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U.S. Coronavirus Cases Reach 34: CDC

HealthDay News
by -- E.J. Mundell and Robin Foster
Updated: Feb 21st 2020

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FRIDAY, Feb. 21, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The number of coronavirus cases among Americans jumped to 34 Friday, as U.S. health officials reported that more passengers who were evacuated from a quarantined cruise ship in Japan have tested positive for the virus.

"We have 13 U.S. cases, versus 21 cases among people who were repatriated," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the U.S. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a media briefing Friday. "The repatriated cases include 18 passengers from the Diamond Princess [cruise ship] and three from the Wuhan repatriation flights."

However, nearly everyone evacuated in the special flights from Wuhan have finished their 14-day quarantine, Messonnier added.

Of the Diamond Princess patients who are now in the United States, 11 are receiving care at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, five are receiving care around Travis Air Force Base in northern California and two are being cared for around Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Messonnier said.

"Because the passengers on the Diamond Princess were in a close setting where there has been a significant spread of COVID-19, they are considered at high risk for infection and we do expect to see additional confirmed cases," she noted.

Ten more passengers from the Diamond Princess tested positive for coronavirus in Japan, but they are not being counted among the infected yet because the tests have not been confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Messonnier said.

"We never expected that we would catch every single traveler with novel coronavirus returning from China, given the nature of this virus and how it's spreading," Messonnier said during the briefing. "That would be simply impossible."

Instead, the measures being taken are buying health officials time for a response before the virus gains a foothold in the United States, she explained.

In China, the number of new cases of COVID-19 continued to decline on Friday, but South Korean officials battled to contain the rapidly spreading virus in its country. The first case was reported on Tuesday in that country; by Friday, that number had climbed to 204, the Associated Press reported.

The decline in Chinese cases has been due in part to Chinese health officials changing how they tally infections. Under the new system, there have now been a total of 75,465 cases and 2,236 deaths in mainland China.

Among the 400 Americans who were on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, roughly 300 Americans were evacuated over the weekend and are under quarantine in the United States.

For the patients who have been sent to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the facility has a biocontainment unit and is specially designated to treat highly infectious diseases, CNN reported. The unit successfully treated three patients for Ebola in 2004.

More than 100 American passengers remain in Japan, and U.S. health officials announced Tuesday that they will not be allowed to return home for at least two more weeks.

According to a statement from the CDC, containment measures that were taken on the ship "may not have been sufficient to prevent transmission. [The] CDC believes the rate of new infections on board, especially among those without symptoms, represents an ongoing risk."

Passengers who stayed on the ship will not be allowed to return to the United States until they have been off the ship for 14 days, without any symptoms or a positive test for the virus, the agency added. The ruling also applies to Americans who are hospitalized for coronavirus in Japan.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak -- and the global response to it -- continues to evolve, with three deaths now reported in Japan. The first death outside Asia was reported Feb. 15 in France, The New York Times reported.

Iran had reported 18 coronavirus cases and four deaths by Friday, the AP reported. And the first case of infection on the continent of Africa was identified late last week, involving a person in Egypt who has tested positive for coronavirus but has so far shown no symptoms.

Earlier this month, the United States began to bar entry to any foreigners who have recently traveled to China. U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to the Hubei province of China, where Wuhan is located, will be quarantined for up to 14 days, U.S. health officials said. U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to other parts of China will face health screenings and voluntary quarantines of up to 14 days.

The temporary entry ban applies to foreign nationals, with the exception of relatives of citizens and permanent residents.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.