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Millions of Coronavirus Test Kits Available Soon, Pence Says, As U.S. Cases Top 800

doctor in a lab  with a blood tube labeled covid-19

TUESDAY, March 10, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Millions of much-needed testing kits for COVID-19 are on the way to clinics and labs nationwide, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters during a White House briefing Monday evening.

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.".

Furthermore, major medical testing companies such as LabCorp and Quest have also "brought a test forward and are taking that to market effective today," Pence said. He added that, "with the deployment of the commercial labs we literally are going to see a dramatic increase in the availability of testing."

Pence said last week that all restrictions on coronavirus testing would be lifted and the costs of testing would be covered by all forms of health insurance.

President Donald Trump opened the Monday briefing, seeking to reassure a rattled American public that his administration had the evolving coronavirus crisis under control -- even as the number of cases climbed past 800 in at least 36 states and the death toll hit 27.

"This was something that we were thrown into and we're going to handle it, we have been handling it very well," Trump told reporters.

Cruise ship passengers

Pence also provided an update on the Grand Princess, a cruise ship that's been stranded off San Francisco with at least 21 coronavirus-inflected passengers onboard. He said that all 25 children aboard are healthy, and "of the people that have contracted the coronavirus, 21 in all, they are being dealt with in proper isolation."

Pence said disembarkation of all 2,500 passengers from the ship was expected by the end of Monday, and they will be safely transported to military bases in California, Georgia and Texas. "All the passengers will be tested, isolated and quarantined as appropriate," he noted.

The Grand Princess has been held off the coast since Wednesday, when a man who had traveled on the first leg of the cruise died of COVID-19.

On Sunday, the State Department urged all Americans to avoid cruise travel.

"U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship," the State Department advised. "In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, many countries have implemented strict screening procedures that have denied port entry rights to ships and prevented passengers from disembarking. In some cases, local authorities have permitted disembarkation but subjected passengers to local quarantine procedures."

The statement went even further, adding that, "While the U.S. government has evacuated some cruise ship passengers in recent weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities."

Just last month, 700 people aboard another Princess Cruises ship, the Diamond Princess, became infected with coronavirus while the ship was quarantined for weeks in Yokohama harbor, in Japan.

"Cruise ships are posing probably one of the biggest challenges that we are seeing in this outbreak," Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, infectious diseases director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told CNN. "We know these cruise ships are essentially … we've been calling them incubators, they are incredibly very healthy environments for the pathogens that we're talking about."

More states struggle with cases

California, Washington state and New York now have the highest number of coronavirus cases in the United States, the Times said. California has 133, while Washington state has 162 and New York has 142.

On Friday, Florida confirmed two travel-related coronavirus deaths, the first reported on the East Coast. So far, the state has reported more than a dozen cases of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, New York has declared a state of emergency as more than 2,700 New Yorkers have been asked to self-quarantine in the New York City area, the Times reported.

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 19 people have now died from COVID-19 infection, with most either living at or connected with the nursing home.

Washington state officials said residents at three more senior care centers have been diagnosed with coronavirus, CNN reported Friday. Two were in Seattle and the other in Issaquah, about 20 miles east of Seattle.

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.

Scientists say that genetic analysis of the virus in Washington state suggests the coronavirus may have been spreading within the community for as long as six weeks before the first case was detected, the Times reported.

Reacting to the crisis, Trump on Friday signed an $8.3 billion coronavirus package passed Thursday by the U.S. Congress.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration also placed travel restrictions on three foreign countries that are battling COVID-19 outbreaks.

A complete travel ban was issued for Iran, while the highest-level travel advisory was issued for parts of Italy and South Korea. The travel advisory urges Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to affected areas of those two countries.

Coronavirus cases spread across the world

Cases of infection have now been spotted in 110 countries and on every continent except Antarctica, according to the WHO.

WHO has now reported more than 113,672 cases of coronavirus worldwide, including more than 4,012 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. And in Europe, Italy on Monday ordered a travel lockdown of the entire country, some 60 million people, as it tried to contain a major outbreak of COVID-19.

"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 Associated Press reported. "We will succeed only if we all collaborate and we adapt right away to these more stringent norms."

The nationwide restrictions be in effect through April 3 and include extending closings of schools and universities and shuttering eating establishments at dusk, the AP reported.

In Japan, a state of emergency has been declared in a northern province because of the growing number of coronavirus cases there, the Associated Press reported. Japan has also taken the unusual step of closing all schools for the month of March to protect children.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: March 9, 2020, media briefing with President Donal Trump and Vice President Mike Pence; March 6, 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; The New York Times
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