OC Declares Coronavirus Emergency, So It Can Be 'Nimble And Flexible'

(Mladen Antonov AFP via Getty Images)

Orange County has reported just one confirmed case of coronavirus so far. So why did authorities there just declare a local health emergency?

County supervisors and public health officials said Wednesday they acted after a federal health official said that it's more a question of when, rather than if, there is "community spread" of the virus in the U.S. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made those comments on Tuesday.

At a news conference on Wedneday, Orange County Health Officer Dr. Nichole Quick said their declaration "expands our ability to respond in a nimble and flexible way" to the outbreak of the disease, now dubbed COVID-19.

In particular, Quick said it gives the county the ability to request aid from neighboring counties, the state and the federal government if it runs short of funds.

In addition, people who show up at the hospital with flu-like symptoms will now be tested for COVID-19, with their consent, she said.

MOVE FOLLOWS OTHER COUNTIES

Orange County is following the lead of San Diego and Santa Clara counties and the city of San Francisco, which also declared emergencies as a precautionary measure.

San Diego declared its emergency on Feb. 14, as hundreds of evacuees from Wuhan were under quarantine at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Two of them were diagnosed with COVID-19; they've been treated and released.

Santa Clara declared an emergency on Feb. 10; it had two cases involving people who had traveled to Wuhan. San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared an emergency on Tuesday, even though the city hasn't had any confirmed cases.

CONTEXT

The emergency declaration came the same week as Cosa Mesa has been in the news for fighting efforts by federal officials to transfer coronavirus patients to their OC town.

County Supervisors Michelle Steel and Andrew Do noted that the county has filed an amicus brief supporting Costa Mesa's legal effort to block the transfer of COVID-19 patients to Fairview Developmental Center, which has been designated as a quarantine site.

A judge issued a temporary injunction preventing the transfer until Monday, when another hearing is scheduled.

On Wednesday, CDC officials said the first case of COVID-19 with "no known exposure to the virus through travel or close contact with a known infected individual" had been identified in a California patient. That person lives in Solana County but is being treated in Sacramento County.

SCHOOL PREP

On Tuesday, the CDC's Messonnier also said Americans should ask their children's school about its plans for handling a coronavirus outbreak.

That spooked a lot of parents. But all schools should already be planning for a possible pandemic, said Susan Chaides, project director for community health and safe schools with the L.A. County Office of Education.

She said right now schools should be reviewing those plans and asking questions: "Do we need to tweak them? Or how do we need to implement them?"

Schools should be preparing for what closures might look like, Chaides said. That includes how to keep in contact with parents so they're updated on what's going on, and considering putting together homework packets that can be sent home or setting up online tools.

Schools also have to think about all those kids who rely on school breakfasts and lunches every day, she said.

Students or staff who become sick should stay home, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health. And you should be fever-free for 24 hours — without using medication — before returning to school.

REMEMBER: THERE'S NO NEED TO CANCEL CLASSES

If a student were to get sick at school, staff would ask whether they've traveled recently or been in contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, said Chaides. They would isolate the student, "put a mask on them if they have a mask available," and then contact public health officials and the child's parents.

But it's important to remember: Public Health says at this point there is no need to cancel classes or social events.

In addition to the one case in Orange County, there's only been one confirmed COVID-19 case in L.A. County, and both people had traveled from Wuhan.

UPDATES:

8:50 p.m./a.m.: This article was updated with information about CDC statement about a patient without known exposure to an infected person.

This article was originally published at 3:30 p.m.