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As Coronavirus Shows First Signs of Peaking, White House Looks to Ease Restrictions in May

By
HealthDay Reporters

FRIDAY, April 10, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- With the U.S. coronavirus death toll passing 16,600 on Friday, reports surfaced that the Trump administration is pushing to re-open much of the country in May.

According to the Washington Post, President Donald Trump has asked for a plan to resume business activity by May 1. This strategy concerns health experts, who fear a possible resurgence of coronavirus if life returns to normal before the virus is truly beaten, the newspaper said.

Right now, federal recommendations to avoid social gatherings and work from home expire at the end of April.

During a media briefing on Thursday, Trump said the United States was at the "top of the hill" and added, "Hopefully, we're going to be opening up -- you could call it opening very, very, very, very soon, I hope."

The White House cannot unilaterally reopen the country, however. Though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued national social distancing guidelines, state officials are the ones who enforce those guidelines. And state directives across the country have varied widely in timing and severity.

During the Thursday media briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, said some places might reopen sooner than others, and that places like hard-hit New York shouldn't loosen social distancing restrictions until there was a "very steep decline" in infections.

"It's not going to be one size fits all," he added.

Health experts said that ending the shutdown prematurely would be disastrous because the restrictions have hardly had time to work and the country does not yet have the mass testing, large-scale contact tracing and targeted quarantines that have been used in other countries to suppress the virus, the Post reported.

Economy is tanking

Still, Trump plans to announce the creation of a second, smaller coronavirus task force this week that will be 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: On Thursday, Americans faced more bleak news on unemployment numbers.

U.S. Labor Department statistics released Thursday morning showed that 6.6 million more workers joined the jobless rolls in the past week, the Associated Press 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.

In an effort to make returning to the workplace easier after being exposed to coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday issued new, more relaxed guidance on when exposed employees can return to work.

They must take their temperature before heading to their workplaces, wear a face mask at all times and practice social distancing while on the job, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said during a coronavirus task force briefing on Wednesday.

They should not share headsets or other objects that touch their faces, and they should not gather in break rooms or crowded areas, he added.

The goal is to "get these workers back into the critical work force so that we don't have worker shortages," Redfield explained.

Blacks at high risk

Meanwhile, a new analysis found that COVID-19 is infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate. A Post review of early data from across the country shows that counties that are mostly black have three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are in the majority.

Trump acknowledged the racial disparity during a coronavirus task force briefing Tuesday.

"We are doing everything in our power to address this challenge, and it's a tremendous challenge," Trump said. "It's terrible."

"Why is it three or four times more so for the black community as opposed to other people?" Trump said. "It doesn't make sense, and I don't like it, and we are going to have statistics over the next probably two to three days."

But coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx issued stark advice about this week to all Americans last Sunday: "This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe," she stressed.

That warning came as many Americans prepare to celebrate religious holidays that mark the onset of spring. Passover began Wednesday night, and Easter is this Sunday.

Face coverings in public

Even if Americans do leave their homes this week, new 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 1.6 million.

Meanwhile, the death toll in the United States topped 16,690 on Friday and it continued to outpace other nations with more than 463,600 confirmed infections, a Johns Hopkins tally shows.

New York remains the hardest hit area of the country. More than 7,000 people have died in New York as of Friday. But other measures of the pandemic have been slowing.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that hospitalizations and intensive-care admissions in the state have fallen, suggesting progress. But he stressed that he did not know when New Yorkers would be able to begin a return to normal life, the Post reported.

"We're not going to go from red to green; we're going to go from red to yellow," Cuomo said.

New hospitalizations are the lowest they've been since the coronavirus crisis hit New York, the AP reported. The number of 911 calls has fallen, and there are ventilators in supply, the wire service said.

"Today we can say that we have lost many of our brothers and sisters, but we haven't lost anyone because they couldn't get the right and best health care that they could," Cuomo said Thursday.

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 struggle to process millions of aid applications from small businesses and the newly jobless, the Post reported.

The legislation should 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 New York 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.

Cases are spiking elsewhere, particularly in the South: Louisiana, Florida and Georgia are facing alarming increases, with nearly 46,000 cases and 1,484 deaths reported in those three states alone, the Times reported Friday.

Some health officials are warning that parts of Michigan, Colorado and Illinois could be the next epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic, CNN reported. By Friday, Michigan had 21,375 cases and 1,076 deaths, the Times reported.

As different nations wonder what is in store for their citizens in the coming months, one glimmer of hope has emerged:

All restrictions in the Chinese city of Wuhan -- the first to go into lockdown back in January -- were lifted this week as the city's 11 million residents returned to their jobs and schools.

The good news in China stood in sharp relief to what is unfolding in Europe.

Global crisis

On Friday, Spain reported nearly 16,000 deaths, despite signs the infection rate is slowing, a Johns Hopkins tally showed. Meanwhile, Italy recorded more than18,300 deaths, the worst of any country, though new infections continued to level off.

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.

In the United Kingdom, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved out of intensive care after being taken to St. Thomas' hospital over the weekend for persistent COVID-19 symptoms. He is not on a ventilator and is in good spirits, the AP reported.

In the meantime, the public lives of Americans have come to a halt, as the coronavirus pandemic has prompted officials across the country to close, cancel or postpone any event or activity that might foster the spread of COVID-19.

New York, New Jersey and California have been hard hit by coronavirus cases in the United States. New York has nearly 160,000 cases, New Jersey has 51,027 and California's case count is just over 20,000, according to the Times.

However, California recorded its first drop in COVID-19 patients receiving treatment in intensive care units, the Times reported.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday he was encouraged by the drop, but isn't drawing any hard conclusions from one day of data.

"One data point is not a trend," Mr. Newsom warned. "One data point is not a headline, so I caution anybody to read too much into that one point of data, but nonetheless it is encouraging."

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 1.6 million on Friday, with nearly 97,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, April 3, 2020; March 31, 2020, media briefing with President Donald Trump; April 8, 2020, media briefing with N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo; CNN; Associated Press; The New York Times; Washington Post; NBC News; CBS News

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