Congress reaches deal on COVID-19 funding, U.S. case total up to 129

Congress reaches deal on COVID-19 funding, U.S. case total up to 129

March 4 (UPI) — Another Washington state resident has died from COVID-19, and officials in California announced the first death from the virus there, as Congress and public health agencies move to battle the growing outbreak.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday after there are 129 cases of the coronavirus in the United States. That includes 12 new cases in Washington state, where there are 39 people confirmed to have COVID-19. The two new deaths bring the total in the U.S. to 11.

Congressional negotiators earlier Wednesday reached agreement on a measure for nearly $8 billion in emergency funding to fight the coronavirus outbreak. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate reached the deal after days of intense negotiations.

The text of the bipartisan bill was to be released later in day, with approval expected in both chambers by the end of the week followed by prompt approval by President Donald Trump.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who negotiated the funding with House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said the measure will provide $7.76 billion to battle the coronavirus.

“This should not be about politics; this is about doing our job to protect the American people from a potential pandemic,” Shelby said in a statement.

The funding was three times the $2.5 billion initially requested by the Trump administration.

After a meeting at the White House, President Donald Trump said Wednesday that air travel is safe after meeting with executives from the nation’s largest air carriers at the White House.

“Large portions of the world where it’s very safe to fly,” Trump said.

Leading officials from American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others, briefed Trump and Pence on their procedures for ensuring aircraft are safe and disinfected for passengers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Executives urged the administration to reassure the public as ticket sales have slowed globally in recent weeks and worried travelers postpone or cancel trips over outbreak fears. Several airlines have grounded flights to Hong Kong, Japan, Milan and other international destinations where the virus has sickened hundreds.

Administration officials also discussed procedures for properly disinfecting planes between flights, as well as tracking passenger travel so that close contacts with infected passengers can be found and monitored for treatment.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence also reiterated their belief that earlier travel restrictions for foreign nationals arriving from China and State Department-issued travel warnings for areas of Italy and South Korea have limited the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States. Additionally, the U.S. started screening all passengers arriving on direct flights from Italy and South Korea on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, several carriers — including American, Delta and United — have waived some ticket change fees in the aftermath of the outbreak, but they only apply to those purchasing tickets this month, and not for those who booked travel months ago for now-canceled vacations or conventions.

This morning, New York State officials confirmed six cases of COVID-19 there after the wife, son, daughter and a neighbor of a 50-year-old man with the disease tested positive, officials announced Wednesday morning.

The 50-year-old, from New Rochelle in Westchester County, which is north of New York City, is the only one to require hospitalization for the illness, Governor Andrew Cuomo said during a press briefing.

New York is one of 13 U.S. states with confirmed cases of the virus.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are now a total of 80 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus nationally, with dozens more suspected cases.

Cuomo said an initial review of the 50-year-old man’s travels doesn’t suggest any travel to China or other countries at the nexus of the outbreak, so authorities are treating it as a case of person-to-person spread. Although the man lived outside of the city, he worked as an attorney in Manhattan.

“We will continue working closely with our State partners to ensure we are doing everything we can to keep New Yorkers safe,” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, in a statement.

The Westchester patient was first diagnosed at a hospital in the city earlier this week, just after the city was first able to conduct rapid testing locally, de Blasio said.

The man’s 20-year-old son, who has also been diagnosed with COVID-19, is a student at Yeshiva University in Manhattan, and he had been symptomatic prior to his father’s hospitalization, officials said. No details on the son’s condition were immediately available.

Yeshiva University announced Wednesday that it had canceled all in-person graduate courses on the campus and closed its all-boys’ high school. In a statement, de Blasio said two of the son’s contacts from the Yeshiva campus have been sent to Bellevue for testing.

Both he and Cuomo have warned that additional cases are “inevitable” as the nation and globe grapple to contain the outbreak that has killed hundreds and infected about 90,000 worldwide.

Cuomo also said Wednesday that approximately 300 students and faculty from several State University of New York and City University of New York schools studying abroad in high-risk countries will be recalled to New York and quarantined in dorms located throughout the state. Exact arrangements are still being worked out, officials said.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that he will meet with cruise line CEOs on this weekend in Florida as well as airline executives in the days that follow to address COVID-19 response. Pence is in charge of the response to COVID-19.
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