Federal employee in Denver under self-quarantine after possible exposure to coronavirus

Chief Medical Officer: Situation determined to be low risk
Posted at 9:25 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-05 12:58:51-05

DENVER – A federal employee at the Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) in Denver may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, according to a letter sent to employees and obtained by Denver7 Wednesday evening.

The letter states the employee may have been exposed roughly two weeks ago and was already under self-quarantine, adding the employee “has demonstrated no confirmed exposure, no confirmed symptoms, and no confirmed infection.”

Additionally, the letter states the Interior Department’s chief medical officer determined the risk to the employee was low and that the risk to the office was “extremely low, if not unlikely.”

Further, it states the employee is near the end of the 14-day self-monitoring period recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for asymptomatic people with low-risk exposures to COVID-19, the disease more commonly known as coronavirus.

In an abundance of caution, all Denver ONRR employees were given the option to telework through the remainder of the week to allow the ONRR time to evaluate the situation, the letter states, adding all Denver-area ONRR employees should expect to report to the office on Monday, March 9, unless they’re told otherwise.

In a statement to Denver7, Dr. Kate Sawyer, the chief medical officer of the Interior Department’s Office of Occupational Safety & Health, said she supported the actions taken by the ONRR. Her full statement is below:

“Today, an ONRR employee was notified that they may have been exposed during a trip, which ended 12 days ago. The employee has no confirmed exposure, no confirmed symptoms, and no confirmed infection. As a medical professional, I believe the risk to the employee is low and the risk to the office is extremely low, if not unlikely. I am reassured that the employee has not become symptomatic and is almost at the end of the recommended 14-day self-monitoring period. As an added precaution, the Interior Department’s Office of Occupational Safety & Health supports Denver ONRR’s decision to take additional steps to ensure the health of the one building and provide employees with the option to telework for the remainder of the week. We continue to coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the DOI Office of Emergency Management (OEM) as we take precautions against any possible exposure."

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This marks the second advisory of a possible exposure to the novel coronavirus in Colorado.

Earlier Wednesday, the Boulder Valley School District said a substitute teacher at Centaurus High School in Lafayette had self-quarantined after he was informed that he was aboard a Princess Cruise ship 12 days ago with another passenger who tested positive for COVID-19.

FULL COVERAGE: COVID-19 outbreak across the U.S. and the world

During a news conference this week, Gov. Jared Polis said Colorado is "prepared as possible" for the coronavirus and is ramping up its emergency response efforts, though no positive tests of the virus have been confirmed in the state.

As of Thursday morning, 58 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Colorado — 37 are negative while 21 are still pending, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. No tests came back positive.

Also on Wednesday, the House passed an $8.3 billion measure to battle the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. The legislation would speed development of vaccines and new medicines to battle the virus, pay for containment operations, and beef up preparedness.

President Trump is expected to sign the measure Thursday.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday it is providing $35 million to 28 states to help their public health departments respond to the outbreak and increase their surveillance for the virus, according to the Associated Press.

The death toll from the novel coronavirus in the U.S. climbed to 11 by Wednesday afternoon. All but one were reported in Washington state.

Worldwide, more than 3,200 people have died from COVID-19, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins. Most of those deaths were in mainland China, where the virus is believed to have originated.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and shortness of breath, and may appear between two to 14 days after exposure to the virus, according to the CDC. Most people develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with an underlying chronic disease, are under a greater risk of developing more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.