USA

Coronavirus Live Updates: New Unexplained Cases Reported in the U.S.

Here’s what you need to know:

Image
Credit...Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Troubling new signs of how the coronavirus is spreading in the United States emerged on Friday, as cases not explained by overseas travel or contact with a person known to be infected were reported in California, Oregon and Washington State.

Officials from the three states announced that their testing had found new cases: a high school student from Washington State; an employee of a school in Oregon, near Portland; and a woman in Santa Clara County, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Sixty-five cases of the virus have been reported in the United States, but until this week, all of them could be explained by overseas travel or contact with someone who had been ill. The three new cases on Friday, and a case earlier in the week, in California, were the first in the United States in which the cause was mysterious and unknown — a sign, experts warned, that the virus might now be spreading in this country.

“If we were worried yesterday, we are even more worried today,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Now we have to ask: How widely, really widely, is this virus out there?”

As word emerged of the unexplained cases, local officials scrambled to trace everyone who had come in contact with those who were ill. California health officials said they were increasing testing. And in Washington State, officials suggested that people needed to prepare for the possibility of schools closing and businesses keeping workers home.

“We’re going to be increasingly recommending that people try and avoid crowds and close contact with other people,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health Seattle & King County, said. “We may get to a point where we want to recommend canceling large public gatherings — social events, sporting events, entertainment — until we get over a hump of what might be a large outbreak.”

The S&P 500 index fell about 0.8 percent, and the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 1 percent. The S&P index lost more than 11 percent in the week, and almost 13 percent since its peak on Feb. 19.

The sell-off was fueled mostly by worry that measures to contain the coronavirus would hamper corporate profits and economic growth, and fears that the outbreak could get worse. The selling has in a matter of days dragged stock benchmarks around the world into a correction — a drop of 10 percent or more that is taken as a measure of extreme pessimism.

In Europe, the Britain’s FTSE 100 fell more than 3 percent and the Dax in Germany fell more than 4 percent. In Asia, the Nikkei 225 in Japan closed down 3.7 percent, the KOSPI in South Korea dropped 3.3 percent and the Shanghai Composite in China dropped 3.7 percent.

South Korea, which has the largest coronavirus outbreak outside China, reported 594 new cases on Saturday morning, bringing its total to 2,931. In North Korea, Kim Jong-un ordered all-out efforts to fight the virus at a high-level meeting, state media reported.

South Korean officials have warned that confirmed cases would rise sharply as they aggressively tested thousands of people, particularly in the southeastern city of Daegu. More than 86 percent of patients have been in Daegu and nearby towns; many have been associated with a church called Shincheonji, which has a strong presence in Daegu.

The United States military, which has more than 28,000 personnel in South Korea, said on Saturday that the spouse of an American soldier infected with the virus had also tested positive for it. She had been in self-quarantine since Wednesday, following her husband’s diagnosis, and was being transported to a military hospital, the military said.

Also on Saturday, Mr. Kim, North Korea’s leader, convened the Politburo of his ruling party to order an all-out campaign to prevent an outbreak, state media reported. The North has not reported any coronavirus cases, but there has been concern that the secretive, totalitarian country could be hiding an outbreak.

“In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted Mr. Kim as saying. It said that officials had discussed “measures to deter the influx and spread of the infectious disease in a scientific, preemptive and lockdown way.”

North Korea has already closed its 930-mile border with China, where the coronavirus emerged, and its border with Russia. But the Chinese border has long been porous for smugglers, who ferry goods across the shallow river that separates the countries. The North has also suspended all flights and trains to and from China and asked all foreign diplomats not to leave their compounds.

The state media report Saturday also said that Mr. Kim had fired one of his top aides, Ri Man-gon, and another official for corruption, but it was unclear whether the dismissals were connected to the antivirus campaign.

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, the world’s biggest companies have begun painting a bleak picture of broken supply chains, disrupted manufacturing, empty stores and flagging demand for their wares.

The announcements by businesses like Mastercard, Microsoft, Apple and United Airlines offer a look at how the virus is affecting consumer behavior and business sentiment. These corporate bulletins — and what executives do in response — could determine how much economic damage the outbreak inflicts.

Some companies have expressed optimism that governments will curb new infections and that consumer spending in Europe and North America will be largely unscathed. But if executives see a threat beyond the first three months of the year, they may pare planned investments and even lay off workers.

The stock-market plunge this week, the steepest since the financial crisis, suggests that investors are bracing for a bad news.

“Everything is slowing down even more — and that has not been fully appreciated,” said Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading.

Many times in many countries, political leaders have tried to censor health officials and play down the risks of infection just as epidemics approached. This strategy has almost never worked, historians and former health officials said.

And if there are more deaths than leaders predict, stonewalling destroys the reputations of the leaders themselves.

This week’s efforts to reorganize the Trump administration’s chaotic response to the coronavirus outbreak risk falling into that pattern. The White House will coordinate all messaging, the public was told, and scientists in the government will not be popping up on television talk shows, saying what they think.

That may not be a winning strategy, experts warned. The stock market reacts to rumors, and the Federal Reserve Bank may succumb to political pressure. But pathogens, like hurricanes and tsunamis, are immune to spin.

“It’s crucially important that experts tell the public what they know and when they know it,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “That’s the only way to earn and maintain the public trust that is essential to work together as a society and fight an epidemic.”

When the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, residents in a nearby suburb thought they were safe. Zuoling New Town, a bustling community of retired farmers, factory workers and white-collar professionals, was 22 miles from the market where the outbreak appeared to have started.

But as the virus spread, Zuoling emerged as a stubborn hot spot of infections, and a somber lesson in how the state’s effort to contain the virus left some communities vulnerable. The leadership’s top-down campaign relied on grass-roots mobilization, and the very newness and isolation of Zuoling proved to be a weakness, depriving residents of food supplies, medical care and labor.

Residents crammed into the only large supermarket to stock up. Those worried about fevers crowded the local clinic, and many were sent back to their high-rise homes, sometimes spreading the virus. The nearest public hospital assigned to take patients was 10 miles away, making it difficult to get treatment without a car.

“I never imagined that this would hit our home,” said Zhang Jin, a 47-year-old resident. His mother, Yan Yinzhen, who was living with him, contracted what doctors believed was the coronavirus, possibly from a neighbor. Mr. Zhang, his wife and father all fell ill.

“We’ve lost confidence,” said Mr. Zhang, a school bus driver. “Nobody in the neighborhood took charge.”

Reporting was contributed by Peter Eavis, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Choe Sang-Hun, Thomas Fuller, Sheri Fink, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Amy Qin and Sui-Lee Wee.