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COVID-19 death toll rises to 6; risk remains low :

March 2, 2020

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Six people in the U.S. have died from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), still the risk to the American public remains low, officials emphasized Monday.

“We’re going to continue to focus on ensuring that we do all we can to prevent people coming into country with the disease, to mitigate any spread of any disease once we identify cases and of course to provide treatment,” said Vice President Mike Pence who has been charged with leading the country’s response to the disease.

All six deaths occurred in Washington state. Nationwide, there have been roughly 100 cases as of press time.

U.S. officials met Monday with pharmaceutical companies to discuss the production of vaccines and therapeutics to fight the virus. Pence said vaccines could be available later this year or early next year while therapeutics could be ready as early as this summer.

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said the agency is continuing to look at what products and services public insurance programs will cover.

Also on Monday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took action to make more respirators, including certain N95 respirators, available to health care personnel. Currently, the majority of respirators on the market are indicated for use in industrial settings. This action allows certain National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved respirators not currently regulated by the FDA to be used in a health care setting by health care personnel during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“At the FDA, we’ve been working diligently to mitigate any potential shortages in the supply chain, including addressing increased demand and supply challenges associated with personal protective equipment,” FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D., said in a news release. “It is imperative that we assure health care personnel on the front lines of this outbreak have sufficient supplies of respiratory protective devices.”

Over the weekend, the FDA announced it would increase the availability of COVID-19 diagnostic tests by allowing certain laboratories to immediately use tests they developed. The policy comes on the heels of difficulties with tests the CDC initially sent out to state labs.

Worldwide, COVID-19 cases have topped 90,000 in more than 60 countries and more than 3,000 people have died, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins. The CDC is recommending people avoid all nonessential travel to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy where the virus is widespread.

Health officials also are urging people to take precautions to avoid getting sick.

“It is important to remember the best way to prevent the spread of respiratory disease is by using everyday preventative actions,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D., said in a news release. “These include hand washing, using tissues to cover a cough, disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces and keeping distance from people who are coughing and sneezing. CDC does not recommend the use of masks by the general public.”

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