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.

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Iran temporarily releases 54,000 prisoners to prevent spread of COVID-19

A prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison on June 13, 2006.Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters file

Iran has temporarily released thousands of prisoners as it faces a growing outbreak of coronavirus that has already claimed 77 lives in the country, sickening more than 2,300.  

Gholamhossein Esmaili, the judiciary spokesman, announced in a weekly press conference Tuesday that 54,000 prisoners have been temporarily released to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Iranian prisons.

On Tuesday, the lawyer for an American held in Iran said that his client was at “serious risk” of contracting the coronavirus after another inmate held near his cell tested positive for the illness.

California's Placer County announces second presumptive case

Officials in Placer County in Northern California on Tuesday reported a second case of COVID-19 and declared a local health emergency, which is intended to ensure it has enough resources.

The patient is presumptively positive, meaning it was through a local test but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tests will need to confirm it, Placer County Public Health said in a statement.

The patient is an older adult who is critically ill and exposure likely occurred during international travel on a Princess cruise ship that left San Francisco for Mexico in February, the department said. The patient is in isolation and close contacts are being quarantined and monitored.

Placer County also said the same cruise is associated with another presumptive positive case reported Monday in Sonoma County, also in Northern California. Monday's Sonoma County statement did not name the cruise ship but said it went from San Francisco to Mexico.

Princess Cruises did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday. It said Monday in responding to the Sonoma County report that its chief medical officer contacted officials in Sonoma County for more information but it was not known whether there was an exposure risk to people who sailed on board its ship. The Sonoma County patient is said to be stable.

South Korea's president cancels overseas trip to deal with COVID-19 outbreak

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will not travel as planned to the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey in mid-March in order to focus on the coronavirus outbreak in his country, presidential spokesperson Kang Min Suk in a text briefing.

Most of the cases of COVID-19 are in mainland China, but South Korea has one of the largest outbreaks outside  that country with more than 5,000 cases and 32 deaths, according to the latest numbers from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

"We have decided not to go ahead with the overseas trips as was in the planning in order to respond to COVID-19 with full attention and strength amid concern that the outbreak can spread throughout the whole nation," the presidential spokesman said.

Moon has said that "the whole country has entered a war against the infectious disease," and that South Korea has been strengthening its prevention strategy and identifying confirmed cases quickly.

Shoppers looking for sanitizing supplies, groceries greeted with empty shelves

Empty shelves that once held soap at a Target store in San Rafael, California, on Monday, March 2, 2020.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

People stocking up on sanitizing supplies, paper products and groceries have cleared some stores' shelves, consumers around the country have discovered. 

Hand sanitizer, wipes, cleaning supplies and other products have been wiped out by people fearing quarantine and prolonged illness from the coronavirus. 

Contra Costa County says first resident tests positive for COVID-19

Contra Costa County, California, health officials on Tuesday reported the first presumptive case of the coronavirus illness COVID-19 that involves a resident of the county. The person, who has underlying health issues, is in isolation at a hospital and is in critical condition.

The patient is being treated as presumptively positive because a local test came back positive Tuesday afternoon but has not been confirmed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tests, Contra Costa Health Services said.

The person was admitted to a hospital on Sunday with flu-like symptoms, Dr. Ori Tzvieli with Contra Costa Health Services said at a news conference.

The person involved has no known travel history or contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19, the department said. Contra Costa County is in the San Francisco Bay area. Another county in that region, Santa Clara County, has also reported cases.

Seattle a 'ghost town' as residents face uncertainty of growing coronavirus outbreak

In Seattle, bracing for coronavirus also means preparing for what could be a devastating economic impact. Business owners and residents have already seen a drop-off in tourists.

Nine people in the United Stated have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus — all of them in Washington, which has reported 31 cases of coronavirus.  

As the death toll climbed Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a Democrat, proclaimed a civil emergency. The declaration allows her to bypass regulations to increase city spending, contracting and borrowing to address the growing public health threat. 

Community members say that the move suggests that local leaders are taking the threat seriously but that it also points to hard times ahead for businesses dependent on tourism and pedestrians.

Read the full story here.

South Korea reports more than 500 new cases, 4 more deaths

South Korea reported an additional 516 cases of the coronavirus illness known as COVID-19 Wednesday morning local time and an additional four deaths.

The country has seen 32 deaths and 5,328 confirmed cases, but 41 of those cases have been said to have fully recovered, according to the latest numbers from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. South Korea has one of the largest outbreaks outside mainland China, which is where the majority of global cases have been reported.

Deaths in mainland China also rose by an additional 38 as of Wednesday morning local time, China's National Health Commission reported.

All but one of the new deaths occurred in Hubei Province, which has been at the epicenter of the outbreak and where the city of Wuhan is located. The number of confirmed cases on the mainland rose by 119 as of the end of Tuesday local time, bringing the total cases that have been confirmed to more than 80,200.

Quarantined U.S. cruise ship passengers released in Texas

SAN ANTONIO — Dozens of U.S. passengers who were moved to a Texas air base after potentially being exposed to the coronavirus on a cruise ship were released Tuesday and allowed to go home, a day after local leaders declared a public health emergency and sought to delay the process so that more patient testing could be done.

More than 120 passengers who were moved two weeks ago from a Diamond Princess cruise ship stranded in Japan and kept in quarantine on Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio were released “in an orderly way to minimize potential exposure to the San Antonio community,” according to a statement issued by city officials. 

San Antonio officials had wanted additional assurances that none of the released passengers had tested positive for the new coronavirus, after a woman was mistakenly released from quarantine over the weekend despite testing positive for it.

Seven passengers were kept in quarantine at the air base for various reasons, Laura Mayes, a city spokeswoman, told The Associated Press.

More cases confirmed in California

Two new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Northern California’s Santa Clara County, bringing the total there to 11, local officials said Tuesday.

The source of the transmission of the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness is under investigation, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department said in a statement.

Of the 11 confirmed cases there, two have been determined to be "community transmission" which means the source of infection is not clear. Four others are thought to be travel-related, and three are thought to have occurred through close contacts to known cases, the health agency said.

In Orange County in Southern California, health officials said they have two presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, identified as a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s, both of whom recently traveled to countries with widespread transmission. CDC testing will confirm the local tests.

Amazon employee in Seattle in quarantine after testing positive

A Seattle-based Amazon employee has tested positive for the coronavirus illness COVID-19, the company confirmed Tuesday.

An email sent to employees said that the employee based out of its "Brazil" office building in Seattle went home feeling unwell Feb. 25 and has not entered Amazon offices since. The email says the company received news Tuesday that the employee tested positive for COVID-19, and that the employee is in quarantine. 

"We're supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine," an Amazon spokesperson said.

A company spokesperson confirmed the email’s authenticity to NBC News. The email says the company notified employees who had been in contact with the infected employee. The risk to those who had not been in close contact with that employee remains low, the email says.

The company is conducting deep cleaning and sanitization of the office. Amazon is headquartered in Seattle.

Pope Francis has a cold, no symptoms of other illness, Vatican says

The Vatican said in a statement Tuesday that Pope Francis has a cold that is running its course, “without symptoms related to other diseases.”

The pontiff this week said he was canceling his participation at a weeklong spiritual retreat in the Roman countryside because of a cold.

"The cold diagnosed to Pope Francis in previous days is running its course, without symptoms related to other diseases. In the meantime, the Pope celebrates Mass daily,” and follows the spiritual exercises ongoing in Ariccia, the Vatican said in a statement, referring to the sit of the Lenten retreat. It’s the first time the pope has not taken part, The Associated Press reported.

On Tuesday, the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero reported that Francis tested negative for the coronavirus, according to the AP. The Vatican statement makes no mention of a test. Italy is grappling with a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 79 people. More than 2,500 cases have been confirmed in the country, Italian officials said.