The coronavirus death toll in the United States reached 17 late Friday when Florida health officials reported two fatalities, the first in the state.

Earlier in the day, the Seattle-area hospital caring for most of the coronavirus patients who have died in the United States reported three more deaths. Several states reported their first cases, and 21 people on a cruise ship off the coast of California have tested positive for the virus.

As more cases were identified, concerns also rose about who else could have been inadvertently exposed to the respiratory virus. In Maryland, health officials launched a search for other potentially infected people after three Montgomery County residents who had traveled overseas were found to have the virus.

Worldwide, the number of cases has surpassed 100,000. In the United States, there are more than 300, and at least half of all U.S. states have confirmed cases.

President Trump signed legislation Friday that provides $8.3 billion of emergency funding to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, enacting into law a measure passed swiftly and with broad bipartisan support.

Here are the latest developments:

  • EvergreenHealth, the Seattle-area hospital caring for most of the coronavirus patients who have died in the United States, reported three more fatalities Friday. Two other facilities for seniors in the area also announced they have residents with covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
  • Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Pennsylvania confirmed their first covid-19 cases.
  • Vice President Pence sought to assuage concerns about the availability of coronavirus testing Friday, saying that all public health laboratories now have the tests and that two of the country’s largest commercial laboratories will soon roll out materials as well.
  • In Austin, the South by Southwest festival was canceled. And in Miami, plans for two festivals, the Ultra Music Festival and Calle Ocho, were also scrapped Friday because of fears that the events could help spread coronavirus.
4:36 a.m.
Link copied

Uber to cover two weeks’ pay for gig workers affected by coronavirus

Uber will compensate drivers who are unable to work due to the novel coronavirus, the company said in a memo Friday.

Drivers who are placed into quarantine by a public health authority, or diagnosed with covid-19, the condition caused by the novel coronavirus, will receive up to two weeks’ pay, Andrew Macdonald, senior vice president of global rides, wrote in a memo to employees. Uber said it will require documentation to reflect the diagnosis or quarantine, self-isolation or removal from the app by a public health authority.

Uber faced criticism for giving attention to employee health and safety without addressing driver needs upfront. Macdonald said in his memo that covering drivers’ lost earnings was “the right thing to do.” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) issued letters to gig economy companies, including Uber, asking them to “address the potential financial hardship” faced by workers.

Specifics were not immediately available, but Uber said the plan was for ride-hailing and delivery drivers.

“This has already begun in some markets and we are working to implement mechanisms to do this worldwide,” Macdonald wrote.

Uber has established funding to cover driver expenses in the past — for example, when some drivers were caught in limbo by the Trump administration’s U.S. immigration ban and unable to collect their usual earnings.

Uber did not immediately respond to questions on the level of pay and mechanism, such as whether they’d be paid by the company or through a support fund. The company said it is consulting a public health expert and public health organizations to establish the correct mechanisms to pay drivers on a market-by-market basis. It did not specify how much drivers would be paid.

The company said it is not aware of any cases of new coronavirus spread between a rider or driver.

4:10 a.m.
Link copied

Florida reports first coronavirus deaths, bringing U.S. death toll to 17

Two people have died of coronavirus in Florida, marking the state’s first fatalities in the outbreak, Florida health officials said late Friday.

The new deaths bring the U.S. death toll to 17 people across three states. Fourteen people in Washington state and one person in California have died of covid-19.

One person died in Santa Rosa County, Fla., following an international trip, according to the Florida Health Department. The person had tested presumptive positive, meaning state lab results were awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Another person who tested presumptive positive for covid-19 in Lee County died, also after traveling internationally. Officials said the person was in their 70s.

Florida health officials also reported two new presumptive positive covid-19 cases, both in Broward County. One is a 75-year-old male, the other a 65-year-old male, according to the health department. Both are under isolation.

To date, Florida has reported six cases of covid-19 among the state’s residents, five cases among people who were exposed overseas, and one in a non-Florida resident, according to the health department.

3:32 a.m.
Link copied

Starbucks closes store in Seattle after employee tests positive for coronavirus

Starbucks has closed a store in downtown Seattle after an employee there tested positive for coronavirus, the coffee chain said Friday.

The company learned of the diagnosis late Thursday and started a “deep clean” overnight at its location on 1st Street and University Avenue, executive vice president Rossann Williams said in a statement.

Officials “have encouraged us to reopen the store after further preventative cleaning,” Williams said. As of Friday morning, the sickened employee said they were “feeling well” and resting, she added.

Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks, and the chain’s first store continues to operate in the city’s Pike Place Market.

Businesses around the world are scrambling to prevent the epidemic from spreading to their workforces, embracing teleworking and cutting back on travel. Some people worry that employees in the service sector could be especially reluctant to forgo wages and stay home when they have symptoms. Starbucks, however, offers paid leave.

Washington state has seen an especially ferocious outbreak of coronavirus and accounts for most of the U.S.'s deaths.

3:22 a.m.
Link copied

Facebook says it will ban advertisements for medical face masks

In coming days, Facebook will ban ads selling medical face masks, Rob Leathern, the social media company’s director of product management, tweeted Friday.

Leathern said Facebook continues to monitor the spread of coronavirus and crack down on those “trying to exploit this public health emergency.”

The announcement comes as health officials in the United States have urged Americans to stop panic-shopping for masks unless they are a health-care worker or already sick. Despite the abundant pleas to save the masks for medical workers, pharmacies and hardware stores across the country have sold out.

CBS News reported last week that Amazon’s mask offerings had largely sold out, and people were trying to sell N95 respirators for inflated costs.

Katie Mettler contributed to this report.

3:00 a.m.
Link copied

Two more Seattle-area facilities for seniors announce 2 residents have covid-19

A senior-living facility and a nursing home in the Seattle area, already hard hit by the coronavirus, both disclosed Friday they have residents who have tested and are believed to have covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The Seattle area has emerged a hotspot for the virus, including the outbreak at the Life Care Center nursing facility in the Kirkland suburb that already claimed at least 10 lives. The Ida Culver House Ravenna, which offers independent as well as assisted living for seniors, said a resident, who was taken to a hospital on Wednesday, was tested Friday and is presumed to have the illness. Typically, tests need to be confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“At this point, we believe this is an isolated case without immediate risk” to others at Ida Culver House or other facilities owned by Era Living, the company wrote in a statement on its website. It said the resident will remain quarantined and off-site for at least 14 days.

The company says it will screen each resident for symptoms twice a day, cancel activities, restrict visitors and deliver meals to residents’ apartments rather than serve them in a communal dining room.

“We are vigilantly working with public health officials, residents, and staff to prevent an outbreak in our retirement community and beyond,” Era Living regional director of health and wellness Albert Munanga said in an emailed statement. “Our hearts are with our sick resident and that resident’s family.”

The Issaquah Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Issaquah, just east of Seattle, said Friday that a resident there had been transferred to a hospital Tuesday, and was subsequently tested and determined to have covid-19.

“We are working with medical experts and state health authorities to ensure we are taking the appropriate steps and following the recommended protocols,” the company said on its website. The facility said it’s not accepting any visitors. It did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Neither company provided information about the gender or age of the residents with the virus.

2:21 a.m.
Link copied

New York CEO puts his company in a simulated coronavirus lockdown

Marc Cenedella is close with his 60 employees, but he’s never managed them from his kitchen table. The executive runs Ladders, a job-search site. On a typical day, he’s guiding his staffers — about two-thirds engineers — at the company’s headquarters 50 stories above New York’s financial district.

On Thursday, the 49-year-old found himself helming a more forward-minded experiment. He told employees to schedule as much face-to-face work and meetings as possible — and then do it all from their homes. Cenedella would run Ladders from the apartment he shares with his wife and three kids in Nolita, the boutique-dotted downtown neighborhood.

“We’re normally a very in-person company,” Cenedella said as he sat in front of two monitors he’d set up on the large wooden table in his dining area, opposite children’s drawings and other signs of its normal inhabitants. “But I wanted everyone to start to feel more comfortable in case there’s a long lockdown — to feel reassured there’s a plan in place and know how to execute it.”

He paused.

“Of course, the question isn’t Day 1 but Day 20. It will be harder to keep people from feeling lonely.”

Read more here.

2:03 a.m.
Link copied

Hawaii announces first positive test for coronavirus, as at least half of U.S. states confirm cases

A traveler from the Grand Princess cruise ship being held off the coast of California is Hawaii’s first coronavirus patient, officials said Friday, as at least half of the U.S. states reported positive tests.

The Hawaii resident disembarked the ship in Mexico and returned home to the islands by plane, then got sick, Gov. David Ige said at a news conference. Authorities believe the person became infected on the trip rather than through community transmission.

Twenty-one people on the cruise ship, mostly crew, have tested positive for the virus in a first phase of screenings for 46 people, Vice President Pence said Friday. More than 3,500 people are on board, according to the cruise company.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to confirm the state lab’s results, public health authorities said, a day after the governor declared a state of emergency that he said would help Hawaii marshal funding to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The Hawaii patient did not show symptoms of coronavirus when traveling on a plane, officials said.

Several other states also announced their first positive test results earlier Friday, and the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus rose to 15 as public health departments around the country scrambled to prevent a widening epidemic. Washington state remains the hardest hit, accounting for the vast majority of deaths.

1:32 a.m.
Link copied

U.N. cancels in-person preparatory meetings for climate summit

The United Nations on Friday canceled physical meetings through the end of April that were to prepare for the climate summit at the end of the year because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change was to hold meetings in Bonn, Germany, and other locations between March 6 and the end of April, but the U.N. secretariat said that “after careful consideration and with considerable regret,” it would take “this exceptional measure” to contain the spread of the virus.

The U.N. noted that if it had held meetings, there was a risk that there might not be enough people attending to reach a quorum, especially with the chance of mandatory quarantine either upon arrival or in transit.

The meetings, which include 197 countries, are particularly important because world leaders meet on climate policies every five years, and negotiators are hoping that new, tougher policies might be adopted.

1:21 a.m.
Link copied

21 people on Grand Princess cruise ship test positive for coronavirus, Pence says

Twenty-one people on the Grand Princess cruise ship being held off the California coast have tested positive for the coronavirus, Vice President Pence said Friday evening.

Of those who tested positive, 19 were crew members and two were passengers, Pence said at a news conference. Twenty-four people on the ship tested negative, and one test was inconclusive.

Pence also reiterated a promise of expanded testing for the virus.

“We have the testing necessary to be able to provide tests to all the states that have requested it,” Pence said, adding that 4 million tests will be shipped around the country by the end of next week.

Princess Cruises confirmed the results in a statement and said the ship’s doctor is in the process of informing people about individual results while all guests and affected crew remained “isolated in their rooms.”

The ship’s doctor is in the process of informing the guests and crew of their individual results. All guests and affected crew will remain isolated in their rooms.

“We are awaiting official specific plans for future positioning of the ship from relevant authorities,” Princess Cruises said.

There are more than 3,500 people on board, including 2,422 guests and 1,111 crew, representing 54 nationalities, the company said.

Asked about Pence’s statements that passengers will come ashore while crew members will not need to disembark, spokeswoman Negin Kamali told The Washington Post only that “plans are still being worked out.” Infected staff are being isolated in single cabins, she said.

She did not say why there may be different plans for staff and passengers.

1:03 a.m.
Link copied

China reports 28 new deaths, 99 new cases of coronavirus

China on Saturday morning reported 99 new cases of coronavirus and 28 additional deaths, bringing the total number of infections to 80,651, according to the country’s state media.

The country where the epidemic began has now recorded more than 3,000 deaths, state media said. But the outbreak is slowing there, and more than 55,000 have now been reportedly discharged from hospitals.

All of the new deaths announced and 74 of the additional cases were in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.

12:59 a.m.
Link copied

Seattle-area hospital reports three more deaths from covid-19

The Seattle-area hospital caring for most of the coronavirus patients who have died in the United States reported three more fatalities on Friday.

EvergreenHealth, a facility in Kirkland, Wash., said in a statement that 12 people have died there during the outbreak — three more than previously known. The additional deaths, which have not yet been reflected in state or county health department tallies, bring the death toll to 15 nationally: 14 in Washington and one in California.

The two other deaths in Washington occurred at a patient’s home and at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The health department in King County, home to Seattle, said it would provide updated numbers later Friday evening.

Unlike the local health departments, which have at times reported the deceased’s age and gender, EvergreenHealth did not release additional information about the patients who died there.

Friday marked the seventh straight day that U.S. health officials announced at least one new death.

12:57 a.m.
Link copied

Supply shortage forces California to turn to reserves including expired N95 face masks

With critical equipment in short supply in California, medical facilities have turned to an unlikely source of reprieve: some expired N95 face masks stockpiled by the state for emergency use.

The California Department of Public Health said Friday that some of its 21 million N95 filtering masks have been made available to use at hospitals and health-care facilities “to ease shortages of personal protective equipment” in the state. Many of those are expired masks that have been saved from prior uses such as wildfire season.

In the medical community, there has been growing concern over consumers emptying store shelves of equipment they might not need. Those working in medical settings are advised to wear protective masks — particularly to prevent transmission between patients and professionals — but U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged consumers earlier this week to stop buying masks, because they have not proved effective at preventing transmission in public. Now, medical professionals are facing a shortage of those supplies.

Medical professionals can use masks that are past their shelf life, according to the California Department of Public Health, because a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found them to be just as effective as those on the store shelves.

The CDC said that the release of expired masks for the coronavirus outbreak was an extraordinary measure: “The respirators exceeding their manufacturer-designated shelf life are only being released due to the potential urgent demand caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency,” it said on its website.

The California health department did not respond to emailed questions on whether the state stockpile differs from the CDC’s, how it came to collect the 21 million masks and how many it needs overall to support efforts to respond to the outbreak.

12:55 a.m.
Link copied

Senator asks on-demand companies to support gig workers in case of illness

On-demand companies such as Uber and Postmates don’t offer their gig workers paid sick days or health benefits, but a senator is asking them to reconsider how they support workers in the face of increasing coronavirus concerns.

In letters sent to big-name on-demand companies, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) asked them to “address the potential financial hardship” for any workers who become ill or have to self-quarantine. The workers might not be able to follow the CDC’s recommendations on the coronavirus, such as staying home when not feeling well, because they would not earn any money in that time, Warner said.

The letters were sent to executives at Uber, Postmates, Lyft, Instacart, Grubhub and DoorDash. Warner suggests a couple of options for the companies to consider. They can create a coronavirus health fund that workers would use to cover testing or self-quarantine, or they could give workers the average amount of pay they usually earn if they have to stop working.

In statements shared with The Washington Post, the companies said they were looking into how to handle coronavirus issues, but none committed to Warner’s suggestions. Uber went the furthest, saying it was “exploring compensation for drivers who have been quarantined or diagnosed with coronavirus, whether independently, through a fund, or in partnership with peer companies.”

Warner cited a March 2 article in The Post that highlighted gig workers’ concerns and their potential vulnerability if the virus spreads, both because of the nature of their work and the lack of a safety net.

The companies have long insisted that those who deliver goods and food, pick up groceries and transport passengers using the companies’ digital platforms are not employees but contract workers. As such, they are not entitled to benefits such as health care and sick days, which are provided to employees.

12:19 a.m.
Link copied

Grand Princess passenger says everyone on the ship remains ‘on hold’

Stuart Freedman, a retired high school math teacher stuck on the Grand Princess, sounded largely resigned about the news Friday, noting that passengers still did not know several key details, including when they would be able to get off the ship and what port they would go to.

“There’s nothing I can do about it. … We’re just on hold,” he said in an interview from his room.

Freedman said he will be glad to be tested so he can at least find out whether he has the virus. But he was frustrated by one thing he heard Friday, pointing specifically to the president’s remarks saying he would rather people stay on the ship.

“The thing I didn’t like is President Trump wants to keep us on this petri dish because he doesn’t want his numbers to spike,” Freedman said. “He cares more about his numbers than about us.”

Pence said Friday evening that authorities plan to bring the cruise ship to a “non-commercial port” over the weekend, where all passengers and crew members will be tested for the disease and quarantined as necessary.

Princess Cruises said in a statement that it is awaiting specific plans on the ship’s “future positioning” and did not immediately respond to additional questions.