SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Hours after confirming the first community-spread case of coronavirus in the United States, officials in California said Thursday that while 33 residents have tested positive and over 8,000 are being monitored, public risk remains low.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state’s main priority is working with the Trump administration on improved testing capability for the virus and isn’t ready to declare a statewide emergency. He touted the state’s prior experience planning and preparing for pandemics like SARS and Ebola, and says California is better positioned than any to stem the virus that originated in China in late 2019.
“We’re meeting this moment, we have been in constant contact with federal agencies, we have history and expertise in this space,” Newsom said during a press conference. “We are not overreacting, but nor are we underreacting to the understandable anxiety many people have as it relates to this novel virus.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirmed a person in California has the virus despite not traveling to countries where the virus has spread or coming into contact with anyone potentially exposed.
State officials declined to give personal information but said the female patient is being treated in Sacramento and that there is no evidence tying her case to hundreds of people evacuated from China and quarantined at nearby Travis Air Force Base earlier this month. Health officials are tracing the patient’s movements in Northern California but acknowledged she wasn’t immediately tested for the virus when she was first admitted to the hospital with fever-like symptoms.
Newsom said officials knew the development and spread of the virus was “inevitable” and applauded the Trump administration for assuring that coronavirus testing kits are on the way to California and other states.
“I’m not going to politicize this moment,” Newsom told reporters. “We’ve had a very strong working relationship with the administration.”
The CDC’s latest report says 15 people who weren’t repatriated on State Department flights have contracted the virus, while 45 Americans who were in Wuhan, China, or on a cruise ship docked in Japan have tested positive. Many of the chartered flights landed in California and passengers are quarantined in Solano and Riverside counties.
As President Donald Trump did on Wednesday, Newsom and his cabinet attempted to calm worries about the virus that has spread to 50 countries and killed more than 2,700 people.
State health officials said 33 cases have been identified in the Golden State, most from repatriation flights, and that five infected people have since left the state. They called the woman who was infected from an unknown source a “turning point” but were adamant state and local agencies are adequately equipped.
“It’s natural to feel concerned about the novel coronavirus, but I want Californians to know that we have rigorously planned for this public health event,” said state Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly.
The most pressing issue is the lack of testing kits, as Newsom said the state currently only has a few hundred available. But the Democratic governor said he talked with the CDC before the press conference and was reassured that more testing labs and kits are coming soon.
“Nothing is more important than point-of-contact diagnostic testing that can be readily made available so that we can have full spectrum testing of this virus,” Newsom explained.
As for the infected patient being treated at a University of California, Davis hospital, Newsom said officials are tracing her known points of contact and an additional 8,400 residents are being monitored due to their recent travels. The health officials encouraged residents to routinely wash their hands, avoid contact with eyes, mouth and nose and stay home from work or school at the first sign of respiratory symptoms.
Despite reassurances from the president and Newsom, coronavirus worries abound in the Golden State and nationwide.
A Sacramento area community college district said Thursday two students who work as medical professionals were exposed while working off campus with an infected person and the students have been asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.
San Francisco, Santa Clara and Orange counties have already declared local states of emergency and officials in Orange County have convinced a federal judge to temporarily halt the opening of a coronavirus quarantine site.
Global uneasiness about the virus – and what a pandemic might mean for the economy – has spurred a weeklong shellacking of the world’s financial markets. The Dow tumbled more than 1,100 points Thursday, the third sharp selloff this week, and the main indexes are on target to have their worst week since the 2008 Great Recession.