While the rest of the world is exploring ways to combat the viral spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) within their respective countries, there has been a second confirmed case of the severe infection in California.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed on Wednesday, February 26 that an individual in California has contracted the infection, making them the first person in the U.S. to get infected despite not having visited a foreign country in recent times or engaging in contact with an infected person.
“At this time, the patient’s exposure is unknown,” the CDC wrote in a statement. It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States.”
The CDC defines community spread as the expansion of a disease for which “the source of infection is unknown. This “unknown” case brings the number of confirmed cases detected in the U.S. to 15; of these, 12 cases are related to travel and the other two stemmed from direct contact with an infected person.
Another 42 Americans were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined in Japan.
According to the latest updates from the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 has spread rapidly as the global medical community hurries to mitigate the infection which has already claimed a total of 2,791 deaths in China and 67 outside China.
In the daily media briefing on Friday, February 28, the WHO changed its assessment of COVID-19 to “very high,” saying that it is crucial “to break the chains of transmission” to prevent further spread of the disease.
“We are on the highest level of alert or highest level of risk assessment in terms of spread and in terms of impact,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program said at the briefing, urging governments to remain on high alert while also emphasizing that the categorical upgrade is not meant to instill fear in people across the world.
“This is a reality check for every government on the planet: Wake up. Get ready. This virus may be on its way and you need to be ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready.”
As of press time, the virus has made its way to Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Netherlands and Nigeria, establishing a presence in every continent except Antarctica. WHO is still trying to ascertain how the virus spreads but stated that the virus can be contained and the chain of transmission can be broken with the help of robust public health initiatives.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added that most cases across the globe are traceable to the source, saying that WHO hasn’t found “evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities. As long as that’s the case, we still have a chance of containing this coronavirus, if robust action is taken to detect cases early, isolate and care for patients and trace contacts.”
In the United States, the responsibility of managing the messaging around COVID-19 was given to Vice President Mike Pence who will be leading a White House task force dedicated to informing the public on any updates of the virus in the U.S.
Trump announced Pence’s appointment to the cause on Wednesday, February 26, while also downplaying the severity of the virus, referencing the 15 cases in the U.S. that did not contract the virus overseas.
“Fifteen people is almost, I would say, a miracle,” Trump told reporters at a Black History Month event at the White House, remaining confident that the U.S. will not experience a massive outbreak. “Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low. We’re ready to adapt and we’re ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads if it spreads.”
Nevertheless, Pence has begun his post as leader of the COVID-19 task force by meeting with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious disease. Fauci told reporters following the meeting that “this virus has adapted extremely well to human species” and that it may have a higher mortality rate than influenza. (Fauci added that the White House instructed him to not disclose any other information without clearance from the White House task force.)
In response to the near-daily news of new confirmed cases, local governments have also been ramping up preparedness in the event that the virus hits home. This week, San Francisco Mayor London Breed called for a state of emergency, which she explained is designed to mobilize public health resources by collaborating with city-wide agencies.
Due to the high volume of travel between China and San Francisco, city officials are looking to bring together elected officials and community leaders in the medical sphere to “mitigate the harm of the new virus if it emerges in San Francisco.”
City officials also noted that despite these precautions, the rise of COVID-19 does not give a reason to impose racial bias. The Director of the Department of Health in San Francisco Dr. Grant Colfax said that “this virus is not about race, ethnicity or culture. The risk of getting coronavirus is based on travel history and contact with people who are sick.”
Breed encouraged the community to “support the neighborhoods we love, like Chinatown,” responding to the mass hysteria and fake notifications to avoid Chinese and Asian-owned businesses.
As previously reported in the Asian Journal, the outbreak of COVID-19 has opened up the door for the spread of misinformation and racially-charged acts of hate and violence toward the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community. In response, Los Angeles County has already begun a campaign to combat the misinformation and racial profiling by encouraging people to report acts of hate and fraudulent announcements regarding COVID-19 to authorities.