Coronavirus cases surge in U.S., helicopter flies test kits to cruise ship

(Photo: Unsplash / CDC)

LOS ANGELES, March 5 (Reuters) - The coronavirus outbreak spread further across the United States on Thursday, cropping up in at least four new states and San Francisco as Congress quickly approved more than $8 billion to fight the outbreak and Americans faced increasing disruptions to their daily lives.

By Dan Whitcomb and Nathan Layne

The death toll from the virus in the United States rose to 12, with the latest fatality recorded in King County, Washington, and at least 57 new cases were confirmed, striking for the first time in Colorado, Maryland, Tennessee and Texas, as well as San Francisco.

A helicopter flew testing kits to a cruise liner idled off the coast of California and barred from docking in San Francisco after at least 35 people developed flu-like symptoms aboard the ship, which has been linked to two other confirmed cases of COVID-19.

In King County, Washington, which is home to Seattle and has been the site so far of the greatest concentration of coronavirus cases in the country, 20 new cases were confirmed, local health officials said, bringing the total in the county to 51 with 11 deaths. One death has been recorded in California.

“This is a critical moment in the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in King County,” the county said in a statement. “All King County residents should follow public health recommendations. Together, we may potentially impact the spread of the disease in our community.”

Many of the 70 cases in Washington state have been linked to an outbreak at a nursing facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, including six deaths.

Alphabet Inc’s Google on Thursday joined Inc, Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp in recommending that employees in the Seattle area work from home, after some were infected with the coronavirus. The companies’ work-from-home recommendation will affect more than 100,000 people in the area. One school district in the area has closed.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the number of cases in that state had doubled to 22 after the federal government approved its use of additional laboratories, boosting testing capacity. Cuomo told a news conference that the total would likely “keep going up.”

Of the new cases in New York, eight are connected to a Manhattan lawyer who lives in suburban Westchester County, north of the city, and who was previously diagnosed with the virus, two are in New York City and one on Long Island, in Nassau County.


Texas confirmed its first three coronavirus cases, and Tennessee and Colorado each reported one, bringing the number of affected states to 17.

More than 3,200 people worldwide have died from the respiratory illness that can lead to pneumonia.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) early on Thursday reported 149 confirmed and presumed U.S. cases. Those numbers are presumed not to include the 57 new cases reported on Thursday.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed an $8.3 billion bill to combat the outbreak 96-1, a day after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved it. Vice President Mike Pence, visiting Seattle on Thursday, said President Donald Trump would sign the bill into law Friday.

More than $3 billion would be devoted to research and development of coronavirus vaccines, test kits and treatments. There are no approved vaccines or treatments for the illness, which began in China and has infected more than 95,000 people in some 80 countries and territories.

Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference the new cases in New York City – a man in his 40s and a woman in her 80s – were critically ill and being treated in hospitals. Both had “substantial” pre-existing health conditions, he said.

Neither person had recently visited any other affected countries or had any connection to other confirmed cases, suggesting the city is confronting local person-to-person spread.

California, which has declared a statewide emergency in response to the outbreak, reported six new cases, including two in San Francisco also deemed likely to be a result of “community transmission,” local health officials said.


U.S. health officials say they expect to be able to get enough privately manufactured coronavirus tests – around 1 million – to public laboratories this week with the capacity to test about 400,000 people.

CDC official Anne Schuchat said her agency would also supply kits by the end of the week that could test around 75,000 people.

“Right now, it is a challenge if you are a doctor wanting to get somebody tested,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters following a briefing with lawmakers.

Pence, who is leading the U.S. response, urged Americans not to purchase masks if they are healthy in order to free up supply for healthcare workers and people who are sick.

“Unless you are ill, you have no need to buy a mask,” Pence said on a visit to Minnesota’s 3M Co, which has ramped up production of masks in response to the coronavirus.

The deepening crisis has hit stocks hard. The main U.S. stock indexes closed down more than 3% on Thursday, with the Dow falling 969 points.

Asked if the coronavirus outbreak has hurt the economy, Trump said at a townhall in Scranton, Pennsylvania: “It certainly might have an impact. At the same time, I have to say people are now staying in the United States spending their money in the U.S., and I like that.”

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Nathan Layne; additional reporting byMaria Caspani, Michael Erman, Jonathan Allen and Hilary Russ in New York, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert in Washington, Jeff Mason in Maplewood, Minnesota, Steve Gorman in Culver City, California; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall Editing by Bill Berkrot, Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)


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