Top Coronavirus Expert Dr Fauci Says Four Million Tests Should be Available by End of the Week, as he Warns Americans to Avoid Crowds and Brace for Quarantines as Death Toll Rises to 21 With Two New Victims Reported at Washington Nursing Home
Dr Fauci warned that the US may soon implement widespread quarantines as Italy and China have done.
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- The coronavirus death toll in the US climbed to 21 Sunday after two new deaths were reported in Washington
- Anthony Fauci, head of the infectious diseases unit at the National Institutes of Health, offered an update on the crisis on cable news shows on Sunday morning
- He admitted that early attempts to send out test kits were plagued by delays, but said testing capacity is 'accelerating dramatically'
- 400,000 kits will be available by Monday and four million will be available by the end of the week, Fauci said
- Fauci encouraged high risk groups such as the elderly and immuno-compromised to avoid travel and crowds
- He warned that the US may soon implement widespread quarantines as Italy and China have done
- His comments came as President Donald Trump praised his administration's efforts to curb the outbreak
- 'We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on CoronaVirus,' Trump tweeted Sunday morning
- He said Vice President Mike Pence is 'doing a great job' and that 'the Fake News Media is doing everything possible to make us look bad. Sad!'
- The US has 474 confirmed coronavirus cases in 33 states, the District of Columbia and two cruise ships
The nation's top expert on coronavirus has warned Americans to brace for quarantines and avoid large crowds as the US death toll rose to 21 on Sunday with two new victims reported at a Washington state nursing home.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the head of the infectious diseases unit at the National Institutes of Health, offered an update on the coronavirus crisis on cable news shows on Sunday.
Fauci admitted that early attempts to send out coronavirus test kits were plagued by delays, but said that testing capacity is 'accelerating dramatically'.
'Early on, there were some missteps with regard to the test and some technical aspects to it,' Fauci said on NBC's Meet the Press.
'But right now, I believe, 1.1 million tests have already been sent out. By Monday, there'll be an additional 400,000. And by the end of next week, probably around four million.'
Fauci said 'we're getting a better sense' of the scope of the outbreak - adding: 'Unfortunately that better sense is not encouraging because we're seeing community spread.'
He repeatedly encouraged those most at risk from coronavirus to limit travel whenever possible.
'If you're a person with an underlying condition and you are particularly an elderly person with an underlying condition you need to think twice about getting on a plane, on a long trip, and not only think twice, just don't get on a cruise ship,' he said.
Asked about quarantines in China and Italy - where millions of people are confined to their homes - Fauci said he could not rule out similar actions in the United States.
'You don't want to alarm people, but given the spread we see, anything is possible, and that's the reason why we've got to be prepared to take whatever action is appropriate to contain and mitigate the outbreak,' he said on Fox News Sunday.
Fauci's comments came as President Donald Trump took to Twitter to tout his administration's efforts to curb the outbreak.
'We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on CoronaVirus,' Trump tweeted Sunday morning.
'We moved VERY early to close borders to certain areas, which was a Godsend. V.P. is doing a great job. The Fake News Media is doing everything possible to make us look bad. Sad!'
Hours later officials confirmed that the death toll had increased from 19 to 21 after two people died at the Life Care Center, a nursing home in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland already associated with 16 other deaths.
The first new victim from Life Care Center was a man in his 90s who was hospitalized at Harborview Medical Center and died on March 5, according to a news release from the King County Health Department.
The second was a woman in her 80s who was hospitalized at EvergreenHealth and died on March 6.
There are 483 confirmed cases of coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, in the US as of Sunday afternoon, scattered across 33 states, the District of Columbia and two cruise ships.
As the outbreak spreads, daily life has been increasingly disrupted, with concerts and conferences canceled and universities telling students to stay home and take classes online.
To contain the outbreak in China, the government quarantined millions of people for weeks. Italy has announced similar measures, locking down 16 million people in the north of the country.
Fauci said he did not think the US would impose total shutdowns - but said 'anything is possible'.
'We have to be realistic. I don't think it would be as draconian as nobody in or nobody out,' he told Fox News Sunday.
'But if we continue to get cases like this, particularly at the community level, there will be what we call 'mitigation,' where we have to essentially do social distancing, keep people out of crowded places, take a look at seriousness, do you really need to travel, and I think it's particularly important among the most vulnerable.'
He also addressed reports that health experts on the White House's coronavirus task force had been overruled on the recommendation that elderly people refrain from air travel.
'Here's the deal- no one overruled anybody about saying this so let me say it loud and clear now,' he said.
'Right now I'm telling the American people based on everything that's agreed upon in the task force.'
Fauci emphasized that the elderly and those with 'underlying conditions' are 'overwhelmingly' more likely to have complications if they catch coronavirus.
'If you are an elderly person with an underlying condition, if you get infected, the risk of getting into trouble is considerable. So it's our responsibility to protect the vulnerable,' he said on Meet the Press.
'When I say protect, I mean right now. Not wait until things get worse. Say no large crowds, no long trips. And above all, don't get on a cruise ship.'
He added that US officials may have to reconsider their approach to large social gatherings if the situation worsens.
'They call it social distancing, but it's common sense stuff. You don't want to go to a massive gathering, particularly if you're a vulnerable individual,' he said.
'If we continue to see the community spread go up I think you need to seriously look at anything that's a large gathering.'
Fauci also commented on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which was barred from returning to San Francisco last week after 21 passengers and crew members tested positive for coronavirus.
The ship is now preparing to dock in the port of Oakland, and all of its 3,500 passengers are expected to be placed under quarantine.
'I recommended very strongly in our meetings that we get those people off that ship,' Fauci told Fox News Sunday.
'We don't want to have a repeat of what we saw at the Diamond Princess [in the port of Yokohama] where the ship became almost a hotspot of transmission, I feel strongly about getting them off there.'
Up to 4,000 passengers are trapped on a ship off the coast of California
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams told CNN cases would rise, adding that the average age of death for people with the virus was 80, and the average age of those needing medical attention was 60.
'Unfortunately, you are going to see more deaths, but that doesn't mean that we should panic,' he said. Communities need to 'prepare for more cases so we can prevent more deaths,' Adams said.
The hardest hit place in the US has been a nursing home in a suburb of Seattle.
Washington state is considering mandatory measures such as banning large gatherings but not necessarily imposing massive quarantines, the governor said.
New York joined Washington state and California in declaring a state of emergency on Saturday.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday that the number of cases in New York had risen to 105 and he expects that to climb as testing expands.
'What we are really trying to do here is avoid the massive disruption of closing everything down for two weeks the way China did, the way Italy is doing,' he said.
Cuomo said a lawyer from Westchester County who is believed to be at the center of the outbreak there had attended a number of large gatherings, contributing to the roughly 70 people in Westchester who have tested positive.
'It's these large gatherings where you can expose a number of people in a very short period of time and then it's like dominoes, right, then the tree continues to expand with branches.'
The CDC has tested 1,583 people for the coronavirus since the first cases were identified in the US in January, health officials said Saturday.
The Trump administration and the CDC have faced intense criticism over the delays in testing as thousands of people currently under voluntary quarantine have yet to be tested.
Americans will not be able to get tested for the coronavirus unless it is ordered by a doctor or public health official, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Saturday, contracting President Trump's assertion the day before that 'anybody that wants a test can get a test.'
'You may not get a test unless a doctor or public health official prescribes a test,' Azar told reporters at the White House.
'That is our medical system in the United States. In the same way you may not get a cardiac medicine if your doctor doesn't prescribe that or say it's indicated, you may not get that either.'
Azar defended Trump's claim a day earlier during a tour of the CDC, insisting the president 'knows the numbers' and was merely 'using a shorthand'.
'What the president said yesterday at the CDC, that is consistent with what the FDA and the CDC are saying, which is we as regulators or as those shipping the test are not restricting who can get tested,' Azar said.
'We are leaving that to the professional judgment of doctors and public health laboratory officials.'
Azar asserted Saturday that California and Washington — two states dealing with particularly high rates of coronavirus cases — 'have everything they need in terms of diagnostics'.
He also disputed that New York City had insufficient test kits hours after city officials repeatedly charged that the lack of testing availability was hindering their ability to contain an outbreak.
Dow Constantine, executive of King County in Washington, which has seen by far the most cases, told the Wall Street Journal: 'We've been waiting for an increase of testing capacity in our community.'
'It has been a tremendous strain for public health to have to triage those tests,' Constantine added.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn told reporters that the government is prioritizing areas dealing with the most cases, such as Washington, California and New York.
'We prioritized the shipment early on to those states that needed them the most,' Hahn said. 'We will work with the manufacturers and CDC as the public health information comes in about [areas] that need more. We will certainly help to prioritize those shipments.'
The FDA recently made it easier for commercial labs to manufacture and perform their own tests - but the CDC has yet to authorize them to do so.
The latest testing developments came as:
- More than 109,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus across the world and 3,800 have died;
- Two new deaths were reported at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, bringing the total number of deaths associated with the nursing home to 21
- 21 people on board a cruise ship floating off the coast of San Francisco tested positive to coronavirus
- Stanford University cancelled all in-person classes for the remainder of winter semester after a faculty member tested positive to coronavirus
- Two elderly people died in relation to the illness in Florida on Friday - the first deaths on the East Coast
- The NBA prepares its stars to play games without fans in attendance
- Apple told all 12,000 employees at its headquarters Apple Park to remain home Friday, following similar guidance from Facebook and Microsoft
- City officials in Austin announced that South by South West festival is canceled after dozens of stars and companies dropped out
*For more information about Coronaviruses: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/index.html
**For travel health information: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/watch/pneumonia-china
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