SUNDAY, May 10, 2020 (HealthDay News) — As U.S. coronavirus cases topped 1.3 million and the death toll climbed to nearly 79,000 on Sunday, three of the nation’s top health officials said they plan to quarantine themselves to some degree after being exposed to two White House aides who were diagnosed with COVID-19.
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, and Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, both said on Saturday they will self-quarantine and telework for two weeks, the Washington Post reported. And a spokesperson for Dr. Anthony Fauci said Saturday night that he will take precautions that will include “a mix of teleworking and wearing a mask during in-person meetings.”
All three are members of the White House coronavirus task force. It wasn’t clear Sunday whether other White House officials and other task force members might have been exposed to the infected aides, the Post reported. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have so far tested negative, the White House has said.
Even as COVID-19 infections climbed, there was plenty of bad news on the economic front this week.
On Friday, the federal government’s monthly jobs report showed a staggering 14.7 percent of Americans are now unemployed.
A total of 20.5 million jobs were lost during the country’s April lockdown, and not since the Great Depression has the unemployment rate been so high, The New York Times reported on Friday.
That was not the only bad economic news delivered in recent days: On Thursday, the weekly jobless claims report showed that another 3.2 million jobless claims were filed last week. That brought the total unemployed since the nation’s economy was first curtailed by social distancing measures in mid-March to a historic 33 million.
Economic fallout from coronavirus pandemic hits historic levels
While reopening parts of the U.S. economy will undoubtedly start to help some Americans get their jobs back, an internal report from the Trump administration predicted that reopening will come at a cost: 200,000 new coronavirus cases and 3,000 deaths every day by the end of May.
Troubling predictions came from more than one source: A forecasting model from University of Washington researchers also raised its projections to more than 134,000 American deaths from COVID-19 by early August, the Times reported.
That’s a doubling from the 60,000 total deaths that was previously predicted, an increase that the researchers said partly reflects “changes in mobility and social distancing policies,” the Times reported.
All of the numbers illustrate a grim fact: Even though the country has essentially been in lockdown for the past seven weeks, the coronavirus prognosis hasn’t really changed.
Still, at least 27 states have loosened at least some social distancing restrictions, a new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis shows. But only nine of those states meet most of the reopening criteria set by the Trump administration.
More testing needed
Even as reopening plans proceed, a new poll shows that Americans oppose the reopening of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland survey, released Tuesday, found that many Americans have been making trips to grocery stores and 56 percent say they are comfortable doing so. But 67 percent say they would be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store, and 78 percent would be uncomfortable eating at a sit-down restaurant. People in states with more relaxed restrictions report equal levels of discomfort as those in states with tougher restrictions, the Post reported.
Meanwhile, a new analysis finds inadequate levels of testing for the coronavirus in 60% of states, many of which are reopening after weeks of lockdown.
The analysis, conducted by the Associated Press, uses a 2% testing rate per month — a rate advised by federal officials that many public health experts still feel falls short.
In a recent White House briefing, officials said each state would receive enough testing materials to test 2.6% of their populations in both May and June. Representatives of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also offered another number — 2% — without explaining the reason for the discrepancy between the two rates.
But according to the AP analysis, right now just 40% of states can even meet the lower 2% threshold for testing.
There has been one note of good news: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved emergency use of the first drug that seems to boost recovery among COVID-19 patients.
Promise of remdesivir, vaccine by January
Remdesivir, Gilead Sciences’ intravenous antiviral medication, is to be used for hospitalized patients with “severe disease,” such as those who need supplemental oxygen or ventilators to breathe, the AP reported.
“This was lightning speed in terms of getting something approved,” Hahn said during a media briefing last week, calling the drug “an important clinical advance.”
The FDA based its decision on the results of a government study that showed remdesivir shortened the time to recovery by 31% for COVID-19 patients in the hospital, the AP reported.
The search for a vaccine also got some welcome news. The White House has announced an initiative that hopes to produce a COVID-19 vaccine that could be available nationwide by January.
Trump has said it is not too optimistic to try to produce roughly 300 million doses of vaccine in eight months, enough for all Americans, the Post reported.
Even the shorter timeline still means there would be no full protection from the new coronavirus until after most Americans are likely to have returned to work or school.
To reopen or not to reopen
Meanwhile, social distancing orders remain a patchwork across the United States. Governors in hard-hit New York and Michigan are keeping stay-at-home orders in place until at least mid-May, while many of their counterparts have already allowed certain businesses to reopen, the AP reported.
In preparation for a reopening in the coming weeks, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced the state will implement the “most aggressive” antibody testing program in the country, CBS News reported.
He has also issued an executive order stating all New Yorkers must have a mask or mouth and nose covering when they are not maintaining social distancing in public, CBS News reported.
Cuomo said Monday that New York must learn the lessons of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic even as it continues to fight it, CBS News reported.
“When you know what you don’t know and admit it, it will actually keep you safe,” Cuomo said. “And that’s where we are. We don’t know, but we will be prepared for all possibilities.”
According to a Times tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Sunday are: New York with more than 338,500 cases; New Jersey with over 137,000; Massachusetts with more than 76,700; Illinois with more than 76,000; and California with nearly 67,000.
Nations grapple with pandemic
In Asia, where the coronavirus first struck, several countries are finally returning to a new normal but clusters of cases persist.
In northeast China, health officials reported a new cluster of cases in a town near the Russian border. At least 11 cases, all traced to a 45-year-old woman, were recorded Saturday in the town of Shulan in Jilin Province, the Times reported. A total of 14 new cases were reported in the country on Saturday, including one in the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic first began late last year, the newspaper said.
China had begun to reopen after a widespread lockdown. But small outbreaks have persisted, including a spate of new cases traced to people returning from Russia, the Times reported.
Meanwhile, South Korea ended its stringent social distancing policies last week after halting the spread of coronavirus. But after new cases were discovered, health officials ramped controls back up. On Saturday, all bars and nightclubs in Seoul were closed once more after dozens of new infections were reported among people who visited nightspots and their close contacts. The country reported 34 new cases on Sunday.
Elsewhere the situation remains challenging. On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s coronavirus death count topped 31,600, the second-highest in the world, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Britain has now surpassed Italy, Spain and France for COVID-19 deaths in Europe.
Britain’s lockdown was first imposed March 23. In an address set for Sunday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson — himself a COVID-19 survivor — is expected to launch an alert system in England to track the coronavirus and lay out a road map for easing the country’s lockdown.
Spain reported 26,478 COVID-19 deaths by Sunday, despite signs the infection rate is slowing there, the Hopkins tally showed. While deaths in Italy remain high, at more than 30,000, the numbers have leveled off there as well. Both countries are cautiously reopening their economies.
Brazil looks like it could become the next hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic. By Sunday, the South American country had reported 10,656 deaths and more than 156,000 confirmed infections, according to the Hopkins tally. But the true numbers are believed to be vastly higher.
Russia was also struggling to contain the spread of coronavirus, as the case count in that country passed 200,000 on Sunday, the Hopkins tally showed. Moscow remains the most virus-stricken part of the country, but there are growing concerns that infections could surge in more remote regions with weaker health systems, the Post reported.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 4 million on Sunday, with nearly 280,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.
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