A local public health emergency was declared Wednesday after new novel coronavirus cases were reported in Los Angeles County.
The announcement came at a news conference with health officials, who said the county now has six new confirmed coronavirus cases.
Later Wednesday, news broke that a medical screener checking travelers for symptoms at LAX was one of the six who tested positive.
Two of the other cases were people who were most likely exposed to the novel coronavirus by a family member who previously tested positive, and lives outside LA County, public health officials said Wednesday.
The three remaining cases were travelers who had visited northern Italy together.
The public health department also said it was monitoring anyone who came into close contact with the six to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
"There's either a travel history to an area with an outbreak, there's exposure to known travelers coming from areas where there's an outbreak, or the person is in close contact with a confirmed case," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, head of the county health department.
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The declaration allows greater coordination among various levels of government. It was made out of "an abundance of caution" and not panic, officials said.
Ferrer laid out a series of steps the department will be taking in the days and weeks ahead: "We are increasing our capacity for testing at our local public health lab. (It is) among 10 California health labs that have received CDC test kits and we have additional kits on the way. We are currently testing and have been since last Wednesday," Ferrer said. "We will ensure that people who test positive for the novel coronavirus and their close contacts are quickly identified and closely monitored and supported while they are in isolation and/or quarantine."
County residents can expect more confirmed cases in the near future. She urged people to follow basic sanitary practices such as frequent and thorough hand washing, covering their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding other people if they are sick, but also plan for the possibility of "more extensive social distancing requirements," including verbal salutations instead of handshakes, and whenever possible, trying to stay at least six feet away from strangers at public events.
"We do need folks to plan for the possibility of business disruptions, school closures, and modifications or cancellations of select public events. We will be working closely with schools and public event venues and businesses before decisions are made to close."
The department will begin daily radio briefings Thursday on three different stations, and is posting new guidelines for "childcare facilities, schools, colleges and universities, employers, hotels, public safety responders, shelters, and parents on how they can prepare for and slow the spread of the virus, officially known as COVID-19.
Additionally, the department is sending out technical assistance teams on site visits to interim housing facilities to make sure all necessary precautions are taken.
Pasadena and Long Beach also declared local emergencies Wednesday. There are no confirmed cases of the virus in those communities.
Later Wednesday, the first known death in California due to coronavirus was reported in Placer County.
A second Los Angeles County case of coronavirus was confirmed Tuesday by Kaiser Permanente in West Los Angeles, which said it was overseeing the care of a patient "who is home in self-isolation and being treated on an outpatient basis." The announcement came hours after the county Department of Public Health announced plans for the Wednesday news conference to discuss the spread of coronavirus and the response.
"We are in touch with and monitoring the patient," Kaiser Permanente said in a statement. "We are focused on delivering excellent care while ensuring the protection of our members, physicians and staff."
Citing HIPAA requirement, Kaiser Permanente refused to provide futher details.
This is the second confirmed case of coronavirus in Los Angeles County, with latest confirmation arriving on the same day that two people tested positive for COVID-19 in Orange County, according to OC health officials. The previous confirmed coronavirus patient in Los Angeles County has since recovered and been released from treatment.
County officials did not offer any comment in response to Kaiser Permanente's statement. Also expected to attend Wednesday morning's news conference to discuss the virus are officials from Pasadena and Long Beach, which both maintain their own health departments separate from the county's.
The county Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles City Council are both expected to hear reports during their Wednesday meetings about the status of the illness locally.
Later Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency due to threat of coronavirus, becoming third U.S. state to do so.