BEMIDJI -- Beltrami County has its first confirmed case of coronavirus, Sanford Health announced on Wednesday morning.

Sanford Health of Bemidji announced in a press release it had received its first confirmed positive COVID-19 case after a patient was tested at an alternate collection site. The patient is believed to have become ill after being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus while traveling internationally.

Currently, the patient, who's been under self-isolation at their private residence since returning from travel, has been experiencing mild symptoms of the virus. After the patient began experiencing the symptoms, they messaged their primary care provider Monday, March 23.

"This couldn't have gone any better in terms of community spread," said Dr. David Wilcox, vice president medical officer at Sanford during a media conference call. "The person was suspicious upon returning, isolated, waited until a business day and called on what to do next. They went through a screening process and didn't come to the clinic."

According to the release, the patient has been isolated at home and has been advised to stay home, except to receive medical care. The patient has also been asked to separate from other people in the home, limit contact with pets and animals, and wear a face mask when around others and when entering a healthcare facility.

"It is important that the patient is under self-imposed isolation, not quarantine," said Wilcox in the release. "While isolation serves the same purpose as quarantine, it's reserved for those who're already sick. It keeps infected people away from healthy people in order to prevent the sickness from spreading whereas a quarantine separates and restricts movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they later become sick."

Sanford providers will continue to follow up with the patient regarding their symptoms and assess whether they may need additional care. Sanford officials said the patient will remain under self-isolation until they are no longer contagious.

This means that they have not had a fever for at least 72 hours, that other symptoms have improved and at least seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

"We certainly are going to be careful about protecting that individual's privacy," said Joy Johnson, Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota vice president of operations on the call.

"It's also important to understand there might be some stigma associated with this," Wilcox said on the call. "This person may feel sad for the community about this, and we need to respect that part of the situation. That's why we're being very cautious."

Community spread not yet here

"It is important for community members to be aware of the possibility of community spread," Wilcox said in the release. "However, it is even more important that everyone acts calmly and rationally when seeking medical care. If you have a positive COVID-19 exposure or test, you will go home and do many of the same things you would if you have influenza. We need the community to follow those guidelines to ensure that healthcare staff are able to provide care not just for COVID-19 cases, but also other life-threatening health concerns as well."

To mitigate the spread, Sanford is encouraging residents to practice social distancing by keeping a six-foot space between each other. Additionally, people are asked to avoid close contact with people who are sick, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, stay home if they're sick, and clean frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Sanford is also encouraging residents to cover their coughs and sneezes with their elbow and wash hands using soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

"Now more than ever we need everyone to do their part to mitigate the spread of this virus and support one another," said Susan Jarvis, president and CEO of Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota in the release. "The spread of this virus is something that our organization has been monitoring and preparing for, but we need the community's help to protect those who are most vulnerable. We know that social distancing is the most effective step we can take in slowing down or stopping the spread of COVID-19. We need everyone's help in making this happen."

According to Johnson, a community spread in the county would result in an increase in testing. For the affected individual, Johnson said an alternate testing site was used.

"People who're potentially COVID-19 positive, or suspected of it, are not on our campus," Johnson said. "We screen them over the phone when they call and if they meet the criteria, an order will be put in. Once you have that order, you can acquire the swab sample process where a person will come to your vehicle, do the test and that will be sent to the Sanford lab in Sioux Falls."

That process will likely change when there are more cases discovered in Beltrami County.

"One of the things people are confused about is why we're not doing more testing right now," Johnson said. "One of the criteria that many people in other communities are qualifying under is that they've been exposed to someone with COVID-19. In communities where there's widespread disease, the answer to that is going to be 'yes' more often. But in Bemidji, the answer to that question is going to be primarily 'no.' But when we have broader community spread, we will be testing more people, because they'll be answering that question 'yes.'"

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