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Open by Easter? Relaxing COVID-19 restrictions too soon could backfire

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iStock(NEW YORK) — Even before President Donald Trump said he hoped to reopen the U.S. by Easter, millions were wondering: Is social distancing really worth it? And either way, when can it end?

According to two studies published this week, the answer to one of those questions became quite a bit clearer: Yes, social distancing is worth it.

The studies showed that in China the spread of COVID-19 slowed significantly with fewer person-to-person interactions. And perhaps more important, using mathematical models, the authors showed that relaxing restrictions prematurely would have led another spike in infections, further burdening an already stressed health care system.

In January, the Chinese government took extreme measures trying to contain the novel coronavirus, including rapidly isolating suspected cases, confirmed cases and close contact, in addition to strictly limiting individuals’ mobility. Other countries similarly have deployed these measures in hopes of “flattening the curve,” aka slowing the spread of the virus.

In both papers, researchers mathematically modeled human travel and human contact patterns in China using assumptions from prior studies on the early stages of the pandemic, which initially was reported in Wuhan.

The first study, published in Science, showed that timely travel restrictions drastically reduced disease spread. In an interesting extension of the study, the researchers studied the most important factors later in the evolution of the pandemic, after travel restrictions were enacted, and found the daily number of new cases was less related to human mobility and more related to factors including aggressively implemented public health policies.

The researchers emphasized that swift local measures — closing schools, increasing testing, tracing new cases — to combat the outbreak are crucially important, particularly as the time between infection and symptom development is usually around five days.

A second study, published in The Lancet Public Health, used mathematical models to further support the idea that physical distancing and travel restrictions helped Wuhan get its epidemic under control.

Measures that seemed drastic at the time, according to the data, have in fact proved quite effective in China. After closing schools and businesses, Wuhan saw COVID-19 cases decrease, and the region’s peak in cases likely was delayed. In short, these measures flattened the curve.

But the researchers didn’t just study Wuhan. They used data collected there to predict what might happen elsewhere if physical distancing measures are relaxed prematurely.

According to their model, timing matters immensely. Had Chinese officials had relaxed restrictions at the beginning of March, the Chinese population could have experienced a second wave of infections as early as August. If they waited until April to begin lifting restrictions, that could delay a second wave by two months. (Both options included relaxing restrictions gradually over a four-week period.)

So what does this mean for other countries? That there’s still a long way to go, but mitigation measures work, and easing up on them too early could lead to a dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases — especially in the U.S., which hasn’t yet flattened the curve.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

New website calculates whether you have enough toilet paper to last through quarantine

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iStock/sergeyryzhov(NEW YORK) — The coronavirus pandemic has touched seemingly every aspect of our lives – from our health, to our work, to where we go, and what we buy. It’s even effecting our trips to the bathroom.

Georgia-Pacific, the maker of toilet paper brands Angel Soft and Quilted Northern, had to increase production by 20% to meet increased demand. At a grocery store in Australia, a fight broke out over a package of toilet paper. Even New York Governor Andrew Cuomo thinks the problem is getting out of hand.

“There’s no reason to buy a hundred rolls of toilet paper. There really isn’t,” the governor said at a press briefing on the coronavirus earlier this month.

For most of us, a hundred rolls is far too much toilet paper. But if you are running low on that essential bathroom supply, exactly how much should you plan to buy?

HowMuchToiletPaper.com is a new website aiming to answer that question, says co-founder Ben Sassoon. Sassoon, a student software developer, alongside artist Sam Harris, created the website after joking about how much toilet paper they used.

“When we started this out, it was just kind of a bit of humor between us two,” says Sassoon. “We were kind of discussing, just in a jokey manner, how much toilet paper we use each day.”

That joke became the basis for HowMuchToiletPaper.com.

“We thought, tell you what – maybe it would be interesting to see how much other people are using, and kind of compare it.”

The website presents vistors with a series of sliders that can be used to answer questions like how many rolls of toilet paper you have, and how many trips to the bathroom you take on a daily basis.

The website then crunches the numbers to see if your toilet paper stash will be enough to last the full length of the specified quarantine. For example, if a person has 12 rolls of toilet paper in their home, and averages two trips to the bathroom per day, HowMuchToiletPaper.com calculates that person will last 192 days, or 914% of a three week quarantine.

Then users can open a tab labeled “Advanced Options,” where they can detail their experience on the toilet “with absolute scientific precision,” says Sassoon. Questions in this section range from how many people are in the household, to how many wipes you average per trip to the bathroom.

Although the tool started as a joke, it has produced some interesting findings. For example, the average visitor to the site reports they have five times more toilet paper than they need.

“It’s really been eye-opening,” says Sassoon.

The website has reportedly seen more than five million visitors since it launched less than two weeks ago. Sassoon says he hopes people take a lesson from their time on the site.

“Even though we started it kind of in a bit of a jokey sense, it has become an educational tool, because people are looking at it and learning that they’ve got way more than they need.”

Hear this story and more on this week’s Perspective podcast.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Coronavirus live updates: NYC mayor projects half of city will be infected

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Samara Heisz/iStock(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed over 24,900 people around the world.

Globally there are more than 551,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

The United States has over 86,000 cases of COVID-19, the highest number in the world.

There have been at least 1,301 deaths in the U.S. More than 1,000 people have died in the past week alone.

At least 753 people in the U.S. have recovered.

Here’s how the news is developing Friday. All times Eastern:

12:29 p.m.: Pennsylvania becomes 13th state to delay primary

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation Friday to move the state’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 2.

Pennsylvania marks the 13th state to delay its nominating contest over coronavirus concerns. Pennsylvania joins Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wyoming, as well as Puerto Rico.

12:06 p.m.: 519 deaths in New York

Diagnosed coronavirus cases have jumped to 44,685 in New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday.

Of those diagnosed, 6,481 are hospitalized, including 1,583 people in the ICU, Cuomo said.

New York has by far the most cases of any state in the nation. In second is New Jersey with 6,800, according to Cuomo.

At least 519 have died in the state. Cuomo warned, “That is going to continue to go up.”

“The reason why the number is going up is because some people came into the hospital 20 days, 25 days ago and had been on a ventilator for that long a period of time,” Cuomo said. “When somebody is on that ventilator for a prolonged period of time, the outcome is usually not good.”

As the pandemic escalates, New York state schools will remain closed until April 15, and Cuomo said he will re-assess from that point. New York City schools are closed until at least April 20.

Hospitals in the state have 53,000 beds but need 140,000 beds, the governor said. Hospitals have to increase capacity by 50%, Cuomo said, adding that he hopes hospitals can increase capacity by 100%.

The state is also looking to build temporary emergency hospitals and is scouting sites, he said.

11:28 a.m.: Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy arrives in Los Angeles

The Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy arrived in the port of Los Angeles Friday morning where it’ll help ease the burden on the city’s hospitals.

With 1,128 active duty medical personnel on board, the USNS Mercy will treat non-COVID-19 patients.

Another Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, will depart Virginia on Saturday to head to New York City’s harbor.

11:09 a.m.: Mark Zuckerberg commits $25 million to accelerate coronavirus treatments

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he and his wife are giving $25 million to accelerate the development of coronavirus treatments.

“We’re partnering with the Gates Foundation and others to quickly evaluate the most promising existing drugs to see which ones might be effective at preventing and treating the coronavirus,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post Friday morning. “Since these drugs have already gone through clinical safety trials, if they’re effective, it will be much faster to make them available than it will be to develop and test a new vaccine — hopefully months rather than a year or more.”

10:12 a.m.: Man arrested for making threats toward Dems, Speaker Pelosi

A 27-year-old Texas man has been arrested for allegedly making death threats against Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, related to their work on Congress’ coronavirus stimulus bill, according to the FBI.

Gavin Perry was charged with making threats over Facebook in which he allegedly described Pelosi as part of a “satanic cult” and said that “Dems of the establishment will be removed at any cost necessary and yes that means by death.”

In a separate post that featured a photo of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Perry allegedly wrote, “If youre a dem or apart of the establishment in the democrats side I view you as a criminal and a terrorist and I advise everyone to Go SOS [shoot on sight] and use live rounds… Shoot to kill. This is a revolution.”

Perry appeared in court Thursday but has not entered a plea.

9:52 a.m.: 911 calls reach record high in NYC

In New York City — the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic — the fire department handled more than 6,000 911 calls on Thursday, the busiest day ever in terms of individual medical incidents.

That number is nearly double the normal amount of 911 calls for the department.

The record-high call volume is largely being driven by calls from people who are scared or concerned they have coronavirus, officials said.

The FDNY is imploring people not to call 911 if they feel sick. Instead, they should ring a doctor and call for an ambulance only in a true emergency.

There are 2,000 New York City firefighters and paramedics out sick, or about 17% of the department, officials said.

At least 170 members of the FDNY have tested positive for COVID-19.

9:18 a.m.: UK Prime Minister, UK Health Secretary test positive for COVID-19

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday morning that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus,” Johnson said in a tweet. “I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus. Together we will beat this.”

U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Friday said he too has tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating.

Hancock said his symptoms are “very mild” and he would continue to work from home.

8:20 a.m.: NYC mayor projects half of city will be infected

In New York City — the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic — Mayor Bill de Blasio projects “over half the people in this city will ultimately be infected.”

“For over 80% [there] will be very little impact,” de Blasio told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. “But 20% of the people infected, it’s going to be tough, and for some of them, it will be fatal.”

New York City has over 23,112 diagnosed cases — more than a quarter of the confirmed cases in the country.

At least 365 people have died in New York City, twice as many deaths as any state.

The mayor said the city has enough hospital supplies to get through this week and next week but “that’s all I can guarantee, and after that unfortunately, we think this crisis is going to grow through April into May. “

“We need help now. When the president says the state of New York doesn’t need 30,000 ventilators, with all due respect to him, he’s not looking at the facts of this astronomical growth of this crisis,” de Blasio said. “A ventilator means someone lives or dies … if they don’t get a ventilator, a lot of people won’t make it.”

The city needs 15,000 ventilators, he warned.

“We have some, and I’m thankful for that, but it has to keep coming,” de Blasio said. “The president has to make that contract happen with the companies that can create ventilators not just for New York City and New York state, but for the whole country. This is going to get worse before it gets better … all parts of this country are going to need them.”

De Blasio called the president’s goal to reopen the country for Easter “a false hope.”

“It would be better for the president to be blunt with people that we’ve got a really tough battle ahead,” the mayor said. “Throw in the military who are not yet being fully engaged, and they’re ready, but the president has to give the order. Build those ventilators, get the supplies all over this country. People are going to need it in April and in May.”

7:29 a.m.: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive for COVID-19

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday morning that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus,” Johnson tweeted. “I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus. Together we will beat this.”

Johnson was tested on the advice of England’s chief medical officer, according to a Downing Street spokesperson.

“We will get through it,” Johnson said in a video message Friday.

5:19 a.m.: Michigan health system develops contingency plan to deny ventilators and ICU treatment

A Michigan health system has come up with a contingency plan for doctors to make life-or-death decisions when treating patients in the coronavirus pandemic.

A draft letter from Henry Ford Health Systems outlining the plan to families was widely shared on Twitter late Thursday night. The plan, typed on what appeared to be hospital letterhead, said that coronavirus patients with the best chance of surviving will be “our first priority,” while those who are “extremely sick and very unlikely to survive” will receive “pain control and comfort measures” rather than ventilators and intensive care treatment.

“Treating these patients would take away resources for patients who might survive,” the letter stated. “This decision will be based on medical condition and likelihood of getting better.”

Responding to a flurry tweets about the letter, Henry Ford Health Systems confirmed its accuracy but clarified that the policy has not yet been implemented.

“With a pandemic, we must be prepared for worst case,” the company tweeted. “With collective wisdom from our industry, we crafted a policy to provide guidance for making difficult patient care decisions. We hope never to have to apply them. We will always utilize every resource to care for our patients.”

4:37 a.m.: South Africa cases top 1,000 as country begins three-week lockdown

The number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in South Africa has topped 1,000, the country’s health minister said Friday.

Africa’s most industrialized economy has the highest national total of known cases on the continent.

South Africa also recorded its first two deaths from COVID-19, both of which occurred in the Western Cape province.

“This morning, we South Africans wake up with sad news that we now have our first deaths resulting from COVID-19,” South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhizethe said in a statement Friday.

Friday marked the start of a three-week nationwide lockdown in South Africa, aimed at curbing the rising number of cases.

3:30 a.m.: Trump and Xi discuss coronavirus crisis

U.S. President Donald Trump said he spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping about the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump posted about the telephone conversation on Twitter early Thursday morning, saying they discussed the situation “in great detail.”

“Just finished a very good conversation with President Xi of China,” Trump tweeted. “Discussed in great detail the CoronaVirus that is ravaging large parts of our Planet. China has been through much [and] has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!”

 Xi told Trump that “China and the United States should unite to fight the epidemic” and that he hoped “the United States will take substantive actions to improve Sino-U.S. relations,” according to Chinese state television network CCTV.

The Chinese president also emphasized that the relationship between their two countries is “at a critical juncture” and that “cooperation is the only right choice,” according to CCTV.

Trump has clashed with China over the global fight against the novel coronavirus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. The U.S. president reportedly angered Beijing officials this month when he repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Motorman dead, dozens injured in suspicious Harlem subway fire

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Starflamedia/iStock(NEW YORK) —  An MTA motorman is dead and at least a dozen other people are injured in a suspicious fire on a Harlem subway car that spewed heavy smoke through stations and tunnels and further delayed service already curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The fire broke out inside a northbound No. 2 train as it entered the 110th Street station, near Central Park, just after 3:15 a.m.

“We are devastated by this. This is a hard moment for New York City Transit,” said Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

As the No. 2 train reached 110th Street, an employee on the train reported heavy smoke and fire in the second car. The motorman was found on the tracks and later pronounced dead.

There are several other fires at 86th, 96th and 116th Streets that police said may be connected.

“The most important thing I need is witnesses to come forward,” said NYPD Deputy Chief Brian McGee.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

More than 9,000 retired Army medical personnel respond to call for assistance with coronavirus pandemic

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Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville speaks at the Pentagon about the latest COVID-19 developments in the Army, March 26, 2020, in Washington. (Lisa Ferdinando/Office of the Secretary of Defense)(WASHINGTON) — More than 9,000 retired soldiers have responded to the U.S. Army’s call for retired medical personnel to assist with the response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, as hundreds of active duty soldiers deploy to support Army field hospitals in New York and Seattle.

Earlier this week, the Army sent a notification to more than 800,000 retired soldiers to gauge their willingness in returning to service in a volunteer capacity. In a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville called the initial response “very, very positive.”

Army Surgeon General Scott Dingle told reporters that these volunteers will “fill those holes” in military medical treatment facilities across the nation where some staff are now deployed to field hospitals, leaving vacancies in their traditional assignments.

“What we’ll do is even though we get many volunteers, we then will walk through the process of certification, making sure that all certifications and credentials are straight,” Dingle said. “Then once we do that, we will plug them into all of our medical treatment facilities as required in support of the mission.”

The 531st Hospital Center out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky and the 9th Hospital Center out of Fort Hood, Texas — roughly 650 personnel in total — will arrive in New Jersey on Friday. They will be located at the Javits Center in New York City, which is being converted into a temporary hospital for non-coronavirus patients in order to take the pressure off city hospitals — which are better equipped to treat infectious disease. The Javits Center is expected to be operational on Monday, McConville said.

The 627th Hospital Center from Fort Carson, Colorado will deploy to Seattle, where an advance team is coordinating with state and local authorities to determine where a temporary hospital could be established there. McConville said possible locations include CenturyLink Field — home of the Seattle Seahawks — and a state fairground.

Three more active duty hospital units are on standby to possibly also deploy, Army officials said.

“This extraordinary challenge requires equally extraordinary solutions, and our retired Army healthcare professionals have shown that they are capable of providing the highest level of care while operating under constantly changing conditions,” the Army said in a statement on Thursday. “This information request will no way interfere with any care they may be providing to their communities, is for future planning purposes only, and is completely voluntary.”

But it’s not just the Army that will lose medical personnel due to its response to the pandemic. More than a thousand Navy medical personnel have left their assignments for deployments aboard two Navy hospital ships that will dock in Los Angeles and New York City to take in non-coronavirus patients.

To assist with the shortfall in healthcare personnel, the federal government is making available more than 200 military medical students and graduate nursing students from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. The group, who are all active duty uniformed officers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Public Health Service, will have completed all of their requirements and graduate early to backfill their colleagues who are responding to the coronavirus.

“Our curriculum has a specific focus on threats like emerging infectious diseases and disasters that our military and Public Health Service forces are likely to encounter in the course of their careers,” said university president Dr. Richard Thomas. “This instruction is based on real-life lessons learned, is woven throughout the curriculum and incorporated into our medical field exercises.”

He added, “Our students are uniquely prepared to meet and address the readiness needs of the Department of Defense and our Nation the moment they step out of our doors. This is exactly what they were educated and trained to do.”

The Army is specifically interested in recruiting retired critical care officers, anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, critical care nurses, nurse practitioners, nurses, respiratory specialists, and medics, according to the statement.

Interested retired career medical personnel should contact usarmy.knox.hrc.mbx.g3-retiree-recall@mail.mil or call 502-613-4911.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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