US Reports First Death From COVID-19, in Washington State

Mary Ellen Schneider

Disclosures

February 29, 2020

The first death in the United States from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was a Washington state man in his 50s who had underlying health conditions, state health officials announced on Feb 29. At the same time, officials there are investigating a possible COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care facility.

Washington state officials reported two other presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, both of whom are associated with LifeCare of Kirkland, Washington. One is a woman in her 70s who is a resident at the facility and the other is a woman in her 40s who is a health care worker at the facility.

Additionally, many residents and staff members at the facility have reported respiratory symptoms, according to Jeff Duchin, MD, health officer for public health in Seattle and King County. Among the more than 100 residents at the facility, 27 have respiratory symptoms; while among the 180 staff members, 25 have reported symptoms.

Overall, these reports bring the total number of U.S. COVID-19 cases detected by the public health system to 22, though that number is expected to climb as these investigations continue.

The general risk to the American public is still low, including residents in long-term care facilities, Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during the Feb. 29 press briefing. Older people are are higher risk, however, and long-term care facilities should emphasize handwashing and the early identification of individuals with symptoms.

Dr. Duchin added that health care workers who are sick should stay home and that visitors should be screened for symptoms, the same advice offered to limit the spread of influenza at long-term care facilities.

The CDC briefing comes after President Trump held his own press conference at the White House where he identified the person who had died as being a woman in her 50s who was medically at risk.

During that press conference, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the current pattern of disease with COVID-19 suggests that 75%-80% of patients will have mild illness and recover, while 15%-20% will require advanced medical care. For the most part, the more serious cases will occur in those who are elderly or have underlying medical conditions. There is “no indication” that individuals who recover from the virus are becoming re-infected, Dr. Fauci said.

The administration also announced a series of actions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus and responding to it. On March 2, President Trump will meet with leaders in the pharmaceutical industry at the White House to discuss vaccine development. The administration is also working to ensure an adequate supply of face masks. Vice President Mike Pence said there are currently more than 40 million masks available, but that the administration has received promises of 35 million more masks per month from manufacturers. Access to masks will be prioritized for high-risk health care workers, Vice President Pence said. “The average American does not need to go out and buy a mask,” he added.

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