SUNDAY, May 17, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- In a bit of good news for a beleaguered nation, new data released Friday finds that the number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States has dropped in recent days.
According to The New York Times, in New York state the figure has dropped over the last month, and case counts have also plunged in hard-hit Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Some states, including Vermont, Hawaii and Alaska, are seeing hardly any new cases at all, the newspaper said.
Also on Friday, the U.S. House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package that would send another round of aid to state and local governments and a second round of $1,200 payments to American taxpayers.
But the package has little chance of passage in the Senate, and President Donald Trump has promised to veto the bill, the Times reported.
Of course, testing will be key to further efforts to control the spread of the new coronavirus. But only about 3% of the population has been tested, with more than 1.4 million cases recorded so far. And more than 1,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 almost every day this past week, as the U.S. death toll neared 89,000 on Sunday, the Times reported.
"We're seeing a decline; undoubtedly, that is something good to see," Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York City, told the Times. "But what we are also seeing is a lot of places right on the edge of controlling the disease."
Meanwhile, as millions of Americans try to navigate a safe re-entry into public life, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday released recommendations to guide schools, businesses and restaurants through reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.
Six "checklists" -- which also offer advice to day care centers, mass transit and camps -- come after many states have already begun to ease social distancing on their own. These final guidances are less detailed than draft recommendations the agency sent to the White House for review last month, the Washington Post reported.
Some public health officials say more is needed.
"We need to unleash the voices of the scientists in our public health system in the United States so they can be heard, and their guidance need to be listened to," said Rick Bright, a former top U.S. vaccine official who testified before a House panel on Thursday. "And we need to be able to convey that information to the American public so they have the truth about the real risk and dire consequences of this virus."
Unemployment soars to 36 million
On the economic front, things look bleak. The coronavirus crisis has pushed almost 3 million more Americans into the ranks of the unemployed, according to statistics released Thursday.
In the past eight weeks, a whopping 36 million Americans have lost their jobs as the country went into lockdown to try and slow the spread of COVID-19.
Even as the country's top health officials testified to Congress on Tuesday about the dangers of reopening too quickly, a new report shows millions more Americans are now venturing out in public.
From March 20, when states began urging people to stay home, to April 30, when many states started easing those restrictions, 43.8% of U.S. residents stayed home, a Times analysis showed.
But last week, only 36.1% of Americans stayed home. The biggest drop in share of people staying home was in Michigan, where stay-at-home orders are actually still in place, the analysis showed.
Serious illness in kids
Meanwhile, troubling news has emerged from New York City this week: More than 119 children have contracted a new, serious inflammatory syndrome that seems to be linked to COVID-19 infection, NBC News reported.
Three of those patients, two grade schoolers and a teenager, have died, the Times reported. None of them were known to have any preexisting condition.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed the state's hospitals to prioritize COVID-19 testing for children showing symptoms of the condition, now known as "pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome," CBS News reported.
"We have been behind this virus every step of the way and even as we are now beginning to see the numbers on the decline, the virus is still surprising us," Cuomo said in a statement, CBS News reported. The syndrome affects blood vessels and organs and has symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock.
A small number of cases have been reported in other states, including New Jersey, California, Louisiana and Mississippi, the Times reported. At least 50 cases have been reported in European countries, including Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.
As New York City officials grappled with how to track and treat this new condition, an Italian study published Wednesday in The Lancet medical journal described similar cases that cropped up in that country.
Between Feb. 18 and April 20, there were 10 cases of young children hospitalized with the inflammatory condition in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. In the five years leading up to the middle of February, only 19 children in that region had ever been diagnosed with the condition.
All 10 children survived, but they had more severe symptoms than those diagnosed with Kawasaki disease in the previous five years.
The researchers said their findings provide "the first clear evidence" of a link between the new coronavirus and this inflammatory condition.
Health cost of reopening
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 has predicted that reopening will come at a cost: 200,000 new coronavirus cases and 3,000 deaths every day by the end of May.
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.
And even as reopening plans proceed, polling shows that many Americans oppose the reopening of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland survey found that many Americans have been making trips to grocery stores and 56% say they are comfortable doing so. But 67% say they would be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store, and 78% would be uncomfortable eating at a sit-down restaurant.
Those fears may only be heightened by a troubling new study on COVID-19 transmission, published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
Researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the University of Pennsylvania discovered that even talking emits small respiratory droplets that linger in the air for at least 8 minutes. The finding could help explain why COVID-19 infections tend to run rampant in nursing homes, households, conferences, cruise ships and other confined spaces with limited air circulation, the Post reported.
"Highly sensitive laser light scattering observations have revealed that loud speech can emit thousands of oral fluid droplets per second," the report stated.
According to a Times tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Sunday are: New York with over 353,000; New Jersey with over 145,000; Illinois with almost 93,000; Massachusetts with nearly 85,000; and California with almost 79,000.
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 China, public officials said they plan to test all 11 million residents in the city of Wuhan by the end of next week in the hopes they can extinguish any remaining cases of coronavirus in the pandemic's original epicenter, the Post reported
Meanwhile, South Korean officials said they do not plan to revive strict social distancing rules, despite a spike in coronavirus cases linked to nightclubs in Seoul, the Associated Press reported.
Elsewhere, the situation remains challenging. On Sunday, the United Kingdom's coronavirus death count passed 34,500, 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.
Brazil looks like it might become the next hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic. By Sunday, the South American country had reported over 15,600 deaths and more than 233,500 confirmed infections, according to the Hopkins tally.
Cases are also spiking in Russia: As of Sunday, that country reported the world's second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, the Hopkins tally showed. Russia now has nearly 282,000 cases, surpassing both Britain and Spain. Only the United States has more cases.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections neared 4.7 million on Sunday, with more than 312,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.
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