By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The coronavirus outbreak radiated across the United States on Thursday, surfacing in at least four new states and San Francisco as Congress quickly approved more than $8 billion to fight the outbreak.
The death toll from the respiratory illness rose to 12 in the United States, with the latest fatality recorded in King County, Washington, where six people have died in an outbreak at a nursing facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland.
“President Trump wanted me to be here today to make it crystal clear that we are with you. We are here to help,” Vice President Mike Pence said during a visit to the Seattle area, where he met with Governor Jay Inslee and other state officials.
At least 57 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed nationwide on Thursday as the virus struck for the first time in Colorado, Maryland, Tennessee and Texas, as well as the city of San Francisco.
At least several people suffering from the virus are said to be gravely ill.
A helicopter flew testing kits to a cruise liner idled off the coast of California and barred from docking in San Francisco after at least 35 people developed flu-like symptoms aboard the ship, which has been linked to two other confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Twenty new cases were confirmed in King County, which is home to Seattle and has been the site so far of the greatest concentration of coronavirus cases in the country, bringing the total in the county to 51 with 11 deaths. One death has been recorded in California.
“This is a critical moment in the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in King County,” the county said in a statement. “All King County residents should follow public health recommendations. Together, we may potentially impact the spread of the disease in our community.”
As in other countries, Americans faced a new reality where they were often asked to stay home from work, schools were closed, large gatherings and sporting events canceled, and stores emptied of staples like toiletries and water.
Alphabet Inc’s Google on Thursday joined Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc and Microsoft Corp in recommending that its employees in the Seattle area work from home, after some contracted the virus.
The companies’ work-from-home recommendation will affect more than 100,000 people in the area. One school district in the area has closed.
NEW YORK CASES DOUBLE
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the number of cases in that state had doubled to 22 after the federal government approved its use of additional laboratories, boosting testing capacity.
Of the new cases in New York, eight are connected to a Manhattan lawyer who lives in Westchester County, north of the city, previously diagnosed with the virus.
Texas and Maryland each confirmed three coronavirus cases, and Tennessee and Colorado each reported one, bringing the number of affected states to 17. Pence said that there were at least 150 cases of coronavirus in the country.
More than 3,200 people worldwide have died from the respiratory illness that can lead to pneumonia.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed an $8.3 billion bill to combat the outbreak 96-1, a day after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved it.
Pence said Trump would sign the bill into law Friday.
More than $3 billion of that money is intended for research and development into vaccines, test kits and treatments. There are no so far no approved vaccines or treatments for the illness, which began in China and has infected more than 95,000 people in some 80 countries and territories.
California, which has declared a statewide emergency in response to the outbreak, reported six new cases, including two in San Francisco also deemed likely to be a result of “community transmission,” local health officials said.
U.S. health officials say they expect to be able to get enough privately manufactured coronavirus tests, around one million, to public laboratories this week with the capacity to test about 400,000 people.
CDC official Anne Schuchat said her agency would also supply kits by the end of the week that could test around 75,000 people.
“Right now, it is a challenge if you are a doctor wanting to get somebody tested,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters following a briefing with lawmakers.
Pence, who is leading the U.S. response, urged Americans not to purchase masks if they are healthy in order to free up supply for healthcare workers and people who are sick.
“Unless you are ill, you have no need to buy a mask,” Pence said on a visit to Minnesota’s 3M Co, which has ramped up production of masks in response to the coronavirus.
The deepening crisis has hit stocks hard. The main U.S. stock indexes closed down more than 3% on Thursday, with the Dow falling 969 points.
Asked if the coronavirus outbreak has hurt the economy, Trump said at a townhall in Scranton, Pennsylvania: “It certainly might have an impact. At the same time, I have to say people are now staying in the United States spending their money in the U.S., and I like that.”
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Nathan Layne, Maria Caspani, Michael Erman, Jonathan Allen and Hilary Russ in New York, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert in Washington, D.C. and Jeff Mason in Fort Murray, Washington; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)