Health officials in Los Angeles County Wednesday declared a state of emergency for the novel coronavirus after six new cases were confirmed in the county over the last 48 hours.
Stressing the need of acting "out of an abundance of caution," and not panic, L.A. Department of Public Health Officials, alongside Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. County Supervisors Hilda Solis, Kathryn Barger, and Janice Hahn, said the declaration of an emergency would allow for better coordination among various levels of government as they anticipate additional cases.
Six new cases were confirmed by health officials on Tuesday after a lab returned positive results and the patients were lined to an "assumed known exposure," Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the head of the county health department said.
"There's either a travel history to an area with an outbreak, there's exposure to known travelers coming from areas where there's an outbreak, or the person is in close contact with a confirmed case,'' she said.
"This means as of today, we still don't have known cases of community transmission.''
Five of the newly diagnosed victims are being treated in isolation at home and are currently being monitored by the health department, Ferrer said. One patient is currently being treated at a local hospital.
"Three of the new cases were travelers who were traveling together in Italy, two of the new cases are family members who are in close contact with another family member who does not live in L.A. County but (has the virus) and the last new case is a person whose job at the time exposed them to travelers from other countries who may have been infectious.''
At least one patient reportedly was conducting medical screenings of passengers at Los Angeles International Airport. According to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security, a "medical professional" who screened passengers for coronavirus at LAX had tested positive for COVID-19.
"This individual is currently under self-quarantine at home with mild symptoms and under medical supervision,'' according to a DHS statement to NBC News, which first reported the case. "Their immediate family is also under home quarantine.''
The person last conducted screenings at the airport on Feb. 21. That was at least seven days before the worker showed any kind of symptoms for the disease. Health officials are not concern the patient may have transmitted the virus to any airport passengers.
Ferrer laid out a series of steps the department will be taking in the days and weeks ahead.
"We are increasing our capacity for testing at our local public health lab. (It is) among 10 California health labs that have received CDC test kits and we have additional kits on the way. We are currently testing and have been since last Wednesday,'' Ferrer said.
"We will ensure that people who test positive for the novel coronavirus and their close contacts are quickly identified and closely monitored and supported while they are in isolation and/or quarantine.''
Residents in L.A. County should expect additional cases in the near future, Ferrer said. She urged people to follow basic sanitary practices, such as frequent handwashing lasting at least 20 seconds, as well as covering their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing. People who are sick should avoid other people, and also expect the possibility of the expansion of "social distancing." That means people should begin saying hello instead of shaking hands and try to stay at least six feet away from strangers at public events.
"We do need folks to plan for the possibility of business disruptions, school closures, and modifications or cancellations of select public events. We will be working closely with schools and public event venues and businesses before decisions are made to close.
"If at any point we think that there's good reason for us to be worried about extensive, extensive community transmission ... we may ask for modifications at large public events,'' Ferrer added. "This could be that games are played but there are no spectators. This could be that there are limits to how people are going to gather at public events. But I want to reassure everyone we are not there today.''
Ferrer added that the county's health department will begin giving daily radio briefings, including on KFI AM 640 every day at around 1:50 pm.
Additional guidelines will be posted at "childcare facilities, schools, colleges and universities, employers, hotels, public safety responders, shelters, and parents on how they can prepare for and slow the spread of the virus, officially known as COVID-19."
The county's pandemic response plan for COVID-19 in accordance with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The patient tested presumptively positive on Tuesday at a California lab and was likely exposed during international travel from Feb. 11-21 on a Princess cruise ship that departed from San Francisco to Mexico. The patient was in isolation at Kaiser Permanente Roseville.
On Tuesday night, officials with Kaiser Permanente confirmed to various media outlets that it was treating a newly diagnosed coronavirus patient in Los Angeles.
"Kaiser Permanente is overseeing the care of a coronavirus patient who is home in self-isolation and being treated on an outpatient basis,'' according to a Kaiser statement. ``We are in touch with and monitoring the patient.''
At least one patient who was confirmed to have the virus has since recovered and been released from treatment. Another patient located in Orange County has also reportedly recovered from the virus.
Dr. Nichole Quick, Orange County's health officer, credited the discovery of the new patients to increased local testing ability.
"The more you look for something, the more likely you are to find it,'' she said. ``... Now that our Public Health Laboratory is able to perform COVID-19 testing, we expect to see more cases here in Orange County. Our residents should take everyday precautions to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like covering your coughs and sneezes, avoiding touching your face, and washing your hands frequently.''
More information about the county's efforts can be found at http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/.
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