The Dallas Morning News
Global economy looks woozy
Test process faulted in California’s new case
VACAVILLE, Calif. — California has launched a farreaching effort to find anyone who might have come in contact with a new coronavirus patient infected despite having no known link to others with the illness.
The diagnosis, confirmed Wednesday, marks an escalation of the outbreak in the United States because it means the virus could now spread beyond the reach of quarantines and other preventative measures. But state health officials sought to reassure the public that the risk of widespread transmission remained low.
Meanwhile, federal officials tried to fix a faulty testing process that has hamstrung their ability to track how widely the disease is spreading. And the COVID19 virus continued its relentless march around the globe. From the Middle East to South Korea to parts of Europe, the number of deaths and infections continued to grow.
In Washington, Vice President Mike Pence convened his first meeting as the new head of the task force battling the virus.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and state health officials sought to reassure jittery residents that public health officials would be able to handle the first U.S. case of
“community transmission,” involving a woman from Solano County.
Community transmission means the spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Projecting an air of calm during a moment of rising anxiety, Newsom said that methods of tracing the Solano County woman’s contacts have been honed in response to other public health crises, from tuberculosis to the swine flu.
“This is not our first great challenge as it relates to public health,” Newsom said. “Quite the contrary. These protocols have been perfected.”
Federal officials have faced criticism for overly narrow criteria about who should be tested and for shipping coronavirus test kits to public health labs that included a component that in most cases did not work correctly.
But on Thursday, the CDC expanded the federal guidelines for testing to include people who have unexplained severe respiratory symptoms and people with symptoms who have recently traveled to Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea as well as China.
Federal health officials also are moving to try to correct the problems with the test kits. Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public
Health Laboratories, said that although only eight public health labs are able to run the tests, federal officials have approved a procedural change that may allow about 40 more labs to come online very shortly.
New tests are expected to be sent out to labs next week. That should result in all 100 public health labs across the country being able to run tests by the end of two weeks.
Newsom and state health officials acknowledged the Solano County woman was in the community and showing symptoms of the disease before she was admitted to a local hospital Feb. 15. That is a worrisome prospect because the virus is highly transmissible, especially when someone with the disease has its flulike symptoms. Officials did not share any details about the woman’s family, work or social contacts, citing patient privacy.
At the same time, experts reminded the public that, in other parts of the world at least, most cases of the virus are mild. To date, the coronavirus has killed 2,801 people and sickened more than 82,000, the vast majority of them in China. The United States has had 60 cases, none fatal, and most of them have been among people who caught the virus while quarantined on a cruise ship off Japan.
Nevertheless, the CDC warned Americans on Tuesday that community spread is almost certain and that they should prepare for the possibility of significant disruption in their daily lives.
“This virus has adapted extremely well to the human species,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the coronavirus task force. “This one has the capability of spreading readily from human to human.”
Solano County, where the new case emerged, is home to Travis Air Force Base, where hundreds of Americans repatriated from China and from the Diamond Princess cruise ship have been quarantined. Officials have said the woman had no known contacts with people quarantined on the base.
Newsom said the CDC was sending 10 staffers to aid state and local personnel in tracing the woman’s contacts.
The patient brought herself to Northbay Vacavalley Hospital, a 50bed community hospital in Vacaville, Calif., with flulike symptoms on Feb. 15.
When the woman’s health continued to decline, she was transferred to Ucdavis Medical Center in Sacramento, which has more capacity and expertise with pulmonary patients. Ucdavis officials said she arrived there on Feb. 19.
Doctors there said they asked the CDC to test the woman for the virus on Feb. 19. But they said the CDC did not approve the testing until Sunday, the 23rd, “since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria” for the virus, according to a memo posted to the hospital’s website.
CDC spokesman Richard
Quartarone said a preliminary review of agency records indicates the agency did not know about the woman until Sunday, the same day she was tested. Quartarone said the agency is concerned about reports of delayed testing and is “investigating this carefully.”
Elsewhere, South Korea reported 256 additional cases of the coronavirus Friday, raising the total in the country to 2,022, mostly in the Daegu area. Health authorities said the country had 13 deaths from the COVID19 virus.
China’s National Health Commission reported 327 new cases and 44 deaths over the previous 24 hours, most of them in Wuhan, the city where the COVID19 illness emerged in December. Mainland China’s total cases are now 78,824 with 2,788 deaths.