Death toll grows as state, federal governments struggle to control coronavirus

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared a state of emergency, after officials there announced the state’s first coronavirus-linked death, bringing the death toll in the United States to 11. The fatality, which occurred northeast of Sacramento in Placer County, represents the first U.S. death outside Washington state.

Public health officials described the deceased California patient as an “elderly adult with underlying health conditions.” The patient was likely exposed during a mid-February round trip from San Francisco on a Princess cruise ship, officials said.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said the agency is working with California to examine the passenger manifest for that trip. The ship, known as the Grand Princess, is a sister ship to the Diamond Princess, which was at the center of a coronavirus outbreak in January that sickened more than 700 people and led to six deaths.

Meanwhile, at the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak in Washington state, officials confirmed another death and 10 new cases of coronavirus in King County. The state’s 10 deaths all have occurred in King and Snohomish counties — largely consisting of elderly patients with existing health problems who have been linked to the Life Care Center nursing facility in Kirkland.

“This is a shifting landscape and is shifting by the hour,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said during a Wednesday news conference. County officials advised people over 60 and with underlying conditions, as well as pregnant women, to stay home and avoid large groups. They also urged employees to telecommute for the next 3 weeks if possible.

King County is in the process of purchasing an 85-bed Econo Lodge motel in Kent, Wash., just south of Seattle, for $4 million to provide emergency housing for people with covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

The two-story motel met criteria set by the county’s public health agency, including separate heating and air-conditioning in each unit and doors that open to the outside rather than a hallway. The county has not yet determined who will stay in the motel, located just off Highway 167.

The county wants to make sure that as patients begin to recover, they can move out of hospital beds to make room for others.

“It’s a rapidly moving emergency situation,” said Chase Gallagher, a spokesman for the county.

In California, Los Angeles County declared a local health emergency Wednesday as officials detailed six new cases of coronavirus, bringing the countywide total to seven. Several of the patients recently traveled to northern Italy, which remains among the parts of the globe hardest hit by the virus, officials said. The other new cases were either family members of the travelers or people who worked in close contact with them.

“This is not a response rooted in panic,” Kathryn Barger, chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said in a news conference. “We’ve been preparing with our local, state and federal partners for the likelihood of this scenario.”

The man’s wife and two children were among those who tested positive, as was a neighbor who drove the man to the hospital, Cuomo said. The attorney’s co-workers at his midtown Manhattan law firm also are being tested. “Some of the tests are pending, but nobody has come back positive yet,” Cuomo said.

The synagogue the man’s family attends will be closed until Sunday, officials said. His daughter’s high school will be closed until Tuesday. Its related elementary and middle school will be closed through Friday. The governor later announced that a 45-year-old friend of the man who lives in New Rochelle, N.Y., also tested positive for coronavirus. That person’s 46-year-old wife, two sons and a daughter also tested positive.

As some businesses instructed employees to abandon nonessential travel and encouraged telework, and as an increasing number of conferences and meetings are canceled, the effects rippled through the economy — even on a day that saw the Dow Jones industrial average end the day up nearly 1,200 points, or more than 4.5 percent.

The rebound came a day after the Federal Reserve delivered its first emergency rate cut since the 2008 financial crisis and amid volatile trading that saw concerns over coronavirus trigger a sell-off that erased trillions in value from global markets.

United Airlines on Wednesday announced it will cut domestic flights by 10 percent and international flights by 20 percent next month. Executives are planning “similar reductions” in May, the airline said, underscoring the steep drop-off in travel demand.

The airline is seeking volunteers to take unpaid leaves of absence and is instituting a hiring freeze “except for roles that are critical to our operation,” the executives said.

Amid the ongoing uncertainty, officials in the nation’s capital sought to once again reassure the public.

At a late afternoon White House briefing, Vice President Pence said he would travel to Minneapolis on Thursday to visit 3M, which is ramping up production of masks for health-care workers. Later, he plans to fly to Washington state to meet with Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and state health officials.

“We understand the anxiety this has created,” said Pence, who added that he intends to make sure local officials have “everything they need.”

In a near unanimous vote, the House on Wednesday approved an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill to fight the coronavirus. The Senate could follow suit as soon as Thursday, and President Trump is expected to quickly sign the legislation.

The funding — more than triple what the White House initially requested to combat the outbreak — would set aside billions of dollars for vaccine development, medical supplies, support for local health agencies and other preparation.

The package includes more than $3 billion for research and development on vaccines and other treatments, as well as $2.2 billion for the CDC to support state and local agencies responding to the outbreak. The bill also would provide $1 billion in loan subsidies for small businesses, which Democrats said would enable the Small Business Administration to provide $7 billion in low-interest loans for companies affected by the outbreak.

While the vast majority of the funding would be spent domestically, Wednesday’s emergency bill also includes $1.25 billion for the State Department to assist in battling the spread of the coronavirus overseas.

Italy on Wednesday said it will close schools and universities throughout the country in an attempt to control the spread of the coronavirus, as it battles the most serious outbreak in Europe.

A total of 2,706 people have tested positive for the virus in the country, and more than 10 percent of those who have tested positive are in intensive care, straining Italy’s health-care system, which is scrambling to add extra beds.

Saudi Arabia suspended offseason pilgrimage trips to its holy cities of Mecca and Medina for all citizens and residents as part of an effort to combat the spread of the virus, the state news agency reported.

Iraq’s health ministry announced the country’s first official death from covid-19 on Wednesday. The patient was identified as a woman being treated in Baghdad, the capital.

Israel reported three more covid-19 patients on Wednesday, including a teenager whose diagnosis resulted in the health ministry ordering about 1,400 students in his high school into quarantine.

In London, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Wednesday that the U.K. government will introduce emergency coronavirus legislation that will allow sick pay for people who self-isolate from the first day of their illness.

Under the current rules, employers only have to give sick pay from the fourth day of illness.

Australia’s top physician warned citizens against stockpiling toilet paper, after stores across the country ran out as shoppers bought supplies amid the coronavirus outbreak.“We are trying to reassure people that removing all of the lavatory paper from the shelves of supermarkets probably isn’t a proportionate or sensible thing to do at this time,” Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told a Senate hearing Wednesday, according to local reports.

Meanwhile, in China, fewer new cases were reported outside the country than within, suggesting that authorities’ efforts to curb transmission may be paying off at home, even as the casualty count rises elsewhere. China tightened restrictions on arrivals amid concern about cases being imported. Iran and Italy have recorded 92 and 79 deaths, respectively. India reported a sharp rise in cases Wednesday after Italian tourists tested positive.

Seung Min Kim, Miriam Berger, Rick Noack, Siobhán O’Grady, Loveday Morris, Andrew Freedman, Louisa Loveluck, Benjamin Soloway, Paul Schemm, Karla Adam, Ruth Eglash, Adam Taylor, Jennifer Hassan, Felicia Sonmez, Kim Bellware, Ben Guarino and Michael Laris contributed to this report.

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