Sydney/San Francisco/Seattle: Coronavirus cases emerged up and down the U.S. West Coast late Friday as health officials warned infections are already spreading within the community.
In the space of a few hours, authorities in California, Oregon and Washington confirmed four new cases of the virus. Most had no known links to countries hit by an outbreak nor other infected patients.
“The cat on this disease has been out of the bag for so long that there’s people everywhere that are potentially spreading it,” Bela Matyas, a health officer at Solano County in California. “It’s extremely likely that a fair amount of community transmission has been going on for a while.”
The infections span states covering the entire U.S. western seaboard. After breaking out in Hubei province in China, the coronavirus is now in at least 50 countries and has taken hold in South Korea, Italy and Iran. U.S. President Donald Trump, at a campaign rally in South Carolina before the latest cases were announced, said his administration is prepared for “the worst.”
The coronavirus case reported in California Friday was the second diagnosed with the virus despite a lack of known ties to other infected patients or areas. Like the first case, the patient is located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Health officials described her as an adult with chronic health issues who had no recent history of travel and no known contact with anyone diagnosed with the virus.
Similarly in Oregon, the infected patient from Washington County had no known connections to the virus. The person works at a school in the adjoining Clackamas County and may have exposed students and staff there, the Oregon Health Authority said.
Two new cases in Washington state included a school-aged adolescent who has no known travel history or encountered anyone who had visited affected areas, health officials said. The other patient had traveled to South Korea. The two tested positive in local tests and are awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The latest California patient, hospitalized for having difficulty breathing, lives in Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley. On Wednesday, health officials in the Golden State’s Solano County reported the nation’s first known coronavirus case that had no obvious source of infection. The two counties lie 90 miles apart, and officials said Friday that the latest patient had not recently traveled between them.
“What we know now is that the virus is here, present at some level, but we still don’t know to what degree,” said Sara Cody, director of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.
The case came to light after a doctor treating the patient contacted the county health department on Wednesday and said the woman had symptoms that could represent coronavirus. The following morning, the doctor submitted a swab sample, which was tested at the county’s own health lab, Cody said. The results — testing positive — came back Thursday night, and the county began trying to identify and locate people who had come into contact with her.
Health officials around the U.S. have said they expect more cases and that the coronavirus is likely in wider circulation than the handful of diagnosed cases would indicate. State and local health departments, which are the front lines of detection, have struggled to get test kits from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention working properly. Without working kits, it’s been difficult or impossible for them to screen cases broadly.
The earlier patient from Solano County has extended family and interactions with people in Santa Clara County, said Matyas, the Solano health officer.
The Santa Clara County patient was diagnosed with a locally administered test. Some local labs have complained that the test kits sent to them aren’t accurate, and the CDC limits categories of patients it says should be tested. In a statement, the CDC said the new patient was being considered a “presumptive positive case” and it will conduct confirmatory testing. -Bloomberg
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