
Stack, who previously served as the president of the American Medical Association, heralded the speed with which scientists and researchers have worked to sequence the genome of the virus and create testing.
“To do that in a two-month span was not possible a decade ago and was science fiction two decades ago,” he said.