California health officials on Friday confirmed a second suspected US case of the new coronavirus transmitted to a person who did not travel overseas or come in contact with anyone known to be ill, prompting fears of a possible outbreak in the country.
“This new case indicates that there is evidence of community transmission but the extent is still not clear,” said Sara Cody, director of public health for Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley where tech giants like Apple and Google are based.
“What we know now is that the virus is here, present at some level, but we still don’t know to what degree,” she added.
The patient in the second case of community spread of COVID-19, as the virus is called, is an adult woman with chronic health issues. She is being treated at a local hospital.
Cody said the woman’s doctor had reached out to health officials on Wednesday evening, concerned she may have contracted the virus.
Authorities have identified dozens of people the woman had come in contact with and they were quarantined in their homes.
“An important priority… for us is to conduct public health surveillance to determine the extent of what’s happening,” Cody said.
“We need to begin implementing additional measures to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus or at least slow it down as much as possible.”
The first case of community spread coronavirus was announced Thursday and also involves a woman in northern California who was diagnosed belatedly because, despite showing symptoms, she had not traveled to outbreak-hit regions.
The latest case announced on Friday is sure to heighten fears that the disease is spreading in the United States.
Cody said people should brace for an escalation in the number of cases.
“Schools should plan for absenteeism and explore options for learning at home and enhance cleaning of surfaces,” she said.
“Businesses, wherever possible, can replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increase home working options as well as modify absentee policy.
“I do understand that this whole situation may feel overwhelming and it’s difficult to think about the possible disruption to our everyday lives, especially when we’re still uncertain about what this may look like,” she added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of Thursday there were 62 people infected with the disease in the United States.
California’s Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday said 33 people there had tested positive for the virus, and five of them had left the state.
Worldwide more than 84,000 people have been infected with the disease and 2,870 have died.