First Sonoma County resident diagnosed with coronavirus; officials declare public health emergency

A Sonoma County resident who recently returned from a cruise to Mexico has been diagnosed with coronavirus — the first person living here to contract the illness that’s spread from China to at least another 68 countries — prompting county health officials Monday to declare a local public health emergency that intensifies the fight against possible community transmission of the deadly virus.

The resident becomes the second confirmed patient being treated in a county hospital for the infection. Early last week, a person was transferred to a local hospital from Travis Air Force Base in Solano County. That person had been quarantined at the base for a short time, after returning from the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. Six passengers from the ship have died from coronavirus.

The newest county patient has virus symptoms and was in stable condition Monday in an isolation room at an unidentified local hospital. The person had traveled from San Francisco to Mexico on an undetermined cruise line, and came home 10 days ago. A California Department of Public Health test confirmed the person’s coronavirus diagnosis.

Dr. Celeste Philip, the county’s health officer, called the positive test of the local resident a “cause for concern,’’ and said county officials declared the health emergency so the county and local health care providers are “prepared to combat an outbreak of COVID-19.”

State and federal health officials are working with hospital staff to identify individuals the county resident has made contact with since returning from the cruise, county health officials said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting another test to confirm the person’s positive result of the virus, the officials said.

County health officials declined during a Monday press conference to identify the hospital or hospitals where the two patients here with coronavirus are being treated, citing patient privacy rules under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. In a prepared statement, county health officials also said they won’t reveal where the patients are being treated to “prevent disruption of hospital operations.”

When told during the press conference health agencies in other cities, counties and states have publicly named hospitals and health centers treating coronavirus patients, that didn’t sway local health officials.

“We’ve made a decision here in Sonoma County that for the privacy of patients we do not want to release that information,” said Barbie Robinson, director of the county’s Department of Health Services.

It’s also unclear how many local residents and health care workers have been exposed to the virus that’s killed more than 3,100 people worldwide. Philip said all of the health care professionals now being monitored have shown no symptoms, however, have not been tested for COVID-19.

“As you probably have heard over and over again, there’s a 14-day window where we look for symptoms to develop,” she said, “so we are in that window.”

As the coronavirus outbreak stretches around the globe infecting nearly 91,000 people and more cases are confirmed locally and in Northern California, residents here are on edge.

On Monday, medical staff members at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital reported anonymously to the Press Democrat a patient with coronavirus was being treated at the hospital and workers there had been exposed. Dan Peterson, CEO of Sutter hospital, declined to confirm the anonymous information volunteered by hospital staff.

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