LOS ANGELES: The death toll in the United States from the novel coronavirus rose to 11 on Wednesday (Mar 4), as lawmakers in Congress agreed to provide more than US$8 billion to fight the rapidly spreading disease.
Governor Gavin Newsom reported the first fatality in California from the COVID-19 illness while health officials in nearby Washington state said a 10th person had died there.
Newsom gave no details about the person who had died, saying only that the victim lived in Placer County, in northern California.
“The state is working with federal officials to follow up on contact tracing of individuals that may have been exposed to provide treatment and protect public health,” he said in a statement.
READ: COVID-19 fatality rate higher than the flu, says WHO
Earlier in the day, Los Angeles County officials declared an emergency as six new cases were reported in the West Coast metropolis, while the number of confirmed cases in New York state rose to 11.
One of the cases concerns a medical screener at the Los Angeles International Airport checking overseas travellers for symptoms.
The Department of Homeland Security said the worker was under self-quarantine at home along with family members and was showing mild symptoms.
That person’s last shift at the airport was on Feb 21 and the symptoms began on Feb 29, a statement said.
“DHS is happy to report that this individual was highly trained and did everything right both on the job and when they began to feel sick,” the statement said. “We are told the individual wore all the correct protective equipment and took necessary protections on the job.”
Nationwide, more than 130 people have so far been infected, with the virus detected in more than a dozen states. Most of the deaths have so far been in Washington state, with most of the victims residents of a nursing home.
READ: Washington COVID-19 deaths highlight risk at nursing homes
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said that Republicans and Democrats had reached a deal to fund the response to the outbreak to the tune of US$8.3 billion.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is the White House’s pointman on the crisis, told reporters he would be travelling to Minnesota on Thursday to visit a 3M plant manufacturing personal protective equipment like masks.
He will then visit Washington state and meet with Governor Jay Inslee to review containment efforts in the Seattle area.
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All of the newly infected individuals in Los Angeles were exposed to the coronavirus through close contact, health officials said.
Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said three of the cases concerned travellers who had gone together to northern Italy – a virus hotspot with more than 100 deaths.
Two other cases involved individuals who had come in contact with a family member who had the virus and the last was the airport screener.
“The step we’re taking today is about preparation, not panic,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti of the emergency declaration.
READ: Italy closes schools as COVID-19 death toll hits 107
Officials said they expected the number of infections in California to rise in coming days and urged families to brace for possible school closures and the cancellation of public events.
Statewide, more than 50 people are known to be infected, the most of any state.
In Washington state, officials in King County, where most of the deaths have taken place, said they were purchasing an 85-bed motel to house patients stricken with the virus.
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