Last Friday afternoon, the third case of the novel Coronavirus was confirmed in California. The illness, which originated in the Hubei province of China, has been closely monitored by domestic and international health organizations over the last couple of weeks. Though it is spreading, there is little concern that it will affect Westmont or the greater Santa Barbara area. Here’s everything you need to know about the virus.
The new coronavirus, which has been named novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), is not a single strain, but rather a family of diseases that include mild colds to more severe illnesses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Coronaviruses are typically spread between animals, but then can be transmitted to humans. The current outbreak began in Wuhan, and has thus far killed 259 people in China and has spread to almost 12,000 people, mostly within China.
On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new virus a global health emergency. The next day, the Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency for the United States. However, China has taken extreme measures to prevent the spread of the illness. Twenty cities within the country face travel restrictions while screening stations have been set up in transportation hubs.
As of Feb. 1, there have been eight confirmed cases of the virus within the United States. Of those, three are in California. Santa Clara County is the latest to be hit, as confirmed by Dr. Sara Cody on Friday. Anxiety spread locally last week after a UCSB student who had visited Wuhan over Christmas reported feeling ill. However, the UCSB Student Health Department struck down the rumors of coronavirus on campus. Further to the south, two Ventura County residents have been tested for the illness after returning from China. According to Dr. Robert Levin, both individuals are isolated in their homes as they wait for test results.
Jackie Ruiz for the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has said that the county is working closely with the California officials as well as the CDC to prepare for any potential outbreaks within the county. So far, only one case of person-to-person transmission has occurred in the United States. Based on how the situation is being monitored, there is little risk for spread once the virus is confirmed in a patient. The main cause of concern for Californians is the mass influx of tourists from China. To help prevent this, the U.S. joined several other countries on Jan. 31 in temporarily banning Chinese tourists from entering the country.
There certainly can be no underestimating the severity of this illness. However, it is also worth noting that other viruses, such as the flu, are also at their peak this time of year. According to Dr. Nora Colburn of Ohio State University, ordinary Americans are “much more likely to have influenza” than the novel coronavirus. Most symptoms of the two viruses are similar, such as headaches, coughing, sore throat, and fever. Medical professionals recommend that individuals take the ordinary procedures of washing hands thoroughly, avoiding sick individuals, and getting a flu shot.