Crews make headway against massive California wildfire

By Mimi Dwyer

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Firefighters notched a victory in their battle to beat back a massive blaze raging outside Los Angeles, more than doubling containment in the past 24 hours, the U.S. Forest Service said on Wednesday.

The Bobcat Fire, which has been burning in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles since Sept. 6, was 38% contained as of Wednesday morning, John Clearwater, USFS spokesperson for Angeles National Forest, said in an email update.

The fire has so far burned more than 113,000 acres but remained relatively stable overnight. The flames were 17% contained on Tuesday.

The Bobcat Fire, one of the largest and most dangerous fires in recorded Los Angeles history, is just one element stoking the worst fire season California has seen to date.

For more than a week it has threatened to overtake the Mount Wilson Observatory, a California landmark and beloved historical site that was home to major astronomical advancements in the early 20th century.

Some 1,556 firefighters are currently deployed to combat it, the Forest Service said.

Wildfires have ravaged the West Coast this summer and pushed firefighters to their limits. At least 26 people have died in fires across California since August 15, including three firefighters, according to the state agency CAL FIRE.

One of those firefighters died as a result of a fire sparked by a botched gender reveal party.

Roughly 3.4 million acres have burned across California during the same period.

Another 10 people have died and approximately 2 million acres have burned in fires in Washington and Oregon.

California has seen five of its largest fires on record in this wildfire season alone. Outside Los Angeles, the momentary reprieve could dissipate by the weekend, when weather was expected to grow warmer and drier, and forecasts showed the possibility of gusty winds, the Forest Service said.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and David Gregorio)

Quake rattles Los Angeles, no immediate reports of damage

(Reuters) – An earthquake of 4.2 magnitude hit about a mile (2 km) north of the Los Angeles community of Pacoima on Thursday, the U.S. Geological Survey said. There were no immediate reports of damage.

Though relatively small in magnitude, the quake, which struck at 4:29 a.m. Pacific time (1129 GMT), was felt in much of the Los Angeles area, social media reports said. A second quake of 3.3 magnitude struck nine minutes later, the survey said.

People on social media reported feeling the quake in areas such as North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, with some saying they did not receive a #ShakeAlert message on their phones.

“Felt it in Sherman Oaks! Woke us up from a dead sleep. No alert on the phone, though,” Twitter user Joe Hubbard said.

Another Twitter user, Lee A Houck, said she received an alert after the shaking began.

“Usually there’s more notice to drop, cover, hold on,” Houck said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Edmund Blair and Steve Orlofsky)

With U.S. under coronavirus siege, Chicago cracks down, Florida cases soar

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – The city of Chicago reimposed some coronavirus restrictions on Monday and the state of Florida reported more than 10,000 new cases for the sixth day in a row, as the pandemic showed few signs of abating in the United States.

In a rare ray of hope, New York state reported the fewest hospitalizations from the coronavirus in four months and New York City entered a new phase of reopening on Monday, but the progress, in the very city and state that were once the epicenter, was eclipsed by the grim news nearly everywhere else.

Metrics for the country have grown worse including a rising number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations along with rates of positive test results. The virus has killed 140,000 people in the United States and infected some 3.7 million, both figures leading the world.

Florida reported 10,347 new cases on Monday, the sixth day in a row the state has announced over 10,000 new infections. Another 92 people died in Florida, increasing the state’s death toll to 5,183.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced new restrictions due to take effect on Friday including a ban on indoor service at bars and shutdown of personal services such as shaves and facials that require the removal of masks.

“While we aren’t near the peak of the pandemic from earlier this year, none of us wants to go back there,” Lightfoot said in a statement.

The city of Los Angeles is on the brink of issuing a new stay-at-home order and at least 14 states have reported record hospitalizations so far in July, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Texas.

Meanwhile, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing for schools to reopen in a few weeks and resisting a federal mandate that people wear masks in public, part of what New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called an “incompetent” federal government response.

“I’ve said to the president from Day One: This virus does not respond to politics,” Cuomo told a news conference. “The solution is medicine and science.”

WHITE HOUSE BRIEFINGS RESUME

The country remained “totally unprepared,” Cuomo said, as other states lagged in testing, contact tracing, and personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses.

“Their mistake was they listened to the president,” Cuomo said, while also blasting “stupid and reckless” people in his own state who persistently gather in large groups.

On Monday Trump, under fire over his administration’s response to the surging virus, said he would on Tuesday resume holding news briefings on the pandemic after a lengthy hiatus.

White House debate has centered on whether Trump should risk doing daily briefings after he was mocked for musing that people might inject household disinfectants as a way to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

Last Friday Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters she favored a return of the briefings, which she said had bolstered his approval ratings.

New York state, where the virus took hold early this year before spreading to other states, recorded only eight deaths on Sunday while the total number of people hospitalized for the disease fell to 716, the fewest since March 18, Cuomo said.

However a Reuters analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project showed cases rose by more than 5,000 in the past week, the first week-over-week increase since April, breaking a 13-week streak of declines.

New York City entered a new phase on Monday that will allow low-risk outdoor activity, entertainment at 33 percent capacity and professional sports events. But Major League Baseball’s Yankees and Mets will start their seasons in empty New York City ballparks, indoor dining in restaurants is still prohibited, and bars are subject to social distancing rules.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Maria Caspani, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Howard Goller)

California, Texas see record COVID-19 surges, Arizona clamps down

By Dan Whitcomb and Maria Caspani

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California and Texas both marked record spikes in new COVID-19 infections on Monday, a Reuters tally showed, as Los Angeles reported an “alarming” one-day surge in America’s second-largest city that put it over 100,000 cases.

Los Angeles has become a new epicenter in the pandemic as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge there despite California Governor Gavin Newsom’s strict orders requiring bars to close and residents to wear masks in nearly all public spaces.

“The alarming increases in cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations signals that we, as a community, need to take immediate action to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Barbara Ferrer, director of public health for Los Angeles County, said in a statement announcing the sharp rise.

“Otherwise, we are quickly moving toward overwhelming our healthcare system and seeing even more devastating illness and death,” Ferrer said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a “hard pause” on when movie theaters, theme parks and other entertainment venues can reopen. Los Angeles County is the biggest movie theater market in the United States.

Los Angeles County said its beaches will be closed for the Independence Day weekend and fireworks displays will be banned.

Statewide positive tests for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, rose by at least 7,418 in California Monday to nearly 223,000, the biggest one-day increase since tracking began. Los Angeles County, with a population of 10 million, has recorded 100,000 cases.

California is among a number of U.S. states including Florida, Texas and Arizona battling a new wave of infections as the nation emerges from weeks of clamp-downs on residents and businesses. COVID-19 infections in Texas rose by 6,545 on Monday to nearly 160,000, also setting a record for a one-day increase.

Nationally, cases rose by more than 40,000, for the fourth time in the past five days.

ARIZONA HIT HARD

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Monday ordered the closure of bars, nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters and water parks for at least 30 days. Ducey also delayed the start of public schools until at least Aug. 17.

“Our expectation is that next week our numbers will be worse,” Ducey said at an afternoon news conference. Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Phoenix on Wednesday to discuss efforts to fight the pandemic’s resurgence.

Texas and Florida ordered the closure of all their recently reopened bars on Friday.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Monday indoor dining will not resume on Thursday as planned and would be postponed indefinitely.

In Kansas, Governor Laura Kelly imposed a statewide mandate requiring the wearing of masks in public spaces, which she said was necessary to avoid another shutdown.

Beaches in Florida’s Broward County and Palm Beach County will not open for the July 3-5 holiday weekend, officials said on Sunday, a blow to residents hoping to celebrate Independence Day there. Miami-Dade County has also announced beach closures for the holiday weekend.

AMC, the largest U.S. movie theater chain, on Monday said it was pushing back the reopening of its theaters to July 30 from July 15.

In June, 22 U.S. states reported record increases in new cases, often multiple times, including Alaska, Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon and Utah.

The city of Jacksonville, Florida, venue for part of the Republican nominating convention in August, said on Twitter it would be requiring masks in public starting later on Monday.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Monday that Trump “has no problem with masks and to do whatever your local jurisdiction requests.”

The New York Times reported on Monday that 43% of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 were linked to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The paper cited its own tracking database.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Lisa Shumaker in Chicago and Brad Brooks in Austin; Writing by Grant McCool and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Howard Goller, Bill Berkrot, Cynthia Osterman, Leslie Adler and Jane Wardell)

From New York to Houston, flood risk for real estate hubs ramps up

By Kate Duguid and Ally Levine

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The number of properties in the United States in danger of flooding this year is 70% higher than government data estimates, research released on Monday shows, with at-risk hot spots in Houston, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The higher risk identified could have implications for property values as well as insurance rates, municipal bonds and mortgage-backed securities, according to investors and researchers at First Street Foundation, which released the data. (http://www.floodfactor.com)

“This could change the calculus on whether a given property is resalable, or what price you sell it at,” said Tom Graff, head of fixed income at Brown Advisory.

The data, which covers the contiguous United States, found that around 14.6 million properties, or 10.3%, are at a substantial risk of flooding this year versus the 8.7 million mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

FEMA maps are currently used to determine rates on government flood insurance and underpin risk assessments done by mortgage lenders, investors and home buyers. The maps, however, only account for coastal flooding – not rain or rivers – and do not incorporate the ways climate change has made storms worse.

A FEMA spokesperson said that First Street’s maps build on those created by the agency and the two are not incompatible.

Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, New York and Cape Coral, Florida top First Street’s list of cities with the most number of properties at risk. At the state level, Florida, Texas, California, New York and Pennsylvania have the most to lose. Florida and Texas also top FEMA’s list, but with significantly fewer properties estimated to be at risk.

Washington, D.C., has the greatest deviation from FEMA’s numbers, 438.4% more properties at risk, because First Street accounts for potential flooding from the Potomac and Anacostia rivers and a drainage basin under the city. Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have the next highest deviations, all between three to four times greater than FEMA estimates.

Commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS), investments that pool loans for office buildings, hotels, shopping centers and more, are among the securities most exposed to flood risk because of the concentration of cities on the U.S. coasts.

“There is a moral hazard within the investment community of not pricing in the risk of something like this happening,” said Scott Burg, chief investment officer at hedge fund Deer Park Road.

Nearly 20% of all U.S. commercial real estate value is located in Houston, Miami and New York, according to CoStar data, each of which has been hit by hurricanes in the last decade.

Hurricane Harvey, which slammed Houston in 2017 and caused $131 billion damage, affected over 1,300 CMBS loans, 3% of the CMBS market in 2017, according to BlackRock research. Hurricane Irma in 2017 affected 2%.

The BlackRock report concluded that 80% of the commercial property damaged by those two storms was outside of FEMA flood zones, indicating that many of the buildings hit may not have been appropriately insured.

Any floods this year could compound the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has sent more than $32 billion of commercial loans into special servicing – negotiations for relief in the event of a default – according to Moody’s.

“For property owners that’s like getting your arm amputated and then your head lopped off,” said Jacob Hagi a professor of finance at the University of North Carolina and a First Street research partner.

(Reporting by Kate Duguid; editing by Megan Davies and Steve Orlofsky)

Fed cuts rates and NYC, LA close restaurants to fight coronavirus

By Lindsay Dunsmuir and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With panic buying on Main Street and fear-driven sell-offs on Wall Street, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero on Sunday in another emergency move to help shore up the U.S. economy amid the rapidly escalating coronavirus pandemic.

The mayors of New York City and Los Angeles ordered restaurants, bars and cafes closed, with takeout and delivery the only options for food sales. Movie theaters, small theater houses and concert venues were also ordered closed as the U.S. death toll from the outbreak hit 65.

“The virus can spread rapidly through the close interactions New Yorkers have in restaurants, bars and places where we sit close together,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We have to break that cycle.”

For the second time since the financial crisis of 2008, the Fed cut rates at an emergency meeting, aiming for a target range of 0% to 0.25% to help put a floor under a rapidly disintegrating global economy.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who had openly pressed the Fed for further action, called the move “terrific” and “very good news.”

Store shelves have been stripped bare of essentials, schools closed and millions of jobs in jeopardy as businesses temporarily shut their doors.

“We’re learning from watching other countries,” Trump said. “It’s a very contagious virus … but it’s something that we have tremendous control of.”

Trump has faced criticism at home and abroad for sometimes downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus and overstating his administration’s ability to handle it.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said the United States was entering a new phase of coronavirus testing but tempered the president’s optimism.

“The worst is yet ahead for us,” Fauci said, a warning he has issued frequently in the past week. “It is how we respond to that challenge that is going to what the ultimate end point is going to be.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said testing for coronavirus was expanding with more than 2,000 labs across the country ready to process tests and 10 states operating drive-through testing.

The United States has lagged behind other industrialized nations in its ability to test for the coronavirus. In early March, the Trump administration said close to 1 million coronavirus tests would soon be available and anyone who needed a test would get one, a promise it failed to keep.

With limited testing available, U.S. officials have recorded nearly 3,000 cases and 65 deaths, up from 58 on Saturday. Globally more than 162,000 are infected and over 6,000 have died.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Sunday recommended that events with gatherings of 50 or more people over the next eight weeks be postponed or canceled.

DON’T HOARD

The White House appealed to Americans not to hoard as the coronavirus spreads, reassuring them that grocery supply chains were strong.

Trump held a phone call on Sunday with 30 executives from grocery stores including Amazon.com Inc’s <AMZN.O> Whole Foods, Target Corp <TGT.N>, Costco Wholesale Corp <COST.O> and Walmart Inc <WMT.N>, the White House said.

“Have a nice dinner, relax because there’s plenty, but you don’t have to … you don’t have to buy the quantities,” Trump said. “We’re doing really, really well. A lot of good things are going to happen.”

Trump tested negative for coronavirus, his doctors said on Saturday, as the president extended a travel ban to Britain and Ireland to try to slow the pandemic.

Trump’s spokesman, Judd Deere, said temperature checks will be conducted on everyone who enters the White House grounds, beginning Monday morning.

Travelers returning to the United States and being screened for the coronavirus were met by long lines and massive delays at some major airports, prompting federal officials to deploy more staff and Trump to appeal for patience.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, squaring off in a Democratic debate, blasted Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and touted their own plans to deal with it.

In their first one-on-one debate, the two Democratic contenders to face Trump in the November election said the Republican president had contributed to worries about the pandemic by minimizing the threat before declaring a national emergency on Friday.

CLOSURES EXPAND

The U.S. containment measures have so far been mild compared to the nationwide lockdowns imposed in Italy, France and Spain.

“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Even though Americans are not barred from going to the movies, ticket sales in North America fell to their lowest level in more than two decades this weekend, according to measurement firm Comscore.

Democratic New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that schools in New York City, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties would close from Monday, and he called on Trump to mobilize the Army Corps of Engineers to create more hospital beds.

Cuomo had been criticized for not closing schools as other states have done, given that New York has a large cluster of coronavirus cases.

A clinical trial to evaluate a vaccine designed to protect against coronavirus will begin on Monday, the Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed U.S. government official.

It would take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine, the AP added, citing public health officials.

(For an interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lindsay Dunsmuir, Andrea Shalal, Nandita Bose, Matt Spetalnick, Humeyra Pamuk, John Whitesides, Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Diane Craft, Lincoln Feast and Gerry Doyle.)

California declares emergency over coronavirus as death toll rises in U.S

By Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The U.S. death toll from coronavirus infections rose to 11 on Wednesday as new cases emerged around New York City and Los Angeles, while Seattle-area health officials discouraged social gatherings amid the nation’s largest outbreak.

The first California death from the virus was an elderly person in Placer County, near Sacramento, health officials said. The person had underlying health problems and likely had been exposed on a cruise ship voyage between San Francisco and Mexico last month.

It was the first coronavirus fatality in the United States outside of Washington state, where 10 people have died in a cluster of at least 39 infections that have emerged through community transmission of the virus in two Seattle-area counties.

Although the Placer County patient who died was not believed to have contracted the virus locally, that case and a previous one from the San Francisco Bay Area linked to the same ocean liner have led health authorities to seek other cruise passengers who may have had close contact with those two individuals.

Hours after the person’s death was announced, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency in response to the coronavirus, which he said has resulted in 53 cases across the nation’s most populous state.

“The State of California is deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus,” Newsom said in a statement.

Newsom said the cruise ship, named the Grand Princess, had later sailed on to Hawaii and was returning to San Francisco, but would not be allowed into port until passengers had been tested for the virus.

“We are holding that ship off the coast,” Newsom said.

Six new coronavirus patients were confirmed in Los Angeles County, public health officials said on Wednesday. One was a federal contractor who may have been exposed while conducting medical screenings at Los Angeles International Airport, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported.

Three others likely were infected while traveling recently to northern Italy, one of the areas hardest hit in the global outbreak. Of the six in Los Angeles County, only one has been hospitalized. The other five are recovering in home isolation.

The greater Seattle region represents the biggest concentration of cases detected in the United States from a virus that has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide, mostly in China, where the epidemic originated in December.

With most of the Seattle-area cases not linked to travel or exposure to people who might have been infected abroad, that means the virus has gone from being an imported phenomenon to taking up residence in Washington state, health officials say.

At least 18 cases, including six deaths, were connected to a long-term nursing facility for the elderly, called LifeCare Center of Kirkland, in a Seattle suburb.

‘DISTANCING MEASURES’

Seattle health authorities urged a number of measures for curbing further spread of the disease, including recommendations for anyone aged 60 and older and individuals with underlying chronic health problems or compromised immunity to stay home and away from large gatherings and public places.

They also urged companies to allow their employees to work from home as much as possible, stagger shifts to ease commuter congestion on public transportation and avoid large work-related gatherings.

“The distancing measures that we’re recommending are essential because we need to slow the spread of the disease to the point where we are able to continue to handle the load,” said Patty Hayes, the public health director for Seattle and King County.

A growing number of U.S. companies are adopting such steps. On Wednesday Microsoft Corp asked its employees in the Seattle region near its headquarters and in the San Francisco Bay Area to work from home if possible until March 25.

In New York state, the number of cases rose to 10 on Wednesday. Three family members and a neighbor of a lawyer who was previously identified as infected tested positive. The neighbor’s wife and three of his children have also contracted the virus, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

About 1,000 people in suburban Westchester County, where the two families live, were under self-quarantine orders because of possible exposure, Cuomo said.

“We are, if anything, being overcautious,” he said.

AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, said Wednesday that people in a group from New York that attended its 18,000-person policy conference in Washington, D.C., this week potentially had been in contact with an individual who contacted the coronavirus before the conference.

Dozens of Congress members attended the conference, as well as Vice President Mike Pence.

EMERGENCY FUNDS

U.S. lawmakers reached bipartisan agreement on an $8.3 billion emergency bill to help fund efforts to contain the virus. The bill garnered enough votes to pass in the House of Representatives.

More than $3 billion would be devoted to research and development of coronavirus vaccines, test kits and therapeutics. There are currently no approved vaccines or treatments for the fast-spreading illness.

The administration is working to allow laboratories to develop their own coronavirus tests without seeking regulatory approval first, U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said.

The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed 129 confirmed and presumed cases in the United States, up from the previous 108. They were 80 reported by public health authorities in 13 states plus 49 among people repatriated from abroad, according to the CDC website.

Those figures do not necessarily reflect Wednesday’s updates from three states.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Laila Kearney in New York; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Maria Caspani and Hilary Russ in New York, David Morgan and Richard Cowan in Washington; writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Lisa Shumaker, Cynthia Osterman, Leslie Adler and Lincoln Feast.)

U.S. coronavirus death toll rises; New York, Los Angeles region confirm new cases

By Steve Gorman and Laila Kearney

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Two more people have died of the new coronavirus in the United States, bringing the toll to 11 and new confirmed cases were reported on Wednesday around the two most populous cities: four near New York and six in Los Angeles.

The first California death from the virus was announced by health officials as an elderly adult with underlying health conditions. It was also the first coronavirus death in the United States outside of Washington state.

Placer County’s public health department said in a statement that the patient tested presumptively positive on Tuesday at a California lab and was likely exposed from Feb. 11-21 on a Princess cruise ship to Mexico from San Francisco.

“Preliminary understanding from the contact investigation is that this patient had minimal community exposure between returning from the cruise and arriving at the hospital by ambulance on Feb. 27,” the statement said.

The person was the second confirmed case of the respiratory disease called COVID-19 in Placer County in Northern California.

In the greater Seattle area, the total number of coronavirus cases climbed to 39 on Wednesday, including 10 deaths, up from 27 cases and nine deaths a day earlier, the Washington State Health Department announced.

The Seattle area has the largest concentration of coronavirus cases detected to date in the United States. Several cases were connected to a long-term care facility for the elderly in the Pacific Northwest state.

In New York state, three family members and a neighbor of an infected man have tested positive, bringing the total in the state to six, officials said. About 1,000 people in the New York City suburb of Westchester County where the family lives were under self-quarantine orders because of possible exposure to the virus, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

“We are, if anything, being overcautious.” Cuomo said.

Los Angeles officials announced six new confirmed travel-related cases in Los Angeles County, including three people who had been to Northern Italy, one of the areas hardest hit in the global outbreak.

Of the six, only one has been hospitalized. The other five are recovering in home isolation.

Los Angeles County declared a local emergency and a public health emergency intended to expand and hasten preparedness efforts.

EMERGENCY FUNDS

In Washington, D.C., U.S. lawmakers reached bipartisan agreement on an $8.3 billion emergency bill to help fund efforts to contain the virus, a congressional aide said. The bill was expected to be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives later on Wednesday.

Once the full House approves the bill, the Senate is expected to act quickly so President Donald Trump can sign the measure into law, putting funds into the pipeline to fight the virus.

More than $3 billion would be devoted to research and development of coronavirus vaccines, test kits and therapeutics. There are currently no approved vaccines or treatments for the fast-spreading illness.

In a bid to also help control the spread of the virus outside the United States, $1.25 billion would be set for international efforts, the aide said.

The administration is working to allow laboratories to develop their own coronavirus tests without seeking regulatory approval first, U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said.

The latest data https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed 129 confirmed and presumed cases in the United States, up from the previous 108. They were 80 reported by public health authorities in 13 states plus 49 among people repatriated from abroad, according to the CDC website.

Those figures do not necessarily reflect Wednesday’s updates from three states.

CLASSES CANCELED

On Tuesday, officials said 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, the second identified case in the state.

The four new cases include three family members of the man, who is hospitalized, and a neighbor. Health authorities said one of his children was a student at Yeshiva University, which canceled classes as a precautionary measure.

The hospitalized patient had not traveled to countries with large numbers of cases. The outbreak began in China in December and is now present in nearly 80 countries and territories, killing more than 3,000 people. The first New York case, reported last week, was in a woman who had returned from Iran, where at least 92 people have died.

Governor Cuomo said about 300 students from New York’s college systems, the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY), were being recalled from five hard-hit countries – China, Italy, Japan, Iran and South Korea – and would be flown on a chartered plane and then be quarantined for 14 days.

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

South Korea says flight attendant infected with virus worked Los Angeles route

By Joyce Lee and Hyunjoo Jin

SEOUL (Reuters) – A Korean Air flight attendant who worked on flights between Seoul and Los Angeles subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus, South Korea’s disease control agency and sources said on Thursday.

South Korea reported 334 additional cases of the new coronavirus on Thursday, the largest daily increase yet, as the U.S. State Department issued a new travel warning for South Korea and a joint military drill was postponed.

The new cases bring the total tally to 1,595, giving South Korea the biggest number of infected people outside China.

The flight attendant worked on Korean Air’s flight KE017 from Seoul’s Incheon airport to Los Angeles on Feb. 19, and on the return flight KE012 on Feb. 20, Yonhap news agency and other media reported. A South Korean official familiar with the case verified those flight details, adding that between flights the woman had stayed in Los Angeles overnight.

“She took a flight after showing symptoms, and we are investigating people who had contact with the employee on the flight,” the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said in a statement on Thursday.

The flight attendant, described as being in her 20s, later tested positive for the virus, and she is currently in hospital.

The crewmember had been on a Korean Air KE958 flight from Israel to Incheon on Feb. 15-16, the KCDC said. The passengers on that flight included a South Korean religious group that 31 coronavirus cases have been traced to.

“An investigation is under way about the places the patient visited and the people she had contact with,” the KCDC said.

Korean Air said crewmembers who were on the same flights with her have self-quarantined for 14 days, but referred other inquires to KCDC, as the authority in charge.

“We will continue to work closely with the relevant authorities to ensure the safety of our passengers and employees,” the airline said.

U.S. President Donald Trump assured Americans on Wednesday the risk from coronavirus remained “very low” and was not immediately considering travel restrictions to and from countries such as South Korea and Italy that are dealing with outbreaks.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Kim Coghill, Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Fog likely to figure prominently in probe of Kobe Bryant’s fatal helicopter crash

By Steve Gorman

CALABASAS, Calif. (Reuters) – Weather conditions appear likely to come under the scrutiny of investigators probing the helicopter crash that killed former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others near Los Angeles on Sunday, when overcast skies and fog grounded other aircraft.

A Sikorsky S-76 chopper owned by Bryant slammed into a steep hillside outside the town of Calabasas, California, about 40 miles (65 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, igniting a brush fire and spreading debris over a quarter-acre (1,000 square meters) of grassy terrain.

Hours later, Los Angeles County authorities said all nine people aboard the helicopter died in the crash.

The deaths of Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were confirmed by the National Basketball Association, as expressions of disbelief and grief poured in from fans, fellow athletes and politicians.

Bryant and his entourage were reported by local media to have been on their way to a sports academy in the nearby city of Thousand Oaks, where he was to have coached his daughter’s basketball team in a youth tournament.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board began arriving in the area on Sunday to launch separate crash investigations.

Among the factors expected to be at the forefront of the probe are weather conditions, given that forecasters reported low clouds and limited visibility in the vicinity at the time of the crash, and various eyewitnesses recounted thick fog over the foothills where the helicopter went down.

Fog in the area was so bad Sunday morning that both the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department grounded their helicopter fleets, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing officials.

“The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” a Los Angeles police spokesman Josh Rubenstein told the Times.

The sheriff’s department also grounded helicopters on Sunday morning, “basically because of the weather,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, according to the Times.

The one-time star forward was known since his playing days to travel frequently by helicopter to avoid the Los Angeles area’s notorious traffic.

Bryant rocketed to fame as an 18-year-old rookie and played 20 years for the Los Angeles Lakers – 18 of them as an all-star – winning five NBA championships. He was the fourth-highest scorer in league history, with 33,643 career points.

Others aboard the ill-fated helicopter, in addition to the pilot, included a teammate from Bryant’s daughter’s basketball team Alyssa Altobelli, and the girl’s parents John and Keri Altobelli.

John Altobelli was just about to start his 28th season as baseball coach at Orange Coast College, having won his fourth state championship just last year, the college said in a news release on his death.

The same statement identified Keri and Alyssa Altobelli as victims of the crash.

The Altobellis are survived by two of Alyssa’s siblings, J.J. and Lexi, the college said.

Also killed on board was Christina Mauser, an assistant girls basketball coach at a private school in Orange County, Mayor Katrina Foley of Costa Mesa, California, said on Twitter.

Mauser was the wife of Matt Mauser, singer of the rock and party band Tijuana Dogs, who mourned his wife with a statement on Facebook.

“My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash. Please respect our privacy. Thank you for all the well wishes they mean so much,” Mauser wrote.

Sarah Chester and her middle-school-aged daughter Payton were on also on board, according to a Facebook post by elementary school principal Todd Schmidt.

Several Southern California media outlets identified the pilot as Ara Zobayan, citing friends.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Calabasas, California; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)