Two medical screeners have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), officials confirmed.
The two individuals worked at the same quarantine station. One was diagnosed earlier in the week, with the other diagnosed later.
L.A. County health department director Barbara Ferrer said the two were likely to have had the same exposure to the virus. Ferrer added that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will investigate how the second worker fell ill, because the airport falls under the federal jurisdiction of Customs and Border Protection.
“We need CDC to go in and work with the staff that are at the quarantine station, look at who the travelers were that came through that day, assess the protections that are being used and assess where exactly the exposure was,” Ferrer told a news conference.
In addition, Ferrer said county workers were interviewing close contacts of the LAX workers and monitoring them for symptoms and self-quarantining them if necessary. She insisted that there was no evidence of community spread in L.A. County.
“We know that as we see increased cases there’s greater concern in some of our communities as to what this means. For the general public, your risk still remains low, though this is the time you make sure you’re practicing good public health hygiene,” she said.
First screener to test positive
Earlier, the first LAX medical screener had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. The Department of Homeland Security announced that the individual had last worked as a health screener on February 21, before the positive test results. The individual, the DHS insisted, had worn the correct protective equipment while working.
The person is said to have become symptomatic on February 29.
An internal email seen by NBC described the person as a contract medical screener for the CDC. It added that “these screeners are predominantly assigned to the CDC in-transit lounge and a few support jetway screening on direct flights from China.”
The DHS said the unnamed individual was under self-quarantine at home with mild symptoms and under medical supervision. The individual’s family have also gone under self quarantine at home.
“DHS is happy to report that this individual was highly trained and did everything right both on the job and when they began to feel sick. We are told the individual wore all the correct protective equipment and took necessary protections on the job. Additionally, as soon as the individual began to feel sick, they self-quarantined, saw a physician, and reported to the appropriate authorities and officials,” the DHS said.
LAX is one of 11 U.S. airports where inbound international travelers are screened for coronavirus. Contract screeners check travelers’ temperatures, question individuals about whether they have been to such countries as China, South Korea or Italy and whether they have any symptoms of acute respiratory illness, USA Today reported.
L.A. County declares local and public health emergency
L.A. County officials have since declared a local and public health emergency in response to the growing number of reported COVID-19 cases. As of Mar. 15, the county had recorded one death and 69 cases. On March 15 alone, 16 new cases were confirmed, up from 11 the previous day.
In declaring a local and public health emergency, Kathryn Barger, Chair of the Board of Supervisors, said: “These declarations are a swift response to this emergent issue and will enhance our ability to effectively manage our response. These actions will allow us to have even greater coordination to protect our more than 10 million residents and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis added: “My first priority is, and always will be, to protect the public health of our residents and that means ensuring we have the necessary equipment and resources in place should the threat of COVID-19 escalate in the county. Fear will not drive our response to this virus. Rather, we will prepare and implement our proven prevention strategies to effectively protect the public.”
The World Health Organization has declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic. A total of 6,665 people have died due to the virus, and 173,182 cases have been confirmed globally as of Mar. 16. In the U.S. 3,806 cases have been confirmed so far, with 69 deaths recorded.
Measures to combat coronavirus spread
A number of countries, including the U.S., have responded by shutting their airports to people who are coming from COVID-19 hotspots like China, Italy, and Iran.
In an effort to halt the spread of the virus, Illinois announced a number of measures to prepare the state in the event of a widespread breakout, including the setting up of a toll-free number Illinoisans can call to get information about the virus or report suspected cases.
Meanwhile, drugmakers are working around the clock to create a vaccine for the virus. Moderna Inc, Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc, and Novavax Inc are some of the companies that have announced they are working to develop vaccinations against the virus. The World Health Organization has also announced that Gilead Sciences’ drug, remdesivir could help treat the deadly coronavirus.