A patient infected with the novel coronavirus in Washington state has died, a state health official said Saturday, marking the first death due to the virus in the United States.
The patient was a man in his 50s who had underlying health conditions, according to Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, health officer for Seattle and King County, Washington state. President Donald Trump and US officials previously said in a press briefing that the patient was a woman.
“I want to assure that family they are on the hearts of every American,” Vice President Mike Pence said.
There was no evidence the patient had close contact with an infected person or a relevant travel history that would have exposed the patient to the virus, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at the White House Saturday, suggesting the patient became ill through community spread.
While this is the first death in the United States from the coronavirus, it is not the first death of an American. A 60-year-old US citizen died earlier this month in the city of Wuhan, China, where the virus first appeared in late December.
US officials, including the President and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, urged Americans not to panic.
“It’s important to remember,” Azar said, “for the vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms, and their treatment will be to remain at home, treating their symptoms, the way they would a severe cold, or the flu.”
Officials investigating Washington nursing facility
Three new presumptive positive cases were announced in Washington state on Saturday, meaning a test given by a state or local lab came back positive, but has yet to be confirmed by the CDC’s lab in Atlanta.
Among those three cases was the patient who died, health officials said.
The other cases are both affiliated with Life Care Center, a nursing facility in Kirkland, Washington, Duchin said. One case is a health care worker, a woman in her 40s, who is hospitalized in satisfactory condition. She had no relevant history of travel.
The other case is a woman in her 70s who was a resident of the center. She is in serious condition in another hospital.
State health officials are aware of a “number of individuals who are ill” with respiratory symptoms or pneumonia, at the facility, Duchin said, and officials are investigating this as an outbreak.
More than 50 residents and staff from the facility will be tested, Duchin said.
Life Care Center of Kirkland is monitoring its residents and associates, executive director Ellie Basham said in a statement.
“We take the event very seriously and have members of our corporate clinical team en route to provide extra assistance,” Basham said. The facility is in contact with state health officials and the CDC.
Multiple cases without a relevant travel history
There are now at least 69 confirmed or presumptive positive coronavirus cases in the United States, the CDC said Saturday.
These include 44 people who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, three people repatriated from China and 22 cases that occurred in the US, according to the CDC.
Of those 22, 13 cases are travel-related, and nine are linked to person-to-person spread, according to the CDC.
The person-to-person cases include several of unknown origin, including:
• A woman in Washington County, Oregon, who is presumptive positive. She is in isolation.
• A high school boy in Snohomish County, Washington, who is presumptive positive. He’s doing well, according to Dr. Chris Spitters, interim health officer for the Snohomish Health District.
• An older woman in Santa Clara County, California, who tested positive.
• A Solano County, California, woman who is in serious condition at UC Davis Medical Center.
The virus has so far killed at least 2,922 people, including 2,835 in China. There have been 85,055 confirmed cases.
The World Health Organization has “increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at a global level,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday, referring to the WHO’s formal name for the disease caused by the virus.
“The continued increase in the number of cases,” he said, “and the number of affected countries over the last few days, are clearly of concern.”
Officials work to expand testing capabilities
Duchin, the health officer for Seattle and King County, said new cases could have been identified earlier if not for the delays in local testing capability and restrictive criteria about who gets tested.
The patient who died was identified after the state lab acquired the coronavirus test kit. The patient was newly eligible for testing because of “very recent criteria that were put out by the Centers for Disease Control that our health care providers became aware of,” Duchin said.
Guidelines for who should be tested were broadened by the CDC earlier this week after the first case of unknown origin emerged in California. She wasn’t initially tested because she did not fit the CDC criteria for testing at the time.
Additionally, some testing kits initially sent to state and local labs were flawed, delaying their ability to test for the virus.
“This has not gone as smoothly as we would have liked,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Friday.
The CDC hopes to have every state and local health department testing for the coronavirus by the end of next week, Messonnier said in a press briefing Friday.
In hopes of enabling more rapid testing capabilities, the US Food and Drug Administration announced a policy Saturday allowing certain laboratories to use tests they developed and validated before the FDA has reviewed them.
“We believe this policy strikes the right balance during this public health emergency,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in a statement. “We will continue to help to ensure sound science prior to clinical testing and follow-up with the critical independent review from the FDA, while quickly expanding testing capabilities in the US.”
The guidance only applies to labs that are certified to perform high-complexity testing. Once labs have validated a test, the guidance says, they must notify he FDA and submit a request for emergency use authorization within 15 business days.