As the U.S. confirmed its ninth coronavirus death Tuesday, World Health Organization officials defended their controversial decision not to declare a pandemic, citing nations such as Brazil that have few or no confirmed cases.
Michael Ryan, a physician who heads the agency’s emergencies program, also said at a news conference that containment efforts such as contact tracing can’t be eased at the expense of mitigation – mass treatment.
“One of the dangers of using the pandemic word is that you would want containment to continue,” Ryan said. But he also said that “I would urge all our member states to be ready for very serious, sustained community transmission.”
Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said it’s time to shift away from “this idea that this can be contained.”
Adalja told USA TODAY that resources must be focused on “best use, which is not contact tracing. Which is not quarantining. Which is not travel screening. Which is not travel bans. It’s actually getting people on the ground to help with diagnostics. To help with public health communication. To help with hospital preparedness.”
The Trump administration has downplayed the threat the virus represents, at times making statements that contradict warnings from public health officials.
Vice President Mike Pence, chosen by President Donald Trump to lead the response to the coronavirus outbreak, told reporters at a briefing: “The American people do not have to buy masks. The risk to Americans is low.”
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All U.S. deaths in Washington state
The eighth and ninth persons confirmed to have died in the U.S. from the coronavirus lived in Washington state, just like the previous seven victims. Washington accounts for 27 of the 118 cases so far reported in the U.S., and state officials said 231 people are under public health supervision.
One of the three deaths reported Tuesday actually happened last week but was only now linked to the virus. Five of the victims were residents of a nursing home in suburban Seattle, and eight of the nine people who have died lived in King County.
In a Tuesday conference call with reporters, Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed to the outbreak at the care facility as particularly worrisome. Older people are considered especially vulnerable to the virus’ harshest effects.
Messonnier said the latest developments “have heightened our concern for certain communities in the U.S.’’
Messonnier said people age 65 and older should take extra precaution to avoid exposure to the virus, which has proved especially deadly to the elderly and those with previous health conditions since it originated in China and spread globally.
“What is happening now in the United States may be the beginning of what is happening abroad,” Messonnier said.
A total of 27 firefighters and paramedics who responded to calls at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, were tested for the virus Tuesday using a drive-thru system.
Kevin Grimstad, 30, is among the 10 members of the Kirkland Fire Department who developed symptoms after calls to the nursing facility. His was on Jan. 29. Grimstad, his wife and 6-month-old son have been fighting fevers, coughs and congestion, but seem to be on the mend.
“It’s crazy. A couple of weeks ago it seemed like a foreign thing, and now we’re getting tested,” Grimstad said. “If I was exposed a month ago, the problem is more widespread than we know.”
Test kit glitch slowed testing in US
The CDC initially developed and mailed testing kits with three components, or reagents, to detect the COVID-19 virus. Some states had trouble validating one of three components in the kits. On Friday, a CDC official said the agency reviewed the glitch and determined using two components accurately detects coronavirus.
CDC officials said all state and local public health labs and qualified private labs should be able to test by the end of this week. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said more aggressive testing could have slowed the spread of the disease.
“The opportunity was missed,” Murphy said. “There were delays, and now there are going to be more cases.”
– Ken Alltucker
Surgeon general: ‘We should not be afraid’
The U.S. surgeon general urged calm as the number of coronavirus cases across the nation surged to more than 100.
“We should be cautious and take appropriate measures to prepare and protect ourselves, but we should not be afraid,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said. “We’ve been through this before, and no place in the world is better prepared to handle this challenge.”
Adams also – again – urged healthy people not to create a shortage of masks by stocking up on them.
“They don’t provide you respiratory protection against diseases like coronavirus,” he said. “They protect others from your cough.”
Fed cuts interest rates at emergency meeting
The Federal Reserve cut interest rates in a rare emergency meeting, responding aggressively to the growing threat the coronavirus poses to the economy and markets. The Fed lowered its key federal fund rates by a half-percentage point to a range of 1% to 1.25%, the central bank said in a statement. It is the first time the central bank has cut its key rate between policy meetings since the 2008 financial crisis, and the biggest cut since then. Policymakers said the U.S. economy remains strong, but the coronavirus poses “evolving risks” to economic activity.
– Paul Davidson
New York waives fees for coronavirus test
Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a new directive requiring New York health insurers to waive costs associated with testing for coronavirus, including emergency room, urgent care and office visits.
“We can’t let cost be a barrier to access to COVID-19 testing for any New Yorker,” Cuomo said.
The state confirmed its second case Tuesday, a Westchester County man hospitalized with an “underlying respiratory illness,” Cuomo said. The first case involves a health care worker from Manhattan quarantined in her apartment.
– Jon Campbell
Funding deal this week?
Congressional leaders say coronavirus funding could be approved this week.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters that legislation to provide billions in spending to deal with the coronavirus outbreak could get a floor vote as early as Wednesday and possibly reach Trump this week.
Trump had proposed $2 billion in emergency spending to combat the virus, but congressional Democrats proposed $8.5 billion to start. Negotiations to shape the legislation continued Tuesday.
– Bart Jansen
US pitches in $37M toward global struggle
The U.S. will provide $37 million from an emergency infectious-diseases fund to help 26 countries affected by COVID-19 or at high risk of its spread, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced. The money is going to the World Health Organization and other agencies, USAID said. It’s the first funding from a pledge of up to $100 million announced Feb. 7 by the State Department.
“These funds will help build preparedness and response capacities in vulnerable countries,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general. “WHO is grateful for your support to keep the world safe.”
Diamond Princess passengers heading home
Many of the more than 120 passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship still quarantined at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio were being released to go home Tuesday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.
All passengers who have been symptom-free for 14 days would be freed in an orderly fashion to minimize exposure risk to local residents, the mayor said. Their 14-day stateside quarantine, which started after they had already been in quarantine aboard the ship, had been scheduled to end Monday.
“As mayor of this city, my foremost concern is preventing the spread of the coronavirus to the local community,” Nirenberg said.
– Morgan Hines
First cases in North Carolina, Georgia
A North Carolina resident who recently visited the Seattle-area nursing home that’s the site of an outbreak was reported as the state’s first person to contract COVID-19. Gov. Roy Cooper said the Wake County resident “is doing well and is in isolation at home.”
Georgia health officials also confirmed the state’s first positives for the virus involving two Atlanta-area residents who live in the same household. One recently returned from Italy and both have mild symptoms. The patients were isolated at home with other relatives.
Amtrak waives change fees
Amtrak is waiving change fees on all current or new reservations made before April 30. The train service is not restricting any routes, unlike major U.S. airlines. But Amtrak’s waiver comes on the heels of Jet Blue and American Airlines waiving domestic travel change fees. A hitch: Travelers may need to pay the difference if the new itinerary is more expensive than the original ticket.
“We will continue to monitor the coronavirus situation closely and adjust this policy as necessary,” Amtrak’s waiver notice reads.
– David Oliver
South Korea at ‘war against infectious disease’
South Korea President Moon Jae-in described the virus outbreak as “a grave situation.”
More than 5,000 South Koreans had tested positive for coronavirus as of early Tuesday; 28 had died. South Korea is testing 10,000 people a day.
“The entire country has entered a war against an infectious disease,” he said.
Hoarding in Iran; 2,500 cases in Italy
Iran’s judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, pleaded with prosecutors to show “no mercy” for people stockpiling medical supplies for profit. Italy was reeling, too, with the count of confirmed cases over 2,500 early Tuesday and quarantines in effect in 11 northern towns.
The death toll from confirmed cases worldwide stood at 3,160 Tuesday, according to a coronavirus dashboard run by Johns Hopkins University. More than 2,900 of them were in mainland China, and more than 2,800 of them were in Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak. Italy has reported at least 79 deaths, Iran 77 and South Korea 28.
How many coronavirus cases in the US?
The Johns Hopkins coronavirus dashboard counted 122 U.S. cases across at least 15 states Tuesday afternoon, though officials have warned that the number is likely much higher. More will be learned as testing efforts expand. Test packets are being shipped to health centers across the country, and the CDC is urging more testing.
The CDC’s Messonnier said the U.S. outbreak includes 60 cases, mostly in California and Washington state, not including infected Americans expatriated from the Diamond Princess and from the Chinese city of Wuhan. Of those 60, 22 have been linked to travel to outbreak hot spots, 11 to person-to-person contact and 27 are under investigation.
Common signs of infection include fever, cough and breathing difficulties. If the infection worsens, it can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.
China sees ‘coming victory’ over coronavirus
China, where COVID-19 originated, remains the hardest-hit nation, but its ambassador to the United Nations said late Monday that it has turned a corner in battling the disease.
“We are not far from the coming of the victory,” said Zhang Jun, ahead of daily figures released Tuesday that showed new cases in China dropped to 125, a six-week low. But the optimism in China contrasts with a growing sense of alarm in other parts of Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States.
– Kim Hjelmgaard
Contributing: Joe Castle and Elizabeth Anne Brown, Asheville Citizen Times; The Associated Press