Local and national health officials are reacting cautiously and calmly to the novel coronavirus.
There have been no reported coronavirus cases in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.
As of Friday, 12 cases were confirmed in the U.S., including six in California: one person in Los Angeles County, one person in Orange County, two people in Santa Clara County and two people in San Benito County, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County public health officer, told the News-Press he has had daily phone calls with the CDC and the state Department of Public Health during efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
The outbreak started in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in China, which has taken efforts to quarantine the population. In addition, the U.S. has banned travel by non-U.S. residents from China to America.
“I do take it seriously. Everybody does,” said Dr. Ansorg, who also has been on calls with doctors at local emergency rooms, urgent care centers and private practices. He also is in regular communication with other Southern California public health offices concerned about flights coming into Los Angeles.
“We are all on the lookout,” he said. “We are in very high gear. Every flight from China gets screened.
“We are all learning together because it’s such a new situation,” Dr. Ansorg said. “Knock on wood, so far it hasn’t exploded into anything disastrous at all.”
But Dr. Ansorg said the coronavirus hasn’t reached the point of an emergency that should cause people to lose sleep.
“The people who died were all elderly and sick people. It’s not killing healthy young people,” he said.
Dr. Ansorg said none of the 12 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. have been lethal or critical. He noted the patients are expected to recover.
“Unfortunately, in my opinion, the press is getting a little ahead of itself because of the scare of the virus spreading and not taking into account how dangerous the virus actually is,” Dr. Ansorg said.
He has also been on the phone regularly with Dr. David Fisk, the medical director of infectious prevention and control at Cottage Health, the parent company of Cottage hospitals in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Solvang.
“I am concerned about this, but I actually remain perhaps even more concerned about influenza and its impact on human health year after year,” said Dr. Fisk, who’s also an infectious disease physician at Sansum Clinic.
“People aren’t paying attention to that (the flu), which in my opinion is a serious problem for the health of our population,” he told the News-Press.
Dr. Ansorg agreed that while this is a mild flu season, the flu remains a bigger concern than the coronavirus. He said there have been more than 12,000 influenza deaths this year in the U.S., but noted there have been no recorded deaths in Santa Barbara County. (Statistics are maintained for patients younger than 65.)
Dr. Ansorg said there was an earlier-than-usual onset of influenza B.
“A lot of children got sick early in the season,” he added.
He and Dr. Fisk advise people to avoid spreading the flu and other infectious diseases by frequently washing their hands with soap and water.
Dr. Ansorg added that people should stay home and not infect their co-workers, classmates or others.
The CDC reported the symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to other respiratory infections: coughing, running nose, sore throat and sometimes a fever.
“In most cases, you don’t know whether you have a coronavirus or a different cold-causing virus, such as rhinovirus,” the CDC said on its website (www.cdc.gov).
Dr. Fisk said Cottage Health has made a huge effort in recent weeks to prepare for the coronavirus and prevent it from spreading into its hospitals. Signs outside the front doors advise people who have flu-like symptoms and have been to China to not enter and call the hospital for a staff member to come out and put a mask on them. The number on the sign is 805-569-7878.
The Cottage signs ask people to call their physician for guidance before arriving for a routine appointment if they have risk factors for the novel coronavirus.
The signs also ask patients arriving at the hospital emergency department with those risk factors to stop outside the entrance and call for a staff member to meet them outside and fit them with a mask. They will then be brought through an isolated route to avoid potential exposure to others.
Dr. Fisk said Cottage Health has had daily meetings to discuss updates, hospital preparedness activities, education and questions on the novel coronavirus.
Cottage Health also has shared status reports from briefings hosted by the state Department of Public Health and provided email updates, education and training materials to all Cottage Health employees and medical staff. The information includes protocols to identify symptoms, isolate patients and inform public health agents of a potential case.
“We are partnering with the media to get the word out, that if people suspect they might have the virus, they should not just show up on our doorstep,” Dr. Fisk said. “The most important thing in the health care setting is to identify a case before it hits the doors of the facility.”
Dr. Ansorg advises people to call their doctors if they have been to China and have symptoms such as a cough or fever. He said they can then go to their clinics to be examined.
He said patients will be met outside their clinics and will be fitted with a surgical mask. “Usually they’re asked to go through a back entrance and not through a waiting room.”
On Wednesday, the CDC started to ship a coronavirus test kit to U.S. and international laboratories. It relies on upper and lower respiratory specimens.