The first fatality from the novel coronavirus has been confirmed on US soil, a woman in her late 50s who was “medically high-risk,” President Donald Trump said Saturday, as he urged Americans not to panic.
Health officials said the woman in Washington state was one of a handful with no known links to global hot zones to have contracted the virus — indicating that the pathogen was now likely spreading in communities.
The death occurred in King county, the most populous in the state and home to Seattle, a city of more than 700,000 people, officials in the state told AFP.
The victim was not immediately identified.
“It is a sad day in our state as we learn that a Washingtonian has died from COVID-19,” Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement, sending condolences to the victim’s loved ones.
Speaking at a White House news conference soon after the announcement, Trump said: “She was a wonderful woman, a medically high-risk patient, in her late 50s.”
“Additional cases in the United States are likely,” he continued, adding that “healthy individuals should be able to fully recover.”
“Our country is prepared for any circumstance,” Trump insisted, calling on “the media and politicians and everybody else involved not to do anything to incite panic.”
The Republican leader and other officials announced a more complete ban on travel from Iran, which has seen a rapid spread of the disease, and encouraged Americans to avoid travel to hard-hit areas in Italy and South Korea.
Vice President Mike Pence, charged by Trump to lead efforts against the virus, said that an existing ban on travel from Iran had been expanded to include any foreign national who has visited the Islamic republic within the last 14 days.
‘We will see more cases’
Trump said he would meet with leaders of big pharmaceutical groups at the White House on Monday to discuss treatments and efforts to develop a vaccine to combat the virus.
The president said the number of cases detected by the US public health system now stood at 22. Combined with patients who were repatriated from abroad, the overall number of infected on US soil is now about 70.
“We will see more cases,” Health Secretary Alex Azar told the White House press conference.
“But it’s important to remember, for the vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms.”
Their treatment will be to remain at home and treat the symptoms as they would the flu, he added.
An American citizen died of the new coronavirus in early February at the Chinese epicenter of the global outbreak, the city of Wuhan, the US embassy confirmed at the time.
Worldwide, the virus has hit 59 countries across the globe, with more than 2,900 people killed and over 85,000 infected since it was first detected at an animal market in Wuhan late last year.
Authorities in Washington state set a press conference for 1:00 pm Pacific time (2100 GMT).
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