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Health officials confirm first U.S. coronavirus death

Health officials confirm first U.S. coronavirus death
Two women wear face masks as they walk on the sidewalk in New York City's Chinatown on February 13. The United States has 19 confirmed or presumptive cases of coronavirus. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 29 (UPI) -- Health officials confirmed the first U.S. death due to coronavirus Saturday.

According to the Washington State Department of Health and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, one person in Washington state has died of the virus.

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"It is a sad day in our state as we learn that a Washingtonian has died from COVID-19. Our hearts go out to his family and friends. We will continue to work toward a day where no one dies from this virus," Inslee said in a statement.

The patient, a man in his late 50s, was admitted to EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, Wash., with "serious respiratory issues," the hospital said in a statement to The Seattle Times.

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The announcement came one day after Washington reported one of four cases of so-called community-spread coronavirus, meaning the patients didn't contract the virus through travel or contact with known carriers.

During a Saturday-afternoon news conference, officials said two of the newly-diagnosed patients were connected to a long-term care facility in Kirkland, Wash. have also tested positive for the virus.

A resident in her 70s is in serious condition, and a health employee in her 40s is stable. An additional 27 residents and 25 employees have symptoms of the facility have shown symptoms, officials said.

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Dr. Francis Riedo, medical director of infection control at Evergreen Health Hospital in Washington, where the patient who died was treated, said the uptick in diagnoses was attributable to recently increased testing capacity and this week's change in testing criteria.

Previously, Riedo said, the Centers for Disease Control recommended only testing individuals with a history of traveling to coronavirus-infected regions, or contact with a known infected person.

On Tuesday the federal agency changed testing criteria to allow testing of individuals based on symptoms alone, prompting hospital staff to test two critically ill patients, according to Riedo.

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Health officials in Oregon and Washington announced a new case in each state late Friday, after California announced its second case earlier in the day.

Officials in Oregon shut down a Lake Oswego elementary school after an employee there tested presumptive positive. The woman's test will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The woman was quarantined at the Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro as health officials attempt to determine if she exposed anyone at the school to COVID-19. She first began exhibiting symptoms Feb. 19 and was tested for the virus Friday.

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"Our first concern is for this individual, to make sure they're being cared for and is able to recover," said Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen. "Our next priority is finding out who this individual had contact with and make sure they know about their risks, and to let them know how they can get care if they need it. We said this was a fast-moving situation, and that has proved to be true."

Lake Oswego School District spokeswoman Mary Kay Larson told The Oregonian that officials shut down Forest Hills Elementary School through Wednesday for a "deep cleaning." The district also canceled all activities through the weekend at all schools.

The woman is Oregon's first case of COVID-19 since the global outbreak began in December.

One of the two new diagnoses Washington announced Friday involves a teenager who hadn't traveled to affected areas nor had contact with another confirmed case. The teen's test was also presumptive positive, meaning the CDC will need to confirm.

"It's concerning that this individual did not travel, since this individual acquired it in the community," Washington health officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said during a news conference. "We really believe now that the risk is increasing."

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The Seattle Times reported the teen became ill Monday with fever, body aches and a headache and visited two clinics for treatment. He returned to Henry M. Jackson High School on Friday, though, because he began to feel better.

Some students who interacted with the teen have been quarantined for 14 days.

Earlier Friday, California announced its fourth case of community-spread coronavirus in an adult woman. The woman lives in Santa Clara County, about 40 miles from the location of the first case of community-spread coronavirus in Solano County.

CDC officials said Friday that all state and local public health laboratories across the country will have the capability to test for the virus by the end of next week.

The announcement comes as officials face criticism over shortages of working test kits in several states with hundreds of suspected cases of the virus, most notably California. UPI reported Thursday that California currently has 8,400 state residents under self-quarantine but only 200 kits available to test for the virus.

The four new cases announced Friday bring the United States' total number of COVID-19 cases up to 22. There are an additional 47 cases of people repatriated to the United States from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

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On Friday, the U.S. State Department issued Warning Level 3 travel notices for China, South Korea, Italy and Iran, recommending that Americans avoid all non-essential travel to the countries.

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