Health officials in California have a nightmare on their hands. The customs agent tasked with screening passengers for the Wuhan coronavirus was carrying the disease and may have spread it anywhere. They’re scrambling to locate anyone who may have been in contact with the infected employee.
A nightmare scenario
Travelers passing through Los Angeles International Airport expected to be checked for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. In a bizarre catch-22 nightmare, some passengers who didn’t have the virus before they were screened, may have it now. No extra charge. A Customs officer who was doing the initial screening of passengers at LAX has tested positive for the 2019-nCoV coronavirus.
According to acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan on Thursday, “I’m very confident we are taking the appropriate steps in response to that incident to include contact tracing.” The Customs and Border Protection contractor “had not been at work for more than a week before developing symptoms.”
The procedure at all air, sea, and land ports is the same. “initial assessment and appropriate referral to CDC.” There are a huge number of people to process, Last year, CBP “processed over 400 million travelers in this country from all over the world.” Nobody has any idea yet how many travelers passed through the infected screener’s line. CBP is also concerned about any of his co-workers who may have been exposed.
This is not a drill
“This is not a drill,” the director-general of the World Health Organization emphasizes. According to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “This is not the time to give up. This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops. Countries have been planning for scenarios like this for decades. Now is the time to act on those plans.”
Thankfully we’re not faced with a disease as horrific as Ebola or one of the other hemorrhagic fevers. That really would be a nightmare. Even so, in the United States alone, the latest reports indicate 238 people have been infected and we have 14 deaths, so far. More than 100,000 people have been infected by the virus around the world, and over 3,400 have died.
The WHO is nervous that some countries, especially ones with limited resources, don’t want to accept the reality of the situation we are faced with. “Our message to all countries is: This is not a one-way street. We can push this virus back. Your actions now will determine the course of the outbreak in your country.”
California issues fresh guidelines
With six new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Santa Clara county, local health officials released new guidelines to the public. “We are continuously monitoring this evolving situation, and will issue new guidance if and when that is warranted.”
The county recommends employers to “minimize close contact with large numbers of people.” Ways they can do that are canceling nonessential travel, space workers far enough apart that they aren’t in arm’s length of each other, cancel meetings and conferences, telecommute where possible and be more flexible with sick leave policies. Employers should especially waive any requirements for the employee to get a doctor’s note because that puts health care workers and vulnerable members of the public at greater risk. Just let sick workers stay home and if possible pay them too.
The general public should also avoid gatherings. It’s a good idea to stay away from visiting friends or relatives in the hospital or in a nursing home unless you absolutely must. Avoid the emergency room to free up desperately needed resources whenever an urgent care facility or your regular doctor can meet your needs.
Good personal hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of any virus. Be sure to wash your hands often, cover any cough or sneeze and avoid anyone who is ill.