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First US coronavirus case was confirmed a year ago Thursday

NEW YORK — One year ago Thursday, health officials told Americans about a traveler who had just come home from Wuhan, China, and sought treatment at an urgent-care clinic north of Seattle after falling ill — setting off alarm bells. He had the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the United States.

In announcing the news, officials struck a tone at once reassuring and worrisome. They said they believed the risk to the public was low. But they cautioned that more cases were likely. The nation has now recorded more than 24 million cases and 400,000 deaths.

It began slowly. In the first five weeks, American officials reported about 45 cases and no known deaths. But in the past five weeks, the country recorded over 7.4 million cases and close to 100,000 deaths. On Wednesday alone, officials recorded at least 184,237 new cases and at least 4,357 deaths. In terms of deaths, it was the second-worst day of the pandemic. The seven-day average of virus deaths each day stood at 3,054 as of Wednesday.

It was also a day on which a new president, on his first full day in office, vowed to do better. On Thursday, President Biden went on the offensive, with a 200-page strategy that includes the use of executive authority to protect workers, advance racial equity, and ramp up the manufacturing of test kits, vaccines, and supplies.

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In contrast, President Trump had let state governments take the lead. The Biden advisers said they were stunned by the vaccination plan — or the lack of one — that they inherited, and said the Trump team failed to share crucial information about supplies and vaccine availability.

Local officials have expressed hope that the Biden administration would step up vaccine production. But supplies of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are running flat, and it’s not clear what, if anything, the administration could do to expand the overall supply.

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Although the Seattle area became the epicenter of an early outbreak at the end of February, researchers are not sure if the man who returned to the Seattle area set it off. Genomic sequencing suggested that the man, now 36, was part of a virus branch that spread across the region. But researchers looking at timing and genetic variations believe the outbreak may have begun with another, unknown person.

Washington’s early outbreak led the state to record 37 of the nation’s first 50 coronavirus deaths. But it has since fared far better than the nation as a whole. If the United States had maintained a death rate comparable to Washington’s, there would be some 220,000 fewer coronavirus deaths. — NEW YORK TIMES

Amazon says it’s ready to help Biden administration vaccinate Americans

SEATTLE — Amazon is offering its colossal operations network and advanced technologies to assist President Biden in his vow to get 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations to Americans in his first 100 days in office.

“We are prepared to leverage our operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration’s vaccination efforts,” wrote the CEO of Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer division, Dave Clark. “Our scale allows us to make a meaningful impact immediately in the fight against COVID-19, and we stand ready to assist you in this effort.”

Amazon said it has arranged a licensed third-party occupational health care provider to vaccinate its employees when vaccines become available. Amazon has more than 800,000 US employees, Clark wrote, most of whom are essential workers who cannot work from home and should be vaccinated as soon as possible. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Biden’s right, US Chamber says: Economy depends on controlling virus

WASHINGTON — The largest US business lobbying group is supporting President Biden’s early moves to confront the pandemic.

The US Chamber of Commerce’s chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, said Biden is correct in his assessment that controlling the coronavirus is the key to fully reopening the economy.

“America must return to health before we can restore economic growth and get the 10 million Americans who lost their jobs in the last year back to work,” Bradley said. “We support the new administration’s focus on removing roadblocks to vaccinations and reopening schools, both of which are important steps to accelerating a broad-based economic recovery for all Americans.”

Biden’s predecessor had put pressure on states to quickly reopen. The United States is facing its most deadly wave of the pandemic, with joblessness on the rise again.

The chamber is particularly influential with Republican lawmakers, who hold sway over Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus package. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Hand sanitizers can endanger kids’ eyes, experts warn

CHICAGO — Health researchers say young children need to be careful with alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially dispensers at eye level. The researchers say they’re seeing more cases of children who get the substance in their eyes.

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Studies published Thursday in JAMA Ophthalmology detail cases in France and India, some resulting in eye pain and cornea ulcers that ultimately healed. But a few youngsters required eye surgery; researchers say the risks include blindness. Many cases involved dispensers in public places.

US poison control centers also have had an increase in calls about kids exposed to hand sanitizers. While most resulted in little or no harm, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes the products should be kept out of young children’s reach.

If sanitizer gets in the eyes, doctors advise to wash the eyes with warm water and then have the youngster get an eye exam. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Arizona has worst coronavirus rate in US

PHOENIX — Arizona, the state with the worst coronavirus diagnosis rate in the country, reported 9,398 confirmed cases Thursday. Its Department of Health Services also reported 244 deaths, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 699,942 cases and 11,772 deaths.

According to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, there were 4,580 hospitalized COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, down from the Jan. 11 record of 5,082.

One in 147 Arizona residents was diagnosed with the coronavirus from Jan. 13 to Wednesday. South Carolina was close behind, at one in 148.

Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases declined from 8,884 on Jan. 6 to 6,973 on Wednesday. The rolling average of daily deaths rose from 103 to 142. That’s according to data from Johns Hopkins University and the COVID Tracking Project. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Alabama extends mandatory mask order till March 5

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Governor Kay Ivey is extending a statewide order requiring face masks in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. That means the rule will remain in place through March 5.

Medical officials had urged Ivey to extend the order amid the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, which have been hindered by a limited national supply. The state, with nearly 5 million people, has had 446,000 vaccine doses delivered and 184,000 administered.

There’s been about 430,000 confirmed cases and more than 62,000 deaths from the coronavirus in Alabama. — ASSOCIATED PRESS