As U.S. Coronavirus Cases Soar Past One Million, More States Are Beginning to Open Up

Easing open: More than 97 percent of U.S. residents are still subject to a stay-at-home order in one form or another, Alaa Elassar writes for CNN, but governors in more than a dozen states are starting to loosen restrictions on businesses and movement—or plan to by May 1. Georgia has already eased restrictions on businesses, including theaters and restaurants; similarly, Oklahoma has allowed certain businesses to reopen, and will allow dining rooms, movie theaters, sporting venues and gyms to reopen on May 1, if they follow “strict social distancing and sanitation protocols.” Tennessee reopened restaurants for dine-in customers yesterday, just one day after the state reported its highest single-day jump (478) in new confirmed coronavirus cases, Brakkton Booker reported for NPR, although the counties with the more populous metro areas of Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville are following their own timelines.

  • Also: Global confirmed cases of coronavirus blew past 3 million, and U.S. cases now top 1 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. Confirmed U.S. deaths from the disease (more than 56,000) are far higher than any other country and make up more than a quarter of deaths globally.

Inject the unexpected: Since late last week, the Trump administration and public health experts have been telling people not to ingest disinfectants of any kind, after the President suggested during a White House coronavirus press briefing that injecting disinfectants could have “a cleaning” effect on the body, according to The Washington Post. Soon after, officials from the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were warning people not to ingest disinfectants, but the warnings may have come too late: Maryland’s emergency hotline received more than 100 calls from residents inquiring whether injecting a disinfectant really was a cure. The president later claimed his comments were sarcastic; administration officials also said that reporters took the comments out of context. The Post reported that Trump’s remarks seemed based on a misunderstanding of a preliminary study on the effects of using light, heat, and disinfectants to kill the virus on surfaces like tables, countertops, and desks. Following the briefing, multiple states, including New York, Illinois, and Kentucky saw an increase in poison control calls, and the American Association of Poison Control Centers confirmed to Fox News’ Peter Aitken that there has been a general increase in poison control calls across the nation this month compared to the same period last year.

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Struck down: One of the stranger, scarier and more baffling effects of COVID-19 is that it seems to be causing strokes in younger patients in their 30s and 40s, Ariana Eunjung Cha reports for The Washington Post. Thomas Oxley, an interventional neurologist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan, said he was operating to remove a blood clot in a 44-year-old patient, but as he looked at the brain tissue on the monitor, he saw more clots forming in real time, which is highly unusual. Although at first thought to attack primarily the respiratory system, COVID-19 is now known to affect nearly every major system in the body.

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Remembering a hero: The medical director of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, Dr. Lorna M. Breen, died by suicide on Sunday, The New York Times reports. Dr. Breen’s father, Dr. Philip C. Breen, told the Times that his daughter, described horrific scenes from the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 to him, including an onslaught of patients who died before they could even be taken from the ambulance. Dr. Breen, who was 49, had contracted the virus, but had recovered and gone back to work briefly, before traveling to Charlottesville, Virginia, to stay with family. “She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” Breen said, adding, “Make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was. She’s a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died.”

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Meat to market: As of last week, there were more than 3,400 coronavirus cases linked to meatpacking facilities across 62 plants in 23 states, and at least 17 reported worker deaths, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and USA Today. An unidentified Department of Agriculture inspector who oversaw processing plants has also died from COVID-19, the second person from the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to be killed by the virus. An undated memo from the inspection service told inspectors they could only wear masks if the factory gave permission to do so. As the virus has spread through plants, closures have followed. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents more than 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers, says that at least 13 processing plants have closed over the past two months, reducing the capacity to supply pork and beef, Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland report for CNN Business. Ken Sullivan, the CEO of Smithfield Foods, which suspended operations at a plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after an outbreak of coronavirus there, warned that these closures could impact the food supply chain. However, as H. Claire Brown and Jessica Fu report for The Counter, record amounts of products like pork loin are in cold storage, and that will go a long way to filling any short-term gaps. That said, meat could get more expensive.

  • Also: Millions of pounds of vegetables have rotted away in the field, and as Helena Bottemiller Evich reports for Politico, some are pointing the finger at the sluggish response from the Department of Agriculture. Nikki Fried, the commissioner of agriculture in Florida, asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue nearly a month ago to help get more Florida farmers connected to federal food purchasing and distribution programs as the restaurant supply chain collapsed, but the agency didn’t do anything for weeks. Meanwhile, Feeding America, which represents about 200 major food banks across the country, says demand at food banks has increased an average of 70 percent. The Department of Agriculture finally announced a $19 billion aid program with $3 billion set aside to buy excess food in mid-April, but it could take a month to be fully functioning, and that will be too late for farmers in Florida.

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Too small to investigate: In 1976, shortly after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was created, Congress attached a rider to the agency’s budget that exempts farms with 10 or fewer employees from enforcement, and lawmakers and industry lobbyists have ensured that it carries over every year—even as the death toll on small farms  mounts. As Eli Wolfe reports for FairWarning, the past year has seen multiple deaths on small farms: 39-year old Tim Hunt died after getting trapped in a trailer full of grain in Mulvane, Kansas; Roy Varney, a teenager, was killed after he accidentally drove a skid steer into a manure pit on his family’s farm in Maine; 16-year old Ashtan Russell was run over by heavy machinery while working at a chicken farm in Knox County, Ohio; and 18-year-old Landon Gran was killed last August while cleaning out a grain bin for a farmer in Saint Peter, Minnesota. That doesn’t include non-fatal injuries and safety complaints that are also not investigated. “I think this is absolutely insane how they will not come out to a farm when there’s a death,” says Michele Gran, Landon Gran’s mother. “I think that’s absolutely nuts. Every death should be investigated.”

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On the bright side: As air pollution has plummeted as the result of coronavirus-related shutdowns, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom have broken records in solar generation, according to Yale Environment 360. Bloomberg reports that Germany generated a record-high 32.2 gigawatts of solar power earlier this week, enough for about 40 percent of the country’s electricity needs. The U.K. has gone without coal power for nearly two weeks. “Ideal weather conditions and lower levels of pollution than normal mean solar is providing record levels of cheap, clean power to the grid,” said Chris Hewett, chief executive of the U.K.’s Solar Trade Association.

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

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