U.S. Coronavirus Cases Pass 700,000 as States Mull Re-Opening
SATURDAY, April 18, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. cases of coronavirus infection topped 701,000, with almost 33,000 dead from COVID-19 by Saturday -- even as some states debated an easing of stay-at-home restrictions.
Talk of potentially re-opening America came after President Donald Trump announced new federal guidelines on Thursday that governors could use.
The national plan laid out three phases that would slowly return life to a "new normal" that continues to use some of the most fundamental aspects of social distancing.
"We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time. And some states will be able to open up sooner than others. Some states are not in the kind of trouble that others are in," Trump said during a media briefing Thursday.
"America wants to be open and Americans want to be open," Trump added. "A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution. To preserve the health of our citizens, we must also preserve the health and functioning of our economy."
Re-opening the country has become a critical goal, as the ranks of unemployed Americans swelled to 22 million on Thursday.
Coronavirus cases and deaths in several of America's early hotspots continued to show signs of plateauing, while governors from those hard-hit states worked on their own regional pacts to help re-open those areas.
New York and six other Northeast states -- New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts and Rhode Island -- extended stay-at-home orders through at least May 15 while they work on those plans, CNN reported Thursday.
The governors of California, Oregon and Washington have also announced a similar regional pact, the Associated Press 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."
On Thursday, seven Midwestern states followed suit and announced a pact of their own, CNN reported.
States join regional pacts for re-opening
Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky will work together to re-open their regional economy, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced.
"We will make decisions based on facts, science and recommendations from experts in health care, business, labor and education," Whitmer said in a statement, CNN reported.
For his part, Trump continued to push for re-opening at least part of the U.S. economy in early May as he released the national re-opening guidelines.
The guidelines lay out three phases:
- Phase 1: All vulnerable individuals continue to stay at home. Physical distancing must be practiced in public places and non-essential travel must be minimized. If schools are closed, they should stay closed. Visiting senior living centers is still not allowed.
- Phase 2: Non-essential travel may resume. People should avoid public gatherings of 50 or more, unless physical distancing is possible. Visits to senior centers would still be prohibited, but schools and day care centers could re-open.
- Phase 3: This would be the country's "new normal." Physical distancing in public places is still recommended, but vulnerable individuals can resume public activities. Visits to senior centers can resume.
There is no set timeline for moving through each of the three phases, according to the AP. Governors will make that decision, but a state or region would have to experience another 14-day decline in cases before moving to the next phase, the wire service said.
Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, told the AP this week 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,'" Fauci told the wire service. "It's got to be effective and it's got to be safe."
Social distancing, face masks
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 2.2 million.
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 Washington Post reported.
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.
Economic rescue plan
A new federal program to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic has already run out of money. Funding for the Paycheck Protection Program was exhausted on Thursday, meaning that the Small Business Administration (SBA) has to stop approving applications, the Post reported. As of Wednesday evening, more than 1.4 million loans worth more than $315 billion had been approved, according to the SBA.
In some good news, millions of Americans have started to see promised tax rebates directly deposited into their bank accounts, though some folks have experienced problems getting the money, the Post reported.
The help comes not a moment too soon, as roughly 90% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders, the AP reported.
New York City remains the center of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, though the latest statistics show social distancing is working.
On Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo extended the state's shutdown to May 15, CBS News reported. The stay-at-home order had been set to expire at the end of April.
"What happens after then? I don't know," Cuomo said at his daily coronavirus briefing. "We will see depending on what the data shows."
Cuomo said social distancing orders have "controlled the beast" in New York, but the state is not yet in the clear. "We have to continue doing what we're doing," he said.
Testing is key
To further protect against the spread of COVID-19, Cuomo 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 laid out several situations where people should wear masks, including riding public transit, standing on a subway platform or walking in a busy neighborhood.
"[If] you're not going to be able to maintain social distancing, you must wear a mask or cloth or an attractive bandana or a color-coordinated bandana, but you have to wear it in those situations," Cuomo said.
People who violate the order could eventually face fines, but "you're not going to jail for not wearing a mask," Cuomo said.
Cuomo said large-scale testing, to find out who has COVID-19 and who has coronavirus antibodies, is the centerpiece of any re-opening plan, CBS News reported. The New York State Department of Health has already developed its own antibody test, Cuomo added. "We'll actually do those tests. We don't need a private lab," he said Wednesday.
This week, the state will begin conducting 2,000 finger-prick antibody tests per day. First responders, health care workers and essential workers will be prioritized, he said.
According to the Times tally, as of Saturday morning the top five states in coronavirus cases are: New York with nearly 230,000 cases; New Jersey with more than 78,000; Massachusetts with more than 34,000; Pennsylvania with more than 30,000; and Michigan with nearly 30,000.
California, with its 40 million residents, has dropped out of the top five, although it still has more than 29,000 cases. But there's been a consistent drop in COVID-19 patients receiving treatment in intensive care units, the Times reported.
Globally, the situation remains grim. In Europe, Spain reported 20,000 deaths by Saturday, despite signs the infection rate is slowing, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Deaths in Italy also remain high at nearly 23,000, although numbers have begun to level off there as well.
In Italy, 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 passed 2.2 million on Saturday, with more than 156,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.