A second person in California has been diagnosed with COVID-19, despite a lack of known ties to other infected patients or areas, a further sign that the disease is likely spreading in some parts of the US.
The second case was reported on Friday in the San Francisco Bay Area, with local health officials describing the patient as an adult woman with chronic health issues who had no recent history of travel and no known contact with anyone diagnosed with the virus.
The patient, hospitalized for having difficulty breathing, lives in Santa Clara County.
On Wednesday, health officials in Vacaville in California’s Solano County reported the US’ first known coronavirus case that had no obvious source of infection. The two counties lie 145km apart and officials on Friday said that the latest patient had not recently traveled between them.
“What we know now is that the virus is here, present at some level, but we still don’t know to what degree,” Santa Clara County Public Health Department Director Sara Cody said.
State and local health departments, which are the front lines of detection, have struggled to get test kits from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention working properly. Without working kits, it has been difficult or impossible for them to screen cases broadly.
The earlier patient from Vacaville has extended family and interactions with people in Santa Clara County, said Bela Matyas, a Solano health officer.
As infectious disease experts fanned out in Vacaville, some residents in the city of 100,000 stocked up on supplies amid fears things could get worse, despite official reassurances, while others took the news in stride.
“We’re not sure what’s going to happen. Panic seems to do that to you,” McKinsey Paz said. “In case things get a little crazy, we didn’t want to be the last ones. We’re preparing for the worst.”
Officials were not too worried, for now, about casual contact, because they think the coronavirus is spread only through “close contact, being within six feet [1.8m] of somebody for what they’re calling a prolonged period of time,” said James Watt, interim state epidemiologist at the California Department of Public Health.
Fear of the spreading coronavirus has led to a global run on masks, despite evidence that most people who are not sick do not need to wear them.
Many businesses are sold out, while others are limiting how many a customer can buy.
Amazon.com is policing its site, trying to make sure sellers do not gouge panicked buyers.
In South Korea, hundreds lined up to buy masks from a discount store.
In the US, Walgreens, Home Depot, Lowe’s and True Value Hardware have reported a sharp uptick in sales of masks over the past several weeks and said they are scrambling to get more from suppliers.
Home Depot, the US’ largest home improvement chain, has limited sales of N95 respirators to 10 per person.
Medicom Group, a Montreal medical supply company, usually makes 150 million masks per year at its factory near Angers, France. At the beginning of last month, the factory had orders for 500 million masks.
Minnesota-based 3M said that it has ramped up production of respirators at its facilities in the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Italy’s financial police have announced that they busted 20 people based in Turin for selling masks that were falsely said to offer complete protection against the disease.
They were selling for as much as 5,000 euros (US$5,514) apiece, police said.
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