Health officials on Monday identified two more people sickened by COVID-19—a highly infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus—in Santa Clara County. That makes for a total of nine confirmed cases countywide and more than 84,000 around the world.
The eighth and ninth patients are both adult men who were exposed to the virus by someone they live with, according to a press release from the county Public Health Department. Both of them are quarantined at home.
News of the two additional infections follows confirmation of three others over the weekend. One identified on Sunday involves an adult woman with chronic health issues. An investigation is underway to find out where she came into contact with the coronavirus. A husband and wife who recently traveled to Europe account for the other two occurrences reported this past weekend. All five remain hospitalized.
County officials said they don’t expect an increase in exposure and that they’ll continue to conduct “community surveillance” to find out how far the disease has spread in the South Bay. Details of the surveillance were not included in the news release.
The announcement comes just a few days after local health officials identified one of two cases nationwide in which they were unable to determine the source of the disease. The South Bay incidence involved a 65-year-old woman who suffers from chronic health conditions but had none of the known risk factors for COVID-19, such as traveling or coming in contact with another infected person.
To date, more than 2,800 people have died from the respiratory disease—mostly in China, where the outbreak began. But the virus has since spread around the world, with Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran among the most impacted.
Despite COVID-19’s rapid and far-reaching spread, the U.S. has lagged in testing people with symptoms of the disease. Until last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention had only conducted testing on people who traveled to one of the most affected parts of the world or had come into contact with another person with the diagnosis.
The first patient with confirmed COVID-19 in the U.S. asked for CDC testing on Feb. 19 while hospitalized at UC Davis. Results didn’t come back until a week later, just as President Donald Trump wrapped up a press conference where he put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the federal response to the novel coronavirus.
Trump’s pick prompted widespread concern because Pence, as governor of Indiana, slashed public health funding and delayed rollout of needle exchanges in the months leading up to the worst HIV outbreak in the state’s history.
As the coronavirus spread from China to the U.S. over the course of January and February, the CDC lost valuable weeks that could have been spent tracking COVID-19’s spread by eschewing World Health Organization guidelines and insisting on creating its own complicated test, according to reports from ProPublica. When the CDC test arrived in labs throughout the country a few weeks ago, it didn’t work as planned.
The federal agency finally expanded testing requirements at the end of last week to include people who had traveled to a broader range of areas. It also began allowing testing for people with severe symptoms but no other known ailments, such as the flu.
The patient diagnosed at the end of last week in Santa Clara County apparently fell into that last category. The elderly woman had no connection to anyone else known to have COVID-19 and hadn’t traveled anywhere out of the area. That means she may have contracted the virus from someone who hadn’t been diagnosed.
County health officials—who are posting updates about the pandemic at sccphd.org/coronavirus—urge people to help slow the spread of the disease by keeping their hands clean, staying away from anyone who’s sick and keeping their hands away from their face. They’re encouraging organizations such as schools to plan for absenteeism and come up with options for home learning. Business, meanwhile, are advised to hold video or telephone conferences in lieu of in-person meetings.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) issued a statement over the weekend to assure that she’s working with fellow Democrats on bringing an emergency funding bill to the House floor this week to pay for whatever resources are needed to respond to “the seriousness of this public health emergency.”
“While the reported case in Santa Clara County certainly raises the risk to the public, it nonetheless remains low at this time,” Eshoo said. “This is a rapidly evolving situation in the U.S. and I continue to closely monitor developments with the key federal agencies and our local public health officials. I urge my constituents to stay up to date on the latest information about the coronavirus by visiting the CDC’s website and taking the necessary prevention steps including washing your hands frequently, covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze, and staying home when you are sick.”
This article has been updated to reflect an updated tally of coronavirus cases.