The county’s first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) was confirmed this week by Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS), and officials from surrounding cities and local school districts have weighed in on preparedness plans.
“Our county’s public health lab conducted the test, which is expected to be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the coming days,” wrote the CCHS in its Tuesday evening press release. “The patient who is being treated at a hospital in the county had no known travel history and no known contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. CCHS is conducting a thorough investigation to identify anyone who may have had close contact with the patient.”
School district superintendents in Byron, Knightsen, Oakley and Brentwood confirmed they were working with the county to stay up to date.
“The superintendents in Contra Costa County have been in near daily contact to monitor this situation,” said Knightsen Elementary School District Superintendent Harvey Yurkovich. “As you can imagine, keeping our schools and community free of this virus is of utmost concern. As always, prevention is our best medicine and first line of defense in preventing the spread of any virus. With that, we are reinforcing clean and hygienic practices with our students and staff.”
At this juncture, he didn’t see schools closing, and his fellow superintendents agree.
“At this time, it has been recommended not to shut down schools, and we were provided with a phone number to call if we have a case in our district,” said Byron Union School District Superintendent Reyes Gauna. “It is not out of the question but still too early to determine if closing schools will be selected.”
Once the confirmed case in the county was announced, Gauna issued another letter to families, reassuring them the district is working closely with the county health officials.
“Our custodial staff is deep cleaning and disinfecting desks, chairs, door handles, water fountains, sinks and any other surface staff and students may touch — daily,” Gauna wrote in the communication piece.
Oakley Union Elementary School District Superintendent Greg Hetrick released a similar message to families after county health officials made the announcement Tuesday.
“This situation is changing rapidly, and we know that many people are feeling fear and anxiety,” Hetrick wrote. “At this uncertain time, we believe the best thing that our school community can do to reduce their risk is to stay informed and take steps to be prepared to prevent the spread of illness in the future.”
As the situation remains under constant watch and school leadership has adjusted cleaning practices at their respective school sites, Brentwood Union School District Superintendent Dana Eaton further stated the school districts will be relying on the county’s expertise.
“While we are preparing for any scenario, we are focused on the most impactful strategies; keeping anyone who is sick home and urging frequent hand washing,” Eaton noted.
Liberty Union High School District Superintendent Eric Volta echoed the sentiment of his peer network, noting he and his staff are staying abreast of information from the county while taking extra precautionary measures when it comes to sanitation on campus.
“We are also distributing hand sanitizers to the sites as we get them in,” Volta said. “In talking to health care professionals, it’s important to note that we are still low risk, however we are prepared if that status changes.”
The coronavirus is a member of the same family of viruses that causes colds, but a new strain — first identified in China late last year — has become the focus of international attention as it’s spread to 70 locations around the globe, including the U.S. At another March 3 media briefing, World Organization Health (WHO) announced the global mortality rate for the virus to be 3.4% of the reported cases. When compared with the influenza virus, the CDC estimates between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths have occurred annually since 2010. WHO Director General Dr. Tedres Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke to the coronavirus’ ability to spread, also compared to the flu.
“To summarize, COVID-19 spreads less efficiently than flu, transmission does not appear to be driven by people who are not sick, it causes more severe illness than flu, there are not yet any vaccines or therapeutics, and it can be contained — which is why we must do everything we can to contain it,” Ghebreyesus said. “That’s why WHO recommends a comprehensive approach.”
David Witt, MD, National Infectious Disease Leader for Kaiser Permanente, said the new strain of coronavirus does not appear to be as severe as more virulent strains like SARS and MERS, but the concern is that it can progress to pneumonia.
“Typical symptoms include fever and cough. Treatment is similar to that for other viral infections,” Witt said.
Officials from medical institutions, cities, school districts and CCHS remind residents to wash hands often and thoroughly, take time off work if ill and avoid crowded social gatherings.
“Health departments across the country are shifting to a preparedness strategy,” said Will Harper, CCHS acting communications officer, who added it’s better to plan for the worst and hope for the best. “Practice good hygiene, limit travel, stay home if you’re sick.”
Harper shared information on masks, which indicates healthy people need not wear them, as there is no evidence to support it reduces the chances of becoming infected. Rather, it’s more important for those who are already sick to wear masks to stunt the spread of the virus.
Within the cities, Oakley and Brentwood noted they are watching the situation closely and will support the CCHS in educating the community.
Brentwood City Manager Tim Ogden recently met with the local police and fire chiefs and two superintendents to discuss potential mitigation measures and collaborative messaging.
“Currently, our focus is united with the county health on encouraging best hygiene practices, voluntary quarantines, ensuring continuity of service delivery, and the preparation for the unlikely risk of closures of schools and city departments, and any shortages of consumer goods in a worst case scenario,” Ogden said. “Our protocols will remain in place as is, and the trigger for ramping up will be with a more significant widespread event. We’ll get notifications from Contra Costa Health Services as clinics and hospitals know first with an uptick of cases, and jointly with the school districts who are tracking absenteeism as indicators to escalate a more involved response.”
In terms of hospital readiness for caring for those infected or those might possibly become infected, Witt noted Kaiser Permanente has been working on confronting highly infectious diseases for years.
“We are confident we can safely treat patients who have been infected with this virus, with limited risk to other patients, members and employees,” Witt said. “Staff at all our medical centers regularly drill using various disaster scenarios, including detection of infectious diseases, and have been advised about the CDC protocols to be used with the coronavirus. As more is understood about this virus, recommendations may change. Our physicians and other caregivers are asking members and patients with respiratory symptoms about recent travel to potentially affected areas and contact with people who may have the coronavirus. Those who have symptoms and links to other people potentially carrying the virus will be isolated in our medical centers.”
For more information on the virus and best practices for staying healthy, visit https://bit.ly/2To06Vh and the CDC website at https://bit.ly/2vGb7Id. To read the WHO director general’s media briefing opening comments, visit https://bit.ly/2VMZ32O.