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Texas coronavirus cases climb to three after two cruise ship evacuees are diagnosed

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Passengers on deck wave to other passengers as they leave the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan on Friday. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Two more cases of the new strain of coronavirus have been confirmed at the San Antonio military base where some evacuees from a cruise ship were quarantined Monday, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said in a press conference Friday. This brings the total number of confirmed Texas cases of the strain named COVID-19 to three.

The two evacuees were among 329 Americans repatriated from the Diamond Princess off of Japan against the CDC's recommendation. Another 16 cruise ship evacuees quarantined in California and Nebraska have also been confirmed to have coronavirus.

"[The passengers] are considered at high risk for infection, and we do expect to see additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the passengers," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during the press conference.

There are also several Americans hospitalized in Japan who are "seriously ill," she said.

The first Texas case was confirmed Feb. 13 when one of 91 Americans evacuated from the Hubei province of China, the epicenter of the outbreak, was hospitalized. The remaining 90 Americans were released from the San Antonio base Thursday because they showed no symptoms after a 14-day quarantine.

COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization last month. According to the latest CDC report, there are over 75,000 confirmed cases worldwide, and the death toll has surpassed 2,000. But outside of China, there have been only three fatalities, and none in the U.S.

The total number of confirmed U.S. cases is now 34. However, the CDC makes a distinction between cases among repatriated Americans and all other U.S. cases, as the former aren't an accurate representation of how the virus is spreading within the country, according to Messonnier.

"We don't yet have a vaccine for this novel virus, nor do we have a medicine to treat it specifically," Messonnier said.

The goal now is to slow the introduction of the virus into the U.S. to buy time to prepare the community for more cases and possibly sustained spread, she added.

Two elderly Japanese passengers aboard the Diamond Princess died after testing positive for the virus, Japan's health minister said Thursday.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are working on a vaccine, and a Houston-based genetic engineering company announced this week it finished developing one. However, no vaccine has yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.