CDC Expands Testing; More Infections in NYC Suburb: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) -- Five more people were infected with the coronavirus in New York state, all linked to a 50-year-old lawyer who lives in Westchester County and works in Manhattan, Governor Andrew Cuomo said. That brings the total in the state to 11, including three family members of the lawyer and a neighbor who drove him to the hospital.

United Airlines Holdings Inc. cut domestic and international flights for April, and froze hiring. Italy announced a nationwide closing of its schools until March 15 as it redoubles efforts to curb the worst outbreak in Europe.

Total coronavirus cases globally topped 93,000, and infections rose in Europe. In the U.S., fatalities rose to 11 from nine on Tuesday. Cases also climbed in South Korea, Iran, Malaysia and India. The U.K. said cases jumped by 34 to a total of 85, and Parliament is discussing contingency plans.

Key Developments:

  • Global cases reach 93,017; death toll rises past 3,200
  • U.S. lawmakers agree on $7.8 billion in emergency spending
  • Some VA stockpiles of protective medical masks aren’t usable
  • Virus threatens to unleash lawsuits against global business
  • A coronavirus expert is racing for answers in a locked-down lab

Click VRUS on the terminal for news and data on the coronavirus and here for maps and charts. For analysis of the impact from Bloomberg Economics, click here.

Washington Conference (7:39 a.m. Hong Kong)

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said Wednesday that a person infected with the coronavirus had contact in New York with people who attended the organization’s policy conference in Washington this week.

“To our knowledge no one who attended the conference has tested positive for coronavirus at this time,” AIPAC said in an emailed statement to conference participants, also posted on Twitter. The people exposed to the infected person “have been added to the self-quarantine list,” according to the statement.

AIPAC, an influential pro-Israel lobby, said it has been in close contact with Washington’s health department. “There is no evidence of community spread in D.C.,” according to the District of Columbia Health Department Web siteWeb site. Among the speakers at the AIPAC conference were Vice President Mike Pence, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

CDC Lifts Most Restrictions on Testing (5:16 p.m. NY)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted most restrictions on coronavirus testing on Wednesday, saying in a new set of guidelines that doctors could use their judgment in deciding what patients to test.

“This expands testing to a wider group of symptomatic patients,” the agency said in a document posted on its website. Testing decisions should be based on how the virus is spreading in a given community, as well as whether a patient has symptoms consistent with possible coronavirus infection.

The CDC has been criticized by local doctors and health officials over overly restrictive testing criteria that had prevented physicians from testing sick people who hadn’t traveled to affected areas or had contact with known patients. Also, the original test kit the CDC produced had flaws that led to shortages of testing capacity, which are only now being resolved.

Drugmakers Promise Affordable Vaccines, Treatments (4:25 p.m. NY)

Executives from Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson and other drugmakers committed to affordable access of potential coronavirus vaccines and treatments, at a briefing with reporters Wednesday.

“We’re keenly aware of what’s at stake here,” said Stephen Ubl, head of PhRMA, the industry’s lobbying arm.

Daniel O’Day, chief executive officer of Gilead Sciences Inc., said there are many factors that need to be considered when pricing a drug, such as what other treatments are available and how to ensure there’s an ability to reinvest into medicines for other potential pandemics.

Washington State Targets Price Gouging (3:21 p.m. NY)

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson is investigating price gouging in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in the Seattle region, where 10 people have died from the illness. Many stores are out of hand sanitizer and face masks, and panicked shoppers are stocking up on essentials.“My office is investigating price gouging in the wake of the Covid-19 public health emergency,” Ferguson said in a statement, referring to the name of the disease caused by the virus. “We do not identify the targets of our investigations, but we are taking formal investigative actions. If you see price gouging, file a complaint with my office.”Washington, unlike most U.S. states, doesn’t have a specific price-gouging law.

United to Reduce Flights, Freeze Hiring (3:10 p.m. NY)

United Airlines Holdings Inc. plans to cut back on flights, freeze hiring and halt merit pay raises as it grapples with a rapid decline in travel demand because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The domestic schedule will be pared 10% in April and international flying will be chopped 20%, United said in a message to employees. Similar reductions will probably be necessary for May, Chief Executive Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby said Wednesday in the memo.

United has also imposed a hiring freeze through June 30 and deferred merit-based salary increases for managements until July 1, in an effort to prepare the company financially for a steep downturn in business. The Chicago-based carrier will also offer employees voluntary unpaid leaves of absence.

“We certainly hope that these latest measures are enough, but the dynamic nature of this outbreak requires us to be nimble and flexible moving forward,” Munoz and Kirby said.

United fell less than 1% to $58.10 at 3:01 p.m. in New York.

California Reports First Death (2:50 p.m. NY)

California’s Placer County reported that a resident died of the coronavirus, marking the first such death in the state. The person was an elderly adult with underlying health conditions, who tested positive Tuesday.

The patient was likely exposed during a trip on a Princess cruise ship that traveled Feb. 11-21 from San Francisco to Mexico, the Northern California county said. The person had “minimal community exposure” after returning from the cruise and entering a hospital Feb. 27.

Earlier this week, Sonoma County also reported a case from a patient who had returned from a San Francisco-to-Mexico cruise. Placer County said it is working with local officials to identify and contact other cruise passengers.

Italy Closes Schools Until March 15 (12:55 p.m. NY)

Italy said it would close its schools until March 15 as it redoubles efforts to curb the worst outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic in Europe.

The decision came after Italian emergency chief Angelo Borrelli reported an additional 28 deaths, bringing the total to 107. The number of coronavirus cases increased to 3,086 from 2,502 on Tuesday in an outbreak that has crippled activity in the rich northern regions.

“It is a prudent decision to contain the virus because we have a health-care system at risk of being overloaded,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a statement. “We have a problem with intensive and sub-intensive care.”

Read the full story here

L.A. County Reports Six Additional Cases (12:55 p.m. NY)

Los Angeles County, home to more than 10 million people, recorded six new coronavirus cases in the past 48 hours and declared a state of emergency.

The county, which previously had just one confirmed case, is prepared to deal with the situation and is increasing testing capacity, Barbara Ferrer, the director of the county Department of Public Health, said Wednesday.

While there are no confirmed cases of community transmission, the public should be prepared for more infections to emerge, she added.

One of the new patients is hospitalized, while the others are at home, officials said. Three of the new infections involved people who had recently traveled to Italy, the center of the outbreak in Europe.

U.K. Lawmakers Discuss Contingency Plans (11:52 a.m. NY)

The U.K. Parliament is working on contingency plans to keep functioning if there are restrictions placed on public gatherings to delay the spread of coronavirus. The U.K. said Wednesday that cases jumped by 34 to a total of 85.

Ministers “will be saying a little bit more in the next couple of days,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons after he was asked about using conference calls and electronic voting to pass legislation.

“Conversations have been had with Parliament, as you’d expect, and if and when there are further steps to set out, they will be made public,” Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, said later. “You have to make a judgment on the most opportune and effective time to implement these measures, and that will be a calculation for the experts.”

N.Y. Students to Be Flown Home (10:41 a.m. NY)

About 300 City University of New York and State University of New York students and related faculty studying in China, Italy, Japan, Iran and South Korea will be flown back in a charter plane to New York Stewart International Airport in Orange County, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a media briefing. They will then be quarantined and monitored for 14 days in dormitories, he said.

Cuomo and state health officials plan to meet with Westchester County government and health leaders Wednesday to track the spread of the virus after six people tested positive in the county. Cuomo said they’re looking into whether any of the patients took public transportation.

Four More Test Positive in New York, Cuomo Says (10:10 a.m. NY)

Relatives and a neighbor of a lawyer who contracted the coronavirus in Westchester County all have tested positive for the infection, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The lawyer’s wife, 14-year-old daughter, 20-year-old son and a person who drove him to the hospital all came down with the sickness, the governor said during a briefing. Yeshiva University in Manhattan’s Washington Heights and Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy in the Bronx, where the children attended, both have been closed.

The attorney is in intensive care, Cuomo said.

U.S. Business Leaders Caution Against Overreacting (9:42 a.m. NY)

U.S. Chamber of Commerce officials and travel industry leaders urged businesses and consumers not to overreact to the spread of coronavirus and to take precautions while going about business as usual.

“Fear and panic undermine our ability to contain the virus, to minimize disruptions to daily life and to keep our economy humming along,” the chamber’s chief executive officer, Tom Donohue, said at a press conference in Washington.

BOE’s Bailey Says Coronavirus Means Bank Must Be Nimble (9:40 a.m. NY)

The Bank of England needs to be nimble in its efforts to tackle the coronavirus threat, according to incoming Governor Andrew Bailey.

Speaking before U.K. lawmakers at his appointment hearing in Parliament on Wednesday, Bailey said collective action may be needed to offset the impact on supply chains. There is mounting speculation that the BOE will follow the Federal Reserve with an emergency interest-rate cut.

Hong Kong Pet Dog Tests Positive, Report Says (9:39 a.m. NY)

Hong Kong authorities confirmed that a pet dog belonging to a coronavirus patient had tested positive for the virus, likely marking the first case of human-to-animal transmission, the South China Morning Post reported. The dog will now remain in quarantine.

France Reports 45 New Cases; Total Is 257: (9:34 a.m.)

France has 45 new cases, public health authority Sante Publique France said on its website. The number of fatalities is unchanged at four.

U.K. Coronavirus Cases Jump by 34 to 85 (9:22 a.m. NY)

The U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care said in a tweet that the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases stands at 85 people as of 9 a.m. local time on March 4.

EU Fears Cascading Effects on Economy From Virus (9:12 a.m. NY)

The coronavirus is threatening to plunge both France and Italy into recession, and a prolonged epidemic could ripple through the region’s economy and financial markets and cause a “vicious sovereign-bank loop,” European finance ministers were warned by officials on Wednesday.

“A longer and more widespread epidemic could have a disproportionate negative impact through uncertainty and financial-market channels,” according to a European Commission briefing note on the economic impact, seen by Bloomberg. “Cascading effects could stem from liquidity shortages in firms that have to stop production, amplified and spread out by financial markets.”’

--With assistance from John Harney.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Mark Schoifet in New York at mschoifet@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Drew Armstrong at darmstrong17@bloomberg.net, ;Stuart Wallace at swallace6@bloomberg.net, Kara Wetzel, Christopher Anstey

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