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Americans warned to prepare as virus picks up steam outside China

  Updated 25m ago

Saudis not letting anyone travel to Islam's holiest sites due to virus fears

Saudi Arabia has halted travel to Islam's holiest sites over fears about a new viral epidemic months ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage. The extraordinary decision stops foreigners from reaching the holy city of Mecca and Prophet Muhammad's mosque in Medina. 

The decision reflected concern about the outbreak potentially spreading into Saudi Arabia, whose oil-rich monarchy stakes its legitimacy on protecting Islam's holy sites. 

Experts worry Iran may be under-reporting cases and deaths, given the illness's rapid spread from Iran across the Persian Gulf. President Hassan Rouhani said there were no immediate plans to quarantine cities but acknowledged controlling the outbreak may take weeks.

 

New Jersey university cancels spring study abroad trips over coronavirus fears

Seton Hall University in New Jersey announced Wednesday that it has canceled its spring study abroad programs, citing coronavirus fears. 

"Effective immediately, all University spring study abroad trips are cancelled due to the spread of the coronavirus in a growing number of countries around the world, including China, Italy, Greece and India, as well as the potential threat of the virus spreading within the United States," the university said in a statement from the provost's office. "The latest updates from the Centers for Diseases and Prevention have led us to take this action."

The university told students that trips that had already departed would be allowed to continue, as would trips not run by the university.  

 

State Department warns Americans to "reconsider travel" to South Korea

The State Department updated its travel warning to level 3 on Wednesday, warning Americans to "reconsider travel" to the country. 

South Korea is currently facing the largest coronavirus outbreak outside of China, with more than 1,500 confirmed cases. 

 

Romania confirms first case of coronavirus

Romania's health minister confirmed the country's first case of coronavirus on Wednesday, Reuters reported. The patient is from the southern city of Gorj. 

"The man had been in direct contact with an Italian citizen who traveled to Romania earlier this month," Health Minister Victor Costache told reporters, according to Reuters. "He is in a good condition and will be transferred to a Bucharest infectious hospital."

Costache reportedly added that all of the patient's family members tested negative for the coronavirus. 

Romania is the 44th country to have a coronavirus case. 

 

China reports 433 new cases, 29 new deaths

Chinese officials on Wednesday reported 433 new cases and 29 new deaths from the novel coronavirus. That brings the total number of cases in the country to 78,497. 

 

South Korea reports 334 new coronavirus cases

South Korea reported 334 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the total to 1,595, Reuters reported. The country has the most coronavirus cases outside of China by a large margin.

More than 300 of the new cases came from Daegu, the center of the country's outbreak, according to Reuters.

 

South Korea, U.S. postpone annual military drills due to virus

The South Korean and U.S. militaries have postponed their annual joint drills out of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. Thursday's announcement came after South Korea reported 21 cases of the virus in its military and the U.S. military reported one case among its 28,500 troops in South Korea.

 The announcement was jointly made by South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff and the U.S. military in South Korea. Kim Jun-rak, a spokesman at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the allies will put off their drills in the first half of this year until further notice.

  The cases among military personnel have put thousands of South Korean troops in quarantine. The U.S. has closed facilities on several bases to stop the spread of the virus.

—The Associated Press

 

CDC announces possible case of community spread of coronavirus in the U.S.

The CDC on Wednesday announced the first possible case of community spread of the coronavirus in the United States. The patient, who is in California, reportedly did not have relevant travel history or exposure to another patient before getting diagnosed. 

"It's possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States," the CDC said, referring to the disease by its official name. "Community spread means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. It's also possible, however, that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected." 

Soon after the CDC's statement, the California Department of Health said the patient is a resident of Solano County, near Sacramento, and that they are being treated in Sacramento County. 

The case first came to light earlier Wednesday, when Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said told a House subcommittee he was informed of the new case as he was coming to a hearing before the panel.

Azar didn't offer any additional details at the time. 

This patient is the 15th non-evacuee to be diagnosed with the virus in the U.S. Three more patients were evacuees from Wuhan, China; 42 more were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

 

Testing underway for possible coronavirus drug treatment

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, said Wednesday night that testing is underway for an antiviral drug called remdesivir, a potential treatment for the coronavirus. 

"We will know reasonably soon whether it works - and if it does, we will then have an effective therapy to distribute," Fauci said. 

A randomized, controlled clinical trial of remdesivir is currently taking place at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, according to a press release from the NIH. It's the first clinical trial to evaluate an experimental treatment for the novel coronavirus. 

If it works, the treatment would be especially helpful, Fauci said, because it will take anywhere from a year to a year and a half, at least, to develop a vaccine for the virus. 

 

President Trump puts Pence in charge of coronavirus response

President Trump announced Wednesday night that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the country's coronavirus response efforts. 

"He's got a certain talent for this," Mr. Trump said. 

Mr. Trump later specified that he is not appointing Pence as the coronavirus czar, but that the vice president will be the member of the administration to which everyone will report.

"This isn't a czar, I don't view Mike as a czar," Mr. Trump said. 

He added that he gave Pence the role to help Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar focus on his other responsibilities. Azar said he was "delighted" to have the vice president's help. 

 

Face mask prices surge as coronavirus fears grow

The price of disposable face masks is spiking online as Americans gird for a widening outbreak of the coronavirus. Consumer demand for the medical accessory appears to be surging even as government officials say healthy individuals do not need to wear the masks.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Amazon had largely sold out of different mask varieties. Keepa, which tracks the prices of items sold on Amazon, shows that a 10-pack of 3M N95 respirators that sold for $18.20 roughly a month ago now costs $99.99. And one Amazon seller is offering a 30-pack of 3M N95 respirators for $198.98. On eBay, a two-pack of 3M N95 face masks is available for $59.99. Other retailers typically sell a pair of masks for less than $6, but are currently out of stock. 

N95 masks are in demand because they filter out 95% of all airborne particles, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet the agency has noted that only people with coronavirus symptoms should use protective masks as a measure to help contain the disease. They are also recommended for health workers and others caring for infected patients. 

 

Norway and Georgia announce first coronavirus cases

The countries of Norway and Georgia both announced their first coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to reports from Reuters and AFP. 

The Norway patient returned from China last week and is in isolation at home, Reuters reported. 

The Georgia patient is a 50-year-old man who has been placed in isolation at a Tbilisi hospital, according to AFP. Officials said he'd come to Georgia from Iran, with a stop in Azerbaijan.

Officials added Georgia planned to introduce a two-week ban on Iranian nationals entering the country, following the lead of neighboring Armenia, AFP reported. 

Norway is the 42nd country to report a case of coronavirus; Georgia is the 43rd. 

 

Stocks extend slide as Trump downplays coronavirus fears

Stocks closed lower on Wednesday, extending a five-day slide triggered by growing fears that the coronavirus outbreak could stall U.S. and global economic growth.

The Dow slipped 124 points to close at 26,958, or a decline of 0.5%, after a rally earlier in the day. The broader S&P 500 fell 12 points, or 0.4%, to 3,114, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq edged higher, rising 0.2%. The Dow shed a total of more than 1,900 points on Monday and Tuesday, slicing more than 6% from the index's value. Over the previous four trading sessions, stocks in the U.S. have lost a total of $2.1 trillion in value.

As Wall Street tries to gauge the potential hit to consumers and businesses from the disease, officially called COVID-19, President Trump suggested that fears of the disease are overblown, tweeting that the "USA is in great shape."

 

Trump and top officials to hold coronavirus press conference

President Trump will be holding a news conference at 6:30 p.m. ET Wednesday with officials from his coronavirus task force as he and his administration seek to reassure the public and the markets. Stocks suffered two days of steep losses on fears about the virus' economic impact, and the president accused news outlets of stoking panic.

Mr. Trump said in a tweet Wednesday morning that the country is "in great shape!" The president's appearance in the White House briefing room will be only the second of his presidency.

 

Top health official announces new coronavirus case in U.S.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday that a new coronavirus case had been confirmed in the U.S. Azar told a House subcommittee he was informed of the new case as he was coming to a hearing before the panel.

Azar didn't give additional details, but said this is the 15th case involving travel or close contact with a traveler.

The other cases in the U.S. are 42 evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and an additional three cases among Americans evacuated from the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, China. All evacuees were ordered to undergo a 14-day quarantine after returning to the U.S.

"While the immediate risk to the American public remains low, there is now community transmission in a number of countries, including outside of Asia, which is deeply concerning," Azar told the panel of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

 

Top health official says masks not the "be all, end all" in protection

A woman wearing a face mask poses for a picture in New York City's Chinatown February 13, 2020.
A woman wearing a face mask poses for a picture in New York City's Chinatown February 13, 2020. Reuters/Yana Paskova

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar discussed the use of masks on Wednesday before a House Appropriations subcommittee. He was asked about N95 masks, which are respirators that the CDC says filter out at least 95% of airborne particles.

He said people mistakenly have a sense that "the mask" is the "be all, end all of either preparedness or response activities."

"It's an element in our armamentarium, mostly for health care workers," he said. "And that's that N95 mask that's actually fitted. It has to be carefully fitted, and it can protect the worker."

Disposable surgical masks aren't recommended for the general public either — only for those who are sick or caring for someone with symptoms.

Azar said wearing masks "could actually sometimes be more harmful to you than not wearing a mask because if it's not fitted right you're going to fumble with it. You're going to be touching your face, which is the No. 1 way you're going to get disease, is unclean hands touching your face."

"Basic public health hygiene — washing hands and extended time for soap and water, not touching your face, coughing into your elbow — these are the best things for flu season, for common cold, for novel coronavirus that any of us can do for preparedness," he said.

 

Top Senate Democrat calls for $8.5 billion to fight coronavirus

Congress prepares for inevitable U.S. coronavirus outbreak

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling for $8.5 billion in emergency funding to combat the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S.

"Congress must act swiftly to confront the threat of this global health crisis," Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said in a statement. "This proposal brings desperately-needed resources to the global fight against coronavirus. Americans need to know that their government is prepared to handle the situation before coronavirus spreads to our communities."

Schumer urged Congress to move swiftly on his funding request, which is more than three times higher than the $2.5 billion plan outlined by the White House earlier this week.

The Trump administration asked lawmakers on Monday to provide $1.25 billion in new emergency funds for its response to the outbreak. The administration is also asking for permission to use $535 million initially allocated for Ebola prevention and treatment.

 

Brazil confirms first coronavirus case in Latin America

Brazil's health ministry said on Wednesday a Sao Paulo resident has been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, the first such case recorded in Latin America.

The 61-year-old patient had returned on February 21 from the Lombardy region of Italy, the epicenter of an outbreak in the European country, Brazil's Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said.

Mandetta said authorities were trying to identify people that had been in contact with the patient as well as his family members.

The man had visited a doctor complaining of flu symptoms. He has been placed in home isolation but is said to be "fine."

Sao Paulo is Brazil's largest city with 12 million inhabitants.

Another 20 cases are under investigation, said health ministry official Wanderson Kleber de Oliveira.

Twelve of those had traveled to Italy while one was in China, the origin of the outbreak. 

-AFP

 

U.S. urges Americans to "exercise increased caution" if visiting Italy

The U.S. State Department issued a Travel Advisory on Wednesday, echoing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's advice for Americans to use caution if visiting Italy, but saying it was not yet recommended to avoid travel to the country. Italy has the largest outbreak of the new coronavirus outside Asia with 374 confirmed cases and 12 deaths. The outbreak is focused in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, but there were cases in other areas, including Rome."

"Italian government authorities are working to identify how and where these people were infected," the State Department said in its Advisory on Wednesday, referring travelers to the CDC's Level 2 Travel Health Notice for the country.

 

Spain says mounting cases of coronavirus "controlled"

Spain on Wednesday issued assurances that a cluster of new coronavirus infections did not risk a broader spread, after nine cases were detected within a 24-hour period.

Hundreds of tourists remained confined to a Tenerife hotel Wednesday for a second straight day as a precaution after an Italian man and his wife tested positive for the disease, which has so far killed 12 people in Italy.

The Tenerife couple are in quarantine at a local hospital. Two other Italians who were part of the same group of holidaymakers who flew to the island and were staying at the hotel have also tested positive and are in hospital, health authorities on the Canary Islands said.

Five other cases have been detected in mainland Spain in the last day, including that of a 22-year-old Spanish man who recently returned from Milan and who tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday, local health authorities said.

These were all "controlled situations" which did not increase the risk of the spread of the disease to the "general population", Fernando Simon, director of the Centre of Coordination of Health Emergencies at Spain's Health Ministry, told a news conference.

 

Stocks rise as Trump says coronavirus fears are overblown

Stocks regained some ground in early trading Wednesday following a two-day rout sparked by fears that the widening coronavirus outbreak could stall global economic growth. President Donald Trump suggested that fears of the disease are overblown, tweeting that the "USA is in great shape."

The Dow rose 278, or 1%, to 27,360 shortly after the bell, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq and S&P 500 both rose more than 1%. The gains come after the Dow shed more than 1,900 points on Monday and Tuesday combined, slicing more than 6% from the index's value. 

Over the last four trading sessions, stocks in the U.S. have lost a total of $2.1 trillion in value.

 

China seizes 31 million fake or inferior face masks, arrests 1,500 people

Chinese authorities have seized more than 31 million fake or inferior face masks and arrested more than 1,500 people suspected of manufacturing or distributing counterfeit or inferior protective materials amid the coronavirus outbreak, China's government said Wednesday.

State-run news agency Xinhua quoted Vice Minister of Public Security Du Hangwei as saying police had "cracked" 688 cases involving the sale and production of "shoddy" safety equipment.

Concern In South Korea As The Wuhan Covid-19 Spreads
Two medical personnel work in the patients' ward in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Thursday, February 13, 2020. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty

There have been several rushes on face masks in Hong Kong and elsewhere amid fear of the deadly virus. Amazon has said it will actively work to prevent price gouging on face masks by vendors using its ubiquitous retail platform.

 

Trump insists U.S. "in great shape" to deal with virus outbreak

President Trump accused news outlets Wednesday of stoking panic over the coronavirus outbreak as global stock markets sunk for the third day in a row on fears of the disease. A day after the CDC warned Americans to prepare for what it said was the almost certain community spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., Mr. Trump insisted the country was "in great shape!"

He said he would hold a news conference with CDC officials at the White House at 6 p.m. Eastern. You will be able to watch Mr. Trump's news conference live on this page at that time.

 

WHO says no pandemic yet, but "all countries" must prepare for one

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged Wednesday that the dramatic hike in coronavirus cases outside China had prompted a push for a pandemic to be declared, but he insisted the threshold had not been crossed.

"We should not be too eager to declare a pandemic," he said, stressing that such a declaration could "signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true."

"We are in a fight that can be won if we do the right things," Tedros said. He insisted that the WHO would not hesitate to declare a pandemic "if it is an accurate description of the situation."

"I am not downplaying the seriousness of the situation, or the potential for this to become a pandemic, because it has that potential," he said. "All countries, whether they have cases or not, must prepare for a potential pandemic." 

-CBS/AP

 

WHO chief says more new virus cases reported outside China for 1st time

There are now more new cases of the coronavirus reported each day outside China than inside the hardest-hit country, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

"Yesterday, the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told diplomats in Geneva, according to a written version of his speech.

The UN health agency put the number of new cases in China at 411 on Tuesday and those registered outside the country stood at 427.

Governments worldwide are scrambling to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus after a surge of infections in Italy, Iran and South Korea.

Tedros said the "sudden increase of cases" in those countries was "deeply concerning", adding that a WHO team would travel to Iran this weekend to evaluate the situation. 

-AFP

 

Pope offers prayers to coronavirus-hit Italians

Pope Francis offered his prayers Wednesday for people infected by the deadly new coronavirus, as Italy struggled to stem the spread of the COVID-19 disease in northern regions.

"I would like to express my closeness to people infected by the coronavirus, to health professionals who are assisting them as well as to civil authorities and all those who are working to assist patients and to stop the spreading of the virus," Francis told thousands gathered to hear his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Many in the crowd wore face masks.

Pope Francis holds the weekly general audience at Vatican
Pope Francis greets faithful during the weekly general audience at Vatican, February 26, 2020. REMO CASILLI/REUTERS

As of Wednesday, Italy had 374 confirmed cases of the new virus, an increase of 52 from Tuesday. Of those cases, 12 people have died of the disease in Italy. 

Italy's outbreak, centered in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, is the largest outside of Asia.

 

Iran says no mass-quarantine plans as virus death toll there nears 20

Iran's president said Wednesday that Tehran has no immediate plans to quarantine cities over the new coronavirus spreading rapidly  across his country. The Islamic Republic has the highest death toll outside China, with 19 people killed among 139 total confirmed cases.

President Hassan Rouhani said it could take "one, two or three weeks" to get control of the virus in Iran. The outbreak there has been linked to most of the more than 210 confirmed cases of the virus across the Mideast. 

iraj-harirchi-iran-virus.jpg
Iran's Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi (left) and another official speak to journalists in Tehran about the coronavirus outbreak in the Islamic Republic on February 24, a day before Harirchi was confirmed to have the virus himself. IRINN/REUTERS

The top official in charge of Iran's response to the coronavirus tested positive for the illness Tuesday, a day after he tried to downplay the severity of the outbreak in the country.

Still, Rouhani sought to portray the crisis in terms of Iran's tense relations with the U.S. "Coronavirus must not be turned into a weapon for our enemies to halt work and production in our country," he said, according to a transcript of his remarks. 

Iranian Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour urged Iranians Wednesday to avoid "nonessential travel," particularly to the hard-hit provinces of the country such as Gilan and Qom.

CBS/AP

 

How to prepare for the coronavirus

The CDC has urged Americans and their health care providers to be prepared for the potential community spread of the new coronavirus disease in the U.S.  The agency stressed Tuesday that "the immediate risk of this new virus to the American public is believed to be low at this time," but they said it was believed to be just a matter of time before the disease gains a foothold in the U.S.

So, how do the experts want Americans to prepare? Below is the advice from the CDC, straight from their Tuesday briefing:

 

Spain races to stop spread of coronavirus from Italian visitors

Spain tried Wednesday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from Italy after eight cases of the flu-like disease were detected within a 24-hour period all linked to the country.

Hundreds of tourists remained confined to a Tenerife hotel Wednesday for a second straight day as a precaution after a an Italian and his wife tested positive for the disease which has so far killed 11 people in Italy. The couple are in quarantine at a Tenerife hospital. 

SPAIN-ITALY-HEALTH-VIRUS-EPIDEMIC
Ambulance drivers stand outside the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in La Caleta, Tenerife, Spain, February 25, 2020, where hundreds of people were confined after an Italian tourist was hospitalized with a suspected case of coronavirus. DESIREE MARTIN/AFP/Getty

Two other Italians who were part of the same group of holidaymakers who flew to the island and were staying at the hotel have also tested positive, health authorities on the Canary Islands said.

Four other cases have been detected in mainland Spain — two in the Madrid region, one in the Valencia region and one in Barcelona, that of a 36-year-old Italian woman who lives in the city and had recently made a trip to the north of Italy, the worst affected region.

Associated Press

 

Dozens of passengers cleared and let off ship in Japan now showing symptoms

Dozens of passengers allowed off a coronavirus-stricken ship have developed symptoms including fever and will be asked to take tests for the virus, Japan's health minister said Wednesday.

The news came as another death linked to the virus in Japan was reported and the government urged organisers of major events in the next fortnight to consider cancelling or downsizing them to help curb the spread of infections.

The government has contacted 813 former passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship and found "45 people had certain symptoms", Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told parliament.

"We asked all of them (who have symptoms) to see a doctor and to take tests."

Around 970 people were allowed off the boat last week after testing negative for the virus, but several have subsequently been diagnosed with the illness.

Japan has come under increasing pressure over its handling of the crisis on the vessel.

Associated Press

 

Confirmed coronavirus cases in Italy jump to 374

Italy's government reported Wednesday that the total number of coronavirus cases in the country — home to the largest outbreak outside Asia — had risen to 374. It was an increase of 52 from Tuesday. So far 12 people have died of the disease in Italy, where the outbreak is centered sharply in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.

It has not yet been determined who first brought the disease, which was first detected in central China and remains more prevalent there than any other country by far, to Italy. Italian officials have come under increasing fire for failing to react quickly enough in Lombardy after the first case was confirmed.

Tucker Reals and Anna Matranga

 

WHO expert hails China's containment measures, says other nations "not ready"

At World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Bruce Aylward, who headed an international expert mission to China, hailed the drastic quarantine and containment measures taken by Beijing. But he told reporters on Tuesday that other nations were "simply not ready" to contain the outbreak.

"You have to be ready to manage this at a larger scale... and it has to be done fast," Aylward said.

The WHO has called for countries to "prepare for a potential pandemic," a term used to describe an epidemic that spreads throughout the world. 

Poor countries are particularly at risk, the WHO has warned. 

The virus has killed 2,715 people and infected over 78,000 in China. There were 52 more deaths reported on Wednesday — the lowest in three weeks — with no fatalities outside the epicenter in central Hubei province. 

-AFP

 

Democratic debate sees candidates lay out plans to fight coronavirus

As the Trump administration grapples with the growing coronavirus outbreak, Democrats vying for their party's presidential nomination at the tenth Democratic debate laid out their roadmaps for how they would respond if they were in the White House.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders advocated for increasing federal dollars for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), saying a boost in their funding is crucial to ensuring the U.S. is prepared to deal with an outbreak.

Candidates discuss coronavirus outbreak and containment

Biden positioned himself as the only candidate on stage who has experience working to fight and contain the spread of a deadly illness, as he was vice president when the Obama administration dealt with the Ebola outbreak that began in 2014 and ravaged West Africa.

Klobuchar urged Americans to visit the CDC's website to ensure they are educated on what to do if they experience symptoms.

 

U.S. service member tests positive for coronavirus in South Korea

A soldier with the United States Forces Korea has tested positive for the coronavirus, the USFK said in a Tuesday statement. The soldier, stationed in South Korea, is the first U.S. service member to test positive for the virus, according to the USFK.

The patient, identified as a 23-year-old male, is in self-quarantine off the base, the USFK said. He visited two military camps in recent days, and health officials are working to determine who he may have been in contact with.

Previously a widow of a retired U.S. soldier in Daegu had tested positive for the virus.  

Concern In South Korea As The Wuhan Covid-19 Spreads
Disinfection professionals wearing protective gear spraying anti-septic solution to fight the coronavirus (COVID-19) at a traditional market on February 26, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty
 

China reports 406 new cases, 52 new deaths

Officials in China reported 406 new cases and 52 new deaths from the novel coronavirus on Tuesday. That brings the total number of cases in the country to 78,064, and the total number of deaths in the country to 2,715. 

 

San Francisco declares state of emergency

San Francisco officials declared a state of emergency Tuesday, becoming the first major American city to do so. 

"Although there are still zero confirmed cases in San Francisco residents, the global picture is changing rapidly, and we need to step-up preparedness," Mayor London Breed said when announcing the decision, according to a press release. "We see the virus spreading in new parts of the world every day, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect San Franciscans from harm."

The local emergency declaration will help the city mobilize resources and streamline staffing, the city said in the release. It will be active for seven days before it's voted on by the board of supervisors. 

 

"Your job is to keep us safe": GOP senator calls out Homeland Security chief over coronavirus

Republican Senator John Kennedy got into a heated exchange with the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, over the U.S. coronavirus response during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. 

Wolf was unable to answer several of Kennedy's questions, prompting a scolding from the Louisiana senator.

"You're head of Homeland Security, sir. Your job is to keep us safe," Kennedy told Wolf after he couldn't say how many coronavirus cases were expected in the U.S.

When asked by Kennedy what the coronavirus mortality rate is compared to the flu virus, Wolf got the facts wrong. He incorrectly stated that the mortality rate of the new coronavirus and the flu were similar at around 2%. That is the mortality rate of the new COVID-19 disease, but for influenza it is much lower, at about 0.1%, according to the Department of Human and Health Services. 

Trump administration's coronavirus response comes under fire

Wolf also appeared confused about how long it will take to get a vaccine into circulation for the new virus, telling Kennedy that it was "several months" away. Health and Human Services officials said Tuesday that the availability of a vaccine is at least a year to a year and a half away.