THURSDAY, May 7, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. coronavirus cases surged past 1.2 million and the death toll topped 73,000 on Wednesday. But President Donald Trump also said Wednesday that he would renew efforts to end the Affordable Care Act, which many credit with opening access to health care amid the COVID-19 crisis.
"We want to terminate health care under Obamacare," Trump told reporters. The government health insurance program was designed to expand coverage to include all Americans.
Meanwhile, another 3.2 million jobless claims were filed last week, bringing the total unemployed since the nation's economy was shuttered to an historic 33 million.
On Wednesday, Trump also did an about face and said the White House coronavirus task force would continue its work "indefinitely," the Washington Post reported. A day earlier, Vice President Mike Pence said the task force could be disbanded by June 1.
Trump's statement came a day after an internal report from his administration predicted that reopening will come at a cost: 200,000 new coronavirus cases and 3,000 deaths every day by the end of May.
Those projections, based on data collected by various government agencies, far exceed current levels of 30,000 new cases and 1,750 deaths a day, The New York Times reported.
Troubling predictions came from more than one source on Monday: A forecasting model from University of Washington researchers also raised its projections to more than 134,000 American deaths from COVID-19 by early August, the Times reported.
That's a doubling from the 60,000 total deaths that was previously predicted, an increase that the researchers said partly reflects "changes in mobility and social distancing policies," the Times reported.
All of the numbers illustrate a grim fact: Even though the country has essentially been in lockdown for the past seven weeks, the coronavirus prognosis hasn't really changed.
Still, at least 27 states have loosened at least some social distancing restrictions, a new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis shows. But only 20 of those states meet the reopening criteria set by the Trump administration.
More testing needed
Even as reopening plans proceed, a new poll shows that Americans oppose the reopening of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses.
A Post-University of Maryland survey, released Tuesday, found that many Americans have been making trips to grocery stores and 56 percent say they are comfortable doing so. But 67 percent say they would be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store, and 78 percent would be uncomfortable eating at a sit-down restaurant. People in states with more relaxed restrictions report equal levels of discomfort as those in states with tougher restrictions, the Post reported.
Meanwhile, a new analysis finds inadequate levels of testing for the coronavirus in 60% of states, many of which are reopening after weeks of lockdown.
The analysis, conducted by the Associated Press, uses a 2% testing rate per month -- a rate advised by federal officials that many public health experts still feel falls short.
In a recent White House briefing, officials said each state would receive enough testing materials to test 2.6% of their populations in both May and June. Representatives of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also offered another number -- 2% -- without explaining the reason for the discrepancy between the two rates.
But according to the AP analysis, right now just 40% of states can even meet the lower 2% threshold for testing. The news agency's analysis is based on data on the average number of new daily tests conducted over the past seven days in a particular state.
Many states that are either already reopening businesses or plan to soon -- Colorado, Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Georgia -- have not met the 2% testing threshold, the AP analysis found.
There has been one note of good news: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved emergency use of the first drug that seems to boost recovery among COVID-19 patients.
Promise of remdesivir, vaccine by January
Remdesivir, Gilead Sciences' intravenous antiviral medication, is to be used for hospitalized patients with "severe disease," such as those who need supplemental oxygen or ventilators to breathe, the AP reported.
"This was lightning speed in terms of getting something approved," FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said during a media briefing Friday, calling the drug "an important clinical advance."
The agency based its decision on the results of a government study that showed remdesivir shortened the time to recovery by 31% for COVID-19 patients in the hospital, the AP reported.
The search for a vaccine also got some welcome news. The White House has announced an initiative that hopes to produce a COVID-19 vaccine that could be available nationwide by January.
President Donald Trump has said it is not too optimistic to try to produce roughly 300 million doses of vaccine in eight months, enough for all Americans, the Washington Post reported.
Even the shorter timeline still means there would be no full protection from the new coronavirus until after most Americans are likely to have returned to work or school.
Dubbed "Operation Warp Speed," the goal is to produce hundreds of millions of doses by January, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, said Thursday.
"We want to go quickly, but we want to make sure it's safe and it's effective," he said on the "Today" show. "I think that is doable if things fall in the right place."
To reopen or not to reopen
Meanwhile, social distancing orders remain a patchwork across the United States. Governors in hard-hit New York and Michigan are keeping stay-at-home orders in place until at least mid-May, while many of their counterparts have already allowed certain businesses to reopen, the AP reported.
In preparation for a reopening in the coming weeks, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced the state will implement the "most aggressive" antibody testing program in the country, CBS News reported.
He has also issued an executive order stating all New Yorkers must have a mask or mouth and nose covering when they are not maintaining social distancing in public, CBS News reported.
Cuomo said Monday that New York must learn the lessons of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic even as it continues to fight it, CBS News reported.
Among those lessons: Acknowledge what you don't know.
"Acknowledge and actualize that the truth is that nobody knows what happens next and when it happens," Cuomo said. "So if you don't know, say you don't know."
"When you know what you don't know and admit it, it will actually keep you safe," Cuomo said. "And that's where we are. We don't know, but we will be prepared for all possibilities."
According to a Times tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Thursday are: New York with over 329,400 cases; New Jersey with nearly 132,000; Massachusetts with more than 72,000; Illinois with more than 68,000; and California with nearly 61,000.
Nations grapple with pandemic
In Asia, where the coronavirus first struck, several countries are finally returning to a new normal.
China, where the coronavirus first emerged late last year, has declared its risk level is now low. China's National Health Administration reported just two new cases on Thursday, both from overseas, and said there have been no new COVID-19 deaths in more than three weeks, the AP reported.
On Wednesday, South Korea ended its stringent social distancing policies after halting the spread of coronavirus. But things will still be far from normal: As stadiums, museums and libraries began to reopen, thermal scanners will be used at theme parks, masks will be worn while shopping, and there will be constant tracking of people's whereabouts through apps and credit card data, NBC News reported.
Elsewhere the situation remains challenging. On Thursday, the United Kingdom's coronavirus death count reached 30,076, the second-highest in the world, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Britain has now surpassed Italy, Spain and France for COVID-19 deaths in Europe.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would be a "disaster" if the country reopened too soon and set off a second wave of infections, the AP reported. Britain's lockdown was first imposed March 23 and is expected to remain in place until Sunday, when Johnson himself a COVID-19 survivor is expected to outline "phase two" of the outbreak response, the wire service reported.
Spain reported almost 26,000 COVID-19 deaths by Thursday, despite signs the infection rate is slowing there, the Hopkins tally showed. While deaths in Italy remain high, at nearly 30,000, the numbers have leveled off there as well. Both countries are cautiously reopening their economies.
Brazil looks like it could become the next hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic. By Thursday, the South American country had reported 8,588 deaths and more than 126,600 confirmed infections, according to the Hopkins tally. But the true numbers are believed to be vastly higher.
Russia was also struggling to contain the spread of coronavirus, as the case count in that country passed 177,000 on Thursday, the Hopkins tally showed. Moscow remains the most virus-stricken part of the country, with 92,676 cases but there are growing concerns that infections could surge in more remote regions with weaker health systems, the Post reported.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 3.7 million on Thursday, with more than 264,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.