US Death Toll Hits 21 as Coronavirus Cases Top 500

March 8, 2020 Updated: March 9, 2020

The number of coronavirus-linked deaths in the United States grew to at least 21 on March 8 as authorities said the risk of Americans contracting the virus “remains low.”

Of the 21 deaths, the majority have occurred in Washington state, which reported a total of 18 fatalities; Florida has reported two deaths, while California has reported one, as of press time. In recent days, Kansas, Missouri, and the District of Columbia announced their first cases of the virus.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the country has risen to over 500, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at John Hopkins University. More than half the states are reporting at least one case of the virus, according to reports.

Some states have also declared emergencies over the virus, the most recent being announced in New York.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams urged Americans on March 8 not to panic about the spread of the virus, an outbreak that first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

“We’ve been saying this all along, initially we had a posture of containment so that we could give people time to prepare for where we are right now,” Adams told CNN’s State of the Union. “Now we’re shifting into mitigation phase, which means we’re helping communities understand, you’re going to see more cases, unfortunately, you’re going to see more deaths, but that doesn’t mean that we should panic.”

Washing hands frequently, covering any coughs, and staying home if one is sick are all precautions that individuals should continue to follow to protect themselves, Adams said. Top U.S. administration officials have repeatedly said that the risk of Americans contracting the virus “remains low.”

Most of the fatalities in Washington, the state with the most coronavirus-linked deaths in the country, took place in King County, and involved older people with underlying health conditions. Life Care Center, a nursing home in the county, is on lockdown over cases of COVID-19, and a number of staff members and residents have exhibited flu-like symptoms. Fourteen of the deaths have been from the nursing home.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said March 8 that elderly and vulnerable Americans should travel less and avoid large groups of people.

“If you are an elderly person with an underlying condition, if you get infected, the risk of getting into trouble is considerable. So it’s our responsibility to protect the vulnerable,” he told NBC’s Meet The Press. “When I say protect, I mean right now. Not wait until things get worse. Say no large crowds, no long trips. And above all, don’t get on a cruise ship.”

“This will be a recommendation,” Fauci said. “If you’re a person with an underlying condition and you are particularly an elderly person with an underlying condition, you need to think twice about getting on a plane, on a long trip.”

Fauci said while authorities are getting a “better sense” of the scope of the outbreak, he added that “unfortunately, that better sense is not encouraging because we’re seeing community spread.”

In a March 7 statement, The American Conservative Union, which organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) confirmed that an attendee had tested positive for coronavirus, with the exposure occurring before the conference. The individual is now under care in New Jersey and has been quarantined.

CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp confirmed he had brief contact with the individual. The individual had no interaction with President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. On the last day of the conference, Schlapp shook Trump’s hand. In a Twitter post, Schlapp wrote that the “attendee, who is now sick, did not attend” the event when Trump delivered his remarks.

As the effects of the virus hit the U.S. economy, the Federal Reserve, in a rare emergency step, cut short-term rates by half a percentage point on March 3. Economist Stephen Moore said on March 8 that the growing fallout wouldn’t be long term. The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) also recently granted tariff exclusions for face masks and other medical supplies imported from China.

“I just see this as a real short-term pause in the growth that Trump has created,” Moore said on John Catsimatidis’s radio show. “Once we get this thing contained, the economy will roar back to life.”

In another development, the Grand Princess cruise ship, held at sea and barred from returning to San Francisco last week due to a coronavirus outbreak aboard the vessel, has been directed to the nearby Port of Oakland.

The ship, carrying some 2,400 passengers and 1,100 crew members, is due to reach Oakland, across San Francisco Bay from its original home port destination, on March 9, with the arrival time yet to be determined, Princess Cruises said in a statement.

The late-night announcement capped four days of uncertainty surrounding the vessel—with 21 coronavirus patients—and the fate of 3,500 people returning from a cruise to Hawaii.

Another area that has seen a major jump in confirmed coronavirus cases is New York state, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency on March 7. Over the weekend, Cuomo announced dozens more confirmed cases of the virus.

As of March 8, Cuomo said the total number of virus cases in the state was 105, including 82 in Westchester County.

Reuters contributed to this report

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