UMass Boston student confirmed as first coronavirus case in Massachusetts

BOSTON — A man returning from Wuhan, China, to Massachusetts has been confirmed to have the coronavirus, according to a news release by the Boston Public Health Commission. The man is in his 20s and lives in Boston, the release says.

The person who tested positive for coronavirus is a member of the UMass Boston community, according to a letter from UMass Boston Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman to students, faculty and staff. The university expects, “‘business as usual’ on campus,” and is currently working with the Mass. Department of Public Health and the Boston Public Health Commission.

“On occasions like this, it is possible for fear to get the better of any of us," the UMass Boston letter reads. "Let’s remember that viruses are no one’s fault and anyone can find themselves ill. We all want to be treated with care and compassion, especially when we fall ill.”

When the man recently returned to Massachusetts, he sought medical care and has been isolated at his home since that time. He will remain isolated away from campus until he’s cleared by public health officials.

“We are grateful that this young man is recovering and sought medical attention immediately,’’ said Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD. MPH. “Massachusetts has been preparing for a possible case of this new coronavirus, and we were fortunate that astute clinicians took appropriate action quickly. Again, the risk to the public from the 2019 novel coronavirus remains low in Massachusetts.”

Officials are watching the man closely, but say he doesn’t need it as his health has rebounded quickly. They say that the risk of spreading the disease to others is another reason why he is being watched so diligently.

“The patient has been in isolation in his home and he is doing quite well from a clinical perspective, he does not require hospitalization support,” said Dr. Jennifer Lo, the medical director of the Boston Public Health Commission. "There is a risk in exposing others, those that are hospitalized to this virus, if he were to have been transported.”

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“Our priority is not only to protect and inform the residents of Boston but also to help this man continue to recover. We are pleased that he is doing well,” said BPHC Executive Director Rita Nieves.

“Right now, we are not asking Boston residents to do anything differently. The risk to the general public remains low. And we continue to be confident we are in a good position to respond to this developing situation.”

The Massachusetts Department of Health and the Boston Public Health Commission were notified late Friday night of the positive test results by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials say the man arrived at Logan Airport on Tuesday before making his way back to the UMass Boston campus. He became ill a day later and immediately sought medical help. A few close contacts of his have been identified and are being watched for any signs of symptoms.

“All you need is one and then it can just spread like a wildfire, especially if you live in the dorms [or] you go to the dining hall,” said Cory Castinetti, a fellow UMass Boston student. “There’s so many kids there.”

Physicians say they do not know how long he will remain in isolation.

“This is part of what we don’t fully know about this virus, is the length of time that someone is capable of spreading the virus,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, the medical director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences.

"So this is something that we are going to work closely with the CDC. We will probably do continuous testing of his respiratory specimens and once we learn more from our experience with this virus, we’ll know when he is safe to be taken out of isolation.”

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Health officials at Mass. General Hospital say that the risk to Massachusetts residents remains low.

A CDC spokesperson told Boston 25 News that the organization is looking into whether or not passengers from the flight that man was on have been notified of the diagnosis in one of their fellow passengers.

This is the eighth case of the coronavirus infection reported in the United States.


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