California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at the California Department of Public Health on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Sacramento, Calif. Newsom joined state health officials with an update to the public about the state’s response to the coronavirus, a day after a possible first case of person-to-person transmission was reported in Northern California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/TNS)

Newsom says state to expand testing capacity for coronavirus

Health officials mobilizing resources after case of unknown origin reported in Solano County

After the first case of novel coronavirus of unknown origin was confirmed this week in Solano County, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday said California is working with the federal government to scale up local testing capacity, mobilize state resources and prepare for a potential pandemic.

Newsom said the state has reached an agreement with the director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to immediately expand its capacity to test for novel coronavirus. The 200 test kits that were initially available were not adequate, he said.

“The testing protocol is so important. You don’t know what you don’t know unless you’re testing,” Newsom said. “This point cannot be emphasized enough. We should have caregivers and doctors have the capacity in real time, on demand, to advance these testing protocols, and that’s why I began this conversation with all of you today. That’s our top priority.”

“It’s one thing just to have the testing kits, it’s another to have the capacity on the back end to adjudicate the facts and have a full diagnostic test that’s provided,” he added. “That’s limited today, but over the course of the next few days we’ve been given assurances that there will be exponentially more sites for testing also made available, including the prospects of doing them within the state of California to get the test results back more quickly.”

Newsom and state health officials declined to turn over specific details on the case other than that some days elapsed between the onset of symptoms and testing for coronavirus, citing patient privacy. Nor would they identify the specific community where the patient was located, although Newsom said that people impacted were being alerted and provided with real-time information. Point of contact investigations and interviews for people facing possible exposure are being carried out based on protocols that are already in place.

“The way contact tracing works, is that we start from the individual that we know has been affected, we have interviews with all of those individuals that are around them,” said Dr. Sonia Angel, director of the California Department of Public Health. “And step by step, we look at where they’ve had, where they’ve been and who they might have been in direct communication with.”

Angel said that there have been 33 confirmed cases in California, 24 of which came from repatriation flights. Of the remaining nine, seven were infected during travel outside of the U.S. One case is a result of transmission via spouse.

This new case is the first in the U.S. of community transmission, where the patient had no travel history and no known exposure. Angel said that there has been no confirmed connection between this case and the quarantine of passengers from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, in Solano County.

Newsom didn’t declare a state emergency, but called it a public health issue. He said his administration is “meeting the moment,” not over or under reacting, and “there is no better resourced state to address the issue.”

When asked about his confidence in the Trump administration’s ability to respond to the health threat, Newsom expressed faith in the team around the president and said there has been constant and cooperative communication with that team. He said it would be easy to capitalize on this as an opportunity to attack the president, but declined to do so.

“Politics has no place at this moment,” Newsom said. “We have to meet this moment with a sense of urgency and conviction that transcends politics and transcends pettiness. I will not allow my administration to participate in that.”

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