New case of COVID-19 confirmed in L.A. County; local total now at 14

Local health officials confirmed a new case of coronavirus in Los Angeles County Saturday, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 14.

The new case is a resident who recently returned from attending the AIPAC Conference in Washington, D.C., where there was a known exposure to a person who was positive for the virus -- also known as COVID-19, officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said.

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"Public Health is identifying persons who may have had close personal contact with this individual, including any friends, family members or health care professionals, to assess and monitor them for signs and symptoms of illness has begun. All confirmed cases are isolated and close contacts are quarantined for 14 days from last exposure,'' a department statement said.

"There are no known public exposure locations related to this case,'' it continued.

"As we continue to see more cases of COVID-19, it is important that everyone take common sense precautions: stay home when ill, wash hands frequently, and plan ahead for possible social disruptions,'' said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, county director of public health.

"Pregnant women, individuals with underlying health conditions, and older people should practice social distancing and avoid being in close contact with others who are ill. By working together, we can try to slow the transmission of novel coronavirus.''

On Friday, two cases were announced in Los Angeles County -- including a second passenger-medical screener at LAX. Ferrer said the second patient was another traveler who recently visited northern Italy. The person was in the same group of travelers that resulted in seven previous positive tests for coronavirus, or COVID-19.

The county's cases break down as:

-- eight people in the travel group to Italy;
-- two contract employees who were conducting coronavirus medical screenings of arriving passengers at Los Angeles International Airport;
-- two relatives of a person who lives outside the county and was also confirmed with the virus; and
-- a traveler from the area of Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. That person, the county's first, has since recovered;
-- the AIPAC traveler announced Saturday.

Ferrer stressed that all of the county's cases have been traced to an exposure source, so there are no local incidents of unknown community spread of the illness. She noted that the two LAX screeners worked at the same quarantine station at the airport and are likely to have been exposed to the same source of the illness, but the county has asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to handle the investigation into those cases.

All of the patients are under isolation. She said health officials have identified close contacts of the patients who are being interviewed, "and as appropriate they too will be subject to quarantine for up to 14 days from their last exposure to a confirmed case.''

She said she understands that the increasing number of cases will spark greater concern among residents and raise questions about what they can do to protect themselves.

"We are going to reiterate our main messages, which is for the general public, your risk still remains low, although this is the time to start making sure you're practicing what we call good public health hygiene,'' Ferrer said. "The primary message for everyone is to stay home when they're sick. The primary message for everyone, children and adults, is even with mild illness to please not circulate in the public, particularly don't go to schools and don't go into work.''

She described "mild symptoms'' as having a fever of over 100, along with respiratory symptoms or stomach ailments. She said the county has been working to contact employers to stress that message, and asked that they institute flexible, non-punitive policies allowing employees to stay home if they feel ill. She also stressed that people who develop mild illness shouldn't automatically run to a doctor's office.

"You can call your doctor, particularly if you're a person with underlying health conditions or you're pregnant, but please don't just go in,'' she said. "This is the time for us to make sure our medical professionals are able to treat those people with the most serious illnesses and not to have people with mild illness who actually don't need to see a clinician go into a health-care facility to have their questions answered.''