COVID-19 numbers show promise, but health experts warn each state is a different battleground

Posted at 8:59 AM, Apr 13, 2020

The sun could be piercing the clouds in the United States' coronavirus fight, as the number of new cases declined over two consecutive days, but experts warn different states will see different peaks.

More than 22,000 people have died from Covid-19 since the virus arrived on American shores, according toJohns Hopkins University's numbers, but the daily tally of deaths dropped Saturday and Sunday, which could be a sign for optimism.

The number of infections -- which stood at more than 557,000 on Monday morning -- were also down Saturday and Sunday. This comes as US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams says cases in some of the country's hotspots -- New York, New Jersey, Detroit and New Orleans -- appear to be "leveling off" or even declining. The situations in California and Washington, meanwhile, remain stable.

"In the midst of tragedy, there IS hope," Adams tweeted Monday. "Social distancing and mitigation IS working. There is a light at the end of this dark tunnel, so keep at it."

Still, many states are in the throes of an intense effort to stem the illness' spread and save lives. New York could cross the 10,000 death threshold Monday, as its cases top 190,000. New Jersey and Michigan also have frightening death tolls, with more than 2,300 and 1,400 respectively.

Doctors in wait-and-see mode

All 50 states are under a federal disaster declaration for the first time in US history. There are more than 29,000 members of the National Guard deployed across the country to deal with the pandemic, according to the National Guard Bureau. Guardsmen have been called to serve a variety of roles, from staffing emergency operations centers to restocking grocery shelves.

Key to how optimistic Americans should be will depend on what comes next. The country's testing trajectory will be hugely important, experts say.

While President Donald Trump says he wants to reopen the country next month -- even telling state governments to "be ready" as he plans to announce a special council to reopen the country -- health officials say they're still in wait-and-see mode even if the numbers look promising.

"It's important to look at the country as many different separate situations," said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on NBC's "Today" show.

"This pandemic has affected different parts of the country differently," Redfield said. "We're looking at the data very carefully, county by county by county, and we will be assessing that."

Public health capabilities need to be improved to perform early case detection, isolation and contact tracing, he said, and officials need to "start working to rebuild confidence in the community, so the community has confidence to reopen."

Testing and social distancing

The US is "nearing the peak right now," Redfield told the morning show.

"You'll know when you're at the peak when the next day is less than the day before," he said. "We are stabilizing across the country in terms of the state of this outbreak."

As for getting the country back to normal, Redfield said it has to be done correctly and "it's going to be a step-by-step, gradual process."

He concurred with Adams that social distancing is working -- and said the potential death toll "while sadly too high, was far less than we anticipated" -- but said relaxing those guidelines would need to be done carefully.

Testing is still not widely available, and many states have still tested only small percentages of their populations.

The White House has worked to develop a more robust testing strategy, including shipping new rapid tests developed to states, and has worked to scale up serology testing, used to detect antibodies that would identify people who are likely immune to coronavirus and who could return to work or other aspects of normal life.

Antibody tests, which reveal past coronavirus infection -- an especially importanttest for health care workers -- will "give us a good idea from a surveillance point of view of how significant the outbreak was."

Weather adds to social distancing stress

As millions of Americans worried about stay-at-home orders and social distancing Sunday, about 95 million people in nearly 20 states experienced severe weather and tens of millions more will see storms Monday.

A majority of the storms were across the South and East Coast, according to the National Weather Service, with at least 34 tornadoes reported in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia as of early Monday. At least 18 people died.

Emergency officials said Sunday people sheltering from tornadoes and protecting themselves from severe weather take priority over the social distancing guidelines Americans are adhering to during the coronavirus pandemic.

Forecast models show the worst of the weather sweeping up the eastern portions of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, but even as far north as New York, officials were urging caution.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told residents the best protection from the weather is to continue to practice social distancing.

"We have strong winds and heavy rain coming our way on Monday, New York City, so it's really simple: if you do not need to be outside tomorrow then STAY HOME," de Blasio tweeted.

Leaders square off on school closures

Cuomo and de Blasio were at odds over the weekend about the status of school closures.

De Blasio announced Saturday that public schools in the city would remain closed for the rest of the academic year. A few hours later, Cuomo said no decision had been made yet.

Speaking about his relationship with de Blasio, Cuomo said Sunday he understood the mayor's stance and that it's "not an unreasonable position."

Unlike de Blasio, he said, he has to worry about other counties and neighboring states when making decisions and said coordination with Connecticut and New Jersey would be optimal.

"We won't open schools one minute sooner than they should be open, but we won't open schools one minute later than they should be open, either," Cuomo said. "Whatever plan we come up with will be driven by data and science."

Cuomo explained it is important to open business at the same time as schools because schools act in part as childcare so parents can go to work. Opening both at the same time is critical for restarting the economy, he said.

De Blasio also mandated that beginning Monday, all city workers who come in contact with the public while on duty are to wear face coverings.


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