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Hundreds of people 'evaluated' for coronavirus in Southern Nevada, no positive cases yet

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Posted at 2:06 PM, Mar 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-02 17:33:01-05

LAS VEGAS — When it comes to coronavirus, Nevada's goal is delay it and slow the spread, according to Dr. Ihsan Azzam, the chief medical officer for the state.

"We don't have any case yet of coronavirus," said Azzam, "and we would like to keep it that way."

Azzam said that although ideal, that is highly unlikely as the virus has now spread to more than 60 countries with around 90,000 confirmed cases. Over the weekend, two coronavirus-related deaths were reported in Washington state -- that number jumped by two Monday.

In Nevada, Azzam said nothing which could be done is not being done to control the virus' spread. He said the Southern Nevada Health District has evaluated hundreds of people for the virus and tested some, but no one has tested positive. He said the state currently has the capacity to test 400 people out of two locations -- the Southern Nevada Health District lab and the state public health lab in Reno. Azzam said the state will likely have more testing capacity soon.

Azzam said if a person is showing symptoms of the virus -- mostly fever, cough and respiratory distress or difficulty breathing -- they should first call the doctor or a public health entity.

"That is based on CDC recommendations," said Azzam. "To prepare the providers that 'I was in China, I'm exhibiting some symptoms.' We want the providers to be aware that we do have a person who is at high risk having the disease."

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Azzam said he wants everyone to be in the loop from doctors to the local health district to the state public health officials.

If a person is showing symptoms, Azzam said the current protocol is to "test the case immediately, we isolate the case and we identify contacts. Contacts are quarantined for up to 14 days."

What is most concerning to Dr. Azzam is the cases in Washington where someone tested positive for the virus but had no clear link to virus -- either having traveled to high-risk countries themselves or come in contact with someone who had. He said that is known as community circulating or community spread.

"When it starts to spread in the community, it would be very difficult to account for all the cases and all contacts," said Azzam, who added that the people who are asymptomatic (don't show symptoms) or show mild symptoms are hard to track down.

Right now, Azzam said he believes coronavirus is less severe than the SARS outbreak of 2002 and MERS but still more serious than the flu.

To protect yourself, the CDC recommends everyday preventative actions like hand washing, avoiding touching your hands, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and stay home if you are sick.

"Our goal is to slow it until such time where a vaccine, an effective vaccine, effective treatment will be available and that may be a year," said Azzam.