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States continue to ease coronavirus restrictions ahead of expert recommendations

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Posted at 3:16 PM, May 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 17:16:35-04

Nearly every state in the US is moving toward reopening from pandemic closures, but a leading researcher warns that doing so puts the country on an "unfortunate trajectory" to more coronavirus deaths.

An influential model cited often by the White House now predicts that 147,000 people in the nation will die from the virus by August, the researcher behind the model Dr. Chris Murray told CNN's Don Lemon Tuesday. It's an increase of 10,000 deaths from two days earlier and double what was projected two weeks ago.

"We originally had thought that people would go the distance, keep social distance in place right until the end of May," Murray said. "But what's happened is states have relaxed early."

Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said states can begin to reopen safely if they meet guidelines on declining cases and have a strong testing and contact tracing infrastructure in place.

"Most states don't meet that. A few do. They can probably open up safely. But most states don't. Until we have those in place, we should not be opening up unless we're willing to take a risk of having large outbreaks," he said.

"Opening up prematurely just sets us up for big outbreaks, which will force us to shut down again."

At least 48 states will be partially reopened by Sunday in the midst of a pandemic that has infected more than 1.3 million people and killed over 82,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Nationally, cases and deaths have been slowly trending downward over the past few weeks, but that decline is not spread evenly among states. The below map, which looks at the average new cases in the past week compared to the previous week, shows that nine states have seen increases, 22 have seen decreases and 19 have remained about steady.

Still, the reopenings do not mean that states are returning to normal. The University of California System says it likely won't fully reopen in the fall. Even in Georgia, the state with the most aggressive reopening, bars and nightclubs will remain closed through the end of the month, and restaurants can only reopen with limited capacity.

WHO official says coronavirus could become endemic

The novel coronavirus may never go away and may join the mix of viruses that kill people around the world every year, said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization health emergencies program.

"This virus just may become another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away. HIV hasn't gone away," Ryan said during a media briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.

"I'm not comparing the two diseases but I think it is important that we're realistic. I don't think anyone can predict when or if this disease will disappear," Ryan added.

The holy grail in the pandemic response remains a coronavirus vaccine.

With a vaccine, "we may have a shot at eliminating this virus, but that vaccine will have to be available, it will have to be highly effective, it will have to be made available to everyone and we'll have to use it," Ryan said. "This disease may settle into a long-term problem or it may not be."

Separately, in an unprecedented move for US vaccine makers, they're considering whether to whether to work together on coronavirus vaccine trials.

They're considering two approaches. One is more typical and involves each company working independently on its own trial, according to two members of the Accelerating Covid-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines group, or ACTIV, which was organized last month by the National Institutes of Health. The second, the group members said, involves several vaccine developers working in one large trial -- an unprecedented method for vaccine development in the United States.

The third phase of vaccine trials typically involve thousands of study subjects, some of whom are randomly assigned to get the vaccine, and others who are injected with a placebo, a substance that does nothing. The researchers then wait and see if there is a difference in Covid-19 infections rates between the vaccine group and the control group.

If the vaccine developers band together in one large phase 3 trial of all of their experimental vaccines, they could all use the same placebo group and wouldn't have to recruit their own.

Members of ACTIV's clinical trials working group are expected to discuss the options on a call Wednesday.

States turn to contact tracing

First it was ventilators, and then testing. Now, states are turning their focus toward contact tracing as weapons in the battle against coronavirus.

New Orleans is taking the unusual step of requiring restaurants with open dining rooms to take reservations with a name and a phone number and keep them for at least 21 days so they can track down people if a case arises.

"Contract tracing comes with the responsibility of all of us," Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at a news conference. "General public, know where you're going, take ... notes (to) remind yourself of where you've been," she said.

She said she doesn't know how many will be in Orleans Parish yet, but the state is hiring contact tracers -- which several governors said Tuesday they are doing as well.

The state of New Jersey is planning to develop a community contact tracing core that could employ 1,000 to 5,000 people, state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said in a news conference. The job could pay up to $25 dollars an hour, Gov. Phil Murphy said.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced an online tool for contact tracing officials are calling the "Healthy Georgia Collaborative." The tool will help in allowing "Georgians to identify contacts and monitor symptoms."

Kemp said there are "nearly 250 staff in the field today," and that the Department of Public Health "plans to have 1,000 staff deployed in the weeks ahead."

In Washington state, hundreds of members of the National Guard will be used as part of an interim contact tracing group until more workers and volunteers are trained. They will not have law enforcement power but "simply will be talking to people and helping prevent others from getting sick," Gov. Jay Inslee said.

California and its schools prepare for the long haul

While restrictions will continue to be loosened and lifted, Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Tuesday that Los Angeles County should expect to remain under some form of a stay at home order for at least another three months.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged residents not to "freak out" at the thought of months of more precautions and said that the city will be following the data available.

But schools across the state are making decisions for them.

The California State University system has announced plans to cancel nearly all in-person classes for the fall semester in favor of virtual learning, and the University of California System says it likely won't fully reopen in the fall either.

"It's not an easy decision," Dr. William Schaffner, Vanderbilt professor of infectious diseases told CNN's Chris Cuomo of schools considering fall semester plans. "As with all of these things, I say there is not a right decision nor wrong decision, only tough decisions."

Though Garcetti hopes the city can find a safe way to send K-12 students back to school in the fall, he said they should also prepare to pick back up with online classes.

The-CNN-Wire

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