Just after US health officials warned that coronavirus now appears to be spreading within the country from person to person independent of any foreign travel, the first US death has been reported. A man in Washington state infected with the virus has died.
The death was reported by the Seattle and King County Department of Health. This fatality marks the first death associated with the virus in the United States. The health department had no further details at the time of the announcement but plans to announce more this afternoon.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged three such cases, known as community spread, are known of in the state. “When you have a community spread, someone appears, had to have been infected by someone, but you don’t know who that person was,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told NBC Saturday morning. “It becomes more difficult to track down what the original source was.”
The new cases brings the total number of confirmed cases within the United States to more than 60, though 44 of those cases originated aboard the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship and three other cases involve people who were brought back from Wuhan, China, where the global outbreak began.
The new, unexplained COVID-19 cases were confirmed by health authorities in Washington County, Oregon, and Snohomish County, Washington, where the infected person is a high school student. These new cases join two other cases, both confirmed in California, that appear unrelated to foreign travel. An additional case was confirmed in Washington state on Friday, with the patient having recently traveled to South Korea, where more than 3,000 people are now confirmed to have the virus.
The confirmation of these new cases may actually be somewhat delayed, in part because there was an initial backlog in testing for the virus within the U.S. A problem with the test kits that the CDC distributed across the country required most testing to happen at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta. Federal health officials now say they have resolved the issue and are now working to distribute new test kits across the country.
Additionally, the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif., where one of the unexplained cases is being treated, says that patient didn’t meet the CDC’s threshold to approve a coronavirus test at first and so diagnosis was delayed for days. The CDC defended that delay, saying CDC guidelines were broad for travelers but not for people within the U.S.
Meanwhile, 124 health care workers who were likely exposed to the virus at that same UC Davis medical center were sent home and told by the hospital to quarantine themselves. The workers, who have complied with the order and are being paid, view the hospital’s actions as a system failure, according to a report by KQED.