The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Monday that the number of 2019 novel coronavirus cases in the United States rose from 34 on Friday to 53 as more passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive for the disease.
The virus quickly spread among 695 passengers aboard the Carnival cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan, and has since killed at least two and forced many of the rest into quarantine and isolation. The U.S. State Department eventually repatriated those Americans who wished to come home, though local officials across the United States have shown signs of resistance to housing the potentially infected in state or federal facilities.
COVID-19, as the virus is officially known, has infected more than 79,000 people in two dozen countries and killed at least 2,600. Businesses across the world have responded by canceling conferences and restricting travel, especially to China.
U.S. financial markets plunged Monday as the number of confirmed cases rose in South Korea, Italy, and Iran. Meanwhile, at least one man in Miami was facing a medical bill for up to thousands of dollars after a coronavirus scare. He was ultimately diagnosed with the flu, but the case showed the potential for people with high cost health plans to rack up fees as panic spreads in a country without universal health care.
Even as the petri dish of the Diamond Princess and the surge in cases in Europe and the Middle East have captured the world’s attention, the vast majority of cases remain in China, where the virus was first documented in December.
Still, the emergence of the virus has produced a range of emotional responses across American professions and demographic groups. The possibility of infection has previously caused panic among ride-share drivers, while teenagers have pretended to be infected with the virus to prompt others to share their videos. There have also been reports of bullying and discrimination against students of Asian descent.
Now residents of Salt Lake City appear to be projecting their fears of the virus onto Shen Yun, a dance troupe known as much for its ubiquitous marketing as for its traditional Chinese performances. The group was slated to perform Feb. 25 and 26 in Salt Lake, and residents began calling the local and state public health departments to ask whether dancers might be contagious.
Nicholas Rupp, a spokesman for the Salt Lake City health department, said his agency had received four calls since Friday from residents concerned over the risk of infection because of rumors they saw on social media. There is, he said, no basis for the rumors, as the group’s North American branch only tours in North America and therefore would not be likely to come into contact with coronavirus patients.
“We’ve investigated, and we have no reason to believe that anyone associated with the troupe is ill,” he told The Daily Beast.
The Utah State Department of Health has also received calls about this week’s Shen Yun performance and coronavirus, according to spokeswoman Charla Haley, though she said she did not know how many. She reiterated Rupp's point that the claims have no basis.
One email to public health officials obtained by The Daily Beast describes a medical conspiracy by Shen Yun leadership, though the message offers no evidence.
“A friend gave me news that this group just finished performing In Korea and a few of their members returned to the US with coronavirus symptoms but was prevented to seek medical help from their leader. They are suppressing their members to leak the news so no performing schedules will be interrupted,” the email reads. The writer’s name has been redacted.
The emailer expressed doubts about the provenance of the information but decided acting on it was better than staying silent.
“A group of SL local people are asking the public to call Mitt Romney, SL mayor Office and the health department to stop them from coming. I don’t know where this source is from. Too many fake news these days but if this one happens to be true I would do my share of citizen duties to call to the officials.”
Staffers at Shen Yun appear to be aware of the perception, however baseless, that dancers might be infected, as well. The group published an undated press release dispelling the whispers: “Shen Yun Is Not From China, Shows In No Way Affected By Coronavirus.”