By Jaimy Lee
A woman in California who tested positive for COVID-19 had not traveled to an affected country or likely been in contact with another confirmed case, marking the first time that the novel coronavirus has spread in the U.S. without a known source of infection.
This is an indicator that the outbreak could now spread much more quickly in the U.S.
The latest case, who is in Northern California, was identified by “astute clinicians,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday night, about an hour after President Donald Trump held a news conference aiming to ease American worries about the outbreak.
The UC Davis Medical Center officials treating the patient said it took five days for the CDC to agree to conduct a test.
“It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19,” the CDC said. “It’s also possible, however, that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected.”
There are now 60 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. That includes 45 people who were repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan, and from Wuhan, China, considered the epicenter of the epidemic, and 15 cases of people who had either recently been to China or had become infected from a spouse who had been to China. In California, there are at least 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including some repatriated citizens who have been quarantined at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. At least four counties (Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Clara) in California have declared emergencies.
A sharp increase in the number of cases and deaths over the weekend in Iran, Italy and South Korea stressed markets early in the week as investors worried that an outbreak that has primarily impacted China could spread to other parts of the world. The outbreak there has led to the closures of factories, restaurants, bars, and shops, snarled supply chains, disrupted travel, forced companies to lower guidance for the quarter, and led some countries including the U.S. to close their borders to recent travelers from mainland China.
Iran now has 245 cases, 26 deaths, and 49 people have recovered; Italy has 528 cases, 14 deaths and 40 people have recovered; and South Korea has 1,766 cases, 13 deaths, and 22 people have recovered. In Japan, a woman who was treated for COVID-19 and released from the hospital later tested positive again, according to Agence France-Presse, citing a local official in Osaka.
Worldwide, there are now 82,550 cases of COVID-19, at least 2,810 deaths, and about 33,252 people, primarily in China’s Hubei Province, have recovered, according to the latest figures from the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering’s Centers for Systems Science and Engineering. The virus was first detected in December in Wuhan, China, a city in Hubei Province.
“This virus has pandemic potential,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, said during a news conference on Thursday. Still, he urged people and nations to “calm down and do the right things to fight this very dangerous virus.”
In the U.S., which has had a fairly flat number of cases compared with countries like Iran and Italy, criticism is mounting about the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak, with critics taking aim at the CDC’s testing procedures, its messaging, and plans for preparedness.
“The administration did some very good things, but I think they’re sending a lot of mixed messages and they should stop,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a news conference on Wednesday. “They should just get [on] one page. It should be, this is going to be with us for a long time until further notice. We all have to work together. Localities have to be empowered.”
De Blasio called for the CDC to issue additional screening requirements for travelers coming into the U.S. from regions with community spread, including Hong Kong, Italy and South Korea, and to loosen its requirements about lab testing, to allow local laboratories to more quickly conduct all steps of the test. Questions have previously arisen about the quality of the CDC-developed test that has been shipped to other states.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state is currently monitoring an estimated 8,400 people who arrived in California on commercial flights from Asia over COVID-19 concerns. The state currently has 28 confirmed cases. He also said the state has an inadequate supply of testing kits for both surveillance and for diagnostic purposes, but the CDC has assured him that more tests are coming. “We need to substantially increase access and availability to testing, and we need to do that today,” he said.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, on Monday urged Americans to begin planning for an outbreak, telling them to talk to their children’s schools about the possibility of closures and to ask their employers about work-from-home policies. Later that day, health officials attempted to soften her comments, with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar saying: “We hope that we don’t face those kinds of eventualities, but transparency is being candid with people.”