Governor Gavin Newsom held a public briefing on Feb. 27 on the new coronavirus. On Feb. 26 San Francisco and Orange County declared local health emergencies and the possible first U.S. case of community transmission was detected in California.
Alongside Gov. Newsom were state health officials who explained the rigorous protocols in place to address the latest case of a Sonoma County individual who tested positive for the virus from an unknown source.
This case could be the first community transmission of the new coronavirus in the U.S. and was initially declined testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because the individual’s condition did not match the virus’s symptoms. The individual went days in the community before being tested and found positive for the virus.
The patient is now being treated in San Francisco and health officials are doing “deep tracking and tracing of individuals that [may have been] in contact with this individual,” including workers at the to which hospital the patient was admitted.
Newsom said he was not surprised by the case announced yesterday and said it was “inevitable” with this kind of virus. “We’re honestly surprised it didn’t happen sooner,” he said.
“There is nothing more important than point-of-contact diagnostic testing that can be readily made available so that we can have full-spectrum testing of this disease,” Newsom said. “That’s our top priority as it relates to the moment.”
“We have just a few hundred testing kits in the state of California—surveillance testing and diagnostic testing—that’s simply inadequate to do justice to the kind of testing required to address this issue head on. CDC is moving expeditiously on that,” Newsom said.
More testing locations will be established so that local health agencies do not have to send tests back and forth to the CDC headquarters. “We will see multiple locations in the next few days,” said Newsom.
The CDC is partnering with Newsom’s administration to ensure that “testing protocols will be advanced with urgency,” according to a CDC press release. Some of these testing protocols include isolating the individual, surveillance and diagnostic testing, point-of-contact tracing, and deep tracking.
Risk ‘Remains Low’
As of Feb. 27, there were 33 confirmed cases of positively tested people in California—of those individuals, 24 were from repatriation flights.
In the remaining group of nine, seven extracted the virus through travel. One person was exposed due to close person-to-person contact through a spouse, explained California Public Health Officer, Dr. Sonia Angell.
“We are expanding our surveillance activities, increasing our lab capacity with more testing, increased demands on medical systems … we are ready for anything,” Angell said.
Angell emphasized that the “risk to the general public remains low, in the event that that risk changes, we will make everyone aware.”
The health emergencies declared in San Francisco, Orange County, and other counties earlier this month, were to prevent outbreaks rather than responses to current crises.
While there are only 33 confirmed cases in California, thousands of people have arrived in California from locations in Asia on traditional commercial flights and they may carry the virus. Currently, 49 local jurisdictions are monitoring those individuals.
Newsom Not Worried About Resources for Response
“We have been in constant contact with federal agencies, we have history and expertise in this space,” Newsom said. “We are not overreacting, nor are we underreacting to the understandable anxiety many people have as it relates to this novel virus. At the same time, there is no better resource state in America to address this issue head on.”
Newsom said his administration is working “formally with the Trump Administration” and “collaboratively at all levels” to ensure public health safety is the nation’s top priority. He also touted California as a “uniquely” positioned state with enough resources to tackle the virus.
“I am not worried about the money,” Newsom said. “I’m not worried about resourcing this response—we are well-resourced as a state. We are running record reserves and running surpluses.”
The Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report last year projecting that the state will bring in a $7 billion surplus in the 2020–2021 fiscal year, which is a $14 billion decrease from the 2018–2019 fiscal year.
President Donald Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the nation’s COVID-19 response on Feb. 26 and agreed to work with Congress on funding. Lawmakers will allocate $2.5 billion to counter the virus and were not resistant to allot more.
“We’re ready to adapt and we’re ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads. The level we’ve had in our country are very low,” Trump said at a conference on Feb. 26. “We have great quarantine facilities. We’re rapidly developing vaccines.”
Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force consists of coordinator Debbie Birx, HIV/AIDS expert; Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Aza; Surgeon General Jerome Adams; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; and Larry Kudlow, Trump’s economic adviser.
Virus ‘Transcends Politics’
Newsom said, “We have had a very strong working relationship with the [Trump] administration from the secretary level to the director level. We have been in consistent contact not only as a team but individually.”
“I know his team is [taking this seriously], the folks that came up after him in the press conference, … I know each and every one of them are sincere and resolved, and so I know I have absolute confidence in the folks he’s assembled around him.”
Newsom emphasized that “politics has no place at this moment” and that the respiratory virus needs to be combated “with a sense of urgency and conviction that transcends politics and transcends pettiness.”
“We’ll see what he’s able to accomplish,” Newsom said of Trump. “But look, it’s all about your team and the people you assemble, and he’s got long term professionals that have transcended his administration that are there that have earned reputations that are solid, and we’ve developed relationships with trust, and those relationships predate his administration and mine.”
Newsom Comments on Litigation With Costa Mesa
Last Monday, federal agencies and state officials found themselves in a courtroom with Costa Mesa city officials over the potential usage of a 60-year-old facility as a quarantine site for COVID-19 positive patients.
The judge temporarily halted the state from moving forward, citing inadequate information about whether the facility is fit to be used as a quarantine site. The Orange County Board of Supervisors strongly oppose its use.
“We are in litigation in real time on that, both parties are meeting on that,” Newsom said. “I don’t want to speak to the specifics of the site in or around the Costa Mesa community, but we clearly have protocols and we have pre-identified locations, and that’s among a more favored location in the state. But there are other sites in addition to that site all across the state.”
The next hearing will be on March 2, which will determine whether the state can override the city’s imposition and transport patients to the Fairview Developmental Center, which has been slated for closure.
The center, the city argues, is too close to residential and recreational areas and is too outdated to contain the respiratory virus properly.