The United States just saw its 11th coronavirus death.
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency after an elderly patient in Sacramento died from the virus, marking the first U.S. death outside of Washington state (which saw 10 deaths in connection with one nursing home).
That patient, who had preexisting health conditions, is believed to have been exposed to the virus during a cruise stop in Mexico. The cruise ship, owned by Princess Cruises, is being held off the coast of San Francisco, with 21 passengers and crew members showing symptoms. The Coast Guard will deliver coronavirus tests to the ship, where a medical team will test “fewer than 100” passengers and crew members identified to be at risk, out of 2,500 people aboard over the course of the cruise.
Nine new cases of coronavirus were identified in California Wednesday, bringing the number in that state to 54 cases, the highest in the United States.
Meanwhile, in New York, 13 cases have been confirmed, and New Jersey saw its first diagnosis. That brings the number of cases in the U.S. up to around 160, spread across 17 states. Three of those states—Washington, California, and Florida, which has seen eight cases—have declared a state of emergency.
In Seattle, the origin of the U.S. outbreak, a 20,000-student school district has shut down for the next two weeks. Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, warned more local governments may take such measures to stop the spread of the virus.
“This is the time for people to have a plan for what they would do should their child’s school need to close,” Ferrer said during a press conference.
The Centers for Disease Control is working with private organizations to locally test at least 1 million people across the U.S. by Saturday in order to assess the reach of the disease. Because several known U.S. carriers haven’t knowingly had contact with previous cases, there is reason to believe the virus can be transmitted locally.
With many schools’ and colleges’ spring breaks approaching, doctors say people should feel safe traveling inside the U.S., including to densely populated destinations like amusement parks and beaches. The same goes for air travel.
That’s because, while doctors don’t know how exactly the coronavirus spreads, it appears to travel not through the air but through large droplet transmission. That means you could contract the virus through contact with carriers or surfaces on which those viral droplets have landed.
That being said, those already at higher risk—the elderly and immunocompromised—might want to exercise caution.
“Now is the time where we actually do want to start thinking, ‘Well, do I really need to take that trip to go on vacation?’” Dr. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology and immunology at Harvard, said, referring to higher risk populations. “If it were me, I think I would probably try to decrease my risk as much as possible, and one way to do that is reducing travel.”
Experts say four factors likely factor into transmission: how close you get to someone with the virus, for how long, whether viral droplets reach you, and whether you touch your face.
People infected with coronavirus don’t always show symptoms at all, and for others those symptoms resemble a cold or the flu, and don’t warrant intensive care. The virus rarely infects children. Subsequently, coronavirus is primarily dangerous for older people and people with preexisting illnesses like autoimmune diseases and diabetes.
Experts recommend washing your hands, keeping your distance from people showing cold or flu symptoms, and keeping an eye on your state and local developments in order to stock up on food and prescriptions if necessary.
The CDC advises avoiding international travel to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran, which have all seen approximately 3,000 cases or more.
Globally, 93,000 cases have been confirmed with more than 3,200 deaths worldwide, though over 50,000 people have already recovered from the virus.
In China, where the virus is slowing after 80,000 cases and 3,000 deaths, the death rate for those infected is estimated to be approximately 2 percent. For comparison, the flu’s is .1 percent.