US Death Toll Rises to 6 as Authorities Ramp Up Coronavirus Response

March 2, 2020 Updated: March 2, 2020
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A spate of COVID-19 cases and deaths have been reported in the United States, with some states—including New York, Rhode Island, and Florida—seeing their first-ever instances of the virus.

A total of 96 confirmed cases have been reported from across the country, as of this writing. Six people have died from the disease in Washington state—the first batch of deaths recorded in the United States. The fatalities have mostly involved older people with underlying health conditions.

On March 2, health officials announced four additional confirmed cases of the virus in residents from King County and three additional deaths, including an individual who was previously reported as ill but who has now died. It brings the total number of coronavirus deaths in the county to five, after two were recorded over the weekend.

In King County, a nursing home is on lockdown over two confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a number of staff members and residents showing flu-like symptoms. The Life Care Center in Kirkland said that “all visits to the facility from families, volunteers, or vendors are not allowed.”

The sixth reported death was a Snohomish County, Washington, resident. In Kings County, all fatalities have involved those of older people, the youngest being a man in his 50s and the oldest over 80. The age of the Snohomish resident was not disclosed.

“At this time, we have not detected COVID-19 cases outside of King and Snohomish Counties, but given the movement of people around our state, it is possible the virus is spreading in other counties, too,” Washington state health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy told reporters at a conference.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, chief health officer for the Seattle and King County Public Health agency, told a news conference that the county was not recommending school closures or cancellation of any events at this point, but they do expect the number of cases to increase. In Washington state, the total number of confirmed cases is now 18.

Meanwhile, five other states in the past few days have reported cases of the virus for the first time: Oregon, California, Rhode Island, Florida, and New York. The number of total confirmed cases in the United States jumped by at least two dozen over the weekend.

A state of emergency has been declared in at least two states, Washington and Florida, following cases of the coronavirus.

“Despite today’s sad news … the risk to the American people of the coronavirus remains low,” Vice President Mike Pence said at a March 2 briefing.

Pence said a vaccine is in development and that “therapeutics giving relief to people that contract the coronavirus could literally be available this summer or early fall.” He added that within the next 12 hours, “there will be a 100 percent screening [on] all direct flights at all airports across Italy and across South Korea” on flights heading to America.

In New York, officials said the first confirmed case was a woman in her late 30s who had contracted the virus while traveling abroad in Iran. She is currently isolated in her home. The patient has respiratory symptoms but is not in serious condition, according to the New York governor’s office.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there is no reason for “undue anxiety” and that the general risk in New York “remains low.”

The governor on March 2 said “there will be community spread” in New York and that the mortality rate with the virus is going to be higher among senior citizens and the immune-compromised.

Military Response

The top general in the country said on March 2 that the military is currently preparing for how to respond to the outbreak, noting that a pandemic is the worst-case scenario.

“The United States military looks at a wide variety of scenarios,” Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon. “Of course we do all kinds of planning in the department of defense.”

Milley told reporters the military labs are also consistently working on a vaccine “in direct support with health and human services.”

Trump, on March 2, said he has asked pharmaceutical companies “to accelerate whatever they’re doing in terms of a vaccine.”

The general said the broader impact of the virus has been minimal so far. The coronavirus outbreak emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December. Authorities across the United States are preparing for more cases of COVID-19, with an emphasis on ratcheting up the number of available test kits.

Protective gear and test kits are being distributed to U.S. military facilities, with a priority on distribution to the Korean Peninsula, Milley said.

Jack Phillips contributed to this report. 

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