The U.S. coronavirus death toll rose to 12 on Thursday as officials confirmed another fatality in Washington state, and several states announced their first positive tests, including Maryland, which has declared a state of emergency.

Vice President Pence promised enough materials by the end of the week to test 1.2 million people for the virus that has continued to disrupt the economy and strain resources. By Thursday evening, the United States had more than 200 confirmed cases in at least 17 states.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Thursday that three positive coronavirus cases were confirmed in the state, and that the patients contracted the virus while traveling overseas. They are quarantined in their homes in Montgomery County, a suburb of about 1 million people outside Washington, D.C.

California is also under a state of emergency, and a cruise ship carrying some 2,500 passengers was held off the coast for coronavirus testing.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 970 points Thursday as the outlook for the outbreak worsens.

Here are the latest developments:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is focused on getting testing kits to Washington state — the “tip of the spear” in fighting infections, the CDC’s director said — and California, where one death was confirmed Wednesday.
  • Vice President Pence said Medicare and Medicaid will now cover the testing and vowed that officials will work to ensure it is deemed an “essential health benefit” covered in the private health insurance of every American.
  • The Senate voted nearly unanimously to approve $8.3 billion in emergency spending for combating the coronavirus outbreak, sending the measure to the White House.
  • China remains the worst-hit country overall, with deaths surpassing 3,000 and confirmed cases reaching 80,552. But the epidemic is now slowing in China, while other countries are reporting more outbreaks as more people get tested.
  • Despite concerns that more than 80 countries are grappling with cases, the director general of the World Health Organization said it is encouraged that the number of cases in South Korea and China appear to be declining.

U.S. tourist is Bhutan’s first confirmed case of coronavirus

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A U.S. tourist is Bhutan’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus, the country’s prime minister’s office announced Thursday.

The 76-year-old patient had left Washington, D.C., on Feb. 18 and entered Bhutan at Paro International Airport after visiting India from Feb. 21 to March 1, the prime minister’s office said. The man had no sign of fever at the airport but later went to a flu clinic with a fever, sore throat, cough and shortness of breath, officials said.

More than 90 of the patient’s contacts have been traced, authorities said. Three close contacts have been quarantined and have yet to show symptoms.

Quarantined California nurse: ‘Not enough is being done’ by CDC to test health workers

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A nurse quarantined in Northern California warned Thursday that “not enough is being done” to test and treat health workers — including her — who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

In a scathing statement read at a news conference Thursday, the California Kaiser employee blasted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the bureaucracy she claims has kept her from getting tested, even as local health officials recommend it.

“This is not the ticket dispenser at the deli counter; it’s a public health emergency!” wrote the nurse, who chose to remain anonymous. “I need to know if I am positive before going back to caring for patients.”

A spokesperson for the CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

Deborah Burger, president of National Nurses United, called out the CDC on March 3 over health care worker safety amid the coronavirus outbreak. (National Nurses United)

Her statement, which was read by Deborah Burger, president of the union National Nurses United, recounted how she had volunteered to take care of a patient who tested positive. Despite wearing the recommended protective equipment, the nurse started getting sick.

When she started developing a fever and other symptoms, the nurse was put on a 14-day self-quarantine, and her doctor ordered a test through the county. But the CDC, she was told, refused to test her because she could not have contracted the virus while wearing her equipment.

“What kind of science-based answer is that?” the nurse wrote. “What a ridiculous and uneducated response from the department that is in charge of our health in this country.”

The excuses did not stop there, she added. CDC officials then claimed there were problems with her “identifier number” and said she had to wait in line for a test behind others with more severe cases.

It’s a “level of bureaucracy” that appalled both her and National Nurses United, the largest organization of nurses in the country.

“Nurses aren’t going to stand by and let this testing delay continue,” she wrote. “We are going to stand together to make sure we can protect our patients — by being protected ourselves.”

Chan Zuckerberg employee tests positive for coronavirus

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An employee at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the private company founded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the company said in a statement Thursday.

The organization had said earlier that an employee went home after a family member tested positive for the virus.

It was not yet known whether that employee had contracted it. The company has instructed all employees to work from home until March 23.

Pence promises enough testing kits for 1.2 million Americans by end of week

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The federal government will have the capacity by the end of this week to test 1.2 million Americans for coronavirus, Vice President Pence said Thursday.

Earlier, the Trump administration had backtracked on its claim that it could have 1 million tests ready by that time. But Pence expressed confidence Thursday evening at a news conference in hard-hit Washington state, adding that another 4 million tests will be available by the end of next week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is focused on getting testing kits to Washington state — where 11 reported deaths have put it at the “front lines” of the fight against coronavirus — and California, where one death was confirmed Wednesday, Pence said.

“We’re with you,” he said. “We’re here to help, and we’re going to stay with you every step of the way."

A vaccine could be as much as a year and a half away, he acknowledged, while maintaining that the epidemic’s risk to American remains “low” and that most cases are mild.

Pence said Medicare and Medicaid will now cover the testing and vowed that officials will work to ensure it is deemed an “essential health benefit” covered in the private health insurance of every American. Earlier, he incorrectly said that coronavirus testing was already categorized that way.

He and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) both emphasized that federal and local officials are working together against the virus, a week after Inslee highlighted his differences with the Trump administration with a call to “stick to the science.” On Thursday, Pence commended “the seamless partnership that was forged from the very beginning between our administration and your administration here at the state level.”

Inslee, too, said he wanted to focus on a “good partnership moving forward” rather than disagreements.

“I think we are hearing good science,” he said.

Pence was asked if he agreed with President Trump’s recent comments dismissing the World Health Organization’s coronavirus death-rate estimate as “false.”

“I think the 3.4 percent is really a false number,” Trump had told Fox News’s Sean Hannity, claiming the actual rate was less than 1 percent. “Now, and this is just my hunch, and — but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this.”

Pence said Thursday that he thought Trump’s point was “that the world is still discovering the scope of the coronavirus."

“I support the president’s judgment that we’re going to continue to learn more about this, and that … we may well arrive at a lower number,” he said.

Pence touted the Trump administration’s efforts against coronavirus, including a meeting with pharmaceutical companies about promising therapeutics and plans for thousands of inspectors to focus on infection prevention in nursing homes. The majority of Washington’s deaths stemmed from a single nursing facility in Kirkland, stoking fears of an epidemic that’s especially deadly to already-frail older people.

Pence vowed that authorities will “get to the bottom of what happened” at Life Care Center, as officials said they are working to test everyone in the facility for coronavirus and have put out guidance to nursing homes nationwide.

Washington is the “tip of the spear” in efforts to stop coronavirus’s spread, CDC Director Bob Redfield said.

San Jose Sharks will proceed with game despite county’s recommendation

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The San Jose Sharks said Thursday they were proceeding with a scheduled game that evening against the Minnesota Wild, despite a recommendation from Santa Clara County that a large event of that nature be canceled or postponed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"Sharks Sports & Entertainment is aware of the recommendations made today by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and we continue to actively monitor the situation,” the team said in a statement provided to The Washington Post. “Tonight’s Sharks/Minnesota Wild game will go on as scheduled. We will be evaluating further upcoming events in the coming days.”

The team said in the statement that its arena, the SAP Center, “undergoes a rigorous cleaning procedure after each and every event, with particular attention paid to high-traffic, high public-contact areas. … Many areas will receive additional, enhanced measures throughout the course of events for the foreseeable future.”

A spokesman for the team did not provide details about those enhanced measures and didn’t say if the Sharks had received guidance from the NHL about staging the game.

A spokesman for the Wild had no comment on the team playing in San Jose despite the county’s recommendation.

At a news conference Thursday, officials from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department announced they had 20 confirmed cases of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, in their county. That represented an increase of six additional cases, they said, from what they reported the day before.

Of the 20 cases, officials said four were travel-related, nine had contacts with other known covid-19 cases and seven had “no known travel or direct contact with other known cases.” In one case, the person who contracted the virus had made a full recovery, and officials said many of the other patients had “very mild or no symptoms of illness at all.”

A dog has a ‘low-level’ coronavirus infection. But don’t panic about pets yet.

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A pet dog in Hong Kong has a “low-level” infection of the coronavirus that causes covid-19 in people, in what may be the first known human-to-animal transmission of the novel coronavirus that has sickened more than 90,000 people worldwide.

The case has raised the specter that dogs might be swept into the epidemic, which, even now, public health officials say does not appear to infect or be spread by pets.

Still, experts say that much remains unknown about the dog’s infection, including whether it causes disease in dogs, and they emphasized that the lone case is not yet cause for alarm or reassessments about interactions with pets.

The dog is owned by a person who was hospitalized with covid-19, and it has been quarantined since Feb. 26, according to Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. The department said last week that the dog’s “weak positive” test results, from nasal and oral swabs, might have been the result of “environmental contamination,” not infection.

But positive tests since then suggest that the dog does have a low-level of infection, the department said Wednesday. The animal has shown no symptoms, and a second dog under quarantine in the same facility has tested negative for the virus, the department said.

“At this point, we can say there’s evidence dogs can get infected, but we have no idea what that means for dogs or people … is it one of a million or is it one of 10? We have no idea,” said J. Scott Weese, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Ontario College of Medicine who studies zoonotic disease.

Moreover, he added, “a weak positive would suggest there’s not a lot of virus there.”

Read more here.

Gov. Larry Hogan declares state of emergency in Maryland after first coronavirus cases

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Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared a state of emergency in Maryland on Thursday after announcing the state’s first three coronavirus cases.

All of the patients, who contracted the virus overseas, are in “good condition,” he said earlier. Maryland’s Public Health Laboratory confirmed the cases.

Hogan said the three cases involve a husband and wife in their 70s and a woman who is not related and is in her 50s. They are quarantined in their homes in Montgomery County, a suburb of about 1 million people just outside Washington.

Frances B. Phillips, the state’s deputy secretary for public health, said all three returned to Maryland on Feb. 20 after traveling overseas. They were tested Wednesday morning. Maryland received results Thursday.

Phillips did not say where they had been traveling.

“We have been actively preparing for this situation over the last several weeks across all levels of government,” Hogan said in a statement. “I encourage all Marylanders not to panic, but to take this seriously and to stay informed as we continue to provide updates.”

Read more here.

Members of Congress ask OSHA for regulation to protect health-care workers

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A proposed regulation designed to protect health-care workers from infectious diseases such as the coronavirus has languished inside a federal agency.

The draft regulation would require employers to provide protective gear for health-care workers and to create infection-control plans, which could include building isolation rooms. The Obama administration was working to adopt the regulation, but the Trump administration in 2017 moved it to a less urgent, long-term agenda and work on it stopped.

Now, members of Congress, unions representing health-care workers and the former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are calling for the proposal to be expedited. They are petitioning the Labor Department, which oversees OSHA, to turn to a little-used federal law that allows the agency to issue a temporary emergency standard when a “grave danger” or “new hazards” emerge in the workplace.

Several unions are asking that any emergency regulation also include people working for airlines, mass transit systems, prisons or in other workplaces where laborers may be exposed to the coronavirus.

In a letter sent Thursday afternoon to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Reps. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) and Alma Adams (D-N.C.) said the “widespread epidemic of a virulent novel airborne” make it “clear it is time” to set an emergency standard.

Read more here.

Relatives of residents at virus-stricken nursing facility lash out at officials

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Relatives of several residents of a nursing facility near Seattle struck by the coronavirus lashed out at government officials, accusing them at a Thursday news conference of exacerbating the outbreak and keeping families in the dark.

“Whatever information we receive has been conflicted by another source,” said Kevin Connelly, whose father-in-law, Jerry Wall, is at Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., a Seattle suburb. “We are being told all CDC precautions are being followed, and yet we wake up daily to the news of another death.”

Mike Weatherill said his 85-year-old mother, Louise, died Wednesday. She suffered a stroke 15 years ago and had lived at the Life Care Center since September. She started to show symptoms in the early part of the week, he said, and at 4 a.m. Wednesday, she was transferred to Evergreen Hospital nearby.

She died two hours later, alone, Weatherill said.

Weatherill only heard about his mother’s transfer to the hospital and her death an hour after she died, he said. She was never tested for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and doctors told him that she died of natural causes, he added.

“In my heart, I think she passed from the covid-19 virus,” Weatherill said.

Nine deaths at the facility have been linked to the virus, according to the King County public health department.

The families of residents who are still alive want their relatives tested for the virus. They also want to meet in person with government officials, who have yet to speak with them directly. Vice President Pence visited the region Thursday.

“If this facility is safe enough for my father-in-law, then I want Mike Pence in that facility. … That’s how angry I am,” Connelly said. “At the rate that this disease is killing people in this establishment, my father-in-law will be dead by the end of the week.”

Officials at Life Care did not immediately respond to a request for a comment. But in a statement Wednesday, the company said that the outbreak presents “a challenging situation for our residents and their families and has also impacted our entire Life Care Center of Kirkland community.”

“Our providers, nurses and technicians are committed to providing care to our residents, despite the fears for the health of their families, communities and themselves,” the company said.

China records 143 new coronavirus cases, bringing total to more than 80,500

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China recorded 143 new cases of coronavirus Thursday for a total of 80,552 infections in the country, according to state media.

There were 30 new deaths, 29 of them in Hubei province, the outbreak’s epicenter, CCTV News said Friday. One death was recorded in Hainan.

There are also 102 additional suspected cases.

China remains the worst-hit country globally, with deaths surpassing 3,000. But the epidemic is now slowing there, while other countries are reporting increasing outbreaks as more people get tested.

Hubei province now has a total of 67,592 cases. All of the 126 newly confirmed cases there were in the city of Wuhan, where the now-global crisis started and prompted an unprecedented lockdown affecting millions of citizens.

In total, 670,854 close contacts have been traced, and 29,896 are still under medical observation, state media said.

Pence meets with Inslee in Washington about coronavirus response

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Vice President Pence met with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and other officials Thursday in Tacoma to discuss efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak, as the state’s death toll rose to 11.

Inslee clashed publicly with Pence last week after a phone call about the coronavirus response.

“I told him our work would be more successful if the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth,” Jay Inslee, a former Democratic presidential candidate, told his Twitter followers last Thursday, as critics worried that Pence’s new role leading U.S. efforts amid a global health crisis could politicize a life-or-death matter of science.

A spokeswoman for Pence accused Inslee of playing politics in response, but added that the vice president’s calls with governors were productive.

Pence emphasized on Thursday that federal officials are supporting the state, which accounts for the vast majority of the country’s 12 reported coronavirus deaths.

“We are here for the people of Washington and America as we work in the best interest of everyone’s health and safety,” he tweeted earlier in the day.

No, you probably can’t ‘boost’ your immune system to prevent coronavirus.

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Since news about the coronavirus broke, there is a good chance you have read or heard advice about how to “boost” your immune system — whether it is loading up on citrus fruit, sipping herbal or green tea, eating yogurt for the probiotics, or taking vitamin or zinc supplements. Unfortunately, there is no evidence any of these strategies will supercharge immunity. To understand, let’s consider how the immune system works.

The immune system’s role is to defend your body against disease by fighting infection. It is a “system” in the truest sense, with many interconnected working parts: white blood cells, antibodies, bone marrow, the spleen, the thymus and lymphatic system. These cells and organs operate in concert to hunt down and destroy dangerous pathogens, such as viruses, that enter your body.

A “boost” in that process would not be a good thing. Scientifically, it would mean your immune system was overactive, and overactive immune systems lead to autoimmune disorders. You just want the immune system to function normally, so it helps prevent infection.

While it is true some parts of the system require vitamins and minerals (such as vitamins A, C and zinc) to function normally, higher doses have not been shown to make the system function better. In fact, scientists are still a long way from understanding the complex interplay of cells and organs that allows the immune system to perform at its optimum level.

So, what can we do to keep the immune system — and our overall health — functioning optimally? The experts with whom I spoke had the same suggestions, and this list probably will not surprise you. In addition to the balanced diet mentioned by Shiv Pillai, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard immunology program, you should: aim to be physically active for at least 150 minutes per week; take steps to quit smoking; use strategies to reduce stress (exercise is great for that); and try to get adequate sleep — about seven or eight hours per night.

Read more here.

Princess passengers in San Francisco awaiting test after possible coronavirus exposure

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Judy and Mark Cadiz stepped off the Grand Princess on Feb. 21 after a trip from San Francisco to Mexico. Six days ago, her husband, 65, fell ill with a cough. Judy was also sick, albeit with milder symptoms.

Because the Cadizes had no clue they might have been exposed, they’ve been traveling all around California, she said. Judy Cadiz is now worried she might have exposed numerous people to the virus, including elderly members of the Lodi Moose Lodge, where she keeps the books.

“I would feel really bad if I was exposed and spread it,” she said.

She said she’s also upset that Princess Cruises didn’t notify her and other passengers that someone had become so severely ill with coronavirus symptoms. A passenger was admitted to the hospital with symptoms six days after the cruise arrived and died Thursday.

“I wouldn’t have gone anywhere,” she said. “I would have just informed everyone I can’t come out and play.”

Judy Cadiz saw on the news Wednesday that a passenger on the cruise ship had tested positive for the coronavirus and died. She said she called her doctor, who referred her to the San Joaquin County Public Health Services, which told the Cadizes on Thursday afternoon to stay where they are. She said she doesn’t know when or if they’ll be tested for the coronavirus.

In the meantime, she’s been ordering food with Instacart.

Judy said she and her husband discussed the coronavirus before boarding the ship on Feb. 11, but decided it was low risk because the other cases were so far away. She said the experience hasn’t turned her off from cruises, though.

“I’ve gotten food poisoning, all kinds of stuff,” Judy said.

She and her husband were among the youngest passengers on the ship, which is also worrying, she said.

Read more here.

Coronavirus spread prompts unease around correctional facilities

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Officials responsible for American prisons and jails say they are prepared for the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, while advocates for the incarcerated worry it could cause “devastating effects” if it reaches correctional facilities.

More than 2.1 million people were incarcerated in a prison or local jail at the end of 2016, according to federal statistics. Those people packed into these facilities — who research has found are more likely to have had chronic conditions or infectious diseases — do not include the regular flow of officers, other staffers, attorneys and visitors who make their way in and out every day.

“You have an artificial environment which is at a high risk for transmission,” Josiah D. Rich, a doctor and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Brown University who co-founded the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, said in an interview.

The virus is believed to spread between people who are in relatively close contact, though it could also be transmitted via surfaces or objects that have been contaminated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The federal Bureau of Prisons — which has more than 146,000 inmates in its custody, along with more than 28,000 in private or other facilities — has “a screening tool in place for use in the event an inmate or staff member is exposed or symptomatic,” a spokesperson said in a statement. The bureau said its system has no coronavirus cases, which was echoed by the Texas correctional system and others.

In Washington state, which is home to an ongoing outbreak at a nursing facility, corrections officials said they have plans in place to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The Florida Department of Corrections said in a statement that it “is fully prepared to handle any potential cases” of coronavirus and that visitations are continuing as normal.

In New York state, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said two staff members were staying home because of the outbreak. One of them had symptoms but tested negative for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, while the other “was near someone who may have the virus and so is staying home as a precaution but has not exhibited any symptoms,” a spokesperson said.

Other officials said they were following or building on existing flu infection policies. In Rhode Island, the Department of Corrections said that beginning last week, it had begun screening “all new commitments” entering the system for the coronavirus. So far, the department said Thursday, no inmates or staffers have shown any coronavirus symptoms.