By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
WEDNESDAY, July 22, 2020 (HealthDay News)
For the first time in nearly two months the daily U.S. coronavirus death toll topped 1,000 on Tuesday, with President Donald Trump acknowledging that the country’s outbreak will likely “get worse before it gets better.”
Trump’s comments came during the first coronavirus task force briefing he’s held since April, as he conceded there were now “big fires” in the country, particularly in Florida and across the South and West. He also shelved his past resistance to masks, displaying his own and asking Americans to wear them because “they have an impact.”
Meanwhile, three states that have been slammed by the pandemic in recent weeks continued to struggle to handle surges of COVID-19 patients in their hospitals, CNN reported.
Hospitalizations in Florida have risen by more than a third in the 12 days since the state started releasing daily hospitalization data. There are now more than 9,500 people hospitalized in Florida and least 53 hospitals in 27 counties said they had no more beds in their ICUs, CNN reported. Miami-Dade County has exceeded its ICU capacity, with 130% occupancy on Monday, state officials reported.
In California, Los Angeles County has surpassed its record for daily hospitalizations for the fourth time in the past week, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, told CNN.
The county has at least 2,232 patients currently hospitalized with 26% of them in the ICU and 19% on ventilators, CNN reported.
Statewide, hospitalization rates and the number of patients in ICUs are again reaching highs, with increases of 1.9% and 0.7% respectively, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), CNN reported.
“We opened up too soon,” Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at the University of California Los Angeles, told CNN. “We didn’t have the virus totally under control.”
California is fast approaching the point where it will surpass New York in the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, CNN reported.
Texas is faring no better: hospitals in that state are facing an unprecedented wave of hospitalizations — it is the only state in the country with more than 10,000 hospitalizations at the moment.
Pooled testing begins
In an effort to find a faster and cheaper way of testing Americans for COVID-19, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given emergency approval to pooled testing, which combines test samples in batches, the Associated Press reported.
The emergency use approval was given to Quest Diagnostics to perform its COVID-19 test with pooled samples. It is the first test to be authorized to be used in this way, the AP reported.
With pooling, laboratories would combine parts of samples from several people and test them together. A negative result would clear everyone in the batch. A positive result would require each sample to be retested.
Pooling works best with lab-run tests, not the much quicker tests used in clinics or doctor’s offices, the wire service said. Theoretically, pooled testing could be used at schools or businesses.
“It’s a really good tool. It can be used in any of a number of circumstances, including at the community level or even in schools,” Dr. Anthony Fauci testified during a Senate hearing last month, the wire service reported.
The technique works best when fewer than 10% of people are expected to test positive, the AP reported. For example, pooling would not be cost-effective in Arizona, where a surge has pushed positive test results to well over 10%. But the approach could make sense in areas with a lower rate of positive results, the wire service said.
More states, retailers turning to mask mandates
As case counts and deaths have continued to climb, more states, cities and major retailers have turned to face mask mandates to try to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Increasingly seen as a last hope to slow soaring infection rates across the country, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas announced a face covering requirement last week after taking a more hands-off approach for months, The New York Times reported. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis also issued a mask order last week, after questioning whether such a mandate would be enforceable.
And Alabama, Montana and the city of Tulsa moved to make face coverings required in public settings, the Washington Post reported. Several large retailers also joined the trend: Walmart, Kroger and Kohl’s.
Masks are now mandatory in more than half of U.S. states, the Post reported, and Target and CVS joined other retailers in announcing that all customers in their stores must wear masks.
The new mask mandates suggest that officials and business leaders across America are painfully aware that cases have spiked in 41 states over the past two weeks and things will only worsen if nothing is done, the Times reported.
Still, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp went against the tide and nullified all local mask mandates last Thursday, the Post reported. That same day, Georgia recorded it second-highest number of coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with 3,871 new infections reported.
By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count had passed 3.9 million as the death toll passed 142,000, according to a Times tally.
According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Wednesday were: New York with nearly 413,000; California with over 410,000; Florida with nearly 370,000; Texas with nearly 356,000 and New Jersey with over 179,000.
Nations grapple with pandemic
Elsewhere in the world, the situation remains challenging.
Spain’s coronavirus infection rate has tripled since restrictions were lifted at the end of June, health officials said Monday, the Post reported.
This spring, Spain had managed to contain its outbreak with strict lockdown measures. But over the past three weeks, the country has gone from having eight cases for every 100,000 residents to 27 cases per 100,000 residents, Reuters reported.
Many of the new clusters have been found in Catalonia and are linked to nightlife and large gatherings, health officials said. The Catalan regional government has asked residents to stay at home when not conducting essential business and to limit gatherings to groups of fewer than 10 people.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong tightened social distancing measures on Monday, following a sudden surge in infections there, the Post reported. Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, told residents they now must wear face masks in all indoor public spaces, and she said nonessential government employees should work from home.
Things continue to worsen in India. On Wednesday, the country neared 1.2 million infections and nearly 29,000 deaths, a Johns Hopkins tally showed. The surge comes weeks after a national lockdown was lifted, and it has prompted some parts of the country to revert back to stricter social distancing measures. Only the United States and Brazil have higher caseloads.
Brazil is also a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly 2.2 million confirmed infections by Wednesday, according to the Hopkins tally. It has the second-highest number of cases, behind only the United States.
Cases are also spiking wildly in Russia: As of Wednesday, that country reported the world’s fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at nearly 788,000, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections neared 15 million on Wednesday, with nearly 617,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
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