Since the novel coronavirus surfaced in Silicon Valley recently, so have fears that anyone traveling to and from Asia or Europe could spread the disease even if they never contracted it. That’s a myth, a Santa Clara County Public Health Department officer told the Town Crier last week.
While novel is a new type of coronavirus – different from viruses that can cause illnesses as common as a seasonal cold – and reasonably leads residents to worry, county deputy health officer Dr. George Han said public health departments were created for this exact circumstance.
“Chances are you’ve actually come down with a coronavirus at some point in your life,” Han said in a phone interview. “What’s different about this virus is it belongs in that family, but no one has immunity to it. Because of that, the concern is that it can spread, without any kind of population immunity slowing it down. … We do think it has a high mortality rate, but we aren’t sure how high yet. … This is, in a way, our bread and butter, because whenever we have a disease of public health importance, we investigate it.”
Establishing a timeline
The novel coronavirus was first brought into the U.S. from Wuhan City, China, through a person-to-person spread Jan. 30, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By the following day, the CDC reported the first confirmed case in Santa Clara County; the second case was documented Feb. 2. The cases were not related, and the infected individuals have been self-isolating since, said a statement from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.
Since then, county public health officials have stressed that while the virus came from China, it does not mean that people from China and surrounding countries or those who have traveled there should be singled out or discriminated against. People of Asian descent are no more likely to contract the virus than those of any other ethnicity. Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s health officer, drafted a letter and created a YouTube video asking the public not to pass judgment on such people.
“The public health department’s response to the outbreak is guided by compassion, dignity and respect for all and is grounded in science,” Cody says in the video posted to the department’s social media page. “Yes, we are focused on protecting the community from any potential harm from this new virus, but we need your help in protecting people from discrimination. We can’t do this alone.”
Han said the public health department has helped slow down the transmission rate by contacting people who were in “close contact” with someone with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus, or someone who spent face-to-face time for hours or days with someone who contracted the virus. By identifying those people, calling them and isolating them if they are symptomatic, county health officials are limiting the potential spread.
There’s no evidence that the virus is circulating in Santa Clara County, or even in the United States, Han said.
“It’s not something we should necessarily be concerned about, or change our behavior over, except for reinforcing the usual good practices,” he said, encouraging people to stay home when sick, always wash their hands, not touch their face and practice good cough etiquette. “Those help to prevent spread of all respiratory viruses, not just novel coronavirus.”
Han added that people wearing facemasks to combat the virus shouldn’t.
“(Masks) don’t do a lot of good at preventing illness,” he said. “It works for people that (are sick) so that their spit doesn’t fly everywhere when they cough. … The public should not be wearing these masks for hours at a time – they’re meant to be worn for minutes at a time.”
Avoiding traveling or people who have traveled is not an appropriate response, either.
“People are worried about places outside of mainland China, but the CDC doesn’t have any specific warnings about other places,” Han said. “There are 13 cases in the United States. Does that mean you’re going to avoid the U.S., too?”
For more information on the novel coronavirus and the county’s response, visit bit.ly/39vRP6M.