US coronavirus death toll rises to 14 as University of Washington cancels classes

The University of Washington, which has about 50,000 students, said on Friday that it will cancel in-person classes and conduct courses and exams remotely while the Seattle area deals with an ongoing coronavirus epidemic that has put the region at the center of the outbreak in the US.

In an email to staff the university’s president, Ana Mari Cauce, said campuses would remain open for other services, such as medical services, dining, residence halls, and recreation and athletics events.

But in the absence of students, crews of workers would deep-clean classrooms, libraries and other public spaces. “Our goal is to make sure that students’ academic work is fairly recognized and that any disruption does not present a disadvantage to their future academic progress,” Cauce said.

Meanwhile, the US death toll from the coronavirus climbed to 14, with all but one victim in Washington state, while the number of infections rose to over 200, scattered across at least 18 states. Pennsylvania reported its first cases Friday.

Donald Trump signed an $8.3bn measure to help tackle the outbreak. It provides federal public health agencies with money for tests and for potential vaccines and treatments and helps state and local governments prepare for the threat and respond to it.

Nine of the dead were from the same suburban Seattle nursing home, now under federal investigation. Families of nursing home residents voiced anger, having received conflicting information about the condition of their loved ones.

One woman was told her mother had died, then got a call from a staffer who said her mother was doing well, only to find out she had, in fact, died, said Kevin Connolly, whose father-in-law is also a facility resident.

“This is the level of incompetence we’re dealing with,” Connolly said in front of the Life Care Center in Kirkland.

The coronavirus has infected aboutd 100,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,400, the vast majority of them in China. Most cases have been mild, and more than half of those infected have recovered.

Some major businesses in the Seattle area, where researchers say the virus may have circulated undetected for weeks, have shut down some operations or urged employees to work from home. That includes Microsoft and Amazon, the two tech giants that together employ more than 100,000 people in the region.

King county is buying a motel for $4m to house patients and hopes to have the first of them in place within days at the 84-room EconoLodge in Kent, about 20 miles (32 km) from Seattle. The rooms’ doors open to the outside rather than to a central hallway, reducing the likelihood of contact between patients.

The plan was met with resistance from local leaders, including Kent’s police chief, Rafael Padilla, who called it “ill-advised and dangerous” and warned: “At any point a patient can simply walk into our community and spread the virus.”

Elsewhere around the US, New York’s mayor implored the federal government to send more test kits to his state, which on Thursday saw its caseload double overnight to 22, all of them in or near the city. Gap closed its New York office and asked employees to work from home until further notice after learning that an employee had the virus.

In Rhode Island, about 200 people were quarantined because of their connections to a school trip to Italy that has so far resulted in three cases. Amid four cases in Florida, the state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, said the risks remain low for most people planning trips to the state for spring break or baseball’s spring training.

Passengers on a cruise ship off the California coast were instructed to stay in their cabins as they awaited test results Friday that could show whether the coronavirus is circulating among the more than 3,500 people aboard.

A military helicopter crew lowered test kits onto the 951ft (290-meter) Grand Princess by rope and later retrieved them for analysis at a lab as the vessel lay at sea off San Francisco, under orders to keep its distance from shore. Princess Cruises said 45 people were selected for testing.

Authorities undertook the testing after a passenger on a previous voyage of the ship died of the coronavirus and at least four others became infected.

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