Government agencies and community members alike are actively working to stem the potential for spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the San Ramon Valley, and while no case has been confirmed in the immediate area, Contra Costa County officials confirmed three new countywide cases on Friday.
The new cases have county officials warning residents who are part of groups that are more susceptible to illness -- such as those with certain chronic medical conditions and the elderly -- to take extra precautions now that COVID-19 may be active in the county.
“CCHS is recommending that people who are higher risk from COVID-19, including adults over 50 and people with certain underlying medical conditions, should avoid mass gatherings, such as parades, sporting events or concerts,” county officials said in a statement.
According to the Contra Costa County Health Services Department, two of the new patients were passengers aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship that returned to the Bay Area from Mexico in February and the other is known to have had close contact with a COVID-19 patient in another jurisdiction.
All three are currently in isolation in their homes and do not require hospitalization. This now brings the total number of Contra Costa County residents who have tested positive with COVID-19 to four.
County officials say they are unsure of how the first patient came into contact with COVID-19, and added that they are currently in the hospital in critical condition.
Residents who belong to a group that is at higher risk from COVID-19, are recommended to take extra precautions and should consider avoiding large gatherings of people such as sporting events or cultural events, and remain diligent about maintaining good hygiene.
According to county officials symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to those from the flu and include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
County officials say that some of the best ways to prevent the spread include staying home from work if you are sick, avoiding touching your face, avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth, and practicing healthy hand habits, such as thorough hand washing.
Also, masks are for sick people, there is no evidence that masks help otherwise.
"We recognize that we're asking people to take steps that are, to some, may be disruptive in their lives," Health Services Director Anna Roth said during a press conference on Friday. "We're only asking the public to do steps that we believe will have a positive effect on reducing community risk from the coronavirus."
The county has also recently received 300 test kits from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention it can use to detect new cases.
"We're ramping up our testing, we're doing more and more all the time," said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, the county's medical director for public health. "We expect to see more cases because of that and we're looking to see where they're coming from."
To help stem the potential spread of the novel coronavirus, county and local officials have taken to issuing policies and safety reminders for residents to follow in order to help keep themselves and others healthy.
“The coronavirus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, and despite what you might hear from other sources, the risk of infection in our region remains low. The seasonal flu remains a greater risk to you and your loved ones,” San Ramon Police Capt. Denton Carlson said, trying to assure residents. “As mentioned in the messages we have distributed previously, by far, the best method to ensure your safety is through the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs). The most critical aspect of these NPIs is related to personal hygiene.”
Employees at Bishop Ranch self-quarantine
While public officials such as Captain Carlson and others are working to keep the public informed about the status and reality of the coronavirus, many residents remain fearful of the new virus, as was demonstrated on Thursday afternoon when some employees at Bishop Ranch in San Ramon left work early due to rumors of exposure.
According to Bishop Ranch officials, on Thursday two of their larger customers -- companies that who remained unidentified -- had employees who self-quarantined due to contact with individuals who may have had exposure.
In a post published on Bishop Ranch’s Twitter account, officials said that while both companies in question have developed “significant corporate protocols” to protect against the spread of illnesses among employees in one of the cases “significant peer-to-peer communication led to employees leaving work early.”
While county officials do recommend that residents who feel sick stay home from work, Bishop Ranch officials maintain that neither company mandated that their employees leave and no confirmed cases of COVID-19 have occurred at Bishop Ranch.
Multiple San Ramon Valley agencies and organizations are working to assist in preventing the illness from spreading, most of which are enacting policies to keep residents informed on recommendations made by county health officials and the CDC.
"Your cooperation is integral to the ongoing public health response to try to slow spread of this virus," Danville Councilman Newell Arnerich said in a message to residents. “It is very important as community leaders and responsible citizens that we take address the seriousness of this disease to ensure the health, safety and well-being of everyone in our community.”
San Ramon Regional Medical Center officials said their staff have enacted policies and training to prepare for a potential influx in patients and that they are committed to keeping the community safe.
“San Ramon Regional Medical Center is monitoring information from federal, state and local public health agencies for current information on the coronavirus. Our hospital has taken the appropriate steps as we have trained professionals and the necessary equipment to react accordingly,” San Ramon Regional officials said.
In the San Ramon Valley Unified School District -- which district officials say has no confirmed cases among students, teachers or staff as of Friday -- district officials have been taking their cues from the county health department and have been consistently sending out communications to community members updating them on developments.
“We are strongly encouraging everyone to follow county guidelines and we are strongly encouraging hand washing,” said Chris George, SRVUSD’s director of communications and instructional services. “We recognize that it is uncertain and somewhat scary we recognize the threat and we are going to do everything we can to keep the kids safe.”
To help keep students safe from illness, the SRVUSD has provided a comprehensive guide for students and parents to follow, that includes recommendations such as discouraging the use of shared items such as pens and other supplies and encouraging students who show any symptoms to stay home.
The district will also be enacting a more liberal attendance policy and absences due to illness will not be met with academic penalties -- i.e. participation points -- or go against perfect positive attendance awards.
A full list of recommendations and other communications provided by the SRVUSD can be found online at www.srvusd.net.
As for the potential for school closures due to the coronavirus -- such as the one seen in Menlo Park on Wednesday -- George said that the district will more than likely defer to county recommendations.
“They're the medical experts that are going to make those recommendations as far as large public spaces and things like that. So we are really trying to recognize that there are experts in the field at the public health department and they are going to help make the best decisions for our kids. And the final decision would be up to us, but we are strongly following their recommendations,” he said.