In an effort to get ahead of the possible spread of the coronavirus, Sonoma County officials declared a state of emergency on Monday, March 2.
The declaration came after officials announced that doctors are treating an unnamed patient for a suspected case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in an unnamed local hospital.
The case is the second in the county, but the first involving a Sonoma County resident. On Feb. 25, the county announced that a local hospital was treating a patient who had been in quarantine at Travis Air Force Base, after returning from a trip on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
In a press conference on Monday afternoon, county officials, including Supervisor Susan Gorin and others, explained the parameters of the declaration, which Gorin said the Board of Supervisors would consider formalizing at a March 4 meeting.
County officials said Monday that they are open to the possibility that there might be additional local cases because the second patient under care for coronavirus may have come in contact with other county residents before being diagnosed.
Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Celeste Philip said the emergency declaration will help the county coordinate their efforts to deal with the potential spread of the virus.
“The declaration allows for us to have better coordination within the different county agencies as well as them being able to access mutual aid and assistance in a more streamlined process,” Philip said at a press conference.
Also on Monday, officials announced they had closed the Healdsburg School, a private school offering K-8 classes, for cleaning after health officials learned that “someone involved in the care of the patient” had visited the school.
Jennie Snyder, a deputy superintendent at the Sonoma County Office of Education, said that the person had visited the school at night, not during school hours while students were present.
By Monday, March 2, the coronavirus had infected more than 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000. In the United States, the virus had infected 100 people and killed six by the same date.
A report from the China Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that the vast majority (87 percent) of cases in the country were in people aged 30 to 79. While the disease had a 2.3 percent fatality rate overall, 14.8 percent of the fatal cases were older than 80. The fatality rate for younger patients was significantly lower, according to the China CDC.
Sonoma County is not alone in California counties declaring an emergency, even though the case count so far is low.
Three weeks earlier, Santa Clara County declared a state of health emergency. By Monday, March 2, Santa Clara County had announced a total of nine cases within the county.
In a statement online, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that “The potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high, to the United States and globally.
At this time, however, most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus. This virus is NOT currently spreading widely in the United States. However, it is important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic.”
At the press conference on Monday, county officials said they still lack kits to test for the virus.
The “presumptive” positive declaration came after officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), working along with state and local officials tested the patient.
According to county officials, the only way they can turn a presumptive positive case into a fully confident diagnosis is if they conduct the test in a CDC laboratory. The CDC will test the Sonoma County patient, according to a Monday, March 2 county press release.
County officials offered few details about the patient, the hospital where doctors are treating them or the cruise ship they had been on.
Barbie Robinson, the county’s health services director, told reporters that the county believes they cannot name the hospital caring for the patient under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a law governing patient privacy rules.
It’s not clear that the justification will hold up to scrutiny. Reporters at the press conference contended that other counties have identified the hospitals where they are treating COVID-19 patients.
“We want to protect the patients and their privacy and so at this juncture we’re not releasing that information,” Robinson said at the press conference.
In order to reduce the risk of a spread, county officials warned against hoarding supplies that could be used by medical professionals, including surgical masks for health care workers, unless you are sick.
The Sonoma County Department of Health Services recommends the following steps to reduce the spread of the virus:
· washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,
· avoid touching your eyes and face,
· coughing or sneezing into your sleeved elbow,
· and staying home when ill.