Coronavirus updates: US deaths on East Coast, cruise ship still in limbo, China quarantine hotel collapses

The deaths of two Florida residents from the new coronavirus 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. 

In quick succession, Stanford University is temporarily shifting its classes online, the popular South by Southwest festival was abruptly canceled, and Amtrak announced plans to cancel its nonstop, high-speed train service between Washington, D.C., and New York City for three months due to falling demand by anxious travelers.

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 Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota and Nebraska recently reporting their first cases. At least 14 people have died from the virus.

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

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 

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

Vice President Mike Pence said Friday that the ship will dock this weekend in a “noncommercial port,” and that all passengers and crew will be tested. Of the 21 who tested positive, 19 were crew members who were likely exposed to the virus on a previous voyage. The vice president said they would likely be quarantined on the ship. 

While health officials said about 1,100 crew members will remain aboard, passengers could be disembarked to face quarantine, possibly at U.S. military bases or other sites. That’s what happened to hundreds of passengers who were exposed to the virus on another cruise ship in January.

President Donald Trump, speaking Friday at the CDC in Atlanta, said he would prefer not to allow the passengers on American soil but will defer to the recommendations of medical experts.

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

Amtrak cancels nonstop DC to NYC Acela service for 3 months

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, effective March 10 through May 26, does not affect other Acela service along the route that makes limited stops between Washington and Boston.

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.

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

Rescuers help a man from the rubble of a collapsed hotel building in Quanzhou city in southeast China's Fujian province Saturday, March 7, 2020. The hotel used for medical observation of people who had contact with coronavirus patients collapsed in southeastern China on Saturday, trapping dozens, state media reported.

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 34 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

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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