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COVID-19

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New US coronavirus case may be 1st from unknown origin

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 27, 2020

President Donald Trump with Vice President Mike Pence, left, and members of the president's coronavirus task force speaks during a news conference at the Brady press briefing room of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP)
President Donald Trump with Vice President Mike Pence, left, and members of the president's coronavirus task force speaks during a news conference at the Brady press briefing room of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP)
By Don Thompson and Mike Stobbe Associated Press

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – State and federal health officials are trying to locate everyone who came in contact with a northern California woman believed to be the first in the U.S. to contract the coronavirus with no known connection to travel abroad or other known causes.

The woman lives in Solano County, home to the Travis Air Force Base where dozens of people infected in China or on cruise ships have been treated. But Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, said there was no evidence the woman had any connection to the base.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declined comment when asked by reporters to name the community in Solano County the woman was from but urged people to take precautions while emphasizing that the risks to public health were low. He said there was no need to declare a public health emergency.

“Everybody in this country is rightfully anxious about this moment,” Newsom said. “I think they should know we are meeting this moment with the kind of urgency that is necessary and I don’t want to over extend the anxiety.”

Newsom said the state only has only received about 200 testing kits for the virus, an amount he called “simply inadequate.” But he said federal officials have promised him the state will get many more soon.

Meanwhile, California Health and Human Services Agency Director Mark Ghaly said health officials would change the way they test for the virus by “shifting from order and community containment to one where we acknowledge that community spread is possible.”

California officials said the infected woman from Solano County is receiving medical care in Sacramento County. Solano County lies between the Bay Area and Sacramento, with a population of more than 445,000.

The patient was brought to UC Davis Medical Center from another Northern California hospital on Feb. 19 but it was four days before the CDC heeded a request to test the patient for COVID-19, according to an email sent to employees Wednesday by the hospital’s interim CEO, Brad Simmons, and David Lubarsky, CEO of UC Davis Health.

The patient arrived on a ventilator and special protection orders were issued “because of an undiagnosed and suspected viral condition,” according to the email sent to employees.

The hospital asked the CDC to test for the coronavirus but testing was delayed until Sunday “since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19,” the email said.

Solano County health officials said in a statement Thursday they are working with local, state and federal officials to identify people who may have been exposed to person infected in the county.

“While this is considered a serious public health threat, the risk to Solano County residents and the general public is low at this time,” the county health department said.

UC Davis, which has treated other coronavirus patients, has been taking infection prevention precautions since the patient arrived. The email said officials believe there was a small chance that others at the facility were exposed to the virus.

“Nevertheless, a small number of medical center employees have been asked to stay home and monitor their temperatures,” the email said.

The CDC had not responded Thursday to email messages sent Wednesday night seeking comment.

All of the 59 other cases in the U.S. had traveled from abroad or had been in close contact with those who traveled. Health officials have been on high alert for so-called community spread.

Earlier U.S. cases included 14 in people who traveled back from outbreak areas in China, or their spouses; three people who were evacuated from the central China city of Wuhan; and 42 American passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship who were evacuated by the federal government to the U.S. from where the ship was docked in Japan.

Some of those evacuated were taken to Travis Air Force Base, which is in Solano County. A number of the earlier cases have been in California, including some of the people taken to Travis and one in which a traveler who returned to San Benito County south of San Francisco and spread it to a spouse.

California officials have been preparing for the possibility that community spread of the virus might first surface in the state.

“We have been anticipating the potential for such a case in the U.S., and given our close familial, social and business relationships with China, it is not unexpected that the first case in the U.S. would be in California,” Angell said.

The outbreak, which began in China, has infected tens of thousands of people in more than three dozen countries, with the vast majority in mainland China.

The new virus is a member of the coronavirus family that can cause colds or more serious illnesses such as SARS and MERS.

The virus can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. Health officials think it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.

Officials are advising people to take steps to avoid infection with coronavirus or other respiratory infections like colds or the flu, including washing hands with soap and water and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.

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