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.
Further details about the patient in King County were not immediately available. A news conference is scheduled for 1 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET), Jamie Nixon of the state Health Department said.
“It is a sad day in our state as we learn that a Washingtonian has died from COVID-19,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement, using the World Health Organization’s name for the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“We are strengthening our preparedness and response efforts,” Inslee said. “I am committed to keeping Washingtonians healthy, safe and informed.”
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.
Sixty-seven cases have been reported in the United States, among more than 85,000 globally. More than 2,900 people worldwide have died, most of them in China.
4 cases without related travel history
At least four US coronavirus patients have no travel history that would tie them to the virus, health officials say.
A woman in Oregon and a high school boy in Washington state are presumptive positives, which means their tests were conducted at local labs but the results have not yet been confirmed by the CDC.
The other two mystery cases are from California.
An older woman in Santa Clara County who had been hospitalized for a respiratory illness tested positive for the virus but had no relevant travel history or contact with anyone infected, health officials said.
“This new case indicates that there is evidence of community transmission, but the extent is still not clear,” said Dr. Sara Cody, director of the county’s public health department.
The other California case is a Solano County woman who is hospitalized at UC Davis Medical Center and in serious condition.
The two counties are about 90 miles apart. The Santa Clara patient had not traveled to Solano County, officials said.
With an increase in cases with unknown origins and a change in testing guidelines across the country, CDC officials said they were hoping to have every state and local health department testing for the virus by the end of next week.
As of early Saturday, there were at least 67 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US — the majority of which were repatriated passengers from the Diamond Princess Cruise ship. Worldwide, the virus has killed at least 2,922 — including 2,835 people in China — and 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.”
Here’s what else you need to know heading into the weekend:
States announce presumptive positives
Oregon Health Authority officials confirmed the state’s first presumptive case Friday — a Washington County resident with no history of related travel nor close contact with another confirmed case, the agency said in a news release.
“As such, public health officials are considering it a likely community-transmitted case, meaning that the origin of the infection is unknown,” the release said.
Officials said the patient is in isolation.
“We are awaiting confirmation of the test results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but at this time we are considering this a presumptive case,” said State Epidemiologist and State Health Officer Dean Sidelinger in a statement.
Officials also haven’t traced how a Washington state high school boy was infected. Those test results were also presumptive positive.
The student, a Snohomish County resident, is doing well, said Dr. Chris Spitters, interim health officer for the Snohomish Health District.
The patient is one of two presumptive positive cases in the state.
A woman from King County tested positive at the state’s Public Health Laboratory and is in home isolation, according to a release from the Washington State Health Department. Her test is awaiting confirmation from the CDC.
She visited South Korea for about two weeks earlier this month, according to Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer at Public Health of Seattle & King County. The woman returned and worked for one day before noticing symptoms. She developed a fever, cough, some nausea, a headache and a sore throat, Duchin said in a news conference Friday. Officials are now investigating the woman’s workplace and anyone she may have come in contact with, he said.
Officials work to expand testing capabilities
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.
The CDC, following an earlier change in testing guidelines, is working to expand the number of labs that can test for the virus.
Testing kits from the CDC arrived Friday in California, and additional kits were expected soon, according to a news release from the California Department of Public Health.
“These new testing protocols and resources will help California medical experts identify and treat COVID-19 cases, trace potential exposures and better protect public health,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.
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.
Guidelines for who should be tested were broadened by the CDC earlier this week after the first case of unknown origin emerged in California.
Initial guidance called for testing only if a patient had a travel history to China or had been in close contact with someone who had been there, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said.
The Solano County patient now in serious condition wasn’t initially tested at UC Davis or the Northern California hospital she was transferred from because she did not fit the CDC criteria for testing at the time.
“As soon as that case was recognized, we met and we revised our case definition for persons under investigation,” Redfield said.
The guidance was updated on the CDC’s website Thursday.
“Today that has been posted along with a new health advisory that the recommendation should be when a clinician or individual suspects coronavirus, then we should be able to get a test for coronavirus.”
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