As COVID Cases Spread, US Ramps Up Distribution of Virus Tests

WHITE HOUSE - As the U.S. confirmed its 19th coronavirus death, top Trump administration officials said Saturday that they were ramping up the production and distribution of tests.

The number of infections in America rose to nearly 400, scattered across about half of the U.S. states, with Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska confirming their first cases and two deaths reported in Florida.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn briefed reporters at the White House, rejecting criticism from some health experts that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had wasted valuable time in not making tests available sooner, compared with countries like South Korea and Germany.

Hahn said the U.S. had tested 5,861 specimens to date, and that 48 U.S. states were now set up to verify public lab testing. Maine and West Virginia were the only ones still getting the tests up and running

Hahn said 1.1 million coronavirus tests had been shipped out to nonpublic health labs, and that an additional 4 million were expected to be shipped out by the end of the next week, with a focus on areas of the U.S. that have been particularly hard hit, such as Washington state and California on the West Coast.

South Korea has tested more than 179,000 people.

Asked about President Donald Trump’s remark Friday that coronavirus testing was available for any American who wanted it, Azar sought to clarify the issue, saying that any American whose doctor recommended that he or she needed a test would soon be able to get one.

'Scaling up'

Hahn said: “We are scaling up to meet the demand that we could potentially see.”

Asked about the president and others holding large campaign rallies, Azar said that in general, he would advise older adults and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions to avoid large gatherings and to exercise caution. He said the risk posed by coronavirus to most Americans was low.

When asked if he would continue to hold large campaign rallies, Trump said, "We'll have tremendous rallies."

He also said he was "not concerned at all" about COVID-19 cases in Washington as Mayor Muriel Bowser said Saturday night that a "presumptive positive" coronavirus case had been reported in the nation's capital.

Bowser said the infected man, who had been hospitalized, was a D.C. resident in his 50s who had not traveled abroad or come in contact with anyone known to have the virus.

The Pentagon also said Saturday that a Marine, based at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, not far from Washington, had tested positive for the coronavirus. The Marine, who was being treated at the base hospital, "recently returned from overseas, where he was on official business," Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said on Twitter.

New York state of emergency

Also Saturday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency as the number of confirmed cases in his state soared to 76. New York joined Washington, California, Maryland and Florida — other states with numerous COVID-19 cases.

Major U.S. sports associations Saturday were considering restricting access to locker rooms to reduce players' exposure to the coronavirus, The Associated Press reported.

While no decisions were made, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed to the AP that the leagues were weighing options.

On Sunday, China, the source of the coronavirus outbreak that has spread around the world, reported 27 new coronavirus-related deaths and 44 new cases of infection discovered Saturday.

The threat appeared to be waning in China, where the contagion erupted in December.

South Korea, which has the second-largest number of COVID-19 cases, on Sunday reported 93 new cases of infection since Saturday. The number was lower than the previous day's figure, but officials warned that the number could fluctuate as tests were processed.

Latin America also recorded its first coronavirus-related death, that of a 64-year-old man in Argentina, Ministry of Health officials said Saturday. Paraguay also reported its first case of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization said this week that there were about 17 times as many new cases of COVID-19 reported outside China as inside it.

The outbreak has forced the U.N. to ask nine countries to delay the rotation of their peacekeeping troops by three months. Nick Birnback, a U.N. peacekeeping spokesman, said the delay was requested "to maintain operational strength and execute their mandated tasks."

The countries delaying the rotation of their forces at U.N. missions were Cambodia, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Nepal, South Korea and Thailand.

Worldwide, the number of infections Saturday topped 100,000 while the death toll was nearly 3,500.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called on all countries to make containment their highest priority, urging them to find, test, isolate and care for every case.

Source: Voice of America

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