Latest Infectious Disease News
By E.J. Mundell and Robin Foster
WEDNESDAY, March 4, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Coronavirus continued its march across America on Wednesday, with more than 149 cases and 11 deaths now reported — a 10th in Washington state and one in California.
The California death involved an elderly woman from Placer County who had underlying health conditions and had traveled on a cruise ship from San Francisco to Mexico in February, CNN reported. It is the first U.S. coronavirus death reported outside Washington state.
A total of 149 U.S. coronavirus cases have now been confirmed, 39 of those in Washington state and 33 in California, CNN reported Wednesday.
“My concern is as the next week or two or three go by, we’re going to see a lot more community-related cases,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a media briefing on Monday. “That’s of great concern.”
In a media briefing late Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence announced that all restrictions on testing for the coronavirus would be lifted, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would release new guidelines to speed up testing for people who fear they have the virus, the New York Times reported.
The guidelines “make it clear that any American can be tested, no restrictions, subject to doctor’s orders,” Pence told reporters at the White House. The federal government had promised to ramp up testing after drawing criticism for strictly limiting the tests in the first weeks of the outbreak, the Times reported.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization released a troubling new statistic on the coronavirus Tuesday.
“Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported COVID-19 cases have died,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing, the Times reported. “By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected.”
The estimate most likely takes into account the growing number of infections being recorded outside China, mostly in South Korea, Iran and Italy, the Times reported.
“While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity,” meaning more people can be infected and some will suffer severe illnesses, Tedros explained. The coronavirus does not transmit as efficiently as the flu but “causes more severe disease,” he added.
Prior estimates, including a study of more than 1,100 cases in China, had put the death rate at 1.4 percent of cases. Fauci and other experts have also suggested that the death rate may be lower than current estimates, because they do not take into account the number of milder cases of COVID-19 that do not get reported.
In the United States, lawmakers are close to agreement on a $7.5 billion coronavirus package, two people familiar with the negotiations told the Washington Post.
More states report cases
Washington state appears to be the hardest hit so far, with an outbreak occurring at the Life Care Center nursing home in the town of Kirkland, CNN reported. Washington state officials said Wednesday that a total of 10 people have died from COVID-19 infection, with most either living at or connected with the nursing home.
According to the Washington state health department’s website, 39 cases have been reported so far in the state, but more cases are expected.
While most people with robust immune systems appear to recover from COVID-19, frail and elderly nursing home residents may be at particular danger, experts noted.
Officials in Seattle say special isolation centers are being opened to house people who may have had contact with people already affected by the new coronavirus.
Like Washington state, California also had 33 reported cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, CNN reported.
Florida, which has reported three cases, has declared a state of emergency, CNN reported.
In just over four days, the U.S. case count has climbed from 65 to 149, CNN reported.
Scientists say that genetic analysis of the virus in Washington State suggests the coronavirus may have been spreading within the community for as long as six weeks before the first case was detected, the Times reported.
On Saturday, the Trump administration placed travel restrictions on three foreign countries that are battling COVID-19 outbreaks.
A complete travel ban was issued for Iran, while the highest-level travel advisory was issued for parts of Italy and South Korea. The travel advisory urges Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to affected areas of those two countries.
Cases of infection have now been spotted in 77 countries and on every continent except Antarctica, according to WHO.
Also on Friday, Nigeria announced the first case of coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We are on the highest level of alert or highest level of risk assessment in terms of spread and in terms of impact,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said during a media briefing in Geneva on Friday. “This is a reality check for every government on the planet: Wake up. Get ready. This virus may be on its way and you need to be ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready.”
As of Tuesday, WHO has reported more than 93,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide, including 3,198 deaths, the vast majority of which have occurred in China, where the outbreak began.
U.S. interventions, global spread
Meanwhile, schools across America are canceling trips abroad and preparing online courses as they brace for the possibility that coronavirus could spread into their communities, the Associated Press reported. Many are also preparing for possible school closures that could stretch for weeks or longer.
Internationally, hopes of containing the coronavirus are fading fast.
South Korea and Iran are each battling major outbreaks of COVID-19. In Europe, a similar fight is raging in Italy, even as new cases were recorded in other European countries, the Times reported. In Japan, a state of emergency has been declared in a northern province because of the growing number of coronavirus cases there, the AP reported. Japan has also taken the unusual step of closing all schools for the month of March to protect children.
Last week, Brazil announced that it had identified the first case of COVID-19 in Latin America, and on Friday Mexico announced it had its first two cases.
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SOURCES: March 2, 2020, media briefing with: Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Washington Post; CNN; Associated Press; The New York Times