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5 NC residents who attended Biogen conference test positive for COVID-19, officials say


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Five more people in North Carolina have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, having attended the same Biogen corporate conference in Boston last month, Wake County officials said Monday.

More than two dozen people around the country who attended the conference Feb. 24-27 have tested positive for the virus, including an Indiana resident. The Indiana patient also spent time at Biogen’s Research Triangle Park office last week before driving home, Wake officials said Monday.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will run second tests on the five new North Carolina patients to confirm results, Wake County said.

That brings North Carolina’s total cases to seven. All of the patients are in isolation while officials identify close contacts.

State health officials said Monday the five new cases are not related to North Carolina’s first case announced March 3, also involving a Wake County resident. The Wake County man tested presumptively positive with officials believing he was exposed at a long-term care facility in Kirkland, Wash., the site of an outbreak, and then returned to North Carolina.

On March 5, a Chatham County man who had traveled to northern Italy, where there’s a COVID-19 outbreak, tested presumptively positive, state health officials said March 6.

On Monday, Biogen, a biotechnology company with about 1,400 employees in Research Triangle Park, asked its employees to work from home after receiving word of the conference-related outbreak.

Officials said the Indiana patient attended the company conference and then began showing symptoms March 2 while working at Biogen’s RTP office. On March 6, the person drove home to Indiana, according to a news release.

There have been 423 cases of coronavirus reported in the U.S. and 19 deaths from the disease, as of March 9, the CDC said.

Coronavirus is primarily a respiratory disease, with symptoms similar to seasonal flu. According to the CDC, symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

North Carolina cases

In the first Wake County case, the man tested positive 10 days after returning home through RDU Airport, The News & Observer reported. At the time of his return, he was “not experiencing symptoms” and presented no “identifiable risk” to travelers, according to RDU.

No one who had been in contact with him had shown symptoms or was tested, The News & Observer reported. At least one church and one restaurant were notified that the Wake County man had visited after returning from Washington.

In Chatham County, the man experienced “mild flu-like symptoms” while traveling in northern Italy, but his fever went away, the state said. He flew back to the United States the next day, arriving in RDU via John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

The man was a “close contact” to a case in Georgia, the state said, and Georgia health officials contacted their North Carolina counterparts. The CDC identifies a “close contact” as someone who has been within 6 feet of a person for at least 10 minutes, or could have had exposure through airborne particles. That could happen when a person is coughed on, sneezed on or living with or visiting someone with the virus.

Officials with the Chatham County Public Health Department went to the man’s home to collect samples for testing. The presumptively positive test result came back March 5, the state said.

As of March 3, North Carolina has capabilities to test for the virus in the N.C. Laboratory of Public Health.

People with questions or concerns about COVID-19 can call the state’s phone line at 866-462-3821.


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