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Coronavirus death toll rises to 6 in U.S.; spread in California continues

A video monitor at the California Department of Public Health shows the number of coronavirus cases around the world on Feb. 27.
A video monitor at the California Department of Public Health shows the number of coronavirus cases around the world on Feb. 27.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

The death toll from coronavirus in the United States rose to six as Washington state officials announced four new deaths.

The new figure comes as health officials worked to contain the virus and officials urged people to remain calm and stressed there is still time to limit the spread in the United States.

Three of the new deaths — all people in their 70s and 80s who died at the EvergreenHealth hospital — were from a nursing home in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, Wash.

Health officials said Monday that there is still time to contain the coronavirus as the death toll in America rose and the virus spread in California.

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“I think we have a common enemy,” said World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We have to stand together in unison to fight it, and these early signs are very encouraging.”

WHO officials declined to declare COVID-19 a pandemic, saying 90% of the cases have been in China.

Of the 3,000 deaths from the virus, 2,803 have been in China’s Hubei province, where the outbreak began. “Our message to all countries is this is not a one-way street — we can push this back,” Tedros said.

“Our actions now will determine the course of this outbreak.” he added. “Containment is possible in all countries that are affected, and that should be No. 1.”

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In the United States, there have been about 103 confirmed cases of the virus, with Georgia’s governor announcing the state’s first two cases on Monday evening.

Of the 62 countries affected by COVID-19, 55 have fewer than 100 cases. Only four countries have more than 1,000 cases, Tedros said.

WHO officials said it is rare to see a respiratory pathogen such as this virus that can spread widely in the community but can also be contained. The flu cannot be as easily contained, officials said.

“That offers us a glimmer, a chink of life that this virus can be suppressed and contained,” Mike Ryan, who runs the agency’s emergencies program, said in a briefing Monday.

Officials in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Placer and Sonoma counties reported new cases of coronavirus Monday morning. In Santa Clara County, health officials said that two men who were “household contacts” of a previously confirmed case tested positive. Both are in isolation at their respective residences.

The new cases bring the total in the county to nine.

In San Mateo County, officials reported a case of the virus, pending testing confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That person has been hospitalized and remains under isolation. The source of their exposure is currently unknown, as the person has no known exposure to the virus through travel or through contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

This marks the second case in the county — the first was a person who had been repatriated to the U.S.

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In Placer County, officials said that a healthcare worker at NorthView VacaValley Hospital came into close contact with an individual who had previously tested positive for the virus after leaving the hospital.

In Sonoma County, officials confirmed its second case of coronavirus, pending CDC confirmation, and declared a local health emergency. Officials said that the individual had recently traveled internationally, unrelated to the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

As coronavirus cases continue to spread across California, many under quarantine for the illness at Travis Air Force Base got some good news Monday: They were being allowed to go home.

Roughly 140 Americans from the Diamond Princess cruise ship who had been under a mandated quarantine at the Northern California base were being released after showing no symptoms, health officials confirmed. Scott Pauley, a CDC spokesman, did not have further information about whether anyone under quarantine remained at the base.

According to the CDC, at least 45 cruise ship passengers who were taken to Travis Air Force Base and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas have tested positive for the virus. Twenty-one people had previously tested positive at Travis and were transported to hospitals.

Video showed two buses taking the evacuees from the base to either San Francisco International Airport or Sacramento International Airport before heading to their respective homes.

Last week, officials in Costa Mesa successfully fought a federal plan to have those at the Travis base moved to the Fairview Developmental Center.

As more cases of COVID-19 were reported around the country over the weekend, the focus remained on Washington state and Northern California, where health officials say the virus has spread through community contact. Officials are continuing to search for people who came in contact with the original patients to isolate them and get them tested.

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Alameda County reported its first case Sunday, prompting the declaration of a local public health emergency. Still, officials urged residents to stay calm.

“This news is not unexpected in the Bay Area, and we are ready for cases here,” Dr. Erica Pan, health officer for the Alameda County Public Health Department, said in a statement. “This is not the time to panic; now is the time for all of us to work together.”

In Washington state, officials have reported 19 cases of coronavirus — 14 of which are from King County. Eight of those cases have been linked to Life Care of Kirkland, including four of the six deaths.

The deaths include a man in his 50s with no known exposures, two women in their 80s, and a man and woman in their 70s.

The new coronavirus spreading rapidly around the globe can be deadly because it targets a very vulnerable and essential part of the body — the lungs.

Of the new cases reported in Washington, two involved men in their 60s with underlying health conditions. One was in critical but stable condition at Valley Medical Center in Renton; the second was in critical condition at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.

Experts warn the rising case counts in the U.S. do not necessarily reveal the virus is spreading rapidly across the country. So far, testing in the U.S. has been very low, said Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch.

“Some of the numbers are changing because new things are happening, but a lot of the numbers are changing because we’re discovering things that have already happened,” Lipsitch said in a forum Monday hosted by Harvard’s public health school.

“It’s really important to distinguish ‘Oh, goodness, there’s a new cluster’ from ‘Oh, goodness, we just discovered that there’s a cluster that’s been there for some time.”

In Solano County, two healthcare workers at a hospital were reported to have contracted COVID-19 after being exposed to a patient who was initially admitted there, and three more people were diagnosed with the virus in Santa Clara County, officials announced Sunday.

The two healthcare workers were exposed to the virus from a patient who was being treated at NorthBay VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville, officials said. The female patient has since been transferred to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and is considered the nation’s first announced case of “community spread,” meaning the source of infection is unknown.

That woman was not immediately tested for the virus because she did not fit federal testing criteria at the time. Officials had already expressed concern that she could have infected others.

The case led to 124 nurses and healthcare workers being asked to self-quarantine, according to the California Nurses Assn.

“Our two healthcare workers who tested positive have been in isolation at home since the day we learned they had contact with the patient who had contracted the virus,” Aimee Brewer, president of NorthBay Healthcare Group, said in a statement. “We took immediate and comprehensive measures intended to stop any further spread of the virus, including working with public health officials to trace the contacts the two workers may have had.”

One of the infected healthcare workers is a Solano County resident, and the other lives in Alameda County, officials said. They are both in isolation at home.

Meanwhile, three more people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in Santa Clara County on Sunday, health officials said.

One is a woman with chronic health conditions. An investigation into how she acquired the infection was just launched, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department said Sunday evening.

The other two patients are a husband and wife who had recently traveled to Egypt.

All three are hospitalized, officials said. Additional information about their condition was not immediately available.

The Public Health Department was working to identify all those who had come into contact with the three patients and said it would also conduct community surveillance “to determine the extent of possible disease spread in our community.”

In California, at least 40 cases have been reported. Twenty-four people who have caught the virus either were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship or in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak was first reported, and were then repatriated to the U.S. and quarantined at California military bases. An additional 16 cases have been discovered in returning travelers or, in at least five instances, people who contracted the virus in their community.

Senior public health officials continued to stress that coronavirus does not represent a serious threat to most people.

“The risk is low,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield added that there are no travel advisories for travel within the U.S.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the administration’s coronavirus response and joined Trump at a meeting with pharmaceutical executives Thursday, acknowledged that any vaccine for the disease would not be available until later this year, at the earliest.

But Pence said medications to treat the disease could be available by late summer or early fall.

Pence added that the administration may consider more travel advisories, adding to the warnings issued over the weekend about travel to regions of Italy and South Korea. Pence did not identify any specific additional countries, though he indicated that authorities are monitoring what is happening in the European Union, whose open borders allow relatively free travel across the continent.

During a meeting with pharmaceutical executives at the White House on Monday, President Trump said it’s “likely that therapies will be available before a vaccine is actually ready and we will seek to bring all effective treatments to market as soon as possible.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the administration’s emphasis would be on speeding the development of vaccines, therapies and fixing any supply chain challenges.

“We want to know how can we not get in the way, but rather speed that development process along,” Azar said.

Updates:
7:48 PM, Mar. 02, 2020: The total number of U.S. cases was updated from 101 to 103 on Monday evening.

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