SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco Mayor London Breed has issued an emergency declaration aimed at preparing the city for a coronavirus outbreak – even though no cases of the new virus have been confirmed in the city.
“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.”
The declaration raises awareness, mobilizes city resources, accelerates emergency planning and coordinates agencies across the city, Breed said. She said it also allows for future reimbursement by the state and federal governments.
Santa Clara and San Diego counties have issued similar declarations to bolster their preparedness.
“San Francisco is united and prepared,'' Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee said. “We have one of the most renowned medical systems of care here, and we have a long and proven track record of being able to protect, treat, and care for our residents.”
Breed emphasized the emergency declaration is aimed at getting services ready in the eventuality the virus reaches the city, whose population is about 20% Chinese or Chinese American.
“Given the high volume of travel between San Francisco and mainland China, there is a growing likelihood that we will see cases of COVID-19 eventually,” San Francisco Health Officer Tomas Aragon said.
Jeffrey Goad, a former president of the California Immunization Coalition, notes that the precautions to avoid coronavirus are similar to those for the flu – frequent hand washing, avoiding close contact with the sick and staying home if you are ill.
Fewer than 60 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the U.S., most of them repatriated passengers who were on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Japan. By contrast, more than 30 million Americans already have suffered from the flu this season. Maybe we should be paying more attention to that, Goad said.
"It's important to remember that influenza kills thousands of people in the U.S. every year," he said. "We have an effective vaccine for influenza, and there’s still time to get it if you haven’t been vaccinated this season."
Does the US have enough face masks?
The U.S. currently has a stockpile of 30 million face masks but needs at least 270 million more to protect health care workers should the coronavirus spread widely across the nation, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.
He told a Senate subcommittee meeting that N95 face mask/respirators made by Honeywell are required. But at more than $10 a mask, that would cost a cool $2.7 billion. That’s more than President Donald Trump’s entire allocation – $2.5 billion – to combat the virus.
Mixed messages: 'Severe' disruptions or do we have it 'under control'?
So is the worst of the coronavirus outbreak over or are we facing a health Armageddon? It depends on whom you ask.
Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, warned at a news conference Tuesday of possible “severe” disruptions to everyday life.
"It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness," she said.
Trump seemed far less concerned in comments Tuesday, noting that only a few dozen cases have been confirmed in the U.S. and insisting the virus was "under control."
"The people are getting better. They're all getting better," Trump said. "I think that whole situation will start working out. A lot of talent, a lot of brainpower is being put behind it."
The World Health Organization has checked in firmly on the fence. No pandemic yet, but WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week there is “absolutely” the potential for one.
Tedros noted that new cases have been in decline in China for weeks and that only a few thousand cases have thus far been confirmed elsewhere. Tedros frequently falls back on a "facts, not fear" refrain. “Using the word ‘pandemic’ now does not fit the facts, but it may certainly cause fear," he said.
Brazil gets first Latin America case
The coronavirus has reached Latin America. Brazil late Tuesday confirmed its first positive case, the Health Ministry said. The 61-year-old man, from São Paulo, had a history of traveling alone in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. The region has been the epicenter of an outbreak in Italy that has infected almost 400 people, killing 12. Brazilian officials said about 20 other patients are being tested for the virus.
US soldier in Korea tests positive
A U.S. soldier stationed at Camp Carroll in South Korea tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, marking the first time an American service member has been confirmed as having the virus.
The patient, a 23-year old male, is currently in self quarantine at his off-base residence, the Pentagon said. Health professionals were conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed.