The number of U.S. cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, surpassed 1,000 on Tuesday, and local and state officials throughout the country are ramping up measures intended to curb the virus' spread.
US COVID-19 cases surpass 1,000
Reports of the new coronavirus first surfaced in early December 2019 in Wuhan, China. As of Wednesday morning, officials reported more than 121,800 cases of COVID-19 globally. Officials said as of Wednesday morning there had been at least 4,381 deaths linked to the new coronavirus, and all but 1,219 occurred in mainland China.
In China, the number of newly reported cases of COVID-19 has slowed. Chinese officials on Wednesday reported a total of 24 new cases of COVID-19 and said 10 of those cases occurred among patients who had contracted the virus abroad.
But the number of newly reported cases outside of China has more than tripled over the past week and a half, causing some countries to implement harsher containment measures. For instance, Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday announced strict travel restrictions throughout the entire country, essentially locking down the country's 60 million residents.
In the United States, state and federal officials as of Wednesday morning reported 1,015 confirmed or presumed positive cases of COVID-19, up from 231 on Friday. So far, 31 U.S. deaths have been linked to the new coronavirus.
CDC as of Tuesday said at least 36 of the cases stemmed from human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus in the United States.
Localities, states ramp up containment measures
In order to curb the virus' spread, some local and state officials throughout the country have taken steps to mitigate outbreaks, and in some instances have implemented strict containment measures.
For example, officials in California's Santa Clara County have banned public gatherings with more than 1,000 attendees. Similarly, San Francisco has banned group events with 50 or more attendees at some city facilities and postponed several public events, including the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade and San Francisco Symphony concerts. In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Wednesday is expected to ban gatherings of more than 250 people in the Seattle metro area, including sporting events.
Officials in various parts of the country also have shut down schools in an attempt to hedge off the coronavirus' spread. According to EdWeek, as of Tuesday officials throughout the country had closed or were scheduled to close at least 1,073 schools, affecting 776,200 students. Many universities throughout the country also announced that they would suspend in-person classes and instead have students attend classes online.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Tuesday announced that he is deploying the National Guard to implement a one-mile "containment zone" in the New York City suburb New Rochelle, where community spread-cases of COVID-19 have spiked. Cuomo said large gatherings at religious and community centers in the area will be prohibited and schools in the area will be closed for two weeks, starting March 12 and lasting until March 25. However, as of Tuesday, the area's streets will remain open and there will be no travel restrictions for residents living in the containment zone, Axios reports.
Cuomo said the action is "dramatic," but he said the COVID-19 outbreak in New Rochelle "is the largest cluster in the country, … And this is literally a matter of life and death."
Some organizations and companies also are taking steps to try to curb the new coronavirus' spread. For example, the United Nations has announced that it is closing its New York headquarters to the public, and Google on Tuesday recommended that all of the company's employees in North America work from home until April at the earliest.
However, in California's Sacramento County, Peter Beilenson—the county's health director—is taking a different approach, announcing that the county would no longer order mandatory quarantines for individuals exposed to the virus and would be conducting only minimal contact tracing to identify individuals possibly exposed. Instead, the county is recommending voluntary quarantines for individuals exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
Beilenson said the county is scaling back its containment measures because community spread already is occurring there. "The cat is already out of the bag," and "community spread has already occurred," he said.
Major health insurers say patients won't receive 'surprise' bills for COVID-19 testing
Vice President Pence on Tuesday met with a group of major U.S. health insurers to discuss the country's response to the new coronavirus and announced that the insurers have pledged to cover COVID-19 testing services without cost-sharing requirements or sending patients so-called "surprise" bills for the services. The insurers also agreed to cover telemedicine services related to COVID-19.
"[A]ll the insurance companies here, either today, or before today, have agreed to waive all [copayments] on coronavirus testing, and extend coverage for coronavirus treatment in all of their benefit plans," Pence said.
The group included leaders from Aetna, Anthem, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Humana, and UnitedHealth Group. (Daily Briefing is published by Advisory Board, a division of Optum, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group.) (Villeneuve/Rodriguez, Associated Press, 3/11; New York Times, 3/11; Neuman, "Goats and Soda," NPR, 3/11; Smith et al., New York Times, 3/11; CDC website, 3/10; Balingit/Meckler, Washington Post, 3/9; EdWeek, 3/10; Fernandez, Axios, 3/10; Chappell, "Shots," NPR, 3/10; Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 3/11; Chabria et al., Los Angeles Times, 3/11; Sullivan, The Hill, 3/10).