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First coronavirus death in US may be one of growing number of cases from an unknown source, official says

Officials in Washington discuss the first death from coronavirus in the United States.

Posted: Mar 1, 2020 1:40 PM
Updated: Mar 1, 2020 1:40 PM

The United States reacted Sunday to the first reported US death from coronavirus with tighter travel restrictions and predictions of more infections and fatalities.

President Trump tweeted about new screening procedures for people arriving from certain "high-risk countries." Vice President Mike Pence said more US deaths are possible but added most Americans should not worry.

New York University doctors and other experts say the US probably has more cases than identified officially. That's because of testing delays and the virus' ability to spread before an infected person shows any symptoms. The New York Times reported Sunday the virus might have been in Washington state for weeks and up to 1,500 people might be infected there.

All this followed official warnings last week that the virus would begin spreading in US communities.

No clear source of infection

The first US death, announced Saturday, added to a growing list of infections circulating in communities without any clear source.

Of the 86,500 cases confirmed globally, at least 2,976 have been fatal -- 2,870 of which were in China. The US has reached at least 74 confirmed cases of the virus, according to counts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health authorities.

Several of those cases are believed to have been spread person-to-person with unknown origins, including the patient in Washington state who died, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC.

The patient was a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions, according to Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Seattle and King County, Washington.

Two cases in Washington announced Saturday are affiliated with Life Care Center, a nursing facility in Kirkland, Washington, Duchin said.

More than 50 residents and staff at the facility are experiencing symptoms and will be tested for coronavirus, Duchin said. "We're in the process of investigating this situation as an outbreak," he told reporters Saturday.

The facility said in a statement it's not allowing visits from families, volunteers or vendors, and admissions have been placed on hold for the time being. "We take the event very seriously," a statement from the facility's executive director said, in part.

But residents and staff weren't the only ones impacted.

At least 25 firefighters and two police officers who responded to the Life Care Center have now been placed under quarantine "out of an abundance of caution," according to a statement from the City of Kirkland. Firefighters are either under quarantine at home or at a Kirkland fire station, the statement said.

There were also concerns that 16 nursing students and a faculty member from Lake Washington Institute of Technology were exposed to the virus after visiting the center late last week, the school said in a statement. The campus will be closed Monday and Tuesday to be cleaned and disinfected.

But US officials have urged Americans not to panic.

"It's important to remember," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, "for the vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms, and their treatment will be to remain at home, treating their symptoms, the way they would a severe cold, or the flu."

74 US cases

Of the 74 confirmed or presumptive positive cases in the US, 44 people were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, three people were repatriated from China and 27 cases were detected in the US, according to health officials.

Presumptive positives mean tests in state or local labs came back positive but have not yet been confirmed by the CDC.

At least 13 cases in the US are travel-related and at least 10 are linked to person-to-person spread, according to the CDC. Several are of unknown origin.

The Rhode Island Department of Health announced the state's first presumptive positive case on Sunday morning. The patient was said to be in their 40s and had in mid-February traveled in Europe, including Italy, where there were 1,694 cases as of Sunday.

The Rhode Island patient is being treated at an undisclosed hospital, and officials are reaching out to people who has had direct contact with the individual, the state Department of Health said in a statement. The patient has had limited travel within the state and hasn't been to work since returning from Italy.

Two more presumptive positive cases were announced in Washington state on Sunday, bringing the state's total number of cases to 8. Both of the new patients were men in their 60s with underlying health conditions, public health officials with Seattle and King County said in a news release. The county now has six cases of coronavirus.

One is hospitalized at Valley Medical Center in Renton and is in critical but stable condition, the news release said. The other is at Virginia Mason Medical Center in critical condition.

Neither case was linked to Life Care Center in Kirkland, a spokeswoman for the Washington Health Department told CNN.

Nike said it was deep cleaning its headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, after health authorities confirmed a case in Washington County.

The Oregon case was announced Friday and is believed to be a case of person-to-person transmission. The individual is a presumptive positive and is in isolation.

"While we have no information indicating any exposure to Nike employees, out of an abundance of caution, we are conducting a deep cleaning of campus," Nike said in a statement to CNN. "All WHQ buildings and facilities, including fitness centers, will be closed over the weekend."

Pence says more deaths 'possible' but risk is low

Pence told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday that it is "possible" more Americans will die.

"But the American people should know the risk for the average American remains low," Pence said.

Pence said federal officials are addressing the lack of testing kits in the US.

The vice president said Saturday the administration is expanding existing travel restrictions on Iran to include foreign nationals who had visited Iran in the last 14 days. The US will also increase travel advisories for Italy and South Korea to Level 4 -- the highest level -- advising Americans not to travel to specific regions in those countries.

On Sunday, Trump announced in a tweet that people will be screened for coronavirus upon arriving in the US if they are traveling from "high-risk countries."

Katie Miller, a spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence, clarified to CNN what is covered under the screening measures Trump mentioned in his tweet:

"There is already screening for those coming into the United States for those who have been in China in the last 14 days. This will be expanded to Italy and South Korea. Additionally, we are currently working on exit screening from South Korea, Italy, and other European nations as needed," Miller said.

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