By Jessica Olvera, Editorial Intern
The City of Carson was falsely alarmed about a coronavirus outbreak in the city on Jan. 29 after the circulation of a letter that appeared to come from public health organizations listed more than 30 businesses as places the virus was spreading.
Local authorities moved immediately to calm the community and emphasize the letter was a hoax, although it displayed logos from major health organizations and replicated the signature of a LA County health official.
“There is no current threat to public health from the coronavirus in Los Angeles County,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn in a Facebook post on Thursday, Jan. 30.
However, on Feb. 3, the City of Carson’s first responders, local schools and businesses called the city council and asked whether they should close.
The only damage was to the sales figures of the businesses listed in the letter, which included some of Carson’s busiest stores — like Seafood City, which said business was down 30 to 40 percent over the weekend.
“They shop here almost three times a week,” said Jules Torres, Carson city manager.
Local health officials say there is no reason to panic. Protocols are already in place in many communities.
The coronavirus was first reported from Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, on Dec. 31, but cases have been identified in other locations around the world, including the United States. Within a month of the outbreak, an estimated 71,429 people have contracted the virus globally and the death toll in China has hit 1772 people, while the United States has 15 confirmed cases with no deaths, according to a Feb. 17 report from the World Health Organization.
The virus presents itself as flu-like symptoms: fever, cough and shortness of breath. Bacteria from the virus can also cause respiratory infections to individuals with underlying health concerns.
Another potential symptom is xenophobia, which has led to an anti-Chinese sentiment towards the Asian American community. The fact that the outbreak originated in China has caused some Americans to avoid Asians in fear of contracting the virus. There have been reports of Asian travelers being detained at airports because of the virus.
“Being xenophobic isn’t going to help you avoid the illness,” said Jasmine Nguyen, a student at California State University Dominguez Hills. “Instead of wringing your hands in panic and fear and posting anti-Asian memes, maybe try washing them.”
Dr. Irina Gaal, chief of medical services for the Cal State Dominguez Hills Student Health Center in Carson, noted that there is a protocol set in place for patients of suspicion. They are potentially put in quarantine and an immediate meeting for the medical crisis team on campus will be called. This team will determine what notifications and case management need to be done to follow up with any contact that the patients have had with others beforehand.
“It is not something to panic about right now,” Gaal said. “I’m more worried about medical conditions that people can get such as the common flu. We just don’t know how this whole epidemic is going to pan out and what’s encouraging right now is that it seems to affect people who have health conditions rather than just healthy young people.”
The health center at CSUDH sent a campus-wide email on Jan. 30 informing students and staff that there is no immediate danger of contracting the coronavirus on campus and in the City of Carson. The letter also laid out a description of the symptoms and preventative measures that people can take such as disposing of used tissues, washing your hands and keeping a minimum of a 6-foot distance from someone who is coughing.
In a report from the California Department of Public Health on Feb. 1, there has been a jump in the number of flu-related deaths since Sept. 29, reaching a total of 266.
Although Gaal is more concerned about the flu, she believes it is important for people to get the diagnosis if they suspect they have the coronavirus.
“We want people to call and say that they have concerns that they might have been exposed and then the medical facility will make accommodations to have them come into an isolation room,” said Gaal. “At this point, we don’t have the test for the coronavirus, but that is something that the public health department would be called for to walk us through on how to have this person tested.”