CDC Sends Team to California to Investigate Coronavirus Case With Unknown Origin

February 28, 2020 Updated: February 29, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is sending a team to California to help probe the first confirmed coronavirus case in the country with an unknown origin.

“The CDC has sent a team to support the California Department of Health and the local health departments in investigating this case. We are working hard with them to find and identify how the patient was exposed, as well as tracing back people who were exposed or might have been exposed to the patient,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a phone call on Friday.

The case, which is potentially the first instance of community spread, was confirmed earlier this week through testing by the CDC. The patient is at the University of California Davis Medical Center.

The patient was transferred to the hospital on Feb. 19 but wasn’t tested until Feb. 23. University of California Davis officials said in a statement that they asked the CDC to test the patient on Feb. 19 but that a test wasn’t administered until Feb. 23.

Messonnier told reporters that the CDC only became aware of the patient on Sunday and requested samples for testing that same day. They received the samples on Feb. 25 and contacted California officials the next day when the results came back.

She said that the CDC has not declined to test any persons suspected of having the new virus.

CDC kits
This undated photo provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows CDC’s laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus. (CDC via AP)

The University of California Davis Health didn’t immediately return a request for comment. In the statement, officials said they asked the CDC to do the testing because “neither Sacramento County nor the California Department of Public Health is doing testing for coronavirus at this time.”

The state Department of Health told The Epoch Times in an email that the agency’s state laboratory in Richmond began testing for the new virus on Feb. 21, but that tests were limited to people who were evacuated from China or Japan, two countries where the virus has spread considerably. The department didn’t return questions about why the testing is being limited.

Chris Braden, an official at the CDC, told reporters on Thursday at a press conference in California that the criteria testing patients changed between Feb. 19 and Feb. 23.

Officials discussed whether to test the patient over that time, he said. “What I can say is that there were multiple people involved in the decision over those four days,” Braden said, according to Buzzfeed. “It wasn’t necessarily CDC.”

Messonnier warned that officials expect additional confirmed cases among a group of people who came into contact with the patient who is being cared for at the California hospital. The group includes the patient’s family members, who are in self-quarantine at home, and medical workers at the facility.

Epoch Times Photo
A pedestrian wears a facemask while pushing his luggage along Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on Feb. 27, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Because the patient didn’t immediately meet the criteria for the new virus, she wasn’t in airborne isolation at UC Davis or NorthBay Medical Center, the hospital she was transferred from, Solano County Public Health Officer Bela Matyas said at a press conference on Thursday.

“Which means that there were multiple healthcare personnel who were exposed to the individual,” he said.

Officials are aggressively working on identifying workers who may have come into contact with the patient, he said. They are being sorted into different categories; some are being placed into isolation while others are being quarantined and still others aren’t being isolated or quarantined because they’re deemed at low risk to become infected.

UC Davis said earlier this week that the patient arrived with a suspected viral infection, prompting teams to take “the proper infection prevention (contact droplet) precautions during the patient’s stay.” Out of an abundance of caution, they added, “a small number of employees” were asked to stay home and monitor their temperature.

Anyone exposed to the patient is at risk, depending on their exposure, Messonnier, the CDC official, said in the phone call. “Based on what we know about how the virus behaves, we expect that we will find additional people that have had contact with this patient, especially those who have had close, prolonged contact,” including family members and potentially healthcare workers.

Epoch Times Photo
A Chinese worker wears a protective suit and mask as he waits to check the temperature of customers entering a grocery store in Beijing, China on Feb. 28, 2020. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

A case with unknown origin means that the patient wasn’t exposed to the new disease through travel or through any known contact with an infected individual.

“We don’t know how or where this person became infected,” Messonnier told reporters. An investigation might show the person had contact with someone who traveled abroad.

The other 61 patients in the United States either traveled to Japan or China or came into close contact with someone who had.

The virus has symptoms similar to the flu including fever, headache, and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear from 2 to 14 days after exposure. There is no known vaccine and no proven treatments, but some patients have recovered with rest and care in the hospital or at home.

Americans are advised to frequently wash their hands, stay at least six feet from sick people, and not touch their face with unwashed hands. People who are sick should stay home and contact health authorities or their doctor. They should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or their sleeve when coughing or sneezing.

The new case in California prompted Solano County to declare a local emergency, which gives officials more power to deal with the potential spread of the virus. Counties in California and New York have begun declaring local emergencies.

Federal officials have said risk to the public is low, but that people should be prepared for their lives to be disrupted, including school closures and the cancellation of large gatherings.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber