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California

California coronavirus patient was not tested for several days; some hospital staffers told to stay home

Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, right, with public health officials in the White House briefing room Feb. 26, said, “We can expect to see more cases in the United States.”
Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, right, with public health officials in the White House briefing room Wednesday, said, “We can expect to see more cases in the United States.”
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

It took several days to test a coronavirus patient in Northern California who might be the first to have contracted the disease through community exposure in the United States.

The individual is a resident of Solano County and is receiving medical care in Sacramento County, according to the state Department of Public Health.

UC Davis officials said the patient arrived at UC Davis Medical Center from another hospital Feb. 19. But the patient was not tested until Sunday.

“Upon admission, our team asked public health officials if this case could be COVID-19. We requested COVID-19 testing by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], since neither Sacramento County nor the California Department of Public Health is doing testing for coronavirus at this time. Since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19, a test was not immediately administered. UC Davis Health does not control the testing process,” the medical center said in a statement.

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On Sunday, the statement added, “the CDC ordered COVID-19 testing of the patient, and the patient was put on airborne precautions and strict contact precautions, because of our concerns about the patient’s condition.”

The positive test results came back Wednesday, the medical center said.

UC Davis said that “because of the precautions we have had in place since this patient’s arrival, we believe there has been minimal potential for exposure here at UC Davis Medical Center.”

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Still, the hospital has asked a “small number” of employees who might have come in contact with the patient to stay home and monitor their temperature. They are also being monitored for possible signs of the virus.

“We are handling this in the same way we manage other diseases that require airborne precautions and monitoring,” the statement said.

The CDC is investigating the case, which could be the first case of novel coronavirus in the United States involving a patient in California who neither recently traveled out of the country nor was in contact with someone who did.

“At this time, the patient’s exposure is unknown. It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States,” the CDC said in a statement Wednesday. “Community spread means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. It’s also possible, however, that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected.”

Since Feb. 2, more than 8,400 returning travelers from China have entered California, according to the state health department. They have been advised to self-quarantine for 14 days and limit interactions with others as much as possible, officials said.

It is not clear how the person became infected, but public health workers could not identify any contact with people who had traveled to China — the epicenter of the outbreak — or other areas where the virus is widespread.

The case was reported out of Solano County, home to Travis Air Force Base, where some travelers from China have been quarantined.

CDC officials have also warned that although the virus is likely to spread in U.S. communities, the flu still poses a greater risk.

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President Trump on Wednesday named Vice President Mike Pence to coordinate the administration’s response while asserting that “the risk to the American people remains very low.”

Public health officials who flanked Trump at a rare news conference in the White House briefing room were noticeably less upbeat, repeatedly warning that the deadly COVID-19 virus — which has infected 60 Americans, including the newly confirmed case in California — still could spread quickly in the U.S.

“The trajectory we’re looking at in coming weeks and months is very uncertain,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director.

“We can expect to see more cases in the United States,” said Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services.

On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters how the state is addressing coronavirus concerns.

“We’re not just preparing — we’ve been actively participating in addressing this issue for many months, aggressively,” he said. “In fact, there’s no other state in America that’s been more involved in addressing the issue.”

Newsom said he met with Trump administration officials to discuss the coronavirus when he traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to attend a National Governors Assn. meeting and the state continues to work closely with the federal government.

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“We have had a very good relationship, open lines of communication, two-way conversations,” Newsom said. “We’re developing quite good levels of trust, and continue to work through this dynamic moment. I am proud of also being a Californian, where we’re not turning our backs on people, and that’s not the case in every state in this country.”

The governor said the state has been involved in monitoring and identifying individuals who have been repatriated to the state and other travelers returning to California independently on commercial flights.


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