The first case of coronavirus where the origin of the disease is unknown has been confirmed in the United States, officials revealed Wednesday.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the person, a resident in Northern California, had not recently returned from a foreign country, and had not been in contact with another confirmed case.
The news suggests that fears of the disease spreading locally in the U.S. could now be a reality – while President Trump continued to tell the public that the risk to Americans is ‘low’.
Trump announced in a press conference Wednesday night that the U.S. was ‘very ready’ to tackle the disease as he also handed Vice-President Mike Pence the task of leading the nation’s response to the disease.
The U.S. has taken extreme precautions to ensure that anyone traveling back from China has been quarantined in order to limit the spread of the disease.
Questions are now being asked over how the disease could have infected the individual, as the number of new confirmed cases outside China outpaces those inside the country for the first time.
Workers spray disinfectant as a precaution against COVID-19 at Saemaeul traditional market in Seoul, South Korea, on 26 February 2020 – the same day that the first case of coronavirus where the origin of the disease is unknown was confirmed in the US
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the person, a resident in Northern California, had not recently returned from a foreign country, and had not been in contact with another confirmed case
A statement from CDC confirmed the first possible instance of ‘community spread’ in the U.S. Wednesday evening.
‘At this time, the patient’s exposure is unknown. It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States. Community spread means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown,’ the statement said.
The CDC did not rule out that the patient may have been in contact with an infected individual who is yet to be diagnosed or linked to the individual.
‘It’s also possible, however, that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected,’ the statement said.
‘This case was detected through the U.S. public health system — picked up by astute clinicians. This brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in the United States to 15.’
Officials are now tracing the infected individual’s contacts to see how they may have been infected and if any other individuals may be at risk.
‘It is a confirmed case. There is one in Northern California,’ CDC spokesman Scott Pauley told The Sacramento Bee just before 4 p.m. Wednesday.
President Donald Trump announced Vice-President Mike Pence will be in charge of the nation’s response to the disease, and that the U.S. was willing to spend ‘spend whatever’s appropriate’ to deal with the outbreak
Pauley declined to elaborate on the details.
The CDC did not confirm the identity of the sufferer or where in Northern California the case was discovered.
However, according to KRON 4, state health officials said the patient is a resident from Solano County and is receiving care in Sacramento County.
If community spread is confirmed, this will spark major concerns across the U.S.
To date, the 59 other cases of the infection have been among people who traveled to Asia or were in close contact with people who had traveled there.
Coronavirus cases in the US have now risen to 60 with the addition of this case together with two more Diamond Princess cruise evacuees on Wednesday.
The 60 includes 42 passengers who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, three people repatriated from China and 15 on US soil.
The U.S. has taken measures to quarantine anyone thought to be carrying the disease, including 83 individuals currently in quarantine in Nassau County, New York.
New York City has been ramping up preparations for a potential outbreak.
Mayor Bill De Blasio announced at a news conference Wednesday that the city had prepared at least 1,200 hospital beds ready for if or when the disease strikes.
The plans come as around 700 people have been voluntarily quarantined in New York since February 3 after they returned to the city from parts of China where the disease is widespread.
Several counties in the San Francisco Bay Area have declared local emergencies in response to the outbreak.
Before news of the unknown origin case broke, only two cases of human-to-human transmission of coronavirus had been confirmed in the US.
However, CDC officials had previously warned that it was no longer a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the virus would be active in US communities.
The shock news that the disease is spreading came as President Donald Trump continued to insist that the risk to Americans is ‘low’ and that the nation is ‘very ready’ to tackle cases.
Trump announced Vice-President Mike Pence will be in charge of the nation’s response to the disease at a White House press conference Wednesday night.
Coronavirus cases in the US have now risen to 60, including 42 passengers who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, three people repatriated from China and 15 on US soil
Trump also pulled out a piece of paper that he said listed the best prepared countries to deal with an epidemic, a product of research from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore which ranked the U.S. highest on the list
The president also revealed one of the 15 Americans diagnosed with coronavirus in the US is ‘pretty sick’ and being treated in a hospital. It was unclear if Trump knew about the ‘unknown origin’ case before the conference. But Trump said the risk to Americans’ health remained ‘low,’ and that the number of people diagnosed with the virus was small
Mike Pence has no medical training but Trump praised his running of healthcare in Indiana when he was governor
He also declared the U.S. would spend ‘whatever’ it takes to beat coronavirus.
‘We’re very, very ready for this, for anything,’ even if it’s ‘a breakout of larger proportions.’
‘Every aspect of our society should be prepared. I think schools should get ready – just in case,’ he added later.
The president also revealed one of the 15 Americans diagnosed with coronavirus in the US is ‘pretty sick’ and being treated in a hospital.
It was unclear if Trump knew about the ‘unknown origin’ case before the conference.
But Trump said the risk to Americans’ health remained ‘low,’ and that the number of people diagnosed with the virus was small.
Trump said Pence would report to him.
Pence has no medical training; Trump praised his running of healthcare in Indiana when he was governor.
The vice president said extra personnel would be brought in to the White House for ‘this whole of government response’ to the mounting worldwide health crisis.
The president boasted that he had made ‘early decisions’ which had kept the level of coronavirus down in the U.S. – but said that he would make sure government health workers have the resources they need.
‘They can do whatever they want,’ Trump said at the press briefing surrounded by top officials including Alex Azar, his Health and Human Services Secretary – who had denied he was being replaced by a czar just hours earlier.
‘If Congress want to give us the money, we’ll take the money.’
At the podium, Trump defended his administration’s response to the coronavirus thus far, including shutting out non-citizens from China, where the first outbreak was reported.
‘Decisions that were ridiculed from the very beginning,’ the president said.
‘A lot of people thought we shouldn’t have done it that early, but we did and it turned out to be a very good thing.’
Asked directly about closing the borders to people from areas with worse infections he said: ‘At the right time we may do that, right now it’s not the right time.
‘But at the right time, and we are checking people as they come through, specifically for the problem, the problem that we’re dealing with.
‘So we’re checking a lot of people coming from South Korea, that’s been hit pretty hard, Italy’s been hit pretty hard. China, it’s obvious what’s happening in China, but again the numbers seem to be leveling off and going down in China which is very good news.’
He was also asked if he was prepared to quarantine entire cities – as has happened in Italy and China already – and replied: ‘We do have plans on a much larger scale, should we need that.
‘We don’t think we’re going to need it, but you always have to be prepared.’
Trump marveled at the number of people killed annually by the flu, explaining that in the U.S. it numbered between 25,000 and 69,000 a year.
‘That was shocking to me,’ Trump said.
The president said just 15 people in the U.S. have thus far had coronavirus, with eight returning home, one in the hospital and five fully recovered.
Trump also pulled out a piece of paper that he said listed the best prepared countries to deal with an epidemic, a product of research from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
‘John Hopkins, I guess, is greatly respected,’ Trump said. ‘We’re rated No. 1 for being prepared.’
Trump also noted how the U.S. brought in 40 people – American citizens – from a Japanese cruise ship where they had been diagnosed with the virus.
‘We thought we had an obligation to do that,’ he said. ‘We found that it was an obligation that we have, we could have left them and it would have been really bad.’
The White House had asked for $2.5 billion in extra funding for the CDC, but had come under pressure to increase that spending by both Republicans and Democrats.
The press conference was an apparent attempt to calm fears over the virus, which has seen stock markets plunge and Democrats and Republicans both criticizing the official response.
Trump instead suggested that the Democratic 2020 field was largely responsible for the 2,000 point drop in the Dow Jones since Monday morning.
He went on to make reference to his well-known reputation for germaphobia, and provided safety tips for Americans to follow.
‘I do it a lot anyway as you probably heard,’ he said.
The global death toll from coronavirus has reached 2,771, with the vast majority in mainland China. There have been 81,714 confirmed cases of the disease
The CDC confirmed the positive test results of an additional six cruise evacuees Wednesday, including four that had already been announced by local health departments
He gave guidance consistent with what public health officials have recommended: taking prudent steps to avoid viral transmissions, as with flu and seasonal colds.
‘Wash your hands. Stay clean. You don’t necessarily have to grab every hand rail unless you have to. You know, certain things that you do when you have the flu,’ he advised.
Then the president told an anecdote.
‘I mean, view this the same as the flu. When somebody sneezes, I try to bail out as much as possible when there’s sneezing.
‘I had a man come up to me a week ago. I hadn’t seen him in a long time and I said how are you doing? He said, ‘Fine.’ He hugs me.
‘I said, ‘Are you well?’ He says no. He said, I have the worst fever and the worst flu. And he’s hugging and kissing me. … I went back and started washing my hands. So you have to do that,’ Trump said.
The White House briefing came as the CDC confirmed the positive test results of an additional six cruise evacuees on Wednesday, including four that had already been announced by local health departments.
At least five of the new patients were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship last week.
They were then transported to three different quarantine sites: military bases in California and Texas and the National Quarantine Unit in Nebraska.
Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, dismissed Trump Wednesday, saying: ‘I don’t think the president knows what he’s talking about – once again.’
When asked about the criticism made by Pelosi, he slapped back by calling the California Democrat ‘incompetent.’
CDC officials told Americans to expect US coronavirus cases to rise after the repatriation of the passengers of the cruise ship (pictured), which had the greatest number outside China
Trump also suggested under Pelosi, Democrats would lose the House again – and he said impeachment ‘lifted my poll numbers up by 10 points.’
‘She’s trying to create a panic,’ Trump said. ‘And there’s no reason to create a panic because we have done so good.’
Azar was on stage to see Pence made czar – hours after he denied claims that he was about to be replaced by an epidemic czar in the project to oversee the US’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
He claimed after Trump spoke that he was still in charge.
‘I’m still chairman of the task force,’ he said.
‘Having the vice president gives me the biggest stick one can have in the government, on this whole-of government approach. Not in the least.
‘When this was mentioned to me I was delighted I get to have the vice president helping … delighted, absolutely.’
Also on stage was the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease (NIAD) Dr Anthony Fauci, who reiterated the news that trials are set to begin for a vaccine for coronavirus, a record-setting three months after the virus was sequenced.
He added that the vaccine won’t be ready for a year to a year-and-a-half.
At that point, it will make little impact on the current outbreak but, in the likely event that the virus is here to stay in coming years, Dr Fauci expects a vaccine will be ready.
The CDC gave a stark warning on Tuesday that U.S. cities, communities and hospitals would need to ramp up preparations for the virus’ spread as more cases were likely on their way.
‘Now is the time for U.S. businesses, hospitals and communities to begin preparing for the possible spread of COVID-19,’ CDC officials posted on Twitter Tuesday afternoon.
Officials said more coronavirus cases are ‘likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States’ and that ‘person-to-person spread will likely continue to occur, including in the United States.’
The CDC’s point person on the coronavirus outbreak, Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases Dr Nancy Messonnier had advised parents to talk to their kids’ schools about ‘teleschooling’ in the event of quarantines or class cancellations amid an outbreak.
‘I told my children that they are not at risk now, but we as a family need to prepare for significant disruption in our lives,’ Dr Messonnier told reporters in a Tuesday press briefing.
In a bizarre twist, she is the sister of Rod Rosenstein, the former attorney general who oversaw the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation and who was a repeated target for Trump’s ire.
She was missing from the briefing.
During the presser, Bernie Sanders, currently the Democratic frontrunner, sent out a statement blasting Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who was present at the White House briefing, for not guaranteeing during Congressional testimony earlier Wednesday that a coronavirus vaccine would be affordable to all.
‘Under the Trump doctrine, if you are wealthy you can buy a vaccine and not succumb to the sickness. If you are poor or working class, you may have to get sick or even die,’ Sanders said.
‘That is an outrage. That is unacceptable. We need a vaccine that is available to all, not just those who can afford it.’
The CDC confirmed the positive test results of an additional six cruise evacuees Wednesday, including four that had already been announced by local health departments.
At least five of the new patients were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship last week. They were then transported to three different quarantine sites: military bases in California and Texas and the National Quarantine Unit in Nebraska.
Another two people who were among among the 800-some Americans repatriated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in China, have also tested positive for coronavirus.
This week’s additional cases among evacuees may have come as little surprise to the CDC, which advised against letting 14 American Diamond Princess passengers whose coronavirus tests came back positive as they were about to board the evacuation flights to the US continue on the cargo planes.
State Department officials ultimately overrode the health officials on the ground in Japan, where the ship had been quarantined.
Of the 328 evacuated people, 13 ‘high risk’ passengers were taken on to Nebraska’s high-grade quarantine.
CDC officials previously said they expected to see additional cases among the cruise ship evacuees, and diagnoses have indeed rolled in.
Meanwhile, LAX airport and travelers are on high alert after a flight attendant on a Korean Air flight there from South Korea, where cases have surged to over 1,200 in a matter of days and one US soldier on Camp Carroll military base has been diagnosed with coronavirus.
The global death toll from coronavirus has reached 2,771, with the vast majority in mainland China.
There have been 81,714 confirmed cases of the disease.
Earlier this week, the chief of the World Health Organization stopped short of saying the coronavirus crisis was at pandemic levels despite a sudden spike in cases.
Dr Tedros Adhanom admitted in a press conference Monday that the surge of COVID-19 infections was ‘deeply concerning’ but said he would not declare it a pandemic – which is defined as the uncontrolled worldwide spread of a new disease.
He said: ‘The sudden increase in new cases is certainly very concerning. There is lots of speculation about whether this outbreak has now become a pandemic.
‘For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we’re not witnessing large scale disease or deaths.’
His comments at a press conference in Geneva came after the WHO admitted the killer outbreak will never be officially declared a pandemic.
Instead, the UN-body said the crisis has already been a public health emergency of international concern – the highest warning level – for a month.
But fears of a pandemic have been mounting, with a surge in cases outside of China and deaths declared in Iran and Italy while Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman all confirmed their first cases.
The body, headquartered in Geneva in Switzerland, argues a pathogen must spread easily between humans across the world before it is called a pandemic.
The WHO said the current crisis is a cluster of cases in 36 countries and territories, which can be traced back to Asia.