LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County officials continue to ramp up precautions against COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, as the first U.S. death from the disease was reported in the Pacific Northwest.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health advised travelers to talk with their doctors before travel “to make sure you have received the recommended vaccines and medications specific to your destination.”
Public health officials said Saturday the first U.S. victim was a man in his 50s and a resident of King County, Washington, who had underlying health issues.
President Donald Trump gave a televised update on the outbreak Saturday, where he announced new travel restrictions involving Iran and warnings about travel to parts of Italy and South Korea, where high virus activity has been detected.
Trump appeared with Vice President Mike Pence — who was appointed by Trump to lead the U.S. response to the crisis — and officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who all stressed that the current risk to U.S. citizens was extremely low.
At Los Angeles International Airport, United Airlines has announced plans to suspend flights to and from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport beginning March 8. United also extended its already-in-place flight suspensions to other regions.
Flights between LAX and Tokyo Narita will remain suspended until at least April 24.
The airline also suspended Tokyo Narita service from Houston and Chicago. United flights to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport from San Francisco have not been affected.
“After evaluating our operations between the U.S. and Beijing, Chengdu, Hong Kong and Shanghai, we’ve decided to suspend those flights through April 30,” according to an online update from the airline. “We’ve also suspended ticket sales for MileagePlus Award travel and flights between the U.S. and China on our partner airlines through April 30.
The airline is waiving some flight-change fees and is also offering refunds on some flights to select cities.
Multiple other airlines have already suspended or reduced flights to China and Hong Kong, but United is believed to be the first to halt flights to Japan and Singapore.
On Friday, health officials said the Korean Air flight attendant who worked flights out of LAX before being diagnosed with coronavirus “was not symptomatic” and “did not pose any risk to others while in L.A. County.”
The flight attendant, who was diagnosed with the virus in South Korea, worked flights between LAX and Seoul on Feb. 19 and 20, according to South Korean media outlets.
“The current risk to L.A. County residents for getting COVID-19 is very low. The best things people can do to protect themselves from any respiratory virus, including COVID-19, are the simple, everyday preventative measures such as washing hands, covering your cough and avoiding going out when sick,” said Dr. Prabhu Gounder, medical director of the county health department’s respiratory diseases unit, which is leading the county’s response to the outbreak.
Gounder said the city’s Emergency Management Department has been in contact with other city agencies, urging them to let employees who are sick stay home and not potentially infect others.
There has only been one case of the coronavirus detected in Los Angeles County. That person has since been treated and cleared of the virus, but it stayed with the patient for 21 days, health officials said.
DPH officials said they’ve been reviewing the daily updates from the CDC and responding to their instructions, as well as monitoring travelers coming from China, where the virus originated in the Hubei province.
County health officials said they are trying to obtain testing kits for local monitoring from the CDC. Those kits were supposed to arrive last week, but the outbreak has grown significantly worldwide since then, causing a delay.
The CDC has been issuing 14-day quarantines for people who have symptoms or may have been exposed to the virus.
COVID-19 was first reported as being transmitted from animals to humans, but the CDC confirmed last month that it can now be transferred from human to human.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she has authored a motion asking the board to request funding from the federal government to combat the coronavirus at its March 4 meeting.
Trump said officials from the nation’s leading pharmaceutical companies would meet with him Monday, March 2, at the White House to discuss plans for a vaccine. That meeting was already planned to discuss lowering drug prices but now will focus on the COVID-19 outbreak as well, Trump said.