U.S. Coronavirus Outbreak Widens – WSJ
New cases of the novel coronavirus in Washington, California, New York and Rhode Island on Sunday raised fears of a wider spread of the disease in the U.S., prompting federal officials to ramp up efforts to test for and fight the widening outbreak.
Health officials are focused on a cluster of confirmed cases in Washington state where some patients had no clear path to exposure, including the first death from the virus in the U.S. Those cases, and several others in Oregon and California signal that there might be many undiagnosed cases in some American communities.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the Trump administration’s task force on the virus, promised Sunday that more testing kits are being produced and distributed so that infections can be detected and contained. President Trump and other administration officials are also scheduled to meet Monday at the White House with executives from the pharmaceutical industry.
White House officials are discussing a visit by Mr. Trump to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, though the timing hasn’t been finalized, an administration official said.
The Latest on the Coronavirus
- The global death toll is now about 3,000—China’s death toll as of Saturday was 2,870
- U.S., Australia and Thailand report their first coronavirus deaths
- Armenia, Ireland, Luxembourg, Ecuador and Qatar each reported their first infections over the weekend
- Japan ran a slimmed-down marathon in Tokyo to protect the Olympics from the threat of the epidemic
Public health experts said that a shortage of tests had limited the ability to identify and contain cases and likely contributed to the virus’ spread. There had been relatively few diagnostic tests conducted in the U.S., with most state and local health departments sending patient samples to the CDC and waiting days for results.
The number of deaths from the virus globally approached 3,000 as more countries reported their first coronavirus fatalities and the toll grew in places such as China. The fast-rising number of cases and the spreading death toll set off a new round of travel restrictions, sending markets spiraling down and forcing closures of popular public events and tourist sites, including Paris’s Louvre museum.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the administration is working with pharmaceutical makers to prevent shortages of drugs, especially if the virus disrupts supply from China. He said the administration has found several such drugs and is working to find replacements “that may be in shortage for a short period of time.”
Messrs. Pence and Azar said that more Americans are expected to be infected—and more are likely to die—but they emphasized that the overall risk of contracting the virus remains low.
“We will see more transmission of cases in the United States,” Mr. Azar said on CBS. “It’s simply just a matter of math.”
Mr. Azar declined to estimate how many Americans could be infected, but a former Food and Drug Administration official speaking on the same show said that hundreds, even thousands, of Americans could have the coronavirus. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb cautioned that the overall risk of Americans becoming infected “is still very low” because the country is so large.
At least 25 people have been diagnosed with the novel infection within the U.S., not including repatriated Americans.
The first death in the U.S. related to the new virus came Friday night. A man in his 50s, with underlying health conditions, died at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, in King County, Wash., after test results confirmed he had the novel coronavirus, according to a letter from the EvergreenHealth health-care system. He had no travel history to areas where the virus was circulating.
Two new cases reported Sunday in Washington state are men in their 60s with underlying health conditions, with one in critical condition. There are now six diagnoses in the county and the number is expected to rise as more people are tested, said local health officials, who are also investigating a potential outbreak at a long-term care facility in the county.
Washington state started testing patient samples locally on Friday, officials said, which contributed to a quick uptick of reported cases in the region. Testing now shows the virus was likely circulating in the community for weeks.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, meanwhile, five new cases of Covid-19 were reported Sunday—including two health-care workers exposed to a woman who became the nation’s first known victim of the disease from community spread, local health officials reported.
Both cases are employees of a Vacaville, Calif., hospital where the unidentified woman was treated last week and both are in isolation in their homes, officials said.
They said the woman is “slowly recovering” at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, and that her family remains in quarantine despite testing negative. Other staff and medical officials who came into contact with her at the NorthBay VacaValley Hospital have also been placed under quarantine. So far, none has tested positive, although officials said more cases may occur.
Health authorities in Santa Clara County where four cases were confirmed last week said Sunday three more people had tested positive for the virus and that all are hospitalized.
One of the patients is a woman whose circumstances are still under investigation. The others are a husband and wife couple who recently returned from a trip to Egypt, they said. Officials said the husband suffered from chronic health problems.
In New York, a woman who recently traveled to Iran is the state’s first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday night.
The woman, in her late 30s, has respiratory symptoms and is isolated in her home, according to the governor’s office. She isn’t in serious condition, the office said. She lives in Manhattan, a state official said.
Rhode Island also confirmed its first case. The patient is a man in his 40s who had traveled to Italy, France and Spain in mid-February, said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Department of Health.
Officials said they are working closely with the hospital where he is being treated and efforts are under way to reach anyone he has had contact with since returning to the U.S. But state officials stressed that they aren’t seeing widespread community transmission.
“The risk here in Rhode Island, at this point, is low, and we have been preparing for weeks,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said. “There’s no need to panic.”
Earlier in the weekend, California, Illinois and Oregon reported other new cases. The patients were tested following a change in the CDC guideline, which the agency expanded on Thursday to include people with recent travel history to Japan, Italy, Iran and South Korea as well as people with severe respiratory illnesses and a fever without a clear cause of infection.
The agency expanded the guideline after the patient at UC Davis Medical Center wasn’t tested right away because she didn’t meet the stricter guidelines but ended up testing positive.
So far, roughly 80% of the cases are mild, with the most common symptoms being a fever and a dry cough. Many patients recover within a few weeks. But the rapidly spreading virus can also be deadly, especially among older adults and those with underlying health conditions, such as chronic cardiac disease, lung disease and diabetes.
People can protect themselves and their communities by taking steps such as frequent handwashing, avoiding contact with people who are sick and staying home if they develop symptoms, health authorities say.
The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday said it would let some 300 to 400 academic-hospital labs begin testing for the virus, allowing for checks of thousands of people rather than the few hundred already tested.
About 30 public health labs across the country are able to test for the new coronavirus and 20 more were expected to be able to by Monday, according to the Association of Public Health Laboratories.
Longer term, shortages of drugs could hamper recovery. Eighty percent of certain materials for drugs come from China, with the antibiotic supply most heavily dependent.
Mr. Azar said the U.S. is acquiring more testing kits and has the ability to conduct tests on 75,000 individuals. He said the Trump administration is working with health-care companies to purchase gowns, gloves, masks and other protective equipment for workers treating people who could be infected with coronavirus. He said the executive branch should get funding for the new medical equipment from an emergency spending bill from Congress.
On Saturday, the administration expanded its travel restrictions, barring foreigners who have visited Iran in the past 14 days and advising Americans not to travel to affected parts of Italy and South Korea.
—Joe Barrett and Jennifer Calfas, Jim Carlton, Stephanie Armour and Andrew Restuccia contributed to this article.
Tracking the Coronavirus
The coronavirus has sickened thousands in China and reached more than 40 countries
As of Feb. 28, 2020, there are 84,124 confirmed cases and and 2,867 deaths worldwide. Here’s how it spread.
A patient shows symptoms of coronavirus on Dec. 1, according to a study later published in The Lancet.
On Dec. 31, Chinese officials report a cluster of pneumonia cases.
The first death from the virus is reported by Wuhan authorities on Jan. 11.
On Jan. 13, the virus spreads to Thailand, the first case outside China.
Cases are reported in the U.S. and Taiwan, and Chinese officials confirm person-to-person transmission on Jan. 21.
Chinese officials begin halting travel out of Wuhan and nearby cities beginning on Jan. 23, as the number of fatalities begins to rise.
Coronavirus cases world-wide surpass total infections in the 2002-03 SARS outbreak on Jan. 30.
On Feb. 1, the World Health Organization reported the death of a man with the coronavirus in the Philippines, the first known death outside China.
On Feb. 9, the death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak surpassed that of SARS, epidemic nearly two decades ago, as the number of fatalities topped 900.
On Feb. 12, China reported 14,840 new infections in a single day after officials in Hubei began including cases without a positive test result, diagnosing patients through other methods such as symptoms and lung X-rays.
South Korea’s cases skyrocketed as Seoul declares a ‘red alert’ on Feb. 23, allowing it to block domestic travel among other measures.