Second case of unexplained coronavirus appears in California, raising fears of community infection

Michael James, USA TODAY

The nation's second case of unexplained coronavirus - in which a person emerges with the infection with no obvious indication of how the virus was transmitted - has been reported in California, health officials confirmed Friday.

Officials in San Jose said the patient was an older adult woman with chronic health conditions who does not have a travel history or any known contact with a traveler or infected person. It comes two days after state officials said a woman in Solano County had contracted the illness after no known contact.

“This new case indicates that there is evidence of community transmission but the extent is still not clear,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Health Officer for Santa Clara County and Director of the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department. "This case does signal to us that it's now time to shift how we respond to the novel coronavirus."

While existing prevention measures like reaching out to contacts of infected patients has worked, Cody said agencies "need to add other public health tools." 

"What we know now is that the virus is here, present at some level, but we still don't know to what degree," Cody said. 

The new infection in Santa Clara County brings another troubling chapter to the coronavirus grip on health fears throughout the U.S. and other countries

The coronavirus has not yet reached pandemic levels, health official says

The latest case, involving a woman in her 60s, marks an escalation of the worldwide outbreak in the U.S. because it means the virus could spread beyond the reach of preventative measures like quarantines. However, state health officials say that the risk of widespread transmission remains low.

Solano County Public Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas said officials have identified dozens of people – but less than 100 – who had close contact with the infected woman. They are quarantined in their homes and a few who have shown symptoms are in isolation, Matyas said.

Besides the women from Santa Clara and Solano counties, the 60 other people in the U.S. with COVID-19 have either traveled abroad or had close contact with others who traveled. Seven of those U.S. patients have since fully recovered from the virus.

Oregon officials announced Friday that the state has identified its first presumed case of the virus. Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen declined to identify the infected patient, but said there was no known travel exposure.

Earlier U.S. cases included 14 in people who returned from outbreak areas in China, or their spouses; three people who were evacuated from the central China city of Wuhan; and 42 American passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The global count of those sickened by the virus stood at 85,176 on Friday. The death count stands at 2,919, most of them in China.

Meanwhile, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shed some more light on the virus at Friday's press conference in California, including how long it can survive on surfaces. 

A CDC official at the press conference said the virus can live for days on surfaces, but the good news is that the virus can also be killed easily with cleaning products. What's more, officials don't believe people are usually infected by touching long-contaminated surfaces in the first place. 

The virus can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. Health officials think it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.

The news is causing residents in communities near the latest infections to take extra precautions.

“I’m definitely going to wear my mask and gloves at work, because I’m a server,” said Vacaville, California bowling alley worker Denise Arriaga, who said she doesn’t care if she’s criticized for the extra precautions.

“At the end of the day, it’s my life,” she said.

Contributing: The Redding (Calif.) Record Searchlight; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Second case of unexplained coronavirus appears in California, raising fears of community infection