WEDNESDAY, June 17, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- After reopening, states such as Arizona, Florida and Texas are all seeing record-high one-day increases in new coronavirus cases.
According to The New York Times, on Tuesday, Florida reported 2,783 new cases, Texas 2,622 and Arizona 2,392. The trio of Sun Belt states are among 20 that have seen upticks in cases over the past two weeks.
Why numbers are rising has become a point of argument between politicians and scientists: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said in a news conference that the rise in cases in his state is largely due to more widespread testing. But epidemiologists have suggested that increased transmission, due to businesses such as restaurants and bars reopening, is the true cause.
Backing up their claim, epidemiologists point to a concurrent rise in many states of increased coronavirus hospitalizations, as well as a rise in the percentage of positive results from tests.
In the meantime, concerns are mounting over hospital bed capacity in states seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases. According to the Times, Texas Governor Greg Abbott believes his state's hospitals still have lots of capacity, even with 2,519 people hospitalized with the illness.
In New York, the former epicenter of the U.S. pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday warned that a return to lockdown for his state was possible.
"If we have a high number of violations of the [reopening] policy, which is tantamount to a high likelihood of the spread of the virus, and the local governments are not monitoring policing, doing the compliance, yes, there is a very real possibility that we would roll back the reopening in those areas. The only alternative would be to pause the entire reopening," Cuomo said at a news conference, CNN reported.
By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count had passed 2.1 million as the death toll neared 117,000.
New hope from an old drug
There was some good news on Tuesday, however. Researchers at Oxford University in England announced that dexamethasone, a widely used, low-cost steroid, appears to cut the death rate for ventilated COVID-19 patients by one-third. It also lowered the death rate for patients who require oxygen (but are not yet on a ventilator) by one-fifth, the Times reported.
"Bottom line is, good news," Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Associated Press. "This is a significant improvement in the available therapeutic options that we have."
Better treatments are sorely needed. With U.S. coronavirus cases now past 2 million, a new report finds that COVID-19 is much more lethal for Americans with underlying health issues -- illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes or lung ailments.
In fact, "deaths were 12 times higher among patients with reported underlying conditions," compared to healthy individuals, according to an analysis of more than 1.3 million cases of COVID-19 reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by May 30.
People with chronic health issues were also six times more likely to require hospital care if they got COVID-19 compared to people without such conditions, said a team led by Erin Stokes of the CDC's COVID-19 Emergency Response Team.
Age, gender and race all seemed to matter, too. Although the average age of COVID-19 patients was 48, the odds for intensive care unit admissions and death rose with age, and deaths were most common for people 80 years of age or older "regardless of the presence of underlying conditions," the CDC team said.
As seen in other studies, men were more prone to severe, life-threatening illness than women. And the illness hits minorities hardest: Even though blacks and Hispanics make up 13% and 18% of the U.S. population, they comprised 22% and 33% of COVID-19 cases, respectively, the report found.
On Thursday, another weekly batch of new jobless claims suggested that the damage the pandemic has wrought on the U.S. economy may be slowing. Roughly 1.5 million people filed for state unemployment insurance. That's a continued decline from the 6 million claims seen in a single week in March, the Times reported. More than 40 million claims have been filed since the coronavirus pandemic began.
"We're slowly seeing the labor market recovery begin to take form," said Robert Rosener, an economist at Morgan Stanley, but "there's still an enormous amount of layoffs going on."
In other news, the U.S. government's supply of remdesivir, a drug known to shorten the course of COVID-19, will run out at the end of the month, Dr. Robert Kadlec, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 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.
"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 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. On Thursday, Moderna said a large clinical trial of its vaccine candidate could begin in July.
According to a Times tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Wednesday are: New York with over 389,000; New Jersey with over 167,000; California with more than 159,000; Illinois with nearly 135,000; and Massachusetts with nearly 106,000.
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. As of Wednesday, India has more than 354,000 cases, a Johns Hopkins tally shows.
Brazil has also become a hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic, with over 923,000 confirmed infections by Wednesday, according to the Hopkins tally. U.S. President Donald 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.
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 552,500, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections neared 8.2 million on Wednesday, with more than 444,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.