Los Angeles County officials declared a local emergency Wednesday as the number of residents with coronavirus increased to seven.

Six new individuals contracted COVID-19 after traveling to northern Italy or interacting with people who had recently traveled abroad, officials said. Five are self-quarantining at home and one has been hospitalized. Officials said the cases were confirmed after they tested more than two dozen people for coronavirus and there are no signs of community spread.

The city of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District confirmed that there are no cases in Santa Monica or local public schools. 

“Santa Monica is monitoring the coronavirus hour by hour,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown. “We are committed to keeping the community apprised of updates and impacts as the situation evolves.”

More than 50 people in California have the virus, representing more than a third of total cases nationwide. 10 people have died in Washington state and one died in Northern California. The virus’ worldwide death rate is 3.4%, the World Health Organization announced Tuesday.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, said the county will continue to work with all kinds of groups, including governments, faith organizations and community members, to slow the spread of the disease.

She said her department has increased its capacity for testing and will continue to educate officials about potential cases.

“In response to the increasing number of cases in the United States, our new six cases here in Los Angeles County, the increasing likelihood of community transmission occurring both across the United States and at some point here in our county and the need for us to work cooperatively and proactively to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, through the authority of our health officer Dr. Davis, is also declaring a local health emergency today,” she said. 

Kathryn Barger, chair of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, said the action was not a response rooted in fear but rather an action designed to amplify their existing efforts to work with other agencies on the health scare.

“That is why the board and public health are making this declaration in response and out of an abundance of caution,” she said. 

Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole said in a statement last Thursday that the city is ready to alter work schedules and city services, curtail public exposure and cancel events if the coronavirus becomes a pandemic.

He urged residents to remain calm and wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, stay home if they are sick and avoid wearing masks.

“While wearing a mask may seem like a good idea, experts say they are largely ineffective at keeping you from being infected and in any case, they have the most value for trained healthcare workers and emptying out the limited global supply for individual use is actually counter-productive,” Cole said.

Ferrer said residents should observe common sense health practices such as regular hand washing, covering their mouth and nose when they sneeze or cough, getting a flu shot and staying home if they feel ill. 

L.A. County officials also recommend maintaining a distance of six feet from strangers and avoiding hugs and handshakes.

Officials said Wednesday they will begin to test more individuals, monitor homeless shelters, set guidelines for schools and college and brief the public each day by radio.

At the state level, the California Department of Public Health has started to distribute N95 face masks to healthcare workers from its reserve supply of 21 million masks and is speeding up coronavirus testing, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday. 

Officials said schools and businesses can help with the effort by providing flexible schedules for potentially sick employees and students that encourage individuals to remain home rather than risk infecting others. 

“It’s critically important in our workplaces, critically important in our households that we each take responsibility for slowing the spread of what we know is now here and will be here, to limit our own exposure but not to panic and instead to be prepared,” said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. 


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