[Update: Feb. 26, 2020, 10:30 a.m.] According to the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, the LAX patient’s disease status is unconfirmed, and the Centers for Disease Control is investigating. The department emphasized no new coronavirus cases exist in Los Angeles County. The new quarantine site, Pt. Mugu Naval Base, is in Ventura County.
[Update: Feb. 26, 2020, 10:10 a.m.] A traveler who arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Monday before dawn is reported by the Los Angeles Times to have been taken to Pt. Mugu on a 14-day quarantine. Ashley Bautista, a spokesperson for Ventura County Public Health, confirmed the report, stating the individual presently did not exhibit symptoms. She referred questions on travel history and reason for quarantine to federal Health and Human Services, which is handling the case.
Coronavirus patients from Los Angeles International Airport might be housed at Point Mugu, a U.S. Navy base on the edge of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Sunday. There, American travelers through LAX who are potentially infected with COVID-19 would be monitored for symptoms of viral infection based on their travel history. Travelers at risk are housed at Department of Defense sites around the country, and the expansion of locations reflects the Centers for Disease Control’s pre-planning should community spread, or disease without a direct link to travel, cross U.S. borders. The Health and Human Services announcement stated the risk of disease remained low, and the virus was not currently spreading in the U.S.
Official figures released on Monday stated that 2,592 people worldwide have died from the virus since the outbreak began at the end of December. In all, 34 Americans have tested positive, 15 of them from California, according to live updates by the New York Times.
The City of Costa Mesa has gone to court to block state and federal officials from placing dozens of people evacuated from Asia in a state-owned center in their community. Similar resistance has not yet surfaced in Ventura County for the prospective quarantine site at Point Mugu.
Cottage Health in Santa Barbara has been preparing its teams with protocols specific to COVID-19. It routinely screens patients who enter emergency departments for recent travel history and symptoms related to current public health alerts. Cottage has 47 negative pressure isolation rooms across its locations to provide hospital care to any cases in Santa Barbara County. Its health advisory includes taking preventive measures for general health, such as getting the current flu vaccine, practicing hand and respiratory hygiene, and staying home during respiratory illnesses such as the cold or flu.
While the coronavirus has caused no deaths in the U.S., more than 15,000 Americans have died in the past three months from the flu, said Dr. Henning Ansorg, health officer for the county’s Public Health Department. “I have always tried to stress that other viruses are as bad as the coronavirus,” said Ansorg in a phone interview. “The new coronavirus does not really affect children, while the influenza virus can affect even healthy children.”
Still, fears about COVID-19 have spurred economic and social consequences. Air travel has taken a serious hit, with an estimated $29.3 billion loss in revenues this year, according to an economic report in The Guardian conducted by the International Air Transport Association. The coronavirus has also aggravated xenophobia, causing incidents against people who are perceived as East Asian.
With no widespread community transmissions of the virus in the U.S., perhaps attributable to the 15 quarantine sites across the country, the economic and social impacts of the global epidemic lead to practical questions. “How does the coronavirus compare to influenza? Is it worth imposing such huge economic and social burdens?” asked Ansorg. “And how many lives have we saved with these measures?” Answering a negative in a vacuum of information is always difficult, but with death in the global balance, precautions seem clearly worthwhile.