Coronavirus hits two more U.S. states, while cases jump in Washington, New York

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) – At least 52 new cases of the fast-spreading new coronavirus were reported across the United States on Thursday, including the first in Tennessee, Texas and the city of San Francisco, as the number of people with the illness in Washington state nearly doubled to 70.

Twenty new cases of the virus were confirmed in King County, Washington, local health officials said on Thursday, bringing the total in the county to 51 with 10 deaths.

“This is a critical moment in the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in King County,” the county said in a written statement, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

“All King County residents should follow public health recommendations. Together, we may potentially impact the spread of the disease in our community,” it said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the number of cases in his state had doubled to 22 after the federal government approved its use of additional laboratories, boosting capacity for testing. He said more testing would inevitably identify more cases. “Those numbers are going to keep going up,” Cuomo told a news conference.

Texas confirmed its first three coronavirus cases and Tennessee reported one, bringing the number of affected states to 15.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed an $8.3 billion bill to combat the outbreak 96-1, a day after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved it. The bill will now go to President Donald Trump for his signature.

More than $3 billion of the approved funds would be devoted to research and development of coronavirus vaccines, test kits and treatments. There are currently no approved vaccines or treatments for the illness that began in China and has infected more than 95,000 people in some 80 countries and territories.

Many of the cases in Washington have been linked to an outbreak at a nursing facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, including six deaths.

Of the new cases in New York, eight are connected to a Manhattan lawyer who lives in Westchester County and was previously diagnosed with the virus, two are in New York City and one in nearby Nassau County.

CONCERN LEVEL ‘IS RISING’

Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference the new cases in New York City – a man in his 40s and a woman in her 80s – were critically ill and being treated in hospitals. Both had “substantial” pre-existing health conditions, he said.

Neither person had recently visited any other affected countries or had any connection to other confirmed cases, suggesting the city is confronting local person-to-person spread. “Our level of concern is rising for sure,” de Blasio said.

California, which has declared a statewide emergency in response to the outbreak, reported six new cases, including two in San Francisco also deemed likely to be a result of “community transmission,” local health officials said.

Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google on Thursday joined Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) in recommending employees in the Seattle area work from home, after some were infected with the coronavirus. The companies’ work-from-home recommendation will affect more than 100,000 people in the area.

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 stands at 11, all but one them in Washington state. The other death, announced on Wednesday, was in California. More than 3,200 worldwide have died from the respiratory illness that can lead to pneumonia.

A medic prepares a stretcher to transfer a patient into an ambulance at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility linked to several confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, in Kirkland, Washington, U.S. March 5, 2020. REUTERS/David Ryder

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) early on Thursday reported 149 confirmed and presumed U.S. cases. Those numbers are presumed not to include any of the new cases reported on Thursday.

U.S. health officials say they expect to be able to get enough privately manufactured coronavirus tests – around 1 million – to public laboratories this week with the capacity to test about 400,000 people.

CDC official Anne Schuchat said her agency would also supply testing kits by the end of the week that could test around 75,000 people.

“Right now, it is a challenge if you are a doctor wanting to get somebody tested,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters following a briefing with lawmakers.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the U.S. response, urged Americans not to purchase masks if they are healthy to free up supply for healthcare workers and people who are sick.

“Unless you are ill, you have no need to buy a mask,” Pence said on a visit to Minnesota’s 3M Co (MMM.N), which has ramped up production of masks to help respond to the coronavirus.

“The risk to the average healthy American from contracting coronavirus remains low,” Pence said, adding that “there will be more cases,” especially among more vulnerable populations such as seniors and those with chronic health conditions.

Pence was scheduled to visit Washington Governor Jay Inslee later on Thursday.

Global equity markets tumbled as coronavirus cases outside China mounted, fuelling warnings that economic growth is likely to reach its weakest level since the global financial crisis a decade ago.

Slideshow (20 Images)

The main U.S. stock indexes closed down more than 3% with the Dow falling 969 points.

(Graphic: Tracking the spread of the novel coronavirus – here)

Reporting by Maria Caspani, Michael Erman, Jonathan Allen and Hilary Russ in New York, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert in Washington, Jeff Mason in Maplewood, Minnesota, Steve Gorman in Culver City, California and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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