U.S. health officials consider face masks for Americans to slow coronavirus, but ‘not there yet’

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. health officials said on Tuesday they are discussing whether to recommend that the general public wear face masks as a way to prevent transmission of the new coronavirus, but that it was too soon to take that step.

The wide use of masks outside the healthcare setting, which has been employed in other countries with some success, is under active consideration by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the White House coronavirus task force will discuss it on Tuesday, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

“The thing that has inhibited that bit is to make sure that we don’t take away the supply of masks from the healthcare workers who need them,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN.

The coronavirus outbreak in the United States has prompted more Americans to don surgical or other cotton masks or even makeshift masks when they leave home to buy groceries or get some exercise.

Meanwhile, healthcare workers across the country are facing acute shortages of personal protective equipment including N95 respirator masks and surgical masks as they treat an onslaught of highly contagious patients.

When the country gets into a situation where there are enough masks, Fauci said, there will be very serious consideration of broadening the recommendation on face masks.

“We’re not there yet, but I think we’re coming close to some determination, because if in fact a person who may or may not be infected wants to prevent infecting someone else, one of the best ways to do that is with a mask,” Fauci said.

The consideration of wider use of masks stems from the likelihood that people who have no idea they are infected are spreading the virus because they either have no symptoms or have not begun to experience symptoms.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams cautioned that wearing surgical-type cotton masks may not protect healthy Americans from contracting coronavirus and may even put them more at risk, since people who wear masks were likely to touch their face to make adjustments.

“Wearing a mask improperly can actually increase your risk of getting disease. It can also give you a false sense of security,” Adams told Fox News.

The CDC is looking at data involving the cotton masks, Adams said.

“The data doesn’t show that it helps individuals,” he said. “If you’re sick, wear a mask. If you have a mask and it makes you feel better then by all means wear it. But know that the more you touch your face the more you put yourself at risk.

“There may be a day when we change our recommendations – particularly for areas that have large spread going on – about wearing cotton masks,” Adams said. “But again, the data’s not there yet.”

The idea is being pushed by some health experts, including Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In a pandemic roadmap for the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, Gottlieb advocated that the public “initially be asked to wear fabric nonmedical face masks while in the community to reduce their risk of asymptomatic spread.”

President Donald Trump said at the White House coronavirus briefing on Monday, “it’s certainly something we could discuss.”

“After we get back into gear, people could – I could see something like that happening for a period of time, but I would hope it would be a very limited period of time,” Trump said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

CDC warns residents of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut against non-essential travel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday warned residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut against non-essential domestic travel for 14 days.

In a travel advisory posted on its website, the agency said the warning did not apply to employees of “critical infrastructure industries” including trucking, public health, financial services, and food supply professionals.

(Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

New Orleans is next coronavirus epicenter, catalyst for spread in south, experts say

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – New Orleans is on track to become the next coronavirus epicenter in the United States, dashing hopes that less densely populated and warmer-climate cities would not be hit as hard by the pandemic, and that summer months could see it wane.

The plight of New Orleans – with the world’s highest growth rate in coronavirus cases and where authorities have warned hospitals could collapse by April 4 – also raises fears it may be a powerful catalyst in speedily spreading the virus across the south of the country.

New Orleans is the biggest city in Louisiana, the state with the third-highest case load of coronavirus in the United States on a per capita basis after the major epicenters of New York and Washington. The growth rate in Louisiana tops all others, according to a University of Louisiana at Lafayette analysis of global data, with the number of cases rising by 30% in the 24 hours before noon on Wednesday. On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a major federal disaster declaration for the state, freeing federal funds and resources.

Some 70% of Louisiana’s 1,795 confirmed cases to date are in the New Orleans metro area.

The culprit for the coronavirus in the Big Easy? Some blame Carnival.

“Mardi Gras was the perfect storm, it provided the perfect conditions for the spread of this virus,” said Dr. Rebekah Gee, who until January was the Health Secretary for Louisiana and now heads up Louisiana State University’s health care services division.

She noted that Fat Tuesday fell on Feb. 25 – when the virus was already in the United States but before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and national leaders had raised the alarm with the American public.

“So New Orleans had its normal level of celebration, which involved people congregating in large crowds and some 1.4 million tourists,” Gee said. “We shared drink cups. We shared each other’s space in the crowds. We shared floats where we were throwing not just beads but probably coronavirus off Carnival floats to people who caught it and took it with them to where they came from.”

Gee said that the explosive growth rate of the coronavirus in the Mississippi River port city means “it’s on the trajectory to become the epicenter for the outbreak in the United States.”

RESILIENT, BUT WARY

Dr. Peter Hotez is the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College, a renowned vaccine scientist and an expert on the coronavirus pandemic.

He said that the rapid grip the virus is gaining on New Orleans was deeply worrying and a possible harbinger for worse to come across the south and for less densely populated and warmer cities across America.

“There has been some research and data suggesting that warmer, more humid weather could slow this epidemic,” he said. “The fact that this occurred on the Gulf Coast, which has some of the higher humidity and temperatures in the U.S., is a serious concern.”

Hotez noted that more research into how climate does or does not play a role in the spread of this coronavirus needs to happen, but acknowledged that experts hoped that warm weather and the coming summer months in the northern hemisphere would be natural buffers against it.

“If you look at this epidemic, we’ve not seen much in the hotter parts of the country. Texas has not had a lot. Arizona has not had a lot. Then all of a sudden – bam! – it appears in strength in New Orleans,” he said. “We have to follow this trend closely.”

Having an entirely new coronavirus epicenter kick off means that the United States may soon be dealing with multiple hot spots all at once, Hotez said – a worst-case scenario that could cripple healthcare systems.

If predictions were correct, the hospitals in New Orleans would struggle to manage past next week, Governor John Bel Edwards told a news conference on Tuesday.

New Orleans could well be the first major domino to fall in the south, starting a chain reaction in other metro areas in the region, said Hotez.

That is a serious concern for Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country and a major center for the oil industry. The two cities have historically strong links made even more so by an influx of New Orleans residents into Houston following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey.

On the ground in New Orleans’ famed French Quarter, residents said they were definitely concerned, but that the virus was an entirely different threat from the natural disasters that routinely befall the city.

Jonathan Sanders, a 35-year-old general manager of the French Quarter brasserie Justine, said the city was calm and residents largely heeding authorities orders to stay inside.

“There is always something going on at all hours of the day or night. Now, without it all, it’s very peaceful,” he said. “You can park anywhere in the French Quarter.”

The virus, Sanders said, was so far easier to deal with than the death and destruction Hurricane Katrina unleashed in 2005, when over 1,800 people died along the Gulf Coast.

“When you think of the total destruction of Katrina… that was gut wrenching,” he said. “We’re fairly more resilient than other places that haven’t had so many tragic things happen to their city.”

Only 50 per show, please, says theater-operator AMC

By Supantha Mukherjee

(Reuters) – AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc said on Monday it will limit attendance at its U.S. theaters to a maximum of 50 people per show, effective immediately, due to the spread of coronavirus, sending its shares down 21%.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Sunday issued  a guidance to cancel or postpone events throughout the country that consist of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks.

U.S. officials have so far recorded nearly 3,000 cases and 65 deaths. Globally, more than 162,000 have been infected and over 6,000 have died.

AMC said it was adhering to CDC’s recommendation even though it was not a legal requirement for businesses in most U.S. jurisdictions.

“We anticipate that these headwinds are transitory and we expect a growth reset over the medium term,” Benchmark analysts said after downgrading the stock to “hold” from “buy”.

However, the brokerage said it was concerned if AMC will have enough financial flexibility to cover a longer-than-anticipated slowdown or a complete shutdown of its theatrical network.

AMC operates 1,004 theaters and 11,041 screens in 15 countries, including 636 theaters and 8,094 screens in the United States.

Theater chains, which have been facing off against streaming services Netflix and Disney+, were also hit by postponement of several films.

Hollywood studios have postponed upcoming blockbuster film James Bond thriller “No Time to Die”, Disney’s epic “Mulan” and the ninth “Fast and Furious” movie from Comcast Corp’s Universal Pictures.

AMC and Cineworld Group Plc’s Regal Cinemas on Friday halved their seating capacity to allow more space between moviegoers to prevent virus transmission.

Marcus Theatres, an unit of Marcus Corp, also said on Monday it plans to limit capacity by 50%.

Rival Cinemark Holdings did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the latest steps it has taken.

Cinemark shares were down 20%, and those of London-listed Cineworld’s fell 17%.

Shares of AMC have more than halved so far this year.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Shinjini Ganguli)

CDC reports 1,678 coronavirus cases, death tally of 41

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday reported 1,678 cases of the coronavirus, an increase of 414 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 5 to 41.

The agency said the cases had been reported by 46 states and the District of Columbia, up from its previous report of 42 states and the District of Columbia.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by a new coronavirus, as of 4 pm ET on March 12.

The CDC tally includes 49 cases among people repatriated from Japan and Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began.

The figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

U.S. officials to urge ‘aggressive’ local steps against coronavirus

Reuters
By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Wednesday plans to urge U.S. states and localities to take stronger steps to fight the coronavirus, Health Secretary Alex Azar said, as the governor of at least one state criticized the federal government’s handling of the outbreak.

“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,” Azar told Fox News in an interview.

He did not detail what the recommendations would be. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had told reporters on Tuesday that recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be aimed at communities that have already seen spread of the disease.

Azar said federal leaders were working with local officials in the hardest hit states so far, including Washington, California, New York, Massachusetts, and Florida, saying “strong mitigation steps” could help buy valuable time.

The governor of 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 the suburbs of New York City.

“The federal government has just fallen down on the job,” Cuomo, a Democrat, told MSNBC in an interview, adding that he had told other state governors, “you’re on you own.”

The number of U.S. coronavirus cases has risen steadily and has affected almost three-quarters of the states. More than 1,025 cases and 28 deaths have been reported, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.

State and local officials have said a delayed U.S. response over testing capabilities has hampered their ability to manage the outbreak, even as U.S. President Donald Trump has offered assurances that anyone who wanted a test could get one.

Police wearing riot gear broke up a protest by hundreds of students at the University of Dayton in Ohio after the school announced the temporary suspension of classes and on-campus housing on Tuesday, the Dayton Daily News reported.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is expected on Wednesday to restrict large gatherings in three counties at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in the state, according to the Seattle Times. The move will be aimed at sports, concerts and other cultural events and will not affect retail stores, the newspaper reported.

Pence, tasked by Trump to lead the nation’s coronavirus response, met with a number of U.S. governors at the White House on Monday.

Maryland’s governor, Republican Larry Hogan, afterward praised Pence but criticized the mixed message coming from Trump, telling the Washington Post after the meeting that the Republican president “at times just says whatever comes to mind or tweets.”

New York’s Cuomo said his state was moving aggressively on its own to expand testing, including the implementation of mobile testing seen in other countries.

“It’s either massive testing or massive quarantine, and we don’t want to quarantine, so we’re going to have to do the testing,” he told MSNBC.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Rosalba O’Brien)

Three more die in Seattle area from coronavirus as U.S. promises 1 million test kits

By Steve Gorman and Hilary Russ

(Reuters) – The number of people with the new coronavirus in the United States climbed on Tuesday with Washington state reporting three more deaths, as authorities worked on preventing its spread and the central bank acted on Tuesday to protect the economy from the impact of the global outbreak.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Washington state rose to 27, including nine deaths, up from 18 cases and six deaths a day earlier, the state Department of Health reported.

Eight of those who died from the respiratory illness were in King County and one was in neighboring Snohomish County, officials said. All 27 confirmed cases are clustered in those two counties in the greater Seattle area, making it the largest concentration detected to date in the United States.

Several of those who died had been residents of a long-term nursing care facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland called LifeCare, according to the Seattle & King County Public Health agency.

North Carolina reported its first presumptive positive case on Tuesday, in a person who had traveled to the same nursing home.

The number of cases in the United States was at least 108. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier posted 108 cases on its website: 60 in 12 U.S. states, including presumed cases reported by public health laboratories, and 48 who were repatriated from abroad.

U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters his administration may cut off travel from the United States to areas with high rates of coronavirus, but said officials were not weighing any restrictions on domestic travel.

In New York, a man in his 50s who lives in a New York City suburb and works at a Manhattan law firm tested positive for the virus, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the state to two, New York officials said.

He has severe pneumonia and is hospitalized, officials said. The patient had not traveled to countries hardest hit in the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China in December and is now present in nearly 80 countries and territories, killing more than 3,000 people.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the confirmation of the case was made by the city’s public health laboratory on its first day of testing.

DISPUTE

Previously, all testing was conducted by the CDC, which created a delay of several days before the result was known. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn told Congress that testing kits should be available by the end of the week that would give labs the capacity to perform about 1 million coronavirus tests.

The U.S. House of Representatives is aiming for Wednesday to debate a multibillion-dollar bill providing emergency funds. Republican Trump said his administration was working with Congress to pass an emergency spending measure, adding that he expects lawmakers to authorize about $8.5 billion.

Senate Democrats said a dispute with Republicans over the affordability of coronavirus tests and vaccinations were holding up agreement on a funding bill.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the government’s coronavirus task force, was unable to answer “vital questions” about the availability of tests during a 45-minute meeting.

“They didn’t have as many answers as we needed. They didn’t have the answers we needed. The biggest question, testing: when and where? They could not answer how soon people would be able to get the tests,” Schumer told reporters.

A House Republican aide, asked to elaborate on leadership claims that Democrats are trying to attach other measures to the coronavirus legislation, said, “Democrats attempted to include price controls both for government purchases and in the commercial market for drugs that haven’t even been developed yet.”

The aide cited experts in the administration and private industry as saying that would “slow down both development of new vaccines and therapies, and their procurement.”

Amid concerns about disruptions to supply chains, airlines and other business impacts of the coronavirus, the U.S. Federal Reserve on Tuesday cut interest rates in an emergency move designed to shield the world’s largest economy. The Fed said it was cutting rates by a half percentage point to a target range of 1.00% to 1.25%.

Stocks on Wall Street initially rose more than 2% on the Fed’s surprise statement. But the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 later all fell at or near 3% by the end of the session.[.N]

International travel to the United States will fall 6% over the next three months, the U.S. Travel Association, an industry group, forecast. [L1N2AW1IJ]

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Jonathan Allen, Laila Kearney, Hilary Russ in New York; Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Lisa Lambert and Ted Hesson in Washington and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis)

Six dead of coronavirus in Seattle area, U.S. officials scramble to prepare for more cases

By Steve Holland and Michael Erman

(Reuters) – Six people in the Seattle area have died of illness caused by the new coronavirus, health officials said on Monday, as authorities across the United States scrambled to prepare for more infections, with the emphasis on ratcheting up the number of available test kits.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, chief health officer for Seattle and King County Public Health agency, announced the increase in fatalities from the previous two in Washington state. He told a news conference that the county was not recommending school closures or cancellation of any events at this point, but they do expect the increase in cases to continue.

The total number of cases in Washington state was now at 18. Five of the deaths were in King County and one from Snohomish County, also in the Puget Sound region just north of Seattle.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state has one confirmed case, welcomed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allowing New York to test for the virus that has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide since it emerged in China in December.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio deliver remarks at a news conference regarding the first confirmed case of coronavirus in New York State in Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

“I would like to have a goal of 1,000 tests per day capacity within one week because again the more testing the better,” Cuomo said at a briefing on Monday.

Federal health officials have said the number of test kits for coronavirus would be radically expanded in coming weeks. The United States appeared poised for a spike in cases, partly because there would be more testing to confirm infections.

The number of cases in the United States as of March 1 had risen to 91, according to the CDC. There has been a jump in presumed cases reported by the states to 27 from seven. The CDC will confirm the tests sent by states with their own diagnostics. So far, 10 states including California and New York have confirmed or presumed coronavirus cases.

Protective gear and test kits were being distributed to U.S. military facilities with a priority on distribution to the Korean Peninsula, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said at a briefing.

South Korea is one of the hardest hit countries with 4,335 cases and 26 deaths.

U.S. government military laboratories were working to develop a vaccine, Milley said.

President Donald Trump said his administration has asked pharmaceutical companies to accelerate work on the development of a coronavirus vaccine, but provided no details.

Top U.S. health officials have said any vaccine is up to 18 months away and there is no treatment for the respiratory disease, although patients can receive supportive care.

Trump and his task force on the outbreak will meet with drug company executives on Monday afternoon. Executives from GlaxoSmithKline Kline Plc, Sanofi SA , Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Inc will attend the meeting, according to representatives for the companies.

The White House is also expected to meet this week with top executives from U.S. airlines and the cruise industry over the impact of the virus to their businesses, two people briefed on the matter said.

There have been more than 87,000 cases worldwide and nearly 3,000 deaths in 60 countries, the World Health Organization said. The global death toll was up to 3,044, according to a Reuters tally.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the infectious diseases unit at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said he was concerned the number of U.S. cases could jump in coming weeks.

“When you have a number of cases that you’ve identified and they’ve been in the community for a while, you’re going to wind up seeing a lot more cases than you would have predicted,” he told CNN.

The U.S. Congress is expected to take up a spending measure in coming days that could allocate billions more dollars for the virus response.

World stock markets, after a week-long slide, on Monday regained a measure of calm amid hope of a possible stimulus, while U.S. stocks were up around 3%. [MKTS/GLOB]

(Reporting by Steve Holland, David Shepardson, Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert, Makini Brice, David Morgan, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington, Michael Erman and Caroline Humer in New York and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

California monitoring 8,400 people for possible coronavirus

By Andrew Hay and Hilary Russ

(Reuters) – California is monitoring more than 8,400 people who arrived on commercial flights for coronavirus symptoms from “points of concern,” but the state lacks test kits and has been held back by federal testing rules, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Thursday.

California has only 200 test kits, but has appealed for testing protocols to be expanded to include Americans who may catch the virus as it spreads through U.S. communities, Newsom told a news briefing in Sacramento, the state capital.

Newsom said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has assured the state that testing protocols will be advanced and access to test kits will expand “exponentially” in the coming days.

California on Wednesday reported a coronavirus case of unknown origin, making it potentially the first incident of the virus spreading within U.S. communities.

“It is not surprising that we have seen these mini outbreaks occur around the world,” said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an epidemiology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health. “We know the virus is easily spread.”

The female patient, who lives in northern California’s Solano County, was not initially tested for the new coronavirus because she did not meet criteria laid out by the CDC, according to a statement by UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where she is being treated.

REPATRIATED CITIZENS

Dr. Sonia Angell, California’s state public health officer, said local, state and federal health investigators were contacting and isolating individuals who may have been exposed to the patient.

Solano County is the home of Travis Air Force Base, one of the U.S. military bases in California that have acted as quarantine centers for U.S. citizens repatriated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the current coronavirus outbreak.

“She had to be exposed from someone else with coronavirus. We know that people with infection were taken to places of isolation or quarantine in that general area,” Klausner said.

UC Davis said no one on its main campus has tested positive for the virus, known as COVID-19, but “out of an abundance of caution,” three campus residents are currently in isolation. One of them, who is showing symptoms of illness, has been tested for the virus, but the results are not yet in.

The CDC’s protocol had called for coronavirus testing in individuals with a fever or respiratory illness who have a travel history or contact that could have led to exposure to the virus.

California officials said this protocol had to be expanded in light of the “inevitable” local spread within the United States. At least 33 people had tested positive for the virus, but five have since left the state, official said.

“The case from yesterday is giving the CDC a lot to consider on revising those protocols so more individuals will be tested,” said Mark Ghaly director of California’s Health and Human Services Agency, referring to the woman from Solano County.

MORE KITS AND PERSONNEL

CDC Director Robert Redfield told a U.S. congressional hearing on Thursday that more test kits were being sent to California and the agency now backs expanded testing.

“When a clinician or a public health individual suspects coronavirus, then we should be able to get a test for coronavirus, so that’s the current guidance that went out today,” he said.

Newsom said the CDC has pledged to send more personnel to California to track the potential spread of the virus.

With new infections reported around the world now surpassing those in mainland China, the World Health Organization’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Thursday even rich nations should prepare.

“No country should assume it won’t get cases, that would be a fatal mistake, quite literally,” Tedros said, pointing to Italy, where 17 people have died in Europe’s worst outbreak.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ and Andrew Hay; Additional reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Bill Berkrot and Leslie Adler)

Trump says coronavirus risk in U.S. is low; CDC confirms first case of unknown origin

By Jeff Mason and Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump told Americans on Wednesday that the risk from coronavirus remained “very low,” and placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the U.S. response to the looming global health crisis.

At a White House briefing, Trump defended his administration’s handling of the crisis and said health experts were “ready, willing and able” to move quickly if the virus spreads.

Trump made his comments as public health officials warned Americans to prepare for more coronavirus cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed an infection of the new coronavirus in California in someone who had not traveled outside the United States or been exposed to a person known to have the virus, a first for the country.

How the person was infected was not known. It brought the total number of cases in the United States to 15, according to the CDC.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called on the government to help the city obtain 300,000 extra protective masks. There were no confirmed cases in the city but de Blasio announced plans to provide up to 1,200 hospital beds if needed.

U.S. stock markets fell for the fifth consecutive day on investors’ alarm about the respiratory disease spreading.

At the White House, Trump said he was not ready to institute new travel restrictions for countries such as South Korea and Italy that are dealing with outbreaks – although he could not rule it out. The State Department raised its travel alert level for South Korea and urged Americans to reconsider going there.

The CDC has advised Americans to not visit China and South Korea, and on Wednesday stepped up travel warnings for Iran, Italy and Mongolia.

“The risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said, flanked by Pence and public health officials.

He said the spread of the virus in the United States was not “inevitable” and then went on to say: “It probably will, it possibly will. It could be at a very small level, or it could be at a larger level. Whatever happens we’re totally prepared.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, said that while the virus was contained in the United States, Americans must prepare for a potential outbreak as transmissions spread outside of China.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the United States has 59 coronavirus cases, including 42 American passengers repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan.

‘POSSIBILITY OF PANDEMIC’

“We have to be alert to the possibility of a pandemic,” Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in an interview.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said in a statement that the Trump administration “has mounted an opaque and chaotic response to this outbreak.”

She said the House would put forward a “funding package with transparency and accountability that fully addresses the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis.”

Trump is seeking $2.5 billion from Congress to boost the government’s virus response, an amount Democrats said falls far short of what is needed. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called for $8.5 billion to prepare.

Global stock markets have slumped in recent days due to worries over a prolonged disruption to supply chains and economies from the virus, which has infected about 80,000 people and killed nearly 3,000, mostly in China.

U.S. stocks turned lower in afternoon trading – the S&P 500 index fell for a fifth straight day and the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> ended down 123.77 points, or 0.46%. [.N]

Trump, who is running for a second term in the November election, has been increasingly alarmed by the drop in U.S. stock markets, which he considers a barometer of the health of the American economy and sees as important to his re-election.

He told reporters at the White House that fears of the coronavirus had hurt the stock markets. But he also blamed the Democratic presidential candidates for spooking investors.

“I think the financial markets are very upset when they look at the Democrat candidates standing on that stage making fools out of themselves,” Trump said in reference to debates among the Democratic contenders vying for the right to challenge him.

Earlier in the day, Trump accused two cable TV news channels, CNN and MSNBC, of presenting the danger from the virus in as bad a light as possible and upsetting financial markets.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Jonathan Allen; additional reporting by Steve Holland, Makini Brice, Susan Heavey and Michael Erman; Writing by John Whitesides and Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Bill Berkrot and Grant McCool)