THURSDAY, March 12, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Hoping to curtail the spread of coronavirus to the United States, travel from most of Europe will be banned for 30 days, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday night.
The ban would apply only to foreign nationals who have been in what is known as the "Schengen Area" at any point for 14 days before their scheduled arrival to the United States, the Associated Press reported.
That area encompasses 26 nations, including France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Austria and Belgium. According to the White House, that area has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of mainland China.
Shortly after Trump's announcement, the State Department released an extraordinary advisory telling Americans to reconsider all travel abroad while coronavirus moves across the globe.
Trump's move followed a declaration from the World Health Organization earlier in the day that the coronavirus outbreak is officially a pandemic.
"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," agency director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted.
He noted that "in the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold and the number of affected countries has tripled."
Still time to curb spread
But the WHO chief also stressed that labeling the crisis a pandemic does not mean it's too late to turn things around.
"Eighty-one countries have not reported any COVID-19 cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less," Ghebreyesus noted, and "of the 118,000 COVID-19 cases reported globally in 114 countries, more than 90 percent of cases are in just four countries, and two of those -- China and South Korea -- have significantly declining epidemics."
"We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic," he said.
In the United States, House Democrats introduced a plan late Wednesday that would provide free coronavirus testing for all Americans and emergency funding to reimburse lost paychecks for those who are in self-quarantine or have missed work or lost jobs amid the pandemic, the AP reported.
In the meantime, public officials across America raced to curb the spread of coronavirus as the number of U.S. cases topped 1,200 on Wednesday, with 38 deaths, CNN reported..
'All hands on deck'
In just one week, the number of U.S. cases have jumped more than eightfold.
"We would like the country to realize that, as a nation, we can't be doing the kinds of things we were doing a few months ago. That it doesn't matter if you're in a state that has no cases or one case, you have to start taking seriously what you can do now," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a Tuesday media briefing. "Everybody should say, 'All hands on deck. This is what we need to do.'"
In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee has banned gatherings of more than 250 people across the Seattle metro area, home to some 4 million people, as cases in that state spiked to 366, the AP reported.
In New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo turned a New York City suburb into a "containment zone." Schools and houses of worship in the town of New Rochelle will be closed for two weeks. A cluster of more than 100 cases there could be the largest in the nation, and National Guard troops were ordered to help clean public spaces and deliver food during the containment period, the AP reported.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said all gatherings of more than 250 in that state should be postponed, as passengers on a cruise ship struck by coronavirus waited their turn to disembark. After being held off the California coast for several days, the ship docked Monday in Oakland with about 3,500 passengers and crew on board, including at least 21 who have tested positive for the virus.
Passengers from Canada and other countries were to be flown home, while Americans were being sent to military bases in California, Texas and Georgia for testing and 14-day quarantines, the AP reported. About 1,100 crew members were to remain aboard.
Test kits on the way
In the nation's capital, the Securities and Exchange Commission became the first federal agency in Washington to dismiss 2,400 employees from its headquarters on Monday after discovering that an employee might be infected, the Washington Post reported.
During a media briefing earlier this week, Vice President Mike Pence announced that millions of much-needed testing kits for COVID-19 are on the way to clinics and labs nationwide.
Pence heads the Trump Administration's coronavirus task force. He said the group reached out to governors from 47 states on Monday, and was "able to confirm with them
that testing is now available in all state labs in every state in the country."
"Over a million tests have been distributed," Pence said, and "before the end of this week, another 4 million tests will be distributed."
California, Washington state and New York now have the highest number of coronavirus cases in the United States, the New York Times said. Washington state now has 366 cases, California has 177, and New York has 216.
Washington state continued to contend with an outbreak involving the Life Care Center nursing home in the town of Kirkland, CNN reported. State officials said a total of 29 people have now died from COVID-19 infection, with most either living at or connected with the nursing home.
Washington state officials said Tuesday that residents at a total of 10 senior care centers have been diagnosed with coronavirus.
While most people with robust immune systems appear to recover from COVID-19, frail and elderly nursing home residents may be in particular danger, experts noted.
Cases spread worldwide
As of Thursday morning, the WHO had reported 124,518 cases of coronavirus worldwide, including almost 4,607 deaths, the vast majority of which have occurred in China, where the outbreak began.
Internationally, hopes of containing the coronavirus are fading fast.
In Asia, South Korea and Iran are each battling major outbreaks of COVID-19. In Europe, Italy ordered a travel lockdown of the entire country, some 60 million people, as it tried to contain a major outbreak of COVID-19. By Thursday morning, the case count in that country had topped 12,000, with 827 deaths, the New York Times reported.
"Our habits must be changed, changed now. We all have to give up something for the good of Italy. When I speak of Italy, I speak of our dear ones, of our grandparents and of our parents," Italy's Premier Guiseppe Conte said Monday, the AP reported. "We will succeed only if we all collaborate and we adapt right away to these more stringent norms."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
SOURCES: March 11, 2020, Twitter statements, World Health Organization; March 9, 2020, media briefing with Vice President Mike Pence; U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Washington Post; CNN; Associated Press; New York Times
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