County votes to extend local health emergency due to coronavirus

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SAN DIEGO -- The county Board of Supervisors unanimously reaffirmed and extended a local health emergency declaration Wednesday in response to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people, mostly in China.

Despite the declaration, however, county officials stressed that the risk of contracting the virus -- known as COVID-19 -- locally remains extremely low.

There are two confirmed cases of the coronavirus in San Diego. Both of those patients were among more than 200 who were quarantined at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar after being evacuated from the area of Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Both patients were in isolation at UC San Diego Health in Hillcrest, but one of them was discharged Wednesday after recovering fully, hospital officials said.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff cleared the patient after rigorous testing to confirm recovery and lack of contagiousness, officials said.

County officials initially declared the local health emergency on Friday, effective for seven days. The Board of Supervisors action Wednesday extends the declaration for another 30 days, after which the board can vote to extend it again.

Nick Yphantides, the county's chief medical officer, said the declaration "empowers the county to more effectively respond to COVID-19, seek mutual aid and ensure the county has all the necessary tools at their disposal."

Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten said the county has made "swift and significant efforts" to deal with the COVID-19 threat, by working with federal and state agencies to care for travelers suspected of having the virus.

"We have successfully protected the residents of San Diego County," as well as those suspected of having the virus, Wooten said.

Supervisors praised the county health workers for their efforts in containing the coronavirus, along with other partners, including MCAS Miramar.

Supervisor Jim Desmond asked about the federal government's efforts to screen those traveling between U.S.-Mexico border. Eric McDonald, county director of Epidemiology & Immunizations Services, said the federal government has policies in place to identify people who are a medical risk, and "we're working with the state to ensure those polices are in sync."

McDonald noted that two weeks ago, direct flights from China into the Tijuana, Mexico, airport were suspended.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said it was vital for the county to "do everything we can" to be proactive, and "this action empowers us."

Wooten said it could be several more weeks until the county is able to do its own testing for the virus. Such testing is now being handled by the CDC on the East Coast. She also noted that it could be a year before a potential vaccine against the coronavirus is developed.

Wooten and other county officials stressed that there is still a low risk of being infected by the coronavirus, noting that the flu presents a far more pressing health concern for San Diego residents.

After spending two weeks under quarantine, 166 people who were brought to Miramar on Feb. 5 were released Tuesday. Another 65 people arrived at Miramar Feb. 7 and were also placed under a 14-day quarantine.

Wooten said roughly 63 of those people will be released from the quarantine Thursday, assuming none develop any signs of possible symptoms.

Worldwide, there have been more than 76,000 reported cases of the disease, with more than 2,100 deaths. All but eight of those deaths have occurred in China.

There are 15 confirmed cases of the disease in the United States, including one each in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

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