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By Will Fritz
Staff Writer 

Coronavirus: County, Fallbrook schools take action to prepare

 

Last updated 3/13/2020 at 12:18pm



The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday, March 10, to continue a recently-declared local health emergency in response to the novel coronavirus as the county recorded its first case of the illness.

The board of supervisors also voted to form a subcommittee to handle coronavirus-related challenges.

County health officials on Monday, March 9, confirmed the county’s first presumptive positive case of coronavirus in a local resident, who is being treated at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla.

The case is considered a presumptive positive until test results are confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scripps has taken cautionary measures and sent any staff who may have been exposed to home quarantine with hospital support.

“Scripps Green Hospital and the adjacent Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines are safe for patient care and all appointments and procedures are continuing as usual at both facilities,” hospital staff said in a press release.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's health officer, said the patient is a woman in her 50s, and the infection is related to “overseas travel.” County officials did not specify what country the patient had visited, but the location did not subject her to automatic 14-day quarantine when she returned, an indication she did not travel to high-danger countries such as China or Italy.

Wooten said the patient is hospitalized and “doing well.'' She said health officials are continuing to investigate to determine who may have come into contact with the woman.

Dr. Eric McDonald of the county's Epidemiology Immunization Branch said there is a “household contact,” and that person is under a self-quarantine, and some health care workers may have been exposed. McDonald said the patient became sick and was hospitalized, and eventually met the criteria to be tested for coronavirus, leading to the positive result.

He said there is not believed to have been any contact with the “general public.”

Although the patient is considered the county's first coronavirus case, the illness has had a presence in the San Diego area. Last week, authorities confirmed that a person who works at an AT&T retail store in Chula Vista had tested positive for the illness, prompting the temporary closure of some AT&T stores in the area. That patient was not considered a San Diego County case because the person actually lives in Orange County.

At the Tuesday board meeting, county health officials gave updates on their efforts to test anyone who may have been exposed to coronavirus and educate the public on how to stop the virus’s spread.

Helen Robbins-Meyer, county chief administrative officer, said while it's clear that COVID-19 cases have increased, the county “is working around the clock to meet the challenges associated with this.”

Supervisors Greg Cox and Nathan Fletcher will lead the new coronavirus subcommittee.

“This virus poses a new and dangerous challenge to our region and we need to take different and more enhanced approaches for dealing with it,” Cox, the board chairman, said.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob suggested that Cox's experience with the National Association of Counties made him good choice, while Fletcher's time in state legislature was a plus.

Locally, school administrators in Fallbrook were working to prepare for possible spread of coronavirus, according to Fallbrook Union Elementary School spokesman Seth Trench.

Actions being taken include proactive school sanitation, health education and the suspension of attendance incentives like perfect attendance awards, so as to encourage ill students to stay home, Trench said.

FUESD is refreshing training for all district custodians relating to best practices for school sanitation, and the district has designated an extra custodian at each school to be proactive in cleaning high traffic areas of campuses and buses. Portable hand sanitizing stations have also been ordered for each school site and district nurses have developed an educational training video to promote healthy habits.

“We are developing contingency plans so we are ready to respond if widespread illness causes greater impacts, such as school closures,” Trench said in an email. “We are hopeful that we will not have to operationalize these plans, but it is critical to be prepared.”

The district is working to develop lesson plans and platforms for independent study and home-based education in case of school closures, Trench said.

Along with forming a subcommittee and declaring a local emergency last month, the county has also taken the following steps:

-- Establishing an incident command incident and activating the

Emergency Operations Center to “Level 3” for a minor or limited emergency

-- Placing 86 hand-washing stations throughout the county, and

offering help to 18 cities in the region

-- Creating a website – coronavirus-sd.com – to provide information

for the public and offer resources, including alert posters in multiple

languages

-- Extending public outreach through social media and planned public

service announcements on local radio stations, and

-- Providing outreach to the homeless community, with help from other

service providers and the Regional Task Force on the homeless, including the

distribution of personal hygiene kits.

Wooten told the board that even with an increasing number of cases globally – with travel being a key factor in the spread – the general public's health risk is considered to be low.

Wooten stressed that it was important for residents to take measures to prevent the spread of disease, including washing hands for at least 20 seconds or using at least 60% alcohol sanitizer, avoid touching one's face, keeping a safe physical distance from others and frequently cleaning touched surfaces, such as phones or computer keyboards.

Meanwhile, a portion of the more than 1,000 California residents aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland were expected March 10 to be on their way to a mandatory coronavirus quarantine.

The ship had been offshore pending test results that showed at least 21 of the 3,500 people aboard had tested positive for the illness, but it docked in the port of Oakland on Monday.

The passengers from California will be held under 14-day quarantine. Some of the passengers will be quarantined at Miramar, and others will be held at Travis Air Force Base northeast of Oakland.

It was not immediately clear when the passengers are scheduled to arrive at MCAS Miramar.

Passengers who are residents of other states are expected to be taken to Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia.

Will Fritz can be reached at [email protected]

 

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