Coronavirus Live Updates: New Unexplained Cases Reported in the U.S.

Coronavirus Live Updates: New Unexplained Cases Reported in the U.S. thumbnail
The country has the largest coronavirus outbreak outside China, with a total of 3,150 cases.Right NowUnexplained new cases in three U.S. states hint at local, person-to-person spread of the virus.ImageSoldiers disinfected a train station in Daegu, South Korea, the center of the country’s coronavirus outbreak.Credit...Kim Hyun-Tai/Yonhap, via Associated PressSouth Korea reports 813 new cases, and…

The country has the largest coronavirus outbreak outside China, with a total of 3,150 cases.

Right Now

Unexplained new cases in three U.S. states hint at local, person-to-person spread of the virus.


Credit…Kim Hyun-Tai/Yonhap, via Associated Press

South Korea, which has the largest coronavirus outbreak outside China, reported 813 new cases on Saturday, bringing its total to 3,150. In North Korea, Kim Jong-un ordered all-out efforts to fight the virus at a high-level meeting, state media reported.

South Korean officials have warned that confirmed cases would rise sharply as they aggressively tested thousands of people, particularly in the southeastern city of Daegu. More than 86 percent of patients have been in Daegu and nearby towns; many have been associated with a church called Shincheonji, which has a strong presence in Daegu.

The United States military, which has more than 28,000 personnel in South Korea, said on Saturday that the spouse of an American soldier infected with the virus had also tested positive for it. She had been in self-quarantine since Wednesday, following her husband’s diagnosis, and was being transported to a military hospital, the military said.

Also on Saturday, Mr. Kim, North Korea’s leader, convened the Politburo of his ruling party to order an all-out campaign to prevent an outbreak, state media reported. The North has not reported any coronavirus cases, but there has been concern that the secretive, totalitarian country could be hiding an outbreak.

“In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted Mr. Kim as saying. It said that officials had discussed “measures to deter the influx and spread of the infectious disease in a scientific, pre-emptive and lockdown way.”

North Korea has already closed its 930-mile border with China, where the coronavirus emerged, and its border with Russia. But the Chinese border has long been porous for smugglers, who ferry goods across the shallow river that separates the countries. The North has also suspended all flights and trains to and from China and asked all foreign diplomats not to leave their compounds.

The state media report Saturday also said that Mr. Kim had fired one of his top aides, Ri Man-gon, and another official for corruption, but it was unclear whether the dismissals were connected to the antivirus campaign.

Troubling new signs of how the coronavirus is spreading in the United States emerged on Friday, as cases not explained by overseas travel or contact with a person known to be infected were reported in California, Oregon and Washington State.

Officials from the three states announced that their testing had found new cases: a high school student from Washington State; an employee of a school in Oregon, near Portland; and a woman in Santa Clara County, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Sixty-five cases of the virus have been reported in the United States, but until this week, all of them could be explained by overseas travel or contact with someone who had been ill. The three new cases on Friday, and a case earlier in the week, in California, were the first in the United States in which the cause was mysterious and unknown — a sign, experts warned, that the virus might now be spreading in this country.

“If we were worried yesterday, we are even more worried today,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Now we have to ask: How widely, really widely, is this virus out there?”

As word emerged of the unexplained cases, local officials scrambled to trace everyone who had come in contact with those who were ill. California health officials said they were increasing testing. And in Washington State, officials suggested that people needed to prepare for the possibility of schools closing and businesses keeping workers home.

“We’re going to be increasingly recommending that people try and avoid crowds and close contact with other people,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health Seattle & King County, said. “We may get to a point where we want to recommend canceling large public gatherings — social events, sporting events, entertainment — until we get over a hump of what might be a large outbreak.”

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the globe passed 85,000 on Saturday, according to a tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University that draws on data from four sources, including the World Health Organization.

Of the more than 85,400 cases recorded, more than 79,000 were in mainland China.

Qatar confirmed its first case of the virus on Saturday, its health ministry said, bringing the number of countries where the virus has been detected to at least 57.

  • Updated Feb. 26, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?

      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?

      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
    • What if I’m traveling?

      The C.D.C. has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all nonessential travel to South Korea and China.
    • Where has the virus spread?

      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
    • How contagious is the virus?

      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?

      World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world was not ready for a major outbreak.

The health authorities in Britain were investigating the country’s first known case of the local transmission of the coronavirus.

The patient was believed to be a man from Surrey, in southeastern England, who had not traveled abroad recently, according to the BBC.

“The virus was passed on in the U.K.,” the chief medical officer for England, Prof. Chris Whitty, said in a statement on Friday. “It is not yet clear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from an individual who had recently returned from abroad. This is being investigated and contact tracing has begun.”

The patient was being treated at a specialist center in Central London, Professor Whitty said. Three further cases were confirmed on Saturday, he said, two recently returned from Italy and one recently returned from Asia.

The latest diagnoses raised the number of coronavirus cases in Britain to 23, with 18 in England and one each in Northern Ireland and Wales.

The announcement came after a man who was infected on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan became the first Briton to die from coronavirus.

“We’re still in the containment phase of this disease,” Edward Argar, a health minister, told BBC radio on Saturday. “That’s what our focus is on.”

In France, a third staff member at Tenon Hospital in Paris, the head of the infectious diseases department, was confirmed on Saturday as having tested positive for the coronavirus. None are in serious condition, officials said.

There are now 57 confirmed cases in the country, according to the World Health Organization, at least seven of them locally transmitted and more than 40 confirmed in the past few days.

In Italy — the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, with 888 confirmed cases and 21 deaths — the main professional soccer league, Serie A, postponed five matches previously scheduled for this weekend.

In a revised schedule posted to Twitter on Saturday, the five games, including a clash between the league leaders, Juventus, and third-place Inter Milan, are set for May 13, at venues to be decided.

During a freewheeling rally in South Carolina on Friday night, President Trump accused his rivals of politicizing the coronavirus outbreak and perpetuating a “new hoax” against him, though there was no evidence for his claims.

“They tried the impeachment hoax,” Mr. Trump said of Democrats, who have criticized his administration’s response to the outbreak as inadequate. “They lost. It is all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax.”

The president suggested that the news media had also fanned panic over the outbreak, accusing it of being in “hysteria mode.”

As proof that he had the outbreak under control, the president cited his decision to bar foreign nationals who had recently been in China from entering the United States. Experts have disagreed on the effectiveness of border closures and quarantines, but Mr. Trump appeared to tie his decision to his calls for tighter immigration policies.

“We must understand that border security is also health security,” he said.

Other members of Mr. Trump’s administration have also urged calm about the outbreak, though in less explicitly political terms. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump tapped Vice President Mike Pence to lead the country’s coronavirus response.

The government in Japan, which this week asked all the country’s schools to close for a month, will offer subsidies to parents and other caregivers to help offset the cost, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Saturday, as part of a coronavirus emergency spending package totaling 270 billion yen, or $2.5 billion.

He did not offer more details, but he said that the overall emergency package, which would also seek to help small and medium businesses and boost health care, would be crafted in around 10 days. The educational subsidies would be available to parents who had to take time off work, whether they worked full- or part-time, he said. Government officials would also work to help childcare programs extend their hours.

Just a few other countries, including China, where the outbreak began, have suspended classes nationwide.

Officials in Hong Kong, where schools will not reopen until at least the end of April, also announced subsidy measures last week. The education secretary, Kevin Yeung, said the government would use anti-virus funding to boost a recently announced grant program by 1,000 Hong Kong dollars per pupil in kindergarten, primary school or secondary day-school. The additions would bring the total granted in each school year to 3,500 Hong Kong dollars, or about $450.

HNA Group, the Chinese giant once famous for its dramatic global shopping spree, has asked the Chinese government to help bail it out as it struggles with a slowdown from the coronavirus outbreak.

The company, which owns Hainan Airlines and several air-travel-related assets, said it could not deal with a cash crunch on its own after flight cancelations across China and overseas. In a statement posted to its Chinese social media account, the company said it requested the help of a work group of officials from the province of Hainan, where it is headquartered.

It was not immediately clear whether the move amounted to a formal nationalization of the company, which has wrestled with tens of billions of dollars of debt after scooping up companies around the world, from a Swiss logistics firm to stakes in Deutsche Bank and even Hilton Worldwide Hotels.

Before the coronavirus outbreak in December, HNA’s chairman, admitted that the company was having trouble paying its bills and the salaries of some employees. For years, it has had difficulty paying foreign investors who loaned it money.

Officials from the civil aviation administrator and China Development Bank will take over the responsibility of managing the company’s risk, HNA said on Saturday. The group would be led by Gu Gang, who is chairman of Hainan Development Holdings Co., the investment unit of the government of Hainan.

HNA also said on Sunday that it would add two more seats to its board, including Mr. Gu, who would become executive chairman. Ren Qinghua, another official and director of the Administrative Committee of Yangpu Economic Development, would join the board and be made co-chief executive officer alongside Adam Tan, the current top executive.

A Japanese man who was allowed to disembark from the Diamond Princess cruise ship after testing negative for the virus has now tested positive — after he took public transportation home, according to Japanese officials.

He is the fifth passenger to test positive after disembarking and being allowed to travel freely.

The man, who is in his 70s, was among nearly 1,000 people allowed to leave the virus-stricken cruise ship last week, after two weeks of quarantine in the port of Yokohama. The cruise ship, which originally carried 3,700 passengers and crew, became a hotbed of infection: More than 700 people who were aboard have tested positive, and at least six people have died.

The man had tested negative for the virus when he disembarked on Feb. 20, and he used public transportation to travel home to the city of Sendai, about 250 miles north. But on Friday, he developed a sore throat and a slight fever, according to an announcement by Sendai’s mayor. He was confirmed to be infected on Saturday. His family tested negative.

The high number of infections aboard the Diamond Princess has brought intense scrutiny upon Japanese officials, who ordered the quarantine. The disembarkation process has also been marred by mismanagement: Japan’s health minister was forced to apologize after 23 people left the ship without being tested.

Reports of coronavirus patients testing positive for the virus again after recovering have raised alarm, but health experts say it’s likely that faulty tests are to blame.

The Japanese government reported this week that a woman in Osaka had tested positive for the coronavirus for a second time, weeks after recovering from the infection and being discharged from a hospital. Chinese officials have announced similar cases.

But experts said that recovered patients should have at least short-term immunity.

The apparent reinfections could be the result of false negatives when the patients were discharged, said Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The throat swabs used to examine for the virus can be technically tricky, and they can miss an infection elsewhere in the body.

“A negative test is not a definitive that there is no more virus in that person,” Dr. Lipsitch said.

Even if patients test positive long after they stop displaying symptoms, they may no longer pose a transmission risk to others, according to a report published on Thursday in JAMA. And even if there are occasional cases of true reinfection, so far, they do not seem to be occurring in large enough numbers to be a priority.

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, the world’s biggest companies have begun painting a bleak picture of broken supply chains, disrupted manufacturing, empty stores and flagging demand for their wares.

The announcements by businesses like Mastercard, Microsoft, Apple and United Airlines offer a look at how the virus is affecting consumer behavior and business sentiment. These corporate bulletins — and what executives do in response — could determine how much economic damage the outbreak inflicts.

Some companies have expressed optimism that governments will curb new infections and that consumer spending in Europe and North America will be largely unscathed. But if executives see a threat beyond the first three months of the year, they may pare planned investments and even lay off workers.

The seven-day stock-market plunge this week, the steepest since the financial crisis, suggests that investors are bracing for bad news.

“Everything is slowing down even more — and that has not been fully appreciated,” said Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading.

On Friday, the S&P 500 index fell about 0.8 percent, and the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 1 percent. The S&P index lost more than 11 percent in the week, and almost 13 percent since its peak on Feb. 19.

In Europe, the Britain’s FTSE 100 fell more than 3 percent and the Dax in Germany fell more than 4 percent. In Asia, the Nikkei 225 in Japan closed down 3.7 percent, the KOSPI in South Korea dropped 3.3 percent and the Shanghai Composite in China dropped 3.7 percent.

Many times in many countries, political leaders have tried to censor health officials and play down the risks of infection just as epidemics approached. This strategy has almost never worked, historians and former health officials said.

And if there are more deaths than leaders predict, stonewalling destroys the reputations of the leaders themselves.

This week’s efforts to reorganize the Trump administration’s chaotic response to the coronavirus outbreak risk falling into that pattern. The White House will coordinate all messaging, the public was told, and scientists in the government will not be popping up on television talk shows, saying what they think.

That may not be a winning strategy, experts warned. The stock market reacts to rumors, and the Federal Reserve Bank may succumb to political pressure. But pathogens, like hurricanes and tsunamis, are immune to spin.

“It’s crucially important that experts tell the public what they know and when they know it,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That’s the only way to earn and maintain the public trust that is essential to work together as a society and fight an epidemic.”

Reporting and research were contributed by Peter Eavis, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Choe Sang-Hun, Thomas Fuller, Sheri Fink, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Amy Qin, Sui-Lee Wee, Vivian Wang, Katie Rogers, Apoorva Mandavilli, Peter Robins, Norimitsu Onishi, Motoko Rich and Makiko Inoue.

Read More