Washington State health officials confirmed that six people have died from the coronavirus, following a March 1 announcement that a man in his 70s was the second person to have died from COVID-19 in the US, according to the Associated Press. The first was a man in his 50s who also lived in Washington, which now has 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Dozens of residents and staff members of the LifeCare nursing facility in Kirkland, Washington, are sick and being tested for the virus after three elderly people there were diagnosed, reports The Washington Post. KOMO News reports that two of the LifeCare residents have died of coronavirus. According to the AP, more than two dozen members of the International Association of Firefighters who responded to calls from the LifeCare facility are now being quarantined.
In California, two health care workers in San Francisco’s North Bay who had been exposed to the first US patient who contracted the virus without a connection to international travel were diagnosed with COVID-19 on Sunday, according to the AP, and Alameda County there declared a state of emergency in response.
In San Antonio, a woman who had been brought to the US from Wuhan, China, tested “weakly positive” for the virus after being released from quarantine on Saturday following two negative test results, according to a separate report in the Associated Press.
Elsewhere in the US, two people have tested positive in Oregon, while authorities on Sunday announced Illinois’s third case, Rhode Island’s second case, and New York’s first case, according to the AP. Reuters reports that Florida confirmed its first two cases late on Sunday and also declared a public health emergency.
The World Health Organization reports that more than 3,000 people have now died from the coronavirus and nearly 90,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide.
Trevor Bedford, an associate professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, announced that genetic sequencing of two SARS-CoV-2 virus samples had revealed strong similarities between the virus of the first person diagnosed with COVID-19 in the US, back in mid-January, and a recently diagnosed patient, both from the same county in Washington state, according to The Washington Post.
“This strongly suggests that there has been cryptic transmission in Washington State for the past 6 weeks,” Bedford writes in a thread on Twitter. “I believe we’re facing an already substantial outbreak in Washington State that was not detected until now due to narrow case definition requiring direct travel to China.”
“I think he’s right,” molecular evolution researcher Andrew Rambaut of the University of Edinburgh tells The New York Times. “It’s extremely unlikely that two viruses coming from outside the U.S.A. independently would arrive in the same geographical area and be genetically related unless they were connected.”
Vice President Mike Pence told CNN on Sunday that the federal government released more than 15,000 test kits to state and local health clinics, and that there are plans to release 50,000 more, according to the AP. Reuters reports that Pence says the government had contracted 3M to produce 35 million extra respiratory masks.
A vaccine could enter clinical trials in six weeks, Pence told Fox News.
A separate AP article reports that the White House and the National Academy of Sciences have established a new panel of scientific experts to build on the administration’s efforts to fight the coronavirus and contain the surrounding misinformation and panic.
According to Reuters, Pence told NBC on March 1, “Other than in areas where there are individuals that have been infected with the coronavirus, people need to understand that for the average American, the risk does remain low.”
Amy Schleunes is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at email@example.com.
Clarification (March 3): We have updated the first two paragraphs following the announcement of more deaths in Washington.