The 2019 novel coronavirus claimed more lives in China on Sunday than in any 24-hour period since the outbreak began late last year, and the danger to Americans seemed only to be increasing.
Ninety-seven people died of the infection over that timespan in China, bringing the death toll in that country to 909, according to officials with the World Health Organization.
A 60-year-old who died Thursday in the port city of Wuhan, where the disease originated in December, became the first U.S. citizen to succumb to the illness, the American embassy in Beijing announced Saturday. The number of patients killed by the virus has officially surpassed the toll—774—of those who died during a SARS epidemic, which also originated in China in 2002. Even so, the coronavirus death toll outside mainland China has held steady for some time at two, with one each in Hong Kong and the Philippines.
In recent weeks, hundreds of Americans have been evacuated from China and placed in isolation on U.S. military bases for symptom-monitoring. The State Department has said dozens more are still waiting on help from the federal government in evacuating from Hubei province, where the rate of infection soared over the weekend, leaving experts fearing that the worst of the outbreak might be still to come. The WHO said 40,235 people had been infected in China as of Monday morning, but public health officials have repeatedly cautioned that these numbers are likely too low due to a severe strain on testing facilities.
In his first public appearance in two weeks, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday said authorities have confidence they will triumph over the “grim” outbreak, which has demonstrated both “the strength and many shortcomings” of his nation’s public health system, the South China Morning Post reported.
While the number of people infected inside the United States has been steady at 12 since last week, 23 Americans have contracted the virus since the outbreak hit a now-quarantined cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan. A total of 135 people on board had been diagnosed, the ship’s captain told passengers on the Diamond Princess on Monday. The outbreak on the 3,700-person ship, which is carrying more than 400 people from the United States, is now the largest outside China. The passengers and crew members have been quarantined on the ship since Feb. 3, and Japanese officials have reportedly said they cannot test everyone on board.
At last count, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said there had been 398 people under investigation for infection in 37 states and territories, of which 318 came back negative. Sixty-eight of those possible cases were still pending as of Monday morning. Twelve cases have previously been confirmed in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Two of those 12 cases were spread through person-to-person transmission, and all others were patients who had recently traveled to China. There is no vaccine yet for the virus, but experts have emphasized that the risk to the average American remains low, even as they expect to confirm more cases in the coming days and weeks. The CDC said last week that it had shipped hundreds of diagnostic test kits to labs across the country, enabling states to begin their own testing instead of shipping all samples to federal facilities in Atlanta.
For his part, President Donald Trump waded into the issue on Monday, telling pool reporters that viruses “typically” subside in April “with the heat, as the heat comes in.”
“We’re in great shape, though. We have 12 cases,” said Trump. “Many of them are in good shape now."
Outside China, including the U.S., there were 319 confirmed cases in 24 countries on Monday, according to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. Speaking from Geneva, Switzerland, Tedros referred to the “concerning” case of “onward transmission” that reportedly infected five British nationals, including a child, at a French mountain resort. The group were said to have had contact with another British man who contracted the virus in Singapore.
“The detection of this small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire,” Tedros said.
“For now, it’s only a spark,” he continued. “Our objective remains containment. We call on all countries to use the window of opportunity we have to prevent a bigger fire.”