MURRAY — Although Thursday brought news that a Murray-related function was now connected to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, Calloway County was still able to say that it had no confirmed cases of a local resident testing positive.
That ended Friday morning when the Calloway County Health Department issued a news release with the following statement: “The Calloway County Health Department has received notification for the county’s first confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19). The patient is not being identified, but Calloway County Health Department Director of Nursing Kim Paschall did say that the case is connected to positive test of a non-Calloway County resident Thursday who had attended a worship service Sunday at University Church of Christ in Murray.
“We can say that, yes,” Paschall said Friday morning, just after the health department issued its release. She said the positive test of the Calloway resident was received late Thursday night. “As public health officials, we are constantly researching this information and attempting to keep up to date on this information, so we were always aware that this was a possibility.”
In his Friday evening press conference, Gov. Andy Beshear identified the Calloway patient only as a 28-year-old male.
Also Friday morning, Murray-Calloway County Hospital Director of Planning and Marketing Melony Morgan confirmed that the Calloway positive test was for an employee of the hospital. Though many in the community might have assumed exposure to the virus might have happened at UCC, hospital Chief Medical Officer Nick O’Dell and CEO Jerry Penner said Friday afternoon they wished to set the record straight on this matter.
“One thing on our end is that the patient we have had prolonged contact with the out-of-state patient,” O’Dell said. “It wasn’t just a case of they passed each other in the lobby of the church, and I think it’s important for members of the community to know that the direct connection between our patient and the out-of-state patient is that they were close friends, I’d say, and they spent considerable amount of time together and it was not just the exposure at the church. They did have contact for a long time period together and we hope this bodes well for members of the community who only attended the church service and that was the only potential exposure that they had.”
“Just to clarify the message, we want people to understand these were friends. They were visiting together, probably staying overnight with the family and spent a significant amount of (last) Saturday and Sunday together and they just happened to go to church,” Penner said. “So the message is that it wasn’t casual contact at church that caused this, but it was close contact for an extended period.
“To take the level of angst in the community down, we need to let them know that this wasn’t a thing where, ‘Oh! Someone bumped my elbow. I walked by them and they were COVID-19.’ That’s not what happened. Obviously, we hate that anybody’s sick but the reality is we should treat every single person we run into right now as COVID-19. It just so happens we won the lottery and we picked the right person to test and they came out positive. I don't want the community blaming the church; there’s more to it than that. They need to understand that. It is what it is. It’s a very unfortunate situation, for the timing, but these two spent a significant amount of time together.”
Morgan gave a brief timeline of how it appears this situation unfolded.
“A visitor came to Murray from out of state last weekend to visit with people here in Murray,” Morgan said. “They attended a local church service on Sunday. After returning home, the visitor developed symptoms on Monday and was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Tuesday. One Murray resident that this person spent time with is an employee at MCCH. On Wednesday, the employee followed our protocol and informed us that they had contact with a person who tested positive during our staff temperature checks before their shift started. The employee was wearing a mask already, but was taken to Occupational Medicine for evaluation.
“The employee was then sent home and immediately instructed to be quarantined. They were tested, and late last night confirmed positive for COVID-19. The employee and their family are fine and were informed to be at home in quarantine.”
UCC senior minister Charley Bazzell said Thursday that he was told the out-of-town patient who tested positive Tuesday is from the Nashville, Tennessee area. That person is believed to have visited the UCC service Sunday. Paschall said Thursday evening that it is believed the patient began showing signs of illness after attending the service, but the history on how the person was feeling at the time of the service is not known.
MCCH closed its facility to all visitors on Wednesday morning after a COVID-19 case was reported in nearby Lyon County. At that time, Penner was saying that even though no cases had yet been reported in Calloway County, everyone in the community should act as if they are a carrier because of the stealth nature of how this disease operates.
People can go two to 14 days as carriers before any symptoms begin to show. That is why it is hard to determine the exact timeline of progression for the patient who attended the UCC service, as well as to know how many people may test positive from that situation. Paschall said, on a directive from the Kentucky Department of Public Health, everyone who attended that service is advised to self-quarantine. O'Dell also reported that, as of Friday afternoon, the Calloway patient is doing "as well as can be expected, given the illness," describing the symptoms as being mild in nature. O'Dell also said that everyone in the household of the Calloway patient is also in quarantine.
“We just want to convey to the public to not gather at any social gatherings. We cannot stress that enough. We want the public to take this seriously,” said Calloway County Health Department Director for Public Health Amy Ferguson, echoing increasingly strong language from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. Beshear’s daily COVID-19 update Thursday at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort saw him challenge Kentuckians to “do the right thing,” and even though they may not feel they have to change their lifestyles, “to not be the one” that allows the virus to spread.
Earlier this week, Beshear ordered all social gatherings to be discontinued. He also ordered all restaurants to halt dine-in service and also ordered such places as gyms, hair salons and theaters, to close their doors in order to slow the spread of the virus, which is resulting in more and more cases being reported every day statewide.
Social distancing, a term Americans are now hearing constantly, is the key to stopping the spread of the virus, Beshear said.
“The way we’re being instructed is that this means greater than 6 feet of separation and less than 30 minutes of exposure or contact,” Paschall said Friday in explaining this term.
Friday’s news in Murray comes on the same day of a stunning report from California, home to 40 million people. In taking the same kinds of precautions as Kentucky and other states earlier, in regard to restaurants, social gatherings and others, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he believes more than half of that state’s population could become infected if precautions are not taken.
“That’s why social distancing and avoiding community gatherings right now is so important,” Ferguson said of how, if Newsom’s fears are realized, that could cripple California’s healthcare system. “We want to avoid what California might be facing, and other states are going through right now. That’s why our governor has issued all of these orders. This is exactly why.
“I would say we all need to take personal responsible in this. We’re going to have to change our normal routine for a while.”
Paschall said the health department office does not treat acute illness cases and deals with those over the phone and refers them to primary care providers. Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever of at least 100 degrees, cough, shortness of breath and any other flu-like symptoms, including body aches, general fatigue, headaches, chills and dizziness.
Ferguson also said that everyone who has to make ventures outside their homes – such as to businesses like grocery stores or drug stores– needs to wash their hands upon returning. She did not recommend going so far as to take a shower every time they return from an excursion like that.
“I would think hand washing would be enough,” she said. “People also really need to try to avoid touching their face, eyes, nose and mouth. When it comes to coughing, if you need to cough, cough into your sleeve or into your shirt and try to avoid rubbing your eyes for sure, and I know it’s hard to people to do that because we’re in seasonal allergy time. People are going to have running eyes, running nose, so maybe keep some sort of tissue to wipe your hands and nose and throw it away immediately.”
“We are definitely trying to see the positive in this situation,” Paschall said. “But we certainly want to reassure the public that we are going to stay in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and the Kentucky Department of Public Health and we are following their lead, and they are helping us every step of the way.”
In his Friday press conference where he announced the Calloway case, among others, Beshear cautioned against stigmatizing anyone who has contracted the virus or getting angry with them.
“We do have more cases and we ought to expect to have more cases each and every day,” Beshear said. “That’s what we’re going to see as we move forward. … this is what we expect to see; we’re ready for it. We’re going to make it through it, and people are going to test positive as we go, and they’re people that we’re going to know.
“Let me just take a break here to mention that we have to treat folks that come down with the coronavirus with compassion. We’ve already seen instances out there where there’s enough information to identify somebody and we’ve seen people reacting in a way that those folks don’t deserve.
“But we’ve got to understand that people are going to get this, and a number of people are going to get this … we can’t blame anyone that comes down with the coronavirus. No one is the one individual spreading things. Treat everybody out there with compassion, especially folks that are going through this that have had it.”