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Emergency declared in California as cruise ship delayed off shore

Here's the latest on the coronavirus outbreak.
Image: The Grand Princess cruise ship passes the Golden Gate Bridge as it arrives from Hawaii in San Francisco
The Grand Princess cruise ship passes the Golden Gate Bridge as it arrives from Hawaii in San Francisco on Feb. 11, 2020.Scott Strazzante / AP file

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California has declared an emergency over the coronavirus outbreak, as tests continue Thursday on board a Princess cruise ship that has been linked to two cases of the illness in the state.

The first death in California related to coronavirus was confirmed Wednesday, while another fatality in Washington brought that state's death toll to 10.

Congressional leaders have agreed on an $8 billion emergency funding package to help fight the coronavirus that is headed to the House.

The virus is now spreading more rapidly outside China, where the epidemic started, with mainland China recording just 119 new confirmed cases while hundreds of cases were reported globally.

South Korea alone recorded an additional 516 cases of coronavirus Wednesday, bringing the total to 5,328 confirmed cases, the largest outbreak outside of mainland China.

Governments around the world are introducing a range of measures to stop the spread of the disease. In Italy, where there have been more than 2,000 cases, all schools and colleges are shut for 10 days.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

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Live Blog

Semester at Sea students fear being stuck on ship as coronavirus spreads around globe

Some 550 students taking part in the venerable Semester at Sea program have been trapped on a ship for about two weeks amid the spread of the coronavirus illness known as COVID-19.

"We feel completely confined, there's nothing around us,” student Kylie Menish said in a phone call from somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean. "It’s kind of an awful feeling not knowing exactly what the plan is."

Menish said they took off from San Diego aboard the MV World Odyssey on Jan. 4, and the plan was to make about a dozen stops on four different continents before reaching their final destination, Amsterdam, on April 20.

A spokeswoman for Semester at Sea said officials made the decision to divert from countries on the ship's itinerary "because of decisions out of our control or to give us the best possibility of entry into any future port on our itinerary."

Read the full story here.

At least 50 California residents self-quarantine in homes over potential exposure

At least 50 people in Riverside County, California, are under self-quarantine in their homes over concerns they may have been exposed to coronavirus. 

All had recently visited Asia, mostly China, and arrived in the U.S. within the last two weeks, said Jose Arballo Jr., spokesman for the Riverside County Department of Health, adding that they had not traveled together.

None have exhibited symptoms, Abrallo said. The health department is closely monitoring each resident and checks in with them two to three times a day by text, email or phone calls. They will be monitored for two weeks and can leave their homes as soon as they are cleared. 

Click here to read more about Americans in self-quarantine for coronavirus.

Coronavirus by the numbers, Feb. 28

As of now: The U.S. is at 63 cases, which includes nine recoveries. Globally, 84,094 cases have been confirmed, this includes more than 39,000 recoveries and more than 2,900 deaths.

In the last 24 hours, more than 700 confirmed cases, more than 50 deaths and more than 2,800 recoveries have been reported around the world, and at least four countries reported their first confirmed case.

New California coronavirus case had no connection to others, health officials say

A new coronavirus patient from Santa Clara County, California, had not traveled to China, was not related to two other cases in the region and had not been to Solano County, about 70 miles away, where the country's only other patient without a known source of infection resides, health officials said Friday.

“What we know now is that the virus is here, present at some level, but we still don’t know to what degree,” said Dr. Sara Cody, director of Santa Clara County's public health department, in a news conference Friday.

The two cases of possible "community spread" of the virus could mean that more people may have to stay home from work and school and follow essential hygiene practices, she said.

Santa Clara County officials are working to reconstruct the woman's recent contacts and travels in an attempt to determine where she picked up the virus. 

Dr. Charity Dean of the  California Department of Public Health announced the state has enabled eight public health labs capable of testing for the virus with faster results.

U.S. postpones Asian summit in Las Vegas amid coronavirus fears

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has called off a major summit of Asian leaders next month in Las Vegas amid growing alarm over the coronavirus, two U.S. officials tell NBC News.

The United States had planned to host a special summit of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, on March 14.

But planning for the trip was abruptly halted on Friday, just as President Donald Trump said he was considering expanding his travel ban to cover countries that had a disproportionately high number of coronavirus cases. “We’re looking at that,” Trump told reporters on Friday.

U.S involvement in ASEAN, which brings together Southeast Asian nations to confer on economics and security, has played a major role over the years in helping solidify U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region, as Washington seeks to counter the rise of China as the region’s major power.

Read the full story here.

White House mulls tax cuts to boost economy amid coronavirus spread

The White House is discussing tax cuts as a possible way to stimulate the economy amid a spreading coronavirus, a White House official confirmed to NBC News. The Washington Post was the first to report the news. The official said “lots of options are being explored” to fit different scenarios along with the tax cuts. 

The official said other steps under consideration include interest rate cuts and regulatory changes, but the official didn’t elaborate on how those would be implemented and acknowledged that some options are outside the White House’s control. 

2nd coronavirus case with no known origin in California

The newly announced coronavirus case in Santa Clara County, California has no known source of infection, the county health department said on Friday.

“This new case indicates that there is evidence of community transmission but the extent is still not clear,” Dr. Sara Cody, Health Officer for Santa Clara County and Director of the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department, said in a press release. “I understand this may be concerning to hear, but this is what we have been preparing for. Now we need to start taking additional actions to slow down the spread of the disease.”

The individual is an older woman with chronic health conditions who was hospitalized for a respiratory illness, according to the press release. Health officials are working to identify contacts. 

This is second case in the U.S. with an unclear origin. The first was also in northern California. 

False claims online distort coronavirus symptoms, promote bogus cures

False posts online have distorted symptoms of the coronavirus and peddled miracle cures. Members of the public are urged to follow the advice of established institutions like WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and to beware of claims suggesting ways to prevent the virus.

Read more about some of the claims spreading online, and the facts you need to know about them.

Pence to Limbaugh, who claimed virus is overhyped: 'We're all in this together'

Vice President Pence went on Rush Limbaugh's radio show on Friday to assure Americans that threat posed by the coronavirus in the United States is "low" but "we're ready for whatever may come."

Limbaugh, who has vigorously defended the administration's handling of the crisis, has previously compared the coronavirus to "the common cold" and complained that concerns about an outbreak in the U.S. were being "weaponized" by Democrats and the media.

Pence, who has been placed in charge of the administration's response by President Trump, preached unity and caution in his remarks on the right-wing talk show host's program.

"We're all in this together," Pence told Limbaugh.

Read the full story here.

White House considering special powers to produce more protective gear

The Trump administration is weighing using special executive authority to spur the production of gear like protective masks that could be used to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S., health secretary Alex Azar confirmed Friday.

Read the full story here.

Coronavirus could be 'once-in-a-century' pathogen, Bill Gates says

Bill Gates warned on Friday that the new coronavirus "has started behaving a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about."

"I hope it’s not that bad, but we should assume it will be until we know otherwise," Gates wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Gates' foundation has been promoting vaccine research for developing nations for more than a decade. He noted that the combination of the fatality rate of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the new coronavirus) and its ease of transmission between people make it a serious threat.  

Gates said he is ready to commit up to $100 million to fight the spread of the virus in "low- and middle-income countries."