US hits 1 million COVID-19 cases as states take on testing

Drive-up COVID-19 testing
Drive-up COVID-19 testing

US National Guard, Tori Miller / Flickr cc

The US case count for COVID-19 topped 1 million cases today, meaning the country has accounts for a third of all reported cases of the novel coronavirus in the world.

In total, a tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University shows 1,002,498 cases, including 57,533 fatalities.

The milestone comes a day after the world surpassed 3 million cases in the 4 months since the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China. Less than 1 month ago—on Apr 2—the global total hit 1 million cases.

New York cases approach 300,000

In New York, 295,106 cases have been identified, including 17,638 deaths. Today Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he will be reopening the state beginning May 15 in regional phases, allowing areas with low case prevalence to open before areas around hard-hit New York City. A region will only consider reopening after 14 days of declining cases, and businesses will be allowed to open if they are able to maintain social distancing.

New Jersey is the second hardest-hit state in the nation, and announced 402 new fatalities today, bringing state total to 113,856 cases and 6,442 deaths.

Elsewhere across the country, governors continued to talk about initial reopening of economies. To do so, public health experts, politicians, and economists have all called for widespread testing.

Yesterday in the Rose Garden, President Trump said the White House would be supplying states with a blueprint for increasing testing, and said by the end of May 8 million Americans will be tested for COVID-19.

But the blueprint only offers states guidance on how to ramp up testing, and Trump said the federal government should be the "supplier of last resort." The testing guidance says the federal government will send states enough testing materials to test 2% of the population.

Trump also announced another public-private partnership with major retailers, such as Target and Walmart, who would host testing sites. Such a plan was first proposed by the White House in early March, but was never realized.

Yesterday Carson, California, became the first city in the country to offer free COVID-19 testing to all residents, whether they are symptomatic or not. The testing will mostly occur through drive-thru sites.

Trump to offer meat plants protection

Today Bloomberg News reports Trump will evoke the Defense Protection Act (DPA) to keep all meat processing plants open, in an effort to limit food-supply chain issues that have occurred as several plants in the nation's heartland have suffered major COVID-19 outbreaks.

Under the DPA, Trump will consider the plants part of the country's critical infrastructure. He is believed to be making this decision after Tyson Food's CEO, John Tyson, warned over the weekend that plants' liabilities were putting the US food-supply chain at risk. The Associated Press estimates that COVID-19 outbreaks have shuttered 25% of meat processing plants in the country within the last 2 weeks.

Trump announced his plan to sign an order that would waive liability for meat processing plants during a White House meeting with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, CNN reported.

Two thirds of Americans agree with state restrictions

A new poll by the Washington Post and The University of Maryland shows nearly 2 out of 3 Americans find appropriate their state's restrictions on restaurants, stores, and other businesses. Sixteen percent of people polled said restrictions are not tight enough.

According to the poll, 64% of Americans said they agree with limiting social gatherings to 10 people or less. And 65% agree with the President's ban on all immigration in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Sixty percent of those polled said they are still somewhat or very worried about contracting the novel coronavirus.

In related news, yesterday JetBlue airlines became the first airline to require fliers to don face masks onboard. The requirement will go into effect on May 4.

Contact tracing in the spotlight

Second only to testing, health experts have said it's critical the United States expand the number of contact tracers in states in order to reopen the economy. Contact tracers, commonly employed in tuberculosis, measles, and Ebola outbreaks, work with public health departments to locate case contacts and provide surveillance on disease spread.

According to National Public Radio, an investigation into 41 states showed a total of 7,324 workers capable of doing contact tracing, with plans to increase that number to 35,582 in the coming weeks. Experts have said 100,000 should be the initial national goal. Only North Dakota currently has enough contact tracers to meet state demand.

In a letter sent to Congressional leaders by Scott Gottlieb, MD, the former Food and Drug Administration chief for President Trump, and Andy Slavitt, former director of Medicare and Medicaid under President Obama, the health experts suggest the federal government should spend $46 billion in a future coronavirus aid package, with $12 billion of that focused on contact tracing.

(See related CIDRAP News story today on China's experience with contact tracing.)

This week's top reads