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Novel coronavirus. Courtesy Medscape

Health officials in Prince William and Fairfax counties are working to identify close contacts of two Northern Virginia patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus COVID-19.

One patient, a resident of Fairfax City, is in their 80s and  traveled on a similar Nile River cruise as other positive coronavirus patients, the Virginia Department of Health said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.

The patient began to develop symptoms of respiratory illness on Feb. 28, was hospitalized on March 5, and remains in stable condition.

The case is the second positive COVID-19 test in Virginia this weekend. On Saturday, the Pentagon announced that a Marine stationed at Quantico Marine Corps Base is hospitalized at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital with a positive COVID-19 test.

Health officials have not released any details on the patient's condition, but said the Marine is being treated in isolation in accordance with CDC guidelines.

The tests are "presumptive" positives, meaning the individuals have at least one respiratory specimen that tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 at a state or local laboratory, according to the Centers for Disease Control. All state tests must be confirmed by the CDC.

Both Northern Virginia cases were exposed through international travel.

Health officials said it doesn't appear either patient exposed any school-age children or large groups of people to the illness. The risk of exposure remains low, officials said.

“The Virginia Department of Health has been on high alert for possible cases of residents with COVID-19. Along with our hospitals and healthcare provider partners across the state, we are working hard to identify possible cases. We are working closely with the CDC and local health departments to investigate cases and prevent possible transmission of the virus,” said State Health Commissioner, M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA.

For the Fairfax City patient, test results for common respiratory infections, including the flu, were negative. After consultation with VDH, and based on the resident’s symptoms and known exposures, specimens were collected and sent to the Virginia state laboratory for testing for COVID-19 on March 6. The positive result returned Saturday.

“The news of a COVID-19 case in a city resident is not unexpected. We have been preparing for the possibility of COVID-19 in our region since this outbreak began," said Fairfax Health Director Gloria Addo-Ayensu. "COVID-19 does not spread through brief, casual contact. Risk is increased among close contacts of infected persons."

Officials at Fort Belvoir and Quantico Marine Corps base say they are taking precautions to protect the health and welfare of the community.

"Military and public health officials have not seen evidence of COVID-19 spreading in Virginia at this time; and as stated by the CDC, the threat to public health and the risk of exposure to the virus is low," Quantico officials said in a statement.

School officials in Prince William and Fairfax counties say they are working with the state and local health departments and monitoring news about the two cases. 

Fairfax County Public Schools announced this weekend that schools will be open as usual on Monday.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illnesses. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person. COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

To further lower the risk from spreading respiratory germs, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.

"This is a rapidly evolving situation," the Virginia Department of Health said. Information is being shared as it becomes available on the following websites:

While individuals are encouraged to contact their health care provider for questions about their health, general information about COVID-19 is available from the websites above and at 1-877-ASK-VDH3.

Fairfax County Health Department also has a public information line, 703-267-3511, for questions from its residents. The call center is open until 9 p.m. Sunday.

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