California on Wednesday declared a state of emergency over COVID-19 as a cruise ship was held off the coast over fears of a new outbreak.
The measures came as the death toll in the US reached 11, including the first fatality in California, and lawmakers in the US Congress agreed to provide more than US$8 billion to fight the disease.
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the emergency measures as he reported the death of an elderly person who had taken a cruise to Mexico.
“The state of California is deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus,” Newsom told reporters.
The emergency proclamation would help the state prepare “in the event it spreads more broadly,” he said.
Thousands traveling aboard the Grand Princess — the same cruise ship on which California’s first victim was thought to have contracted the virus — were held offshore on Wednesday night.
The ship cut short its voyage back from Hawaii after passengers and crew members developed symptoms, but its planned return to San Francisco was held up to carry out testing onboard for people who are potentially infected.
“We’re holding that ship, which [has] thousands of passengers as well, off the coast, and we’ll be conducting those tests,” Newsom told a news conference.
Eleven passengers and 10 crew members were potentially infected with the virus, Newsom said.
About 2,500 passengers plus crew — typically up to 1,150 — were onboard for its Mexico voyage, he said.
Separately, research from Singapore published on Wednesday showed that people with COVID-19 extensively contaminate their bedrooms and bathrooms, underscoring the need to routinely clean high-touch surfaces, basins and toilet bowls.
However, the virus was killed by twice-a-day cleaning of surfaces and daily cleaning of floors with a commonly used disinfectant — suggesting that current decontamination measures are sufficient as long as people adhere to them.
The research letter was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and comes after cases in China where the pathogen spread extensively through hospitals, infecting dozens of healthcare workers and patients.
Researchers at Singapore’s National Centre for Infectious Diseases and DSO National Laboratories looked at the cases of three patients who were held in isolation rooms in late January and early last month.
They collected samples from their rooms on five days over a two-week period. The room of one patient was sampled before routine cleaning, while the rooms of the other two patients were sampled after disinfection measures.
The patient whose room was sampled before cleaning had the mildest symptoms of the three, only experiencing a cough. The other two had moderate symptoms. Both had coughing and fever, one experienced shortness of breath and the other was coughing up mucus.
Despite this disparity, the patient whose room was sampled before cleaning contaminated 13 of 15 room sites tested, including a chair, the bed rail, a glass window, the floor and light switches.
Three of the five toilet sites were also contaminated, including the sink.
Air samples tested negative, but swabs taken from air exhaust outlets were positive, which suggests that virus-laden droplets might be carried by air flows and deposited on vents.
The two rooms that were tested after cleaning had no positive results.
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