Floyd County hospital reports preliminary case of coronavirus

An illustration of COVID-19 provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

An illustration of COVID-19 provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A patient receiving treatment at a northwest Georgia hospital has preliminarily tested positive for coronavirus, hospital officials said Friday.

The Georgia Department of Public Health notified Floyd Medical Center in Rome of the test results late Thursday evening, the hospital administration said in a news release. If confirmed, the case would be the third for Georgia. Earlier this week, a Fulton County father and his teenage son were diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

Floyd Medical Center’s patient, a 46-year-old woman, is hospitalized in isolation and is in stable condition. Her illness doesn’t appear to be related to international travel, and the source of exposure is unknown at this time, according to hospital officials.

» THE LATEST: Complete coverage of coronavirus in Georgia

COVID-19 is characterized by fever and coughing and sometimes pneumonia and shortness of breath. Most of the cases have been in China, where roughly 80,000 have been sickened and at least 2,800 people have died.

» MORE: What to do to protect yourself from coronavirus in Georgia 

There have been 148 confirmed and presumptive cases in the U.S., including 10 deaths, in 13 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

At least 49 of the cases are repatriates from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

Kurt Stuenkel, CEO of Floyd Medical Center, said the female patient arrived Saturday at the hospital’s Emergency Care Center with mild flu-like symptoms. She was screened according to state health and CDC guidelines, treated and released.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Stuenkel said the patient was asked about international travel and indicated she had not recently traveled to any country considered high risk for exposure to the coronavirus, including China, Italy and South Korea.

The woman returned Tuesday with worsening symptoms.

Stuenkel said a CT scan of the woman’s chest revealed hazy abnormalities, which are considered markers of coronavirus and not typical of lung diseases.

“Our radiologists being current on what’s going on said, ‘This looks like what we’ve been reading about,’” Stuenkel said.

Floyd Medical Center clinicians made the determination to admit her to the hospital, despite the Department of Public Heath saying she did not meet COVID-19 screening criteria.

She was placed in isolation and further screening was conducted at the “adamant urging” of the attending physician and the DPH district health director for northwest Georgia, according to hospital officials.

Additional testing to confirm the findings are being performed, and results from the CDC are anticipated in the coming days.

Stuenkel said about two dozen staff members who may have been in contact with the woman have been notified and are self-quarantining for 14 days.

Stuenkel said they felt a sense of urgency to go public with this case to reach the community at large.

“We may be the first one going public on this and it may be going on everywhere — I suspect that may be true,” Stuenkel said.

Speaking with reporters and Floyd County officials in Rome on Friday morning, Dr. Gary Voccio, health director for the Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District, stressed the case has not been confirmed. He added that the patient traveled from Washington, D.C., and that one of her relatives is in self-quarantine.

“We don’t want to panic the public,” Voccio said. “This is not a community-wide outbreak. It is one patient. Could there be more? Yes. As you know, the world is global. People travel all over the world.”

He added: “It has not spread anywhere else that we know of.”

In a statement on Twitter, Gov. Brian Kemp reiterated that the CDC has not confirmed COVID-19 test results for the patient.

“(Georgia Department of Public Health) has asked CDC to expedite processing for an official determination,” he said. “To prevent misinformation, we encourage Georgians to rely on CDC, DPH (and) my office for guidance. We'll continue to give regular updates.”

Stuenkel said he’s frustrated by the delay in testing, but refrained from criticizing state and federal public health officials.

“We want a perfect world, but we know it isn’t,” he said. “I am not going to point the finger at the DPH or the CDC. It’s a very fluid situation. We are learning about this all over the world and here we are in Rome, Georgia, with a case not fitting the criteria. ... This is very complex, we have limited resources and we are all doing the best we can.”

The hospital has been advised by state health officials to notify caregivers who treated the patient, as well as all patients who may have come in contact with the woman, although they said the risk of exposure is low.

In the meantime, Floyd Medical Center is assuring the public that it is safe to seek care at the hospital, and they are taking all necessary steps to prevent spread of the infectious disease.

— Please return to AJC.com for updates.

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