Costly Delay: Estimate Shows At Least 36,000 Deaths Could Have Been Averted With Earlier Social Distancing

Coulda Woulda Shoulda: The U.S. could have avoided some 36,000 deaths from coronavirus if cities and states had instituted social distancing or stay-at-home orders a week earlier in March, according to disease modelers from Columbia University. Some 54,000 deaths could have been avoided had social distancing begun two weeks earlier on March 1. “It’s a big, big difference,” Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia and the leader of the research team, told The New York Times. “That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths.”

  • Also: The global number of coronavirus cases has passed 5.1 million, with more than 333,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. In the U.S., over 95,000 people have died from the disease–more than the  number of Americans killed in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, combined.

Back at it: All 50 states have begun reopening to some degree, Talal Ansari, Betsy McKay, and Jennifer Calfas report for The Wall Street Journal, although Washington, D.C. remains under stay-at-home orders, and large parts of some states, including major metropolitan areas, are still mostly shut. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released detailed guidance on how to reopen the country, including recommendations for schools, restaurants, public transportation, and child care centers. The CDC advised that the first phase of reopening should begin after a state has seen a downward trajectory in cases over 14 days, but as Christina Maxouris, Eliott C. McLaughlin and Steve Almasy report for CNN, only 17 states’ average daily cases dropped more than 10 percent over the previous seven days.

  • Also: Aside from the risk of spreading or catching coronavirus as businesses open back up, workers could face other less obvious hazards, like Legionnaires’ disease, which is transmitted by a bacteria called Legionella pneumophila that thrives in stagnant water, Max Horberry reports for The New York Times. As water systems and pipes stand idle, bacteria like Legionella pneumophila could be reproducing and spreading, requiring disinfecting and thorough flushing as workers come back. “The buildings aren’t designed to be left alone for months,” Andrew Whelton, an associate professor of civil, environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University, told The Times.

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Hot spots: A new pandemic model that uses cell phone data to track social mobility shows that some states are at heightened risk for a resurgence of coronavirus cases, especially in places where restrictions are loosening even as case numbers rise. Crawford County in Iowa has a caseload that has recently risen 750 percent, and Colfax County in Nebraska’s case load has increased 1,390 percent, according to state data compiled by The Washington Post. “As communities reopen, we’re starting to detect evidence of resurgence in cases in places that have overreached a bit,” David Rubin, the director of PolicyLab, which produced the new model, told The Post. A presentation prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency shows new waves could be steep enough in some places to exceed ventilator capacity.

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Doubly vulnerable: Covid-19 has swept through nursing homes, and disproportionately impacted people of color, especially black Americans, so it is sadly no surprise to see a coalition of newsrooms jointly report that nursing homes with a significant number of black and Latino residents have been twice as likely to be hit by the coronavirus as those where the population is mostly white. Employees at these homes report being given items like rain ponchos and swimming goggles in lieu of actual protective gear. In New York, where the divide was the starkest, in nursing homes with black and Latino residents making up at least 25 percent of the population, 84 percent have had at least one coronavirus case. In nursing homes where fewer than 5 percent of residents were black and Latino, only 33 percent had at least one coronavirus case.

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Spite slight: “I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it,” President Trump told reporters, explaining why he wore a mask during a tour of a Ford factory but removed it before the interviews, in defiance of a state executive order that requires face coverings be worn in all enclosed public spaces. Before touring the plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which has been repurposed to make ventilators and personal protective equipment, the president had been warned by the company and by Michigan state attorney general, Dana Nessel, to wear a mask. Nessel wrote a strongly worded letter to Trump ahead of the visit, informing him that he had a “legal” and “moral responsibility” to wear a mask. After Trump refused to keep it on for the cameras, Nessel publicly took him to task. “The president is like a petulant child who refuses to follow the rules,” she told CNN. “This is not a joke.” As is his wont, the president responded in a couple late night tweets, calling Nessel a “Do nothing A.G.”

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Out of work: An additional 2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing total jobless claims during the coronavirus crisis to 38.6 million, Tony Romm, Jeff Stein, and Erica Werner report for The Washington Post. Meanwhile, the Trump administration, top Republicans, and corporate lobbyists continue to oppose extending enhanced unemployment benefits past July. Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, says the U.S. economy is in a “downturn without modern precedent,” Jeanna Smialek and Alan Rappeport report for The New York Times.

  • Also: An international fraud network used stolen data to impersonate workers and obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits in Washington state, the Associated Press reports. The head of the state’s Employment Security Department, Suzi LeVine, said the state is working with federal authorities and financial institutions to investigate the fraud and try to recover money paid out during the huge surge in unemployment from the coronavirus crisis. LeVine said agency officials became aware of the problem when they began hearing from employers or employees about unemployment benefits that the employee didn’t seek.

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Burning plea: Officials are investigating a fire at a church in northern Mississippi this week as arson because of a message spray painted at the scene: “Bet you stay home now you hypokrits.” As Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs reports for The New York Times, the First Pentecostal Church had sued the city of Holly Springs (population 8,000), arguing that the city’s stay-at-home order violated the church’s right to free speech and interfered with its members’ ability to worship. Last week, a judge declined to block the city’s stay-at-home order, and opined that the church was “proceeding in an excessively reckless and cavalier manner and with insufficient respect for the enormity of the health crisis.”

  • Also: A group of more than 1,200 California pastors claiming to represent tens of thousands of congregants have signed a petition stating that they will resume in-person services at the end of the month despite a state order to keep them closed to prevent spread of the coronavirus, CNN reports. In a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a lawyer for the pastors said they believed he is “attempting to act in the best interests of the state, but the restrictions have gone too far and for too long.”

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

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