Novel Coronavirus/COVID-19 COVID-19 News from Around the Web

Celebrities get virus tests, raising concerns of inequality

AP - April 30, 2020

Celebrities, politicians and professional athletes faced a backlash this week as many revealed that they had been tested for the coronavirus, even when they didn’t have a fever or other tell-tale symptoms. That’s fueling a perception that the wealthy and famous have been able to jump to the head of the line to get tested while others have been turned away or met with long delays. The concerns over preferential treatment underscores a fundamental truth about inequalities baked into the American health care system — those with the financial means can often receive a different level of service.

U.S. Coronavirus Testing Starts To Ramp Up But Still Lags

NPR - April 30, 2020

As the Trump administration scrambles to make more coronavirus tests available, demand for testing still outstrips availability. More than 71,000 tests have been done so far in the U.S., according to the Covid Tracking Project, and thousands more are being conducted each week by federal and state labs, hospitals and private companies, officials say. The federal government hopes to open 47 drive-through sites in 12 states soon. But there's still not nearly enough testing, experts say. Most other countries with outbreaks have done a great deal more testing. For instance South Korea has tested more than 270,000 people to date. "The testing capacity remains extraordinarily limited compared to where we should be. And in many ways we are absolutely flying blind at the moment," says Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In response to continued critique of the limited testing capacity, the Food and Drug Administration announced Monday night it has taken several new steps, including letting states get their own testing systems going. "States can now take responsibility for overseeing tests developed and used by laboratories in their states," says FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn. New York had requested and received this authorization to expand testing capacity. This new flexibility from the FDA could allow states to take steps such as permitting the use of new unapproved tests or letting labs not previously authorized to begin testing. But some experts fear that step may not help much because most states don't have the legal authority, expertise or staff to set up their own testing systems.

The Latest Obstacle to Getting Tested? A Shortage of Swabs and Face Masks

New York Times - April 30, 2020

Hospitals and doctors say they are critically low on swabs needed to test patients for the coronavirus, as well as face masks and other gear to protect health care workers.

US struggles to fill requests for protective gear

AP - April 30, 2020

The U.S. government is rushing protective equipment to states, packing dozens of flights and hundreds of trucks with supplies for medical workers who will be on the front lines of the coronavirus fight. But the pandemic has exposed some of the stockpile’s shortcomings: The cache isn’t designed to be a long-term solution to monumental demand, and some state officials are complaining that the deliveries are falling far short of what’s needed or include expired items. The Strategic National Stockpile was created in 1999 to respond to bombings and biological, chemical and nuclear attacks. It maintains caches of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and vaccines in secret locations around the nation. It has never confronted anything on the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first real use came in the anthrax-by-mail attacks following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but it was the 2009 H1N1 pandemic that prompted the largest use to date, said Christopher McKnight Nichols, associate professor of history at Oregon State University. “The SNS as designed and funded cannot and will not be able to fully accommodate the needs of the entirety of the American people,” Nichols said. The system “is designed to help buy time” and prioritize areas of greatest need, he explained.

Trump Invokes A Cold War Relic, The Defense Production Act, For Coronavirus Shortages

NPR - April 30, 2020

Bowing to increasing pressure to do so, President Trump announced Wednesday he would use a law dating back to the early years of the Cold War to address serious shortages of supplies needed for responding to the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. The DPA is a law that has its origins in the War Powers Acts of World War II, which granted the executive branch broad powers to direct industrial production for the war effort. Those authorities were allowed to expire when the war was over, but in 1950, after Soviet-backed North Korea invaded South Korea, President Harry Truman revived those lapsed powers by persuading Congress to enact the DPA. But this is not a war — this is a health crisis. How does the DPA relate to the coronavirus pandemic? The law contains a section that authorizes the president to control the production and distribution of scarce materials deemed "essential to the national defense." In his executive order, Trump specifically cites protective equipment (presumably face masks) and ventilators as meeting the criteria in this provision.

Cancer, heart surgeries delayed as coronavirus alters care

AP - April 30, 2020

Some cancer surgeries are being delayed, many stent procedures for clogged arteries have been pushed back and infertility specialists were asked to postpone helping patients get pregnant. Doctors in virtually every field are scrambling to alter care as the new coronavirus spreads. Medical groups issued advice this week on how hospitals and doctors should adapt as beds and supplies are pinched and worries rise about exposing patients to possible infection. That includes canceling elective surgeries, including many for slow-growing or early-stage cancers, which many people would consider not elective at all.

‘They’re Feeling Invincible’: White House Steps Up Warnings To Young Adults

NPR - April 30, 2020

Officials are stepping up their warnings to younger Americans about the coronavirus, because they can more easily spread the virus without having symptoms and now because new evidence shows the potential for some younger people to suffer severely from it. At White House briefings this week, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator for the White House's coronavirus task force, has expressed concerns that not everyone is taking social distancing guidance to heart. "We are asking every single American, no matter what your generation, from Z and up to X, and millennials in between, to really ensure that you're following these guidelines," Birx told reporters on Tuesday. "We hear every night of people who are not in work, moving that time into bars and other areas of large gatherings. If we continue with that process, we will fail in containing this virus."

Amazon Employee At New York Warehouse Tests Positive For Coronavirus

NPR - April 30, 2020

Amazon says that a worker at its delivery station in Queens, New York, has tested positive for novel coronavirus and that the facility is being temporarily shut down so that it can be disinfected. With a huge number of people in the U.S. now working from home and practicing social distancing in efforts to reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, Amazon has seen a massive flood of orders. To meet the demand, the company announced earlier this week that it planned to hire 100,000 more part-time and full-time employees at its fulfillment centers and as part of its delivery network. It also said it would temporarily increase its pay by $2 an hour in some regions. Although scientists are still studying how long the new coronavirus, known officially as SARS-CoV-2, can live on various surfaces, in a paper published Tuesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that on cardboard "no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 24 hours." "It feels like we are crossing in the middle of a battlefield." More than 2,500 people have died in about four weeks in Italy. With over 31,500 confirmed cases, the country's doctors and nurses — particularly in the hardest-hit cities in the north — are struggling to keep up. They're running out of beds, equipment and even people, particularly as more health care workers catch the virus.

Italy has a world-class health system. The coronavirus has pushed it to the breaking point.

NBC News - April 30, 2020

"I have never seen so many people die together before my eyes," said a nurse from one of the main hospitals in Bergamo, a city in northern Italy.

US, Canada are closing shared border to nonessential travel

AP - April 30, 2020

The United States and Canada agreed Wednesday to temporarily close their shared border to nonessential travel to confront the coronavirus pandemic, bringing a halt to tourism and family visits but leaving the flow of trade intact.The announcement by President Donald Trump came as his administration prepared to immediately return to Mexico all people caught illegally crossing the southern U.S. border. Trump said he would announce that step “very soon,” perhaps as early as Wednesday.

Africa should ‘prepare for the worst’ with virus, WHO says

AP - April 30, 2020

Africa should “prepare for the worst” as the coronavirus begins to spread locally, the World Health Organization’s director-general said Wednesday, while South Africa became the continent’s new focus of concern as cases nearly doubled to 116 from two days before. South Africa’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, this week called that kind of rate “explosive” in the country with the most cases in sub-Saharan Africa. Fourteen of the latest cases were from local transmission — and six were in children under 10. Though the pandemic is in its early days on the continent, health experts have warned that even facilities in Africa’s richest nation could be overwhelmed by the virus’ spread. “I think Africa should wake up. My continent should wake up,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who comes from Ethiopia. Crowded conditions in poor areas could lead to even faster transmission, experts say. Countless South Africans continue to pack into commuter trains and minivan taxis. But the annual pilgrimage of the Zion Christian Church, which attracts about 3 million people, was cancelled.

New imported coronavirus cases hit record in China’s capital

Reuters - April 30, 2020

China Reports No New Domestic Cases, But Battles Coronavirus Imported From Abroad. China's National Health Commission announced 34 new cases contracted elsewhere and imported from abroad to the country's mainland. New imported coronavirus infections hit a record of 21 in the Chinese capital of Beijing, data showed on Thursday, piling pressure on authorities to screen out infected passengers and isolate suspected cases.

Contagion of fear, uncertainty infect financial markets

AP - April 30, 2020

The rapidly deteriorating health of the financial markets is being driven by a contagion of fear and uncertainty about a global pandemic that’s infecting the economy in ways that seemed unfathomable just a month ago. Most experts now believes a U.S. recession is inevitable, with its severity the only question left to be determined. “It’s a fait accompli,” said Michael Yoshikami, CEO of Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, Calif. No wonder the S&P 500 now stands roughly 30% below its peak after a mind-boggling four weeks like no other in the financial markets. The pummeling would have been even worse if not for several robust, although short-lived, rallies that were fueled by hopes that the government might come up with a financial antidote that would prevent the fallout from the corornavirus outbreak from becoming as bad as it is now. The market’s wild swings have been exacerbated by the computerized trading programs that hedge funds create to wager on the financial market’s up and downs. Those algorithms, coupled with the lightning speed of today’s computer programs, can vastly accelerate the momentum of selling frenzies, as well as seemingly irrational buying binges. Human behavior, though, is more predictable. Just as people are hoarding non-perishable groceries, hand sanitizers and other goods they need while being forced to stay at home to stem the spread of the COVID-19 disease, investors have been fleeing the stock market as they build stockpiles of cash in conservative investments viewed as safe havens in times of financial turmoil.

US dollar plows ahead as global stock markets remain volatile

CNN - April 30, 2020

The strong US dollar is slamming global capital markets like a sledgehammer today," wrote Stephen Innes, global chief markets strategist at AxiCorp. That merely signals more [US dollar] strength to come as the buying frenzy continues," he added.

New York restaurant group lays off around 2,000 people

CNN - April 30, 2020

Esteemed restaurant company Union Square Hospitality Group is slashing its workforce by 80% and laying off around 2,000 people in the wake of coronavirus-related restaurant closures. The cuts — which will affect employees in both the company's restaurants and home office — came as a result of "a near complete elimination of revenue," the New York-based USHG said in a statement.

World leaders rush in to shore up panic-hit global financial system

Reuters - April 30, 2020

World finance leaders tried to lift confidence with emergency measures to pour cash into panic-stricken markets on Thursday, as investors everywhere dumped assets, switching to dollars amid the escalating coronavirus pandemic. In the United States, the Federal Reserve rolled out its third emergency credit program in two days, aimed at keeping the $3.8 trillion money market mutual fund industry functioning if investors made rapid withdrawals. On Sunday, the Fed slashed interest rates to near zero and pledged hundreds of billions of dollars in asset purchases, while President Donald Trump’s administration drew up a $1 trillion stimulus and rescue proposal. The desperate state of industry was writ large in Detroit, where the big three automakers - Ford Motor Co (F.N), General Motors Co (GM.N) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCHA.MI) (FCAU.N) - confirmed they would be shutting U.S. plants, as well as factories in Canada and Mexico.