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As a single traveler from Hubei Province waits out a 14-day quarantine period at Naval Base Point Mugu, Dr. Robert Levin, the chief health official in Ventura County, stated that holding the man was protecting everyone from coronavirus and that it was also a test of their humanity. “What if it were you or your loved one?” he asked the assembled press corps this afternoon, pre-empting the question of whether housing the man posed a danger to the residents of his county.
With Dr. Levin was Dr. Robert McDonald of the Centers for Disease Control and Jeanne Eckes, the incident manager at Pt. Mugu for Health and Human Services. They explained the patient arrived to Los Angeles International Airport, and that the passenger manifest indicated he had recently been in Hubei Province, traveling via train to Beijing. When he arrived Monday morning, the man was screened by medical staffers — as is done at the 11 U.S. airports with flights from China. The passenger had no symptoms of flu. He was sent into quarantine simply because he’d been in Hubei, Eckes said. She said they were able to track the other passengers on the plane for signs of exposure.
Alternatively, she said, answering reporters’ questions, if a U.S. passenger lived close to the airport of entry and had been to Wuhan or Hubei, from which the disease emanated in late December, they may be placed in quarantine at home. The passenger in question had to interrupt his travel, but he will be allowed to continue once he completes the quarantine period. Should he develop symptoms, such as fever or trouble breathing, said Dr. Levin, he would be sent to a hospital that is prepared to accept a coronavirus patient, with protective gear for the staff and an isolated room for the patient.
Eckes continued that the patient’s temperature is taken two times a day, and he is monitored by people wearing protective gear. He’s in a building like a hotel, she described, which has rooms for 20 patients if necessary. Dr. Levin pointed out that of the 500 people quarantined at U.S. military bases from airlifts from Hubei and cruise ships, only four had developed symptoms.
“There was no more of a high-risk group of travelers from China than these people,” he said. Worldwide, he noted, the death rate outside China was 1.6 percent — and 3.4 percent inside China — compared to the earlier epidemics SARS, which had a 15 percent death rate, and MERS, which was 35 percent.
The CDC is gearing up in case a pandemic is declared. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, head of respiratory infections, said on Tuesday at CDC headquarters in Atlanta that two of the three pandemic criteria had been met: illness including death and sustained person-to-person spread. The third would be worldwide spread. She noted that the airport precautions were “buying us more time to prepare.” Concerning, she said, were reports of disease spread and deaths coming from South Korea, Iran, and Italy.
In the quickly developing coronavirus outbreak, by the end of the day, the California Department of Health announced one person in Solano County seemed to be the first case of person-to-person transmission of the virus with no obvious connection to travel or a similarly infected individual. The other personal transmissions, in Chicago and San Benito County, were linked to individuals newly returned from Wuhan. The new case is hospitalized in Sacramento County.
As no vaccine yet exists for COVID-19, protection from any pandemic involved personal, community, and environmental precautions, the CDC’s Dr. Messonnier said. These are covered in detail at the CDC website. Personal measures include avoiding close (within six feet) contact with people who are sick and good hand hygiene. Community measures involve preventing crowding through school closures, telecommuting and telemedicine, canceling or avoiding mass gatherings. Environmental measures involve consistent cleaning of surfaces.
In Santa Barbara County, Public Health officials said they’ve received far more questions from the public than any patients — who still number zero. The new CDC concern is for community spread, which Public Health spokesperson Jackie Ruiz explained is the uncertainty of how people are getting sick, meaning there’s no direct link to a traveler or another person diagnosed with COVID-19. Public Health and area health-care providers are prepared should the disease emerge. For those who must travel, Ruiz said the CDC offered guidance on areas where the disease is present and what to do when you return.
To stay healthy, County Public Health recommended:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
- CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
- Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).