The coronavirus outbreak intensified overnight in the US as the number of confirmed cases jumped, the death toll increased to 31 and a top federal health official warned America on Wednesday that the worst is yet to come.
As of daybreak, two more states declared a state of emergency the number of US cases exceeded 1,000 nationwide. There have been a total of 31 confirmed deaths.
Testifying before Congress on Wednesday morning, Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a key member of the White House taskforce formed to tackle the US response the outbreak, said “the bottom line is it’s going to get worse”.
Fauci urged a more aggressive approach to limit the spread of the virus.
“Even in areas of the country, where there are no or few cases, we’ve got to change our behaviour,” he said. “We have to essentially assume that we are going to get hit. And that’s why we talk about making mitigation and containment in a much more vigorous way.”
The Trump administration said it planned to urge US states and localities to take stronger steps to fight the coronavirus, with new information from the federal public health agency the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“You’re going to hear from CDC today and the White House that we’re going to be making recommendations to those local communities about aggressive steps that we think they should be taking,” the health secretary, Alex Azar told Fox News.
Azar added that federal leaders were working with local officials in the hardest-hit states so far, including Washington state, California, New York, Massachusetts and Florida, as they grappled with the virus, saying “strong mitigation steps” could help buy valuable time to control the virus.
The governor of hard-hit New York, however, said federal officials had left states scrambling to act on their own, including ramping up testing for the highly contagious – and sometimes fatal – respiratory illness.
“We can’t wait for the federal government because it’s not going to happen,” said Andrew Cuomo, who has deployed the national guard to help contain an outbreak in New Rochelle, just outside New York City.
“The federal government has just fallen down on the job,” Cuomo, a Democrat, told MSNBC, adding that he has told other state governors “you’re on you own”.
New York is prepared to send up to 200 national guard troops to a suburban virus cluster on Thursday. Meanwhile in neighboring Massachusetts, the governor, Charlie Baker, declared a state of emergency as the number of cases there doubled to 92.
The first cases with no known source broke out in Berkshire county near the state’s border with New York.
Washington state’s governor, Jay Inslee, is expected to announce on Wednesday that events where more than 250 people are expected will be banned in three counties, including the one where Seattle is located.
That will shut down sporting events, conferences, cultural events and cause major disruption.
On Tuesday, Inslee warned that without “real action” to contain the virus that the state could be facing tens of thousands of cases within a short period, as cases continued to multiply.
State and local officials have said the delay in distributing diagnostic tests has hampered their ability to manage the outbreak, despite Trump’s assurances that anyone who wanted a test could get one.
On 2 March, the administration said it would provide a million test kits by the end of that week, but Robert Redfield, the CDC director told the House oversight committee on Wednesday that 75,000 tests had so far been sent out.
Redfield also said there were no CDC plans to set up drive-through test facilities.
“We’re trying to maintain the relationship between individuals and their healthcare providers,” he told the committee. Jim Cooper, a Democratic congressman from Tennessee replied: “Most Americans don’t really have a doctor. They rely on [hospital emergency rooms] to help and people are panicking.”
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. For some, especially the elderly and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and the lethality rate of this novel coronavirus strain, known as Covid-19, is many times greater than seasonal influenza.
Most people recover in a matter of weeks, as has happened with three-quarters of those infected in China.
Judy Aqua, who is in her 60s, is quarantining herself at home in New Rochelle, outside New York City, after possibly being exposed to someone with the virus.
“People are really afraid to go to the supermarket. They’re afraid to go to the cleaner,” she said. When her husband made a recent run to a post office, she told him to wear gloves.
Mike Pence had told reporters on Tuesday that recommendations by the CDC would be aimed at communities that have already seen spread of the disease.
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) canceled a roundtable scheduled for Friday in New York due to the spread of the infection. The roundtable is one of three events the CFR has shuttered due to the virus, both in New York and Washington.
Around the world, more than 100 countries have now reported cases, totaling an estimated 121,000 cases worldwide since it surfaced in China late last year, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. There have been about 4,300 deaths. Other developments around the world include:
More than 15 countries have completely shut down their school systems, including Italy, which has the highest death toll outside China. Italy began a lockdown of its entire population of 60 million on Tuesday.
Jamaica registered its first imported case of the virus, becoming the first in the English-speaking Caribbean. Christopher Tufton with the island’s ministry of health confirmed the patient is a Jamaican female who had traveled from the UK. She is receiving treatment in Kingston. Jamaica joins the Dominican Republic, Martinique and St Barthélemy with confirmed coronavirus cases in the Caribbean.
In South Korea, where authorities had hoped a severe outbreak was being contained, cases spiked again on Wednesday by 242 compared with fewer than 100 the day before.
Japan reported 59 new cases on Wednesday, its biggest one-day rise since the outbreak began. The nation was also forced to scale back ceremonies to mark the ninth anniversary of the triple disaster of tsunami, earthquake and Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March 2011.
According to India’s union health ministry, the country has a total number of 60 confirmed coronavirus cases and one death.