California Declares State of Emergency Over Coronavirus

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for California Wednesday after the number of residents affected by the virus jumped to 54, the most of any state.

Newsom said the emergency declaration will help the Golden State prepare for the spread of the virus and open up additional resources.

“The State of California is deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus,” Newsom said in a statement Wednesday. “This emergency proclamation will help the state further prepare our communities and our health care system in the event it spreads more broadly.”

He also announced Wednesday that a cruise ship returning from Hawaii linked to two coronavirus cases, one fatal, would be held off the coast of San Francisco. Newsom said 10 crew members and 11 passengers showed symptoms of the virus.

“The ship will not come on shore until we appropriately assess the passengers,” Newsom said, adding that health officials will begin screening the ships passengers and crew.

President Donald Trump downplayed the effects of the virus Wednesday evening, suggesting that the World Health Organization’s declared 3.4% mortality rate of the virus was false and instead less than 1%.

“This is really my hunch,” Trump said.

Los Angeles County health officials working to prevent any spread of the coronavirus among the county’s 10 million residents declared a health emergency earlier in the day after confirming six new cases of the novel virus in recent days.

An illustration of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). (CDC via AP, File)

The strain has infected nearly 90,000 people globally and killed more than 3,000, leading to shut downs of some travel worldwide, cancellations of large-scale events, school closures and even talks of pulling the plug on the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Eleven people have died in the U.S. and at least 80 cases of patients with coronavirus confirmed in 13 states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten of the deaths have been in Washington state while the 11th was announced by officials in Placer County east of Sacramento on Wednesday – the first COVID-19 death in California so far.

The patient was an elderly woman with underlying health issues who had recently returned from a Princess cruise from San Francisco to Mexico.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of this patient,” said Placer County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson. “While we have expected more cases, this death is an unfortunate milestone in our efforts to fight this disease, and one that we never wanted to see.”

In a statement made earlier in the day, Newsom said the death in Placer County is a call to action.

“Jennifer and I extend our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones affected by this death in Placer County,” Newsom said. “The state is working with federal officials to follow up on contact tracing of individuals that may have been exposed to provide treatment and protect public health.

“This case demonstrates the need for continued local, state and federal partnership to identify and slow the spread of this virus. California is working around the clock to keep our communities safe, healthy and informed.”

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters Wednesday the local declaration will help agencies coordinate a more effective response to infections and open access to state and federal funds for efforts in the county, where seven cases of COVID-19 are confirmed.

“The step we’re taking today is about preparation, not panic,” Garcetti said in a statement. “This declaration is about making sure we are positioned to respond to any changes in the situation and are doing everything we can to protect our communities.”

There is currently no vaccine for the virus, according to the World Health Organization, which announced this week COVID-19 now has a higher death rate than the seasonal flu.

LA County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday officials understand residents’ fears about a potential outbreak of the virus but stressed that people shouldn’t panic.

Ferrer said the new cases in LA County are linked to recent air travel or contact with someone infected with COVID-19 and that health officials have not confirmed any cases of community transmission of the virus.

A hospital in LA County said Tuesday it was treating a person who was newly diagnosed with coronavirus. That person has self-quarantined and is receiving outpatient treatment, a hospital spokesperson said.

Ferrer said the county has received coronavirus test kits from the CDC and has been testing people since last week.

“We’ll ensure that people testing positive for the novel coronavirus, and their close contacts, are quickly identified and closely monitored and supported while they are in isolation and or under quarantine,” Ferrer said.

Residents who are feeling ill are encouraged to stay home or stay away from public areas, officials said Wednesday, adding that people should cover their coughs with their elbows and wash hands for at least 20 seconds.

The move by LA County comes after federal lawmakers agreed Wednesday on a $8.3 billion aid package to battle the virus that began spreading two months ago in mainland China.

Pasadena and Long Beach, cities near LA County that operate their own independent public health departments, are also declaring local health emergencies Wednesday in order to better coordinate responses to the coronavirus.

No cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in either city, according to the CDC, which said up to 30 cases are confirmed in California.

Officials in Washington state said Wednesday that Vice President Mike Pence will visit Thursday to speak with Governor Jay Inslee about measures to contain the most serious outbreak of the coronavirus in the nation, occurring in the Seattle area.

In addition to the 10 people who have died, 21 are confirmed infected in the Evergreen State, health officials announced at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said the situation is “shifting by the hour.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan proclaimed a civil emergency Tuesday in response to the outbreak, allowing her to bypass budget restrictions, close city facilities and ban public events.

County officials stopped short of closing schools but said they would re-evaluate if children started becoming infected.

Constantine recommended those over 60, pregnant women or people with serious underlying health conditions avoid public gatherings of more than 10 people and work from home if possible.

“We are determined to slow the spread of this virus in our community,” he said.

Most of the deaths in the state are connected with an outbreak at Life Care nursing facility in Kirkland.

The CDC has a team on site at the facility to provide infection control strategies for residents and caregivers, King County public health officer Dr. Jeffrey Duchin said.

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