A South Bay resident with no known risk factors—such as travel to China or exposure to another infected person—has come down with the coronavirus.
The case reported Friday by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department marks the third in the South Bay but the second in California for a patient with none of the vulnerabilities associated with contracting the disease.
Health officials say this latest case signals that the virus may already be circulating locally, spreading from person to person in the Bay Area, and that it’s time to “change course” in how it addresses the pandemic.
“This new case indicates that there is evidence of community transmission, but the extent is still not clear,” county Public Health Director Dr. Sara Cody said in a press release. “I understand this may be concerning to hear, but this is what we have been preparing for. Now we need to start taking additional actions to slow down the spread of the disease.”
Measures taken so far—isolation, quarantine, contact tracing, travel restrictions—have slowed the transmission of the virus, public health officials stated, and the county will continue with those efforts.
The South Bay patient—the 63rd confirmed instance of coronavirus infection in the U.S.—involves an elderly woman with chronic health conditions who’s staying at El Camino Hospital after coming down with a respiratory illness. Her doctor requested testing from the public health department, which confirmed the results Thursday night.
Since identifying the case, the county has been trying to find out who the woman came into contact with so they could determine the extent of the exposure.
“Now is the time to prepare for the possibility of widespread community transmission,” county health officials said in a news release issued earlier today. “Since the disease is here, an important priority for the department will be to conduct community surveillance to determine the extent of local transmission.”
For individuals, the county recommended the following measures:
- Keep your hands clean. It is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. And always need to cover your cough and stay home when you are sick.
- Today, start working on not touching your face because one way viruses spread is when you touch your own mouth, nose or eyes.
- Since we know the disease is here, we all need to stay away from people who are sick.
- Start thinking about family preparedness, how to take care of sick family while not getting infected. Think about a room to isolate a sick person.
To reduce exposure in community settings, the county advised the following:
- Schools should plan for absenteeism and explore options for tele-learning and enhance surface cleaning.
- Businesses should, whenever possible, replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increase teleworking options and modify absenteeism policies and also enhance surface cleaning.
The county said it will work closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state and other agencies as the coronavirus situation develops. Members of the public can check for updates online at sccphd.org/coronavirus.
Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna responded to the breaking news today by introducing an action plan to prevent additional spread of the virus.
“My office is in contact with local health officials and monitoring the situation closely,” he told reporters in an emailed statement. “Nothing is more important than the health and safety of the entire Bay Area community. Our country has the minds and talent to beat this epidemic before it gets any worse.”
According to a series of tweets he posted earlier this week, his action plan involves spending $15 billion on widespread, free testing for all Americans as well as research for a vaccine and anti-viral treatments.
“Politicians,” Khanna said, “need to listen to the scientists and doctors.”
THREAD — This is the time to mobilize science and tackle the Coronavirus.
If the President won’t offer a comprehensive plan, the House must lead.
Here’s what we have to do ⬇️ https://t.co/1D8bjnTISD
— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) February 27, 2020