UNITED STATES—September 18, 2020—Life as we know it is changing across the U.S. due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13. Coronavirus continues to spread in the United States, and shelter-in-place orders, which have been either mandatory across the country as officials tried to slow the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, are now being lifted. Businesses are suffering as social distancing and shelter-in-place orders keep services to an absolute minimum. Read below for regular coronavirus updates.


September 18, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Pandemic Complicates Wildfire Response

Firefighters face dual risks

Firefighters battling record-breaking wildfires across the West are facing increased risk of coronavirus exposure as the pandemic complicates an already historic fire season. The New York Times reports that officials had hoped to rely on local crews to rapidly contain fires this year, limiting the need for large deployments, but with more than 3.4 million acres burned in California alone, there was no choice but to mobilize a massive response. More than 20,000 firefighters are working across the West Coast, many flown in from other regions. Thousands of firefighters cluster in camps where social distancing is difficult and poor air quality increases respiratory secretions. Fatigue and respiratory damage from smoke inhalation could also make firefighters more susceptible to COVID-19.

The camps have increased sanitation, implemented health screenings, and limited interaction between individual teams, but the risk of infection remains. A fire management team in Washington had to stop work and was placed in isolation Thursday while officials conducted contact tracing after a resupply crew member tested positive for COVID-19, according to The New York Times. One team member remained in isolation Friday as the rest of the team returned to work with more restrictions. With the economic fallout of the pandemic limiting resources as the West Coast fires burn at an astonishing rate, firefighters continue to face an unprecedented combination of risks.


September 16, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Potential Treatment Shows Promising Results

Antibody treatments

Drug maker Eli Lily announced preliminary results from an ongoing clinical trial showed that an infusion of an experimental drug in newly infected patients reduced their viral load and lowered their risk of hospitalization, according to The New York Times. The drug is a monoclonal antibody, which is made by manufacturing copies of antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients. Newly infected patients are then given the antibody copies to help fight off the virus before it becomes severe.

In the clinical trial so far, more than 450 patients received either the antibodies or a placebo, and the preliminary results showed a 72% reduction in risk of hospitalization, according to Eli Lily. Just 1.7% of the test group were hospitalized compared with 6% of the control group. The test group also reported fewer symptoms and saw a significant drop in the levels of coronavirus in their systems, which could also make them less infectious to others, according to The New York Times.

Though promising, these preliminary results have not yet been vetted, and experts caution that the full trial results are needed and a large-scale trial will be necessary before the treatment could be approved. The New York Times reports that monoclonal antibodies are also difficult and expensive to manufacture due to the time it takes to replicate enough antibodies for each dose. Still, the only other COVID-19 treatments proven effective so far (the antiviral remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone) are only helpful to patients hospitalized with severe disease. If the trial results bear out, monoclonal antibodies could be the first treatment available to help those with mild to moderate COVID-19, which accounts for more than 80% of all patients.


September 14, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Senate Stimulus Bill Fails, Study Shows COVID-19 is Life-Threatening to All Ages

Stimulus

Last week, the Republicans’ scaled-back stimulus plan failed in the Senate, casting doubt on the possibility that Congress will be able to reach an agreement and enact another stimulus package before Election Day, according to The New York Times. The vote fell largely along party lines, with Democrats refusing to advance the legislation because they feel it is too stripped down and doesn’t do enough to create real economic relief. The bill did include funding for testing and vaccine research, as well as $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits (half the original amount), but it did not include stimulus checks or aid for state and local governments that have been financially gutted by the recession.

Younger fatalities

A new study published last week in JAMA takes a closer look at the impact of the virus among young people. The study found that although young people are generally considered less at risk for severe disease, COVID-19 can be deadly for all ages, according to The New York Times. Looking at 3,222 hospitalized young adults, the study from Harvard found that about 2.7% (88 patients) died while 10% required a ventilator and 20% needed intensive care. About 3% of the patients who survived the virus required ongoing care at a rehabilitation center even after the immediate infection had passed. Men had higher hospitalization and fatality rates than women, and extreme obesity and hypertension were also correlated with a greater risk of ventilation and death.

The researchers point out that the percentage of infected young people that require hospitalization is low, but young adults should still exercise caution, wear masks, and follow social distancing guidelines, according to The New York Times. Among those hospitalized, the risk of death or lasting difficulties is significant, and there is still much we do not know about the long-term effects of COVID-19 among recovered adults.


September 10, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Major Vaccine Candidate Pauses Trial

AstraZeneca vaccine

AstraZeneca, a frontrunner in the race to find an effective COVID-19 vaccine, has paused its late-stage global trials for a safety review, according to The New York Times. The trial was paused after a possible serious adverse reaction was reported in one of the participants. An independent safety review board will investigate the reaction further to determine whether it is coincidental or was directly caused by the vaccine. The company stated they are expediting the review process but are committed to the highest standards of safety for participants in the trial.

Health experts say there is no cause to worry yet as vaccine trials are often paused to investigate possible reactions. In fact, this demonstrates the scientific review process is working as it should: The purpose of the trial is to test the vaccine’s safety, and when there is any questionable reaction, the trial is paused for review, protecting participants while scientists determine whether the vaccine is indeed safe. The New York Times reports that large-scale trials are important to vaccine development because there may be a rare but serious complication that could only be discovered by giving the vaccine to thousands of volunteers. AstraZeneca was in the process of enrolling 30,000 participants at 80 sites, but no further participants will receive the vaccine until the safety review is complete.


September 8, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Senate Republicans Introduce Smaller Stimulus Bill, Drug Companies Unite for Vaccine Safety

Republican stimulus

Senate Republicans announced plans to advance a scaled-back stimulus bill in the coming days which is expected to total $500 billion to $700 billion, according to The New York Times. This price tag is a sharp contrast to the Democrats’ sweeping $3.4 trillion bill that was passed in the House in May. The Republican’s plan is expected to include federal unemployment payments of $300 per week (half the original amount), and $105 billion earmarked for schools, COVID-19 testing, and the Postal Service. The New York Times reports that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized the Republicans’ plan, claiming it merely offers the appearance of aid without substantially addressing the economic challenges Americans currently face.

Vaccine pledge

Nine drug companies have united in a pledge to thoroughly test and vet any possible COVID-19 vaccine for safety and efficacy before bringing it to market, according to The New York Times. Though the statement did not specifically mention President Trump, it follows recent comments by Trump suggesting that a vaccine could be ready by Election Day. These comments prompted concern among officials that the Trump administration could pressure the FDA to rush approval of a vaccine before it has been fully vetted, according to CNN.

Whether that is President Trump’s intention or not, these nine companies—normally in competition with each other to reach the finish line first—have assured the public that they intend to fully follow the rigorous testing process and that only the results of “large, high-quality clinical trials” would be the deciding factor in approving a vaccine for distribution, according to The New York Times. The statement did not rule out seeking emergency approval for limited use (likely offered to front-line health workers) but promised to follow all guidance from regulatory agencies.

The New York Times reports that Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, three of the companies that signed the pledge, currently have vaccines in large-scale trials in the U.S. Pfizer has said it may have a vaccine ready for emergency approval in October, but the other two companies say their vaccines will likely not be ready until the end of the year.


September 4, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Experts Warn of Labor Day Surge, Unemployment Falls to 8.4%

End of summer

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, the U.S. averaged 22,000 COVID-19 cases per day, according to The New York Times. As states rolled back more and more restrictions, many Americans gathered and celebrated despite the warnings of health experts, and there was a predictable surge in cases. At the beginning of the summer, there was hope that the virus would slow in warm weather, that things would return to normal, and that students would head back to school as usual in the fall. Instead, the surge in cases continued through the summer, peaking in July at about 66,000 per day, according to The New York Times. Cases are now trending down, but summer did not bring the hoped-for relief, and schools were forced to grapple with tough decisions about what this school year might look like.

Now, headed into another holiday weekend at the start of fall, The New York Times reports the U.S. is averaging about 40,000 new cases per day—nearly double the rate prior to Memorial Day. Health experts are concerned that another surge could follow Labor Day gatherings and events like state fairs, but this surge would hit just as cold and flu season is commencing and colder weather is forcing people to spend more time indoors, where the likelihood of transmission for all illness is higher. One difference from the spring is that rather than expansive reopening, states have begun reinstating some restrictions, such as closing bars and requiring masks in public.

New jobs

The U.S. added 1.4 million jobs in August, bringing the unemployment rate down to 8.4%—a little more than half of what it was in April at 14.7%, according to The New York Times. Employers are continuing to bring back furloughed workers, but the pace of hiring has slowed throughout the summer and there are still more than 11 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic. Additionally, some of the hiring surge in August was due to the 240,000 workers hired for the 2020 census, but these jobs are temporary and those workers will be laid off again later this month at the close of census canvassing. As millions of unemployed workers and struggling business owners wait for Congress to come to an agreement on a new stimulus package, it is clear we still have a long way to go to recovery.


September 2, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: New Study Confirms Steroids as Treatment for Severe COVID-19

Steroids save lives

In June, researchers at Oxford University announced their discovery that the steroid dexamethasone appeared to improve survival rates in patients critically ill with COVID-19, but extensive study of steroids as a treatment has been lacking. This week, an international clinical trial has confirmed that steroids can reduce the fatality rate of COVID-19 for seriously ill patients, according to The New York Times. The Journal of the American Medical American Medical Association (JAMA) published five papers on the treatment, including an analysis of data from seven randomized clinical trials that tested three different corticosteroids and found they all reduce the risk of death. An editorial published by JAMA concludes that corticosteroids should be the first line of treatment and the standard of care for patients critically ill with COVID-19. This is the first treatment shown to reduce fatality in COVID-19 patients, according to The New York Times.

Many severely ill patients actually die from the body’s overwhelming immune response to the virus, and this is why steroids are effective. Corticosteroids work by suppressing the body’s immune response, which alleviates inflammation. The New York Times reports dexamethasone and hydrocortisone, both inexpensive and widely available, were shown to reduce deaths by at least 30% in critically ill patients.

Though these results are encouraging, the World Health Organization warns against indiscriminate use of steroids, according to The New York Times. The studies only tested the drugs in the most severely ill patients, and the optimal dose and duration of treatment are still under review. The W.H.O. cautions that those with mild or moderate COVID-19—where the immune system is not overreacting to cause severe illness­—will likely not benefit from steroids and may suffer side effects. These side effects can be especially harmful in elderly patients and include confusion, delirium, increased blood glucose, and vulnerability to other infections due to suppressed immune response. Additionally, using the drugs in cases where they are unlikely to be effective will diminish the supply available for critically ill patients.


August 31, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Cases Pass 6M, Colleges Seed Outbreaks

6 million

The United States has now officially reported more than 6 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began spreading across the country in early spring, according to The New York Times. More than 183,000 people have died. New daily cases peaked in late July and have been declining in much of the country, but cases in the Midwest are rising, often fastest in college towns where students have returned to campus in recent weeks. Global cases have passed 25 million.

College outbreaks

Over the past week, the daily case average for the U.S. was just over 41,000, a decline of 17% from two weeks ago; however, cases in nine states are still rising. The New York Times reports Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota all reported their highest weekly case rate so far in the pandemic as cases surged in college towns. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds closed bars and nightclubs in six counties as cases spiked in the college towns of Ames and Iowa City. In just the first week of classes, Iowa State University reported 104 COVID-19 cases and the University of Iowa reported 607, according to The New York Times. More than 1,300 students and staff at the University of Alabama have tested positive.

While college students may not be at high risk of severe disease, the campus outbreaks will inevitably affect older faculty and staff and ultimately spill into the surrounding community, impacting more vulnerable populations there as well. Officials also worry that similar outbreaks could be seen in K-12 schools, many of which delayed returning to classrooms by several weeks and are just now beginning to get underway.


August 28, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Pandemic Disrupts Hurricane Preparation and Recovery

Colliding crises

As Hurricane Laura barreled toward the Texas-Louisiana border, communities for whom hurricane preparations are something of a routine found themselves facing a new set of challenges. The New York Times reports that residents in the path of a storm now must weigh the risk of staying with the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Shelters are practicing social distancing procedures, but this means they can accommodate fewer people. Officials encouraged evacuees to stay with friends or family if possible and many cities gave out hotel vouchers to limit crowding into emergency shelters, but the Texas Tribune reported that some locations were running out of vouchers and evacuees were being turned away from full shelters on Wednesday morning. Evacuating is particularly challenging for residents who have tested positive for the virus and don’t want to expose others. The New York Times reports that one woman who had tested positive called hotels looking for one that would take her, but most declined.

The pandemic will also likely affect recovery efforts as well. Residents whose financial resources have been drained by the economic crisis will likely struggle with the expenses incurred to recover from hurricane damage, even if those expenses will ultimately be reimbursed by insurance or disaster relief funds. The Texas Tribune reports that disaster relief organizations are concerned that people may be less likely to volunteer or donate cleaning supplies during the pandemic, which could slow recovery efforts. Additionally, tracking the virus in the wake of the storm will be problematic as testing locations across Louisiana closed ahead of Hurricane Laura’s arrival and storm damage and staffing issues may slow their return to normal operations, according to The New York Times.


August 26, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Economic Struggles Continue

Halting recovery

Despite a few promising signs this summer, overall economic recovery has been halting and slow. Weekly unemployment filings fell sharply after the initial shutdowns in April but have remained higher than any other period. In August, the weekly claims finally dipped below a million, but that was a short-lived milestone as claims have returned to above the one million mark for the past two weeks. The New York Times reports that about 30 million people are receiving some form of unemployment assistance. Job growth also slowed in July and early estimates show it has slowed further in August. Additionally, some major corporations have announced impending layoffs, including American Airlines which plans to furlough 19,000 workers on October 1.

Adding to these struggles is the fact that the additional federal unemployment assistance expired nearly a month ago, and Congress has failed to come to an agreement that would renew it. President Trump signed an executive order that would provide an additional $300 in federal benefits with another $100 coming from the states, but the logistics of implementing these payments have proved challenging, and most states have not begun making these payments. Economists warn that losing this federal assistance could further slow the economy’s recovery, according to The New York Times.


August 24, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: COVID-19 Reinfection Confirmed

Limited immunity

Experts have long assumed that reinfection is possible based on the way other coronaviruses behave, but researchers in Hong Kong reported the first documented case of a patient who was infected a second time after recovery, according to The New York Times. Reinfection has been tricky to pinpoint as fragments of the virus linger in the body sometimes long after recovery, leading some patients to test positive again weeks later even though they are not actually infected with the active virus. The Hong Kong case is significant because researchers sequenced the virus from both of the 33-year-old man’s infections and found his second infection, which occurred four months after the first, was from a different strain of the virus that he likely contracted while traveling in Europe.

The man’s first case was mildly symptomatic, but encouragingly his second infection was asymptomatic. This suggests that while his immune system did not prevent reinfection, it may have developed enough resistance to the virus to mitigate his symptoms, according to The New York Times. This case also underlines the importance of developing a vaccine strong enough to prevent infection because although prior infection may prevent symptoms for the individual, it may not prevent reinfection and the risk of transmitting the virus to others.


August 21, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Health Officials Encourage Flu Shots

Twindemic

Health officials are concerned that if the U.S. experiences a severe flu season alongside COVID-19, it could lead to a “twindemic” with hospitals overwhelmed and one respiratory illness exacerbating the next, according to The New York Times. Though it’s well before the start of flu season, officials are already planning and encouraging everyone to get the flu shot this year. The C.D.C., which usually stocks 500,000 doses of the flu shot for uninsured adults, has purchased an additional 9.3 million doses, and vaccine manufacturers project the U.S. will need a record 98 million doses of flu vaccine this year. The C.D.C. is also encouraging employers and corporate leaders to set up programs to vaccinate employees. In preliminary estimates for the 2019-2020 flu season, which was considered mild, the C.D.C. puts U.S. cases at 39 million to 56 million and related deaths at 24,000 to 62,000. In the past six months, the U.S. has seen more than 5.7 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 176,000 deaths.

Flu shots are generally recommended but not required in the U.S., and the compliance rate isn’t great. The New York Times reports that during the 2018-2019 flu season, 45.3% of adults got their flu shots. There is a great deal of skepticism about the efficacy of the flu shot, and it’s true that the vaccine does not provide complete protection from illness; however, if you do get sick, the flu shot helps to reduce the severity and duration of the illness. This is important because doctors fear the flu may leave patients more vulnerable to severe COVID-19, and simultaneous infections would be disastrous. This year, the University of California system announced that it will require all 230,000 employees and 280,000 students to get the flu shot before November.


August 19, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: S&P 500 Hits Record High, Promising News on Antibodies

Stock market

Despite the current economic crises, the millions of jobs lost, and predictions of a slow path to recovery, the stock market continues to perform extremely well, according to The New York Times. On Tuesday, the S&P 500 hit a new high, seeming to defy logic; however, experts say that investors are focusing on a few promising signs and betting that the economy six months from now will be in much better shape. The New York Times reports that progress toward a vaccine, the fact that new COVID-19 cases have been declining for the past 14 days, and some improvement to both unemployment and the corporate profit outlook are factoring into investors’ optimism. Also playing a role is the fact that the Federal Reserve remains committed to propping up the economy and keeping interest rates low.

The stock market’s performance reflects investor’s confidence that the worst of the pandemic economic downturn is over, but how the market fares is often at odds with the economic reality for millions of middle- and working-class Americans, according to The New York Times. For those workers and small business owners, we may be headed toward recovery, but there is still a long road ahead of us.

Antibodies

A fishing vessel carrying more than a hundred crew members has provided an unlikely case study in the efficacy of antibodies to protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection. The New York Times reports that all of the crew were tested for the COVID-19 virus and antibodies before setting sail. After 18 days at sea, the vessel returned to port when one crew member became sick enough to need hospitalization. The crew was tested again and found that 103 of the 122 people on board were positive for COVID-19, according to The New York Times. Just three crew members were found to have the antibodies before setting sail (two with just moderate antibody levels), and all three of them were among the 19 uninfected. The likelihood of that happening by coincidence is exceedingly small, suggesting that virus antibodies, even in moderate amounts, provide real protection from reinfection.


August 17, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Promising News on Herd Immunity

Closer than we thought?

Herd immunity: it’s the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the moment when enough of the population has immunity, either from recovery or a vaccine, that the virus can no longer sweep through the world infecting large numbers of people. Scientists have estimated that the threshold for herd immunity to COVID-19 is 70%, but recently, some experts have suggested that the number might actually be closer to 50% or even less, according to The New York Times. If true, it means the end of the pandemic may be closer than we thought, but the experts are quick to caution that estimating herd immunity is challenging and inexact.

Original herd immunity estimates were based on the reproductive rate of the virus (how many people a sick person is likely to infect), assuming that everyone is equally susceptible and that susceptibility is equally distributed through the population. However, in reality, this isn’t true. Some people and communities are far more susceptible than others, and the virus moves differently in dense urban areas than it does in suburban or rural areas. Once these real-world variations are factored in, the estimated threshold for herd immunity drops, according to The New York Times.

Some researchers have suggested that specific pockets of New York or London that were hit especially hard this spring may have already reached herd immunity. However, even if herd immunity is reached in certain areas or eventually on a broad scale, experts caution that SARS-CoV-2 is unlikely to disappear. Smaller outbreaks may still flare up and, as with the flu, people will still get sick and die; however, once herd immunity is reached, the virus will not be able to achieve sustained and widespread transmission within a community, and the outbreaks will be easier to control and stamp out.


August 14, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Total Excess Deaths Passes 200,000

Excess deaths

Officially, more than 166,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States; however, another way to calculate the toll of the virus is to look at the number of excess deaths this year compared to the same period of time in a typical year. The New York Times reports that since March, the U.S. has recorded over 200,000 more deaths than the country would see in an average year for the same period. This number indicates that the true toll of the pandemic is likely much higher than the official death count suggests.

Experts say the disparity between these numbers could indicate that some COVID-19 deaths are not being counted, but it also suggests that the pandemic has an indirect death toll as well. Overcrowding of some hospitals, stretched hospital resources, patients avoiding hospitals out of fear, missed or delayed primary care visits, isolation, and excess stress are just some of the factors that could exacerbate other health conditions and lead to deaths that are not a direct result of COVID-19 but are still related to the pandemic and its toll on society.


August 12, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Scientists Prove Airborne SARS-CoV-2 is Infectious, U.S. Budget Deficit Reaches $2.81T

Airborne proof

Many health experts have assumed for months that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted through the air via small respiratory droplets, but definitive proof has been missing. According to The New York Times, those skeptical of this assertion were waiting for evidence that the airborne particles contain live, infectious virus rather than just genetic fragments of the virus. Thanks to a team of researchers from the University of Florida, we now have that evidence. The scientists were able to collect aerosols from a hospital room in a dedicated COVID-19 ward, seven to 16 feet from the infected patient, and then use those aerosols to infect cells in the lab, according to The New York Times. This proves that live, infectious virus is floating in the air indoors around an infected person, at distances greater than the recommended six feet.

More troubling is that the aerosolized virus was collected from a well-ventilated hospital room that receives six air changes per hour and employs air filters and ultraviolet irradiation to clean the circulating air. One thing that’s not clear from the study is if the amount of virus collected (74 particles per liter of air) would be enough to infect a person breathing it in; however, the findings suggest that in buildings with less effective ventilation and fewer safety measures (like many schools and workplaces), the amount of virus accumulating in the air is likely to be much higher.

Budget deficit

The U.S. currently has a record budget deficit of $2.81 trillion for the first 10 months of the fiscal year. By the end of the fiscal year on September 30, the shortfall will likely be more than double the largest deficit on record, according to The New York Times. Federal spending so far this year totals $5.63 trillion, a 50% increase from spending at this point last year. Most of the additional money spent is related to the pandemic and the stimulus packages designed to bolster the nation’s economy through the swiftest and most severe downturn on record. The Congressional Budget Office predicts a total annual deficit of $3.7 trillion.


August 10, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Passes 5M Cases, Trump Signs Order to Extend Unemployment Benefits

U.S. cases

As of Saturday, the United States has recorded more than 5 million cases of COVID-19, another grim milestone in enduring the pandemic. The U.S. ranks first in the world for total cases with Brazil reporting the second-highest number of cases at 3 million and India following at 2 million, according to The New York Times. The U.S. ranks eighth in the world for cases per capita. With an average daily death toll around 1,000, the U.S. has reported more than 161,000 deaths due to COVID-19.

The U.S. reached a daily case high on July 16 with 75,697 cases, but the daily case numbers have been slowly falling to our current average of about 54,000 per day, according to The New York Times. Unlike mid-July when cases were rising in 40 states, cases are now rising in seven states and decreasing in 17. Though this is an encouraging trend, the virus is now widespread across the country including rural areas and small cities—some of which have reported some of the highest case rates per capita. Officials remain concerned about transmission rates as schools welcome back students throughout the month of August, creating new pathways for community spread.

Executive orders

With Congress failing to meet their stated goal to reach a deal on the stimulus package by the end of last week, President Trump took action over the weekend, signing executive orders to try to extend some of the expired benefits. However, implementing these orders is complicated and it remains unclear if Trump has the legal authority to circumvent Congress’s control of federal spending with these executive orders, according to The New York Times. Trump signed four orders intended to ban evictions, suspend payroll taxes, extend student loan relief to the end of the year, and pay unemployed workers an additional $400 a week, but with both the legality and logistics of the orders in question, it is unlikely that they will provide immediate relief to Americans. For example, the additional unemployment payments are to be partly funded by the states, and partly by pulling from a homeland security disaster relief fund—but it’s unclear if either the states or the Department of Homeland Security is prepared to financially or logistically implement this new way of funding unemployment payments.


August 7, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: COVID-19 Workplace Lawsuits

Lawsuits

Employers are grappling with the first wave of COVID-19 workplace lawsuits, which is prompting discussion in Congress about whether employer liability protection should be part of the next stimulus package, according to Advisory Board. The lawsuits have been filed by workers or the families of workers claiming they contracted COVID-19 at work due to the employer’s negligence at following state and federal guidelines.

The cases against companies like Walmart and Safeway claim that employers failed to isolate or send home sick workers and didn’t provide personal protective equipment. In a lawsuit against Tyson, the families of three employees who died claim there was a COVID-19 outbreak at a pork processing plant in Iowa, but the company failed to shut the plant down against recommendations of health officials. Advisory Board reports Tyson denies these allegations. Legal experts say if the court finds that employers failed to follow state and federal guidelines for COVID-19, they could be found liable if their employees get sick.

Congress is currently negotiating the details of a new stimulus package, including whether to add liability protections for employers that make a “reasonable effort” to follow COVID-19 guidelines. Opponents of the protections claim the government guidelines are too lax, and employers would be protected even if they essentially did nothing to protect their employees.


August 5, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Lawmakers Negotiate Second Stimulus Package

Stimulus

Since the federal unemployment aid expired at the end of July, lawmakers have been in tough negotiations over the details of a new stimulus package. One of the most contested items in the package has been the additional $600-per-week unemployment payments, which Democrats want to renew at the full amount and Republicans want to reduce to $200 per week to keep costs down. On Tuesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that a compromise could be reached regarding the payments, and lawmakers agreed to finalize the agreement by the end of the week, according to The New York Times.

Funding for education, nutrition assistance, state and local government assistance, and election protections are just some of the other issues on the table, and CNN reports that lawmakers are still far apart on most of these issues. Economists warn that the economy could be permanently damaged without additional unemployment assistance, and with schools across the country scheduled to start in the coming weeks, there is an urgency in Washington to reach an agreement.


August 3, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Hurricane Isaias Complicates Testing

Hurricane Isaias

Hurricane Isaias tracked up the Florida coast over the weekend, finally making landfall Monday night in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm. The storm complicated both testing and social distancing efforts in the Southeastern states, many of which are already among the most concerning hotspots for COVID-19 spread, according to The New York Times. Florida closed all testing sites on the east coast in advance of the storm, leading daily lab results received by the Florida Health Department to fall by about 30,000 by Sunday. Disruptions to testing are especially problematic in states like Florida that have struggled to contain the virus. In anticipation of the storm moving up the East Coast, testing sites were closed in many other coastal locations as far north as Maryland.

Officials in North Carolina advised residents to use shelters as a last resort and to stay with friends, family, or in a hotel if possible to limit COVID-19 exposure as the storm came ashore. Shelters were open for those in need with enhanced cleaning protocols, health screenings, and social distancing procedures to mitigate risk.


July 31, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: New Study Measures Risk of Exposure in Schools by County

Measuring risk

A new study from the University of Texas at Austin could help school officials and parents with the excruciating back-to-school decisions facing the nation. Researchers used data from a New York Times database to estimate how many students or teachers are likely to arrive at school infected during the first week for schools with 500 students. The data is broken down by county and illustrates how drastically the risk can differ from location to location even within the same state. The size of the school plays a role as well with much larger schools obviously increasing the risk while smaller schools in areas with few cases have relatively little risk of encountering an infected person in the first week, according to The New York Times.

Currently, the data shows that more than 80% of Americans live in counties where it is likely that at least one infected person would be in attendance at schools with 500 students. In higher-risk areas like South Florida, the estimates can range from 5 to 30 people. The New York Times reports that since small groups face much lower risk, some schools are considering forming learning “pods” within larger schools where a smaller group of students and teachers would remain isolated from the rest of the school. While forming and maintaining the isolation of these pods is logistically challenging, it would significantly reduce the risk of exposure and would make it much easier to temporarily quarantine an individual pod that is exposed to COVID-19.


July 29, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Deaths Pass 150,000, Teachers’ Unions Influence School Reopening

Death toll

With daily death counts rising in 23 states and Puerto Rico, the United States passed 150,000 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, according to The New York Times. Predictions in April and May from researchers and President Trump suggested that virus deaths might reach 70,000 to 100,000 by early August, but the actual death toll has soared far beyond those estimates before August even arrives, demonstrating just how difficult it is to predict how the outbreak will spread. In the past week, about 1,000 virus-related deaths have been reported each day across the U.S.

Teachers

As school districts across the country continue to struggle with reopening plans in the face of a surging pandemic, teachers’ unions are flexing their influence, fighting for a delayed return to in-person instruction, but also demanding limits on virtual teaching responsibilities, according to The New York Times. The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, authorized members to strike if their districts failed to meet demands for safety precautions, such as requiring masks and updating ventilation systems, before in-person instruction resumes.

Earlier this month, teachers’ unions sued Florida’s governor over his requirement that all districts in the state reopen schools at the start of the year. Following the suit, Gov. Ron DeSantis said schools could delay in-person instruction if needed, and on Wednesday, the Miami-Dade County public school system announced that it would begin the school year remotely, with a goal of returning to classrooms in October if virus conditions have improved by then. The New York Times reports Miami-Dade is the most recent in a string of large school districts around the country to announce plans to begin the school year with remote learning, having determined it is not yet safe for students and teachers to return to classrooms. Districts in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, and more will begin the school year online.


July 27, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Two Vaccine Candidates Enter Phase 3 Trials

Vaccine hopefuls

Moderna, in collaboration with the National Institute of Health, began the first large-scale trial of a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. on Monday morning. The first vaccine was given to a volunteer in Savannah, Ga.—the first of 30,000 participants in 89 sites around the country, according to The New York Times. Half of the participants will be given the vaccine, and half a placebo. The two groups will then be tracked by researchers to determine side effects and how well the vaccine prevents infection. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the vaccines would all be administered by the end of the summer, with results likely available by November. Dr. Fauci said they will be looking for evidence that the vaccine protects at least 60 percent of those who receive it.

Phizer, in collaboration with the German company BioNTech, also announced Monday that they are beginning late state trials for their vaccine. Phizer’s vaccine will also be testing on 30,000 participants from the U.S., Germany, Brazil, and Argentina. According to The New York Times, the U.S. government reached an agreement with Phizer to buy 100 million doses of the vaccine if it proves safe and effective.


July 24, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Passes 4M Cases, Unemployment Claims Rise

4 million

The United States officially passed 4 million cases of COVID-19 on Thursday as hospitalizations and virus-related deaths continue to increase, according to The New York Times. Cases are rising in 39 states, with the most rapid increases relative to population occurring in Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 is approaching the high of 60,000 reached in April during the worst of the initial outbreak. More than 143,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States.

Unemployment

Since the early days of the pandemic, the number of new unemployment claims filed each week has been steadily declining, but that changed Thursday when the Labor Department reported 1.4 million new applications were filed last week—an increase of about 100,000 over the previous week’s total. The New York Times reports that though the numbers have been declining, they have yet to fall below a million each week. For comparison, weekly unemployment claims never went above 700,000 during the worst of the Great Recession.

According to The New York Times, a number of factors could account for the sudden increase, all of them worrying. The spike in unemployment claims could be due to new shutdowns in hard-hit areas of the country or the result of Paycheck Protection Program loans running out. The spike could also indicate that companies are running out of credit and are now having to make tough decisions facing an economy that is not recovering quickly enough or robustly enough to continue supporting business as usual. Congress is currently negotiating another stimulus package that will likely include some help for small businesses and unemployed workers, but it will almost certainly not be as robust as the first stimulus, which included an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits. Those extra payments are set to expire at the end of July, and Republican lawmakers so far have shown a strong reluctance to renewing them at the full amount.


July 22, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Ending Extra Unemployment Payments Expected to Impact Economy

Unemployment

As the economy shut down in late March and unemployment soared, the federal government passed a stimulus package that included an extra $600 a week in unemployment payments above the usual state payments. These extra payments helped many households survive what has been an unprecedented economic crisis, but they are set to expire at the end of July. When the payments expire, unemployed workers will be left only with their state benefit, which is often just a few hundred dollars a week, according to The New York Times.

Economists warn that the end of these extra payments will have effects that ripple across the economy, as many households will no longer be able to pay all of their housing, utility, and grocery bills. More than 20 million unemployed Americans will be forced to make dramatic cuts to their spending, and this will impact landlords, retailers, and other businesses. Joseph Vavra, a University of Chicago economist, warns that mass foreclosures and evictions could be on the horizon if families are unable to make their rent and mortgage payments without the bonus, according to The New York Times.

Congress is currently negotiating the terms of another stimulus package, but they are far from an agreement. Democrats are pushing to keep the extra unemployment payments at $600 a week, but Republicans are proposing to scale the payments back considerably, according to The New York Times. Lawmakers continue to debate other aspects of the next stimulus, including direct stimulus checks, help for small businesses, and funding for schools, but it is unlikely they will reach any agreements before the unemployment bonus runs out, leaving millions of Americans to deal with at least a temporary drop in income.


July 20, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: New Study Suggests Schools Opening Will Fuel New Outbreaks

Kids and COVID-19

As schools grapple with reopening plans, a new study out of South Korea sheds some light on how children may impact the spread of COVID-19. The study, which involved 65,000 people and is highly regarded in the scientific community, found that children under 10 years old are much less likely to transmit the virus, but children older than 10 transmit at least as well as adults, according to The New York Times. This means that opening middle and high schools for in-person learning carries about the same level of risk for transmission as opening any business where large groups of people are in close contact indoors for an extended period of time every day.

Health experts warn that reopening schools will likely cause new outbreaks that include children of all ages. While younger children transmit the virus about half as often according to the study, the risk is not zero. Additionally, school-aged children interact with sometimes dozens of other children and teachers throughout the day, and these numerous contacts increase the likelihood of transmission. The study also only traced the contacts of symptomatic children, so it is still unknown what role asymptomatic children play in transmission.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, points out that schools need robust plans in place for not just reopening, but also for how to handle the inevitable outbreaks of infection, according to The New York Times. For example, schools must determine how and when to test students and staff or require self-quarantine, as well as the criteria and process to temporarily close and then reopen schools as needed.


July 17, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Daily Case Records Continue to Climb, Debate Intensifies Over Mask Mandates

Increasing cases, increasing restrictions

The United States set another daily record for COVID-19 cases Thursday with more than 75,600 cases reported. This more than doubles the daily case record set less than a month ago on June 24. The New York Times reports that as cases surge, many states are imposing new restrictions to slow the spread of infection. California rolled back some of its reopening plans, announcing new rules that will force many districts to begin the year remotely and most students who do attend school to wear masks. Many counties in Florida have issued curfews, and more than half of the country is enforcing a mask mandate of some kind.

An unpublished report by the White House coronavirus task force has labeled 18 “red-zone” states that have more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people per week, according to The New York Times. The report urges these states (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah) to take more serious measures to control the infection.

Mask debate

As cases surge, public health experts agree one of the best preventative measures is to wear a mask in public, especially indoors; however, mask mandates have become a political battleground, according to The New York Times. Opponents of mask requirements argue that they infringe on personal liberty and people should be free to make their own choices; proponents argue that refusing to wear a mask endangers everyone, so a mandate is appropriate in the same way speed limits or smoking restrictions are appropriate.

The New York Times reports more than half the states have issued statewide mask orders, but protests have erupted in response. Other governors remain firmly opposed to mask mandates, even as they encourage their citizens to wear masks. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is suing the city of Atlanta in an effort to override Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ city-wide mask ordinance. Oklahoma’s governor opposes a mandate, but the Tulsa City Council passed a mask ordinance this week. Regardless of state-by-state or local rules, several major retailers like Walmart and Target are now requiring masks in all their stores nationwide.


July 15, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: New Vaccine Moves to Phase 3 Trials

Vaccine shows promise

Moderna, a biotech company working on a COVID-19 vaccine, published the results of their Phase 1 trials in The New England Journal of Medicine on Tuesday, according to The New York Times. Their vaccine was the first to be tested on humans, and the for the first 45 people to receive it, the vaccine appeared safe and provoked a robust immune response. Based on these results, the company is moving forward with Phase 3 testing set to begin July 27. Phase 3 will involve 30,000 participants, half of whom will receive a placebo. Participants will then be tracked in order to determine if the vaccinated group is significantly more protected against COVID-19 infection. For the test to be effective, participants need to have a high likelihood of exposure to COVID-19, so researchers are looking for volunteers in hot spots of the outbreak.

Researchers caution that while the immune response, which was measured in a lab, was promising, it is not yet known how well that response will protect against infection out in the world, or how long any immunity might last. The Phase 3 trial will tell us much more about the vaccine’s efficacy, according to The New York Times. Companies around the world are working to develop vaccines, and at least three others are preparing to enter Phase 3 trials. Ultimately, multiple vaccines will be needed in order to provide the billions of doses necessary to vaccinate for COVID-19 worldwide.


July 13, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Continues to Set Daily Case Records

COVID-19 cases

On Friday the United States set its seventh single-day record in 11 days, reporting more than 68,000 new COVID-19 cases—a jump of about 9,000 from the previous day’s record of 59,886. According to The New York Times, Georgia, Utah, Montana, North Carolina, Iowa, and Ohio all reported statewide single-day records, and officials in Georgia and Texas warned that economic shutdowns may be necessary to control the spread. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced that a convention center in Atlanta would be transformed back into a temporary medical center to handle hospital overflow as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued a mask mandate for the city and is preparing to shift back to Phase 1 guidelines where residents are mostly asked to stay home. In Texas, which is under a statewide mask ordinance, Gov. Greg Abbott warned that another lockdown is a possibility if cases do not begin to decline.

On Sunday, Florida reported 15,300 new COVID-19 cases, the most cases for any state in a single day since the pandemic began, according to The New York Times. Sunday’s total shattered the previous one-day record of 12,274 cases in New York during the height of its outbreak in April. Some of these numbers can be attributed to increased testing, but it is clear that the virus is also spreading at an increased pace in the state. Hospitals are growing busier and the death rate has begun to climb, though it is still far below the worst days of the New York outbreak.

Friday also saw a new global daily record with 228,102 new cases of COVID-19 reported worldwide, according to The New York Times. In addition to the U.S., cases are surging in Brazil, India, Mexico, and South Africa.


July 10, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Death Toll Rises in Some States, Disney World to Reopen Saturday

COVID-19 deaths

Infection rates are surging across most of the country, but the death toll has been falling for months; however, some hard-hit states are beginning to see increases in COVID-19 deaths. The New York Times reports Texas, Mississippi, Florida, and Tennessee all recorded new single-day death records this week. Thursday’s seven-day death average was 608, increasing from 471 earlier this month. At the peak of the New York outbreak, daily deaths in the U.S. averaged 2,200—significantly higher than where we are today, but experts say the rising death toll is a factor to watch, according to The New York Times. While it’s too soon to predict an ongoing trend, it’s worth noting that death rates lag behind infection rates by several weeks, and the steady decrease in national deaths followed widespread stay at home orders that slowed the virus considerably. Currently, infection rates are climbing, but rather than shutting down, much of the economy is proceeding to open.

One example is Disney World in Orlando, Fla., which is set to reopen Saturday even as Florida remains a major epicenter of the current U.S. outbreak. The New York Times reports that Florida recorded more than 9,900 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and numbers like these are prompting some to question if reopening the park is wise. Disney World is taking many precautions, including limiting the number of visitors and requiring masks for employees and guests. Parades, fireworks, and indoor shows have been canceled, Plexiglass barriers have been installed in shops, and 4,000 handwashing stations are scattered throughout the park. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said Disney’s plan is “reasonable” and that if enforced, the risk to visitors and staff would remain low, according to The New York Times. However, despite the safety measures, there is much debate about whether it is wise to reopen, and some Disney World employees have expressed concerns about returning to work, especially since the company has not outlined a plan for testing employees.


July 8, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Passes 3M Cases, Schools Need More Funding to Reopen Safely

School reopening plans

The U.S. has now reported more than 3 million cases of COVID-19, with more than 650,000 of these occurring in just the past two weeks, according to The New York Times database. With infection rates rising in most of the country and just over a month until school resumes, the question of how and whether to welcome students back this fall looms large for both public school and higher education officials.

President Trump has called for schools to fully reopen for in-person classes this fall, but to meet recommended health guidelines, public schools will need an estimated $200 billion in aid, according to The New York Times. So far, Congress has provided just $13.5 billion. The CDC has released guidance for schools reopening, including recommendations for frequent hand washing, screening for symptoms, increased spacing between students, face masks for adults, and more intense cleaning and disinfection of facilities and ventilation systems. All of these measures require additional funds to enact, from purchasing no-touch thermometers, to hiring additional teaching, nursing, and cleaning staff, to providing face masks and hand soap or sanitizer.

Educators testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Wednesday about the needs of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic and the budget challenges they face, according to The New York Times. John B. King Jr., the former education secretary and current president of The Education Trust, testified that schools are struggling to plan for reopening when they are in a holding pattern waiting to see if Congress will approve more funding.


July 6, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Outlook Worsens, Scientists Suggest SARS-CoV-2 May Be Airborne  

The first wave

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge around the country as cases near three million and deaths pass 130,000, according to The New York Times. Many national and local officials believe that lifting restrictions and reopening the economy too soon has led to the sharp rise in cases with major epicenters now in Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Los Angeles, according to The Washington Post. Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday that the U.S. is “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic, explaining that we never truly achieved the “baseline” we were aiming for with the initial shutdowns, according to The New York Times. Dr. Fauci went on to warn against crowds and large indoor gatherings, which have been linked to new outbreaks across the country. In just the first five days of July more than 250,000 new cases were reported in the U.S.

Is the virus airborne?

The World Health Organization has maintained that SARS-CoV-2 is spread primarily through large respiratory droplets that fall to the ground relatively quickly; however, clusters of infections traced to indoor gathering spaces like bars and restaurants increasingly suggest that people can become infected from inhaling smaller respiratory droplets that linger in the air indoors. According to The New York Times, the W.H.O.’s position is that the evidence for airborne transmission is unconvincing, but 239 scientists from 39 countries recently wrote an open letter to the W.H.O. stating just the opposite. These scientists, who plan to publish their letter in a scientific journal next week, believe airborne transmission is possible and that the W.H.O. should update its COVID-19 guidelines.

If the virus is transmitted through the air, containment is a whole new ballgame. Masks may be needed in any indoor environment, even when no other people are nearby. Ventilation systems in schools, businesses, and healthcare facilities will need to be evaluated and updated with new air filters and limited recirculation of indoor air. It may become necessary to clean not just surfaces, but the air in indoor environments, giving rise to the use of technology like ultraviolet lights to kill virus particles floating in the air.


July 1, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Pediatricians Recommend Schools Reopen, 4.8M Jobs Added in June 

Should schools reopen?

The American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines this week that strongly recommend students physically attend school this fall, according to The New York Times. This guidance contradicts the CDC advice that remote learning is safest, but the academy stresses that there are health, social, and educational risks to keeping students at home, and the opinion of the academy is that these outweigh the risks of COVID-19 since children seem be less likely to both catch and spread the virus.

According to Dr. Sean O’Leary, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and one of the authors of the academy’s guidelines, studies have shown that when schools closed in the spring, there were increases in behavioral health problems and abuse, as well as educational losses and worsening achievement gaps. The New York Times reports that the guidelines recommend frequent hand washing and that teachers and older students wear masks to mitigate the risks of COVID-19, but the academy suggests that schools balance physical distancing with the educational needs of students. Dr. O’Leary explains that if the six-foot rule means that more students must stay home more of the time, then requiring less distance between desks should be considered.

Jobs

During the month of June, employers added 4.8 million jobs to the economy, bringing the unemployment rate down to 11.1% from 13.3% in May, according to NPR. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 400 points on the positive jobs report, but economists worry that the surging COVID-19 pandemic could send the economy into a backslide. The report reflects conditions from the middle of June, but already some states are pausing reopening or reinstating restrictions on businesses.

According to NPR, 40% of the job gains in June were in hospitality and leisure sectors as those businesses reopened and recalled employees; however, Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona have all ordered some of these businesses to close again in the past week. In New York City, plans to resume indoor dining were halted. As officials across the country grapple with how to respond to the continuing surge in COVID-19 cases, it is likely that some of the jobs added in the past two months will be lost once again.


June 29, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Global Cases Pass 10M, Deaths Pass 500,000  

Global cases

Worldwide confirmed cases of COVID-19 have surpassed 10 million with more than 500,000 deaths, according to The New York Times. The global death toll doubled in less than two months with new infections rising in many countries, especially Brazil, India, and the U.S. More than 25% of the world’s deaths have been in the United States, where the virus continues to surge throughout the South and West. Like the U.S., many countries that took early steps to shut down are now seeing cases rise even as they proceed with reopening their economies.

U.S. cases

In the U.S., Arizona saw a single-day record of more than 3,800 new cases on Sunday, and Florida reported more than 8,500 new cases for the third day in a row, according to The New York Times. In Texas, the rate of positive COVID-19 tests, which had been less than 4% over the past month, has risen in recent days to more than 13% in a jump that has officials concerned.

California, which had the virus under control early on, is now seeing a troubling increase in cases as well. Officials in Los Angeles county, the most populous in the United States, warned that the outbreak is accelerating as both the rate of positive tests and hospitalizations are rising, according to the Los Angeles Times. L.A. County is projecting it could run out of hospital beds in two to three weeks, and due to the incubation period of the virus, even if drastic lockdown measures are taken now, hospitalizations will continue to rise for the next several weeks.

L.A. County officials attribute the rise in cases to increased socialization that began around Memorial Day when the economy began its process of reopening. The L.A. Times reports that many businesses and individuals have been growing lax in adhering to health directives like wearing masks in public, social distancing, and limiting capacity. Officials estimate that 1 in 140 people in L.A. county is actively infectious, up from 1 in 400 people just last week.


June 26, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Cases Surge, Governors Impose New Restrictions  

Cases rising

Friday became the third consecutive day with a record total of new COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to The New York Times. More than 45,000 new cases were reported nationwide, with six states—Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon, South Carolina, and Utah—also reporting their highest one-day totals. As cases surge, some governors began issuing new restrictions to attempt to control the spread. Texas and Florida both set new restrictions on bars, and beaches in Miami-Dade County will be closed July 3-7 to prevent large gatherings over the holiday weekend.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said “widespread noncompliance” with social distancing and capacity restrictions for businesses has been problematic. The New York Times reports that city officials in Miami are considering either enhanced restrictions on businesses or harsher penalties for those who don’t follow existing restrictions. For Texas and Florida, two states that were slow to shut down and quick to reopen, reimplementing restrictions represents a significant shift in their response to the pandemic.


June 24, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Dr. Fauci Testifies the Virus is Not Under Control

State of the pandemic

Dr. Anthony Fauci testified before Congress Tuesday on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. According to The New York Times, he stated that the virus will not disappear and that the current surge in cases across the South and West demonstrate that the outbreak is not yet under control in the United States. He pointed out that some states, like New York, have done well controlling the virus, but said, “The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surges that we are seeing in Florida, in Texas, in Arizona and other states.”

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the CDC, testified as well, and both he and Dr. Fauci warned that the approaching flu season this winter will be especially dangerous with people spending more time indoors and facing two respiratory illnesses that will likely strain healthcare systems once again, according to The New York Times. Dr. Redfield asserted that getting a flu shot this year would be more important than ever.

All four of the coronavirus experts that testified agreed that the United States is not out of danger, and that testing, contact tracing, wearing a mask, and continued social distancing are the necessary steps to weather the pandemic. Dr. Fauci said he remains “cautiously optimistic” about the possibility of a vaccine by early 2021, but he also promised he would ensure any vaccine was proven both safe and effective before it would go to market.


June 22, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: W.H.O. Warns Pandemic is Accelerating

A new phase

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), issued a warning Friday, saying, “The world is in a new and dangerous phase.” The New York Times reports he went on to explain that he understands people are tired of being at home and countries want to restart their economies. “But the virus is still spreading fast. It is still deadly, and most people are still susceptible,” he said.

In the early days of the pandemic, we saw large spikes in various epicenters of the outbreak, but today the pandemic is defined by its quickening, widespread expansion across the globe. The New York Times reports a majority of countries have seen an increase in cases over the past two weeks. Nearly half of the new cases on Thursday came from the Americas, and the United States alone accounted for 20% of all new infections on Sunday, despite having only 4.3% of the world’s population, according to The New York Times. On Monday, Dr. Tedros reported that the past 24 hours saw more than 183,000 new cases worldwide, the most in a single day so far.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the W.H.O.’s health emergencies program, explained that the rise in cases is not simply due to increased testing; other measures like increasing hospitalizations and deaths in many countries suggest that “the virus is now very well established at the global level,” he said according to The New York Times.

Health officials continue to assert that the best prevention is to maintain physical distance from others, wear a mask when in close contact, and wash your hands frequently. Wearing masks has been a contentious issue, but as cities and states across the U.S. watch infection rates climb, some officials are moving to require the use of masks in public places, according to The New York Times. In Dallas County, Texas, anyone over the age of 10 is now required to wear a mask in public, and Gov. Gavin Newsom of California also ordered that residents must wear face masks in most indoor public settings.


June 19, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: New Antibody Study Advises Caution, Global Cases Continue to Rise

Antibodies

A new study suggests that antibodies to COVID-19 may only last a few months in the body, especially in those who did not develop symptoms, according to The New York Times. The study, published in Nature Medicine, shows that within weeks, antibodies are undetectable in 40% of asymptomatic people and 13% of symptomatic people. The reason for this is that asymptomatic people have a weaker immune response, producing fewer antibodies to the virus.

The New York Times notes that the study was performed with a relatively small sample size (just 37 asymptomatic people) so more research is needed; however, it does offer a note of caution on the belief that antibodies will protect people long term. Absent a vaccine or effective treatment, what keeps an infection from spreading wildly through the population is herd immunity, which occurs when about 60% to 80% of the population has developed antibodies. The world is still a long way from herd immunity, but if it is true that antibodies offer only a few months of protection, herd immunity becomes even more difficult to attain.

Global cases

Worldwide, COVID-19 cases continue to rise with this week seeing two of the highest daily totals of new cases thus far. On Tuesday, more than 140,000 cases were reported globally, and more than 166,000 on Wednesday, setting a new one-day record. The New York Times reports that over the past two weeks, 77 countries have reported increases in COVID-19 cases, and only 43 countries have reported declines. Wednesday’s total was high in part due to a backlog of unreported cases from Chile, but Brazil also reported more than 32,000 cases Wednesday and the U.S. reported more than 25,000. At home, cases are rising rapidly in California, Florida, and Texas, while abroad, the rate of infection is surging from Africa to Latin America to Asia as the pandemic continues to dominate both national and international concerns.


June 17, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Treatment Shows Promise, Retail Sales Rebound

COVID-19 treatment

Scientists at the University of Oxford announced that a common steroid, dexamethasone, has been shown to reduce deaths in patients with severe cases of COVID-19, according to The New York Times. As an anti-inflammatory, the drug has been able to reduce the overwhelming and damaging immune response that severe COVID-19 often causes. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third for patients on ventilators and by one-fifth for patients on oxygen. The drug was not shown to benefit patients who were not on respiratory support. The New York Times reports that the study will now go through a rigorous peer-review process to validate its findings, but if the results prove accurate, this would be the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in COVID-19 patients. Since the drug is both widely available and inexpensive, it could significantly reduce the toll of the virus as we await a vaccine.

Retail sales

After a record 14.7% drop in April, national retail sales rose 17.7% in May as stores and restaurants reopened and restrictions lifted. This is the largest one-month surge on record, according to The New York Times, but economists warn that the industry isn’t returning to normal anytime soon. Overall, sales are still down about 8% from February, with bigger losses in specific sectors, such as clothing retail. Many stores and restaurants are operating under limited capacity and with fewer employees, conditions likely to persist for the foreseeable future. Additionally, the surge in spending was at least partly fueled by the government stimulus, which sent an infusion of extra cash into American households; however, that money will soon (or already has) run out, and Congress has given no indication that additional assistance is likely.


June 15, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Cases Surge in the South

Sun Belt

Weeks after many states began a phased reopening of their economies, new cases of COVID-19 are surging across the Sun Belt and in the West, according to The New York Times. Coronavirus cases are climbing in 22 states as of Saturday, with Arizona, Florida, and Texas reporting their highest numbers to date. Arizona hospitals, flooded with new COVID-19 patients, have begun to enact emergency plans. In Oregon, the governor paused reopening to try and gain control of the spread. In many places, fatigue is setting in; people are tired of the hypervigilance and restrictions, and compliance with recommended practices, like distancing and wearing masks, is slipping.

Some have suggested that the rising infections could be tied to increased testing that is detecting more cases. While that may explain some of the increase, epidemiologists say both the timing and the pattern of increased infections suggests they are linked to loosening restrictions. The New York Times reports that in many southern states, both hospitalizations and percentage of positive tests have increased, suggesting that higher case numbers are a result of increased transmission, not just increased testing. In states with growing caseloads, officials are faced with a tough choice: accept rising infections as the cost of doing business during a pandemic, or shut down the economy again to try and stop it.


June 12, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: CDC Predicts Increasing Death Toll

Rising death toll

The CDC forecasts that U.S. COVID-19 deaths will reach 124,000 to 140,000 by the Fourth of July, an increase of at least 10,000 from the current tally over the next three weeks, according to The New York Times. In several states, including Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, North Carolina, Utah, and Vermont, COVID-19 deaths are expected to be higher in the upcoming four weeks than they were in the past four weeks.

As summer gets underway and restrictions continue to ease, the CDC has updated its guidance for events, labeling large gatherings of people from out of the area as “highest risk.” As President Trump returns to the campaign trail with planned rallies and protests around police brutality continue across the nation, the CDC advises that both staff and attendees at any large gatherings wear face coverings and maintain six feet of distance from others whenever possible.


June 10, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Cases Pass 2M, Fed Predicts Years of Elevated Unemployment

U.S. Cases

The U.S. is now reporting more than 2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases with new infections continuing to rise in 21 states, according to The New York Times. Many states in the Midwest and Northeast are seeing improvement, but some in the south, like Florida, Arkansas, North Carolina, and South Carolina are seeing cases trend upward. Arizona has emerged as a particularly troubling hot spot where a sharp increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations has experts worried.

While the pandemic continues to spread, President Trump is planning his return to the campaign trail as Congress considers legislation on policing reforms in response to weeks of protests over police brutality. The government’s shift in focus highlights the fact that the pandemic has no quick solution and will be a part of our normal daily lives for the for the foreseeable future. Even so, The New York Times reports that some public health officials worry normalizing the crisis too soon sets us up to be blindsided by a possible second wave of infection that could be worse than the first, as was the case with the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Economy

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a new report stating that the world economy faces its most severe recession in a century. According to the report, the global outlook is highly uncertain because two scenarios are equally likely: one in which we avoid a second wave of infection, and one in which we don’t and another round of lock-downs is needed. In the U.S., The New York Times reports a rising stock market has made many optimistic about economic recovery, but a new report from the Federal Reserve predicts that by the end of 2020, unemployment will hover at 9.3% and will remain elevated for years. Interest rates remain near zero, and economic output is expected to be 6.5% lower at the end of this year than it was at the end of 2019. “The ongoing public health crisis will weigh heavily on economic activity, employment and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term,” the Fed said in a statement, according to The New York Times.


June 8, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Officially Entered Recession in February, W.H.O. Warns Pandemic Could Be Worsening  

Recession

The longest economic expansion on record came to a close in February when the U.S. economy officially entered a recession, according to The New York Times. This is the first economic downturn since the end of the 2009 recession more than a decade ago. Economists expect that this recession will be brief as economic activity resumes following the pandemic shutdowns, but the damage will be severe as no other recession has caused such extreme losses in such a short period of time.

In fact, Robert Gordon, a Northwestern University economist, said that a recovery likely began in April or May, making the recession only a few months long. In addition to the jobs report rebounding in May, the stock market is also on the rise. After weeks of steady gains, the S&P 500 has erased its losses for the year. According to The New York Times, the gains have been driven by the interventions from the Federal Reserve, the phased reopening of the economy, and increased hopes for a quick economic rebound. Even New York City, once the epicenter of the outbreak with more than 210,000 cases and more than 22,000 deaths, began to reopen on Monday with as many as 400,000 people returning to work, according to The New York Times.

While recent progress is encouraging, there are still plenty of reasons to be cautious about the economy. The COVID-19 pandemic remains a global threat, and it is still too soon to say that the reopening economy won’t cause a second wave of the virus that could shut down business once again.

A warning

As New Yorkers and Americans around the country are feeling the relief of some return to normalcy, the World Health Organization issued a warning that the pandemic could be getting worse, not better. With worldwide cases past 7 million, the W.H.O. reported that global new daily cases on Sunday reached 136,000 cases, the highest one-day tally to date, according to The New York Times. More than 405,000 people have died of COVID-19, and the virus has been found in nearly every country.


June 5, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: 2.5M Jobs Added in May

Jobs report rebound

The latest report from the U.S. Labor Department shows that employers added 2.5 million jobs in May as states reopened and furloughed workers were recalled, according to The New York Times. The gains, which surprised many economists, were concentrated in industries like hospitality, retail, and food service that were the first to be hit by the pandemic shutdowns. The unemployment rate dropped slightly to 13.3% from 14.7% in April, but it remains among the highest in our history with tens of millions of people still out of work.

The added jobs are a promising sign that possibly the economic damage has been contained and that the economy could rebound sooner than expected; however, experts still warn that it will take far longer to recover from this crisis than it did to get into it. The New York Times reports that while furloughed workers were recalled, the number of permanent job losses rose, indicating that some businesses have not been able to weather the shutdown. Permanent job losses are more troubling because they are more difficult to recover from. Economists also believe the gains in May show that the federal stimulus worked to mitigate economic damage, but some worry that Congress will take this as a sign that no further stimulus is needed. Without ongoing assistance, it’s possible these gains will not hold, according to The New York Times.

Additionally, the threat of the pandemic is far from over. Currently, the U.S. is seeing more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, and it is still too soon to know the full effects of relaxed restrictions or the nationwide protests on virus transmission. A second wave of infection could induce another round of economic shutdowns.


June 3, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Cases Rising in 16 States, Job Losses Hit Women Particularly Hard

Cases on the rise

While cases in some states continue to trend downward, confirmed cases are on the rise in 16 states, according to The New York Times. These increases may be partly due to the much more expansive testing that is taking place today, but it could also reflect a rise in cases due to increased personal interaction as states lift restrictions and reopen businesses. As one of the first states to shut down, California’s case counts have remained relatively low throughout the pandemic, but twice in the last week, daily case reports exceeded 3,000, a threshold not previously reached. Fifteen other states, including Arizona, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, are also reporting that new cases are on the rise. On Saturday, Mississippi saw the most new cases in a single day to date at 439, and Alaska has also seen its highest numbers of cases in recent days.

Women’s Unemployment

The New York Times reports that 55% of the 20.5 jobs lost in April were held by women, bringing women’s unemployment up to 15%, compared to 13% for men. Pandemic job losses were heaviest in industries like hospitality, education, leisure, and certain healthcare sectors where women make up a larger portion of the workforce. Women had been making significant gains in the workforce, and in December had reached the milestone of holding more payroll jobs than men, but the pandemic has reversed those gains. Even as states begin to reopen, women are not reentering the workforce as quickly because many childcare options remain limited, forcing women to quit or decline their jobs in order to care for children at home.


June 1, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: CBO Projects Pandemic Cost to U.S. Economy at $7.9T, Protests Could Cause Cases to Spike

Economic projections

As global cases of COVID-19 pass 6 million and U.S. cases pass 1.8 million, the United States and the world are grappling with the cost of the pandemic—not only in lives, but also in economies. In the United States, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a new projection predicting the pandemic will cost the U.S. economy $7.9 trillion over the next 10 years, according to The New York Times. The projections reflect economists’ expectations that consumer spending and business investment will be down and inflation weakened as travel and economic output diminish in the face of the pandemic. The CBO cautioned that these projections are surrounded by more uncertainty than usual since we don’t yet know how the pandemic will play out or how regulations and relief measures will affect the trajectory of both the virus and the economy.

Protests

Over the weekend, thousands of protesters gathered in cities across the country in a wave of protests against police brutality, ignited by the death of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis, who was killed in police custody. The protests took place outdoors where risk of virus transmission is lower, and while many protesters wore masks and attempted to social distance, health experts still worry that these demonstrations could begin a second wave of infection, according to The New York Times.

COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets that are generated by talking, coughing, and sneezing. The New York Times reports that shouting and chanting at a protest cause more droplets to be produced. Additionally, police tactics like tear gas and pepper spray, which were deployed on crowds in many cities, cause coughing and increased respiratory secretions, which could also accelerate transmission. In many cases, protests became crowded or protesters were corralled into specific areas, making social distancing impossible. In some cities, protesters were arrested and taken to jail, which also increases the risk for viral spread.

COVID-19 has already proved to be more deadly among people of color due to—among other factors—less access to health care, a higher likelihood for preexisting conditions, and a higher likelihood of being an essential employee required to work outside the home where the risk of exposure is highest. While police brutality was at the forefront of the protests, the pandemic is an undeniable backdrop that has highlighted many other economic and public health racial disparities. Any spike in cases resulting from these protests will also likely have an outsized effect on communities of color.


May 29, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: CDC Releases New Information on Surface Transmission, Herd Immunity Still a Long Way Off

Surface transmission

Recent studies have shown that surface transmission is not the primary way the virus is spreading in the U.S. The CDC has said that the greatest risk of transmission comes from prolonged person-to-person contact, especially when indoors. Though it’s still possible to become infected from a contaminated surface, several factors make this the least likely pathway for infection. First, enough virus must survive on a surface and make its way into a healthy person’s lungs to make them sick. The New York Times reports that high-touch surfaces like doorknobs are more problematic, while the risk from an incidental contact, like delivered mail or groceries, is likely low.

Additionally, a large dose of the virus must make its way into a person’s lungs; simply touching the surface does not lead to infection. The chain of transmission can be broken by not touching your nose and mouth (wearing a mask while in public helps with this), and by frequent, thorough hand washing. According to The New York Times, it remains important to regularly disinfect high-touch surfaces to reduce the viral load, but prolonged contact with an infected person where you are possibly breathing airborne virus directly into your lungs is believed to be the greatest risk of transmission. Thus, social distancing, wearing a mask, regular hand washing, and cleaning high-touch surfaces continue to be the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Herd Immunity

In the absence of an effective treatment or vaccine, the world needs herd immunity in order to not be overrun by a pathogen. When a critical mass of the population has developed antibodies to a virus, it is no longer able to spread widely and rapidly. According to The New York Times, epidemiologists believe a minimum of 60% to as much as 80% of the population must have antibodies before herd immunity can be reached for COVID-19. Recent studies show we still have a long way to go. The largest outbreak in the U.S. was in New York City, but even there only about 20% of residents have been infected. As a result, experts believe that herd immunity will not be reached any time soon, and there is not a safe way to build up the population’s immunity without accepting thousands more deaths.

Unemployment

More than 40 million people have filed new unemployment claims since the pandemic began shutting down businesses across the country in mid-March. The New York Times reports that about one in four American workers is now unemployed, with joblessness nearing Great Depression levels. Some workers are being recalled as states reopen, but virus flareups have also caused repeat shutdowns, including several Ford assembly plants that had to close for deep cleaning after employees tested positive.


May 27, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Passes 100,000 Deaths, New Cases Begin Trending Up in Some States

U.S. virus tracking

The official COVID-19 death count has passed 100,000 and the virus has sickened more than 1.7 million people in the United States, according to The New York Times. This milestone comes as the national data show overall cases are in decline, though that trend does not hold true everywhere. The New York Times reports that about a dozen states are recording increases in new virus cases. At least half of these states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, were among the earliest to begin reopening their economies and relaxing restrictions in late April and early May. Three states that never issued state-wide stay-at-home orders—Arkansas, North Dakota, and Oklahoma—are also seeing increases as they reopen businesses.

These increases could, at least in part, be the result of increased testing detecting more cases of COVID-19; however, health officials have long warned that easing social distancing restrictions too soon could lead to a second wave of the virus, and these numbers could also be early signs of a resurgence, according to The New York Times. While some popular Memorial Day locations saw people largely adhering to social distance guidelines, others, like Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, saw people crowd into pools and restaurants in defiance of guidelines. The next several weeks will continue to reveal how Memorial Day activities and further relaxing of state restrictions impact the spread of COVID-19.


May 25, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, California’s Unemployment Passes 20%

Considering the toll

COVID-19 deaths in the United States are nearing 100,000. For some perspective on the magnitude of this toll in American lives, the number is higher than the combined losses from every war the U.S. has engaged in during the last 60 years. We lost just over 90,000 in the Vietnam war. The attacks on 9/11 killed just under 3,000 people. After only a few months of the pandemic, COVID-19 deaths are approaching a quarter of the U.S. lives lost in World War II. On Sunday, The New York Times used its entire front page and several inside pages to print the names and single-sentence obituaries for 1,000 virus victims—less than 1% of the total U.S. death toll. According to The New York Times, the project was designed to represent “both the vastness and the variety of lives lost.”

California

California, the nation’s largest economy by far, is also suffering the most in the pandemic. California was the first state to shut down in response to COVID-19 and as a result, the death toll there has remained relatively low (10 deaths per 100,000 people), but according to The New York Times, the economic costs are piling up. California’s unemployment rate is estimated to be above 20%, much higher than the national rate of 14.7%. In Los Angeles, joblessness has reached 24%, equal to the Great Depression’s peak unemployment. California’s economy depends largely on entertainment and tourism, and the state has the largest public university system, port system, and produces more food than any other state, according to The New York Times. Many of these economic sectors have been heavily impacted by shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, making California particularly vulnerable to the economic toll of the virus. Because the state represents just a large portion of U.S. GDP, what happens in California has significant implications for the U.S. economy as a whole.


May 22, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Global Cases Reach 5M, U.S. Unemployment Passes 38M

State of the virus

COVID-19 has infected more than 5 million people worldwide, according to The New York Times, and a million of those infections occurred in just the last two weeks. More than 329,000 people have died. Although average weekly deaths have been decreasing, the average daily new cases was higher than ever last week, which shows that the virus is still circulating widely but also points to increases in testing that are helping healthcare systems document more positive cases. The U.S. continues to lead the world in COVID-19 cases with more than 1.5 million infections, a number that health officials continue to believe underrepresents the true toll of the virus as testing is still not widespread enough to catch every positive case. Brazil and Russia are each fighting widespread outbreaks of more than 300,000 cases, and the U.K. and Spain lead Europe with more than 200,000 cases each.

Unemployment

Though some workers are being recalled as states lift restrictions and businesses reopen, 2.4 million new unemployment claims were filed last week, bringing total pandemic job losses to more than 38 million, according to The New York Times. Many have been hopeful that the losses are temporary and that jobs will return once the pandemic is controlled and life returns to normal, but economists are becoming concerned that the unemployment situation will not be so easily remedied. Nicholas Bloom, an economist at Stanford University, co-authored an analysis that predicts 42% of pandemic job losses will be permanent, according to The New York Times.

Economists point out that that the economy that returns after the pandemic will likely be permanently altered, meaning some pre-COVID-19 jobs simply may not exist anymore. The New York Times points out that if social distancing is the new normal, that will fundamentally change the way companies do business, the number of customers they are able to serve, and thus, the number of workers they need and can support. The trend toward automation could accelerate as industries look for ways to conduct business with minimal physical interaction, and changes in one sector of the economy will likely have a domino effect on other businesses. It’s hard to predict exactly what this means for the 38 million people out of work, but it is almost certain that the economy won’t simply return to business as usual anytime soon, or possibly ever.


May 20, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: New York Cases in Decline, Flooding Complicates Pandemic Response in Michigan

New York

New COVID-19 cases in New York are in sharp decline with doctors admitting fewer than 100 patients a day, down from nearly 1,700 a day during the outbreak’s peak in early April, according to The New York Times. While COVID-19 patients flooded hospitals, other patients who may have been suffering from stroke, heart failure, or other conditions stayed home, and doctors fear this could lead to worsening conditions or death. Some emergency rooms are treating less than half the patients they normally did before the outbreak, which is both a public health and an economic problem as hospitals and healthcare systems have been losing money due to cancelled elective procedures and preventative care visits. Even as healthcare providers begin to shift hospitals back to their normal operating procedures and encourage patients to come in if needed, many worry that cases could spike again, leading to a second wave of the outbreak.

Michigan

Days of torrential rain breached two dams in central Michigan, causing the Tittabawassee River to overflow its banks. The New York Times reports that thousands of residents of Midland, Mich. Were forced to flee their homes as floodwaters covered much of the city. Evacuees wearing facemasks tried to maintain physical distance from others as they crowded into local schools being used as emergency shelters. For small businesses preparing to finally reopen, the flood brings a second wave of devastation and more time closed to the public.

The flooding in Michigan is a harbinger of the potential complications to come as parts of the country head into hurricane and tornado season while still dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak and struggling through the resulting economic crisis. Severe weather evacuations and recovery do not lend themselves to public health recommendations for social distancing, and many of the emergency supplies residents typically stock up on to prepare for severe weather are already in short supply due to the pandemic.


May 19, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Lawmakers Debate the Need for Another Relief Package

Partisan divide

The Congressional Budget Office projects that unemployment will reach 15.8% in the third quarter and that economic output for 2020 will contract by 5.6%. The economic crisis is unquestionable, but lawmakers disagree about how to address it. The Democrat-controlled House passed a new $3 trillion stimulus package last week that included sweeping programs to help businesses, local and state governments, and individuals, including a second round of stimulus checks. However, according to CNN, Senate Republicans and the White House aren’t convinced another relief package is needed and are reluctant to spend additional money that will grow the federal deficit. They prefer to “wait and see” if the relief measures already passed, along with reopening the economy, will provide sufficient economic gains without a fourth coronavirus bill.


May 18, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Initial Vaccine Testing Shows Promise, Iran’s Cases Surge After Reopening

First human trials

Vaccine manufacturer Moderna performed a small human trial of its COVID-19 vaccine on eight volunteers, according to The New York Times. The results of this small trial indicate the vaccine is safe and produces a healthy immune response to SARS-CoV-2, which is promising, but much more testing is needed. The volunteers, aged 18 to 55, produced an equal or greater level of antibodies as a person recovering from the virus. These antibodies were tested in a lab and found to stop the virus from replicating.

Testing will continue first in small numbers of older volunteers, and then in larger groups to verify that the vaccine is equally safe and effective across all age groups and the population at-large. The FDA recently gave its approval for the company to move to phase two testing, which will involve 600 volunteers. The New York Times reports that several other vaccine manufacturers have also begun the first phase of human trials. Experts agree that pursuing multiple vaccine projects simultaneously is important because it increases the odds of finding formulas that work, and more than one vaccine may be needed to meet the global demand.

Cautionary tale

Iran, an early epicenter of the pandemic, is facing a new surge in COVID-19 cases after beginning to reopen in late April. According to The New York Times, Iran relaxed restrictions before meeting recommended benchmarks, like a steady decline in cases over several weeks and widespread testing and contact tracing. Upon relaxing restrictions, social activity surged with crowds returning to public transportation, shopping, and worship during Ramadan. Three weeks later, health officials in eight provinces report new spikes in cases. Experts fear that Iran moved to reopen too soon and that the country is headed for a second COVID-19 crisis. How this second wave of infections plays out could serve as a cautionary tale as states in the U.S. begin reopening, in many cases without meeting the recommended benchmarks for doing so.


May 16-17, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: It Will Be Weeks Before We Know the Impact of Reopening

State of the virus

More than 1.5 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in the U.S., and more than 89,000 have died, according to The New York Times. Overall, the numbers of new cases and deaths have begun trending downward, but some individual locations are still seeing increases. However, experts warn that the data in front of us is actually a few weeks old. Since it takes three to five days (or sometimes more) for an infected person to feel the first symptoms, several more days to receive a positive test result, and typically three to five weeks before the virus could cause death, the infection and death rates we are looking at today are the result of the actions we took and the transmission rate from weeks ago.

This means declining cases today do not necessarily indicate the gradual reopening that began over the last two weeks is not causing a spike in new cases. In fact, declining cases today are likely the result of the social distancing restrictions that were in place throughout April. According to the Associated Press, experts suggest it will take five to six weeks to know how reopening has truly affected the spread of the virus, and a new surge in cases could mean reactivating restrictions, especially if extensive testing and contact tracing is not yet available.


May 15, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Retail Sales Fell 16.4% in April, Experts Agree Transmission Risk is Lower Outside

Retail sales

After an initial drop of 8.3% in March, retail sales fell another 16.4% in April, the largest one-month decline on record, according to The New York Times. Brick and mortar businesses suffered the worst losses. Even with carryout options, restaurants and bars lost half of their business in March and April. Furniture store sales dropped by more than 60%, and clothing stores dropped by 89%.

As states begin to reopen, these numbers will likely improve, but any gains will be much slower than the dramatic losses of the last two months. Reopening is happening gradually in most places, with limits on capacity and many consumers continuing to stay home more than they typically would. With more than 36 million people out of work, consumers also have less money to spend on restaurants and shopping.

Safer outside

With the arrival of warmer weather, many Americans are anxious to get outside but unsure about the risks. According to The New York Times, health experts agree that if you are going to leave home, being outside is safer than indoor spaces, like malls, offices, and gyms. It’s still important to physically distance by at least six feet and to wear masks any time that’s not possible, but in general, transmission of COVID-19 is less likely outdoors because the wind and wide open space dilutes virus particles quickly and it’s easier for people to stay physically separated.


May 14, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Two-month Unemployment Total Passes 36M

Unemployment

Last week nearly three million people filed new unemployment claims, bringing the two-month total job losses from the coronavirus economic crisis to more than 36 million, according to The New York Times. As states begin reopening, some workers are being recalled, but many face reduced hours and less pay along with increased risk of infection. However, refusing to return to an available job will most likely end any unemployment benefits, leaving many workers faced with a difficult choice.

Other jobless workers are still fighting to receive unemployment benefits from a system that is overloaded and delayed. While the Treasury Department reports that unemployment programs delivered $48 billion in payments in April across the country, 20 states as of Saturday had not paid out any money under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which was passed in late March to expand unemployment benefits to those not normally eligible, like the self-employed, according to The New York Times.

Food supply chain problems

As joblessness leads to increased food insecurity for many Americans, farmers are facing a different problem, with the food they produce going to waste because there is no one to process it. Especially hard-hit are the nation’s pig farmers who have begun slaughtering their own stock as COVID-19 outbreaks at meat packing plants cause shutdowns and backlogs, according to The New York Times. These shutdowns have led to meat shortages in the grocery store and at fast food chains. Meanwhile, the pigs on farms have grown too big for commercial slaughterhouses to handle, leaving farmers to dispose of the pigs themselves without processing them into food. Officials in Iowa, the top-producing state for pork, expect that 600,000 pigs will go to waste over the next six weeks, and industry experts warn that the psychological and economic toll for farmers will be severe.


May 13, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Federal Reserve Chair Warns Economic Damage Could be Permanent, More Americans Leave Their Homes

An economy in crisis

Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, warned that the COVID-19 economic crisis could permanently damage the United States economy if Congress does not take further action to prevent mass bankruptcies and prolonged joblessness, according to The New York Times. Powell pointed out that since the path to recovery is highly uncertain, policies should be prepared and ready to implement if needed. “Additional fiscal support could be costly, but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery,” said Powell.

Recent discussions of further response packages have stalled over differences along party lines with Democrats largely wanting to implement new programs and more federal assistance while Republicans are nervous about growing the federal budget deficit with more relief spending. The New York Times reports that President Trump’s economic advisors are waiting to see if reopening the economy provides enough growth that another aid package would not be necessary.

More than 20 million people have lost their jobs since the pandemic closed businesses across the country, and a Fed survey shows that 40% of working Americans in households making less than $40,000 a year lost their jobs in March. Powell warned that a drawn-out recession would have “lasting damage” on U.S. productive capacity and could lead to years of slowed growth due to lost worker skills and crippling debt among Americans.

On the move

According to a New York Times analysis of cell phone data nationwide, 25 million more people left their homes on an average day last week than during the previous six weeks. From March 20 to April 30, 43.8% of U.S. residents stayed home. Last week, that dropped to 36.1%. As states relax stay-at-home restrictions, Americans appear anxious to get out and about; however, public health officials continue to warn that lifting restrictions too soon could cause the outbreak to begin spreading unchecked once again. None of the states lifting restrictions have met the federal government’s baseline recommendations for reopening their economies safely.


May 12

Fauci Testifies on Dangers of Premature Openings, Death Toll Predictions Increase, Canada Discusses Stronger U.S. Borders

Lawmakers joined together remotely on Tuesday and listened to coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci as he testified of the dangers of relaxing social distancing measures prematurely, according to CNN. Fauci said doing so posed a “real risk” of an uncontrollable outbreak that will lead to a higher death toll as well as further economic distress. Facui’s comments are seen as conflicting with President Trump’s urging of areas to reopen, and lawmakers spent much of the hearing voicing opinions on the best course of action. Representatives of both parties are still urging increased testing. Polls show the majority of people would feel unsafe completely ending stay-at-home restrictions.

Meanwhile the White House’s preferred model for coronavirus predictions today released new numbers, predicting the U.S. death toll to hit 147,000 by August 4, according to Forbes. This increased number comes in response to relaxed social distancing across the country.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the country the country was considering stronger security measures at the U.S.-Canada border as U.S. states begin to reopen. The border is currently closed to non-essential travel, but that closure expires on May 21.


May 11

Infection Outbreak in the White House, Los Angeles County to Ease Restrictions Slowly Over Months

White House staffers are under face covering requirements now as two staffers tested positive for coronavirus, according to CNN. Contact tracing is underway to try to slow the spread within the White House and quarantine those who are at risk.

Los Angeles County officials on Monday said stay-at-home orders are expected to stay in place through at least July, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, the restrictions will be slowly relaxed uner a five-step plan “guided by science and data.”


May 8-10

New York Cases Decrease; Russia, South Korea, and Germany See a Spike

The number of new COVID-19 cases in New York has finally returned to the levels seen in early March when Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statewide stay-in-place order, according to CNBC. While cases are still high in the state—it is the hardest hit in the nation—the decrease is promising. Stay-at-home orders will expire on May 15, though that date is expected to be pushed back, with Cuomo saying regional reopening could happen soon.

Russia hit a record number of new cases on Sunday, putting its confirmed cases at more than 220,000. It now has the third highest number of cases internationally after the U.S. in Spain. Meanwhile, Spain saw a decrease in cases, falling to 123 cases on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases to more than 224,000.

South Korea saw a new spike in cases, according to CBS. Contact tracing found the spread originated in the nightclubs follow lifting of stay-at-home restrictions. School reopening in the country, which were set for next week, have been delayed following the reemergence.


May 7, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Experts Fear States Opening Too Soon as Unemployment Passes 33M

Unemployment

Last week, 3.2 million people filed new unemployment claims, bringing the seven-week total to more than 33 million Americans who are out of work. The New York Times reports that the weekly numbers have declined steadily throughout April, but the total damage to the U.S. economy is stunning. Restaurant, hospitality, and travel workers were the first to be laid off, but as the effects of the shutdown rippled through the economy, a second wave of layoffs has included engineers, account executives, and other office workers who were first able to continue working from home.

As shelter in place orders end, some workers are being called back into service, but the economy is far from resuming normal activity, so recovery will be slow. Some states have extended their shelter in place orders through the end of May, and in the states that are beginning to reopen, businesses face strict rules like limits to capacity that will also likely limit the number of workers needed.

Reopening criteria

About half of U.S. states are beginning to reopen their economies now or in the coming weeks, but most fail to meet the baseline criteria for reopening that was laid out by the Trump Administration in mid-April, according to The New York Times. The White House guidelines are non-binding, leaving the final decision in the hands of the governors, but they suggest that to begin phase one of reopening, states should document a sustained downward trajectory in new COVID-19 cases for 14 days. However, most of the states taking steps to reopen have had an increase in daily cases over the past two weeks.

In addition to declining cases, the guidelines and public health experts suggest that states should be increasing testing and see an increase in the share of negative COVID-19 tests, which indicates that widespread testing is catching more cases, but most states fail to meet these criteria as well. “With so many places opening up before we see indicators of meaningful, sustained transmission declines, there is substantial risk of resurgence,” said Kimberly Powers, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, according to The New York Times. However, with unemployment now above 33 million, state officials are under extreme pressure to restart their economies and send people back to work.


May 6, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Economic Crisis Causes Rising Food Insecurity

Not enough to eat

One impact of the coronavirus economic crisis is rising food insecurity, especially among children. New research from the Brookings Institution shows that nearly one in five children are not getting enough to eat, according to The New York Times. These numbers are higher than researchers expected and three times higher than was reported in 2008 during the worst of the Great Recession. Part of the problem is likely the fact that school closures have disrupted school meal programs, which in some cases provide children with both breakfast and lunch. While many of these programs have found ways to continue, families face the added challenge of reaching distribution sites each day. With the pandemic already disrupting children’s education and socialization, news that 20% of the nation’s children are also experiencing disruption to their nutritional needs is cause for grave concern among experts as inadequate nutrition can cause permanent developmental damage.


May 5, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Virus Causes Mysterious Illness in Children

A rare complication

For most of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have believed that the virus doesn’t impact children very often, and when it does, the case is usually mild. Severe illness and death among children has been exceedingly rare, and schools have closed to prevent children from becoming carriers of the virus, not because they are particularly at risk for becoming ill. However, The New York Times reports that recently doctors in infection hot spots are seeing children with a mysterious illness that appears to be related to COVID-19.

The syndrome, which doctors are calling “pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome,” was identified in Europe last month in COVID-positive children, but so far, the numbers of children affected in the U.S. remains small. While none of the children have died, some have ended up in intensive care and on ventilators, according to The New York Times. Symptoms range from rashes and redness of the eyes or tongue to circulation problems and enlarged coronary arteries. Some children do end up with respiratory problems, but that does not appear to be a primary feature of this condition; rather, doctors say the illness is the result of a general inflammatory response to the virus. Though this new childhood syndrome appears to be rare at this point, it is just one more mystery in our understanding of precisely how SARS-CoV-2 attacks the body and why it affects people so differently.


May 4, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Federal Models Predict Rise in COVID-19 Cases

Rising death toll

As states begin to reopen their economies, federal government models project a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths. According to The New York Times, internal White House documents show the daily death toll will reach 3,000 by June 1, a 70% increase from today’s daily death toll. Currently the U.S. reports about 25,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day, but the model shows daily new cases could reach 200,000 by the end of May.

Although much of the United States has been sheltering in place for the past seven weeks in an effort to flatten the curve, these projections suggest that cases of the virus will spike severely once we reopen the economy. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has also revised its predictions to reflect an increase in deaths due to loosened restrictions and increased mobility among citizens, according to The New York Times. On April 17, when most of the U.S. was shut down, the Institute predicted just over 60,000 deaths by August. At more than 68,000 deaths, we have already surpassed that number heading into May, and the Institute now estimates nearly 135,000 deaths by the beginning of August.


May 2-3, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Small Businesses Navigate Reopening, Using PPP Loans

To open or not to open?

As state governments begin to lift restrictions, small business owners are faced with a choice: to reopen or not? Most small businesses are in desperate need of revenue after weeks of being shut down, but many owners and workers alike still fear the virus, according to The New York Times. Some are still waiting on unemployment benefits to be approved, while others wonder if their benefits will stop if they choose not to work when they technically could. Workers face losing their jobs if they choose not to return to work when business resumes. For those who rely on tips, returning to work in a restaurant that is only permitted to operate at reduced capacity could mean trading unemployment benefits for drastically reduced pay and increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. Most business owners must adhere to strict restrictions if they do reopen, including use of masks and gloves and enhanced sanitation protocols, but the PPE and cleaning supplies required are in short supply and difficult to find.

PPP pitfalls

In states that remain shut down, small business owners face uncertainty about how to use the funds they may have received from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. The New York Times reports that funds from the PPP must be used within eight weeks of receiving them, but for the loans to be forgiven, 75% of the money must be used to pay workers. If those workers aren’t able to work during that time, using the money to pay them may help the employees in the short term, but it doesn’t provide much benefit to the business itself, which will have to lay off its workers again when the money runs out or if the business can’t survive.

The New York Times reports that many business owners wish they had more flexibility, both with the timing and the use of PPP funds. Some need to purchase PPE for their workers while others face the expense of reworking their operating procedures for the new COVID-19 reality. If owners choose not to use most of the money for payroll, it becomes a low-interest loan that must be paid back, but it remains unclear whether businesses must still use the money within eight weeks, or if they are permitted to hold onto it for longer. With the complex rules governing the fund continuing to evolve, owners are left with a lot of uncertainty over exactly when and how they can use PPP loan money.


May 1, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: W.H.O. Extends Global Health Emergency

Global health

The World Health Organization declared Friday that the coronavirus pandemic continues to be classified as a global health emergency, according to The New York Times. The initial emergency declaration was issued on January 30 when there were just under 10,000 cases of COVID-19 and fewer than 100 of those were outside China. Today, there have been more than 3.2 million cases around the world and nearly 250,000 have died from COVID-19.

The virus is slowing in parts of Asia and Europe where people are slowly returning to work, but cases are accelerating in Africa and South America where many countries have weak health care systems that could exacerbate the effects of the pandemic, according to The New York Times. Even as parts of the world return to work, many cultural institutions remain closed and most professional sports, public events, and large gatherings remain banned or canceled. The pandemic has caused unprecedented damage to the global economy.

In the United States, protests have erupted as state officials struggle to balance public health and economic concerns. About a dozen states loosened some restrictions Friday, allowing some businesses to open and activities to resume within specific guidelines, while other states extended their stay-at-home orders to the end of May. Many citizens are desperate to return to work and eager to resume normal life, but The New York Times reports that public health experts have warned that opening movie theaters and restaurants too soon could lead to a deadly second wave of COVID-19.


April 30, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Federal Social Distancing Guidelines Expire

States reopening

Federal social distancing guidelines expire today as states wrestle with which restrictions to keep in place and which to loosen. The New York Times reports that during April, nine out of ten Americans were under orders to stay at home, but those orders are expiring in several states, including Alabama, Maine, Tennessee and Texas. North Dakota and Wyoming also plan to ease restrictions. In Texas, retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls may all operate at 25% capacity. The reopening of these states will be a crucial moment in the U.S. fight against the coronavirus as we observe the impact on infection rates in these areas.


April 29, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Economy Shrank 4.8% in First Quarter

U.S. economy

The United States gross domestic product fell in the first quarter of 2020 at a 4.8% annual rate, according to The New York Times. It’s the first G.D.P. decline since 2014 and the worst single-quarter contraction since the 2008 recession, but experts warn that much worse is to come. Widespread economic shutdowns did not occur until late March in most of the country, yet the final two weeks of the quarter proved devastating to the overall G.D.P.

With states only beginning to discuss and enact a slow, phased reopening of the economy as we head into May, it is likely that the economy will be at least partially shut down for most of the second quarter. The New York Times reports that economists predict the G.D.P. for our current quarter will contract at an annual rate of 30% or more, a fall not seen since the Great Depression. While some officials are hopeful that the economy will rally over the summer as stay-at-home orders are lifted, others are less optimistic. The Congressional Budget Office projects that although the economy will begin growing during the second half of 2020, it will not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2022 at the earliest.


April 28, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Cases Pass 1M, Testing Shortfalls Remain a Problem

One million cases

The United States has officially surpassed 1 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, but the true number of infections is likely much higher, according to The New York Times. Due to continued lack of testing and the fact that as many as 25% of cases may never show symptoms, some experts have suggested that the actual caseload in the U.S. may be ten times the officially reported number. We won’t know for sure until widespread antibody testing is performed to see who has been exposed, but preliminary antibody tests suggest that estimate could be accurate.

Testing

With testing continuing to dominate conversations around when to reopen schools and workplaces, President Trump announced a new plan on Monday to help states increase their testing capacities to 2% of their populations per month; however, some experts have suggested that the U.S. needs to test as much as 50% of the population per week, according to The New York Times.

Rhode Island is one state that has pursued an aggressive testing strategy, performing 283 tests per 100,000 residents, compared to the U.S. average of 79 tests per 100,000 people, according to The New York Times. Testing is free in Rhode Island with a referral, and when a person tests positive, state officials begin attempting to trace and test their contacts. As a result, Rhode Island has seen its cases quadruple since the beginning of the month, but this is likely just a more accurate picture of what is true everywhere: that many more people than we realize are being infected. Armed with this information, Rhode Island officials are better prepared to make decisions about how and when to reopen the economy, which Gov. Gina Raimondo plans to begin doing in two weeks, The New York Times reports. As one of the only states to attempt such extensive testing and contact tracing, other states will likely watch Rhode Island’s results closely to see how testing could impact infection rates as the economy reopens.


April 27, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Oxford Scientists Make Progress Toward a Vaccine as U.S. Deaths Pass 50,000

Vaccine testing advances

A laboratory at Oxford University is making rapid progress toward a COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to a head start based on some research they performed last year. Often the most time-consuming part of vaccine development is progressing through the long process of human trials to test the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. According to The New York Times, most research teams must start with small clinical trials for a few hundred people to first demonstrate that the vaccine is safe before progressing to wider and wider testing. However, scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute just happened to have developed a vaccine for a different coronavirus last year, and they have already demonstrated that it is safe for humans. Basing their COVID-19 formulation on this previous vaccine has allowed them to schedule testing for the new vaccine on 6,000 participants by the end of next month. If they can prove that the vaccine is also effective, and if they can get emergency approval from regulators, the first few million doses of the vaccine could be available as early as September.

That’s still a lot of “ifs,” but researchers at the National Institute of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory tested the Oxford vaccine last month on rhesus macaque monkeys with promising results. Six monkeys were given single doses of the vaccine and then were exposed to heavy quantities of SARS-CoV-2, which had been consistently sickening unvaccinated monkeys in the lab, just as it has humans. After four weeks, all six monkeys were still healthy, according to The New York Times. This one test does not guarantee the vaccine will be effective in humans, but it is a very promising result at this stage in the vaccine development. This is important news as deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. pass 50,000 and it becomes increasingly clear that despite plans to slowly reopen the economy in the coming weeks, a true return to normalcy will not be possible until a safe and effective vaccine is developed, tested, and widely available.


April 25-26, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: States Beginning to Reopen Face Logistical Challenges

Logistics of reopening

As states like Georgia, Oklahoma, and South Carolina made the first moves in reopening their economies, questions began to emerge about the logistics this gradual, location-specific reopening that the White House and public health experts are suggesting, according to The New York Times. It has been agreed that just as the shutdowns went into place in a patchwork fashion based on infection rates and circumstances in each state, so too would reopening the economy follow a patchwork, state-by-state pattern. The White House guidelines suggest that each state should meet certain criteria regarding infection rates and healthcare capacity, and then progress through three phases of opening, pausing or backtracking as needed if cases of COVID-19 begin to rise.

That may make sense from a public health perspective, but the economy depends on an interconnected web of supply chains that aren’t neatly contained within each state, according to The New York Times. For example, businesses that are permitted to reopen next week in South Carolina may depend on parts or equipment manufactured in another state that is still shut down. Economic activity will not be able to smoothly resume in just one location at a time.

The White House guidelines also suggest that many businesses may reopen before schools and daycares resume, leaving parents with the problem of how to return to work without childcare in place. Additionally, the guidelines suggest that businesses may need to operate at reduced capacity in order to maintain physical distancing. The New York Times notes that for bars, restaurants, and other businesses, this could mean serving half the number of customers for the same operating cost, which is likely unsustainable. And just because these businesses are allowed to operate doesn’t mean that Americans will feel comfortable eating out or shopping in stores as they once did. As officials continue to debate when and how to best restart the economy, it is clear that the process of opening the economy will be much slower and more painstaking than the process to shut it down.


April 24, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Cleaning Product Warnings, States Begin to Reopen

Cleaning product crisis

President Trump on Thursday made remarks about using disinfectants to kill the coronavirus in the human body, seeming to suggest that it might be possible to inject them as a treatment for COVID-19. According to The New York Times, the White House spent much of Friday trying to walk back, clarify, or explain the President’s remarks. Regardless of the President’s intent, these remarks led to much confusion and alarm, with both public health experts and manufacturers urging Americans not to ingest or inject cleaning products.

These warnings followed a CDC report earlier in the week that showed an increase in calls to poison control centers for incidents involving cleaning and disinfecting products, according to The New York Times. The report suggests that as Americans stock up on cleaning supplies and use them more rigorously in their homes, there has been an increased incidence of accidental ingestion by children, as well as incidents of mixed cleaning products creating dangerous chemical gasses.  Both health experts and manufacturers stress that cleaning products should be kept out of reach of children and used only as directed on the product’s label—never mixed, ingested, or used on the human body.

States move to reopen

Georgia, Alaska, and Oklahoma took the first steps toward reopening their economies, a controversial move that is being watched closely to see how infection rates respond, according to The New York Times. Though these are some of the earliest states to ease restrictions, things are still far from normal. In Georgia, salons reopened, but technicians wore masks and gloves, and temperature checks were recommended before serving customers. Limited in-store shopping was permitted in Alaska while state parks opened in Oklahoma and public beaches opened in South Carolina. The openings have been criticized by some and praised by others as the nation remains locked in a debate over exactly how, when, and how quickly to reopen the economy and send Americans back to school and work.


April 23, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Unemployment Tops 26 Million People, House Passes Stimulus Package

Unemployment

Last week, 4.4 million people filed new unemployment claims, bringing national unemployment up to 26 million people in five weeks, according to The New York Times. The mass joblessness has a ripple effect that compounds the problem. Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, explains that when this many unemployed people can’t pay for rent, food, utilities, and credit card bills, the economic effect is compounded, creating a downward spiral that is harder to stop. These stunning unemployment figures are sure to factor into the ongoing national conversation about when and how quickly to reopen the economy.

Small business loan program

Replenishment for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which ran out of money last week, has gotten final approval from the House as they passed a $484 billion relief package that also includes money for hospitals, testing, and the Small Business Administration disaster relief loans, according to USA Today. Loans from the PPP are forgivable if businesses use at least 75% of the money to keep their workers on the payroll, an effort by the government to prevent further job loss. Businesses affected by the pandemic and with fewer than 500 employees can apply for loans up to $10 million now that funds are available. For more information, check out USA Today’s FAQ.


April 22, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Earliest COVID-19 U.S. Death Revised, Officials Weigh Costs of Restarting Economy

Revised earliest death

Up to this point, it was believed that the first U.S. deaths due to the coronavirus occurred on February 26 in Seattle; however, officials in California revealed that autopsies show two earlier deaths in Santa Clara County on February 6 and February 17. Tissue samples tested by the CDC confirmed the presence of COVID-19. According to The New York Times, these individuals had no travel history that would explain the infection, meaning COVID-19 was likely spreading in California in mid-January—much earlier that was previously believed. Passengers developed COVID-19 onboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, which departed San Francisco on February 11, meaning they likely became infected in early February which also supports the idea that community spread was already happening in California by then. Experts believe the virus was circulating in New York by mid-February as well. These discoveries also point to the fact that there are likely many cases and fatalities of COVID-19 that are currently not included in U.S. official counts.

Weighing the costs of restarting the economy

The question of the moment for state officials across the country is how soon and how quickly to reopen the economy. The harsh reality is that any move to return people to work before there is a vaccine will have a deadly cost for some, according to The New York Times. However, with a vaccine at least 18 months away, the costs of keeping the economy shut down are unsustainable and could create a public health crisis of their own with millions of people experiencing joblessness and struggling to afford food and medical care. The faster economic activity returns to normal, the more people will die of COVID-19, even with testing, physical distancing, and a phased approach to reopening. So how many deaths are an acceptable number to salvage the economy? It’s a question dividing officials around the country as some advocate that Americans are willing to assume some risk from the disease in order to get back to work, while others stress the importance of valuing public health above economic health.


April 21, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Senate Passes Relief Package to Replenish Small Business Loan Programs

Small business loan program

After weeks of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans, the Senate passed a $484 billion relief package on Tuesday to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), an emergency loan program available to help small businesses with payroll during the pandemic. The PPP was overwhelmed with applications and ran out of money after just three weeks. According to The New York Times, the Democrats pushed for the bill to also include $25 billion for testing and a mandate that the federal government create a national strategy to assist states as they create plans to expand testing. As some states prepare to take the first steps toward reopening their economies, experts agree that widespread testing is the key to minimizing the impacts of lifting restrictions.

Easing restrictions

Officials in some states are moving quickly toward lifting restrictions this week, despite warnings from public health experts that the outbreak has not yet begun a downward trajectory, reports ABC News. In South Carolina, beaches and non-essential retail stores were allowed to open on Tuesday. In Georgia, fitness centers, salons, and bowling alleys will open on Friday with theaters and sit-down restaurants set to open on Monday. In Texas, state parks, elective surgeries, and curbside pickup shopping for all stores resumed this week. Tennessee and Vermont will also begin the process of reopening their economies in the coming weeks. Some local officials have expressed concern that it’s too soon to ease restrictions, but the governors face increasing pressure to get people back to work.


April 20, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Testing Concerns Dominate Plans to Reopen Economy

Testing

Over and over experts are saying that the key to reopening the economy is robust, rapid testing for COVID-19. The New York Times reports that the Trump administration has claimed that there is a sufficient supply of tests, but state governors assert that they don’t have the testing supplies they need to move forward with lifting restrictions. Governors are facing increased pressure to reopen their economies with modest protests breaking out over the weekend as unemployment claims continue to climb. However, despite these protests, polling shows that 60% of voters share the governors concerns and are worried that restrictions will be lifted too soon, leading to a second spike in the virus. Some state officials have begun releasing tentative plans to ease restrictions in the coming weeks, while others, like those in New York and New Jersey, assert that they need federal help to ramp up testing before discussing plans to reopen.

Small business loan program

The testing debate has also featured prominently in negotiations between congressional Democrats and the White House as they struggled to reach an agreement to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses, which ran out of money last week. The New York Times reports that the Republicans wanted to simply replenish PPP, but the Democrats would not agree unless the package also included funding for hospitals and increased testing. By Sunday night, Democrats and Republicans were nearing an agreement on a $450 billion relief package that would include $300 billion for the PPP, $50 billion for the Small Business Administration disaster fund, $75 billion for hospitals, and $25 billion to expand testing.


April 18-19, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Protests Erupt Over Shutdown Measures, Experts Weigh in About the Year Ahead

Protests

Protesters gathered over the weekend in Texas, Nevada, Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin to call for state officials to lift restrictions and send people back to school and work. The COVID-19 shutdowns have caused unprecedented joblessness and economic strife, and many are anxious to restart the economy despite the warnings of public health experts. At the protest in Austin, more than 100 demonstrators gathered, flouting social distancing guidelines, most not wearing masks and standing within six feet of other protesters. The New York Times reports that many of these protesters feel the government is lying about the coronavirus or at least exaggerating the risks. They believe restrictions like closing certain businesses and schools, issuing stay-at-home orders, and limiting social gatherings represent an overreaction of fear and an overreaching of government power.

A look ahead

The New York Times spoke to various experts in public health, medicine, epidemiology, and history about what the year ahead might hold for a society battling a pandemic. Most of these experts agree that shutdowns and social distancing measures are not likely to end soon, and they worry that over time the public will begin to ignore the guidelines, ensuring the virus continues to circulate widely.

Encouragingly the numbers of new cases and deaths are beginning to plateau in many places, and epidemiological projections that once placed the U.S. death toll at up to 240,000 by midsummer have been revised to 60,000, but the experts caution that these statistics only account for the first wave of the virus. Until there is a vaccine, COVID-19 will continue to circulate, and more people will die of the virus; how many more depends largely on our actions as a society, but it’s clear that the economic shutdowns cannot continue indefinitely. The number of deaths will rise as the economy reopens, even with the careful, phased approach the White House released last week. The New York Times reports that experts have predicted the virus will eventually reach 48%-65% of the U.S. population, likely killing just under 1% of those infected—as many as 1.7 to 2.2 million Americans by some projections.

The experts agreed that without a vaccine or treatment, it will not be safe for all Americans to resume their normal activities, so social distancing measures, telework, and other restrictions are likely to be with us for a while, according to The New York Times. As parts of the economy reopen, cases will surge, lockdowns will be reinstated, cases will fall, and the cycle repeats—over and over until an effective vaccine is developed. To manage this “dance” between economic and public health concerns, widespread rapid testing and contact tracing will be necessary. Experts predict that the economy is likely to rebound rapidly after the pandemic passes, but America faces a long and difficult road before that day arrives.


April 17, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Governors Propose Some Easing of Restrictions, Nursing Homes Remain a Hot Spot

Plans to ease restrictions

After the White House released its guidelines on Thursday, states around the country are looking ahead to easing certain restrictions and slowly restarting their economies. In Texas, all stores may reopen for curbside pickup only, state parks will open, and some elective medical procedures may resume, according to The New York Times. Minnesota will open golf courses this weekend. Other states are planning to ease restrictions beginning May 1 when Vermont will allow farmer’s markets to open and Ohio will allow some businesses to open with social distancing guidelines in place. However, in states like Maryland, where COVID-19 deaths continue to rise, easing restrictions isn’t in the plan yet. Gov. Larry Hogan said that he would not lift restrictions until his state had expanded its testing, contact tracing, hospital capacity, and PPE availability.

Nursing homes

Nursing homes have emerged as nationwide hot spots for COVID-19, with a fifth of virus-related deaths in the U.S. occurring among nursing home residents and staff. The New York Times reports that at least 7,000 deaths have been linked to nursing facilities, where outbreaks of COVID-19 are fast and lethal. Many nursing facilities are crowded and understaffed, with staff members in close physical contact with the residents. The same shortages of testing and personal protective equipment plague these facilities, creating a perfect environment for the virus to spread among some of the most vulnerable among us.


April 16, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: 22 Million Americans Unemployed, White House Releases Guidelines for States to Reopen Economies

Unemployment

Another 5.2 million Americans filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the nation’s four-week total to 22 million, according to The New York Times. This has been the steepest and widest-reaching recession the nation has ever seen with unemployment reaching into nearly every sector of the economy as the country remains shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. With federal social distancing guidelines and many stay-at-home orders in place through the end of the month, Americans are likely to endure at least two more weeks of layoffs before there’s any hope of improvement.

Plan to Reopen

On Thursday, the Trump administration released a set of non-binding guidelines for how states should approach reopening their economies, but he assured the governors that they would have control over when to lift restrictions in their respective states, according to The New York Times. The White House plan acknowledges that some states will open sooner than others and returning to work and school will be a months-long process determined by the public health situation on the ground. After satisfying initial criteria like a downward trajectory of cases for 14 days, hospital capacity to treat all patients without crisis care, and robust testing, the guidelines suggest three phases for reopening:

  • Phase 1: Vulnerable people continue to shelter in place while all others practice physical distancing in public and limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer. Nonessential travel should be minimized and people should continue to telework if possible. Schools and youth activities remain closed. Elective surgeries may resume but visits to hospitals and nursing homes should be prohibited. Some large venues like gyms, restaurants, and movie theaters may operate with strict sanitation and physical distancing in place. Bars remain closed.
  • Phase 2: Vulnerable people continue to shelter in place while all others practice physical distancing in public and limit gatherings to 50 people or fewer. Nonessential travel may resume, but people should continue to telework if possible. Schools and youth activities may open, and bars may open with limits on capacity.
  • Phase 3: Vulnerable people may resume social activities but should practice physical distancing when in public. Workplaces may return to normal operations, and large venues, gyms, and bars may operate with limited physical distancing and standard sanitation protocols.

Ultimately the governors will determine the timing and pace of progressively opening their economies, but the federal guidelines suggest that states may move on to the next phase if there is no rebound and a continued downward trend of cases for at least 14 days in each phase.


April 15, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Paycheck Protection Program Runs Out of Money, Economic Outlook Worsens, Widespread Testing Still Not Available

Stimulus

Individual payments from the $2 trillion stimulus package began showing up in citizens’ bank accounts Wednesday. If the IRS has your direct deposit information, the money should come directly to your bank account; otherwise checks will be mailed. Payments are income-based, but Americans can receive up to $1,200 per adult and $500 for each dependent child, according to The New York Times. Glitches in the portal used by IRS caused some problems during the roll out, with “payment status not available” becoming a trending topic on Twitter as thousands report receiving the error, according to NBC Ness.

Unfortunately, the Paycheck Protection Program, another stimulus initiative, is out of money. The program offers loans to small businesses to help them keep workers on the payroll during the pandemic. The New York Times reports that 1.4 million loans were approved as of Wednesday, and the $349 billion fund has run dry while congressional leaders and the Trump administration have been unable to agree on the terms to replenish the fund. Negotiations are ongoing.

Economic outlook

Retail sales plunged a record 8.7% in March as stay-at-home orders and nonessential business shutdowns began to take effect in the second half of the month, according to The New York Times. The figure, which is more than double the drop from the 2009 recession, includes bar and restaurant sales as well as online retail sales, which have also declined as millions of people lost their jobs and stopped spending money on all but the most necessary items. As sobering as these numbers are, the shutdowns did not take effect until the latter half of the month for most of the country, which means April’s sales figures will likely be even worse.

On a global level, the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) has predicted that 2020 will be the worst economic downturn for the world since the Great Depression. Earlier this year, the I.M.F. predicted that the global economy would grow by 3.3% in 2020, but as the coronavirus pandemic halts economic activity around the world, the I.M.F. now predicts the global economy will shrink by 3%, according to The New York Times. During the 2009 recession, economic output shrank by less than 1%.

Testing

As the economic crisis deepens, many Americans are wondering when it will be safe to return to work. Experts say the biggest hurdle to restarting the economy is the lack of testing, according to The New York Times. Although COVID-19 testing has expanded, shortages continue, leading most healthcare facilities to restrict testing to a select few who meet certain criteria. In most cases, this means asymptomatic people who believe they may have been exposed are not tested.

Because as many as 25% of infected people do not develop symptoms, the lack of widespread testing makes it nearly impossible to track and contain the spread of the virus. As long as that remains true, any return to business as usual carries the risk of a significant resurgence of the virus. Recent projections show that some rebound in cases is inevitable when the economy restarts, but The New York Times reports robust testing would allow states to swiftly contain the virus and give workers and consumers the confidence to resume normal activities.


April 14, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: N.Y.C. Revises Fatality Count, California Considers Steps to Open Economy

New York fatalities

Officials in New York City revised the official fatality count on Tuesday, including 3,700 victims who were not tested for COVID-19, but are presumed to have died from it. The revised count brings the city’s total fatalities to more than 10,000 and the nationwide total to more than 26,000, according to The New York Times, and more people have died per-capita in New York City than in Italy, which has been the epicenter of the European outbreak.

According to The New York Times, the New York Health Department began recording presumed virus deaths weeks ago, but because no test confirmed them, they were not included in official counts. The adjusted fatality totals include patients who died at home or in the hospital whose symptoms and medical history indicate that COVID-19 was the likely cause of death.

Limited testing has made the full impact of the virus difficult to track, but accurate counts are important in helping health experts understand precisely how widely COVID-19 has spread and how fatal it is. New York’s revised numbers indicate it is likely that virus cases and fatalities are undercounted across the country. Epidemiologists say that the full impact of the pandemic will not be known until further analysis is performed after the outbreak is over.

California

California was one of the first states to identify cases of the coronavirus and implement stay-at-home orders. As the country’s main point of entry for travel from China, California was expected to become a major hot spot for the virus, but the state has fared far better than anyone imagined. With more than 700 deaths statewide, California ranks 30th in the nation for deaths per capita at just two deaths per 100,000 people (compared to 55 per 100,000 in New York), according to The New York Times.

As California considers steps to reopen its economy, the largest in the nation, the rest of the country will be watching to see what works and what doesn’t. Gov. Gavin Newsom doesn’t plan to take any action until hospitalizations are declining and the state has a higher capacity for testing, according to The New York Times, but he warns that even when stay-at-home orders are lifted, things will not quickly return to normal. He suggested that face masks would still be needed in public, large gatherings would likely still be banned, and customer temperatures may be taken before entering restaurants, among other precautions.


April 13, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Governors Unite to Plan for Reopening Economy

Governors unite

States on both the East and West Coast have banded together to form a unified plan for gradually reopening their respective economies as infection rates decline. President Trump has suggested that he will issue a federal plan to reopen the economy soon, but the governors in these coalitions have agreed to make the decisions themselves based on the science, not on politics, according to NPR.

On the East Coast, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Delaware have agreed to make decisions as a region when it comes to lifting COVID-19 restrictions. On the West Coast, California, Oregon, and Washington will also work together as a region. The governors say their decisions will be guided by public health outcomes in order to protect the most vulnerable residents and ensure that healthcare and testing systems are ready to handle all patients who become sick after stay-at-home orders are lifted, according to NPR. Experts have warned that cases will inevitably rebound after restrictions are lifted, so the timing is crucial to ensure that systems and supplies are in place to handle any new infections, according to The New York Times.

States in the Eastern coalition plan to convene a council to determine the timing of steps to reopen the economy. Each state will be represented on the council by one public health expert, one economic expert, and the governor.


April 11-12, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Governors Advise Continued Social Distancing as U.S. Cases Top 500,000, New York Nursing Homes Devastated by Virus

Governors weigh in

As pressure mounts to reopen the economy, several governors and mayors gave interviews Sunday where they advised caution, according to The New York Times. Though the economic toll is substantial, officials in hard-hit areas say their top priority is public health, and they fear that lifting social distancing measures too soon could result in a devastating resurgence of the virus. More than half a million people in the U.S. have been infected with COVID-19, and at least 22,000 have died as the United States passes Italy in number of deaths.

Nursing home deaths

Nursing homes in the New York region are suffering heavy blows from the pandemic as COVID-19 tears through these facilities, leaving nearly 2,000 residents dead. The New York Times reports that thousands more residents and staff are sick as these facilities face a perfect storm of factors that leave them vulnerable to the virus: aging residents with other health conditions, staffing and PPE shortages, and constant close contact between staff and residents that allows the virus to easily spread, even if visitors are kept out and residents are isolated in their rooms.

As of Saturday, COVID-19 deaths in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut topped 10,000, but nearly 2,000 of those have been in nursing homes, according to The New York Times. By Friday, more than half of New York’s nursing homes had confirmed COVID-19 infections, but experts speculate that cases are likely present in every facility in the region, which remains the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.


April 10, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: New Projections Show a Summer Spike if Restrictions are Lifted Too Soon, CDC and NIH to Begin Antibody Testing

When to lift restrictions

President Trump said determining when to lift federal social distancing guidelines would be “the biggest decision I’ll ever make,” according to The New York Times. It’s a question without an easy answer. New projections from the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, show that an increase in COVID-19 cases is inevitable when social distancing is relaxed, but timing is crucial to minimize the second spike. According to The New York Times, the report outlines three scenarios:

  1. No mitigation: Had the government taken no action, there could have been up to 300,000 deaths from COVID-19.
  2. “Steady state”: Schools remain closed until summer, 25% of people work from home, and some social distancing continues.
  3. “Steady state” guidelines plus a 30-day shelter-in-place order.

The New York Times reports that if the government lifts the 30-day order, the death toll could reach 200,000 with the second peak of infections coming in mid- to late summer. Current stay-at-home orders are wreaking havoc on the economy, but they are also working to slow the spread of the virus. Federal predictions that first estimated the U.S. would see 100,000 deaths due to the virus have been revised down to about 60,000 deaths, according to The New York Times.

Antibody testing

The CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are preparing to begin antibody testing to determine how widely the coronavirus has spread and who has been infected. These serology tests work by testing the blood for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies, which would indicate a past infection. The hope is that if we know who has already been exposed to the virus and is therefore immune, those people may be able to get back to work sooner than those who are still at risk, according to The New York Times. Additionally, immune healthcare workers could be relied upon to treat the sickest patients.

In addition to reopening the economy, serology tests would help epidemiologists understand precisely how widely the virus has spread, giving us more accurate data about the rates of infection and fatality for COVID-19. This information would then inform future public health decisions as secondary spikes occur. Despite these promising implications, The New York Times reports that serology tests also have several limitations and drawbacks:

  1. Serology tests cannot be used to diagnose cases of COVID-19; they are only able to detect past infections.
  2. The presence of antibodies doesn’t guarantee immunity. For people who had mild symptoms or no symptoms, their antibodies might not be strong enough to protect from reinfections.
  3. The tests are not yet widely available and are imperfect, at times giving false negatives or false positives. False positives are particularly problematic as they can lead people to assume they are protected when they are not.
  4. Scientists don’t know how long immunity to COVID-19 will last. In similar viruses, antibodies protect against reinfections for one to eight years, but we have no data for COVID-19.

April 9, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Unemployment Claims Top 16 Million in Three Weeks

Unemployment

With the nation’s economy at a standstill, 6.6 million Americans filed new unemployment claims last week, bringing the three-week total for job losses to more than 16 million. This total is nearly double the number of job losses that occurred over two years during the 2007-2009 recession, according to The New York Times. And the damage is far from over as there is currently no clear end in sight for the economic shutdown. Some experts predict that by the end of the month, as many as 20 million Americans could be out of work, bringing the unemployment rate close to 15%.

Many unemployment offices are overwhelmed with claims, and some have warned that payments may be delayed. The $2 trillion stimulus package included expanded unemployment, but in many cases these benefits aren’t yet reaching the people who need them as states experience delays in processing claims and implementing new guidelines. Even with unemployment payments, many Americans are facing a dramatic drop in their income and are forced to make tough choices about which bills to pay each month.

Small business

The stimulus package also included help for small businesses with fewer than 500 workers but understanding and accessing the benefits you might qualify for is no easy task. The New York Times has put together an F.A.Q. for coronavirus relief to help cut through the red tape. Importantly, the article notes that the funding for these programs is limited and is offered on a first come, first served basis, so if you think you qualify, don’t wait to apply.


April 8, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: New York State has More Cases Than Italy, Outbreak Spreads Through Rural America

New York

More than 150,000 people in New York have tested positive for COVID-19, the vast majority in New York City and its suburbs. New York State alone has more cases than many countries, including both Italy and Spain which have the highest number of cases in Europe. The state, which had its first positive test for COVID-19 on March 1, has quickly become the hardest-hit region in the world. The fact that New York City is so densely populated with a high degree of international travel certainly makes controlling an outbreak challenging under any circumstances; however, The New York Times found that the state’s sluggishness to take decisive action also played a major role in allowing the virus to spread uncontrollably.

For comparison, San Francisco closed schools on March 12 with 18 confirmed cases and Ohio closed schools statewide the same day with just five cases. New York City waited three more days to close schools when the city’s count was at 329 cases. Likewise, New York’s stay-at-home order went into effect March 22, days later and with more cases than when orders were first issued in California. And in a pandemic, every day counts. The New York Times reports that Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, former head of the CDC, tweeted that had New York enacted social distancing one or two weeks earlier, virus deaths could have been reduced by 50% to 80%. Had they waited just two more days, deaths in New York City would have doubled.

Rural cases

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 outbreak first reached big cities that serve as major travel hubs, and then spread rapidly in these densely populated areas like New York, Chicago, and New Orleans. As the pandemic unfolded in urban zones across the country, it seemed that rural areas might be naturally protected. After all, the population is sparse, international travel is rare, and social distancing is in some ways already part of the lifestyle.

According to The New York Times, it wasn’t until mid-March that handfuls of cases began to emerge in some rural areas, especially vacation destinations like Colorado ski towns. By March 19, hundreds of counties began reporting their first cases, and by April 6, two-thirds of rural counties across America had at least one confirmed case. As this delayed wave of illness spreads, health officials warn that COVID-19 cases could overwhelm under-resourced medical systems in rural areas where older Americans who are more likely to have existing health problems make up a higher percentage of the population.


April 7, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Outbreak is Disproportionately Affecting Black Americans, Wuhan Lockdown Lifted

Racial disparity

Data from several cities and states show emerging racial disparities in COVID-19 illness and fatality rates, according to The New York Times. For example, black Americans in Chicago account for more than half of the COVID-19 cases and 72% of the fatalities but make up less than a third of the population. In Michigan, black residents make up a third of the cases and 40% of the deaths, but just 14% of the population. Though the nationwide data is incomplete, similar disparities have been reported in Louisiana, Illinois, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Public health experts say that black communities are disproportionately impacted by the outbreak due to entrenched systemic inequalities in our society. According to The New York Times, black Americans are more likely to have jobs they can’t do from home, which increases their risk of exposure. They are also less likely to have health insurance and more likely to have existing health conditions, leading to a higher likelihood of death for those who do contract the virus.

 Wuhan released

After more than 10 weeks on lockdown, residents of the city where the COVID-19 outbreak originated are now permitted to leave. According to The New York Times, Chinese authorities closed off the city of 11 million people in late January in an effort to contain spread of the virus. Lifting the lockdown is a milestone that came after the city reported just three new cases in three weeks; however, life in Wuhan, which accounted for nearly two-thirds of China’s more than 80,000 case, is still far from normal.

Residents are permitted to leave the city only after showing proof via a phone app that they are not a health risk. Inside the city, individual neighborhoods still have some restrictions in place as residents are encouraged to stay home as much as possible and schools are still closed. Nearly 94% of the city’s businesses have resumed operations, but most are not yet operating at full capacity. Stores are open, but many have set up outdoor counters so residents can buy supplies without going inside. As The New York Times notes, beyond the restrictions is the psychological trauma that has left its mark on the city; self-isolation, fear of contagion, and extreme caution have become a way of life that is likely to persist in Wuhan long after the lockdown is lifted.


April 6, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Deaths Pass 10,000, Experts Identify Four Benchmarks for Getting Back to Work

U.S. case reporting

The United States now has more than 350,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 10,000 people have died, but health experts say that the true toll of the outbreak is likely much higher, according to The New York Times. The shortage of tests and inconsistent protocols when it comes to tracking the virus and reporting fatalities has almost certainly led to inaccurate figures. People who die at home or without having been tested are not included in the count. Additionally, some patients who died of the flu or pneumonia in late February and early March, before the outbreak was known to be widely spreading and before testing was readily available, may have actually had coronavirus but also aren’t included in the U.S. case count.

Health experts say that precise case reporting and accurate fatality counts are important in understanding how the virus moves and how deadly it is. This information is then used by government officials to inform decisions about how to distribute resources and how aggressively to shut down public life, according to The New York Times. When these decisions are made based on inaccurate information from a patchwork of different state protocols, our response is not as effective as it could be. To address this issue, the CDC last week issued updated guidelines for reporting coronavirus deaths based either on testing or when circumstances provide a “reasonable degree of certainty.”

Economic outlook

As the outbreak appears to be peaking in some of the world’s hot spots, stocks began to rally on Monday with the S&P 500 gaining 7%. Though this is a promising sign, experts say that the U.S. economy can’t begin to recover until people feel safe to engage in their normal daily lives without a high risk of illness, and that is still a long way off, according to The New York Times. Since the speed and timing of the outbreak varies by state, the timing of when Americans can return to work will likely also vary.

The American Enterprise Institute released a report that provides guidelines for when and how to reopen the economy. As summarized by The New York Times, the report outlines four benchmarks for determining when individual states will be ready to bring their economies back online:

  1. Hospitals in the state have the capacity to treat all patients needing hospitalization without resorting to crisis measures.
  2. The state has the capacity to test all individuals who are symptomatic.
  3. The state has the capacity to monitor confirmed cases and trace their contacts so that those exposed may self-isolate.
  4. The state must experience a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.

Short of an effective treatment or vaccine (also a long way off), these benchmarks provide a framework for determining when it is reasonably safe to open the economy without risking a major resurgence of the virus. As The New York Times points out, most states do not currently have the resources to test, treat, trace, and monitor all cases of COVID-19; however, the framework at least provides a concrete set of goals as we look toward a plan for recovery.


April 4-5, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: New York Calls for Medical Reinforcements as Cases are Expected to Peak This Week

The week ahead

President Trump warns of a tough week ahead for the pandemic as cases and fatalities continue to climb. According to The New York Times, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said that the next two weeks are a crucial time for social distancing as the current hot spots of New York, Louisiana, and Detroit are likely to peak by the end of the week. New York City remains the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, and satellite hot spots are beginning to grow in nearby locations like Long Island and New Jersey.

New York is relying on a massive mobilization of healthcare workers volunteering to serve in the state’s hardest-hit hospitals. Some of the 85,000 volunteers are coming out of retirement to assist, and about 22,000 are traveling from out of state. Gov. Cuomo also signed an executive order allowing medical students who have not yet graduated to practice medicine in order to provide additional hospital staff, according to The New York Times.

Holdout states

The New York Times reports that nearly four billion people worldwide are under some sort of stay-at-home or lockdown order. That amounts to roughly half the world’s population; however, although the U.S. currently leads the world in coronavirus cases, nine states had still not issued statewide stay-at-home orders as of Friday. Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota have no restrictions in place at all, while Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, and South Carolina have issued local stay-at-home orders in certain areas but not statewide, according to The New York Times. Pressure is mounting for these states to issue orders, but the governors feel that other measures they have taken, such as closing schools and restaurants and issuing social distancing guidelines, are sufficient for the time being.


April 3, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: CDC Recommends Masks for All, New York Deaths Soar

Masks for everyone

On Friday, the CDC officially recommended that all Americans, even those who are healthy, wear a cloth mask any time they are out in public, according to The New York Times. This recommendation comes after recent studies revealed that as many as 25% of coronavirus carriers never develop symptoms and those who do begin actively transmitting the virus 48 hours before feeling sick. This means that seemingly healthy people who may still be shopping or going to work are contributing to the spread of the virus. The masks are intended to prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to others, but Americans should continue to practice social distancing and frequent handwashing as masks alone will not stop the spread. The CDC also recommends wearing a cloth mask or scarf rather than a medical-grade mask, as these masks continue to be in short supply and are needed by healthcare providers treating COVID-19 patients.

New York deaths soar

The number of COVID-19 deaths in New York doubled in just three days from 1,550 on Tuesday to nearly 3,000 on Friday, according to The New York Times. More than 10,000 positive tests were also recorded Friday, and the number of people hospitalized and the number on ventilators have both more than doubled in the last week. Medical staff and equipment are in short supply, particularly in hard-hit New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio said they would need 15,000 more ventilators to manage COVID-19 patients in April and May.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order allowing the state to seize ventilators from hospitals and facilities without an immediate need and redistribute them to hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. The New York Times reports that Mayor de Blasio supports this order, but some officials raised concerns about what will happen if the outbreak reaches those areas that now have no equipment while the ventilators are still in use elsewhere.

Similarly, healthcare workers in New York are being asked or ordered to redistribute to emergency rooms and intensive care units to help with the pandemic. As elective procedures and routine healthcare grinds to a halt, The New York Times reports that specialists like dermatologists, orthopedists, cardiologists, and surgeons are being pulled into the fray of treating COVID-19 patients, though many of them have not worked an emergency or intensive care shift since their training years ago. Nurses, physician assistants, and even administrative staff are also being redeployed. Some providers have been given an ultimatum: either work the pandemic or be furloughed without pay.


April 2, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: 10 Million Americans Out of Work, More Than 1 Million Cases of COVID-19 Worldwide.

Unemployment

A stunning 6.6 million people filed for unemployment this week, according to NPR, doubling last week’s record which had already shattered every prior record in history. Ten million Americans are now out of work as stay-at-home orders force non-essential companies to shut down across the country with no clear end in sight. The current situation is a sudden jolt to an economy that had been experiencing a nearly 50-year low unemployment rate of 3.5%.

As shocking as these numbers are, they are just the beginning. Some who lost jobs were unable to get through to unemployment offices that are overwhelmed with claims, so the reported numbers are likely lower than the reality as the system works to catch up. Additionally, forecasters at Oxford Economics predict that 20 million people will become unemployed in the coming weeks, according to NPR.

The New York Times notes this recession is like no other in history. Typically the economy slows first and job losses follow over time, but what would normally happen over the course of many months has stunned the country in a matter of weeks. As impacts of the pandemic ripple through the economy, the cascading effects will reach into every sector. Companies that were able to allow their employees to work from home initially are now beginning layoffs as revenue declines.

Even typically recession-proof jobs like education and healthcare are feeling the effects, according to The New York Times. Schools have moved online; testing and other programs have been canceled for the year, and widespread joblessness means the tax revenues that help fund schools will sharply decline. Though hospitals and the healthcare workers treating COVID-19 are vital, the business of healthcare as a whole is in trouble as elective procedures, preventative care, and mental health appointments are canceled, leaving providers in those fields also facing cuts. In this unprecedented economic crisis, it seems everyone is likely to feel its effects on some level.

1 million cases

Worldwide reported cases of COVID-19 passed 1 million on Thursday with more than 50,000 deaths. More than 45% of these cases come from the U.S., Italy, and Spain, according to U.S. News and World Report. In the United States, coronavirus has sickened more than 244,000 people with at least 6,200 deaths, and cases continue to grow at a staggering rate. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday that the state would run out of ventilators in just six days, and 45 mobile morgues have been deployed in New York City to assist funeral homes in accommodating the city’s dead, according to The New York Times.


April 1, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: New York Hospitals Near Capacity, Economists Fear Longer Downturn  

Hospital capacity

The U.S. now reports at least 214,000 cases of COVID-19 nationwide, nearly double the amount reported in Italy, which has the next highest caseload globally. More than 4,800 Americans have died, with New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut accounting for half of the fatalities as infections continue to surge in the region. The New York Times reports that so far 12,000 patients have been hospitalized in New York, which is straining the state’s healthcare system. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that at the current rate of spread, the system would likely reach capacity in the next seven to 21 days.

In addition to hospital capacity, medical supplies like masks, gowns, and ventilators also continue to run low. The nation’s emergency stockpile is already nearly empty, according to The New York Times, long before the peak of the outbreak reaches most parts of the country. President Trump said Wednesday that he is considering banning certain domestic flights into and out of virus hot spots like New York City.

Economic outlook

With infections mounting even under aggressive social distancing, the economic toll of the virus continues to climb as well. The New York Times reports that some economists are beginning to fear a longer and more painful economic downturn that would affect every part of the world. The length and depth of the financial crisis likely depends on how long the pandemic lasts. According to The Times, there are two possibilities:

  1. We gain control of the pandemic quickly, leading to a sharp economic recovery later this year as people rush to engage in all the activities they’ve been deprived of, like shopping, traveling, and eating out.
  2. The threat of the virus looms into next year (or beyond), and even after some control is gained, the social and economic landscape will have permanently altered, leading to a much slower and more difficult recovery.

In a longer financial crisis, widespread bankruptcy could cripple entire industries, diminish production output, and damage global supply chains, according to The New York Times. Fear and anxiety could become fixtures in our collective psyche, leading people to spend less and save more. Some of our social distancing behavior patterns may also persist even after the virus is contained. Crowded public spaces like packed restaurants or busy stores may continue to feel unsafe, changing the way we engage in economic activity. At this point, much is unknown about how the pandemic and resulting financial crisis will play out, but it is already proving to be an unprecedented and unpredictable global event.


March 31, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Computer Models Predict Staggering Death Toll, CDC Considers Widespread Use of Masks, Stock Market Records Worst Quarter Since 2008

U.S. fatality predictions

America’s COVID-19 death toll now stands at more than 3,300, surpassing the reported number of deaths in China, but computer models of the epidemic released by the White House reveal that this is just the beginning. According to NPR, these models predict that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans will die from COVID-19, even with aggressive social distancing measures in place. Discontinuing these measures would result in a much higher death toll.

The model extrapolates the outbreak’s trajectory based on data from how it is currently playing out in hard-hit places like New York and New Jersey. NPR reports that officials are hoping those outbreaks turn out to be anomalies and that other states are able to gain better control of the spread and lower overall death rates, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says we need to prepare ourselves for this possibility.

Masks for all

Up to this point, the CDC has said that masks should only be worn by individuals showing active symptoms to prevent them spreading the virus to others, but those guidelines are currently under review, according to The New York Times. In an interview with NPR, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said new data suggests that as many as 25% of those infected and transmitting COVID-19 will never show any symptoms at all. Additionally, those who do become symptomatic begin actively transmitting the virus 48 hours before feeling sick. This results in a virus that is three times more infectious than the flu and sheds light on why the U.S. case count is doubling every three to four days even with social distancing in place, according to The New York Times.

If everyone wears a mask any time they are out in society, community transmission by these asymptomatic carriers could be reduced. The New York Times reports that places like Hong Kong and Taiwan that required universal mask wearing have seen significantly reduced spread of the virus. However, the problem with recommending widespread mask use is supply as medical-grade masks are already in critically short supply for the healthcare workers being exposed to COVID-19 every day.

Stock market

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a sharp toll on the stock market in the first quarter of the year. CNN reports the Dow dropped 23.2% since the start of 2020, marking its worst first quarter in history. The S&P 500, down 20%, had its worst quarter since 2008. March marked the worst month for both indexes since October 2008 during the Great Recession. As travel restrictions and shelter in place orders swept the nation, U.S. oil prices also dropped 54% in the industry’s worst month ever. With President Trump announcing this week that social distancing guidelines would remain in place at least through the end of April, the economic toll of the virus is far from over.


March 30, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Three in Four Americans Under Stay at Home Orders, New Technology Offers Hope

Stay at home

Following President Trump’s announcement that federal social distancing guidelines would remain in place for at least another month, many states, cities, and counties issued or expanded closures and shelter in place orders. With new rules taking effect in Virginia, Kansas, Maryland, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., about three quarters of Americans are now under orders to stay at home, according to The New York Times. The United States reports more than 160,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,000 deaths, according to The New York Times. For context, the number of deaths has tripled in the last four days, and more people have now died from the pandemic than those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

New technology

One of the critical challenges facing America in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak is the shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare and other frontline workers, but a new breakthrough could change the way we address this problem, according to NPR. Battelle, an Ohio-based company, has developed a Critical Care Decontamination System that is capable of sanitizing up to 80,000 pieces of PPE at a time, including N95 masks, goggles, and face shields.

The modular system uses vapor phase hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate equipment that is loaded into an air-locked, dual-chamber shipping container. Once the equipment is cleaned, it can be packed and shipped back to hospitals for reuse. Late Sunday, the FDA gave full approval for Battelle to scale and ship its decontamination machines to the hardest-hit areas of the country, according to NPR. The first systems to be deployed are headed for New York City, Seattle, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.


March 28-29, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Social Distancing to Continue Through April

U.S. COVID-19 cases

At least 17 states now report 1,000 or more coronavirus cases as officials work to prepare health systems for the coming onslaught amid crucial lifesaving and PPE equipment shortages, according to The New York Times. More than 2,000 people in the U.S. have died with more than 123,000 cases of COVID-19 reported nationwide.

The worst of the U.S. outbreak continues to be centered around New York City, where a New York Times analysis found that if the current growth rate of COVID-19 continues, the city will see a worse outbreak than either Wuhan, China or the Lombardy region of Italy—the two hardest hit regions to date.

Social distancing extended

After suggesting last week that he would like to have the economy running normally by Easter, President Trump on Sunday announced that social distancing guidelines would remain in place until at least the end of April. This means that Americans should avoid nonessential travel, work from home if possible, avoid bars and restaurants, and not gather in groups of more than ten for at least another month, and possibly longer.

According to The New York Times, public health officials worked to convince the President that extending social distancing guidelines was necessary to save American lives, even as the economic consequences are steep. His advisors estimate that 200,000 Americans could die from COVID-19 even with aggressive measures in place; the number would be far higher if social distancing guidelines are relaxed too soon.

For business owners, this likely means an ongoing period of being shut down or experiencing dramatically reduced sales. Many of the provisions in the economic stimulus package are designed to help, and the Small Business Association is offering disaster recovery loans to companies impacted by the pandemic. Also be sure to check out this article by ISSA Editorial Director Jeff Cross on planning for what comes next.


March 27, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: $2T Stimulus Becomes Law as U.S. Surpasses 100,000 COVID-19 Cases

U.S. COVID-19 cases

COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have passed 100,000 with more than 1,500 deaths, according to The New York Times. Some form of shelter in place orders are active in 24 states where at least 223 million Americans have been asked not to leave their homes except for the most essential reasons, like buying food or seeking medical care. Disruptions to daily life continue as schools and businesses around the country remain closed and the economic impacts sweep the nation. States that have yet to hold their primary elections are also scrambling to make alternative plans, according to The New York Times.

After initial clusters of the virus were concentrated in larger travel hubs of the East and West Coast, the middle of the country is beginning to see COVID-19 cases spread. New Orleans is the epicenter of possibly the fastest growing outbreak currently in the world, where health officials believe that Mardi Gras celebrations in late February likely accelerated the spread of the virus. Cases are also on the rise in cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago, as well as smaller cities like Greenville, Miss., and Pine Bluff, Ark. Many of the smaller communities or more rural areas in the middle of the country have fewer medical resources with which to face the outbreak, so even a relatively small spike in cases can be devastating, according to The New York Times.

Stimulus

On Friday, President Trump signed the $2 trillion economic stimulus package into law after the bill passed the House. After a week of tough negotiations, the stimulus makes history as the largest emergency aid package ever passed. The legislation includes provisions to help corporations, small businesses, and individual workers weather a struggling economy, while also designating funds to support healthcare systems as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more about what’s in the bill from CNN.


March 26, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: U.S. Leads the World in COVID-19 Cases, Senate Passes Stimulus, Unemployment Hits Record High

U.S. COVID-19 cases

The U.S. now has more known COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world, surpassing both Italy and China since yesterday. According to The New York Times, more than 81,500 people in the U.S. have been infected with more than 1,100 deaths. New York remains the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak with more than 37,000 cases and 387 deaths. Staff and resources in New York hospitals are strained under the weight of the outbreak, and medical personnel are facing important personal protective equipment shortages. The New York Times reports that a Naval hospital ship is being loaded with medical staff and supplies and is expected to arrive in New York City on Monday. The ship will be used to expand the capacity of New York hospitals to care for COVID-19 patients.

Stimulus and stocks

The Senate unanimously passed the $2 trillion economic stimulus package late Wednesday night, according to NBC News. The largest stimulus in modern history, the bill is designed to protect corporations, small businesses, and individual workers from the worst of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, while also designating funds to expand testing and support healthcare systems. The House is expected to vote on Friday. Read more about what’s in the bill from CNN.

As the stimulus advances through Congress, the stock market has continued to rally on the anticipation of economic help for hard-hit companies, according to The New York Times. Over the past three days, the S&P 500 has gained more than 17%, its best three-day rise since 1933.

Unemployment

As the economy grinds to a halt amid various lockdown orders and social distancing guidelines across the country, unemployment claims rose last week to a staggering 3.28 million, according to CNBC. This is more than quadruple the previous record from 1982 of 695,000 claims. During 2009’s Great Recession, the high mark was 665,000.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us by far the largest and most sudden loss of jobs in history, but Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell points out that this is a very specific situation. According to CNBC, Powell points out that the virus is a concrete problem to solve, and the economy will likely rebound on the other side. “At a certain point, we will get the spread of the virus under control. At that time, confidence will return, businesses will open again, people will come back to work,” he said.

In the short-term, however, the economic effects are devastating for many. To address unemployment, the stimulus bill includes a four-month boost in unemployment payments and an additional 13 weeks of extended benefits. The bill also removes some restrictions to unemployment, making benefits available to the self-employed, freelancers, independent contractors, gig workers, and others.


March 25, 2020

COVID-19 Updates: Congress Reaches Agreement on $2T Stimulus

The U.S. now has more than 63,000 COVID-19 cases and 897 deaths. The surge in COVID-19 cases is expected to continue as testing finally begins to expand across the country, according to The New York Times. CNN reports that nearly a third of the world’s population is under some form of lockdown as the virus spreads around the globe. The U.S. has not issued a nationwide lockdown yet, but state-by-state shelter in place measures continue as many schools prepare to move to distance learning for the remainder of the academic year.

Stimulus

Congressional lawmakers reached a deal early Wednesday on the $2 trillion economic stimulus package to keep the economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. The New York Times reports this is the largest stimulus bill in modern history. As a bipartisan effort, the bill is expected to pass both houses of Congress and receive the President’s signature quickly in order to enact the measures as soon as possible. Here are five key measures in the bill:

1 | Direct payments for taxpayers

Taxpayers earning up to $75,000 per year ($150,000 for couples) will receive $1,200 each in direct payments from the federal government. Families will also receive $500 for each dependent child. Payments will be based on your most recent tax return’s adjusted gross income, and will phase out for those with higher incomes, according to CNBC.

2 | Expanded unemployment benefits

According to CNN, the federal government will add $600 a week to individual state benefits for four months. The bill also provides up to 13 weeks of extended benefits which will expand to cover freelancers, gig workers, and the self-employed who are typically not eligible for unemployment.

3 | Emergency small business loans

Small businesses that commit to not laying off workers can receive emergency loans from community banks through June 30. The loan will be forgiven for any company that continues to pay workers through the crisis, according to The New York Times.

4 | Industry bailouts with oversight

The Federal Reserve will control a $425 billion fund that would provide loans to distressed companies. The oversight for large corporate bailouts was a point of contention during negotiations, but lawmakers settled on specific rules, such as limitations on stock buybacks and appointing an inspector general to monitor funds.

5 | Help for hospitals and healthcare systems

In addition to supporting the economy, the bill includes provisions to support the healthcare systems needed to survive this pandemic, including $100 billion for hospitals and billions more to manufacture personal protective equipment, expand testing, and build new facilities to house patients.


March 24, 2020

Coronavirus Updates: Still No Deal on Stimulus, Stock Markets Rally, Trump Discusses Reopening Economy

Coronavirus cases continue to rise in the U.S. and around the world. U.S. cases have topped 52,000 with more than 700 deaths. More than 25,000 of these cases are in New York state. The surge in COVID-19 cases is expected to continue as testing finally begins to expand across the country, according to The New York Times.

Stimulus

After a hopeful start to the day, Congress has still not reached an agreement on the nearly $2 trillion economic stimulus package that aims to protect the U.S. economy from the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In stimulus talks, Democrats have objected to certain elements of accountability and oversight for corporations that would receive funds in the Senate’s draft of the bill, and they believe the original bill put more emphasis on helping industries than it did workers. CNN reports that negotiators are making headway with compromises like appointing an inspector general and allowing congressional oversight for a $500 billion fund that would aid hard-hit companies. According to CNN, congressional leaders have indicated that they are close to a final deal, but a vote will likely not be scheduled until Wednesday.

Stock market

Perhaps in response to the promising news of an imminent deal on the stimulus, stock markets rallied Tuesday, making significant gains. According to ABC News, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 11.37%, the S&P 500 gained 9.38%, and the Nasdaq gained 8.12%. This represents the best single-day gain for the Dow since 1933. The market has been extremely volatile for weeks as economic uncertainty spread with the same speed as the outbreak itself, and more volatility is likely ahead as the pandemic and its effects are far from over.

Reopening the economy

Concerned about the flailing economy, President Trump suggested Tuesday that he hopes to “open up” the nation by Easter (April 12), saying, “This cure is worse than the problem,” according to USA Today. Trump’s comments suggest he hopes to end shelter in place orders and allow most businesses to reopen and operate normally while continuing to practice social distancing. This timeline conflicts with the advice of most health experts who have said that as the U.S. performs more tests, cases of COVID-19 will continue to rise, likely necessitating more and longer restrictions on social and economic activity in order to gain control of the epidemic, according to the Associated Press. As hospitals around the country are already facing crucial equipment shortages, experts caution that continued restrictions are necessary to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system, which will have economic costs of its own in addition to the cost in human life.


March 23, 2020

Coronavirus Updates: Shelter-in-place Orders Widen, $1.8 Trillion Stimulus Fails in Senate, Stocks Fall Despite Fed Efforts

Shelter in place

With more than 33,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 428-plus deaths in all states, ten times the number from a week ago, more and more areas continue to go into mandatory shelter-in-place orders, leaving only “essential” companies open. Though what is considered essential can vary by location, with most including only emergency services, grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants offering take out or delivery, according to USA Today. Through these orders, some carpet cleaning companies must cease operations, causing undoubted economic hardship. Most restoration companies will likely be classified as essential under the “emergency services” category. Businesses suffering extreme economic hardships can apply for low-interest SBA loans.

Stimulus package

The $1.8 trillion stimulus package working its way through the Senate failed to pass yesterday, according to NPR. Democrats voted against the bill, saying the bill did too much for large corporations and not enough for citizens. They say:

1) The bill doesn’t go far enough to help citizens facing hardships due to the virus and its response and are looking to expand funding to unemployment, food stamps, and other programs that would help those economically affected.

2) The bill doesn’t put enough restrictions on large corporations or require enough transparency from them. Democrats are calling for preventions against executive raises and “sufficient protections to prevent stock buybacks and to make sure that workers keep jobs.”

Discussion of the bill hit another wall early today but is expected to go to a vote again as early as tonight.

Stocks and the fed

The Federal Reserve announced it would buy bonds and mortgage-backed securities as much as is needed to keep the economy afloat. It had previously announced it would buy up to $500 billion and cut interest rates to close to zero. Despite this announcement early this morning, the Dow and S&P both fell 3%.


March 16, 2020

Coronavirus Updates: Closures Mount in Effort to Slow COVID-19 Outbreak

COVID-19 cases are now confirmed in 3,800 people and in 49 states, according to The New York Times live tracking maps.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, and the response in the United States and in other countries with sustained transmission has shifted from containment to mitigation. As a result, extreme social distancing measures are beginning to take effect across the country, including closures of schools, bars, restaurants, and other public spaces, bans on large public gatherings and visitors to nursing homes, and canceled concerts, trade shows, and sporting events.

According to health experts, the best way to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak is to slow the rate of its spread so that the healthcare system is able to keep up with the need, as illustrated in the now-familiar graph that calls on society to “flatten the curve.”

In an interview with The New York Times, Dr. Drew Harris, a population health analyst at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, said that in a pandemic, mitigation is crucial. “This reduces the number of cases that are active at any given time, which in turn gives doctors, hospitals, police, schools and vaccine-manufacturers time to prepare and respond, without becoming overwhelmed,” Dr. Harris explained.

Social distancing measures

As the need for a commitment to extreme social distancing became clear last week, cancelations and closures flooded through every aspect of society. Late last week, officials in Ohio, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia announced that schools would be closed statewide for several weeks. Many other individual cities followed suit, including the public school districts of Los Angeles and San Diego, according to NPR. On Sunday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced public schools would be closed until at least April 20 but acknowledged the closure may last through the end of the school year, according to NBC News. In an interview with CNN, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine also said he would not be surprised if Ohio schools did not reopen this year. If schools close nationwide, approximately 50 million K-12 students would be impacted, according to NPR.

Gov. DeWine also announced Sunday that all bars and restaurants would close across the state of Ohio beginning at 9:00 p.m. Restaurants are permitted to continue carryout and delivery service, but customers may not dine in under the new order, which DeWine said “will be in effect for as long as it needs to.” Illinois has also closed bars and restaurants through at least March 30, and officials in other states and cities are considering similar actions, according to NBC News.

In an effort to limit large gatherings, the N.B.A suspended its season and Major League Baseball postponed its opening day. The N.C.A.A. canceled March Madness and all remaining winter and spring championships. Disney is closing its cruise line and all its parks. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo banned all gatherings of more than 500 people, which prompted all Broadway shows to shut down. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art are also closed.

Major events across the country have also been canceled or postponed, including the South by Southwest festival in Texas, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California, and the Tribeca Film Festival. Many cities have canceled St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations set to take place this week. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden both canceled campaign events in Ohio, which has its presidential primary vote on Tuesday. The New York Times is maintaining an updated list of major cancelations and closures both in the U.S. and abroad.

As more closures poured in and officials heightened calls for all citizens to take social distancing seriously, shoppers swarmed grocery stores across the country to stock up on supplies needed for extended time at home. In many stores, paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies were sold out, according to USA Today. Stores began limiting quantities of supplies like bottled water and disinfecting wipes. Many stores have reduced their hours to allow staff time to clean and restock in order to keep up with demand as Americans prepare for the possibility of increasing social distancing and quarantine measures.

COVID-19 around the world

Globally, 167,400 people are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, and at least 6,329 have died, according to The New York Times. About half of these deaths have occurred outside China, which continues to see new cases decline as the outbreak surges in other countries around the world. Italy recorded its largest one-day increase in cases on Sunday, reporting 3,590 cases and 398 deaths in a 24-hour period and putting Italy’s total caseload over 24,700, according to The Hill.

With the U.S. at 3,823 confirmed cases and 67 deaths, NBC News and other sources have pointed out that we are on a similar trajectory to Italy in terms of infection rate, just about 10 days behind. That is a sobering fact considering healthcare systems in the hardest-hit areas of Italy have been overwhelmed with cases they don’t have the resources to treat. According to NBC News, doctors in Italy have reported that patients are dying because there aren’t enough respirators and intensive care units are overflowing.

As CNN points out, the actions of other countries farther along in the outbreak can provide useful lessons for the U.S. The push to “flatten the curve” of infection through social distancing is an effort to avoid precisely the surge of infection that is overwhelming Italy right now. In South Korea, on the other hand, expansive testing and innovative drive-through testing booths have helped keep the fatality rate there under 1% (Italy’s is over 14%). CNN reports that some U.S. cities have established drive-through testing, and President Trump announced Friday that these measures would be expanded to more locations.

Keep checking back for all of Cleanfax’s news and updates on the coronavirus outbreak. Also be sure to visit the ISSA resource page, www.issa.com/coronavirus, where you can access all of GBAC’s coronavirus tip sheets and other current information about COVID-19.


March 5, 2020

Coronavirus Updates: COVID-19 Begins to Spread in U.S.

Coronavirus cases are on the rise with the U.S. now reporting 163 cases across 18 states and 11 deaths, according to The New York Times. Worldwide cases in the coronavirus outbreak number more than 97,000 in 81 countries with sustained community transmission now occurring in South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Iran, as well as China. Several patients in the U.S. have no known connection to the virus, which suggests community transmission is occurring here as well, though so far on a much smaller scale.

So far all but one death in the U.S. has occurred in Washington, where a cluster of the virus is concentrated in the Seattle area. The eleventh death was a 69-year-old man in California who had recently been on a cruise on the Grand Princess, according to The New York Times. The ship is in the midst of a three-leg cruise that went from San Francisco to Mexico, Mexico to Hawaii, and Hawaii back to San Francisco. Some passengers, like the man who died, got off the ship in Mexico and returned to California. It is believed that he was exposed to the virus on the ship. Another patient being treated in Sonoma County was also onboard the ship.

The Grand Princess is currently being detained off the coast of San Francisco while officials work to screen the 2,500 passengers and contact others who were onboard the ship. The New York Times reports that as of Wednesday, 11 passengers and 10 crew members were showing symptoms. The close quarters of a cruise ship can allow infection to spread rapidly, as evidenced by the Diamond Princess, a ship in the same cruise line that was quarantined off the coast of Japan last month. More than 600 passengers contracted the virus, including some Americans. With 54 confirmed cases in the state and the detained cruise liner full of passengers to screen, California has declared a state of emergency, according to The New York Times.

As individual states work to confront a growing number of COVID-19 cases, U.S. lawmakers in Congress reached an agreement on an $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus bill to address the health crisis, according to The New York Times. The bill provides funds that will expand testing, support agencies dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, and provide tele-health services to Medicare patients to minimize their risk of exposure.

Globally, China continues to report that new cases of the virus are declining, but as the virus begins to spread in other countries, effects of the coronavirus outbreak ripple around the world. Stock markets are down and airlines around the world face billions in losses as travel advisories are issued and tourism declines. The New York Times reports that global airline revenues could lose as much as $113 billion. The S&P 500 fell more than 2% on Thursday, and The Washington Post reported that the Dow Jones industrial average dropped more than 700 points as concerns mount about the economic costs of the outbreak.

Italy and Iran have both shut down schools as the virus spreads to more than 3,000 people in each of those countries. Globally, more than 290 million students in preschool through 12th grade have faced weeks-long school closures due to the outbreak, according to The Washington Post. Cultural events and trade shows around the world have also been cancelled, and officials are already discussing possible scenarios for the Summer Olympics, set to be held in Tokyo this July, according to The New York Times.

We’ll keep you informed of any changes to planned events for our industry, so keep checking back for all of Cleanfax’s news and updates on the coronavirus outbreak. Also be sure to visit the ISSA resource page, www.issa.com/coronavirus, where you can access all of GBAC’s coronavirus tip sheets and other current information about COVID-19.