US coronavirus cases top 1,000 as WHO declares a global pandemic

(CNN) — For the first time in 11 years, the World Health Organization has declared a global pandemic as a top US health official calls for “all hands on deck”

The US has more than 1,000 cases of novel coronavirus. And growing clusters of the disease are forcing many Americans to change their daily lives.

Large events have been postponed or canceled. At least 15 universities will temporarily shut down campuses. A New York suburb now has a “containment zone.” And more companies are urged to let their employees work from home.

“Keeping the workplace safe, keeping the home safe, keeping the school safe and keeping commercial establishments safe — this should be universal for the country,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“We would like the country to realize that, as a nation, we can’t be doing the kinds of things we were doing a few months ago,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in a state that has no cases or one case. You have to start taking seriously what you can do now. Everybody should say, ‘All hands on deck. This is what we need to do.'”

Where the cases are now
More than 1,000 cases are spread across at least 40 states and the District of Columbia.

At least 31 people have died: 24 in Washington state, three in California, two in Florida, one in New Jersey and one in South Dakota.

But the number of confirmed cases is expected to rise significantly because there has been a major backlog in testing. So some people with coronavirus might not even know it.

“We have very little access to testing,” Dr. Carlos Del Rio, a professor of medicine and global health at Emory University, said Wednesday.

“I think the lack of access to testing continues to be a barrier to taking care of patients efficiently and rapidly.”

Vice President Mike Pence said Monday that another 4 million tests would be available by the end of the week. He said that’s on top of at least 1 million tests already in place across the country.

But US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his department didn’t know how many people have been tested.

“We don’t know exactly how many, because hundreds of thousands of our tests have gone out to private labs and hospitals that currently do not report” to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Azar said.

He said the government is now working with the CDC to create a reporting system to help “keep track of how many we’re testing.”

A delay in testing came after the CDC had to remake a part of the testing kits sent to states after some were deemed faulty.

It wasn’t until this week that public health labs in all 50 states were able to test for the virus.

Dr. Del Rio said the testing difficulties are exacerbating the outbreak.

“There was a lot of failure. There’s been a lot of mishap in the developing of tests by the CDC,” he said. “Catching up will not be easy.”

The virus may have been spreading earlier than officials thought
In Washington state, where the most deaths have occurred, Dr. Helen Y. Chu and a team of scientists with the Seattle Flu Study hypothesized the virus was circulating for days before anyone realized it.

The team repurposed influenza tests to look for coronavirus instead, but without government approval, The New York Times reported.

The study found a positive coronavirus test from a teen who hadn’t been to any places with a coronavirus outbreak. That indicated the virus was spreading in the community earlier than officials thought.

On Wednesday, the Seattle Flu Study tweeted that it will be able to keep testing for coronavirus.

“In the face of this unprecedented health threat, there are times when we have all felt the need to move fast in an effort to save lives,” read part of a statement from Lead Principal Investigator Dr. Jay Shendure.

“We are actively working and have had good cooperation with local, state, and national health authorities on the response to COVID-19. Our team is productively collaborating with state regulators and has identified a path forward that will allow us to continue testing,” the statement said.

“This collaboration will be crucial to helping us overcome the current challenge.”

‘It is the hot spot in the nation’
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a 1-mile “containment” area in the suburb of New Rochelle, where more than 100 residents have been infected.

He’s deploying the National Guard to help clean public spaces and deliver food to homes in the suburb of about 80,000 people.

“It is the hot spot in the nation” for coronavirus, Cuomo said.

The rapid outbreak in New Rochelle started with one resident — an attorney who works in Manhattan. His wife, children and neighbor are among the dozens infected.

No big crowds allowed
In one of the most sweeping measures, California’s Santa Clara County — where dozens of people have tested positive for the virus — is temporarily banning gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee is expected Wednesday to announce restrictions in gatherings of more than 250 in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, according to the Seattle Times. The restrictions are aimed at sports, concerts and other cultural events, the newspaper reported.

King County, the largest county in the state, is home to more than 2.2 million people.

It’s also where 190 people have been infected with the virus and at least 22 have died. County officials urged residents to “avoid bringing large groups of people together, consider postponing events and gatherings.”

And in Chicago, one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the country has been canceled.

The Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade was scheduled for Saturday. But Illinois has at least 19 reported cases of coronavirus.

Each year, the parade typically draws hundreds of thousands of spectators as the Chicago River is dyed green.

Cruise ships propose new guidelines to government
The cruise industry has been hit hard by coronavirus after outbreaks on at least two ships.

On Wednesday, some passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship arrived at the Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia to begin their quarantine.

More than 2,000 passengers will be placed in quarantine at multiple military bases for two weeks. The ship docked this week in Oakland, California, after more than 20 people on board tested positive.

On a sister ship, the Diamond Princess, more than 700 people were infected with coronavirus. At least seven of those patients have since died.

The cruise industry suffered another blow when the Department of State urged Americans to not go on cruises.

“Like many other viruses, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships,” the CDC said.

Pence said the cruise line industry has proposed new measures such as advanced screening and upgraded medical services aboard each ship.