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States Hit Hard by Coronavirus Join Forces on Future Easing of Social Distancing

By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporters

TUESDAY, April 14, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Coronavirus cases and deaths in several of America’s early hotspots showed signs of plateauing on Tuesday, and governors from those states announced regional pacts to help re-open those areas when social distancing orders can be relaxed.

The governors from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts and Rhode Island said Monday they would begin to draw up a plan for when to reopen businesses and schools, the Associated Press reported.

“If you do it wrong, it can backfire, and we’ve seen that with other places in the globe,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “What the art form is going to be here is doing that smartly and doing that in a coordinated way.”

Later on Monday, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington announced a similar pact, the AP reported.

“This pact is about what do we do after we reduce some of our social distancing stay home initiatives,” said Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee. “It’s more of the issue of how are we going to have consistent-as-we-can testing and contact tracing initiatives. In order for any of these three states to be successful, we simply have to have increased products available with which to do this testing. This is absolutely critical.”

In the meantime, President Donald Trump insisted during a Monday media briefing that the federal government has the final say on social distancing guidelines. He continued to push for re-opening the U.S. economy in early May.

But White House aides are cautioning the president about easing national social distancing guidelines too quickly. Debate continues on the best way to reopen certain sections of the country at the end of April, NBC News reported.

Right now, those guidelines are set to expire April 30.

“I think we are all expecting or planning for May 1,” a senior administration official told NBC News, though any major, new outbreaks could change the final determination.

‘Rolling re-entry’ envisioned

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Sunday that the economy in parts of the country could have a “rolling re-entry” as early as next month if health officials can quickly identify and isolate people who will inevitably be infected, the AP reported.

Once the number of people who are seriously ill sharply declines, officials can begin to “think about a gradual reentry of some sort of normality, some rolling re-entry,” Fauci said.

In some places, he said, that might occur as soon as May. “We are hoping that, at the end of the month, we could look around and say, OK, is there any element here that we can safely and cautiously start pulling back on? If so, do it. If not, then just continue to hunker down,” Fauci said Sunday.

Whenever restrictions ease, Fauci said, “we know that there will be people who will be getting infected. I mean, that is just reality.”

There were almost 581,000 cases of coronavirus infection and 23,607 confirmed deaths in the United States as of Tuesday morning, The New York Times reported.

Remdesivir shows promise

One glimmer of hope emerged for a treatment that might save lives. On Friday, the New England Journal of Medicine published a small study involving the “compassionate use” of the antiviral remdesivir. The medicine has been viewed by global health experts as the best early shot for treating the disease, the Washington Post reported.

More than two-thirds of 53 severely ill patients showed improvement in oxygen support, the researchers said. Seventeen of 30 patients who were on ventilators were able to be taken off the life-support machines, the study showed.

“We cannot draw definitive conclusions from these data, but the observations from this group of hospitalized patients who received remdesivir are hopeful,” study author Dr. Jonathan Grein, hospital epidemiology director at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told the Post.

While 68% of the patients showed improvement in the level of oxygen support they needed, 13% of those in the study died, but that is lower than the mortality rates of 17% to 78% in China among severely ill patients, the authors wrote.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, called the results “encouraging,” while cautioning that they needed to be kept in perspective, the Post reported.

Social distancing, face masks

As the economy continues to implode, Trump said he plans to announce the creation of a second, smaller coronavirus task force this week aimed at countering the economic fallout from the virus, people familiar with the plans told the Post.

The economy is in sore need of stimulation: Last Thursday, Americans faced more bleak news on unemployment numbers.

U.S. Labor Department statistics released last Thursday showed that 6.6 million more workers joined the jobless rolls in the past week, the AP reported. That comes on top of 10 million jobless claims that were filed in the previous two weeks.

It’s as if “the economy as a whole has fallen into some sudden black hole,” Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics, told the wire service.

When Americans do leave their homes, federal guidance now urges everyone to wear face coverings in public to curb the spread of COVID-19.

These face coverings can be non-medical masks, T-shirts or bandanas and they can be used while out at everyday shopping spots such as the grocery store, pharmacy or gas station, the AP reported. Medical-grade masks would be reserved for those dealing directly with the sick.

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Any additional COVID-19 prevention measures are welcome, as the number of coronavirus cases worldwide passed 1.9 million.

Meanwhile, the United States continued to outpace other nations with nearly 581,000 confirmed infections on Tuesday, the Times reported.

Economic help slow in coming

As the U.S. economy continues to falter, Americans have struggled to find out if they can receive benefits from a $2 trillion stimulus package that was passed into law in March. The financial relief is just starting to be felt as state and federal agencies process millions of aid applications from small businesses and the newly jobless, the Post reported.

More than 80 million Americans will have tax rebates directly deposited into their bank accounts by Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during a coronavirus task force briefing on Monday.

The legislation is set to send $1,200 to millions of Americans, including those earning up to $75,000, along with $500 per child. It will also give an additional 13 weeks in unemployment aid and a four-month enhancement of jobless benefits, the Times reported.

Hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic will also get $100 billion, the Times reported.

The help comes not a moment too soon, as roughly 90% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders, the AP reported.

Signs of hope

New York saw a few positive signs Monday, the AP reported. It marked the first time in a week that the daily death toll dipped below 700. Almost 2,000 people were newly hospitalized with the virus on Sunday, though once discharges and deaths are accounted for, the number of people hospitalized has flattened to just under 19,000, the wire service said.

Although the numbers are leveling off, the situation could worsen if New Yorkers ignored social distancing measures, Cuomo said during his daily media briefing in Albany on Monday.

“I believe the worst is over if we continue to be smart,” he said. “I believe we can start on the path to normalcy.”

About half of the more than 23,000 deaths reported across the country are in the New York metropolitan area.

Cases are spiking elsewhere, particularly in the South: Louisiana, Florida and Georgia are facing alarming increases, with more than 55,000 cases and at 1,861 deaths reported in those three states alone, the Times reported Tuesday.

According to the Times tally, as of Tuesday morning the top five states in coronavirus cases are: New York with more than 195,000 cases; New Jersey with 64,584; Massachusetts and Michigan with about 26,000 each; and California with more than 24,000.

Last week, California recorded its first drop in COVID-19 patients receiving treatment in intensive care units last week, the Times reported. Washington state has also seen a leveling of cases.

Global crisis

Globally, the situation remains grim. In Europe, Spain reported more than 18,000 deaths by Tuesday, despite signs the infection rate is slowing, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Deaths in Italy also remain high at 20,465, although numbers have begun to level off there as well. After a fall in daily death tolls, both countries began easing lockdown measures on Monday, NBC News reported.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared a state of emergency in seven prefectures that include the country’s largest population centers as cases there are on the rise, the Times reported. Abe also announced an economic stimulus package worth nearly $1 trillion.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections neared 2 million on Tuesday, with more than 120,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.

Copyright © 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.


SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, April 3, 2020; April 9, 2020, media briefing with President Donald Trump; April 9, 2020, media briefing with N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo; CNN; Associated Press; The New York Times; Washington Post

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