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UC Davis Infectious Disease Expert Says Coronavirus 'Out There In The Community'

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- The confirmation of a coronavirus case in a patient with no apparent connection to China or a cruise ship means the illness is "currently circulating in the community and that anybody can get it," according to a UC Davis infectious disease expert.

The UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento announced late Wednesday it was treating a patient from nearby Solano County who has a confirmed case of coronavirus.

While health officials have been warning for weeks that there will likely be cases contracted within the United States, the previous 59 cases that have been treated so far within the country have a clear link to travel to or from China or the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The UC Davis case, initially, appears to have no link to either.

"There are probably other cases out there in the community that we don't know about," said Dr Dean Blumberg, a UC Davis infectious disease expert.

He believes this one patient getting sick means the disease may be spreading in the Bay Area.

"We have other cases that are currently circulating in the community and that anybody can get it," he said.

The announcement of the newest case of the disease sent a shutter through Northern California communities and also rocked Wall Street. After the opening bell, the Dow drop 900 points. Uncertainty about the disease's impact on business had already dropped the Dow by more then 2,000 points the previous three days.

In a memo to its employees UC Davis administrators said the patient had been treated for several days before being tested for the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus.

"This patient was transferred to us from another Northern California hospital on Wednesday, Feb 19," the memo read. "When the patient arrived, the patient had already been intubated, was on a ventilator, and given droplet protection orders because of an undiagnosed and suspected viral condition."

"Since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19, a test was not immediately administered. UC Davis Health does not control the testing process," the memo continued.

On Sunday, the patient was moved into isolation.

"This is not the first COVID-19 patient we have treated, and because of the precautions we have had in place since this patient's arrival, we believe there has been minimal potential for exposure here at UC Davis Medical Center," the memo reassured the staff.

However, the medical center was asking a group of health care workers who may have been exposed to the patient to remain at home and self quarantine.

"Just as when a health care worker has a small chance of exposure to other illnesses, such as TB or pertussis, we are following standard CDC protocols for determination of exposure and surveillance," the memo read. "So, out of an abundance of caution, in order to assure the health and safety of our employees, we are asking a small number of employees to stay home and monitor their temperature."

Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump made a rare appearance in the White House briefing room to announce VP Mike Pence will lead the country's cornonavirus task force.

"Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low," the President said.

Health experts question whether downplaying the risk is the right approach to take with a virus that has spread so rapidly in other countries.

"Nobody here has been exposed to it. That means we are all susceptible to it. That means if you do get a significant exposure, we will get infected. There's really not a question of that," Blumberg said.


Late Tuesday afternoon, Sonoma County health officials confirmed one case of coronavirus was being treated at a county hospital after being transported from Travis AFB Monday night.

Three other new Diamond Cruise ship evacuees were also being monitored after being diagnosed with the illness. They were being cared for in Contra Costa County due to a lack of space at facilities closer to the base that can properly isolate them to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.

While the three patients have tested positive for COVID-19, they haven't begun to show symptoms of the virus, such as fever and difficulty breathing. However, the CDC's agreement with the Department of Defense requires any evacuee who tests positive to be moved from the base.

"Our county's healthcare system is prepared to handle COVID-19," said Contra Costa Health Services Dr. Chris Farnitano. "We have been working with our hospital partners to follow safety protocols to keep patients and healthcare workers safe and minimize the risk of the virus spreading in Contra Costa."

The addition of the four new cases among Diamond Princess passengers evacuated to Travis raises the national case count to a total of 60.

CDC officials also announced on Tuesday that COVID-19 was edging closer to becoming an official pandemic.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier with the CDC said it is not a matter of if, but when the new virus will spread in the U.S. and how many Americans will have severe illness.

Other Coronavirus Developments Early Thursday:

    • Saudi Arabia halts pilgrimages over virus; Iran cases spike
      Saudi Arabia has banned foreign pilgrims from entering the kingdom to visit Islam's holiest sites over the new coronavirus, potentially disrupting the plans of millions of faithful ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and as the annual hajj pilgrimage looms. The decision showed the growing worry across the Mideast about the virus as Iran confirmed that infected cases in the country spiked by over 100, to 254 now.


    • South Korea, US postpone annual military drills due to virus
      The South Korean and U.S. militaries announced Thursday that they were postponing their annual joint drills due to concern about a viral outbreak that has infected soldiers in both countries' armed forces, put many troops in quarantine and closed base facilities. Twenty-two South Korean soldiers and one American service member in South Korea have tested positive for the new coronavirus, which has infected about 1,770 people in the Asian country, the largest outbreak outside mainland China.


    • Venice faces new threat from virus after reeling from floods
      Still reeling from the effects of major flooding just a few months ago, Venice faces a new emergency: the threat of a new virus outbreak across Italy that is worrying international visitors worldwide and hitting the economy hard. The fragile lagoon city, renowned for its unique cultural and artistic heritage, is already grappling with the effects of the worst flooding in a half-century at the end of last year.


    • Pope cancels visit with Rome priests for 'slight' illness
      Pope Francis is sick and skipped a planned Mass with Rome clergy across town on Thursday, officials said. The Vatican said the 83-year-old pontiff had a "slight indisposition" and would proceed with the rest of his planned work on Thursday. But Francis "preferred to stay near Santa Marta," the Vatican hotel where he lives.
      There was no word from the Vatican about the nature of his illness, but the pope was seen coughing and blowing his nose during the Ash Wednesday Mass. It comes amid an outbreak of the coronavirus in Italy that has sickened more than 400 people, almost all of them in the north. Rome had three cases, but all three were cured.


    • Coronavirus reaches Latin America, first case in Brazil
      Latin America saw its first confirmed case of the new coronavirus spreading worldwide when Brazil's government announced that a 61-year-old man who traveled to Italy this month had the virus. The Brazilian man had spent two weeks in northern Italy's Lombardy region on a work trip, where he contracted the contagious virus, the Health Ministry said.



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