LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Health officials in Los Angeles County have declared a public health emergency over the novel coronavirus as six new cases were confirmed Tuesday night, raising the total number of confirmed local cases to seven.
In a news conference Wednesday, the L.A. County Department of Public Health announced that it was declaring a local health emergency which will allow the county to access more resources — including state and federal funding — to help fight the outbreak.
“These actions support our preparedness efforts, including effectively mobilizing needed resources and partnerships, enhancing continuity of operations planning, and seeking and utilizing mutual aid, all in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19,” LACDPH Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer told reporters.
The six cases were confirmed by a local lab, Ferrer said. One person is hospitalized and the other five are quarantined at their homes. Three of the new patients contracted the disease while traveling together in Northern Italy.
There have now been a total seven confirmed cases in L.A. County dating back to January. The very first case — a patient who had traveled from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak — was reported on Jan. 26. That person has since fully recovered and is no longer infectious. None of the patients were exposed through community transmission.
“All of our six new cases are linked to an assumed known exposure,” Ferrer said. “There’s either a travel history to an area with an outbreak. There’s exposure to known travelers coming from areas where there’s an outbreak. Or the person is a close contact with a confirmed case.”
On Tuesday night, Kaiser Permanente West L.A. Medical Center confirmed it was monitoring a coronavirus patient who was self-quarantined in their home.
“We do need folks to plan for the possibility of business disruptions, school closures and modifications or cancellations of select public events,” Ferrer said.
Feller disclosed that “an explosion of cases” could require “extreme measures” such as sporting events being held behind closed doors with no spectators allowed in. In Italy Wednesday, officials announced that all sporting events would take place without fans present through at least April 3, the Associated Press reports.
“If at any point we think that there is good reason for us to be worried about extensive community transmission, they have been alerted to the possibility that we may ask for modifications at large public events,” Feller said. “This could be that games are played but there are no spectators. This could be that there are limits to how people are gonna gather at public events.”
The LACDPH will also begin ramping up COVID-19 testing at its laboratory, one of 10 such labs across the state which has received test kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, people are advised to avoid handshakes and hugs, and not share utensils and linens. If they’re in public places, they should try and maintain a distance of six feet from people they don’t know.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti also confirmed that Wednesday morning he signed a declaration of local emergency for the city of L.A. He said the declaration acknowledges that “the potential public health risk is elevated and significant.”
“The state of emergency is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal,” Garcetti said.
Garcetti said his declaration allows for better coordination between public health agencies and make it easier to access emergency supplies.
Orange County already declared a coronavirus emergency last week. Both Pasadena and Long Beach have also declared emergencies even though there are no known cases in either city.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 is spread from person-to-person through close contact, usually within 6 feet, and mainly via respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. People are likely most contagious when they are most symptomatic.