California Governor Gavin Newsom declared an emergency as he reported the state’s first fatality from the COVID-19 illness - an elderly person who had taken a cruise to Mexico - while health officials in nearby Washington state said a 10th person had died there.
“The State of California is deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus,” Newsom told reporters.
“This emergency proclamation will help the state further prepare our communities and our health care system in the event it spreads more broadly.”
Earlier in the day, Los Angeles County officials reported six new cases in the West Coast metropolis, while the number of confirmed cases in New York state rose to 11.
One of the Los Angeles cases concerns a medical screener at the city’s international airport checking overseas travelers for symptoms.
The Department of Homeland Security said the worker was under self-quarantine at home along with family members and was showing mild symptoms.
That person’s last shift at the airport was on February 21 and the symptoms began on February 29, a statement said.
“DHS is happy to report that this individual was highly trained and did everything right both on the job and when they began to feel sick,” the statement said.
“We are told the individual wore all the correct protective equipment and took necessary protections on the job.”
Nationwide, more than 130 people have so far been infected, with the virus detected in more than a dozen states. Most of the deaths have been in Washington state including residents of a nursing home.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meanwhile said Republicans and Democrats had reached a deal to fund the response to the outbreak to the tune of US$8.3 billion. The House of Representatives passed the measure, and the Senate was to vote today (Mar 5).
Vice President Mike Pence, who is the White House’s pointman on the crisis, told reporters he would be traveling to Minnesota today to visit a 3M plant manufacturing personal protective equipment including masks.
He will then visit Washington state and meet with Governor Jay Inslee to review containment efforts in the Seattle area.
‘Coordinated, fully-funded response’
All of the newly infected individuals in Los Angeles were exposed to COVID-19 through close contact, health officials said.
Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said three of the cases concerned travellers who had gone together to northern Italy - a virus hotspot with more than 100 deaths.
Two other cases involved individuals who had come in contact with a family member who had the virus and the last was the airport screener.
“The step we’re taking today is about preparation, not panic,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti of the emergency declaration.
Officials said they expected the number of infections in California to rise in the coming days and urged families to brace for possible school closures and the cancelation of public events.
Statewide, more than 50 people are known to be infected, the most of any state.
In Washington state, officials in King County, which includes Seattle and where most of the deaths have taken place, said they were purchasing an 85-bed motel to house patients stricken with the virus.
China’s coronavirus death toll surpasses 3,000
Elsewhere, China today (Mar 5) reported 31 more deaths from the new coronavirus epidemic, taking the country’s overall toll past 3,000, with the number of new infections slightly increasing.
At least 3,012 people have now died nationwide in the outbreak that first emerged in the central city of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, in December.
Most of the deaths - 2,305 - and cases have been recorded in Wuhan, which has been under an unprecedented lockdown along with the rest of Hubei since late January.
But the quarantine and other travel restrictions across the country appear to be paying off, with official figures showing a generally steady drop in new cases in recent weeks.
The National Health Commission also reported 139 new cases today, slightly up from 119 the previous day, raising the overall number of confirmed infections to 80,409.
Only five of the new cases were outside Hubei.
But China is now worried about importing cases from abroad as the virus has since spread to some 80 countries and territories, infecting more than 10,000 and killing more than 200 abroad.