Los Angeles County’s top public health official stressed Tuesday that there remains only one case of coronavirus in Los Angeles County, hoping to counter misleading information stoking fear in some communities.
“There is a lot of fear and misinformation,” Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Board of Supervisors, adding that her department is putting a system in place that “protects everyone without stigmatizing anyone.”
Supervisor Hilda Solis said some people were circulating petitions to close schools and misinformation about the virus, using the county logo and other official insignia.
“It is clearly stirring up fear, racial bias,” Solis said of the concern about the virus that was first identified by the Chinese government on Dec. 31, when authorities indicated an unknown pneumonia variant was impacting residents of Hubei province.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger — who joined Solis in attending a parade in Chinatown Saturday to celebrate the Lunar New Year — said she worried about Chinese residents being targeted in dangerous ways.
“I would ask the public to act responsibly. Do not profile,” Barger said.
Ferrer stressed that the numbers of patients remains low in the U.S., with 11 confirmed cases nationwide. Of those, six are in California, including one each in Los Angeles County and Orange County.
“We still only have one case and that one case is a traveler who lives in Wuhan city,” Ferrer said. “There’s no reason for schools to close. There’s no reason for that level of panic.”
Nine of the U.S. patients were exposed in Wuhan and two had “very intimate contact” with other patients, according to Ferrer.
Globally, more than 20,000 people have contracted the coronavirus and 427 people — two of them outside of mainland China — have died as a result.
“It’s scary what’s happening in China, but that’s not what’s happening in L.A. County,” Ferrer said.
She walked the board through the federal directives issued by the White House on Friday night, which Ferrer said she believed were appropriate steps to contain the virus.
No foreign nationals from any country who have recently traveled to China are now allowed entry to the U.S.
U.S. citizens and their close family members who travel here from China are only allowed to travel through one of 11 airports nationwide, including LAX, where they are screened into one of three groups.
Those with symptoms of respiratory illness or fever — a very small number, according to Ferrer — are transported to a medical facility for further screening and testing.
Those who have been in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, or who have had close contact with someone else with the virus are subject to mandatory quarantine at one of four American military bases, including March Air Reserve Base in Riverside.
Riverside County health officials said a passenger traveling through Los Angeles International Airport on Monday has been quarantined at March — which is separately housing 195 Americans who returned last week on a flight from Wuhan — and will remain there until Feb. 6.
U.S. citizens traveling from anywhere else in China who have not had close contact with the virus and show no symptoms are allowed to proceed to their final destination, where they are actively monitored by the local health department and told to stay away from the general public.
Ferrer said her department was advising schools and employers to accommodate those people, allowing them to work and study at home during what amounts to a self-quarantine for 14 days. County workers are helping arrange for food and other necessities.
“We are trying to minimize economic hardship,” Ferrer said. “They are not quarantined however. They are just asked to exclude themselves from public activities.”
In response to questions from the board, Ferrer said testing for the virus can only be done in Atlanta at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, creating long lead times, but testing protocols will be rolled out to L.A. County and other public health labs across the country. She expected local testing to be available in roughly two weeks, but only at such labs, not at a doctor’s office.
DPH is also working to inform city officials, universities, school districts and other groups seeking guidance on how to respond.
Barger and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti held a briefing call Monday with representatives from all 88 cities within the county, according to Barger. Multiple telebriefings for clinicians have been held and more were scheduled Tuesday afternoon for county workers and officials representing universities and colleges. Guidance for schools that has been approved by the CDC is expected to be posted online later Tuesday.
Ferrer said a hotline would soon be established for city officials and universities to get answers in real time. Calls from healthcare providers, which have ramped up dramatically, are being handled by 211 operators, and DPH is monitoring those efforts.
Barger said it was important to be vigilant, but asked residents to strike a balance.
“We need to make sure that this does not create a situation where we’re putting people’s lives in jeopardy … in terms of profiling and assuming that because you are from maybe China, maybe the Philippines, that you are infected with the coronavirus,” she said.
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Eds: Riverside University Health System PIO Jose Arballo can be reached at 951-712-3705.
RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A child among a group of nearly 200 people under quarantine at March Air Reserve Base for possible exposure to the novel coronavirus in China was undergoing treatment Tuesday at Riverside University Medical Center after developing a fever.
According to the Riverside County Department of Public Health, the unidentified minor was taken with one parent to the Moreno Valley hospital via ambulance on Monday night. The two were among 195 people, most of them U.S. State Department employees and their loved ones, placed under quarantine at March last week after being evacuated from Wuhan, China.
According to a health department statement, the transfer to the hospital was “out of an abundance of caution” and not because there was any positive indication of coronavirus, which has to be verified through serology tests.
“Testing samples will be submitted to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and results expected later this week,” according to the agency. “No confirmed cases have been reported in Riverside County.”
Officials noted that an individual who recently traveled to China and arrived Monday at Los Angeles International Airport was also placed under isolation at March, but away from the 195 others already there.
“The individual has no symptoms of novel coronavirus, but was moved to March out of an abundance of caution and because of their travel history,” according to the health department. “The federal quarantine order for this person expires Feb. 6.”
The 14-day quarantine order for the others expires Feb. 11.
In addition to March, federal officials have designated four other bases around the country as quarantine sites, according to Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside.
The novel coronavirus epidemic has claimed over 400 lives in China, exceeding the death toll of the severe acute respiratory syndrome — SARS — outbreak of 2003. More than 20,000 infections have been documented in China. The respiratory illness is treatable, and many patients are recovering, according to reports.
Federal officials said there have been 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, with six of those in California, including one case each in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Temporary quarantine and processing sites have been established at major airports, including LAX.
Since then, the 2019-nCoV has been confirmed in several dozen countries, according to the World Health Organization.