First US Case of Apparent SARS-CoV-2 Community Transmission
First US Case of Apparent SARS-CoV-2 Community Transmission

First US Case of Apparent SARS-CoV-2 Community Transmission

A patient in California acquired COVID-19 despite not traveling to an affected area or having contact with anyone who did.

Shawna Williams
Shawna Williams
Feb 27, 2020

ABOVE: The University of California, Davis Medical Center
WIKIMEDIA, COOLCAESAR

The US Centers for Disease Control announced yesterday (February 26) that an infection with the novel coronavirus had been confirmed “in a person who reportedly did not have relevant travel history or exposure to another known patient with COVID-19,” making it the first suspected US case of what is known as community transmission. Fifty-nine other cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the US, but all of them were linked to recent travel to affected areas abroad, including a cruise ship that experienced an outbreak, the Associated Press notes. 

“The thing that would immediately make all of us uneasy is if this person has no direct contact with someone who comes from an affected country,” William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, tells The New York Times“That would suggest there are other undetected cases out there, and we have already started some low-grade transmission.”

The patient is being treated at the University of California (UC), Davis Medical Center. “We have been anticipating the potential for such a case in the U.S., and given our close familial, social and business relationships with China, it is not unexpected that the first case in the U.S. would be in California,” says Sonia Angell, the director of the California Department of Public Health, in a statement

According to a press release from UC Davis, doctors there wanted to test the patient for infection with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, when the woman was first transferred from another California hospital last week. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had restricted testing to people who had traveled to China or had contact with someone who was infected with the virus. Four days later, the CDC ordered the test.

NorthBay VacaValley Hospital, where the patient was first admitted, is monitoring dozens of its staff members for signs of the disease, The Washington Post reports. The UC Davis Medical Center, which has treated other patients with COVID-19, noted in the release that infection prevention precautions have been in place there, but that a small number of employees have been asked to stay home and monitor themselves.

In a press conference today, California Governor Gavin Newsom noted that the state has a few hundred diagnostic kits available for COVID-19, which he called “simply inadequate.” The state is working with the CDC to make testing more readily available, he said.

At a press conference held yesterday, President Donald Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence will lead the US response to COVID-19. The Post reports that Pence’s handling of an HIV outbreak in 2015 in Indiana, where he was governor at the time, has drawn criticism. He had initially pledged to veto any bill authorizing needle-exchange programs, for example, despite CDC assurances that such programs are effective in preventing the spread of HIV and other diseases. A modeling study later estimated that an earlier response to that outbreak could have prevented more than 100 infections.

Shawna Williams is a senior editor at The Scientist. Email her at swilliams@the-scientist.com or follow her on Twitter @coloradan.