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Coronavirus Newsletter: First Cases In San Francisco, Nevada, And Tennessee

In today's newsletter: Health Secretary Alex Azar is being sidelined, Chinese trolls are spreading disinformation in Taiwan, and human-to-pup transmission is happening in Hong Kong.

Posted on March 5, 2020, at 5:59 p.m. ET

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the coronavirus outbreak. This newsletter does its best to put everything we do know in one place each day. Do you want to get everything worth knowing about the coronavirus outbreak, straight to your inbox every afternoon? Sign up for the Coronavirus Newsletter here.

Here’s what we know as of Thursday, March 5.

Coronavirus in the US

As of Thursday afternoon, there have been 209 confirmed cases and 11 deaths in the US. These numbers were accurate when we sent this out; you can get the latest figures from our live tracker.

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San Francisco has its first two coronavirus cases. Officials said the virus appears to be spreading locally and is not being brought in by travelers. “We do not know at this point how they were exposed to the virus, which suggests it is spreading in the community,” said Grant Colfax, San Francisco’s public health director.

Nevada and Tennessee also reported their first confirmed cases. The Tennessee man had recently returned from a trip to Boston; the Nevada man had recently returned from Washington state.

Health Secretary Alex Azar is being sidelined in the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis, Politico reports. Azar has taken the blame in recent days for the administration’s botched response to the outbreak, centered around the slow, chaotic rollout of testing kits by federal authorities. Today, Vice President Mike Pence is visiting Seattle, the epicenter of the outbreak in the US. Azar will not be joining him.

Starbucks will temporarily stop allowing customers to bring their own reusable cups to its stores, the company announced. “Our focus remains on two key priorities: Caring for the health and well-being of our partners and customers and playing a constructive role in supporting local health officials and government leaders,” the company said in a statement.

Do you have questions about the COVID-19 outbreak? We're happy to answer them, and we’re trying out a new way of keeping in touch with our readers; you can sign up here to communicate with BuzzFeed News editors via text: joinsubtext.com/buzzfeednews.

What we’re reading

COVID-19 Isn’t as Deadly as We Think
Here’s a very convincing argument from Jeremy Samuel Faust in Slate. “We need to divert our focus away from worrying about preventing systemic spread among healthy people — which is likely either inevitable or out of our control — and commit most if not all our resources toward protecting those truly at risk of developing critical illness and even death: everyone over 70, and people who are already at higher risk from this kind of virus.”

Tip of the day
Is it actually possible to stop touching your face? From personal experience, it’s incredibly difficult, but you can get better at it. Emma Lord has a step-by-step guide on how to do it, including a bunch of useful little tricks to kick the habit, ranging from wearing a scarf — it’ll make you more aware when your hands reach up there — to sticky notes on computer screens. If it works, it works.

Pics of the day
Here’s a haunting gallery of tourist sites around the world that have been completely abandoned. If you’ve ever been to Venice, or the Louvre, or the Trevi Fountain, these will amaze you.

Quote of the day:
“Per the CDC, hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito's Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol...” —the social media team at Tito’s Vodka, repeatedly explaining today that you can’t use it as a hand sanitizer

Manuel Silvestri / Reuters

Coronavirus around the world

As of Sunday, March 1, there have been 97,873 confirmed cases and 3,347 deaths globally. These numbers are changing by the hour; you can get the latest figures from our live tracker.

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In the UK, there was the first reported death from coronavirus today. The disease is now likely being spread among people within the country with no connection to overseas cases. The government said it will now alter its response to focus on slowing the spread of the virus, rather than containing it completely.

Chinese internet trolls are spreading disinformation about the coronavirus in Taiwan, attempting to sow fear and distrust of the government among Taiwanese people. “In five years of looking at troubling disinfo every day, I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite this malicious,” a researcher told BuzzFeed News.

The Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, was closed today, as part of a package of precautionary measures by Saudi authorities. It is being cleaned and will be reopened for prayers on Friday.

Hong Kong has bad news for pet lovers: A Pomeranian there tested positive, apparently catching the disease from its owner (this kind of news story happens in every big outbreak cycle). “Pet owners need not be overly concerned and under no circumstances should they abandon their pets,” the government said in a statement. But it advised that people stop kissing their dogs for a while.

Amr Nabil / AP

Workers sterilize the ground in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

What happens next

Here's one to keep your eyes on: On Thursday afternoon, Sen. Kamala Harris asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide information on how the outbreak is being handled in prisons. “The risk of community spread poses a critical and unique threat to vulnerable populations, including those in our prisons and jails," she wrote in a letter.

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