U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Near 30,000 as Plans for Re-opening Take Shape

News Picture: U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Near 30,000 as Plans for Re-opening Take ShapeBy Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporters

WEDNESDAY, April 15, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- As the U.S. coronavirus death toll climbed to 30,000 on Wednesday, state and federal officials hammered out the details of plans for re-opening some parts of the country in May.

Amid those efforts, President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced the United States will halt payments to the World Health Organization pending a review of its handling of the first coronavirus outbreak in China, the Associated Press reported.

"The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable," Trump said during a Tuesday media briefing.

When asked about possible U.S. funding cuts during a regular U.N. briefing earlier Tuesday, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris responded, "Regardless of any issues, our work will go on," the AP reported.

And U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres responded to Trump's announcement by saying now is not the time to end support for the WHO, which is "absolutely critical" to the global effort to combat COVID-19.

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases and deaths in several of America's early hotspots continued to show signs of plateauing on Wednesday, as governors from those hard-hit states worked on 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 AP 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 Monday.

Federal, state officials work on re-opening plans

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 California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday announced a series of steps, including extensive testing, that are needed to help the nation's most populous state "transition from surge to suppression," the AP reported.

But, "let's not make the mistake of pulling the plug too early, as much as we all want to," Newsom warned.

But for his part, Trump continued to push for re-opening the U.S. economy in May. A team of officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Administration is crafting a national plan to get Americans back to work, the Washington Post reported.

The plan lays out three phases: a national communication campaign and community readiness assessment until May 1. After that, there would be a ramping up of manufacturing testing kits and personal protective equipment, and increasing emergency funding. Then, staged re-openings would begin, the Post reported.

The first priority, according to a CDC response document obtained by the newspaper, is to "re-open community settings where children are cared for, including K-12 schools, daycares, and locally attended summer camps, to allow the workforce to return to work. The document also says that during phased re-openings, recommendations on hand-washing and wearing face coverings in group settings must be strictly followed, the Post reported.

The plan also calls for the CDC to establish a COVID-19 Response Corps to help state and local health departments with key public health functions, including contact tracing, which involves locating people who may have had contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.

'Rolling re-entry' envisioned

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, told the AP on Tuesday that the United States doesn't yet have the testing and tracing procedures needed to begin re-opening the economy.

"We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on, and we're not there yet," Fauci warned.

Any relaxation of social-distancing would have to occur on a "rolling" basis, not all at once, he said, adding that a vaccine might be possible by mid- to late winter, the AP reported.

"Please, let me say this caveat: That is assuming that [a vaccine is] effective. See, that's the big 'if,'" he told the wire service. "It's got to be effective and it's got to be safe."

There were nearly 607,000 cases of coronavirus infection and almost 30,000 confirmed deaths in the United States as of Wednesday morning, The New York Times reported.

Remdesivir shows promise

One glimmer of hope emerged for a treatment that might save lives. 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 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.

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 announced the creation of a second, smaller coronavirus task force aimed at countering the economic fallout from the virus, the Post reported.

The economy is in sore need of stimulation: Last week, 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.

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 more than 606,000 confirmed infections on Wednesday, 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 City, the center of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, sharply increased its death toll by more than 3,700 on Tuesday, after officials said they were now including people who had never tested positive for the virus but were presumed to have died because of it, the Times reported.

The new figures drove the total death toll up over 10,000, the Times reported. Far more people have died in New York City on a per-capita basis than in Italy, the European country with the most deaths.

Still, Cuomo said Tuesday that hospitalizations and the number of new patients put on ventilators were continuing to drop, evidence that social distancing is working, the AP reported.

At the same time, "We could lose all the progress we made in one week if we do it wrong," Cuomo added.

Cases are spiking elsewhere, particularly in the South: Louisiana, Florida and Georgia are facing alarming increases, with more than 57,000 cases and 6,660 deaths reported in those three states alone, the Times reported Wednesday.

According to the Times tally, as of Wednesday morning the top five states in coronavirus cases are: New York with more than 202,000 cases; New Jersey with nearly 69,000; Massachusetts with just over 28,000; Michigan with nearly 27,000; and California with more than 24,000.

But California has recorded a drop in COVID-19 patients receiving treatment in intensive care units, while Washington state has also seen a leveling of cases, the Times reported.

Global crisis

Globally, the situation remains grim. In Europe, Spain reported more than 18,000 deaths by Wednesday, despite signs the infection rate is slowing, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Deaths in Italy also remain high at more than 21,000, although numbers have begun to level off there as well.

In Italy, which reported the smallest number of new infections in a month on Tuesday, bookstores, stationery stores and shops selling baby supplies were allowed to open in many places, the AP reported. Forestry workers, needed to clear dead trees ahead of the summer fire season, also went back. In Spain, workers returned to some factory and construction jobs this week, while stores and offices remained closed.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections neared 2 million on Wednesday, with more than 127,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.

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References
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