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San Francisco to test locally for coronavirus, expects first case ‘very soon’

San Francisco officials Monday are taking steps to prepare for the inevitable spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.

Last week, Mayor London Breed activated a local state of emergency to ensure the Department of Public Health and Department of Emergency Services moves quickly in emergency planning, staffing and coordinating with other city agencies.

Breed said Monday at a press conference that The City is taking further steps in preparing for the arrival of the virus after a person in Solano County contracted the disease who had not visited any of the infected areas and did not make contact with a person who may have had the disease.

Health officials believe it to be a “community transmission” spread of the virus, which Breed said is what The City is preparing for:

“It’s not a matter of if. It’s really a matter of when.”

Director of the Department of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax said The City began testing locally for COVID-19. A local lab will conduct test seven days a week that will help shorten the turnaround for results.

Samples typically were sent to the Center for Disease Control lab in Atlanta for testing. It could take anywhere from three to seven days for the CDC to send results back, Colfax said:

“Because we are testing more and more people will get testing quickly, we are likely to diagnose a case very soon.”

City health officials will test individuals based on the CDC criteria, which they had expanded its criteria for testing last week.

There is still no on-demand testing of the virus, Colfax said.

Colfax said The City is prioritizing the most vulnerable residents, including the elderly and people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and kidney disease. Officials are reaching out to patients in San Francisco’s Health Network to ensure they have medications and supplies for the next three months.

The City is also working with homeless shelters and navigation centers.

The City has also expanded its emergency staffing over the last week with more than two dozen disaster services workers activated last week when the mayor declared a local state of emergency.

This week, The City will activate an additional 50 disaster service workers and neighborhood volunteer organizations, such as the Fire Department’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Team, known as NERT, and the Police Department’s Auxiliary Law Enforcement Emergency Response Team, known as ALERT, said Mary Ellen Carroll, who leads the Department of Emergency Management.

Carroll said these individuals could be used for a number of things, including providing bilingual services, public information officers and community engagement.

Colfax said the public should do basic things like washing hands with soap, covering one’s mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing, and staying home at work when sick. He also recommended the public to get a flu shot.

He also recommended people be prepared for a disruption in case of an outbreak, such as having a full supply of medications for family members, preparing a child care plan, making arrangements in case there is a school closure, and making to plan to care for sick a person without getting sick.

Though a flu shot will not cure or prevent from getting the disease, it could prevent a person from getting the flu, which has similar symptoms as COVID-19.

The public can visit the public health department’s website for more information about the virus, and updated information on the steps The City is taking or call 311, city officials said.

So far in the U.S., there are a total of 43 cases and two deaths, the CDC said.

The World Health Organization reports that there are 88,949 confirmed cases.

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