As part of US COVID-19 reopening steps, Midwest governors form coalition

Today President Donald Trump during his daily coronavirus task force briefing will announce the first plans for reopening the economy and transitioning from widespread stay-at-home efforts. Yesterday during the briefing the president said America had likely passed the peak of its infections, and physical distancing measures were working.

Deborah Birx, MD, White House coordinator of COVID-19 response, said the country had noted declining case counts for 9 days, but still said the physical (social) distancing measures implemented by the White House should be followed through Apr 30, at a minimum.

Meanwhile, in phone calls with governors today, Trump was reported to say each state had to call its own shots on when to open up, according to a recording obtained by the New York Times.

"You're going to be calling the shots. We'll be standing right alongside of you, and we're going to get our country open and get it working. People want to get working," Trump said, and he also emphasized that some states could open up before May 1.

Today another 5.2 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, raising the total number of Americans to 22 million, or 13% of all US workers, who have lost jobs and income in the wake of the pandemic. According to the US Labor Department, this is the fourth week in a row of catastrophic unemployment numbers.

Midwest governors form coalition for reopening

Joining governors on the West and East Coasts, seven Midwestern governors today announced a new coalition to open the Midwest economic region. In a letter from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer's office, she and the governors of Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky announced the partnership.

"Phasing in sectors of our economy will be the most effective when we work together as a region," the letter said. "This doesn't mean our economy will reopen all at once, or that every state will take the same steps at the same time. But close coordination will ensure we get this right."

Today New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state and neighboring East Coast states will shutter nonessential businesses through at least May 15.

Cuomo said he is working with the governors of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Delaware to create a safe plan for reopening the economy.

"I need a coordinated action plan with the other states. So, one month, we'll continue the close-down policies. What happens after then? I don't know. We will see what the data shows," Cuomo said during his daily briefing from Albany. "I don't want to project beyond that period."

As of today, New York has 222,284 cases and 12,192 deaths. The New York death rate continues to spike as state authorities have now begun to include presumed COVID-19 fatalities in the daily totals.

According to a ProPublica investigation, New York City is recording an average of 200 in-home deaths per day, and Detroit and Boston have also recorded spikes in deaths at home, which may represent undercounted COVID-19 fatalities.

According to the John Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker, the United States has 629,264 cases, including 26,708 deaths.

South Dakota has biggest COVID-19 cluster in US

The Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is now home to the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases in the country, with 644 people with connections to the plant testing positive as of yesterday. That's more than half of the state's COVID-19 total, which is 1,168. So far, at least one Smithfield plant employee has died from the disease.

South Dakota remains one of eight states without statewide shelter-in-place orders. Yesterday Politico reported that many of those states, in the nation's farm belt, are seeing spikes of COVID-19 activity, including Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota.

In the past week , Nebraska has seen a 30% increase in cases, as has North Dakota. Cases increased by 260% in South Dakota and 26% in Oklahoma. According to Politico, these rates compare to roughly 26% over the same period in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic.

Report: Underfunding contributed to crisis

Trust for America's Health (TFAH) released a new report today suggesting that years of chronic underfunding of America's public health systems, including repeated budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), primed the country for a pandemic such as COVID-19.

According to a press release on the report, TFAH found that funding for state and local public health emergency preparedness and response programs has been reduced by approximately one third since 2003.

"Of critical concern now, funding for the Hospital Preparedness Program, the only federal source of funding to help the healthcare delivery system prepare for and respond to emergencies, has been cut by half since 2003," TFAH said.

The report also said that, from 2016 to 2018, state expenditures of federal monies for public health activities decreased from $16.3 billion to $12.8 billion. TFAH calls on lawmakers to increase funding to the CDC by 22% by Fiscal Year 2022.

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