• Washington state officials say deaths there are related to a suburban Seattle nursing home
  • Globally the number of cases rose to nearly 91,000 cases with 3,119 deaths
  • The Federal Reserve cut interest rates by 50 basis points to try to reassure investors but the action appeared to have the opposite effect

Administration officials attempted to tamp down coronavirus fears Tuesday as Washington state upped its death toll from COVID-19 to nine and other states confirmed additional cases.

President Trump convened a briefing during which he asked medical experts whether the flu vaccine would protect against the virus, which originated in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

The World Health Organization reported the death toll from the virus rose to at least 3,119 amid nearly 91,000 confirmed cases. The virus has spread to 72 countries, with Andorra, Jordan, Latvia, Morocco, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Tunisia officially added in the last 24 hours.

Public health officials in Washington said 27 people have tested positive for the virus and nine have died. Most had underlying health conditions and had been at the suburban Seattle Life Care Center nursing home. Officials said the virus may have been in the state as early as Jan. 15 but the infected individual was not confirmed until six days later. A number of schools have told students to stay home and attend classes online.

“What is happening now in the U.S. may be the beginning of what is happening abroad,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters.

Of the 60 U.S. cases confirmed in 14 states, Messonier said, 22 were traveled, 27 still were under investigation and 11 likely resulted from person-to-person contact. She said data from China indicates on in 16 cases is serious and people with underlying conditions are twice as likely to develop COVID-19. WHO put the number of U.S. cases at 64 but other reports have them at 100.

The Federal Reserve Board cut the key federal funds rate by a half point – the biggest cut in more than a decade -- to ease investor concerns but remarks by Chairman Jerome Powell had the opposite effect, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 786 points after he said he expects the outbreak to weigh on the economy.

“We have seen a broader spread of the virus. So, we saw a risk to the economy and we chose to act,” Powell said.

Travel and tourism was expected to be particularly hard hit. Trump said Tuesday he does not expect to impose domestic travel restrictions as he left the White House his visit the National Institutes of Health and the briefing.

Vice President Mike Pence was expected to meet with airline executives Wednesday amid a disagreement over how much data airlines should collect on passengers in the fight against spread of the virus. The Department of Health and Human Services told carriers to collect each traveler’s name, email, U.S. address and two telephone numbers, but airlines argue they often lack all five pieces of information, especially for travelers who buy tickets abroad or through third parties.

“There’s only one hot spot and that's also pretty much in a home, as you know, in a nursing home," he said. Travel from China has been suspended and the State Department has urged Americans not to travel to Iran, parts of Italy and South Korea.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn told a Senate hearing the number of kits available by the end of the week to test for the virus should give health officials the capacity to test nearly 1 million people. Fewer than 4,000 people have been tested so far.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., urged the administration to be honest about its testing capabilities.

“People are calling their doctors, and they’re not being able to get a test, so let’s get crisper and clearer about what the process is for people to get testing and when the availability of those tests will be there for them," she said.

Pence sought to downplay the severity, urging people to stay calm and use common sense to keep themselves healthy.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said the administration should have taken the steps that were taken when Ebola emerged in 2014 and criticized Trump for eviscerating the agencies that had been set up to deal with such threats.

Outside the U.S., Iran, which has been particularly hard hit with the highest death toll outside China at 66, said it would temporarily release 54,000 healthy prisoners to keep the virus from spreading through the prison system.