Orange County’s chief health officer told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday the county faces a much greater risk from the flu than the coronavirus that has killed more than 1,000 people, mostly in China, but “all of the science on this is changing rapidly.”
The virus, which was renamed COVID-19 on Tuesday by the World Health Organization, has afflicted one Orange County resident, a man in his 50s who is recovering well, said Nichole Quick of the Orange County Health Care Agency.
“Our individual has been doing fine and has been discharged from the hospital and remains in isolation at this time,” Quick told supervisors.
The man had traveled to Wuhan, China, where the virus originated in mid-December.
Showing a timeline of the virus’ spread to the supervisors, Quick said, “What’s notable about this timeline is how quickly the scientific community in China was able to identify a novel virus.”
So far, there have been more than 43,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths globally, Quick said.
The most recent case in California was confirmed Monday in San Diego, Quick said.
“We have no evidence of person-to-person transmission in Orange County, so the risk to the public is still low in Orange County,” Quick said. “But it’s not unexpected for us to identify another case (eventually).”
Experts believe the most likely way to transmit the disease is through coughing or sneezing, because the virus does not survive long on surfaces, Quick said.
“But all of the science on this is changing rapidly,” Quick said.
Scientists have not sounded warnings as they have in the past like in outbreaks such as the measles, because it is not believed the coronavirus can linger in the air as long as measles, Quick said.
“The much bigger risk than the coronavirus at this point” is the flu, Quick said. “So getting a flu shot even this late in the season is a good practice.”
Quick also encouraged residents to cover their mouth when sneezing or coughing, and to regularly wash their hands.
When Supervisor Michelle Steel asked about the difference between the flu and the coronavirus, Quick said, “The flu affects millions of people every year and results in tens of thousands of deaths in the United States, so it’s a far greater risk.”
Another twist with the virus is it can be spread before a patient shows symptoms, and in some cases people who have it initially can appear to be getting better before their health worsens, Quick said.