New coronavirus case may be 1st sign of “community spread” in U.S.

Author: CBS News
Published: Updated:
Iranian women wear protective masks to prevent contracting coronavirus, as they walk in the street in Tehran, Iran, February 25, 2020. WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS

President Donald Trump has appealed for calm and put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of America’s coronavirus response, insisting the country is “very, very ready” to tackle the deadly disease even if it starts to spread more widely inside the U.S.

Mr. Trump said the risk to Americans remained very low, but his bid to ease nerves — and shore up jittery stock markets in an election year — came as officials confirmed the first case of suspected “community transmission” of the COVID-19 disease in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define community spread as the occurrence of cases for which the source of infection is unknown.

The World Health Organization continues to say there’s time to rein in the virus that emerged late last year in central China, and is declining to label it a global pandemic. But with cases in 45 countries and the disease spreading fast outside China, most significantly in South Korea, Italy and Iran, the WHO chief said the world had reached a “decisive point” in the battle against it.

South Korea announced its largest daily jump in confirmed cases on Thursday, with 505 more patients and a 13th death. There were almost 1,800 people infected in South Korea, the largest outbreak to date outside China. With an American service member among those infected, the U.S. has postponed scheduled joint military drills with South Korea and urged Americans to avoid travel to the country.

Italy, home to the biggest outbreak outside Asia and the source of smaller disease clusters in neighboring European countries, saw a 25% increase in cases on Wednesday. The virus has also gained a foothold in the Middle East, spreading to a growing number of countries from Iran, where there are widespread concerns the government is under-reporting the true scale of the outbreak.

First case of coronavirus confirmed in the Netherlands

The first case of coronavirus in the Netherlands was detected on Thursday, the national public health institute announced. The patient had travelled to northern Italy, the worst-hit area in Europe.

All those who have been in “close contact” with the person involved have been checked out and the patient has been placed in isolation, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said. The public health body advised everyone in the country to be careful to avoid more infections.


Pelosi says bipartisan agreement close on coronavirus response bill

Congress is working on a bill to fund the federal emergency response to coronavirus, and both Republicans and Democrats said now is not the time to play politics. “We’re coming close to a bipartisan agreement in the Congress as to how we can go forward with a number — that is a good start,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is pointing a finger at the Chinese government. “If China would’ve allowed our doctors and our scientists in earlier, the world would be safer,” he said.

Congress is set to receive a fourth briefing on the coronavirus from the Trump administration on Friday. On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence met with the coronavirus task force.

“The president has no higher priority than the health and safety of the American people,” he said.

Dow plunges another 1,000 points on coronavirus fears

Stocks continued to crater on Thursday, with the Dow tumbling more than 1,000 points for the second time this week as jittery investors try to assess the potential economic toll amid signs the coronavirus is spreading in the U.S. and other countries.

The latest rout put the blue-chip index into “correction” territory, meaning a drop of at least 10% from its most recent high on February 19. The selloff has lopped $3.4 trillion off the value of equities. The S&P 500 is headed for its worst week since October 2008, when the financial crisis pummeled markets, according to the Associated Press.

The Dow dropped 1,190 points, or 4.4%, to close at 25,767, while the broader S&P 500 stock index and tech-heavy Nasdaq also fell more than 4%. Yields on U.S. Treasuries tumbled, with the benchmark 10-year note falling to an all-time low as investors sought refuge from stocks.

California officials trying to trace new coronavirus patient’s contacts

California officials revealed only minimal details Thursday about what is believed to be the first case of community transmission of coronavirus in the U.S., meaning the patient was probably infected by someone in the general population. “We know that there were a number of days that she was in her community and that she then did begin accessing care,” state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told reporters.

The female patient is in isolation at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, and health officials are trying to trace her contacts. “Step by step, we look at where they’ve been and who they might have been in direct communication with,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, the state’s public health officer.

This is the 15th case to originate in the U.S. The other 14 cases involved either people who traveled to China or who had close contact with an infected patient.

Dow slides into “correction” territory on coronavirus concerns

Stocks are cratering, extending a six-day losing streak that has lopped more than $2 trillion from the market value of U.S. equities amid growing fears about the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Thursday’s selloff puts the Dow on track for a correction, or a decline of 10% from the most recent high for the blue-chip stock index.

Pence taps coronavirus response coordinator

Vice President Mike Pence, who was tapped by President Trump to lead the nation’s coronavirus response, on Thursday announced a new coronavirus response coordinator.

Ambassador Debbie Birx, a global health official and physician who was instrumental in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic, is being detailed to Pence’s office to help address the outbreak. Birx will also join the coronavirus task force led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Birx has worked under three administrations and has expertise in infectious disease, immunology and vaccine research.

Ex-U.S. official says possible hidden cases make this virus more dangerous

A former Homeland Security adviser who helped former President George W. Bush’s administration prepare for flu pandemics said the new coronavirus was “much worse” than anything she faced more than a decade ago. Fran Townsend joined “CBS This Morning” Thursday after a new case in California raised alarm because doctors couldn’t determine the source of the infection.

“We don’t know where the woman in California was infected,” Townsend said. “What people haven’t talked about is people can be totally asymptomatic… you can be infected with the coronavirus and have no symptoms and that means you can infect others and not even know you have it.”

She explained that the kind of flu she helped prepared the nation for had an average mortality rate of .1%, while a “really bad flu is a .5% death rate.”

U.S. stock markets see 6th day of loses on coronavirus concerns

Stocks were working on a sixth straight day of losses Thursday, extending a streak that has lopped more than $2 trillion from equities amid growing fears about the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Iran’s vice president has the coronavirus

Iran’s Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar has tested positive for the new coronavirus and been placed under quarantine, Iran’s state-controlled media reported Thursday. Ebtekhar also served as an adviser to President Hassan Rouhani on women’s and family affairs.

Iran’s Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar is seen in an August 28, 2016 file photo in Tehran.

She is the fourth senior Iranian official to test positive for the COVID-19 disease, which has killed at least 26 people in the Islamic Republic and infected at least 245 — though the actual infection rate is feared to be much higher.

WHO head lays out 4 outbreak scenarios every nation must prepare for

The head of the World Health Organization urged every country in the world to expect the new coronavirus to cross its borders, and said officials should lay out clear plans to deal with four specific stages of a domestic outbreak:

“Every country must be ready for its first case, its first cluster, the first evidence of community transmission, and for dealing with sustained community transmission,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday, adding that national health authorities around the world needed to make those four sets of preparations “all at the same time.”

In the U.S., the CDC said Wednesday that the first suspected case of community transmission had been detected in California.

“Aggressive, early measures can prevent transmission before the virus gets a foothold” in a country, Tedros stressed.

Assuming the disease might not reach any particular nation, “could be a fatal mistake,” he said.

“We are not hopeless, we are not defenseless,” insisted Tedros, urging “every country and every person” to help ensure cases were detected early and that authorities were then able to trace contacts, provide care and prevent community transmissions.

WHO acknowledges “extent of infection may be broader” in Iran

WHO officials were asked Thursday how they accounted for the much higher mortality rate of the coronavirus reported by government officials in Iran, where figures suggest about 1 in 10 of those infected have died, compared to 1 or 2 in 100 cases in other countries.

The global health agency’s head of emergency response, Mike Ryan, said the most likely explanation was that the disease managed to sneak into Iran and get a foothold before it was detected, meaning the “extent of infection may be broader” than the 245 cases currently reported. At least 26 people have died of the disease in Iran, according to the government in Tehran.

Ryan said it was much more likely that milder cases of the disease were not yet being detected or reported in Iran, rather than it being a deadlier disease for some unknown reason in the Islamic Republic.

As virus reaches 45 countries, WHO chief calls it “a decisive point” in the fight

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said China had a total of more than 48,600 cases of the new coronavirus disease and more than 2,700 deaths as of Thursday, but “it’s what’s happening in the rest of the world that is now our greatest concern.”

He said seven new countries had reported cases of the virus in the last 24 hours, bringing the number of nations already dealing with the COVID-19 disease to 45 including China.

With more new cases emerging outside origin country China than inside it for two consecutive days, Tedros said the world was “at a decisive point.”

He said his message to the countries just recording their first cases was to seize their “window of opportunity,” urging them to “act aggressively now… move swiftly and contain it.”

Tedros said the fast-growing outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea, “demonstrate what this virus is capable of.”

He stressed that “with the right measures, it can be contained,” a lesson he said had been proven in China, where data showed there did “not appear to be widespread community transmissions,” which he said “suggested that containment is possible.”

“This is not a time for fear, this is a time for taking action now to prevent infections and save lives,” Tedros said. “Fear and panic doesn’t help.”

Virus spreads in Middle East, reaching Iraq’s capital

The Iraqi Health Ministry confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the capital of Baghdad on Thursday, the 6th in the country. The other cases were reported in Najaf and Kirkuk.

Most of the cases in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East have been traced back to Iran, where a significant and fast-growing outbreak has killed at least 26 people.

Medical workers check the temperature of Iraqi men amid a coronavirus outbreak, at a checkpoint in South Mosul, Iraq, February 26, 2020.

Kuwait reported seven new cases of the coronavirus disease on Thursday, bringing the total in the Persian Gulf state to 43. The number of confirmed cases in Bahrain climbed to 33.

U.K. confirms 2 new coronavirus cases

British health officials confirmed two new cases of the coronavirus in England on Thursday, bringing the United Kingdom’s total to 15. Nobody has died of the COVID-19 disease in the U.K.

There have been no reports yet suggesting community transmission of the disease within the U.K.

Sick Pope Francis skips planned mass as Italy grapples with coronavirus

Pope Francis is sick and skipped a planned Mass with Rome clergy across town on Thursday, officials said. The Vatican said the 83-year-old pontiff had a “slight indisposition” and would proceed with the rest of his planned work on Thursday. But Francis “preferred to stay near Santa Marta,” the Vatican hotel where he lives.

There was no word from the Vatican about the nature of his illness, but the pope was seen coughing and blowing his nose during the Ash Wednesday Mass. It comes amid an outbreak of the coronavirus in Italy that has sickened more than 400 people, almost all of them in the north. Rome had three cases, but all three were cured.

Pope Francis wipes his nose as he celebrates the Ash Wednesday Mass in the Santa Sabina Basilica, in Rome, February 26, 2020. Pope Francis celebrated the Ash Wednesday ritual kicking off the Catholic Church’s Lenten season in traditional fashion, while Masses in northern Italy were canceled over fears of the new coronavirus.

The Argentine pope has generally enjoyed good health. He lost part of one lung as a young man because of a respiratory illness, and suffers from sciatica, which makes walking difficult.

– Associated Press

Tokyo Olympic officials consider “downsizing” torch relay over virus concerns

Olympic organizers in Tokyo are considering scaling back the 2020 Summer Games torch relay over concerns of the fast-spreading coronavirus, according to The Japan Times newspaper.

“Bringing spectators together in large numbers increases the risk of infection. Downsizing is among the approaches we can consider,” the paper quoted the CEO of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, Toshiro Muto, as saying Wednesday.

He renewed the Olympic organizers’ insistence, however, that the games or the torch relay might be canceled.

Iran reports jump in virus cases and deaths

Iran’s state-run media quoted the health ministry on Thursday as saying the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country had jumped sharply to 245, with 26 having died of the disease. It was an increase of more than 100 cases since Wednesday.

The outbreak in Iran is one of several outside China, the new COVID-19 disease’s country of origin, worrying global health officials for the speed of its advance. The number of deaths relative to the total number of reported cases in Iran sets the country apart. Experts generally agree that the coronavirus is fatal in only about 2% of cases, but in Iran, if the government’s figures are accurate, the morality rate would be much closer to 10%.

That discrepancy has fueled widespread speculation inside Iran that the country’s Islamic cleric leaders are either lying about the number of cases in the country, or have failed to grasp the scale of the outbreak themselves.

At least three Iranian government officials have now been diagnosed with the disease, including the man who was ostensibly in charge of fighting it and who appeared on television early this week sweating profusely and coughing the day before his diagnosis was confirmed.

Iranian women wear protective masks to prevent contracting coronavirus, as they walk in the street in Tehran, Iran, February 25, 2020.

On Thursday, the head of the Iranian parliament’s foreign policy and national security committee confirmed that he had tested positive for the virus. He is from the holy city of Qom, which is the epicenter of Iran’s outbreak.

Japan to close all schools for a month amid virus concerns

Japan will close schools nationwide to help control the spread of the new coronavirus, the government announced Thursday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he asked all elementary, middle and high schools to remain shut until spring holidays begin in late March.

The measure affects 12.8 million students at 34,847 schools nationwide, the education ministry said.

The decision comes amid growing concern about the rise in the number of untraceable cases of the virus in northern Japan and elsewhere. Japan now has more than 890 cases, including 705 from a quarantined cruise ship. An eighth death from the virus was confirmed Thursday.

– Associated Press

Saudis not letting anyone travel to Islam’s holiest sites due to virus fears

Saudi Arabia has halted travel to Islam’s holiest sites over fears about a new viral epidemic months ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage. The extraordinary decision stops foreigners from reaching the holy city of Mecca and Prophet Muhammad’s mosque in Medina.

The decision reflected concern about the outbreak potentially spreading into Saudi Arabia, whose oil-rich monarchy stakes its legitimacy on protecting Islam’s holy sites.

Experts worry Iran may be under-reporting cases and deaths, given the illness’s rapid spread from Iran across the Persian Gulf. President Hassan Rouhani said there were no immediate plans to quarantine cities but acknowledged controlling the outbreak may take weeks.

– The Associated Press

State Department warns Americans to “reconsider travel” to South Korea

The State Department updated its travel warning to level 3 on Wednesday, warning Americans to “reconsider travel” to the country.

South Korea is currently facing the largest coronavirus outbreak outside of China, with more than 1,500 confirmed cases.

South Korea, U.S. postpone annual military drills due to virus

The South Korean and U.S. militaries have postponed their annual joint drills out of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. Thursday’s announcement came after South Korea reported 21 cases of the virus in its military and the U.S. military reported one case among its 28,500 troops in South Korea.

The announcement was jointly made by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. military in South Korea. Kim Jun-rak, a spokesman at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the allies will put off their drills in the first half of this year until further notice.

The cases among military personnel have put thousands of South Korean troops in quarantine. The U.S. has closed facilities on several bases to stop the spread of the virus.

– Associated Press

CDC announces possible case of community spread of coronavirus in the U.S.

The CDC on Wednesday announced the first possible case of community spread of the coronavirus in the United States. The patient, who is in California, reportedly did not have relevant travel history or exposure to another patient before getting diagnosed.

“It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States,” the CDC said, referring to the disease by its official name. “Community spread means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. It’s also possible, however, that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected.”

Soon after the CDC’s statement, the California Department of Health said the patient is a resident of Solano County, near Sacramento, and that they are being treated in Sacramento County. Later, it was revealed that the patient is in UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

This patient is the 15th non-evacuee to be diagnosed with the virus in the U.S. Three more patients were evacuees from Wuhan, China; 42 more were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

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