Last week, the World Health Organization formally assigned the name COVID-19 to the new coronavirus. A group of coronaviruses are pictured here. (NIH NIAID-RML)
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The second Humboldt County patient showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus has tested “indeterminate” for the virus, health officials said Tuesday.

The patient, a woman, is living in self-isolation with a man who tested positive for the virus. Both began showing symptoms after a recent trip to mainland China but are now on the way to recovery, the county Department of Health and Human Services said.

Health officials had sent the woman’s test samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the results turned up “indeterminate,” which means there’s no evidence increasing the likelihood that the patient has the virus.

“The ill individuals are doing well and continue to remain in isolation at home while being monitored for symptoms” by local health departments, the Department of Health and Human Service said Tuesday in a release.

The virus began in China but has evolved into a global health epidemic with more than 80,000 reported cases worldwide, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. There are 57 confirmed cases in the U.S., a federal health official told U.S. senators on Tuesday.

Locally, county health officials have said for weeks that the chance of a Humboldt County resident contracting the virus is “very low.”

The county has not disclosed where the two indviduals are staying in Humboldt County. They do not have any children, 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said Monday after attending a private meeting with local health officials and North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman.

“Let’s face it, going forward, the big question most of us in the U.S. have is, ‘how worried do I need to be about this outbreak?’ ” Teresa Frankovich, the county public health officer, said in a release.

“Unfortunately, the answer right now is not clear,” Frankovich said. “Many factors determine how big an impact a new virus strain may have.”

Below, the county has has outlined some of the most important factors that determine the size of an outbreak, via information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From a Department of Health and Human Services release: 

Clinical severity, or how serious is the illness associated with infection.

When an outbreak occurs, typically it is the most vulnerable individuals — those who are older or have a chronic disease — who become ill first. Only the sickest come to medical attention. This means that the people most likely to be counted are also the most likely to fare poorly, so initial death rates appear high. Frankovich said because of the speed at which COVID-19 unfolded in China, and the need to deal with the seriously ill first, it is likely there are thousands of individuals with only mild, cold-like symptoms who have never been included in case counts.

“Bottom line, to really know what percent of people who have the infection actually die from it, you need a pretty good idea of how many people actually had the infection,” Frankovich said. “This information will become more clear over time and particularly as we are able to evaluate outcome information from additional countries, including our own.”

Transmissibility, or how easily the pandemic virus spreads from person-to-person.In China and some other countries, there is clearly transmission occurring at the community level. This means individuals who have no known exposure to a confirmed case of COVID-19 have become ill. To date, this is not occurring in the U.S., but this will very likely change over time, according to the CDC.

And, finally, is there effective treatment or a vaccine to prevent the infection?The CDC states that there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Scientists are working hard to change that situation, but it will take some time. Fortunately, Frankovich said our health care systems offer excellent supportive care for ill individuals. Anti-viral medication for use is also being investigated.

Right now, the approach of quarantining individuals with exposures and monitoring them for symptoms, as well as isolating individuals who are confirmed cases, is intended to slow the spread of illness in the U.S., Frankovich said. Slowing spread gives the scientific community time to study this infection and develop effective strategies for containing, treating and eventually preventing infection through vaccination.

“The world has become a much smaller place due to air travel which can take us across the planet in hours,” Frankovich said. “COVID-19 is not the first and will not be the last new virus strain to emerge, and that is why continual surveillance for emerging illnesses and maintaining or expanding our capacity to respond is so critical to the health and safety of our communities.”

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504. Watch this space for updates. Got a tip? Let us know at reporters@times-standard.com or at 707-441-0500.

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