The fourth and fifth cases of coronavirus in the United States have now been confirmed, as health officers in California and Arizona said they were each treating a patient that had been infected with the illness originated in China.
The five patients, located in Southern California, Chicago, Arizona, and Washington state, had traveled from Wuhan, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. They are now hospitalized and under treatment.
About 100 people in 26 states have been investigated or are currently monitored in the US for the virus, after showing potential symptoms. At least 25 were negative for the virus. The CDC said it expects more potential cases soon but clarified that the risk for the public is low.
The news came as health officials from China said people can spread the virus before they even have symptoms. If this is correct, it would mean people can go weeks without realizing they are sick and spread the virus.
Nevertheless, this was questioned by Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We don’t have clear evidence that patients are infectious before symptom onset, but we are actively investigating that possibility,” she said.
The new victim of the virus in California has been isolated and is in “good condition” at a local hospital, according to the county’s Health Care Agency. State and federal health officials are following up with anyone who may have had close contact with the person and could be at risk of infection.
Barbara Ferrer, head of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said they are “well prepared” to deal with cases. “We are working closely with our federal, state and local partners to provide healthcare providers and the public with accurate information about actions we are taking to reduce the spread of novel coronavirus and to care for those who are ill,” she added.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, the infected person is a member of the Arizona State University community but does not live in university housing. Officials are now looking at close contacts of the individual to determine whether the virus spread while the patient was infectious.
The new cases led Senator Chuck Schumer to urge the US Department of Health and Human Services to declare an emergency to free up $85 million for the CDC. The money is already appropriated and sitting in the Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund, he said, and the CDC will have full discretion to use the money.
“We want to make sure (the CDC) can sustain this pace and have all the dollars they need should the outbreak get worse,” the senator said. “Use the key now and unlock the money.”
At the same time, the US State Department said it plans to evacuate staff from its Wuhan consulate and will offer some US citizens flights out of the city. A few private US citizens will be allowed to board a “single flight” leaving Wuhan on Tuesday for San Francisco.
World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will travel to Beijing to meet with the Chinese government and health experts working on the response to the virus.
“My WHO colleagues and I would like to understand the latest developments and strengthen our partnership with China in providing further protection against the outbreak,” he wrote on Twitter.
Besides the US, cases were confirmed in France, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and South Korea. At least 80 people have died from the virus in China, and another 2,744 people in the country have been infected.