By Robert A. Vella
Alarm is rising as the coronavirus pandemic spreads ubiquitously across the world infecting hundreds of thousands of people, overwhelming healthcare systems, disrupting the global economy as never before, triggering business shutdowns and mass layoffs, instilling fears of personal safety within the populace, and pressuring weakened national governments into taking aggressive actions they are either unprepared or unwilling to take.
Italy has officially overtaken China in the death toll, although the numbers provided by the secretive and autocratic Chinese government cannot be verified. The World Health Organization has warned African nations that their generally low infection rates so far should not give them a false sense of security. The U.S. has issued additional travel restrictions and is advising its citizens overseas to “hunker down” wherever they are. Young people, initially thought to be at low risk, are becoming infected and requiring hospital care as a social media backlash slams irreverent Millennial and Generation Z partygoers.
The Trump administration – after belatedly shifting from its defiant rhetoric – is once again becoming more defensive and secretive about its poor response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and a leadership crisis is developing inside the White House as the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner assumes a more prominent role. Legislators and other officials across the nation are becoming infected, the U.S. Census Bureau is struggling to hire necessary workers, and immigration enforcement operations are shutting down. Unemployment funds are rapidly drying up, and laid-off workers are worried about being evicted from their homes.
On a more positive note, medical research has discovered that certain blood types are more resistant to the virus, a town in Italy appears to have halted the spread of infections through assertive actions, and progress is apparently being made in the search for effective drug treatments.
The number of coronavirus cases in the United States keeps jumping each day by the hundreds, pushing health care officials and political leaders to take steps to keep the pandemic from overwhelming the system.
The battle is to get equipment and beds to doctors and nurses and to stem the economic fallout by taking measures to provide financial relief.
Two years ago, the CDC stopped funding epidemic prevention activities in 39 countries, including China, after the Trump administration refused to reallocate money to a program that started during the government’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
At that time, former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said the move “would significantly increase the chance an epidemic will spread without our knowledge and endanger lives in our country and around the world.”
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, “we’re two months too late in starting to do this,” said Dr. Eric Toner, who studies hospital preparedness at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“I really think this is a fundamental responsibility of government to have acted on this a long time ago.”
Italy was poised to surpass China in total deaths while China reached a milestone: The epicenter city of Wuhan and the surrounding province reported no new domestic cases.
In the U.S., deaths jumped to 150 across 22 states – including the first reported fatalities in Connecticut, Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania. There were more than 9,400 confirmed cases, up from about 1,600 a week earlier, when there were 40 reported deaths.
The global death toll passed 9,100; there were more than 222,000 confirmed cases.
Dr. Deborah Birx told reporters at a press briefing from the White House on Wednesday that the task force is “concerned” about the news from Europe, which counters the belief that the illness doesn’t greatly affect young people.
Her warning came a day after Baylor Dean of Tropical Medicine Peter Hortez said a “significant number of young adults” are “seriously ill” in Italy.
She noted that the millennial generation, which encompasses people between the ages of 25 and 39, could unknowingly be COVID-19 carriers, creating a situation in which the illness can easily pass on to older Americans. She stressed that the data is still developing and that there has been “no significant mortality in the children.”
American adults of all ages — not just those in their 70s, 80s and 90s — are being seriously sickened by the coronavirus, according to a report on nearly 2,500 of the first recorded cases in the United States.
The report, issued Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that — as in other countries — the oldest patients had the greatest likelihood of dying and of being hospitalized. But of the 508 patients known to have been hospitalized, 38 percent were notably younger — between 20 and 54. And nearly half of the 121 patients who were admitted to intensive care units were adults under 65, the C.D.C. reported.
A recent video released by CBS News on Wednesday that shows a number of spring breakers in Miami, Fla., downplaying concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak has sparked viral criticism online.
Brady Sluder told CBS News that “whatever happens happens.”
“If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying,” he said. “I’ve been waiting, we’ve been waiting for Miami spring break for a while. About two months we’ve had this trip planned, two, three months, and we’re just out here to having a good time.”
The video, which has racked up more than 3 million views since it was posted Wednesday, has prompted viral criticism from social media users amid concerns over the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The White House is temporarily stopping top officials engaged in the response to the coronavirus pandemic from giving testimony in hearings on Capitol Hill.
The pause, first reported by Politico, would apply mostly to health officials like Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield; Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and others working on the coronavirus task force.
Fauci and Redfield were among those who testified last week before the House Oversight Committee about the Trump administration’s coronavirus response.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a ninth-term Florida Republican, and Rep. Ben McAdams, a freshman Democrat from Utah, revealed on Wednesday that they had tested positive for coronavirus, becoming the first U.S. lawmakers to contract the virus that‘s spreading across the country.
State Sen. Brandon Beach (R) said that he received a test on Saturday after experiencing a cough and mild fever, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He said that he felt healthy enough to participate in Monday’s special legislative session that was used to give Gov. Brian Kemp (R) new authorities to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
On Wednesday, he disclosed that his test had come back positive, prompting Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R) and House Speaker David Ralston (R) to call on all 236 state lawmakers to quarantine themselves through the end of March. The request was also sent to state Senate and House staffers.
Census bureau officials aim to hire 500,000 workers by late May to help knock on doors and reach millions of Americans who haven’t filled out the 2020 census, a survey that determines how much federal funding local communities receive and how many seats they have in the House.
But with much of the nation on shutdown to ward off the spread of the coronavirus, federal officials and community groups are cancelling census job fairs and other in-person events. Instead, they are turning to social media to urge job seekers to stay home and apply online. Some lawmakers and civil rights leaders warn that might not be enough, however, and millions of Americans could go uncounted if the government is unable to hire the staff it needs.
The Census Bureau announced Wednesday it was suspending its field operations until April 1 because of the outbreak. Officials didn’t explain what the suspension would look like.
U.S. immigration authorities will temporarily halt enforcement across the United States, except for its efforts to deport foreign nationals who have committed crimes or who pose a threat to public safety. The change in enforcement status comes amid the coronavirus outbreak and aims to limit the spread of the virus and to encourage those who need treatment to seek medical help.
Layoffs are continuing to mount by the tens of thousands, prompting a surge of applications at unemployment offices nationwide as coronavirus brings more of the U.S. economy to a standstill.
Just a week ago, hundreds of people had been laid off, but those numbers are skyrocketing. As Trump administration leaders, industry officials and economists project dire warnings of millions of jobs vanishing this year, an increasingly grim picture of the U.S. labor market is emerging for the months to come.
Still, Jameson’s living situation remains fraught, and she stands with a countless number of tenants and homeowners nationwide who are walking financial tightropes when it comes to their economic security during the global pandemic. With the national unemployment rate potentially rising to 20 percent and high traffic crashing some states’ unemployment benefits websites, the threat of soaring evictions across the country is real, housing advocates and researchers say.
If city, state and federal governments don’t step in now, they warn, at stake are people’s homes and health if they’re evicted and thrown out onto the street, which would only exacerbate a deepening public health crisis.
“We’re in an unprecedented historic position,” said Alieza Durana, a writer and spokeswoman for the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, which compiles nationwide eviction data. “I think the current moment in history is unique, but it’s also giving us a moment to question what our human rights are and not take for granted: Do we really have to force people out of their homes?”
A person’s blood type could affect how vulnerable they are to developing COVID-19—the disease caused by the new coronavirus—scientists believe.
Taking the data as a whole, the researchers concluded that “blood group A had a significantly higher risk for COVID-19” when compared with non-A blood groups. Those in the O group, meanwhile, “had a significantly lower risk for the infectious disease.”
The difference could be explained by certain antibodies in the blood, but this will need to be investigated in future studies in order to be confirmed, they said.
Italy’s first death from COVID-19 was recorded in the northern town of Vò, a 3,300-strong community in the Province of Padua 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Venice. Scientists involved say it was an experimental initiative that enabled them to create a full “epidemiological picture” of COVID-19, Financial Times reports.
Since the start of the outbreak, authorities have been testing and retesting each of the town’s inhabitants. The tests were performed on people whether or not they were displaying symptoms of the disease. By some reports, between a half and three-quarters of carriers in Vò, were asymptomatic.
Anyone who was found to be infected with the new coronavirus was then put into quarantine—as was everyone they had come into contact with.
Testing began in late February when roughly 3 percent of Vò residents were infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Half were asymptomatic—therefore displayed no symptoms like fever, cough and shortness of breath typical of the disease. A second round of testing days later revealed the infection rate had fallen to 0.3 percent.
The success of the policy suggests aggressive testing combined with thorough quarantine of anyone who may be infected may help curb the outbreak in other places.
Africa must “wake up” to the coronavirus threat and prepare for the worst, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
The continent should learn from how the spread of virus has sped up elsewhere, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
He warned that while Africa’s confirmed cases were currently low – around 640 – there was no reason for complacency.