World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic as the global death toll rose above 4,500 and the number of confirmed cases neared 125,000.
“We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear,” Tedros said at a news conference. “We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic.”
The U.S. death toll climbed to 33 and the number of U.S. cases rolled past 1,100, federal health officials said. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told a congressional committee the virus has spread to at least 38 states.
“Right now the epicenter – the new China – is Europe,” Redfield said. “And there’s a lot of people coming back and forth from Europe that are now starting to seed these communities.”
The current coronavirus outbreak is the first to have drawn a pandemic designation, Tedros said. For weeks, he balked at calling the outbreak a pandemic, and Wednesday he noted that 81 nations have reported no cases of the virus. Another 57 have reported 10 cases or less. More than 90% of confirmed cases are in four countries, and two of them – China and South Korea – are seeing cases decline, he said.
Containment remains as important as mass treatment of the infection, Tedros stressed.
“Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled,” he said. “Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide.”
Here’s the latest on the outbreak of COVID-19:
‘Bottom line: It’s going to get worse’
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told lawmakers Wednesday that the U.S. has yet to see the worst of the new coronavirus outbreak. He explained that any time there is an outbreak with enough cases of “community spread,” which means the source of the infection is unknown, “you’re not going to able to effectively and efficiently contain it.”
How much worse will depend on the ability of the U.S. to contain the influx of infected people from other countries and the ability to contain and mitigate the virus here.
“Bottom line: It’s going to get worse,” he said.
– William Cummings
Seattle, San Francisco ban large gatherings
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban on gatherings and events of more than 250 people in the Seattle metropolitan area, where the virus has killed more than 20 people.
“This is not just your ordinary flu,’’ Inslee said in a news conference. “This is a virus that the experts tell us is at least 10 times more potentially fatal than the flu, and this demands a response consistent with the nature of the threat.’’
San Francisco will also forbid large events, but with a cutoff of 1,000 people, Supervisor Matt Haney tweeted. He added that the ban would last two weeks and that, starting Thursday, the Golden State Warriors would play their home games during that stretch without fans.
“Public health must be first priority,” Haney wrote.
Inslee said that as of Tuesday there had been 268 confirmed cases and 24 deaths in Washington state; 19 deaths are linked to one suburban Seattle nursing home. Authorities in King County believe the virus has spread to at least 10 long-term care facilities. The three counties affected by the ban, King, Pierce and Snohomish, are home to nearly 4 million people.
The prohibition — aimed at social, recreational and spiritual functions as well as community meetings but not businesses like supermarkets and restaurants — will remain in place at least through the end of March. Inslee said it would likely get extended, and suggested the federal government will probably follow suit in implementing social distancing measures in the coming weeks.
Schools in the three counties were not ordered to close yet but were asked to make contingency plans. Later in the day, the Seattle school district announced a two-week closure beginning Thursday, keeping 53,000 students out of the classrooms.
Inslee said more than 25,000 cases of COVID-19 are projected for Washington by early April if authorities don’t intervene.
Asked about penalties for violations of his emergency order to ban large gatherings, the governor said, “Penalties are that you might be killing your granddad if you don’t do it.’’
– Jorge L. Ortiz
Coronavirus cover-up in China ‘cost the world community’
National security adviser Robert O’Brien, a member of the coronavirus task force, accused Beijing of concealing the outbreak and hampering a faster response worldwide.
“Unfortunately, rather than using best practices, this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up,” he said, referring to doctors who were silenced while trying to sound alarm bells over the coronavirus. “It probably cost the global community two months to respond.”
Speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation, O’Brien said that if teams from the WHO and CDC had earlier access on the ground in China, it would have “dramatically curtailed what happened in China and what’s happening across the world.”
– Courtney Subramanian
Markets tumble; tax deadline could be delayed
The Standard & Poor’s 500 plunged again Wednesday, narrowly avoiding its first bear market since the financial crisis with a dip of 4.9%. The broad index is off about 19.2% from its Feb. 19 high. The Nasdaq Composite shed 4.7%, also off just under 20% from its record last month.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 1,464 points, entering a bear market, or a drop of 20% from its Feb.12 high. That marks its largest decline since the financial crisis.
Stocks have been swinging wildly for days, in large part over news of the coronavirus outbreak, and Wednesday’s losses wiped out much of Tuesday’s gains.
The Trump administration is weighing extending this year’s April 15 deadline for filing income taxes to soften the outbreak’s impact on U.S. households and businesses, The Wall Street Journal reported.
– Jessica Menton and Jazmin Goodwin
Coronavirus can live for hours or days, study finds
New tests reveal the coronavirus can live in the air for several hours and on some surfaces for as long as two or three days, though that doesn’t necessarily mean people get infected by breathing it in or touching something that’s contaminated.
The leading means of infection is still believed to be person-to-person contact.
University and U.S. government researchers simulated the effect of an infected person sneezing or coughing the virus into the air by using a nebulizer. They found the virus could be detected in the air up to three hours later and on plastic and stainless steel as much as three days later. The results were similar to those from tests done on the virus that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak.
“We’re not by any way saying there is aerosolized transmission of the virus,” but this work shows that the virus stays viable for long periods in those conditions, so it’s theoretically possible, said study leader Neeltje van Doremalen at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Grand Princess to unload 1,000 passengers
The Grand Princess cruise ship was set to continue unloading passengers for a third day Wednesday in Oakland, California. As of Tuesday, 1,406 people had disembarked from the ship, leaving at least 1,000 still on board. Nineteen crew members who tested positive but “have been deemed asymptomatic” remain on the ship in isolated cabins, Princess Cruises said. The ship floated in limbo from Thursday, when 21 coronavirus cases were discovered on board, until docking in Oakland on Monday.
At least 30 cruise ships currently at sea with about 100,000 people list port destinations in the United States sometime this week, according to a USA TODAY satellite tracking analysis of 380 of the world’s largest cruise ships. It’s not clear if all ports will be open to receive them.
Meanwhile, a proposal submitted to the White House by the leading cruise trade organization would deny cruise boarding to any person over 70 unless they are able to present a doctor’s note verifying their fitness for travel, according to a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) submitted a plan to Vice President Mike Pence proposing enhanced measures across the industry. Coronavirus concerns have forced two ships of passengers into quarantine and escalating fears on others.
– Morgan Hines and David Oliver
G7 ministers to meet virtually instead of in Pittsburgh
The State Department said it would change a planned in-person meeting of G7 foreign ministers to a virtual session conducted by video conference. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was scheduled to host the Group of 7 leaders – from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – in Pittsburgh on March 24-25.
– Deirdre Shesgreen
Massachusetts infections more than double
Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency after state health officials said the number of presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in Massachusetts is now up to 92, more than doubling in one day.
The state identified 51 new cases since Monday, Massachusetts Health Secretary Marylou Sudders said at a news conference with the governor. The vast majority, 70, are tied to a conference the biotech company Biogen held in Boston last month. Four are travel-related and 18 are under investigation.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said the Boston Marathon scheduled for April 20 is still on – for now. The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been canceled.
– Joey Garrison
Germany: 70% of country could get coronavirus
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said 60%-70% of her country’s population could eventually become infected with the coronavirus and that the key was to slow the spread as much as possible. The government has recommended the cancellation of all events with more than 1,000 people, among other measures.
Merkel said the focus should be on making sure the “health system not be overwhelmed,” according to a translation from Deutsche Welle. “So, it’s not the case that it doesn’t matter what we do,” she said. “First and foremost, it’s about gaining time.”
– William Cummings
Michigan reports first cases, declares state of emergency
In announcing Michigan’s first two coronavirus cases Tuesday night, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pledged to harness all of the government’s resources to slow the spread of the virus. “We’re Michiganders. We’re tough,” Whitmer said. “We know how to take care of each other. We will get through this, but for now, please make sure your family and friends are taking every preventative measure available to keep yourselves safe.”
– Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press
National Guard rolls out in New York City suburb
The National Guard has been deployed to a New York suburb after Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered schools, houses of worship and other large gathering places in a portion of New Rochelle to temporarily close. Cuomo announced a plan Tuesday to enforce a “containment area” of a 1-mile radius around the Young Israel synagogue at the center of the cluster, which includes part of the city of New Rochelle and stretches into the town of Eastchester, both of which are about 20 miles north of New York City in Westchester County.
Any large gathering places within that containment area will be required to shut down through March 25, Cuomo said. Westchester remains at the epicenter of New York state’s coronavirus outbreak with more than 100 confirmed cases. The National Guard will help residents under precautionary quarantine and help disinfect public areas, Cuomo said.
– Jon Campbell and Joseph Spector
Italy’s deaths surge
Italy remained in a nationwide lockdown as confirmed coronavirus cases jumped past 12,000. The death toll stood at 827, second only to China, with rapid increases continuing.
Premier Giuseppe Conte said he will consider requests from Lombardy, Italy’s hardest-hit region, for a shutdown of nonessential businesses and public transportation on top of travel and social restrictions already in force. Conte said all stores except pharmacies and grocery stores would be closed nationwide.
Dozens of universities switch to online classes, tell students to stay home
In-person classes had been canceled at close to 100 universities by mid-afternoon Wednesday, according to a list maintained by Georgetown scholar Bryan Alexander. Across the country, dorms were emptying, fans were banned from sporting events, graduation plans were up in the air.
Elite schools such as Harvard, Princeton and Stanford and large schools such as the state and city universities of New York, UCLA, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Maryland and the University of Washington are among dozens going virtual.
Even campuses that don’t yet have active cases of the virus have started to shut down their in-person offerings as the coronavirus spreads rapidly across the country.
On Wednesday alone, Duke University in North Carolina, Georgetown and George Washington universities in Washington, D.C., the University of Virginia, Pepperdine University in California, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and others announced they would move to online instruction.
Tracking college closures:Colleges closing, going online due to coronavirus
– Chris Quintana
‘Taped, from New York …’
All New York-based late-night shows have adopted plans to tape episodes without studio audiences starting Monday as the spread of the coronavirus escalates.
Although they reported no specific cases of staffers afflicted by the virus, CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” NBC’s “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” say they will begin taping shows without an audience next week.
Earlier Wednesday, Walt Disney Co. confirmed that its own news and talk shows, including ABC’s “The View” and “Good Morning America” and the syndicated “Live with Kelly and Ryan” and “Tamron Hall,” will go audience-free indefinitely. So will NBC’s “Today,” as of Thursday.
– Anika Reed and Bill Keveney
More on the outbreak of COVID-19:
Map: Which states have coronavirus cases?
Here’s a look at which U.S. states have reported cases of COVID-19:
What’s the worldwide death toll?
The global death toll jumped to 4,584 Wednesday afternoon, according to a Johns Hopkins University data dashboard.
The total of confirmed cases was nearly 125,000; more than 80,900 in mainland China, where the virus has killed more than 3,100 people.
The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, such as fever and cough, but can progress to serious illness including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. The WHO says mild cases last about two weeks, while most patients with serious illness recover in about three to six weeks.
Contributing: Steve Kiggins, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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