A new twist in Santa Clara County’s efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. For the first time, a woman in the county has contracted the disease without traveling overseas or coming into contact with an infected person.
“This case does signal to us that it’s now time to shift how we respond to the novel coronavirus,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Director of the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department. “The public health measures that we’ve taken so far, isolation, quarantine, contact tracing and travel restrictions have helped to slow the spread of disease and we will continue to implement them. We will continue to trace close contacts of our cases to try to limit the spread of the virus, but now we need to add other public health tools to the mix.”
Dr. Cody says the county will work with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the California Department of Public Health on several measures including surveillance.
“Surveillance is a word that we use in public health very differently than in other sectors, and what it basically means is it’s our systematic way of looking for a disease or health condition so that we can understand the scope and magnitude of the current problem,” said Dr. Cody. “What we know now is that the virus is here, present, at some level, but we still don’t know to what degree.”
The woman in this latest case never came into contact with anyone connected to the two previous cases in Santa Clara County or the case in Solano County. She does reportedly have chronic health problems. Her doctor contacted the Public Health Department on Wednesday evening and asked for the test to be administered. The test was received by the Public Health Department on Thursday and a quick turnaround proved that she tested positive for novel coronavirus.
Dr. Cody says while this latest information about how the novel coronavirus spread sounds scary, the Public Health Department was prepared for something like this. She says individuals, businesses and schools can do their part to be prepared as well.
“At this point, we don’t have any recommendations for staying home from school or work unless they’re sick,” said Dr. Cody. “Again, this is an evolving situation and we’re learning more, but for now what we would like for schools and businesses to do is to start preparing and thinking about what it would be like if children or teachers need to be home.”
The Santa Clara County Public Health Department is asking schools and businesses to both prepare for the possibility of absences and the need for students or employees to work remotely. It also suggested that schools and businesses enhance their surface cleaning procedures.
“It’s mostly a person to person transmission that we’re concerned about for our community,” said Dr. Christopher Braden, the Deputy Director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the CDC. “The virus can survive on surfaces for a fairly long period of time, more than days, but it is also very susceptible to cleaning products…I would like to stress that having a contaminated surface for some days and then somebody becoming infected because of that contaminated surface is likely a very low probability event.”
As for individuals, people are advised to wash their hands whenever possible and carry hand sanitizer when out. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth because that’s one way that viruses spread. You should also think about family preparedness and how to take care of a sick family member without getting infected.
“We are in the cold and flu season and we don’t want to overwhelm the medical system who are worried as well, but at the same time especially if there are symptoms that become worse or fever is involved, then definitely call your physician and let them know about your concerns,” said Dr. Braden.
The State of California is doing what it can to make sure tests for novel coronavirus are conducted as quickly as possible. Charity Dean, the Deputy Director of the State of California Department of Public Health, says there are now eight public health labs open statewide including three in the Bay Area. She says the goal for the tests is a turnaround time of fewer than 48 hours.