The death toll from the coronavirus in mainland China spiked 23 percent Wednesday amid new counting methods adopted by Chinese health officials, who eased their criteria for confirmed cases.
Deaths rose by 252, to a total of 1,367 worldwide. All but two of those deaths have been recorded in China. Meanwhile, the total number of confirmed cases spiked to 60,286 - an increase of over 15,000 from the previous day.
Only 14 cases have been confirmed in the U.S. thus far.
The spikes overseas are at least partly due to new counting standards implemented by China, which reported Wednesday that it is tallying infections differently. The nation previously only counted a coronavirus case as confirmed when a person tested positively for the virus, but that thinking has been revised, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday night.
The government is no longer requiring a positive test, the news agency said, a decision made partly because testing kits are in short supply. New cases are now being confirmed if a person is simply diagnosed by a doctor or other health professional; China says the new standard will help treat people more quickly once they exhibit symptoms of the virus.
The new numbers of deaths push the coronavirus well past that of the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003, officials said. But the mortality rate - a statistic that measures the deadliness of the virus on infected persons - of SARS is still significantly higher than coronavirus. The latest figures show that coronavirus has a mortality rate of 2.3 percent, compared to nearly 9.6 percent for SARS.
Also Wednesday, a second case of coronavirus was confirmed in the U.S. among evacuees from China, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced.
The person was aboard a flight from the city of Wuhan that arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in Southern California last week, the CDC said.
The patient was in isolation at a San Diego hospital, UC San Diego Health confirmed.
U.S. health officials said Wednesday that it is too early to predict a foreseeable end to the crisis.
"It's way too early to try to predict the beginning of the end" of the virus outbreak that erupted in China in December, Dr. Mike Ryan, the head of emergencies for the World Health Organization (WHO), told reporters in Geneva.
His comments followed a report earlier in the day from China that suggested that the 2,015 new cases counted on Tuesday was the second straight daily decline, down from nearly 3,900 a week ago. Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the situation is still grim, but "we have seen some positive changes."
Like Ryan, however, Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned not to read too much into the latest reports.
"I'm going to be optimistic that is a sign that their aggressive actions have been effective, but I really do think it's too soon to say that for sure, not having hands on the data ourselves," she said.
Messonnier said she hopes an advance team from WHO now in China will be able to examine the findings: "It would certainly be reassuring if we were now seeing at least a slowdown of this outbreak in China."
Two people have died outside of China, one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. The virus outbreak started in December in Wuhan, China.
There have been 14 U.S. cases of coronavirus in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin. One U.S. citizen diagnosed with the coronavirus has died in Wuhan.
There are 420 people who've been tested in 41 states. Test results came back negative for 347, and the remaining 60 are pending, according to the CDC.
CONTRIBUTING: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus cases are being counted differently in China and death tolls have spiked