Coronavirus updates: Americans should prepare for 'another battle,' CDC director says

jarun011/iStock(NEW YORK) — A global pandemic of the novel coronavirus has infected close to two million people worldwide.

More than 128,000 people across the globe have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding the scope of their nations’ outbreaks.

Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the United States has become the worst-affected nation, with more than 609,000 diagnosed cases and at least 26,057 deaths.

The number of cases in New York state alone is higher than in any single country outside the U.S.

Here’s how the news is developing Wednesday. All times Eastern:

11:35 a.m.: NYC grocery stores should require patrons wear masks: Mayor

In hard-hit New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio says grocery stores should require customers to wear face coverings while shopping.

“Every store has the right to put up that guidance and make it a requirement for entry into the store,” the mayor said, calling a face-covering requirement in grocery stores no different than “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs.

De Blasio said he would talk about loosening restrictions in New York City when there’s a steady drop in three key COVID-19 indicators for 10 to 14 days: those admitted to hospitals, those in intensive care units, and the percentage of people tested who are positive.

The mayor said the number of patients admitted to hospitals and the number of people in ICUs have both slightly increased, while the percentage of people tested who are positive has made a small improvement.

De Blasio on Wednesday also announced a $170 million investment to make sure no New Yorker goes hungry.

Before the pandemic, 1.2 million New Yorkers were food insecure, including 1 in 5 children, the mayor said. Now, an estimated half-million New Yorkers have lost or will lose their jobs in the immediate future, he said.

Since March 16, 4.5 million meals have been served to people in New York City, de Blasio said.

Ten million meals will be served in April alone, with the ability to grow, he said.

11 a.m.: DC suburb emerges as possible new epicenter

As Maryland’s death toll passes 400, with new “probable” deaths included in the tally, Prince George’s County, Maryland — a D.C. suburb — may be emerging as a new epicenter.

Prince George’s County is home to 900,000 residents, the majority of whom are African American, The Washington Post reported.

The county has reported 2,516 cases, 65 deaths and 11 “probable” deaths.

Hospitals are overwhelmed and sending some of the sick to facilities outside of the county, the Post said.

Prince George’s County is nearing the death toll in the nation’s capital. D.C. has reported 72 fatalities and 5 probable fatalities.

10:20 a.m.: TSA screens less than 90,000 passengers for 1st time during outbreak

Domestic airline travel reached a new low Tuesday when the TSA screened less than 90,000 passengers for the first time during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The TSA screened 87,534 travelers at checkpoints nationwide on Tuesday compared to 2,208,688 on the same weekday last year — around a 96% decrease.

The TSA says 403 of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Out of those, three have died and 45 employees have recovered.

9:37 a.m.: China says Trump will harm global fight against pandemic by pulling WHO funds

China urged the U.S. not to halt its funding to the World Health Organization on Wednesday, saying it would undermine the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

During Wednesday’s press briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said President Donald Trump’s decision to cut the U.S. contributions to the WHO would impact all countries across the globe, especially the more vulnerable ones.

Furthermore, the move “weakens the WHO’s capabilities and harms international cooperation,” he said.

“At present, the global pandemic situation is grim and is at a critical moment,” Zhao told reporters. “We urge the U.S. to fulfill its responsibilities and obligations, and support WHO to lead the international combat against the pandemic.”

8:58 a.m.: Tour de France delayed till late August

Cycling’s biggest race, the Tour de France, has been postponed until late August due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Cycling Union announced the decision Wednesday, saying the prestigious race will now run from Aug. 29 to Sept. 20. The Tour de France was originally slated to kick off in Nice on June 27.

“Holding this event in the best conditions possible is judged essential given its central place in cycling’s economy and its exposure, in particular for the teams that benefit on this occasion from unparalleled visibility,” the International Cycling Union said in a statement.

France is among the worst-affected countries in the pandemic, with more than 131,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and over 15,000 deaths, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

French President Emmanuel Macron has extended a lockdown for the country till May 11.

Addressing the nation Monday night, Macron said he sees “hopeful signs” since imposing the nationwide lockdown on March 17 in an effort to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. He said schools will reopen “progressively,” starting from May 11. However, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, concert halls, museums and hotels will remain closed and large gatherings won’t be allowed until mid-July.

8:23 a.m.: US Forces Japan declare public health emergency for all bases

The commander of the United States Forces Japan on Wednesday declared a public health emergency for all bases in Japan as the country sees a surge in novel coronavirus infections.

U.S. Forces Japan, a subset of the military’s Indo-Pacific Command, had previously declared an emergency only for the county’s Kanto Plain, which includes Tokyo.

The newest declaration, which will remain in effect through May 15, gives commanders the authority to enforce compliance of health protection measures on those who live and work on all U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine installations and facilities located in Japan. The order applies to 50,000 military personnel as well as tens of thousands of their family members and civilian contractors.

Last month, an active duty member of the U.S. Forces Japan tested positive for COVID-19.

7:15 a.m.: Americans should prepare for ‘another battle’ with virus, CDC director says

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned Wednesday that Americans should be prepared for a second wave of novel coronavirus infections in the winter, even as the epidemic appears to have hit its peak in parts of the country.

“I think we have to assume this is like other respiratory viruses and there will be a seasonality to it,” Redfield told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview on Good Morning America.

“Until we see it, we don’t know for certain,” he added. “But i think it’s critical that we plan this virus is likely to follow a seasonality pattern similar to flu, and we’re going to have another battle with it upfront and aggressively next winter.”

It’s important the country takes the time now to improve its testing capacity and expand public health capacity so that health workers can detect cases early, conduct contact tracing and isolate potentially infected individuals.

“I call it block and tackle,” Redfield said. “The outbreak this year got ahead of that, so we went into full mitigation and we lost the ability to use critical public health tools. We are working hard to augment them now so that, as we get into the next season, we’ll be able to stay in high containment mode while we complement that with some continued mitigation strategies.”

Redfield praised members of the public for heeding stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures.

“When we did our original models looking at this outbreak, we were looking at, you know, up to 2.2 million people that might have died before the fall,” he said. “And when you see, even though 26,000 is still an enormous loss of human life, it really is a tribute to the mitigation that the American public did.”

“It’s really a testament to the sacrifice the American public has taken and the leadership that we’ve had in a number of these states to give that example,” he added.

Redfield said the CDC and the White House coronavirus task force are “aggressively working through the best options as to help assist the states as they begin to reopen our country one state at a time.” The process is ongoing and it will be a state-by-state decision, according to Redfield.

“I think we will see some states that the governors feel that are ready and we’re poised to assist them with that re-opening,” he added. “And I think you’ll see that the plan in terms of how that will happen will be finalized by the White House task force in the days ahead.”

When asked about President Donald Trump’s decision to halt U.S. funding to the World Health Organization and whether he thinks the agency failed in its outbreak response, Redfield was reluctant to criticize the WHO and instead said, “I think I’d like to do the postmortem on this outbreak once we get through it together.”

“The CDC and WHO has had a long history of working together in multiple outbreaks throughout the world, as we continue to do in this one, and so we’ve had a very productive public health relationship,” he added. “We continue to have that.”

6:15 a.m.: Russia reports its largest single-day increase in new cases

Russia on Wednesday reported a record number of new cases of the novel coronavirus.

The Russian government registered 3,388 new cases in the past 24 hours — the country’s biggest single-day jump yet.

There are now 24,490 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 across Russia, and at least 198 people have died from the disease.

Moscow, with a population of more than 12 million people, is by far the hardest-hit city in the country.

5:42 a.m.: Bill Gates warns freezing funding for WHO ‘is as dangerous as it sounds’

Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates took to Twitter early Wednesday to denounce U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to freeze American funding to the World Health Organization.

The United States is, by far, the single largest financial contributor to the WHO, and Gates said the United Nations’ health agency is needed “now more than ever.”

“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” Gates tweeted. “Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them.”

Trump announced Tuesday that he would cut U.S. contributions to the WHO, pending a review into its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The president claimed the WHO mismanaged the outbreak response and specifically laid blame on the organization’s lack of support for his ban on travel from China when the outbreak began.

“They were very much opposed to what we did,” Trump said during Tuesday’s daily briefing.

The president said he will have conversations with other health officials around the world about where the funds earmarked for the WHO would go. He did not rule out restoring the money to the organization.

Trump’s announcement is likely to set up a battle with Congress, which controls funding for the Geneva-based international body.

The WHO started sounding the alarm over the novel coronavirus outbreak in China in mid-January and then designated it a global health emergency on Jan. 30. On March 11, the organization declared the outbreak a pandemic after the virus had spread to every continent except Antarctica.

3:30 a.m.: Social distancing measures may be necessary into 2022, researchers say

People around the world may need to continue practicing some level of social distancing through 2022 to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic in the absence of an effective treatment or vaccine, or unless hospital capacity is increased, according to a new study.

In the study published Tuesday in the journal Science, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health warned that their projections indicate there would be a large resurgence of infection if social distancing measures are lifted all at once, potentially delaying the epidemic’s peak and exacerbating the load on critical care resources.

The researchers used data from the United States to model transmission of other coronaviruses in temperate regions and to project possible scenarios of COVID-19 infection through the year 2025.

“Less effective one-time distancing efforts may result in a prolonged single-peak epidemic, with the extent of strain on the healthcare system and the required duration of distancing depending on the effectiveness,” the study’s authors wrote. “Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or a treatment or vaccine becomes available.”

Effective treatments and vaccines may take months to years to develop and test, leaving non-pharmaceutical interventions as the only immediate means of curbing the spread of infection.

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