3 New Coronavirus Cases Confirmed in US, Total Rises to 60

By Zachary Stieber

Three more cases of the COVID-19 virus were confirmed by one of the top American health officials on Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the United States to 60.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, testifying before a congressional committee on Wednesday, said that two more passengers evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive for the virus.

Testifying in the afternoon in front of a different committee, he said he was informed of another confirmed case—the first involving an American who either has a history of travel to an area where the virus is spreading or has had close contact with someone with travel history in more than two weeks.

Officials are still discerning the epidemiology of the most recent case, he said.

Azar cited the fact on Tuesday that no new cases had arisen outside those repatriated from China or Japan as supporting officials’ argument that the virus was contained in the United States. He did not use the same word in speaking in the afternoon the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee.

The most recent case is the 15th among Americans with travel history or those with close contact with someone who has travel history.

The two other patients make 42 who were passengers on the cruise ship who have tested positive for the new virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. The passengers were evacuated from Yokohama, Japan, earlier this month and are isolated at military bases.

Three cases were previously confirmed among the Americans repatriated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus.

That makes 60 cases in total in the United States.

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A bus believed to carry the U.S. passengers of the cruise ship Diamond Princess leave the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, on Feb. 17, 2020. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Three new cases came a day after a top U.S. health official warned Americans that they should prepare for the possible community spread of the virus.

“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in a phone call. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

People’s lives could be disrupted by community spread, including potential school closures, she said.

Azar said at a briefing later in the day that Messonnier was giving the American public a preview of what might happen.

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Passengers wear face masks to protect against the spread of the Coronavirus as they arrive on a flight from Asia, at the Los Angeles International Airport, Calif., on Feb. 1, 2020. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)

“We hope those steps aren’t necessary. We hope that we don’t face those kinds of eventualities,” he said. “But transparency is being candid with people about what the continuum of potential steps are so they can start processing in their own heads, thinking about in their own lives, thinking about what that might involve—might involve, not will, we cannot make predictions with any degree of certainty.”

It’s been two weeks since any U.S.-based cases, or cases not involving those repatriated from China or Japan, have been confirmed, Azar noted.

Azar told lawmakers on Wednesday that health experts don’t recommend that people wear masks, saying that the protective items are primarily for healthcare workers. Wearing a mask can be more harmful than not wearing one, he said, as people can wear them improperly and end up fumbling with them, touching their face.

Instead, experts recommend basic public health hygiene such as frequently washing hands with soap and water, coughing into their elbow, and not touching their face, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. The hygiene recommendations are good for combating the flu, the common cold, and the new virus, he said.

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A Chinese security guard wears a protective mask as he checks the temperature of people entering a residential building in Beijing, China, on Feb. 26, 2020. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Most cases of the new virus, if it does begin spreading in the community, will involve patients self-isolating at home and treating it the way they treat cases of the flu, Azar said. Health officials will publish clear guidelines on when patients should go to a hospital, he said.

The key will be actively managing the flow of patients, he said, so an outbreak doesn’t “collapse our rural hospitals necessarily,” he told Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), who expressed concern about how such a situation would affect rural areas.

Azar was testifying about his department’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request as well as a supplemental request the White House submitted to Congress this week asking for $2.5 billion to combat the new virus.

Azar also disputed a report, which cited no named sources, that claimed the White House is considering naming a czar to oversee the response to the coronavirus.

“I don’t put much stock in anonymous sources from Politico,” he told the committee.

From The Epoch Times