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The Story of The Doctor Who Ordered America's First Covid-19 Lockdown


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Long-time Slashdot reader bsharma shared the story of doctor/public health officer who "went first," ordering America's very first coronavirus lockdown in six counties on March 16th after the identification of only the 7th known case of Covid-19 in the United States. The Bay Area Newsgroup reports that on January 31st, Cody's cellphone rang at 6:49 a.m. "You've got your first positive," the voice said. Right then, Cody — Santa Clara County's Public Health Officer since 2013 — was positive that even by Silicon Valley standards, life as we know it here was about to change.... Back in the early 2000s, with the country on edge after 9/11, Cody, Karen Smith and Marty Fenstersheib led the health department's effort to build Santa Clara County's model for a massive, coordinated emergency response to a bioterrorism attack or pandemic that included social distancing, shutting schools and the most extreme, mandating that people stay home. It's the one they would turn to this month to slow the untraceable path of this new disease known as COVID-19. "None of us really believed we would do it," Smith, 63, said in a recent interview. "I was slightly terrified to think we were putting in place stay-at-home orders, tools that we think work but don't really know...." Through the years, Cody has learned that public health officers never have all the information they need and are always operating with uncertainty. But the stakes are so much higher now. The second confirmed case of coronavirus in the county came 48 hours after the first; both were travelers from China. But the criteria for sending swabs for testing to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta was so stringent and the bottleneck for test results so long, that the county was left hamstrung trying to figure out how big of a problem it really had. Not until nearly a month later, on Feb. 28, two days after the county was finally given authorization to use its own lab and judgment for testing, was the third "positive" confirmed. It would be a "sentinel case" — a turning point for the virus' spread across the Bay Area — a woman in her 60s with other health conditions. Unlike the first two, this was a clear case of "community transmission," meaning the woman had become infected somewhere in our community, with no clear connection to a traveler. "In very short order," Cody said, "it became apparent we needed to start scaling up fast...." By March 9, the sick woman in her 60s — the sentinel case — had died, and 43 cases had been confirmed, the highest of any county in California. Santa Clara County would now be branded across the country as a coronavirus "hot zone...." "It was clear to me already how quickly it was moving, and that's what gave me a sense of urgency," Cody said. "We just needed to embrace the risk and do it." "I recognize that this is unprecedented," Cody said in announcing the lockdown. "But we must come together to do this and we know we need a regional response... We must all do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19." A professor of epidemiology at the University of California San Francisco has told the same newspaper "That's going to turn out to be — if all goes well and I'm reading the tea leaves right — one of the major public health triumphs of modern times." That article reports that while California had roughly the same number of cases as New York in the first week of March, "by the end of the month, New York had 75,795 cases while California had a tenth of that — 7,482." An infectious disease doctor (and associate executive director with Permanente Medical Group) also told Politico Tuesday that at Kaiser Permanente hospitals across Northern California, they're "seeing a leveling off of Covid-19 cases in our hospitals." And one writer even quoted an emergency room doctor at the UCSF hospital who said last weekend they'd seen less than half the normal number of emergency room patients, and "My colleagues at Stanford, as well as at other facilities in San Francisco report much of the same conditions in their hospitals... "It seems very likely, that the 'shelter in place' policy has had a significant, positive effect on containing the spread of COVID-19 in the Bay Area."

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