VP Pence tries to project calm as coronavirus response coordinator

By ZEKE MILLER and DARLENE SUPERVILLE
Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Vice President Mike Pence sought to project calm Thursday in his new role as chief coordinator of the government's response to the coronavirus as the Trump administration rushed to contain mounting public concerns and some of the worst stock market declines in more than a decade.
Pence convened his first meeting of President Donald Trump's coronavirus task force one day after the president made him the government's point-person for the epidemic. Pence also tapped a seasoned medical professional to be his chief adviser and said Trump had “tasked us to take every step necessary" to protect the American people."
The meeting came amid confusion over who was leading the inter-agency coordinating process to confront the virus. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stood alongside Trump on Wednesday when the president announced he was putting Pence “in charge” of the government's virus response.
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The patient arrived on a ventilator and special protection orders were issued “because of an undiagnosed and suspected viral condition,” according to the email, which was sent to employees.
The hospital asked the CDC to test for the coronavirus but testing was delayed until Sunday “since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria for COVID-19,” the email said.
The hospital, which has treated other coronavirus patients, has been taking infection prevention precautions since the patient arrived. The email said officials believe there was only a small chance that others at the facility were exposed to the virus.
“Nevertheless, a small number of medical center employees have been asked to stay home and monitor their temperatures,” the email said.
Messages to the CDC seeking comment on the email were not immediately returned Wednesday night.
All of the 59 other cases in the U.S. had traveled from abroad or had been in close contact with those who traveled. Health officials have been on high alert for so-called community spread.
Earlier U.S. cases included 14 in people who traveled back from outbreak areas in China, or their spouses; three people who were evacuated from the central China city of Wuhan; and 42 American passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship who were evacuated by the federal government to the U.S. from where the ship was docked in Japan.
Some of those evacuated were taken to Travis Air Force Base, which is in Solano County. A number of the earlier cases have been in California, including among some of the people taken to Travis and one in which a traveler who returned to San Benito County spread it to a spouse.
California officials have been preparing for the possibility that community spread of the virus might first surface there.
“We have been anticipating the potential for such a case in the U.S., and given our close familial, social and business relationships with China, it is not unexpected that the first case in the U.S. would be in California,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, Director of the California Department of Public Health and State Public Health Officer, in a statement.
The outbreak, which began in China, has infected tends of thousands of people in more than three dozen countries, with the vast majority in mainland China.
The new virus is a member of the coronavirus family that can cause colds or more serious illnesses such as SARS and MERS.
The virus can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. Health officials think it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.
Officials are advising people to take steps to avoid infection with coronavirus or other respiratory infections like a cold or the flu, including washing hands with soap and water and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
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