WATERVILLE — Members of the Colby College community who recently visited China are being monitored in isolation “out of an abundance of caution” even though none of them nor anyone in Maine has been confirmed to have the coronavirus sweeping that country.

Colby College, in a statement posted on its website Thursday, said the college “is not aware of any cases of the Coronavirus in the Colby community or anywhere in Maine.”

There have been 11 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The closest confirmed case to Maine has been in Massachusetts.

“None of the individuals in isolation have any symptoms of the virus, and they are being monitored per CDC guidelines,” the college wrote. “They were isolated based on public health guidance for those returning from mainland China and out of an abundance of caution for the safety and wellbeing of the Colby and local communities.”

China reported Friday that the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak had surpassed 600 people even as the World Health Organization has been appealing for more funds to help countries battle the spread of the disease, which has reached more than 31,000 cumulative confirmed cases and triggered travel restrictions and quarantines around the world. By mid-week, at least 230 cases had been confirmed outside of mainland China, including two fatalities.

The vast majority of the confirmed cases are in mainland China, a country of 1.4 billion people.

George Sopko, a spokesman for Colby College, said Friday that the isolation lasts 14 days from the date of their return to the U.S., a practice consistent with public health guidelines and followed by “thousands of others throughout the United States who recently traveled from mainland China.”

“Colby was in regular contact with the Maine CDC before current federal guidelines were in place and has continued to be in contact with the CDC as the situation around the world has evolved,” Sopko said. “Our medical professionals have been consulting regularly with the Maine CDC to ensure that we are in compliance with all guidelines.”

Citing federal privacy laws, Sopko declined to say how many Colby community members were in isolation, where the isolation was taking place and whether the group included students, staff and faculty.

“We are taking proactive measures out of abundance of caution and are ensuring that community members are receiving consistent and ongoing support,” Sopko said. “Federal privacy laws prohibit us from providing identifying information about these individuals.”

Colby said in its online statement that the college was offering “a high level of support for anyone who is impacted, including allowing students to continue their coursework without interruption.”

“We will continue to closely monitor the health of all community members who have traveled to China and follow the guidelines provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the college wrote.

Robert Long, spokesman for the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, said Wednesday that he had been on a call with the U.S. CDC about the virus.

“On that call, federal public health officials reiterated that the risk to the American public remains low,” Long wrote in an email. “The U.S. CDC continues to report 11 confirmed cases in six states.

“Maine has no confirmed cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus,” he continued. “Maine has no Persons Under Investigation, which is the term that U.S. CDC uses to denote people who are being tested for the novel 2019 coronavirus. Health care providers are required to report potential Persons Under Investigation to Maine CDC, which would relay that information to the U.S. CDC.”

Colby College, meanwhile, has previously taken similar measures in response to public-health related issues.

“Colby regularly needs to manage instances when viruses and communicable diseases have the potential to impact the community,” Sopko said, “and we have strong protocols in place for handling these kinds of situations.”


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