Getting Prepared

As COVID-19 reaches the Bay Area, Marin County declares emergency

Although the coronavirus has not impacted any Marin County residents,  on Tuesday, March 3 the county’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a local health emergency to help the county get ready for an outbreak.

“This declaration is about preparedness,” Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s public health officer said in a statement. “As we allocate more resources to protect residents, this will help ensure we have the support we need.”

An HHS press release states that “While there have been no cases of (coronavirus) COVID-19 among Marin County residents, the County’s actions will help ensure a flexible and fluid response to COVID-19 while better preserving the County’s ability to recover any COVID-19 -related costs from state or federal sources.”

The HHS has recommended that the Marin County Board of Supervisors ratify the emergency declaration at their Tuesday, March 10 meeting.

The news came days after HHS announced that they had transferred an individual with the coronavirus from Travis Air Force Base to an unidentified hospital in Marin County.

Other Bay Area counties have already taken similar steps as the coronavirus spreads. Santa Clara County declared a state of emergency on Feb. 10, and on March 2, Sonoma County officials followed suit.

Sonoma County’s declaration came after officials announced that doctors are treating an unnamed patient for a suspected case of coronavirus in an unnamed local hospital. 

The case is the second in the county, but the first involving a Sonoma County resident. On Feb. 25, the county announced that a local hospital was treating a patient who had been in quarantine at Travis Air Force Base, after returning from a trip on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

In a press conference on March 2, Sonoma County officials, including Supervisor Susan Gorin and others, explained the parameters of Sonoma County’s declaration, which Gorin said the Board of Supervisors would consider formalizing at a March 4 meeting.

County officials said Monday that they are open to the possibility that there might be additional local cases because the second patient under care for coronavirus may have come in contact with other county residents before being diagnosed.

Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Celeste Philip said the emergency declaration will help the county coordinate their efforts to deal with the potential spread of the virus.

“The declaration allows for us to have better coordination within the different county agencies as well as them being able to access mutual aid and assistance in a more streamlined process,” Phillip said at a press conference.

Spread

By Monday, March 2, the coronavirus had infected more than 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000. In the United States, the virus had infected 100 people and killed six by the same date.

A report from the China Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that the vast majority (87 percent) of cases in the country were in people aged 30 to 79. While the disease had a 2.3 percent fatality rate overall, 14.8 percent of the fatal cases were older than 80. The fatality rate for younger patients was significantly lower, according to the China CDC.

In a statement online, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that “The potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high, to the United States and globally.

At this time, however, most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus. This virus is NOT currently spreading widely in the United States. However, it is important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic.”

Due to Marin County’s demographics, the coronavirus could have a serious impact, health officials warn.

“Nearly one on three Marin residents is over age 60,” Dr. Lisa Santora, a deputy public health officer, said in the county’s statement. “It’s especially important to protect our seniors from infection. Older adults and those with other existing medical vulnerabilities are at the greatest risk for severe disease if infected with COVID-19.”

Developing tests

So far, the number of test kits available in California are far outnumbered by the number of potential cases. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that the state is monitoring approximately 8,400 people who have recently traveled to China, but has only 200 coronavirus test kits.

In the Sonoma County case, the “presumptive” positive declaration came after officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), working along with state and local officials tested the patient. 

According to county officials, the only way they can turn a presumptive positive case into a fully confident diagnosis is if they conduct the test in a CDC laboratory. 

County officials offered few details about the patient, the hospital where doctors are treating them or the cruise ship the patient had traveled on.

Barbie Robinson, Sonoma County’s health services director, told reporters that the county believes they cannot name the hospital caring for the patient under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a law governing patient privacy rules.

It’s not clear that the justification will hold up to scrutiny. Reporters at the press conference contended that other counties have identified the hospitals where they are treating COVID-19 patients.

“We want to protect the patients and their privacy and so at this juncture we’re not releasing that information,” Robinson responded.

Health Advice

In order to reduce the risk of a spread, health officials have warned against hoarding supplies that could be used by medical professionals, including surgical masks, unless you believe that you are sick.

Marin County HHS recommends the following steps to reduce the spread of the coronavirus or the flu:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available
  • Cover your cough or sneeze
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home from work or school if you are sick
Will Carruthers
Will is a news reporter for the Pacific Sun and North Bay Bohemian.
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