WHO declares COVID-19 disease to be a pandemic

The coronavirus crisis continues to unfold across the globe as the World Health Organization uses the word for the first time.
Image: Slovakia
A worker wearing protective clothes disinfects the inside of a public bus in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Wednesday.Vladimir Simicek / AFP - Getty Images

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For the first time, the World Health Organization called the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, a pandemic. Meanwhile, the United States now has more than 1,000 people infected with the coronavirus — but testing in the country is still ramping up, meaning that number could continue to climb.

WHO defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease for which most people do not have immunity.

On Wednesday, the governor of New York questioned the number of people who have been tested for the virus in the U.S.

“When they do the retrospective on this one, they are going to say, 'Why did it take the Unites States so long to bring up the testing capacity?'” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on "TODAY." On Tuesday, Cuomo announced that he was implementing a "containment area" around a one-mile radius in the city of New Rochelle, home to one of the largest clusters of coronavirus cases in the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that more than 8,500 specimens have been tested for the coronavirus across the U.S. Because multiple specimens are required from each individual, the number of actual patients who have been tested is likely far lower.

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Congressional doctor expects 70M to 150M people in U.S. will contract coronavirus

The attending physician of Congress and the Supreme Court, Brian Monahan, briefed Senate staff on Tuesday afternoon in a closed-door meeting and said that he expects 70 million to 150 million people in the U.S. will contract the coronavirus, two sources tell NBC News. 

The meeting didn't include any senators but was for administrative staff and personnel from both parties. Monahan briefed staff on how they can keep healthy and ways to prevent the virus from spreading, including not shaking hands, advice that is not being followed by some senators, as we’ve seen this week.

In addition to getting briefed on prevention and treatment, staffers asked questions, including if any travel restrictions should be put in place for members. On international travel, Monahan said members should not go if they don’t have to, whereas for domestic travel, no restrictions have been put in place.

Monahan also told staffers that, right now, coronavirus testing would be administered only to members of Congress, and that staff should go to their doctors if they are experiencing any symptoms.

Monahan also told staffers that ultimately, 80 percent of those who contract the coronavirus will be fine.

Large gatherings banned in San Francisco and Seattle

San Francisco Mayor London Breed tweeted on Wednesday that the city would prohibit all gatherings of 1,000 people or more.

The ban is effective immediately and represents the city’s latest effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. On Friday, the mayor’s office issued new recommendations to fight the outbreak, including advice to those over 60 to limit outings and advice to businesses to suspend nonessential travel.

Washington state is also banning events of 250 people or more in the Seattle region. Governor Jay Inslee said impacts will be “profoundly disturbing to a lot of the ways that we live our lives.” The ban goes through at least March, including the start of the Seattle Mariners season and the ongoing Golden State Warriors season.

The Seattle Mariners announced Wednesday that they would be finding “alternative plans” for their games in late March. They were supposed to take place at T-Mobile Park in Seattle but will now be crediting and refunding tickets.

San Francisco leases RVs to provide coronavirus self-isolation facilities

N.J. store owner charged after homemade spray sanitizer burns youths

7-Eleven store owner Manisha Bharade.Bergen County Prosecutor's Office via AP

A convenience store owner in New Jersey reacting to the coronavirus outbreak created and sold a spray sanitizer that left four children with burns, state and county law enforcement officials said.

Manisha Bharade, 47, of Wood-Ridge, was issued a summons charging her with endangering the welfare of children and deceptive business practices.

Bharade mixed commercially available foaming sanitizer, which wasn't meant for resale, with water and packaged the bottles in her store, authorities said. “An apparent chemical reaction from the mixture caused the burns” to the three 10-year-olds and an 11-year-old, authorities said.

Read the full story here.

Unaccompanied migrant children won't be placed in California, Washington

Unaccompanied migrant children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services have stopped being placed in California and Washington amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Out of an abundance of caution, children have stopped being placed in those two states, the department's Administration for Children and Families said in a statement Wednesday. As of March 10, "there have not been any suspected or confirmed" cases of the COVID-19 disease among children in its care facilities, the agency said. 

The agency said children with a travel history to places at high-risk of the coronavirus would undergo a risk assessment "to determine appropriate public health actions" and those with symptoms of respiratory disease would be isolated and tested. 

Using a CT scan as a workaround to diagnose coronavirus? Experts say no

With delays in lab tests to confirm coronavirus, some doctors have asked asking if CT scans can be used as a way to diagnose the disease. On Wednesday, the American College of Radiology said despite a series of recently published tests from China, a CT scan or chest X-ray should not be used to determine if a patient has the illness.

“There is no role for imaging,” said Dr. Ella Kazerooni of the University of Michigan Medical Group and the chair of the American College of Radiology Thoracic Imaging Panel. Kazerooni said markings on a CT scan are not specific enough and could be confused with seasonal flu. She also said a CT scan is not necessary to make the decision that someone should be quarantined. 

Questions from physicians, frustrated with the lack of testing, led the radiology association to clarify their position.  

Dow drops 1,200 points as WHO says coronavirus is a pandemic

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged even further on Wednesday afternoon, after the World Health Organization said the coronavirus outbreak can be classified as a pandemic.

Market reaction was swift, with the Dow tumbling by almost 5 percent. The S&P 500 fell by 4 percent and the Nasdaq by 3.8 percent. 

Wall Street has been on a roller-coaster ride all week as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus swell each day and governments struggle to contain the outbreak. Corporate America has largely taken its own counsel on managing the virus, asking employees to work from home where possible, and canceling all large gatherings.

WHO says coronavirus outbreak can be called a pandemic

The World Health Organization on Wednesday said that the new coronavirus outbreak "can be characterized as a pandemic," applying the term for the first time to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

"WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO's director-general.

WHO defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease for which most people do not have immunity.

He said that calling the outbreak a pandemic "does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this #coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do."

Tech companies to meet with White House on coronavirus response

The White House is meeting with representatives from Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter on Wednesday to coordinate efforts over the growing coronavirus outbreak, a spokesperson from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy told Reuters.

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios will lead the meeting, with some participants attending via teleconference, according to the spokesperson.

Currently, the U.S. has more than 1,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The number is expected to climb as testing becomes increasingly available.

Senate Dems unveil bill to provide economic relief amid outbreak

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democratic senators are introducing a relief proposal Wednesday to help the economy and U.S. communities as they address the coronavirus outbreak. 

Schumer's office said the measure would include the following provisions:

  • Six months of forbearance on federal student loans and mortgages.
  • Disaster grants to help local economies and direct grants for small businesses to help them survive during an economic downturn resulting from the virus. 
  • Grants for child care centers and K-12 schools that are affected by the virus. 
  • Transit assistance to help local transportation systems remain open.
  • Rental and mortgage payment assistance to those not covered under the six-month forbearance on federal loans.
  • Additional provisions would include paid sick days, emergency unemployment insurance, an increase in food stamps, food for kids during school closures, and free testing testing for the virus.

House Democrats are also preparing similar stimulus legislation, while President Donald Trump is pushing for a measure that includes a payroll tax cut. 

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