Coronavirus Updates: U.S. Scrambles to Slow Spread as Global Toll Surpasses 3,000

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Health officials across the United States were scrambling on Monday to trace all those who had come into contact with infected patients, even as they struggled to get a handle on how far the virus had spread in the country.

To date, the American authorities have reported a total of 88 cases nationwide, with two fatalities, both of them older adults with underlying health problems, officials said Sunday night.

A genetic analysis of the virus in Washington State, where the deaths occurred, suggested that the illness could have been spreading within the community for as long as six weeks before the first case was detected.

The coronavirus, now present on every continent except Antarctica, has infected nearly 90,000 people, killing more than 3,000.

In China, where the epidemic erupted and where the overwhelming majority of cases have been identified, officials reported 202 new cases — the lowest daily total since January.

But in South Korea, the number rose to more than 4,000. And in Iran, the scale of the largest outbreak in the Middle East remained unclear, with international public health experts expressing concern that official numbers would turn out to be unreliable.

Across Europe, countries reported steady increases in the number of cases, while officials warned residents to prepare for large outbreaks.

As the number of cases in Britain rose by half, to 36, on Sunday, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said that the government had not ruled out taking measures similar to those in China in a worst-case scenario — including locking down whole cities.

In contrast to the United States, where President Trump has played down the threat, Mr. Hancock warned that 80 percent of the British population could become infected, with up to 500,000 deaths.

“The number of coronavirus cases around the world is rising every day,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “And the U.K. is no exception.”

In Italy, which is struggling to contain the largest outbreak in Europe, the total number of active cases rose to 1,577, from 1,029, with 34 deaths.

The Italian government said it would seek to inject more than $4 billion into the economy — in addition to the $1 billion that is already planned to assist the hardest-hit regions.

With central banks around the world pledging action, markets in Asia and Europe staged a cautious recovery on Monday.

But a drop in tourism was being felt across Europe, with European Union officials estimating that it was costing member states about $1 billion per month.

In France, which has reported 130 cases since January and two deaths, the Louvre remained closed to visitors on Monday as museum officials discussed how to handle large crowds in ways that would limit the potential spread of the virus.

The United States recorded its first two deaths attributed to the coronavirus over the weekend, as states from coast to coast reported new infections leading to a drastic jump in the total number of cases.

  • Updated Feb. 26, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The C.D.C. has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all nonessential travel to South Korea and China.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world was not ready for a major outbreak.

On Friday, there were 65 cases and no known deaths in the United States. Fewer than 48 hours later, a single hospital in Washington State reported two deaths, the makings of a cluster, and the total number of cases nationwide jumped 35 percent, to 88.

One state, Florida, declared a public health emergency, even as Vice President Mike Pence, tapped to lead the federal response to the crisis, sought to calm the public’s nerves.

Officials in Washington State said on Sunday that a second person, a man in his 70s with underlying health conditions, had died at EvergreenHealth hospital in Kirkland. That is the same facility where officials identified the nation’s first coronavirus death on Saturday — a man in his 50s. Both men had been residents at nursing facility in Kirkland, run by Life Care Centers of America.

Twenty-three cases were announced on Saturday and Sunday in Washington, California, Illinois, Rhode Island, New York, Florida and Oregon. The new cases included a mix of people who had traveled to high-risk countries and those who were believed to have contracted the disease domestically.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Sunday confirmed New York State’s first case of the coronavirus, saying that a woman contracted the virus while traveling in Iran and is now in New York isolated in her home.

“The patient has respiratory symptoms, but is not in serious condition and has been in a controlled situation since arriving to New York,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement, offering no details on the woman’s whereabouts.

A New York state official said that the positive case was in Manhattan. The case is the 32nd tested from New York. All of the previous cases had tested negative.

No cases are currently outstanding. New York’s state lab was granted the ability to test for the virus on Saturday after an appeal from Mr. Cuomo.

“There is no reason for undue anxiety — the general risk remains low in New York,” the governor’s statement said. “We are diligently managing this situation and will continue to provide information as it becomes available.”

In San Antonio, Texas, a patient who appeared to recover from the coronavirus illness and had been released from a health care facility after having tested negative twice in more than 24 hours was placed back into isolation after a subsequent sample tested “weakly positive,” according to the C.D.C.

Health officials were tracing potential contacts the person had while outside the facility, even though it was not clear that the patient would have been able to transmit the virus.

In a statement, Mayor Ron Nirenberg called the situation “unacceptable” and said he would hold the C.D.C. responsible for allowing the patients to leave the facility.

Similar cases in other countries have raised questions about whether a relapse of the illness is possible. Experts have suggested that fragments of the virus can remain in the bloodstream and be picked up by sensitive tests even after a person’s immune system has destroyed the virus’s capability to infect anyone else. Testing errors could explain the test results.

Stocks rose in Asia on Monday morning as investors made bets that the world’s governments and central banks would step in to help a global economy slammed by the coronavirus outbreak.

But U.S. Treasury prices rose, driving yields lower, in a sign of growing worry in the financial world.

After opening lower, Japanese stocks rebounded, and the Nikkei 225 index was up about 1.4 percent. The rise came after the Bank of Japan, the country’s central bank, said it “will strive to provide ample liquidity and ensure stability in financial markets through appropriate market operations and asset purchases.” It did not announce any specific moves.

Hong Kong shares also rebounded and were trading about 0.9 percent higher. Shares in Shanghai, a market that often gets support from state-linked investment vehicles, was up 2.9 percent.

Futures markets indicated investors expect Wall Street and several European markets to open higher later on Monday.

Yields on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond fell to 1.08 percent, edging closer to the psychologically important 1 percent threshold. The drop, driven by rising bond prices, suggests investors are still looking for safe places to park their money, as well as the expected move by the Federal Reserve.

The higher opening for stocks followed one of the worst weeks for global markets since the financial crisis, with several major indexes around the world falling more than 10 percent in just a few days — a stunning decline that came as investors grappled with the potential economic toll the outbreak could take.

The coronavirus and the flu are often compared these days. But what are their basic similarities and differences?

So far, the coronavirus seems to be deadlier. On average, the seasonal flu strain kills about 0.1 percent of people who become infected. Early estimates of the death rate in the coronavirus outbreak’s epicenter in Wuhan, China, have been around 2 percent.

The rate could fall if it turns out that many cases aren’t detected because they are so mild or even symptom-free.

As with influenza, the coronavirus is most dangerous to people over the age of 65, or who have chronic illness or a weak immune system.

So far in the current season, the flu has sickened more people than the coronavirus. In the United States, there have been 32 million cases of flu, several hundred thousands of hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths, according to the C.D.C. By contrast, about 88 people in the United States have been infected with the new coronavirus, and there have been two deaths.

One area where the two ailments diverge is treatment. There is no approved antiviral drug for the coronavirus, but several are being tested. For those infected with any viral illness, doctors recommend rest, medicine to reduce pain and fever, and fluids to avoid dehydration. For the flu, doctors can offer four prescription medicines and they tend to work best within a day or two of when symptoms start.

There are no coronavirus vaccinations available, but one may be available in a year or two. Flu vaccines are widely available and generally 40 percent to 60 percent effective.

Lee Man-hee, the founding leader of the church at the center of South Korea’s explosive coronavirus outbreak, bowed in supplication at a news conference on Monday and apologized amid growing anger at his handling of the crisis.

“I have never imagined this kind of thing would happen,” Mr. Lee, 88, said in a choking voice during a nationally televised news conference. “I am still trying to understand how this could happen.”

Mr. Lee called the news conference after Seoul and other cities asked prosecutors to investigate him for potential criminal charges, including murder through willful negligence. They accused Mr. Lee and his Shincheonji Church of Jesus of contributing to the nation’s rising death toll — 22 as of Monday — by impeding the government’s efforts to fight the outbreak.

Among other things, the church was accused of failing to provide a full list of its members fast enough for the government to track them down for testing.

By Monday, South Korea reported more than 4,000 total cases. At least 60 percent of the cases are among members of a Shincheonji branch in Daegu, a city in southeast South Korea, and people they have been in contact with.

Mr. Lee denied the accusations against his group, saying that his church was fully cooperating with the government. He asked South Koreans to stop what the church has called a “witch hunt” during a time of national crisis.

“This is not an individual matter but a giant catastrophe,” Mr. Lee said. “This is not the time for arguing over who is right and…

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