A man in his 50s in Washington state with underlying health problems became the first person in the U.S. to die after contracting the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. The patient, whose name was not revealed by officials, did not have a travel history and was admitted to a hospital near Seattle to receive treatment for severe respiratory illness.
The news of the man’s death comes after the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced four new possible cases of coronavirus in California, Oregon and Washington on Friday. Of the cases, three were considered to be possible instances of “community spread.” The CDC defines community spread as the spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown.
Earlier this week, the CDC announced the first possible instance of community spread in the U.S. in connection with a case in California.
At a news conference on Saturday, health officials at EvergreenHealth hospital in Kirkland, Washington said they decided to test the man after the CDC revised its coronavirus testing criteria and advised the medical community to test patients with severe respiratory illness, no other explanation for their condition and no history of travel. The decision led to them discovering the man was infected.
“We’re seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Francis Riedo, the medical director of infection control and prevention at EvergreenHealth, said in a press conference Saturday. “We’re seeing the most critically ill individuals, usually that means there is a significant percentage of individuals of less severe illness floating around out there. And yes, so in all likelihood, there is ongoing low-level transmission.”
Health officials declined to provide more information on the man who died from coronavirus. Officials stated that the individual’s family was aware of the diagnosis and had been counseled on the appropriate measures that had to be taken.
In addition, Washington health officials also announced two new confirmed cases tied to a long-term care facility. One of the individuals was a female resident of the long-term care facility in her 70s who is in serious condition. The other person affected is a healthcare worker in her 40s that works at the facility who is in satisfactory condition. Neither of them has travelled outside the U.S.
Health officials stated that they are aware of a number of individuals associated with the long-term care facility that are reportedly ill with respiratory symptoms or pneumonia. Officials are in the process of investigating the situation as an outbreak.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in response to the new coronavirus cases. Inslee directed state agencies to use all resources necessary to prepare for and respond to the outbreak. The state of emergency authorizes the use of the Washington National Guard, if necessary.
On Saturday, President Donald Trump confirmed the death in Washington, although he mistakenly identified the patient as a woman, and said that additional cases in the U.S are likely. Vice President Mike Pence announced that the administration was issuing a “do not travel” advisory, its highest-level warning, for regions in Italy and South Korea that have been hit with coronavirus outbreaks.
The U.S. is also banning all travel from Iran and will bar entry to any foreign citizen who has visited Iran in the last 14 days. Pence said the U.S. has asked Italy and South Korea to coordinate a medical screening for travellers coming to the U.S. from those countries.
Trump urged “the media and politicians and everybody else involved” not to do anything to incite a panic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported on Saturday that there are 6,009 cases of coronavirus in 53 countries outside of China. Of those, there have been 86 deaths. In the U.S., there are 62 cases of the disease, according to WHO. Globally, there are 85,403 confirmed cases, including nearly 3,000 deaths.
This post has been updated with additional information.