An image of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. (Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rocky Mountain Lab)
Virginia health officials reported the first death from COVID-19, the illness caused by a new coronavirus that has swept from country to country since emerging in China late last year, sickening more than 142,000 and killing nearly 5,400 worldwide as of Saturday morning.
The Virginia Department of Health said a man in his 70s who had previously tested positive for the virus and was hospitalized died of respiratory failure.
“We express our deepest sympathy for the family and loved ones of the patient who died, as well as the families of everyone who has been affected by this outbreak,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver in a statement. “The health of our residents and the community is our top priority, and we will continue working together to care for the patients, protect the safety of health care workers, and protect the people in our commonwealth.”
The death was reported in conjunction with the Peninsula Health District, which covers Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg, James City County and York County, but the state did not say specifically where the man died or where he lived.
In briefings last week, Virginia health officials said they had no evidence of community spread of the virus, but in the statement announcing the death said the man acquired COVID-19 from “an unknown source.”
The Daily Press reported Friday that several localities declared states of emergency as new cases of the virus were discovered.
“These five new cases make this a community outbreak of COVID-19,” Peninsula Health District Director Thomas Franck said in a statement. “The fact that one of these cases has an unknown exposure is concerning and is suspicious for community spread.”
In a statement, Gov. Ralph Northam said he and wife, Pam, were “deeply saddened to learn that a Virginian has died from COVID-19, and we grieve for everyone this virus has touched around the world.”
Northam has scheduled a briefing for noon Sunday.
“The health of Virginians and our communities is my most important priority right now. As a commonwealth, we have taken major, critical steps to stop the spread of COVID- 19. I have declared a state of emergency, closed K-12 schools across the state, restricted visitors at nursing homes and correctional facilities, limited state employee travel, and canceled large events,” Northam said.
“This is a public health crisis—we must all treat it as such. Again, I urge Virginians: take this seriously. Take basic health precautions, avoid large gatherings, telework if possible and stay home if you are sick. That will stop the virus from spreading. It is all of our responsibility, yours and mine, to keep each other safe and healthy.”
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