Experts Say Coronavirus Testing Must Double Before U.S. Can Safely Reopen


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One day after President Donald Trump unveiled a three-phase plan to reopen the United States, the COVID-19 death toll in the country surpassed 33,000 with the number of cases reaching 671,493. Meanwhile, China revealed Friday that the number of deaths from COVID-19 in Wuhan was far higher than initially reported.

Globally, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases now stands at more than 2.1 million, with the death toll reaching 146,291 as of Friday morning, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Here is your COVID-19 update for Friday, April 17, 2020:

Testing Capacity Must Increase Before Reopening Economy, Health Experts Say

Even as the COVID-19 death toll continues to rise across the nation, small encouraging signs that the curve is being "flattened" in several states has prompted many to wonder when health officials might life stay-at-home orders and allow Americans to get back to some kind of normal.

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that people needed to remain vigilant and continue practicing social distancing, wearing protective face coverings, and washing their hands.

“It’s important not to let up at all,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said during a Friday interview on NBC’s “Today” show.

Redfield told the outlet that people who live in areas where health officials are still seeing sustained transmission should continue following the social distancing strategies that have been recommended by the federal government.

“We need to be very vigilant in that this new opening up — which has that requirement of early case diagnosis and isolation, contact tracing — is really embedded, as you'll see in the phases, with still maintaining that personal vigilance, that personal mitigation, so that we can continue to limit and protect the vulnerable in this nation,” he said.

Health experts say testing capacity for the coronavirus would have to be doubled, or tripled from its current levels to allow for even a partial reopening of America's economy. So far, about 1 percent of Americans have been tested for COVID-19.

During Thursday's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, President Donald Trump unveiled the "Opening Up America Again" plan, a set of guidelines issued to states that lay out certain criteria that must be met in order for the state to ease social distancing restrictions and reopen parts the economy.

The White House strategy calls for a three-phase approach to gradually bringing back parts of public life, such as schools, restaurants, and theaters in certain areas. The re-openings would be guided based on evidence that transmission of the virus in those areas was trending downward.

"Some states will open sooner than others," Trump said Thursday. "We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time."

Each phase requires a 14-day period of "downward trajectory" for coronavirus cases for states to move on to the next phase. Reopenings could be applied statewide, or implemented on a county-by-county basis.

The first phase of Trump's "Opening Up America Again" plan calls for states to:

  • Have vulnerable individuals continue sheltering in place.
  • Have people practice physical distancing in public, and avoid socializing in groups of more than 10 people.
  • Minimize non-essential travel and continue to encourage telework.
  • Shuttered schools should remained closed.
  • Prohibit nursing home and hospital visits.
  • Elective surgeries can resume, on an outpatient basis.
  • Bars should remain closed, but gyms can open under physical distancing and sanitation protocols.

Next, states or areas that have seen the virus waning with no evidence of resurgence can begin easing certain social restrictions:

  • Schools will be allowed to reopen.
  • Non-essential travel can resume.
  • Bars could operate with the condition of having "diminished standing-room occupancy."
  • Vulnerable people are still encouraged to stay home.
  • People continue to maximize physical distancing in public.
  • Continue to encourage telework.
  • Gyms and bars can remain open.
  • Visits to nursing homes and hospitals are still prohibited.
  • Movie theaters, sporting venues and churches can operate under moderate physical distancing.
  • Elective surgeries can resume on an outpatient and in-patient basis.

Finally, the third phase calls for states to lift most of the restrictions in place

  • Vulnerable people can go out in public.
  • Low-risk populations are asked to consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments.
  • Employers are allowed to have all employees return to work.

China Increases Wuhan Death Toll by 50%

Health officials in China say the death toll from COVID-19 was vastly underestimated and added 1,290 dead to its readjusted total for Wuhan, where the virus is thought to have originated. The total number of deaths in the city now stands at 3,869.

Chinese state media announced the new figures on Friday, adding that this was not a cover-up in the fatality rate, but rather based on new information it was receiving from places like prisons and care facilities.

The new number announced by China follows allegations from President Donald Trump that China failed to alert the world about the novel coronavirus and that their data had been inaccurate. French President Emmanuel Macron also publicly doubted the numbers coming out of China, telling the Financial Times that "There are clearly things that have happened that we don't know about."

Daily Life In New York City Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

22 Million Americans Filed Unemployment Over the Last Month

The coronavirus pandemic that's brought the American economy to a practical standstill forced a record 22 million Americans to file for unemployment benefits, essentially erasing the last decade of job gains.

More than 5.2 million people filed for unemployment last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. That brings the total number of first-time unemployment filers to an incredible 22 million. By comparison, the economy added 21.5 million jobs since the Great Recession.

Economists are forecasting unemployment rate to spike to 14%, with many of those jobs returning once the coronavirus pandemic subsides and social distancing restrictions are lifted. However, economists say it's unlikely the economy will return to pre-pandemic levels of employment until 2022.

Photos: Getty Images


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