By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
WEDNESDAY, June 10, 2020 (HealthDay News) — In another troubling sign that the spread of coronavirus might be accelerating, new U.S. data shows hospitalizations in at least nine states have been on the rise since Memorial Day.
In Texas, North and South Carolina, California, Oregon, Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah and Arizona, increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients are showing up at hospitals, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
For example, Texas has reported two consecutive days of record-breaking coronavirus hospitalizations. The state, which was one of the first to reopen, has seen a 36 percent increase in new cases since the end of May, with a record 2,056 hospitalizations recorded by Tuesday afternoon, the Post reported.
The hospitalization data challenges the notion that the country is seeing a spike in new coronavirus cases solely because of increased testing, the Post reported. By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count neared 2 million as the death toll passed 112,000.
On Tuesday, another Post analysis showed that parts of the country that had been spared the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are now tallying record-high cases of new infections.
Since the start of June, 14 states and Puerto Rico have recorded their highest seven-day average of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, data tracked by the Post shows. Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
On Tuesday, the country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, described COVID-19 as his “worst nightmare” and delivered a warning, The New York Times reported. “In a period of four months, it has devastated the whole world,” Fauci said. “And it isn’t over yet.”
“Where is it going to end? We’re still at the beginning of it,” he said, the Post reported.
Masks, lockdowns show benefit
But a new British study offers some hope: Scientists report that the widespread use of face masks — not more lockdowns — could slow the spread of the virus to tolerable levels, the Post reported.
“Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by the public,” said study leader Richard Stutt, a Cambridge University professor, the newspaper reported.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A scientific journal, also suggest that lockdowns alone can’t fight the coronavirus if and when it spikes again.
Meanwhile, New York City finally reopened its economy on Monday after being the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic for months, while a new study showed that stay-at-home orders may have been worth it, preventing nearly 60 million U.S. infections.
That research, published in the Nature medical journal, examined how different social distancing policies and measures might have limited the spread of COVID-19, the Post reported.
A second study, from epidemiologists at Imperial College London and also published in Nature, found the shutdowns saved approximately 3.1 million lives in 11 European countries and dropped infection rates there by an average of 82 percent.
In the first study, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley examined six countries — China, the United States, France, Italy, Iran and South Korea — and estimated how more than 1,700 different interventions, such as stay-at-home orders, business closings and travel bans, altered the spread of the virus.
The report concluded that those six countries collectively managed to avert 62 million test-confirmed infections, which the researchers estimated would correspond to roughly 530 million total infections, the newspaper said.
Surprisingly, school closures had no significant effect, although the authors said the issue requires further study, the Post reported.
Even as all states have now reopened, public health officials have raised concern about future coronavirus spread following days of protests against police brutality across the country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday it was closely monitoring the demonstrations and warned such gatherings could spur coronavirus transmission, CNN reported. Some states are already seeing upward trends in new cases.
The protests make it hard to follow social distancing guidelines and “may put others at risk,” CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said in a statement, CNN reported.
Last week, new federal data offered signs of hope on the economic front, as jobless numbers fell — from 14.7 percent in April to 13.3 percent in May.
The economy, hit hard by stay-at-home orders and shuttered businesses tied to the coronavirus crisis, ended up adding 2.5 million jobs in May, as some Americans warily crept back to work, the Times reported.
It was very welcome news: According to the Times, the unemployment rate in April was the highest seen since the federal government began keeping record after World War II.
Many economists expect that unemployment numbers will slow further as states reopen and more employees return to work.
In other news, the U.S. government’s supply of remdesivir, the only drug known to work against COVID-19, will run out at the end of the month, Dr. Robert Kadlec, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official, told CNN.
The government’s last shipment of the drug will go out the week of June 29. Gilead Sciences, the company that makes remdesivir, is ramping up to make more, but it’s unclear how much will be available this summer.
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“Right now, we’re waiting to hear from Gilead what is their expected delivery availability of the drug as we go from June to July,” Kadlec said. “We’re kind of not in negotiations, but in discussions with Gilead as they project what the availability of their product will be.”
The government has been working to help Gilead “with some of their supply chain challenges in terms of raw materials and being able to accelerate the process,” said Kadlec, the HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
He added that it’s clear that “whatever the supply may be, there may not be enough for everyone who may need it.”
Meanwhile, the search for an effective vaccine goes on. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in late May that it would provide up to $1.2 billion to the drug company AstraZeneca to develop a potential coronavirus vaccine from Oxford University, in England.
The fourth, and largest, vaccine research agreement funds a clinical trial of the potential vaccine in the United States this summer with about 30,000 volunteers, the Times reported.
The goal? To make at least 300 million doses that could be available as early as October, the HHS said in a statement.
The United States has already agreed to provide up to $483 million to the biotech company Moderna and $500 million to Johnson & Johnson for their vaccine efforts. It is also providing $30 million to a virus vaccine effort led by the French company Sanofi, the Times reported.
According to a Times tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Wednesday are: New York with 384,000; New Jersey with 164,700; California with over 137,000, Illinois with over 130,000 and Massachusetts with over 103,800.
Nations grapple with pandemic
Elsewhere in the world, the situation remains challenging.
Even as the pandemic is easing in Europe and some parts of Asia, it is worsening in India. The country has loosened some of the social distancing enacted in the world’s largest lockdown, even as cases surge. Three weeks ago, the country had 100,000 cases. Now it has more than 275,000, the Post reported.
Brazil has become a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic. By Wednesday, the South American country had reported over 38,400 deaths and over 739,500 confirmed infections, according to the Hopkins tally. Trump has issued a ban on all foreign travelers from Brazil because of the burgeoning number of COVID-19 cases in that country, CNN reported.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s government had stopped publishing a running total of coronavirus deaths and infections, the AP reported. Critics called the move, which came after official numbers showed Brazil had the third-highest number of deaths and the second-highest number of cases in the world, an attempt to hide the true toll of the disease. A Supreme Court justice on Tuesday ordered publication of the cumulative totals of cases and deaths be resumed, the wire service reported.
Cases are also spiking wildly in Russia: As of Wednesday, that country reported the world’s third-highest number of COVID-19 cases, at over 493,000, the Hopkins tally showed.
One country had good news to report on Monday: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she’s confident her country has halted the spread of the coronavirus after the last known infected person in the country recovered, the AP reported. It has been 18 days since the last new case was reported in New Zealand.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 7.2 million on Wednesday, with over 411,600 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
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