Los Angeles County declared a local health emergency Wednesday during a news conference in which officials confirmed six new cases of coronavirus, raising the county’s total to seven.
“We’ve confirmed these cases as of last night with positive lab results,” Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
All six cases are linked to an “assumed known exposure source,” she said.
Three patients traveled together in northern Italy, and two are family members who had close contact with a relative who tested positive for the virus. That relative does not live in L.A. County, Ferrer said.
The sixth patient is a medical professional contracted by the Department of Homeland Security to conduct screenings at the the Los Angeles International Airport, DHS later said in news release.
That person began to have cold-like symptoms on Feb. 29 and went to the doctor the next day, where he or she received a COVID-19 test, the agency said.
That patient’s last shift was on Feb. 21, according to DHS.
“This individual is currently under self-quarantine at home with mild symptoms and under medical supervision,” DHS said in statement on Wednesday afternoon. “Their immediate family is also under home quarantine.”
Ferrer said only one of the six new coronavirus patients remains hospitalized; the rest are isolated at home and are being closely monitored by county health officials.
The first patient confirmed to have coronavirus in L.A. County, back in January, has since been cleared and deemed no longer infectious, Ferrer said.
“As of today, we still don’t have known cases of community transmission,” she emphasized.
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said the declaration of an emergency “is not a response rooted in panic.”
A state of local health emergency will help mobilize needed resources and partnerships, support preparation efforts and enhance continuity operations, “all in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Ferrer said.
The declaration will also enhance the county’s ability to seek future reimbursement from state and federal governments should funding become available.
Officials with the cities of Long Beach and Pasadena, which run their own public health divisions, said they also planned to declare emergencies despite having no new cases within their jurisdictions.
Officials encouraged the public to begin incorporating social distancing practices.
“Use verbal salutations in place of handshakes and hugs. Don’t share utensils cups and linens, and whenever possible try to keep 6 feet between you and other people you don’t know at large events,” Ferrer said.
Individuals also need to stay home if they are sick. “Sick people make other people sick,” she said.
Homes should be stocked with the same essentials needed in case of a natural disaster situation, she said.
Plans need to be made for how to handle the possibility of school, business or work closures, as well as changes in or cancellations of public events.
Ferrer pointed out that taking precautions can help slow the spread of the virus.
The public should be on guard for scam artists attempting to make a profit on the situation by selling unproven products.
“There are no specific medication treatments or vaccinations approved,” Ferrer said.
Although flu shots do not prevent a person from contracting the virus, Ferrer asked people to get them in order to help reduce stress on the health care system.
The news comes a day after county health officials confirmed Kaiser Permanente was already treating one coronavirus patient.
The patient was in self-isolation and being treated on an outpatient basis.
Information on new coronavirus cases and how to protect yourself against the virus can be found on publichealth.lacounty.gov.