No coronavirus evacuees have been assigned to Fort Carson as of Monday, a spokeswoman for the post said as health officials urged people to continue general illness preventative measures and remember to get a flu shot.
The post has been identified by the Department of Defense for housing as many as 250 evacuees from areas with the virus this month, according to a Saturday news release from Fort Carson officials. The post will provide an update if any people who may have been exposed to the virus are assigned to it, the post said Monday.
Evacuees would be housed at the Colorado Army National Guard's training center on the southwest side of the operational area of post. The facility is in a remote area of post, the spokesman said. It includes an operations center, dining facility, auditorium, conference rooms, classrooms and living accommodations, he added.
Fort Carson is one of four military facilities approved as possible quarantine sites by the Pentagon on Saturday. Americans returning from Hubei province in China, the center of the outbreak, will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine under an order signed Friday by President Donald Trump.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked the Defense Department to provide facilities to accommodate up to 1,000 people who may have to be quarantined.
Fort Carson has experience in dealing with global infectious diseases. In 2014, the post sent more than 150 soldiers to Africa to assist during an Ebola outbreak, and the post hospital includes isolation facilities and experts in infectious diseases.
The Army also regularly trains its troops to protect themselves from chemical and biological warfare.
For any coronavirus cases, Fort Carson soldiers and personnel will not be in direct contact with any evacuees that arrive, officials said. Health and Human Services workers will be responsible for the care, transportation and security of those in quarantine, according to the news release.
Colorado has not reported a case of what's officially known as the 2019 novel coronavirus, a state health department official said Monday. The virus is just one of several coronaviruses, named for their crown-like appearance under a microscope, officials said.
Some coronaviruses act like the common cold. Two other commonly known coronaviruses include MERS, or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which made headlines for killing hundreds in 2012, and SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which rose to the level of a global pandemic in 2003, spreading quickly from continent to continent and also killing hundreds of people.
Housing coronavirus evacuees at Fort Carson would not pose a substantial added risk to the local population because of precautions that would be put in place by health officials, Dr. Robin Johnson, medical director of El Paso County Public Health, told The Gazette on Monday.
"The risk to Americans is still really low," she said. "Until there is any evidence of change, it's really important for us to be realistic about that."
Health officials that spoke to The Gazette Monday urged residents to wash their hands, avoid close contact with those who are sick, avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and undertaking other "everyday preventative actions" that could deter the spread of illnesses such as the flu and the coronavirus. They also urged people who have not received a flu shot to get one, given the flu's prevalence, even though the vaccine will not prevent any coronavirus.
Flu numbers are "much more dramatic" than those of the novel corona virus, Dr. Samuel Dominguez, an infectious disease specialist with Children's Hospital Colorado, told The Gazette on Monday.
About 15 million Americans have experienced the flu this season, with around 8,000 deaths, he said. "Those numbers are actually very impressive and concerning," he said.
Both major hospital systems in the Colorado Springs area, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services and UCHealth Memorial Hospital, have geared up in preparation for any local coronavirus cases.
Andrea Sinclair, a Penrose-St. Francis spokeswoman, said the nonprofit Catholic system is “working with public health officials to train staff in emergency departments at Penrose Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center to follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines..”
Cary Vogrin, a UCHealth Memorial spokeswoman, said UCHealth increased screening protocols Jan. 15 at all of its facilities.
“Anyone visiting a UCHealth hospital or clinic will be asked if they have traveled outside of the U.S. in the past 30 days and could have been infected," she said. "If a patient has a fever and a pneumonia-like respiratory illness, that person will be isolated and staff members will use protocols like masks, gowns and gloves to keep providers and other patients safe.”
There are currently fewer than 20 known coronavirus cases in the United States.
Gazette reporters Wayne Heilman, Tom Roeder and the Associated Press contributed to this report.