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Coronavirus live updates: World Health Organization declares coronavirus a ‘pandemic’ (abcnews.go.com)


A virus outbreak that began in China nearly three months ago has now infected more than 1,000 people in the United States.

The World Health Organization declared the virus a “pandemic” during a news conference in Geneva Wednesday.

Nearly 120,000 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, still mostly on the Chinese mainland, according to data provided by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. But that proportion is shrinking by the day as the epidemic appears to subside in China while case numbers spike elsewhere, especially in Europe and the Middle East.

The newly identified virus, known officially as COVID-19, has tightened its grip around Italy and Iran, which have the second- and third-highest national totals of confirmed cases behind China, respectively. With 1,037 cases confirmed as of early Wednesday morning, the U.S. now has the eighth-highest.

Tune into ABC News Live at noon ET every weekday for the latest news, context and analysis on the novel coronavirus, with the full ABC News team where we will try to answer your questions about the virus.

Today’s biggest developments:

  • WHO calls outbreak ‘pandemic’
  • US cases surpass 1,000, death toll reaches 31
  • Italy announces more than 2,300 new cases
  • US is ‘in the beginnings of spread of this disease’
  • TSA confirms 3 employees tested positive
  • Up to 70% of Germany’s population could become infected, chancellor warns

  • Here’s the latest on the developing situation. All times Eastern. Please refresh this page for updates.

    2:45 p.m. Another patient dies of COVID-19 in Washington state

    Another death due to coronavirus has been confirmed in Washington state, according to health officials.

    So far, 25 of 31 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in Washington.

    CDC director Robert Redfield testified at a House Oversight hearing Wednesday morning that the U.S. death toll had reached 31.

    2:30 p.m. Warriors to play to empty stadium

    The Golden State Warriors will play in an empty Chase Center following an announcement by San Francisco Mayor London Breed banning gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

    The Warriors are scheduled to play the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.

    The San Francisco Giants also canceled an exhibition game against the Oakland A’s scheduled for March 24 at Oracle Park.

    “We know that this order is disruptive, but it is an important step to support public health,” Breed said in a statement Wednesday.

    2:10 p.m. US vulnerable to shortages if ‘major outbreak’ occurs, Fauci says

    The U.S. could face shortages of medical supplies in the event of a major coronavirus outbreak, most of which come from overseas, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

    “I believe that if we have a major outbreak, we are definitely vulnerable to shortages,” Fauci said.

    Fauci also said that the mortality rate from COVID-19 is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.

    1:45 p.m. Starbucks offers two-week ‘catastrophe pay’ to employees

    Starbucks is offering “full support” to its employees during the COVID-19 outbreak, which will include “catastrophe pay” and mental health resources, the company announced Wednesday.

    “Starbucks partners who are sick or need to be quarantined won’t have to choose between working or taking care of themselves,” Rossann Williams, a Starbucks executive, said in a statement.

    The catastrophe pay will be available for up to 14 days but pay replacement may be made up to 26 weeks. The benefits will be in addition to existing sick days and personal time off.

    1:35 p.m. Conditions worsen in Italy

    Italy’s Civil Protection Agency announced 2,313 new cases and 196 new deaths from COVID-19 over the last 24 hours.

    The death toll in Italy now stands at 827, while there have been 12,462 total cases recorded.

    1 p.m. Trump administration says China ‘covered up’ initial spread of COVID-19

    White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien blamed China for the wide spread of the novel coronavirus, saying the country’s leaders “covered up” the initial outbreak.

    “It probably cost the world community two months to respond,” O’Brien said at a Heritage Foundation event. “I think we could have dramatically curtailed what happened both in China and what’s now happening across the world.”

    The comments contrast sharply with President Donald Trump’s previous praise of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

    12:35 World Health Organization calls coronavirus outbreak a ‘pandemic’

    The WHO has declared the coronavirus outbreak as a world 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,” WHO Director Gen. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference in Geneva Wednesday. “We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.”

    Health officials asked countries to scale up their emergency health responses.

    Officials also called the act of social distancing a “poor substitute” for isolation, adding that it’s better to “separate everybody because you don’t know who is affected.”

    11:45 a.m. Conde Nast closes office after employee suspected to have virus

    Conde Nast has shut down a portion of its office after employee is suspected to have contracted coronavirus,

    The employee works on the 29th floor of Freedom Tower in Downtown Manhattan and was last in the office on Friday, according a company-wide memo.

    He or she is now isolating at home.

    The 29th floor of the building has been closed, and any employees based out of Freedom Tower are being asked to work from home through the end of the month.

    11:10 a.m. Iran’s vice president tests positive

    Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri has been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, according to the country’s Fars news agency.

    Jahangiri is among 24 current, former or recently elected officials who have tested positive for the virus, eight of whom have died from it.

    11:05 a.m. White House hosting COVID-19 meetings with tech companies

    The White House met with representatives of technology companies Wednesday morning to discuss coordination on the response to the coronavirus, according to a spokeswoman from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Twitter were expected to participate, some by teleconference, according to spokeswoman Kristina Baum. Federal agencies would also participate, she said.

    11 a.m. Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day parade postponed

    The St. Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago has become one of the latest events to be canceled due to coronavirus fears.

    The annual green dyeing of the Chicago River has also been canceled. The events were scheduled to take place Saturday

    “The health and safety of Chicago’s residents will always be our highest priority and like many other cities across the nation and globe, we are postponing this year’s parade as a precautionary measure to prevent any additional spread of COVID-19,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “” want everyone to rest assured that your City and State continue to work around the clock to stay ahead of this issue and ensure everyone remains protected, informed, and safe.”

    10:26 a.m. University of Maryland will close until at least April 10

    No coronavirus cases have been reported at the University of Maryland, but students have been told not to return from spring break until “at least April 10.”

    Spring break ends on March 22, but classes have been cancelled the week of March 23. Starting March 30 and continuing at least to April 10, classes will be taught online, the university said.

    10:17 a.m. Auschwitz Memorial closes

    The Auschwitz Memorial in Poland will be closed from March 12 to March 25 “due to the decision of the government to close all museums and cultural institutions” in the country, officials with the memorial announced Wednesday.

    10:03 a.m. U.S. death toll climbs to 31

    Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testified at a House Oversight hearing Wednesday morning that with “sadness” he could confirm the U.S. death toll has reached 31.

    8:45 a.m. Up to 70% of Germany’s population could become infected, chancellor warns

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday that up to 70 percent of the country’s population — roughly 58 million people — could contract the novel coronavirus.

    “We must all understand that coronavirus has arrived in Europe,” Merkel said at a press conference, alongside the German health minister. “When the virus is out there, the population has no immunity and no therapy exists, then 60 to 70% of the population will be infected.”

    “The process has to be focused on not overburdening the health system by slowing the virus’s spread,” she added.

    As of Wednesday morning, Germany had 1,622 confirmed cases, making it the seventh-highest national total in the global outbreak, according data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

    8:22 a.m. TSA confirms 3 employees have tested positive

    The Transportation Security Administration confirmed Wednesday morning that three of its officers who work at the Mineta San Jose International Airport have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

    “The officers are receiving medical care and all TSA employees they have come in contact with over the past 14 days are quarantined at home,” the agency said in a statement. “Screening checkpoints remain open and the agency is working with the CDC, as well as the California Department of Public Health and the Santa Clara County Public Health Department to monitor the situation as well as the health and safety of our employees and the traveling public. We will update as more information becomes available.”

    The airport in San Jose, California, had announced late Tuesday night that three TSA employees there had been infected. The airport said it remains “open for business” and will follow the Santa Clara County Health Department’s “guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19.”

    7:54 a.m. Over 1,000 U.S. schools closed due to outbreak

    As of Tuesday, 1,073 schools have been closed or are scheduled to close in the United States, affecting 776,200 students across the country, according to the news journal Education Week, which published an online interactive map.

    There are 132,853 public and private schools in the country and nearly 50.8 million students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

    7:16 a.m. U.S. is ‘in the beginnings of spread of this disease,’ health secretary says

    U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said Wednesday that the country is “in the beginnings of spread” of the novel coronavirus.

    “We’re seeing a real explosion of cases in Europe, we’re seeing increasing cases here in the United States which we’ve been clear we would see. We’re still, I’d say, in the beginnings of spread of this disease in the United States,” Azar told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview on “Good Morning America.”

    “But thats why we’re taking such aggressive containment measures at the border as well as mitigation steps in local communities,” he continued. “We’re going to see more cases. This is a virus, this will spread. We need to take steps to slow that, buy ourselves time.”

    Azar said “millions” of COVID-19 tests are available in the United States and anyone who is suspected to be infected will be tested.

    “Capacity is there,” he added. “The system is up and running and doing its job.”

    The health secretary noted that Americans can expect to see “very aggressive efforts” to try to mitigate and contain the virus outbreak, which is why “public cooperation is important.”

    “If we can slow the spread, if we can contain these clusters in certain communities, bring that speed down,” he said, “the hope of course is that, like most respiratory diseases, as we get to warmer weather, as people disperse and just naturally distance themselves with outdoor activities, et cetera, this can help actually slow things down. So we’re working always to buy time so that we mitigate impact here in the United States.”

    Any type of large gathering, such as concerts, parades and sporting events, will need to be assessed “under the local circumstances to determine whether it’s appropriate,” according to Azar.

    People as individuals also need to assess whether it makes sense for them to attend. The elderly and “medically fragile” should avoid large gatherings, long travel and “certainly avoid getting on a cruise ship,” he said.

    5:44 a.m. Georgia state park receives 1st patient

    A patient who tested positive for the novel coronavirus has been isolated on state park grounds in Georgia, authorities said.

    It’s the first COVID-19 patient to be transferred to Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County since state authorities prepared the site as a location for isolating and monitoring people who may have been exposed to the deadly virus. Earlier this week, officials installed seven emergency mobile units and delivered supplies in an isolated section of the park that will remain separated from the rest of the property.

    The first patient, who is from Georgia’s Cherokee County, was brought to one of the mobile units in the state park for treatment on Monday night because the individual “was not able to isolate at their primary residence and was not in critical condition requiring any hospital admittance,” according to a press release from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s office.

    “This site was specifically chosen for its isolation from the general public and ability to house mobile units in the short term,” Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Homer Bryson said in a statement Monday night. “State public health staff will monitor the individual’s progress and work together with state law enforcement to ensure the safety of the community and the patient.”

    Georgia has 23 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus so far, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

    The isolated site at Hard Labor Creek State Park is closed to public access and closely monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by state law enforcement.

    4:51 a.m. Over 1,400 people disembark Grand Princess cruise ship in California

    As of Tuesday evening, 1,406 people had disembarked the Grand Princess cruise ship in Oakland, California, according to Princess Cruises, the cruise line that operates the ship.

    The ship was carrying around 3,500 passengers and crew when it received approval to dock in the port of Oakland on Monday, after spending several days idling off California’s coast while health officials tested dozens on board for the novel coronavirus. At least 21 people have tested positive, officials said.

    The disembarkation process, which officials said would take multiple days, was expected to wrap up Wednesday by the end of the day.

    As part of the process, teams from the California Department of Health and Human Services have been on board “to assist with medical screenings and interviews and have prioritized those who require the most medical attention and care,” according to a Princess Cruises spokesperson.

    “Disembarkation is in order of priority,” the spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday evening. ” Princess Cruises is working with federal, state and local health authorities to ensure all guests depart the ship safely.”

    All those who are infected will be transported to hospitals. Passengers who aren’t sick will be taken to various designated sites in the country to complete a 14-day quarantine. Crew members who aren’t infected will complete their 14-day quarantine on board the ship, which will leave the port as soon as the disembarkation process is complete, officials said.

    3:35 a.m. Pompeo demands Iran release Americans amid worsening outbreak

    As a health crisis over the novel coronavirus outbreak deepens in Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is calling on the Iranian government to immediately release detained American citizens.

    “The United States will hold the Iranian regime directly responsible for any American deaths. Our response will be decisive,” Pompeo warned in a statement late Tuesday night, pointing out that Tehran has released tens of thousands of other prisoners to prevent the spread of the new virus.

    Pompeo said countries assisting Iran should condition any aid on the release of these Americans and citizens wrongfully detained from other countries, like Australia, France and the United Kingdom.

    The family of Michael White, the U.S. Navy veteran who was imprisoned in Iran while visiting his girlfriend in July 2018, told ABC News that they are “very grateful” for Pompeo’s statement. White’s mother Joanne urged the Trump administration last week to do something, fearful that her son, “a cancer patient with a compromised immune system,” is at risk. White has reportedly been denied basic medical care while in detention.

    2:44 a.m. Number of confirmed cases surpass 1,000 in U.S.

    With more companies asking employees to work from home and large events like the Coachella music festival are postponed, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus continues to grow on U.S. soil. There are now more than 1,000 confirmed cases, according data provided by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

    As more Americans are deciding to skip travel plans and airlines are cutting flights, the Mineta San Jose International Airport announced late Tuesday night that three Transportation Security Administration employees working at the airport had tested positive for COVID-19.

    The airport, however, said it remains “open for business” and will follow the Santa Clara County Health Department’s “guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19.”

    Because the virus is new, there’s currently no approved treatment and a vaccine is likely more than a year away.

    ABC News’ Eric Avram, Conor Finnegan, Dragana Jovanovic, Mina Kaji, Rachel Katz, Ben Gittleson, William Mansell, Bonnie Mclean, Kirit Radia, Erin Schumaker, Emily Shapiro and Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

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