The new coronavirus may be spreading in parts of the Pacific Northwest, with California, Oregon, and Washington State reporting Friday that they have diagnosed cases with no travel history or known contact with another case.
Health officials in Santa Clara County reported a case of so-called community spread late Friday afternoon — the second in the northern part of the state in the past few days.
Later on Friday health officials in Oregon reported diagnosing a case of Covid-19 — the disease the virus causes — in a person from Washington County who had neither a history of travel to a country where the virus was circulating nor close contact with a confirmed case.
And a teenager from Snohomish County, north of Seattle, was diagnosed with the disease, Washington State health authorities announced late Friday. This individual had not traveled outside the country nor had contact with a known Covid-19 case, they said.
These cases raise the specter that the virus may be spreading stealthily in the Pacific Northwest region of the country.
The discovery that the virus may be spreading in the country should not come as a surprise, said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy.
“It just tells us where there is testing, there are cases. … There is no such thing as a barrier containment to keep these out.”
Michael Osterholm. University of Minnesota
“It just tells us where there is testing, there are cases. And that’s what we have to understand,” Osterholm said. “There is no such thing as a barrier containment to keep these out. It’s going to happen. And what we have to do now is get on with how we’re going to deal with them.”
Health officials in Oregon said the infected individual there had spent time in a school in the Lake Oswego school district and may have exposed students and staff there. An investigation is underway and employees and families of children are being contacted, a press release from the state said.
The findings come as more and more states are starting to test for the virus. Many state and local laboratories have been unable to test for the virus until recent days, because of a problem with a test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of Friday, the World Health Organization reported that there were more than 82,000 cases worldwide, from 46 countries. While most of the cases are still from China, cases elsewhere are on the rise.
The new California patient is a 65-year-old with chronic conditions who had not recently traveled outside the country and who had had no known contact with a confirmed case, health officials in Santa Clara County said.
“This new case indicates that there is evidence of community transmission but the extent is still not clear,” Dr. Sara Cody, health officer for Santa Clara County said. “I understand this may be concerning to hear, but this is what we have been preparing for. Now we need to start taking additional actions to slow down the spread of the disease.”
Cody said individuals need to start practicing good hand hygiene and learn to stop touching their faces — people can infect themselves if they pick up viruses off a contaminated surface, then put a finger in their mouth or rub their eyes or nose.
Families should start working on emergency planning, and schools should make plans for dealing with high levels of absenteeism, she said, adding businesses should be thinking about allowing employees to telecommute, if needed.
Santa Clara is about 90 miles from Solano County, where earlier this week the first known case of a person who was infected in the community lives. The first case, a woman, is reportedly seriously ill and on a ventilator.
Cody said an infectious diseases physician contacted the health department Wednesday about a patient she was treating. The doctor was concerned the individual might have Covid-19 and wanted to submit a sample to be tested. That was done Thursday and an investigation into the individual’s possible source of infection began Thursday evening.
The United States has reported more than 60 cases at this point. The bulk of the cases, 47, are people who were evacuated from China or from the Diamond Princess Cruise ship. There have been 15 previous cases in people who contracted the virus overseas, and three cases where people were infected in the United States. Two of those were spouses of travelers infected abroad.
Problems with a coronavirus test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have meant that little testing for the new virus has been done in the U.S.
Worried infectious diseases experts have warned that the lack of apparent cases in the country cannot be taken as a sign the virus isn’t spreading, undetected in some places. And CDC officials have been trying to prepare the public for the likelihood that there will be some transmission of the virus in the United States.