Coronavirus updates: Italy locks down much of the country's north; US death toll hits 19

The Italian government, reeling from a one-day jump in coronavirus cases by 1,200, announced early Sunday that the entire Lombardy region, which includes Milan, would be put under lockdown, banning travel into or out of the area of 10 million people, as well as all public activity, including weddings, funerals and the cinema, according to media reports.

The new measures will apply to about a quarter of the Italian population and will be in force at least until April 3. The entry and exit to and from these areas will be allowed only in exceptional cases.

“For Lombardy and for the other northern provinces that I have listed there will be a ban for everybody to move in and out of these territories and also within the same territory,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said. “Exceptions will be allowed only for proven professional needs, exceptional cases and health issues.”

Both The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported that the quarantine decree drawn up by the Italian prime minister’s office would also cover a number of northern provinces, including the region where Venice is located.

The Times said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the government decree in a news conference after 2 a.m. Sunday. 

“We are facing an emergency, a national emergency,” Conte was quoted as saying. 

The Associated Press reported that there was chaos and confusion in the northern Italian city of Padua in the Veneto region as word spread late Saturday evening that the government was planning to announce the quarantine.

Packed bars and restaurants quickly emptied out as many people rushed to the train station in Padua.

Travelers with suitcases, wearing face masks, gloves and carrying bottles of sanitizing gel shoved their way on to the local train.

Italy, one of the four countries hardest hit by the corona virus that originated in China, has reported more than 5,800 cases and 233 deaths. The number of infections has jumped by 1,200 since Friday.

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The decree would forbid citizens from leaving or entering the region and would extend similar restrictions in established “red-zones,” including Venice, Parma and Modena, according to The Independent.

Meanwhile, Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of Italy’s co-ruling Democratic Party, said Saturday he had tested positive for coronavirus.

Here’s the latest on the outbreak of COVID-19: 

Hard-hit Washington state reports 2 more virus deaths

Washington, the U.S. state hardest hit during the coronavirus crisis, reported three more deaths this weekend, bringing its total to 16. Two deaths in Florida, combined with one in California, boosted the national death toll to 19.

The Washington State Department of Health said the latest deaths occurred in King County, which has recorded all but one of the fatalities in the state. At least 12 of those deaths have happened at EvergreenHealth Medical Center, according to the hospital’s website.

The department did not immediately provide any other information on the new patients who died.

Meanwhile, the deaths of two Florida residents mark the first fatalities outside of the West Coast, according to Florida health officials, as concern over the virus forces abrupt changes for college students, conference attendees and train travelers across the country. 

Nationally, the number of infections has jumped to at least 340, according to a compilation by Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The cases are scattered over about half the states, with Missouri, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska and the District of Columbia recently reporting their first cases.

Princess Cruises: Passenger likely was infected before boarding ship

Cruise companies will change how they board passengers after Princess Cruises said Saturday that a California man who died Wednesday was likely infected with coronavirus before he boarded the Grand Princess last month.

U.S. officials had repeatedly asserted that the coronavirus was contained within the United States. However, the discovery that a Grand Princess passenger apparently boarded the ship with an infection suggests that community spread began weeks before officials diagnosed the nation’s first coronavirus case of unknown origin.

In a conference call with reporters Saturday evening, Grant Tarling, the chief medical officer for Carnival Corp., the parent company of Princess Cruises, said the man boarded the ship in San Francisco on Feb. 11, when it set sail for Mexico.

Tarling said the man sought treatment from the ship’s medical center on Feb. 20 and reported symptoms of an “acute respiratory illness” for about a week. Since Tarling noted that the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has an incubation period of five to six days, it’s likely that the man was infected prior to boarding the ship.

“We believe this case was community acquired in California and brought on the ship,” Tarling said.

Earlier Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced new procedures that cruise operators will adopt to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus on their ships.

Within the next 72 hours, the industry, with the assistance of the DHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Coast Guard, Pence said cruise operators will develop new guidelines in three areas:

  • Further enhancement of entry and exit screening and shipboard testing for the coronavirus.
  • New quarantine standards coordinated with the CDC for all cruise ships.
  • A protocol to move any patients that contract the coronavirus or otherwise become seriously ill to land-based facilities.

– Curtis Tate, Antonio Fins and Morgan Hines, USA TODAY

Person with virus attended conservative meeting

A person who attended the Conservative Political Action Conference, which President Donald Trump attended last week in Maryland, has been affected by the virus, the Washington Post reported Saturday.

Press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the White House is aware of the patient, and “at this time there is no indication that either President Trump or Vice President Pence met with or were in close proximity to the attendee,” the Post said.

The CPAC conference was held in the Washington suburb of Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Asked Saturday in Palm Beach, Florida, whether he was concerned about the virus getting closer the White House, Trump said: “No, I’m not concerned at all. No, I’m not. We’ve done a great job.”

In a statement Saturday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan urged CPAC attendees who are experiencing flu-like symptoms to immediately reach out to their health care provider.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has announced that a U.S. Marine assigned to Fort Belvoir in Northern Virginia tested positive Saturday for COVID-19.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman tweeted that “the Marine recently returned from overseas where he was on official business. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the White House have been briefed.”

– The Associated Press

Argentina announces first coronavirus death in Latin America

A 64-year-old patient died in Argentina as a result of the new coronavirus, the first such death in Latin America, health authorities announced Saturday.

The Ministry of Health said the person lived in Buenos Aires and had been confirmed with COVID-19.

The patient, who suffered kidney failure, already had diabetes, hypertension and bronchitis before being infected with the virus, a statement said.

– The Associated Press

China sees fewest infections since count began

China says it has recorded 44 new cases of the novel coronavirus over the last 24 hours, the lowest level since it began publishing nationwide figures on Jan 20.

Another 27 deaths were reported in the Sunday morning count, bringing the total to 3,097 since the virus was first detected in December in the city of Wuhan, which still accounts for the bulk of cases and deaths.

The Health Ministry says a total of 80,695 infections have been recorded in the outbreak, with 20,533 patients still in treatment.

– The Associated Press

New York declares emergency

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Saturday to deal with the worsening crisis, as the number of cases jumped to 89, up from 44 on Friday.

The number of cases in New York City was more than doubled in 24 hours, the governor said, in large part because of heavy emphasis on testing potential patients.

“We are testing aggressively,” Cuomo said. “The more positives you find, the better.”

Florida reports first virus deaths outside of the West Coast

State health officials said two people in their 70s who had traveled overseas died in Santa Rosa County in Florida’s Panhandle and in the Fort Myers area. At least one of those deaths, viewed as a presumptive positive case, has not been confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

When confirmed by the CDC, the two Florida cases would bring the total number of U.S. deaths to 16. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, has ordered the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee to “Level 2” to coordinate response to the outbreak. Level 2 activation is a preparatory, intermediate-level response that “may not require activation” of all emergency support functions, though “primary, or lead” responders are notified.

The Florida Department of Health also said six Florida residents have been diagnosed with coronavirus along with one non-Florida resident.

– Caryn Shaffer, Treasure Coast Newspapers, and Jeffrey Schweers, USA TODAY Network, Florida 

Grand Princess will dock but still unclear where; 21 on board test positive 

More than 3,500 people aboard Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess remained in limbo Saturday as they awaited further information on when and where the cruise ship will dock, after 21 people aboard tested positive for coronavirus Friday. 

The ship’s passengers were supposed to disembark this weekend but have not heard yet from federal, state and local authorities about where that will take place and when.

“We await a decision as to where we will be berthing the ship,” said Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, in a conference call with reporters.

Officials also have not communicated a plan for testing passengers and crew for coronavirus. Only 45 passengers and crew members have been tested, and of those who tested positive, 19 were crew members and two were passengers.

Grant Tarling, the chief medical officer for Carnival Corp., the parent company of Princess Cruises, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had not established a testing protocol for the ship, nor had it said how many passengers and crew members would be tested.

“We have not been told that by the CDC,” he said. “We are waiting for CDC to provide definitive information about that.”

Swartz said that Princess Cruises made recommendations to the agencies that will decide what to do with the ship, based on its experience last month with the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined off the coast of Japan. More than 700 of that ship’s passengers developed coronavirus, and six have died.

“We need to get the ship into a port as soon as possible,” she said.

– Morgan Hines, John Fritze, Maureen Groppe and Associated Press

Amtrak cancels 3 nonstop, daily trains from DC to NYC  

Amtrak is canceling nonstop, high-speed Acela service between Washington, D.C., and New York City until late May because of falling demand over coronavirus outbreaks. The move is effective March 10 through May 26.

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor has dozens of trains daily between Washington and New York, and the cancellation of the nonstop Acelas represents a reduction of only three daily trains. 

Amtrak said in a statement that it is also considering taking additional measures, including reducing cars, changing schedules or canceling more train service.

To address health concerns linked to the virus, Amtrak has already announced it will undertake more frequent cleaning on trains and stations, make sanitizers and disinfectants more readily available, and review good hygiene practices with workers.

Chicago Public Schools employee tests positive 

Late Friday, the Chicago Department of Public Health said an employee of the Chicago Public Schools had tested positive for coronavirus — the city’s first case and the sixth in Illinois.

The woman, in her 50s, had disembarked from the Grand Princess in San Francisco on Feb. 21 and returned to Chicago on Feb. 24. She is currently hospitalized and in stable condition, city officials said.

The woman had returned to work, but stayed home once she started developing symptoms, officials said. The test came back positive on Friday. The school where she works, Jacqueline B. Vaughn Occupational High School, will be closed next week.

The city’s school system and health department “have already begun an extensive outreach effort for every student, employee and family in this school community to inform them of the confirmed case,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a news conference late Friday.

– Curtis Tate

Tourists, crew in quarantine on a cruise ship on the Nile

A cruise ship on Egypt’s Nile River with over 150 passengers and crew was in quarantine Saturday in the southern city of Luxor, as 45 people on board tested positive for the new coronavirus, authorities said.

A Taiwanese-American tourist who had previously been on the same ship tested positive when she returned to Taiwan, the World Health Organization informed Egyptian authorities, who then tested everyone on the ship.

Health authorities first found that a dozen of the ship’s Egyptian crew members had contracted the fast-spreading virus, and said they did not show symptoms, according to a joint statement from Egypt’s Health Ministry and the WHO on Friday.

Stanford is latest university to move all classes online

Stanford University, which has 17,000 students, is the latest school to cancel all in-person classes and move them online because of the concern over the coronavirus.

Persis Drell, the schools’ provost, said classes for the final two weeks of its winter quarter will move online and large-group events would be canceled or adjusted. The university, which is located in Northern California’s Silicon Valley, also canceled its in-person Admit Weekend event scheduled for April 23  for prospective undergraduates.

The University of Washington, located in Seattle, announced Friday that it was moving all classes online for the next three weeks for its 57,000 students. 

China quarantine hotel collapses

A hotel in southeastern China that was used for medical observation of people who had contact with coronavirus patients collapsed on Saturday, trapping some 70 people, state media reported. There were no immediate reports of deaths.

At least 48 people were rescued from the wreckage of the Xinjia Express Hotel in Quanzhou, a city in Fujian province, the Ministry of Emergency Management told the South China Morning Post. 

The 80-room hotel had been converted by the city government to observe people who had contact with virus patients, according to People’s Daily

Italy’s biggest ever daily count soars by more than 1,200

Italy on Saturday recorded its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the initial outbreak in northern Italy more than two weeks ago. Another 1,247 cases increased the total to 5,883. Another 36 people also died as a result of the virus, raising the death toll to 233. Most of the deaths have been among the elderly, with one or more underlying condition. 

The head of Italy’s national health institute, Silvio Brusaferro, urged Italians to take precautions, including avoiding public places and maintaining a distance, to protect the elderly. He said there was “evidence of superficial attitudes” toward the measures

• In Spain, where eight people have died, authorities believe that an outbreak in the northern part of the country are linked to a funeral were many people became infected.

• In Britain, where a second person died Friday of the virus, the public was told to prepare itself for “social distancing,” which could include temporarily reducing socializing at entertainment or sporting events or reducing non-essential travel on public transport and recommendations to work from home.

Pope Francis to deliver public blessings via video

Pope Francis will deliver his next two public blessings via video to prevent crowds from gathering in St. Peter’s Square as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. 

The Vatican said in a statement Saturday that the pope will deliver his traditional Sunday noon blessing from the library in the Apostolic Palace instead of appearing at a window over St. Peter’s Square. The Wednesday audience will be handled in the same way.

Francis has also stopped celebrating morning Mass before invited guests at the chapel in the Vatican hotel where he lives.

By staying indoors, the pope is not only limiting any spread of virus among the crowds, he would also be protecting himself. The 83-year-old pontiff, who had part of one lung removed from a respiratory infection when he was younger, is recovering from a cold. He would be at risk of serious complications if he were to catch the coronavirus.

WHO warns against ‘false hopes’ that virus will fade with summer

One day after four more states announced their first cases of the new coronavirus, more than 338 people in the U.S. had been infected Saturday.

More than 102,000 people worldwide have been infected with the virus, and more than 3,400 have died. More than 57,000 people have recovered.

The World Health Organization has warned against “false hopes” that the disease will fade when warmer summer weather arrives in northern countries.

The figure of infections dwarfs other major outbreaks such as SARS, MERS and Ebola. The virus is still much less widespread than annual flu epidemics, which cause up to 5 million severe cases around the world and 290,000 to 650,000 deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization.

Which states have coronavirus cases?

Here’s a look at which states have reported cases of COVID-19: 

Starbucks employee diagnosed with coronavirus in Seattle 

An employee of a popular Starbucks store in downtown Seattle has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the company said late Friday. The store, which is a Starbucks Reserve bar, was shut down for cleaning and the employee is quarantined at home, Starbucks said. This is the first U.S. coronavirus case reported by Starbucks.

“We quickly activated our protocols, immediately closing the store and initiating a deep clean overnight, following all recommended guidelines from the City of Seattle and King County public health authorities,” according to a company statement. 

The store is expected to reopen in the next few days staffed by employees “who have no known impact from COVID-19,” the company told USA TODAY.

Starbucks has instructed employees to increase cleaning at all of its stores and on Wednesday announced it was temporarily pausing the use of reusable cups over coronavirus fears.

– Jessica Guynn and Kelly Tyko

SXSW canceled over outbreak fears

The South by Southwest music, film and technology conference was canceled Friday – the most high-profile event yet to fall victim to the new coronavirus, with officials calling it a medical and data driven decision. SXSW, as it’s known, had vowed to go on, despite recent developer conferences that were canceled by Facebook and Amazon. 

Organizers said it was the first time in 34 years that event will not take place. 

The conference this year had several high profile speakers in place, including former presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Yang and Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs and rockers Ozzy Osbourne, director Judd Apatow and to Kim Kardashian West. Nearly 300,000 people attended in 2019.

The 10-day festival was set to begin March 13.  

– Jefferson Graham

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