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Another coronavirus case of unknown origin identified in California

A second case of COVID-19 with unknown origin was identified Friday in Santa Clara County, California. This indicates to health experts that the new corona virus – which causes the COVID-19 disease – is likely to spread through more than one community in the US.

The Washington Post reported first news of the second case of community transmission in the US – a 65-year-old woman who had no history of traveling to one of the countries most affected by the disease. She has chronic health problems and was originally hospitalized for a respiratory disease, said Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s health officer. Her doctor contacted health officials on February 26 to test her for the new corona virus.

“This new case indicates that there is evidence of community transfer, but the size is still unclear,” Cody said in a press conference. Officials said eight California counties can now test for coronavirus. Up to 1,200 people can be tested with the CDC kits, the California Department of Public Health announced today.

So far, more than 84,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed around the world, and more than 2,800 people have died from the respiratory disease. Most of these cases are concentrated in China, where the virus was first identified, but the disease has since spread to the world, with South Korea, Italy, Japan and Iran being the most affected.

Despite the worldwide spread, the US has lagged behind testing people who showed symptoms of the disease. Until this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had only tested people who had traveled to one of the most affected areas or had been in close contact with someone diagnosed with the disease. In the case of the first patient who had COVID-19 of unknown origin, the hospital where she was treated immediately asked for a CDC test on February 19, when the patient arrived. The CDC was unable to test the patient until 23 February. The positive test results were announced on 26 February.

The restrictive criteria of the CDC in combination with a complicated test and complicated implementation led to a intense public impact. The agency extended their testing requirements on Friday with people who had traveled to a larger number of geographic areas in the past 14 days. It also began to allow testing for people who had both severe symptoms and no diagnosis of other diseases such as the flu.

The case announced today in California appears to be part of the latter group. The woman apparently had no connection with patients who were confirmed to have the disease, nor had she traveled to an area where the virus is known to circulate. That means she might have got it from someone in the US who has not been diagnosed. Both cases were diagnosed in the San Francisco Bay Area, a geographic region with nine provinces. The first case, in Solano County, was in the northern part of the region; the second case, in Santa Clara, is approximately 90 miles away.

“I think there is a strong possibility of a local broadcast taking place in California,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in an interview with The Washington Post. “In other words, the virus is spreading within California, and I think there is a possibility that other states are on the same boat. They just haven’t recognized that yet.”

Update 7:47 PM ET: Adds details about the Santa Clara patient and test kits.