SUNDAY, March 8, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Nearly half of the 46 passengers tested aboard a cruise ship anchored off the California coast have the new coronavirus, Vice President Mike Pence announced Friday, as the total number of U.S. cases topped 400 and the death count climbed to 19.
The infection of 21 people on the Grand Princess — 19 crew members and two guests — fueled fears that the virus may be circulating widely among the more than 3,500 people aboard the ship.
The ship has been held off the coast since Wednesday, when a man who had traveled on the first leg of the cruise died of COVID-19. Officials plan to allow the ship to dock in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, where all passengers and crew will be tested for the disease and will be taken to quarantine facilities, The New York Times reported.
Just last month, 700 people aboard another Princess Cruises ship, the Diamond Princess, became infected with coronavirus while the ship was quarantined for weeks in Yokohama harbor, in Japan.
“Cruise ships are posing probably one of the biggest challenges that we are seeing in this outbreak,” Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, infectious diseases director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told CNN. “We know these cruise ships are essentially … we’ve been calling them incubators, they are incredibly very healthy environments for the pathogens that we’re talking about.”
Across the rest of America, half of the country’s 50 states have reported coronavirus cases, the Washington Post reported. On Friday, Florida confirmed two travel-related coronavirus deaths, the first reported on the East Coast.
Meanwhile, New York declared a state of emergency as more than 2,700 New Yorkers have been asked to self-quarantine in the New York City area. The state now has a total of 89 cases, the Times reported.
And Maryland on Thursday declared a state of emergency as it reported its first three cases of coronavirus. All three cases were travel-related, a couple in their 70s and a 50-year-old woman, the Post reported.
Reacting to the crisis, President Donald Trump on Friday signed an $8.3 billion coronavirus package passed Thursday by the U.S. Congress.
Pence said earlier this week that all restrictions on coronavirus testing would be lifted and the costs of testing would be covered by all forms of health insurance, but he conceded Thursday that “we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward,” the Times reported.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a troubling new statistic on the coronavirus.
“Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing this week, the Times reported. “By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% 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.
As the WHO’s Tedros explained, “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. 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% of cases. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 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.
More states report cases
Washington state continued to contend with an outbreak involving the Life Care Center nursing home in the town of Kirkland, CNN reported. State officials said a total of 16 people have now 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, at least 79 cases have been reported so far in the state, but more cases are expected. State officials said residents at three more senior care centers have been diagnosed with coronavirus, CNN reported Friday. Two were in Seattle and the other in Issaquah, about 20 miles east of Seattle.
While most people with robust immune systems appear to recover from COVID-19, frail and elderly nursing home residents may be in 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.
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.
Last week, 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 94 countries and on every continent except Antarctica, according to the WHO.
WHO has now reported more than 105,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide, including more than 3,500 deaths, the vast majority of which have occurred in China, where the outbreak began.
Internationally, hopes of containing the coronavirus are fading fast.
“This is not a drill,” Tedros, of the WHO, said Thursday. “This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops.”
In Asia, South Korea and Iran are each battling major outbreaks of COVID-19. And in Europe, Italy on Sunday ordered a travel lockdown in its prosperous northern region around Milan, as it tried to contain a major outbreak of COVID-19.
“We are facing an emergency,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in an early morning news briefing, 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 Associated Press reported. Japan has also taken the unusual step of closing all schools for the month of March to protect children.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.
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