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Coronavirus: New York state governor sending National Guard to control virus in suburb

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New York’s governor announced Tuesday he is sending the National Guard into a New York City suburb to help fight what is believed to be the nation’s biggest cluster of coronavirus cases — one of the most dramatic actions yet to control the outbreak in the U.S.

The move came as health authorities contended with alarming concentrations of the disease on both sides of the country and scattered cases in between.

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Schools, houses of worship and large gathering places will be shuttered for two weeks in a “containment area” centred in New Rochelle, and the troops will scrub surfaces and deliver food to the zone, which extends a mile in all directions from a point near a synagogue connected to some of the cases, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

“It is a dramatic action, but it is the largest cluster of cases in the country,” Cuomo said. “The numbers are going up unabated, and we do need a special public health strategy.”

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New Rochelle is at the centre of an outbreak of 108 cases in Westchester County, out of 173 identified statewide. New York City has 36 cases, while its population is more than 100 times that of New Rochelle.

In Oakland, California, meanwhile, thousands of increasingly bored and restless passengers aboard a cruise ship struck by the coronavirus waited their turn to get off the vessel and go to U.S. military bases or back to their home countries for two weeks of quarantine.

In Washington state, where at least 19 deaths have been connected to a Seattle-area nursing home, Gov. Jay Inslee announced new rules for screening health care workers and limiting visitors.

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“If we assume there are 1,000 or more people who have the virus today … the number of people who are infected will double in five to eight days,” he warned.

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The virus has infected over 700 people in the U.S. and killed at least 27, with one state after another recording its first infections in quick succession. New Jersey recorded its first coronavirus death.

In California, passengers from the coronavirus-stricken Grand Princess were allowed off the vessel and walked to the bottom of a ramp, where masked officials in yellow protective gear and blue plastic gloves took their temperature and led them to a tent for more screening before they lined up to board a bus.

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After days of being forced to idle off the Northern California coast, the ship docked Monday at Oakland with about 3,500 passengers and crew, including at least 21 who tested positive for the new virus.

“We’re trying to stay calm and were trying to stay positive, but it’s getting harder and harder. They can’t make up their minds how to keep us safe,” said passenger Beryl Ward, 77, of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The slow evacuation of the 951-foot (290-meter) ship began Monday with several hundred people let off the ship. About two dozen people who needed acute medical care were taken off first, though it was unclear how many of them were infected, California emergency authorities said.

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Also, more than 200 Canadians on board were flown to a military base in their country, Canadian officials said.

On the ship, about 2,000 passengers, including hundreds of Californians, were still aboard Tuesday morning..

Authorities said foreign passengers would be flown home, while U.S. passengers would be flown or bused to military bases in California, Texas and Georgia for testing and 14-day quarantines.

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The Grand Princess ship had been held off the coast since last week because of evidence that it was the breeding ground for more than 20 infections tied to a previous voyage. Passengers were mostly confined to their cabins.

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But Ward’s cabin mate, Carolyn Wright, 63, also of Santa Fe, said she looked out her cabin window as passengers lined up to depart and also saw people in yellow protective clothing, gloves and hazardous materials suits.

“They were queuing up the passengers like cattle,” Wright said. “Everybody was bunched up. They were physically touching each other and they were backed up along the gangplank.”

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She added: “I’m just totally freaked out by that. It’s outrageous. If that’s safe, then why were we stuck in our rooms? It’s been stressed for the past five days that we’re not to have any contact with any other passengers?”

About 1,100 crew members, 19 of whom tested positive for the virus, will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will dock elsewhere after passengers are unloaded, Gov. Gavin Newsom said. He and Oakland’s mayor sought to reassure people that no passengers would be exposed to the public before completing quarantine.

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Another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus. Ultimately, about 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public health failure.

Elsewhere around the country, the United Nations said it will close its headquarters in New York to the public and suspend all guided tours. On Wall Street, stocks climbed higher during the day, recouping some of their staggering losses from the day before.

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For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Most people recover in a matter of weeks, as has happened with three-quarters of those infected in mainland China.

Rodriguez reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Janie Har, Jocelyn Gecker and Juliet Williams in San Francisco, Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.