VACAVILLE, CALIFORNIA (AP) – Residents of a Northern California community are at the epicentre of what officials are calling a turning point in the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, as investigators try to retrace the steps of a hospitalised patient they believe to be the first in the United States (US) to be infected without traveling internationally or being in close contact with anyone who had it.
Some took the news in stride even as federal infectious disease experts fanned out across Vacaville with teams of state and local health officials.
Others stockpiled supplies for fear things could get worse despite official reassurances.
The community of about 100,000 is between San Francisco and Sacramento in Solano County, in the agricultural Central Valley.
It is about 10 miles from Travis Air Force Base.
Public health officials said they can find no connection between the infected woman and passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship who were evacuated to the base from where the ship was docked in Japan.
The development marks an escalation of the worldwide outbreak in the US because it means the virus could now spread beyond the reach of preventative measures like quarantines, though state health officials said that had been inevitable and the risk of widespread transmission remained low.
McKinsey Paz, her husband and her boss at a Vacaville private security company weren’t taking any chances. They hustled to a warehouse store on Thursday for 10 cases of bottled water, canned food, staples like rice and beans, and cases of toilet paper and paper towels.
“We’re not sure what’s going to happen. Panic seems to do that to you,” she said.
“In case things get a little crazy, we didn’t want to be the last ones. We’re preparing for the worst.”