SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a local emergency Tuesday to prepare the response to what health officials believe is the likely appearance of the coronavirus in the city. The emergency declaration allows the city to mobilize resources, accelerate emergency planning, coordinate agencies, and prepare for reimbursement by state and federal governments, according to the mayor's office. It also helps raise additional awareness on how to prepare for the coronavirus before it appears in the city.
Breed stressed that there were no known cases of coronavirus in San Francisco.
"Although there are still zero confirmed cases in San Francisco residents, the global picture is changing rapidly, and we need to step-up preparedness," Breed said. "We see the virus spreading in new parts of the world every day, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect San Franciscans from harm."
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The mayor was joined at an afternoon press conference at City Hall by Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax, and Executive Director of the Department of Emergency Management Mary Ellen Carroll.
"Our action is proactive and is based on the evolution of the disease globally," said Colfax. "Although we do not have any confirmed cases of coronavirus among San Francisco residents. we cannot afford to be unprepared as circumstances change."
Colfax said the city has treated three confirmed cases of coronavirus from other counties in San Francisco hospitals and monitoring hundreds of people who have recently returned from travel in China and are helping them self-quarantine and watch for symptoms.
She also acknowledged that based on the high volume of travel between mainland China and San Francisco and the documented spread of the virus in other countries, "there is a growing likelihood that we will see cases in San Francisco."
The city has also been working with the Chinese community and is setting up a segment of the operations center to coordinate outreach to community members, businesses, faith organizations and others.
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"As we elevate the response in our emergency center, we will establish and we have established today a community branch that will consist of community, faith, business and education partners," said Carroll. "As a result, community and government will work together and coordinate our response to this emerging threat."
Santa Clara and San Diego counties have issued similar emergency declarations to bolster their preparedness, according to the mayor's office.
In the San Jose Unified School District, the largest in the South Bay, they are applying lessons learned during the H1N1 "Swine Flu" outbreak of 2009 in which some Bay Area schools were shut down for days and disinfected.
Melinda Landau, SJUSD's Manager of Health and Family Support Programs, says there is a healthcare worker on every campus monitoring kids' sick calls and looking for patterns. She says there are also cleaning crews now using disinfectant fog machines to sterilize classrooms.
"What happens is, we look, and we have a couple cases in a classroom and we'll send out extra cleaning crews. And the extra cleaning crews, they don't just clean, they disinfect," Landau said.
Landau said she's confident in her team's ability to handle a potential outbreak in the school district.
Dr. Eran Bandavid of Stanford says everything he has seen thus far suggests the virus will spread in the U.S. "It would not at all be a surprise if all of a sudden there was a cluster of cases in the United States," Bandavid said.
But he said Tuesday's announcement and warning from federal health officials was sensible, and that he doesn't see a need to panic in the U.S...yet.
"I have a lot of faith in the public health system, and its ability to contain things."
San Francisco's declaration is effective immediately and will stay in place for seven days. The Board of Supervisors will vote on the declaration on Tuesday, March 3rd.
There have been more than 80,000 cases and 2,700 deaths from the coronavirus worldwide since it first emerged in Wuhan, China last December, with the majority of cases and deaths in China.
The virus has spread to about 30 countries, with at least 53 confirmed in the U.S. and 10 in California.
The San Francisco Department of Health offers the following tips to reduce your risk of getting sick from the coronavirus, similar to preventing seasonal colds or the flu:
- Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
- Cover your cough or sneeze;
- Stay home if you are sick;
- Get your flu shot to protect against flu or symptoms similar to COVID-19; and
- If you have recently returned from a country with ongoing COVID-19 infections, monitor your health and follow the instructions of public health officials.
You can also prepare for the possible disruption caused by an outbreak:
- Make sure you have a supply of all essential medications for your family;
- Make a child care plan if you or a care giver are sick;
- Make arrangements about how your family will manage a school closure; and
- Make a plan for how you can care for a sick family member without getting sick yourself.
KPIX 5's Kiet Do contributed to this report.
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