March 3 (UPI) — Officials in Washington state declared a public health emergency Monday as a sixth person in the Seattle area died from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Public health officials in King County, which includes Seattle, made the emergency declaration after the number of confirmed cases of the virus in the region increased to 14.
“We will direct all available resources to help cities, healthcare facilities, businesses and families continue life as normally as possible,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “But our best strategies depend on millions of residents actively following established disease prevention guidelines.”
Vice President Mike Pence on Monday said there are 43 domestic cases of the virus in the United States with 29 in either Washington or California. There are an additional 48 repatriated cases, including 44 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
In all, 10 states across the country have confirmed cases of COVID-19. To date, however, Washington is the only one reporting deaths related to the disease — with five in King County and one in Snohomish County, which is north of Seattle.
Pence, who was appointed to lead the Coronavirus Task Force, said that despite the recent deaths the risk to Americans related to the virus remains low.
“This president has said we’re ready for anything, but this is an all-hands-on-deck effort. Today’s activity really reflects the president’s effort to bring the best minds of private industry together, the best leadership from around the country at every level,” he said.
President Donald Trump on Monday added two members to the task force — Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma — ahead of a meeting with pharmaceutical industry representatives.
Trump said a vaccine is under development, though other officials suggest it could take as long as 18 months for one to be ready for use. He also said there would likely be more travel restrictions from countries with coronavirus outbreaks, though he did not identify the countries under consideration.
Pence said Monday that within 12 hours there will be 100 percent screening for direct flights to the United States at all airports in Italy and South Korea — two countries dealing with growing clusters of the virus — after Trump announced new procedures on Sunday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Monday told NBC News that the COVID-19 outbreak has “likely reached pandemic proportions.”
“We’re dealing with clearly an emerging infectious disease that now reached outbreak proportions and likely pandemic proportions,” Fauci said. He added that “we are not at the stage of mitigation for this,” however, saying that officials are not ready to ask people to self-isolate or avoid normal daily activities.
During a press conference Monday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said they are planning for all possible situations concerning COVID-19 — including it becoming a pandemic.
“The United States military looks at wide varieties of scenarios,” he said, stating a pandemic is considered a worst-case situation.
He also said military labs are working on a vaccine.
“The military labs have all kinds of capability to do that” in support of the Department of Health and Human Services, he said.
According to officials, three of the deceased in Washington were residents of LifeCare, a nursing home in the suburb of Kirkland where an outbreak of COVID-19 has been reported. One of the deceased, however, had no known exposure to the facility, or a history of travel to China, heretofore the epicenter of the outbreak, or one of the other affected countries.
The remaining cases have been isolated and are being treated, although several are in critical condition, according to reports.
Officials in Sonoma County, Calif., also declared a public health emergency after a second case of COVID-19 emerged there. The new case involves a person who had just returned from a cruise from San Francisco to Mexico.
That person remains in stable condition, in isolation, but officials in Sonoma did not disclose where they were being treated.
Meanwhile, health officials in Massachusetts also announced late Monday a positive presumptive case of COVID-19, meaning samples from the patient have been sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.
The patient, identified as a woman in her 20s from Norfolk County, had recently traveled to Italy with a school group and was recovering at home, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said in a statement.
The test results came back Monday night, the department said, adding the woman is the state’s first presumptive case since it started testing on Friday. If confirmed, she will be the state’s second COVID-19 patient.
“We are grateful this individual is recovering,” said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel. “We understand the concern this new virus is causing, and our state’s ability to quickly test for the virus is a positive development.”
The risk of infection still remains low, Bharel said.
A fourth case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in the Chicago area, in a woman whose husband had been diagnosed with the virus within the past few days. According to a press release from the Illinois Department of Health, the man is being treated at Northwest Community Hospital in Suburban Arlington Heights, while his wife has been placed into quarantine at home.
Both are in “good condition,” officials said Monday.
And, state health officials in New Hampshire announced earlier in the day that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 there involved an adult who had recently traveled to Italy, where an outbreak has sickened roughly 1,600 people, according to figures from the World Health Organization.
According to state epidemiologist Benjamin Chan, the person who has tested positive is an adult from Grafton County in the northwestern part of the state who is not sick enough to be hospitalized. They have been placed in home isolation, Chan said.
The United States still has a small fraction of the 89,527 cases of COVID-19 reported globally. Through Monday, 3,056 people had died from the virus worldwide.
The vast majority of cases have been confirmed in China, but the disease has spread globally, with significant numbers sickened in South Korea, Iran, Italy, Japan, Germany, Singapore and France.
Six additional WHO member states — Armenia, Czechia, Dominican Republic, Luxembourg, Iceland and Indonesia — have also reported cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.