California’s first coronavirus fatality — an elderly patient who apparently contracted the illness on a cruise — prompted the governor Wednesday to declare a statewide emergency.
The measure made California the third U.S. state to declare a state of emergency. Washington and Florida are the other two.
The state currently has 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including three new cases announced Wednesday in Santa Clara County and a medical screener at Los Angeles International Airport.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said the emergency proclamation is intended to help procure supplies and resources quickly. He announced the move Wednesday afternoon during a news conference, hours after the patient’s death in Placer County was announced.
Newsom said the state is particularly focused on senior centers, nursing homes and other care facilities where people live together in light of the outbreak in Washington state that has already killed 10 there.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, representatives from nurses unions across the state and nation held a news conference in Oakland to speak out on what they're calling hospitals' inability to protect nurses and other health care workers during the coronavirus outbreak.
"Nurses are confident that we can care for COVID-19 patients and even stop the spread of the virus if we are given the protections and resources we need to do our job," said Bonnie Castillo, executive director of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United. "We're calling on our facilities to follow the precautionary principle, which says we don't wait until we know for sure something is dangerous. … We have to act now."
The Grand Princess cruise ship is now under investigation as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention probe a “small cluster” of coronavirus patients who were aboard, according to the cruise line. Another passenger who contracted the COVID-19 virus is now in stable condition at a hospital in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco.
The elderly patient had underlying health conditions and died at a hospital in Roseville, near Sacramento, according to Placer County health officials.
The person was not identified, with officials disclosing only that the person was a Placer County resident who tested positive for the virus Tuesday.
Health officials believe both cruise ship patients were exposed while they were on the Grand Princess cruise from San Francisco to Mexico from Feb. 11 to Feb. 21.
Newsom said more than half of 2,500 aboard the February cruise, which docked in San Francisco, are California residents. The governor also added 11 passengers and 10 crew members on the ship are showing symptoms of the virus.
Newsom said California will be flying thousands of test kits out to the ship. The tests can be conducted in a San Francisco Bay Area lab.
“There’s a reason that we didn’t want the ship in the Port of San Francisco and in the state of California at this time,” Newsom said.
The Placer County person had symptoms as early as Feb. 19, according to Placer County Health Officer Aimee Sisson. Emergency personnel were called to the person’s home in Rocklin, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, on Feb. 27, when they were admitted to a hospital.
The cruise ship is at sea but is expected to skip its next port and return to San Francisco by Thursday, according to a statement from Dr. Grant Tarling, the chief medical officer for the Carnival Corp., which operates the Grand Princess. Any current passengers who were also on the February trip will be screened.
Newsom said the cruise ship, with thousands of people aboard, will be held offshore until passengers can be tested.
“The ship will not come on shore until we appropriately assess the passengers,” he said.
The CDC is working with California authorities to contact other passengers from the previous trip, CDC Director Robert Redfield said Wednesday at a White House briefing.
“We’re at the very beginning of that, looking at the manifest to make sure that we understand who has gotten off the cruise and where they got off the cruise,” Redfield said.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, runny nose, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild disease. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.
In all, more than 94,000 people have contracted the virus worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, with more than 3,200 deaths. WHO reports that the COVID-19 virus is more fatal than the common flu.