The virus now known as COVID-19, first reported in December, continues to spread, and as of mid-February had infected more than 72,000 people in China, more than 800 in other countries and around 15 in the U.S., including 10 in California.
On March 4, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Department of Public Health declared a local and public health emergency in response to increased spread of coronavirus across the country and six additional cases in L.A. County. Public Health stated that none of the new cases are from community spread, and all of these new cases were exposed to COVID-19 through close contacts. None of these cases were linked to the first case reported in LA County in January.
The emergency declaration makes it easier for the county to access state and federal resources, and comes with enhanced response to the virus. This includes local testing for the virus, now officially called COVID-19, in order to quickly identify, monitor and support anyone who has been exposed and become ill.
The county also released new guidance for childcare facilities, schools, colleges and universities, employers, hotels, public safety responders, shelters, congregate living facilities and parents on how to prepare for and slow the spread of COVID-19.
Health officials reiterated that there is no current need for significant social distancing measures in L.A. County, and the individual risk for contracting COVID-19 remains low for most individuals. Still, they are urging all community members to take the opportunity to plan for the possibility of more significant social distancing requirements should there be broad community spread.
They suggest these personal preparation measures:
- Having an ample supply of essentials at home (including water, food, hygiene, medications and pet food);
- Planning for the possibility of business disruptions, school closures and modifications/cancellations of public events;
- Practicing simple social distancing strategies that limit your exposure to others who may be ill (verbal greetings in place of handshakes and hugs; not sharing utensils, cups and linens; staying 6 feet apart from others at public events).
Officials also say that, as with other respiratory infections, there are steps that everyone can take to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus. These include:
- Staying home if you are sick. Sick people make well people sick. If you have mild symptoms, there may be no need to go to a medical facility to see a doctor. Certain patients, such as the elderly, those that are immune compromised or have underlying health conditions should call their doctor earlier. If you have questions, please call the clinic or your doctor before going in. If you do not have a healthcare provider, call 211 for assistance finding support near you.
- Proper handwashing. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Covering your cough or sneeze. Cough or sneeze into a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm.
- Getting immunized. Getting your flu shot protects yourself and your family from influenza, and reduces the potential strain on the healthcare system, which may be impacted by COVID-19 concerns.
The health department is also asking businesses, schools and community-based organizations to prepare plans for continuing operations (possibly allowing workers and students to telecommute) in case those measures are needed, and to follow thorough cleaning and disinfection practices.
For additional information and ongoing updates, check trusted sources including:
- Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
- California Department of Public Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
L.A. County residents can also call 2-1-1.