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Richmond lab to start testing for coronavirus as infections increase

Surgical masks have been reported in short supply amid an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. While there have been few reported cases in the United States, more than 40,000 people have been infected in China alone. (Photo by Jon Collier/Flickr)

With six cases of the novel coronavirus confirmed in California, 16 laboratories statewide, including one in the Bay Area, have begun providing tests for the virus, officials with the California Department of Public Health announced last week.

The state’s Viral and Rickettsial Disease Laboratory in Richmond will be among the 16 labs to start testing on Feb. 12, according to the CDPH.

The widespread testing by the health department will provide more rapid results than currently available and also provide medical care for people who may have been exposed. Currently, testing is being conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and those results take between two and seven days.

“Providing this test in California will deliver more rapid test results to improve care of persons who may be sick with this new virus,” CDPH Director and State Health Officer Sonia Angell said in a statement.

Since the virus broke out in late December in Wuhan, China, six people in California have tested positive for the virus, including two people in Santa Clara County, two people in San Benito County, one person in Los Angeles County and one person in Orange County.

Early last week, five workers at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose were sent home because they had been exposed to the virus. The workers were told to stay home until Tuesday.

Although state public health officials said the risk of contracting the virus is low for the general public, health officials recommend people take precautions as they would with any virus. People are urged to regularly wash their hands with soap and water, avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, and avoid contact with anyone who is sick.

The CDPH is continuing to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to screen travelers coming from China at both the Los Angeles International Airport and the San Francisco International Airport.

So far, at least 293 people in the U.S. have been tested for the virus, and 11 of those cases have been confirmed.

Meanwhile, a second flight of evacuees from the heart of China’s outbreak arrived Friday morning at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, according to U.S. government officials.

About 3 a.m., the flight of 201 passengers from Wuhan touched down at the air base and were screened by doctors from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to CDC spokesman Jason McDonald.

The bulk of the passengers were then flown to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, while 53 remained at Travis, McDonald said.

That brings the total number of people quarantined at the base to 234.

So far, four people have exhibited possible symptoms of the virus and are being held in isolation at local hospitals, according to McDonald.

The passengers are under a 14-day quarantine and are being interviewed and tested for symptoms twice a day.

On Sunday, the Chinese government announced it now has more than 40,000 confirmed cases of the virus. Worldwide, more than 910 people have died of the illness, surpassing the 774 total number of people who died in the 20023 SARS outbreak.