California’s Orange County Declares Local Health Emergency Over New Coronavirus

February 27, 2020 Updated: February 27, 2020
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Orange County, California, declared a local health emergency on Feb. 26 in response to the new coronavirus but said there are no confirmed cases in the county.

Orange County Health Officer Nichole Quick said at a press conference that the global outbreak of the coronavirus “is a rapidly evolving situation.”

The declaration lets the county be “nimble and flexible” in responding to the potential community spread of the new virus, Quick said. One example of the powers it bestows: county officials can ask for mutual aid from surrounding counties and/or state or federal partners if they run out of resources.

The declaration gives Quick “all the tools necessary” to deal with the threat of an outbreak, including enabling her to “take any action necessary to control any potential epidemic,” added Orange County Vice Chairman Andrew Do.

Donald Wagner, the county supervisor, said in a statement that the 60 confirmed cases in the United States led to the declaration, “not because I necessarily believe the public is in more danger, but because the federal and state governments refuse to give us enough information to discharge our public health responsibilities.”

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In this Feb. 22, 2020 file photo, Mary Cahill, left, leaves a news conference where officials discussed the proposal for housing coronavirus patients at the Fairview Development Center in Costa Mesa, Calif. (Mindy Schauer/The Orange County Register via AP, File)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week that Americans should plan for community spread of the new virus. That’s when patients become infected from a local source. Most patients in the United States became infected in China or Japan and were isolated after arriving in the country. The first case of possible community spread was announced on Wednesday.

Orange County is at the center of a conflict with the federal government. Authorities wanted to transfer dozens of people who tested positive to the Fairview Development Center but a federal judge temporarily blocked the plan after Costa Mesa filed a legal request.

Do told reporters that the declaration would have been made even if the Fairview situation hadn’t happened, citing the CDC warnings.

“When you have the CDC saying ‘it’s just a matter of when’ and the warnings were very, right, graphic in that our daily lives will be significantly impacted,” Do said.

“Those are not easy things, things that the CDC say passively, usually. So when they have to describe the situation in those urgent terms, we take those things seriously.”

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Community workers and volunteers wearing face masks sort and pack groceries from a supermarket purchased through group orders after supermarkets stopped selling to individuals, in Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Hubei Province, China, on Feb. 24, 2020. (China Daily via Reuters)

He noted that a Korean Air flight attendant diagnosed with the virus in South Korea may have worked on a flight into and out of Los Angeles International Airport. But there are no current incidents in the county, Do added. A patient reported around a month ago has recovered.

The new virus, which causes a disease called COVID-19, emerged in China in December 2019. It has symptoms similar to the flu, including coughing, a fever, and a headache. There is no vaccine or proven treatment.

Experts say ways to avoid the virus include frequently washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding sick people, and not touching one’s nose, eyes, and mouth with unwashed hands. People who show symptoms are asked to contact the authorities and may be asked to self-isolate at home or go to the hospital.

Officials do not know how easily the virus is transmitted between people. The incubation period is currently estimated at two to 14 days.

The United States declared COVID-19 a public health emergency on Jan. 31. U.S. officials have been funneling travelers from China to 11 airports. Some 46,016 have been screened as of Feb. 23, according to the CDC. Eleven of those were referred to a hospital and tested for the virus and one tested positive.

Non-U.S. citizens traveling from China are blocked from entering the United States under the declaration.

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