South at risk of 2nd COVID-19 wave; virus doesn't spread easily on surfaces — 7 updates

More than 5 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, with the daily number of new cases hitting a record high this week. More than 100,000 new infections were reported May 19, according to the World Health Organization. 

The U.S. has reported 1,551,853 COVID-19 cases and 93,439 related deaths as of 8 a.m. CDT May 21.  

Seven updates:

1. Emergency programs would suffer if the U.S. pulls funding, World Health Organization officials said during a May 20 news conference. President Donald Trump has given the WHO 30 days to improve, or he will cut all funding, according to a May 18 tweet by the president. Most funding from the U.S. goes directly to countries in "fragile and difficult settings," said Mike Ryan, MD, executive director of WHO's emergencies program.

"This is going to be a major implication for delivering essential health services to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and we trust developed donors will, if necessary, step in to fill that gap," Dr. Ryan said.

U.S. funding for WHO was initially frozen April 14, pending an investigation. 

2. Delayed lockdowns cost at least 36,000 lives, according to new estimates from researchers at New York City-based Columbia University, as reported by The New York Times. The estimates are based on an infectious disease model that gauges how reduced human contact starting in mid-March slowed transmission. If the U.S. had imposed social distancing measures March 1, two weeks before most stay-at-home orders were issued, about 83 percent of U.S. COVID-19 deaths would not have occurred, the researchers estimated. By early May, about 54,000 fewer people would have died.

"That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths," said Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, Columbia epidemiologist and lead researcher. 

In response to the estimates, White House officials emphasized the role President Trump's travel restrictions in January and March had in reducing the spread of the virus.

3. Some Southern states may see another wave of COVID-19 infections in the next month, according to an analysis cited by The Washington Post. Researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia analyzed cell phone data to track Americans' movements and forecast the spread of the virus. The model suggests most areas of the U.S. will likely avoid a second wave if residents continue to social distance as restrictions are removed. However, areas like Dallas, Houston, Southeast Florida and Alabama are all at risk for a spike in cases over the next four weeks, according to the model.

4. Twenty-five health policy experts and leaders shared recommendations for safely reopening the country in a May 20 op-ed for USA Today. Members of the bipartisan group include former CMS Administration Andy Slavitt; Janice Nevin, MD, president and CEO of Wilmington, Del.-based ChristianaCare; and Eric Topol, MD, director and founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. The #OpenSafely initiative coincides with the reopening plan outlined by Deborah Birx, MD, coordinator of the White House's COVID-19 task force. The group is urging "decision-makers at all levels" to reopen their communities "as deliberately as necessary and as quickly as can be safely accomplished," according to the op-ed.

5. The novel coronavirus does not spread easily on surfaces or objects, according to the CDC. Previously, the CDC had said the virus may potentially spread via contaminated surfaces, but the agency now believes it is primarily spread through the respiratory droplets of people in close contact.

6. Apple and Google launched a tool May 20 to help public health agencies with contract tracing by using Bluetooth technology in cell phones. Smartphone users in some areas will soon be able to download an app to trace who they are in contact with and notify them if they come into contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Public health agencies can build the technology into their own apps for users to install.

7. More than 2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Labor. This figure marks a slight decline from past weeks, but does not include self-employed workers receiving unemployment through a temporary federal program during the pandemic, according to The Wall Street Journal.


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