First coronavirus patient with ‘unknown origin’ in the US wasn’t tested for days

A California coronavirus patient believed to be the first U.S. case from “unknown” exposure was not tested for several days because federal health officials believed he did not meet the criteria, officials say.

The patient was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center on Feb. 19, according to a staff memo from Dr. David Lubarsky, the CEO of University of California, Davis, Health.

“Upon admission, our team asked public health officials if this case could be COVID-19. We requested COVID-19 testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the memo says. “Since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19, a test was not immediately administered.”

The CDC ordered the test four days later. The patient was also put on strict contact precautions “because of our concerns about the patient’s condition,” the memo said. The CDC confirmed the patient’s test was positive on Wednesday. 

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That’s a problem, says Ogbonnaya Omenka, an assistant professor and public health specialist at Butler University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. 

“The delay in testing equally delayed the required tracing of contacts and other required answers,” he told USA TODAY. “For instance, who else have been infected by the original case, and who else have they been in close contact with?”

William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor who recently returned from the central Chinese city of Wuhan after chairing a U.S.-China Health Summit, said the delay in testing should be expected because coronavirus remains so rare in the U.S.

Linda Lee, chief science officer UV Angel, a technology disinfection company, told USA TODAY it’s hard to gauge the impact of the testing delay.

“This virus did not start in the U.S., so I think everyone on the front line of this is pedaling as fast as they can with the information that changes daily,” she said. “There are infrastructures already in place to deal with these types of emergencies – and they have happened before.”

The U.S. has confirmed 60 patients, but this one is alarming because no exposure chain has been found. There was no known exposure to the virus through travel or close contact with a known infected individual, the CDC said.

The CDC said the case could possibly be an instance of “community spread” COVID-19, defined as “spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown.” It remains possible, however, that the patient was somehow exposed to a returned traveler from China who was infected, the CDC said.

“Though the individual has been isolated, contact tracing may not suffice in containing the spread if the source cannot be identified,” Omenka said. “The implication for other states, both proximate and remote, is big.”

Haseltine said the unknown exposure reflects the fact that many people may be unaware they have the virus because the symptoms can be so mild.

“On one hand that is good news as it means the virus causes very mild symptoms in many people,” Haseltine said. “On the other hand it means that people can unknowingly infect others.” 

Lubarsky said the COVID-19 patient was not the first treated at the hospital.

“Because of the precautions we have had in place since this patient’s arrival, we believe there has been minimal potential for exposure here at UC Davis Medical Center,” he said.

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Japan shuts schools until April

Schools across Japan will shut down Monday through early April to help curb the spread of the coronavirus blamed for three deaths there, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday.

Japan has almost 200 confirmed cases of the deadly virus, the fifth-most cases among  countries outside China.

“Efforts have been made to prevent the spread of infection among children in each region, and these (next) one or two weeks will be an extremely critical period,” Abe said.

Japan’s containment efforts also could decide the fate of the Summer Olympics, set for Tokyo in July.

Almost 13 million students attend Japan’s 35,000 elementary, junior high and senior high schools. Most schools in Japan take a spring break sometime in March before reconvening in April.

Orange County joins California emergency declaration list

Orange County – which has had one case – joined the list of California municipalities declaring a health emergency to stop the outbreak. County Supervisors Michelle Steel and Andrew Do said late Wednesday the emergency declaration was a response to the proposal to quarantine coronavirus patients in a local city. 

“The county of Orange continues to support Costa Mesa in opposition of state and federal government’s decision to move COVID-19 patients to the Fairview Center,” Do said.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Tuesday issued an emergency declaration aimed at preparing the city for an outbreak – even though no cases of the virus have been confirmed in the city. She said the city was “taking the necessary steps to protect San Franciscans from harm.” Santa Clara and San Diego counties have issued similar declarations to bolster their preparedness. 

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