Three additional Riverside County residents are infected with novel coronavirus, likely the result of local exposure to the pathogen and not because of overseas travel, the county's public health officer said Monday.
Dr. Cameron Kaiser said the three new COVID-19 infections surfaced after the county's first was confirmed over the weekend. Two patients are self-quarantined in their homes while the third is undergoing treatment at a Coachella Valley hospital. None were identified.
It was unclear whether any of the newly diagnosed individuals had been in contact with the first person who is now in isolation at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage.
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“It is now considered a case of ‘community spread,’” according to a Riverside University Health System statement. “Community spread involves transmission of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. It indicates that the virus was not contracted through relevant travel history, or contact to a known case of COVID-19, and suggests that the virus is present in the community.”
Kaiser urged precautions, particularly for people with underlying conditions, such as seniors who may be in compromised health or HIV carriers.
The doctor said avoiding large gatherings and limiting non-essential travel would be good steps.
He also asked individuals who develop symptoms to stay away from others and seek medical attention.
Two other Riverside County residents were diagnosed with coronavirus while under quarantine aboard a Diamond Princess cruise liner at anchor in Northern California. But those individuals were infected while traveling and not in Southern California, according to health officials.
Meantime, Murrieta Valley Unified School District Superintendent Patrick Kelley shuttered Murrieta Valley High School today and intends to keep it closed until lab test results on an employee are vetted. Kelley announced Friday that the campus would be closed because the unnamed employee traveled to a location where coronavirus was present and returned to work ill.
“The health and safety of our students is our first concern,” Kelley said. “This decision was made to ensure their health.” The action was supported by Kaiser, who on Sunday implemented a local health emergency following quarantine of the first confirmed virus case at Eisenhower Medical Center. The infected party, who was not identified, is believed to be the first locally acquired case of COVID-19. Few details were available regarding how the infection occurred.
Another consequence of the virus was the cancelation of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells -- an internationally watched multi-round professional tennis tournament. The event had been slated to run until next weekend. It may be rescheduled.
Officials would not specify where the Murrieta Valley High employee had been, and COVID-19 testing results were not expected until mid-week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Still, as a precaution, the county Department of Public Health issued exclusion letters to 71 students, ordering them to self-quarantine because they may have interacted with the employee, who is undergoing treatment at an undisclosed facility.
“While I want to reassure the students, families and staff at MVHS that the risk of transmission is low, I support the school district's decision to temporarily close the school until testing is complete,” Kaiser said.
Parents or guardians of students exhibiting any signs of illness were asked to alert the school district. Coronavirus bears similarities to the flu, including high fever, coughing and respiratory difficulties.
County supervisors were expected to consider Kaiser's public health declaration as part of their policy agenda Tuesday. The declaration will provide a means for the county to marshal resources that can be dedicated to containing the coronavirus, should it be necessary, relying on state and federal aid.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 100,000 coronavirus cases have been documented globally, the vast majority in China, where it originated. Close to 4,000 have died -- most in China, officials said. Just over 500 infections have been recorded in the U.S., two dozen of which have been fatal.
By contrast, according to the CDC, there have been about 20,000 deaths stemming from flu-related complications nationwide since the start of influenza season in September.