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State health department ramps up efforts to fight spread of coronavirus
coronavirus mask
Fear of the virus has led to a shortage of face masks and prompted the CDC and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to use some of its emergency planning reserves of 21 million filtering facepiece masks to help protect healthcare workers.

As the number of coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed 100 and the death toll rose to nine, health officials in California are taking new actions to help protect public health and safety.

All of the deaths have occurred in Washington state, and most were residents of a nursing home in suburban Seattle. California currently has 43 confirmed cases, of which 24 were related to federal repatriation flights. Of the remaining 19 cases, 10 were travel-related, five were from person-to-person contact and four cases were from community transmission, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The CDPH said more than 9,100 people are self-monitoring after returning to the United States through airports in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is requesting the Legislature make up to $20 million available from the Disaster Response Emergency Operations Account, which will allow state government to respond to the spread of COVID-19. This will be an early action item for the 2020-2021 budget. 

Additionally, Gov. Newsom has activated the State Operations Center in Mather, California, to its second highest level to support state, federal and local emergency managers, public health officials and first responders. The SOC will provide operational and logistical support to the California Department of Public Health’s Medical and Health Coordination Center. The MHCC has been activated since January to coordinate California’s public health response to COVID-19.

California recently received additional COVID-19 test kits from the CDC, allowing California to test thousands of specimens. These resources will help California medical experts get test results sooner, so they can identify and treat cases, trace potential exposures and better protect public health.

Receiving these new test kits has significantly increased the state’s capacity to process specimens and quickly identify new positive cases so affected individuals can be isolated

Ten California public health labs have already received CDC test kits and have begun testing. These labs include CDPH’s Laboratory in Richmond, Alameda, Contra Costa, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Tulare, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego County labs. The CDPH Laboratory will provide diagnostic testing within a 48-hour turnaround time. More public health labs will soon be able to test, ramping up to a total of 20 public health labs in California in the coming weeks.

For Stanislaus County, testing is done through the state laboratory. As of Tuesday, Stanislaus County has had two people test negative for the virus and two more pending results. A total of 12 people in the county are being monitored.

While additional positive tests continue to be reported by county health officers, state officials emphasized that these reports show swift and robust action is being taken to detect cases early, isolate and care for patients, and trace contacts.

“These new cases were quickly identified and isolated thanks to the increased testing capacity and aggressive contact tracing deployed by state and local public health departments in partnership with the CDC,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “Quickly identifying and tracing positive cases is helping us better understand and slow the spread of the virus. As testing and contact tracing continues in the coming days, CDPH expects there will be more California cases identified.”

The new virus comes from a large family of what are known as coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold, but others cause more serious illnesses such as SARS. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath. It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that symptoms can appear as quick as two days and up to 14 days after exposure.

The viruses are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats and it’s rare that animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people, such as the case with this current coronavirus.

First detected in December, the virus is believed to have originated in a type of wild animal sold at a Wuhan, China market to be consumed as food.

The CDC said person-to-person spread occurs mainly via respiratory droplets from when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It’s currently unclear if a person can get the novel coronavirus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

Fear of the virus has led to a shortage of face masks and prompted the CDC and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to use some of its emergency planning reserves of 21 million filtering facepiece masks to help protect healthcare workers. The emergency planning reserves of masks, some of which are past their manufacturer use-by date, have been stored in climate-controlled conditions that preserved the masks’ efficacy. The way the masks have been stored will prevent the degradation of elastic that slips around the ears, a key factor in the CDC and NIOSH’s approval.

These masks are approved for use only in limited, low-risk circumstances, thus relieving pressure on the supply chain of unexpired masks for health care providers caring for confirmed COVID-19 patients and other high-risk situations for infectious diseases.

The CDPH and the CDC does not recommend that healthy people wear masks at this time. However, masks are recommended to limit the spread of disease for people who are exhibiting respiratory symptoms.

“California is working hard to ensure our health care system is in the strongest possible position to respond to this evolving situation,” said Gov. Newsom. “Critical to that effort is making sure health care workers have the medical masks and protective equipment they need to protect themselves while caring for patients. Our state is extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of our health care workers in this time of expanded need.”

“Protecting the health and safety of the doctors, nurses, and other health care and dental care providers is a critical component of ensuring our public health at any time, and particularly now,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, Director of the California Department of Public Health and State Health Officer. “Releasing this supply of masks will help keep our health care professionals safe on the job.”

As with any virus, especially during the flu season, health officials remind people there are a number of steps to take to protect your health and those around you:

- Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

It is especially important to wash your hands:

- Before, during, and after you prepare food
- Before you eat and after you use the bathroom
- After handling cash
- More frequently when someone in your house is sick
- Before/after smoking/vaping
- Before/after using public computers

· Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
· Covering your coughs and sneezes with your arm.
· Frequent cleaning of doorknobs, light switches, and other commonly touched areas with disinfectant wipes.
· Avoiding contact with people who are ill.
· Staying away from work, school or other people if you become sick with respiratory symptoms like fever and cough.

“The risk to the health of the general public in California remains low. We will continue to provide updates as this situation evolves,” said Dr. Angell. “At this time, the best way to protect your health is to practice good health habits like washing your hands regularly, covering your cough and staying home if you are ill. Also, if you have a fever and respiratory symptoms or other signs of COVID-19, call ahead. Calling your health care provider or local public health department first before seeking medical care allows steps to be taken to protect the health and wellbeing of patients, healthcare providers and the community at large.”