Coronavirus live updates: US ‘in the beginnings of spread of this disease,’ health secretary says

(NEW YORK) — A virus outbreak that began in China nearly three months ago has now infected more than 1,000 people in the United States.

Nearly 120,000 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, still mostly on the Chinese mainland, according to data provided by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. But that proportion is shrinking by the day as the epidemic appears to subside in China while case numbers spike elsewhere, especially in Europe and the Middle East.

The newly identified virus, known officially as COVID-19, has tightened its grip around Italy and Iran, which have the second- and third-highest national totals of confirmed cases behind China, respectively. With 1,037 cases confirmed as of early Wednesday morning, the United States now has the eight-highest.

Here’s the latest on the developing situation. All times eastern:

7:54 a.m. Over 1,000 U.S. schools closed due to outbreak

As of Tuesday, 1,073 schools have been closed or are scheduled to close in the United States, affecting 776,200 students across the country, according to the news journal Education Week, which published an online interactive map.

There are 132,853 public and private schools in the country and nearly 50.8 million students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

7:16 a.m. U.S. is ‘in the beginnings of spread of this disease,’ health secretary says

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Wednesday that the country is “in the beginnings of spread” of the novel coronavirus.

“We’re seeing a real explosion of cases in Europe, we’re seeing increasing cases here in the United States which we’ve been clear we would see. We’re still, I’d say, in the beginnings of spread of this disease in the United States,” Azar told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview on Good Morning America.

“But thats why we’re taking such aggressive containment measures at the border as well as mitigation steps in local communities,” he continued. “We’re going to see more cases. This is a virus, this will spread. We need to take steps to slow that, buy ourselves time.”

Azar said “millions” of COVID-19 tests are available in the United States and anyone who is suspected to be infected will be tested.

“Capacity is there,” he added. “The system is up and running and doing its job.”

The health secretary noted that Americans can expect to see “very aggressive efforts” to try to mitigate and contain the virus outbreak, which is why “public cooperation is important.”

“If we can slow the spread, if we can contain these clusters in certain communities, bring that speed down,” he said, “the hope of course is that, like most respiratory diseases, as we get to warmer weather, as people disperse and just naturally distance themselves with outdoor activities, et cetera, this can help actually slow things down. So we’re working always to buy time so that we mitigate impact here in the United States.”

Any type of large gathering, such as concerts, parades and sporting events, will need to be assessed “under the local circumstances to determine whether it’s appropriate,” according to Azar. People as individuals also need to assess whether it makes sense for them to attend. The elderly and “medically fragile” should avoid large gatherings, long travel and “certainly avoid getting on a cruise ship,” he said.

5:44 a.m. Georgia state park houses first patient

A patient who tested positive for the novel coronavirus has been isolated on state park grounds in Georgia, authorities said.

It’s the first COVID-19 patient to be transferred to Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County since state authorities prepared the site as a location for isolating and monitoring people who may have been exposed to the deadly virus. Earlier this week, officials installed seven emergency mobile units and delivered supplies in an isolated section of the park that will remain separated from the rest of the property.

The first patient, who is from Georgia’s Cherokee County, was brought to one of the mobile units in the state park for treatment on Monday night because the individual “was not able to isolate at their primary residence and was not in critical condition requiring any hospital admittance,” according to a press release from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s office.

“This site was specifically chosen for its isolation from the general public and ability to house mobile units in the short term,” Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Homer Bryson said in a statement Monday night. “State public health staff will monitor the individual’s progress and work together with state law enforcement to ensure the safety of the community and the patient.”

Georgia has 23 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus so far, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

The isolated site at Hard Labor Creek State Park is closed to public access and closely monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by state law enforcement.

4:51 a.m. Over 1,400 people disembark Grand Princess cruise ship in California

As of Tuesday evening, 1,406 people had disembarked the Grand Princess cruise ship in Oakland, California, according to Princess Cruises, the cruise line that operates the ship.

The ship was carrying around 3,500 passengers and crew when it received approval to dock in the port of Oakland on Monday, after spending several days idling off California’s coast while health officials tested dozens on board for the novel coronavirus. At least 21 people have tested positive, officials said.

The disembarkation process, which officials said would take multiple days, was expected to wrap up Wednesday by the end of the day. As part of the process, teams from the California Department of Health and Human Services have been on board “to assist with medical screenings and interviews and have prioritized those who require the most medical attention and care,” according to a Princess Cruises spokesperson.

“Disembarkation is in order of priority,” the spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday evening. “Princess Cruises is working with federal, state and local health authorities to ensure all guests depart the ship safely.”

All those who are infected will be transported to hospitals. Passengers who aren’t sick will be taken to various designated sites in the country to complete a 14-day quarantine. Crew members who aren’t infected will complete their 14-day quarantine on board the ship, which will leave the port as soon as the disembarkation process is complete, officials said.

3:35 a.m. Pompeo demands Iran release Americans amid worsening outbreak

As a health crisis over the novel coronavirus outbreak deepens in Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is calling on the Iranian government to immediately release detained American citizens.

“The United States will hold the Iranian regime directly responsible for any American deaths. Our response will be decisive,” Pompeo warned in a statement late Tuesday night, pointing out that Tehran has released tens of thousands of other prisoners to prevent the spread of the new virus.

Pompeo said countries assisting Iran should condition any aid on the release of these Americans and citizens wrongfully detained from other countries, like Australia, France and the United Kingdom.

The family of Michael White, the U.S. Navy veteran who was imprisoned in Iran while visiting his girlfriend in July 2018, told ABC News that they are “very grateful” for Pompeo’s statement. White’s mother Joanne urged the Trump administration last week to do something, fearful that her son, “a cancer patient with a compromised immune system,” is at risk. White has reportedly been denied basic medical care while in detention.

2:44 a.m. Number of confirmed cases surpass 1,000 in U.S.

With more companies asking employees to work from home and large events like the Coachella music festival being postponed, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus continues to grow on U.S. soil. There are now more than 1,000 confirmed cases, according data provided by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

The latest patient to die from the virus was a person in their 90s in California’s Sacramento County who had an underlying health condition, according to the Sacramento County Department of Health Services.

The death is the 30th in the United States, according to ABC News’ count. It is the third death in California.

As more Americans are deciding to skip travel plans and airlines are cutting flights, the Mineta San Jose International Airport announced late Tuesday night that three Transportation Security Administration employees working at the airport had tested positive for COVID-19.

The airport, however, said it remains “open for business” and will follow the Santa Clara County Health Department’s “guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19.”

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