COVID-19 impacts shift as global cases pass 4.6 million

COVID-19 activity across the world this weekend reflects a mixed picture of many earlier affected countries navigating the uneasy task of unwinding restrictions and extinguishing flare-ups, while more recently affected nations struggle to blunt exponential spread, as case counts topped 4.6 million.

Outlook dim for COVID-19 relief bill

The US House of Representatives yesterday narrowly passed a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill aimed at helping state, local, and tribal governments, with other measures targeted to individuals and outbreak response activities, such as testing and contact tracing, the Washington Post reported.

However, Senate Republicans have said they won't advance the bill and President Donald Trump has said he will veto the bill.

In another development, Trump said he is considering restoring some US funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), but no decisions have been made, Reuters reported. One proposal would match China's funding level, which would amount to 10% of the United States' former funding level to the WHO.

FDA issues EUA for home sampling kit

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for an at-home sample collection kit that can be sent to specific laboratories for COVID-19 testing.

The Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit allows people at home to self-collect a nasal sample after screening with an online questionnaire and review by a healthcare provider. The FDA has authorized two diagnostic tests that can be used to process the sample-collection kits.

Four northeastern states—New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware—are coordinating plans to open beaches for the Memorial Day weekend, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday, CBS News reported.

The beaches will open May 23 with 50% capacity and no contact activities such as football or volleyball. Other public gathering areas, such as concessions and picnic areas, will remain closed.

And on the sports front, National Football League teams can reopen their offices on May 19 if allowed by state and local policies, according to memo sent by the commissioner to teams that was obtained by the Associated Press.

The US total today rose to 1,464,057 cases, and 88,473 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Stressed health systems in South America

Brazil is poised to become the next pandemic epicenter, with infections rising sharply amid a low rate of testing, uneven application of distancing measures, and conflicting strategies and messaging that stem from the president's downplaying the virus threat, Time magazine reported yesterday, citing several Brazilian public health experts.

The country today reported 9,696 cases, raising its respective totals to 229,204, the fifth-highest in the world. So far, the country has reported 15,368 deaths.

Scientists told Time that Brazil is not close to its peak yet, and skepticism about distancing measures from President Jair Bolsonaro has led to lukewarm adherence. The country's large population that is concentrated in dense urban areas has also helped fuel the spread of the virus.

Though Brazil's proportion of intensive care unit (ICU) beds per population is double that of some of Europe's hot spots, they aren't evenly distributed, and eight of the country's states are already at 90% ICU occupancy, according to the report. Yesterday, Brazil's health minister, who had only been on the job for about a month, resigned following criticism from the president that he wasn't doing enough to reopen the economy or push hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, despite the lack of scientific evidence.

Other South American nations are also battling COVID-19 surges, including Ecuador, which today reported 1,296 cases. Though an outbreak in Guayaquil that has overwhelmed health systems and mortuaries has stabilized, the situation in the capital city of Quito is worsening, Reuters reported.

The city's residents are on a strict lockdown, and city officials said six people have died in the streets and public hospital ICU beds are nearing capacity, with a plan to add 80 more. The mayor, who opened a temporary 380-bed hospital yesterday, warned that the city's health system is reaching its limit.

Wuhan begins citywide testing

Health officials in Wuhan, China, said they conducted 116,000 tests yesterday, part of a plan to test the whole city, following the identification of a COVID-19 cluster in a residential area of the city, which is where the pandemic first accelerated, Reuters reported. However, some city residents worried that waiting for testing in lines at crowded testing centers would trigger more disease spread.

China today reported 8 more cases, 2 of them local cases from Jilin province; it also reported 13 more asymptomatic cases, 1 of them imported.

In other international developments:

  • Earlier affected countries are weighing when and how to reopen borders. Italy's government today approved travel to and from international destinations starting Jun 3, but Thailand has extended its ban on incoming international flights until the end of June.

  • Qatar's cases have grown steadily in the past 2 months, and though illnesses have spread across all of the country's population, many illnesses are thought to be inside cramped labor camps that house about 600,000 foreign workers from Asian and East African countries, CBS News The disease is known to spread in congregate living situations, and Singapore is battling outbreaks in migrant worker dorms.

  • The WHO yesterday posted a scientific brief on a multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and adolescents with COVID-19. It said it's essential to characterize the syndrome and risk factors and to understand the cause and treatments. So far, it's not clear if the cases in Europe and North America reflect a true pattern or if the condition hasn't been recognized elsewhere. It said there's an urgent need to collect standardized data, and it included a preliminary case definition and a case reporting form. Yesterday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a risk assessment that 230 suspected cases have been reported in European countries, 2 of them fatal. As of May 12, 102 suspected cases have been reported in New York state, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • UK researchers will soon launch a trial to see if trained "COVID dogs" can detect the virus in humans before symptoms appear, the country's Department of Health and Social Care said today in a statement. The dogs, a mixture of labradors and cocker spaniels, taking part in the trial can already detect certain cancers.

  • The global total today reached 4,621,327 cases, along with 310,869 deaths.

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