Senate overwhelmingly passes US$8.3 billion bill to combat outbreak

Several new cases involve patients with no travel to affected countries, suggesting ‘community transmission’; Tennessee becomes 14th state to report infection

The number of coronavirus patients in New York state doubled to 22 on Thursday following an increase in testing, as Tennessee and the city of San Francisco reported cases of the fast-spreading illness for the first time.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference testing expanded after the federal government approved its use of additional laboratories, boosting capacity. He said more testing would inevitably identify more cases.

“Those numbers are going to keep going up,” Cuomo said.

The US Senate on Thursday passed an US$8.3 billion bill to combat the outbreak 96-1, a day after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved it. The bill will now go to President Donald Trump for his signature.

More than US$3 billion of the approved funds would be devoted to research and development of coronavirus vaccines, test kits and treatments. There are currently no approved vaccines or treatments for the illness that began in China and has infected more than 95,000 people in some 80 countries and territories.

Of the new cases in New York, eight are connected in some way to a Manhattan lawyer who lives in Westchester County and was previously diagnosed with the virus, two are in New York City and one in nearby Nassau County.

Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference the new cases in New York City – a man in his 40s and a woman in her 80s – were critically ill and being treated in hospitals. Both had “substantial” pre-existing conditions, he said.

Neither person had recently visited any other affected countries or had any connection to other confirmed cases, suggesting the city is confronting local person-to-person spread.

“Our level of concern is rising for sure,” de Blasio said.

A pair of new cases in San Francisco also were deemed likely to be a result of “community transmission”, local health officials said.

Tennessee became the 14th state to report a case, an adult male in Williamson County. Williamson County schools will be closed for a deep cleaning on Friday and Monday, according to its official Twitter page.

The US death toll from the Covid-19 respiratory disease caused by the virus stands at 11, all but one them in Washington state, which confirmed 20 cases in King County on Thursday, bringing the statewide total to 70. The other death, announced on Wednesday, was in California.

The CDC on Thursday reported 149 confirmed and presumed US cases, including those repatriated from abroad. The figures do not necessarily include new cases reported on Thursday.

US health officials say they expect to be able to get enough privately manufactured coronavirus tests – around 1 million – to public laboratories this week with the capacity to test about 400,000 people.

CDC official Anne Schuchat said her agency would also supply testing kits by the end of the week that could test around 75,000 people.

“Right now, it is a challenge if you are a doctor wanting to get somebody tested,” US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters following a briefing with lawmakers.

Vice-President Mike Pence, who is leading the US response, visited mask-manufacturer 3M. He urged Americans not to purchase masks if they are healthy to free up supply for health care workers and people who are sick.

“Unless you are ill, you have no need to buy a mask,” Pence said at the Minnesota company, which has ramped up production to help respond to the coronavirus.

“The risk to the average healthy American from contracting coronavirus remains low,” Pence said, adding that “there will be more cases,” especially among more vulnerable populations such as seniors and those with chronic health conditions.

Pence was expected to visit Washington Governor Jay Inslee later on Thursday.

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