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US Death Toll From Coronavirus Climbs to 9

US Death Toll From Coronavirus Climbs to 9
Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Health for Seattle and King County (JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

Tuesday, 03 March 2020 02:47 PM

Tensions over how to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus intensified Tuesday in the United States as the death toll climbed to nine and lawmakers expressed doubts about the government's ability to ramp up testing fast enough to deal with the crisis.

All of the deaths — including one reported last week that wasn't tied to the virus until now — have occurred in Washington state.

Two deaths last week in the Seattle area are now confirmed to have been due to coronavirus, making them the earliest known cases in the U.S. as an outbreak spread unnoticed in a nursing home. That brings the total number of deaths in the U.S. and Washington state to nine -- eight in King County, which includes Seattle.

On Feb. 24, a 54-year-old male patient was transferred to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center from the Life Care Center home in Kirkland, Washington. Two days later, the patient died of what is now known to be Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, the hospital and the county public health department said Tuesday.

In the interim, the patient may have exposed some staff who were treating him in the intensive-care unit, Harborview said in a statement. Those workers have been contacted and are being monitored and screened daily. The hospital doesn’t believe other patients were exposed. A second resident of Life Care, a woman in her 80s, died at her family home the same day from the virus.

In the nation's capital, officials moved on a number of fronts.

The Federal Reserve announced the biggest interest-rate cut in over a decade to try to fend off damage to the U.S. economy from the factory shutdowns and disruptions caused around the globe by the outbreak. On Wall Street, stocks briefly rallied on the news, then slumped badly.

“We have seen a broader spread of the virus. So, we saw a risk to the economy and we chose to act,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said.

Also, the Food and Drug and Administration moved to ease a shortage of face masks by giving health care workers the OK to use an industrial type of respirator mask designed to protect construction workers from dust and debris.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers expressed skepticism about U.S. health officials' claims that testing for the new virus should be widely available by the end of the week. Authorities have said labs across the country should have the capacity to run as many as 1 million tests by then.

But testing so far has faced delays and missteps, and “I'm hearing from health professions that's unrealistic,” Democratic Sen Patty Murray of Washington state said at a Senate hearing.

The chief of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Stephen Hahn, said the FDA has been working with a private company to get as many as 2,500 test kits out to labs by the end of the week. Each kit should be able to allow a lab to run about 500 tests, he said. But health officials were careful about making hard promises.

“I am optimistic, but I want to remain humble,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Washington state, researchers believe the virus may have been circulating undetected for weeks. That has raised fears that there could be hundreds of undiagnosed cases in the area.

But some people who want to be tested for the virus in the state are encountering confusion, a lack of testing options and other problems as health authorities scramble to deal with the crisis.

“The people across my state are really scared. I’m hearing from people who are sick, who want to get tested and don’t know where to go,” Murray said. “It’s unacceptable that people in my state can’t even get an answer as to whether or not they are infected.”

One lab was already testing for coronavirus in Washington state and a second was scheduled to begin doing so Tuesday.

Amid the rising fears, a school district north of Seattle closed for training on conducting remote lessons via computer in case schools have to be closed for an extended period, while a private school said it would conduct online-only classes through the end of march.

“We do not feel it is prudent to wait until there is a known case to take action,” the school, Eastside Prep in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, said on its website.

A Department of Homeland Security facility just north of Seattle instructed its all its employees to work from home after a worker became ill after visiting the nursing home at the center of the outbreak.

Elsewhere around the world, the crisis continued to ebb in China, where hundreds of patients were released from hospitals and new infections dropped to just 125 on Tuesday, the lowest in several weeks. But the crisis seemed to shift westward, with alarmingly fast-growing clusters of infections and deaths in South Korea, Iran and Italy.

Worldwide, more than 92,000 people have been sickened and 3,100 have died, the vast majority of them in China.

“What China shows is that early containment and identification of cases can work, but we now need to implement that in other countries,” said Dr. Nathalie MacDermott, an infectious-diseases expert at King’s College London.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


   
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Tensions over how to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus intensified Tuesday in the United States as the death toll climbed to nine and lawmakers expressed doubts about the government's ability to ramp up testing fast enough to deal with the crisis. All of the deaths -...
coronavirus, death, toll
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2020-47-03
Tuesday, 03 March 2020 02:47 PM
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