By Steve Gorman and Hilary Russ
(Reuters) – Three more deaths from the coronavirus were reported by Washington state on Tuesday as the nation’s largest and only fatal outbreak of the respiratory disease reached beyond the Seattle area in what appeared to be the first known instance of coast-to-coast transmission.
A North Carolina resident tested positive after returning from a trip to Washington state, where the individual was exposed, and apparently infected, during a visit to a nursing facility at the center of a recent surge in cases in suburban Seattle.
The total number of people diagnosed with the coronavirus in the greater Seattle area rose to 27 on Tuesday, including nine deaths, up from 18 cases and six deaths tallied on Monday, the state Department of Health reported.
President Donald Trump told reporters his administration may cut off overseas travel from the United States to areas abroad with high rates of coronavirus, but said officials were not weighing any restrictions on domestic travel.
A multibillion-dollar funding bill was moving slowly through Congress after Democrats raised questions about the availability of testing for the new virus.
The U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates in an emergency move designed to shield the world’s largest economy from the impact of the coronavirus as Group of Seven finance officials pledged all appropriate policy moves.
The North Carolina diagnosis, the first presumptive positive case announced in that state, was not part of the Seattle-area case cluster, which ranks as the largest concentration detected to date in the United States, and the only one yet to prove deadly.
NURSING HOME OUTBREAK
Eight of those who died in Washington state were in King County and one was in neighboring Snohomish County, officials said.
“This is a very fluid, fast-moving situation as we aggressively respond to this outbreak,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, a public health officer for Seattle and King County.
Of the 27 cases documented as of Tuesday, nine of them were connected to a long-term nursing-care facility called LifeCare in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, according to the Seattle & King County Public Health agency. Five of those who died had been LifeCare residents.
The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed 108 confirmed and presumed cases in the United States. That tally consists of 60 reported by public health authorities in 12 states plus 48 among people repatriated from abroad, most of them from an outbreak aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner in Japan.
The number of U.S. cases beyond the repatriated patients has mushroomed from just 15 reported by the CDC on Friday, as the first handful of infections believed to have emerged from community transmission were detected in the Pacific Northwest. Before that, all U.S. cases were deemed travel-related, essentially imported from abroad.
In New York, a man in his 50s who lives in a New York City suburb and works at a Manhattan law firm tested positive for the virus, bringing the number of confirmed cases in that state to two, New York officials said.
He has severe pneumonia and is hospitalized, officials said. The patient had not traveled to countries hardest hit in the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China in December and is now present in nearly 80 countries and territories, killing more than 3,000 people.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said confirmation of the case was made by the city’s public health laboratory on its first day of testing.
Previously, all testing was conducted by the CDC, creating a delay of several days before the result was known. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn told Congress that testing kits should be available by the end of the week that would give labs the capacity to perform about 1 million coronavirus tests.
Trump said his administration was working with Congress to pass an emergency spending measure, adding that he expected lawmakers to authorize about $8.5 billion.
Senate Democrats said a dispute with Republicans over the affordability of coronavirus tests and vaccinations were holding up agreement on a funding bill.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the government’s coronavirus task force, was unable to answer “vital questions” about the availability of tests during a 45-minute meeting.
Stocks on Wall Street initially rose more than 2% on the Fed’s surprise statement it was cutting rates by a half percentage point to a target range of 1% to 1.25%. But the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 later all fell by nearly 3% by the end of the session. [.N]
International travel to the United States will fall 6% over the next three months, the U.S. Travel Association, an industry group, forecast. [L1N2AW1IJ]
(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Jonathan Allen, Laila Kearney, Hilary Russ in New York; Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Lisa Lambert and Ted Hesson in Washington and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)