Three Top U.S. Health Officials Quarantine After Possible Exposure to Coronavirus

MONDAY, May 11, 2020 (HealthDay News) — As U.S. coronavirus cases topped 1.3 million and the death toll was set to pass 80,000 on Monday, three of the nation’s top health officials have started to quarantine themselves after being exposed to two White House aides who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The officials include Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, the Washington Post reported.

Fauci said Sunday that he was told his exposure risk was low, and that he plans to wear a mask at all times in public but will not completely isolate himself because he needs to attend certain meetings at the White House and work at the National Institutes of Health, the Post reported. He will be tested every time he goes to the White House.

All three officials are members of the White House coronavirus task force. So far, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have tested negative for COVID-19, the White House said.

Meanwhile, troubling news emerged from New York City: Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday that 38 children in the city had contracted a new, serious inflammatory syndrome that seems to be linked to COVID-19 infection. Three of those patients, two grade schoolers and a teenager, have died, The New York Times reported. None of them were known to have any preexisting condition.

Just last Monday, the city health department warned of 15 of these cases in a healthcare provider alert, and state officials are investigating 85 more potential cases, the Times reported.

A small number of cases have been reported in other states, including California, Louisiana and Mississippi, the Times reported. At least 50 cases have been reported in European countries, including Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

These developments follow plenty of bad news on the economic front that came last week.

On Friday, the federal government’s monthly jobs report showed a staggering 14.7 percent of Americans are now unemployed.

A total of 20.5 million jobs were lost during the country’s April lockdown, and not since the Great Depression has the unemployment rate been so high, the Times reported Friday.

That was not the only bad economic news delivered in recent days: On Thursday, the weekly jobless claims report showed that another 3.2 million jobless claims were filed last week. That brought the total unemployed since the nation’s economy was first curtailed by social distancing measures in mid-March to a historic 33 million.

Health cost of reopening could be high

While reopening parts of the U.S. economy will undoubtedly start to help some Americans get their jobs back, an internal report from the Trump administration predicted that reopening will come at a cost: 200,000 new coronavirus cases and 3,000 deaths every day by the end of May.

Troubling predictions came from more than one source: A forecasting model from University of Washington researchers also raised its projections to more than 134,000 American deaths from COVID-19 by early August, the Times reported.

That’s a doubling from the 60,000 total deaths that was previously predicted, an increase that the researchers said partly reflects “changes in mobility and social distancing policies,” the Times reported.

All of the numbers illustrate a grim fact: Even though the country has essentially been in lockdown for the past seven weeks, the coronavirus prognosis hasn’t really changed.

Still, at least 27 states have loosened at least some social distancing restrictions, a new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis shows. But only nine of those states meet most of the reopening criteria set by the Trump administration.

More testing needed

Even as reopening plans proceed, a new poll shows that many Americans oppose the reopening of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses.

A Post-University of Maryland survey, released Tuesday, found that many Americans have been making trips to grocery stores and 56 percent say they are comfortable doing so. But 67 percent say they would be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store, and 78 percent would be uncomfortable eating at a sit-down restaurant. People in states with more relaxed restrictions report equal levels of discomfort as those in states with tougher restrictions, the Post reported.

Meanwhile, a new analysis finds inadequate levels of testing for the coronavirus in 60% of states, many of which are reopening after weeks of lockdown.

The analysis, conducted by the Associated Press, uses a 2% testing rate per month — a rate advised by federal officials that many public health experts still feel falls short.

In a recent White House briefing, officials said each state would receive enough testing materials to test 2.6% of their populations in both May and June. Representatives of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also offered another number — 2% — without explaining the reason for the discrepancy between the two rates.

But according to the AP analysis, right now just 40% of states can even meet the lower 2% threshold for testing.

There has been one note of good news: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved emergency use of the first drug that seems to boost recovery among COVID-19 patients.

Promise of remdesivir, vaccine by January

Remdesivir, Gilead Sciences’ intravenous antiviral medication, is to be used for hospitalized patients with “severe disease,” such as those who need supplemental oxygen or ventilators to breathe, the AP reported.

“This was lightning speed in terms of getting something approved,” Hahn said during a media briefing last week, calling the drug “an important clinical advance.”

The FDA based its decision on the results of a government study that showed remdesivir shortened the time to recovery by 31% for COVID-19 patients in the hospital, the AP reported.

The search for a vaccine also got some welcome news. The White House has announced an initiative that hopes to produce a COVID-19 vaccine that could be available nationwide by January.

Trump has said it is not too optimistic to try to produce roughly 300 million doses of vaccine in eight months, enough for all Americans, the Post reported.

Even the shorter timeline still means there would be no full protection from the new coronavirus until after most Americans are likely to have returned to work or school.

To reopen or not to reopen

Meanwhile, social distancing orders remain a patchwork across the United States. Governors in hard-hit New York and Michigan are keeping stay-at-home orders in place until at least mid-May, while many of their counterparts have already allowed certain businesses to reopen, the AP reported.

Some good news came Sunday from New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the coronavirus death toll has dropped to its lowest level since mid-March, when the shutdown began and before the state became the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, CBS News reported. Cuomo said 207 people died Saturday, down from 226 deaths the day before.

Cuomo said some areas of New York can begin reopening by May 15 if they meet certain criteria, including having coronavirus spread under control; adequate hospitalization and sufficient contract tracing if the coronavirus rate increases once again.

In preparation for reopening, Cuomo has announced the state will implement the “most aggressive” antibody testing program in the country, CBS News reported.

He has also issued an executive order stating all New Yorkers must have a mask or mouth and nose covering when they are not maintaining social distancing in public, CBS News reported.

According to a Times tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Monday are: New York with more than 340,600 cases; New Jersey with over 138,500; Massachusetts and Illinois with almost 78,000 each; and California with over 68,000.

Nations grapple with pandemic

In Asia, where the coronavirus first struck, several countries are finally returning to a new normal but clusters of cases have been cropping up.

In northeast China, health officials reported a new cluster of cases in a town near the Russian border. At least 11 cases, all traced to a 45-year-old woman, were recorded Saturday in the town of Shulan in Jilin Province, the Times reported. A total of 14 new cases were reported in the country on Saturday, including one in the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic first began late last year, the newspaper said.

China had begun to reopen after a widespread lockdown. But small outbreaks have persisted, including a spate of new cases traced to people returning from Russia, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, South Korea ended its stringent social distancing policies last week after halting the spread of coronavirus. But after new cases were discovered, health officials ramped controls back up. On Saturday, all bars and nightclubs in Seoul were closed once more after dozens of new infections were reported among people who visited nightspots and their close contacts. The country reported 34 new cases on Sunday.

Elsewhere, the situation remains challenging. On Monday, the United Kingdom’s coronavirus death count neared 32,000, the second-highest in the world, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Britain has now surpassed Italy, Spain and France for COVID-19 deaths in Europe.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in a televised address on Sunday that the country will impose a mandatory two-week quarantine on travelers arriving by air, to try to avert a new wave of infections after the government slightly relaxed the rules of the country’s seven-week lockdown, the Times reported.

Spain reported 26,621 COVID-19 deaths by Monday, despite signs the infection rate is slowing there, the Hopkins tally showed. While deaths in Italy remain high, at more than 30,500, the numbers have leveled off there as well. Both countries are cautiously reopening their economies.

Brazil looks like it could become the next hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic. By Monday, the South American country had reported more than 11,000 deaths and more than 162,600 confirmed infections, according to the Hopkins tally. But the true numbers are believed to be vastly higher.

Russia was also struggling to contain the spread of coronavirus, as the case count in that country passed 221,000 on Monday, the Hopkins tally showed. Moscow remains the most virus-stricken part of the country, but there are growing concerns that infections could surge in more remote regions with weaker health systems, the Post reported.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 4.1 million on Monday, with more than 283,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.