Predicted Coronavirus Deaths Down, But Only If Social Distancing Continues to August

Grim march: Globally, there are more than 1.6 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and deaths from the disease are steadily approaching 100,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Cases in the United States account for almost 30 percent of the global total. There are more cases in New York state, around 160,000, than any single country, and more than 7,000 people in the state have died from the disease. Here, as elsewhere, that figure is likely to be an undercount. The number of New York City residents who died in their homes or on the street during the first five days of April was eight times greater than over the same period last year, according to The New York Times, citing Fire Department data. Morgue workers and military personnel are retrieving up to 280 bodies per day from homes and, while many of the deaths were likely caused by Covid-19, they are not included in the official death toll, The Times reported. In more optimistic news, Dr. Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, has revised his model of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States and now predicts that the virus will kill 60,000 people in the United States before August—33,000 fewer deaths than his model predicted on April 2, Arman Azad reports for CNN. The country is still expected to face a shortage of about 16,000 hospital beds but will need 168,000 fewer beds than previously thought. The model assumes social distancing will continue until August.

Corona country: By April 15, the country will have lost nine small-town hospitals in 2020 alone, Kirk Siegler reports for NPR. Rural hospitals have been closing at an alarming rate for years, but in the middle of a pandemic it puts far-flung rural residents—who tend to be older, poorer, sicker, and less likely to be insured than the rest of the population—at heightened risk. And the coronavirus is rapidly spreading to rural counties – not as fast as in urban centers, but inexorably: The case rate in rural areas this week was more than double what it had been six days before, The New York Times reports. “It’s just absolutely crazy,” Michael Caputo, a state delegate in Fairmont, West Virginia, where the only hospital in the county closed in mid-March, told the Times. “Across the country, they’re turning hotels and sports complexes into temporary hospitals. And here we’ve got a hospital where the doors are shut.” Earlier this month, an 88-year-old Fairmont woman fell sick and had to be taken by ambulance to the next nearest hospital—25 minutes away. Days later, she became the state’s first Covid-19 death.

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Young, but not immune: At least 759 people under the age of 50 have died from the coronavirus, according to The Washington Post’s analysis of state data, including at least 45 deaths among people in their 20s, at least 190 deaths among people in their 30s, and at least 413 deaths among people in their 40s. This does not include deaths from states, like California, that don’t report coronavirus deaths by age groups and declined to share that information with the Post. Young people are dying in some states more frequently than others. For example, deaths of under-50s make up less than 1 percent of all deaths in Massachusetts, but 8 percent in Louisiana and 9 percent in Illinois. Shawn Evans, attending emergency physician and director of resuscitation at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, said, “A very fit 30-year-old triathlete is just as vulnerable as a chess-playing 45-year-old who gets no exercise. We just don’t know who it is that this virus carries the master key to.”

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Essential, and at risk: Among the workers considered essential are the legions of bus drivers and train engineers necessary for ferrying other essential workers to and from hospitals and other businesses. Thousands of face masks are being provided free of charge (“while supplies last”) to bus riders in Detroit, Michigan, but the gesture comes too little, too late for one driver, Minyvonne Burke reports for NBC News. In March, Jason Hargrove complained about a passenger coughing without covering her mouth:  “I feel violated,” Hargrove said. Less than two weeks later Hargrove, 50, died from Covid-19, Oralandar Brand-Williams reported for the Detroit News. Drivers are now calling for the city to halt bus service, Priya Mann and Amber Ainsworth report for WDIV. In New York, more than 41 transit workers have died from coronavirus, and 6,000 more have fallen sick or self-quarantined, Christina Goldbaum reports for The New York Times. Bus drivers and subway operators say the transit authority in the city hasn’t done enough to protect them, Burke reports for NBC. Bus operators say they either haven’t received masks, gloves and other protective gear yet, or didn’t until this week. “At my garage, I personally lost a good friend, Ernesto Hernandez,” said Robert Martinez, a bus operator. “Maybe had they given this out from the beginning, him and others would probably still be alive.”

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Shake it off: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading expert in the fight against coronavirus in the U.S., says this should be the end of the handshake, Amy Gunia writes in Time. “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you,” he said. “Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease; it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.”

Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.

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