US prepares for 18-month pandemic; 52% of COVID-19 patients are younger than 55 — 8 key updates

In the COVID-19 pandemic, 10,755 American cases have been reported, along with 154 deaths, as of 12 p.m. CDT, March 19.

Worldwide, 229,390 cases and 9,325 deaths have been reported, while 84,557 people have recovered from the illness.

Eight outbreak updates:

1. President Donald Trump signed a $100 billion coronavirus relief package on March 18, CNBC reports. The bill ensures businesses with fewer than 500 employees offer two weeks of paid sick leave, and also requires private health plans to provide coverage for COVID-19 testing. The White House and Congress continue to work on a broader relief bill as well, which could exceed $1 trillion.

2. The U.S. government is preparing for the possibiity of an 18-month pandemic as COVID-19 cases increased 40 percent in one day due to increased testing, CNN reports. On March 18, the federal task force warned Americans to expect a spike in cases due to expanded testing access, according to U.S. News & World Report. The task force is currently working on a contingency plan in case the pandemic lasts up to "18 months or longer" and includes "multiple waves of illness," according to a report obtained by CNN. 

3. Manufacturing companies 3M and Honeywell will increase their production of protective face masks and will be allowed to sell directly to hospitals as part of the $100 billion coronavirus relief plan signed by President Donald Trump March 18. 3M is increasing its capacity to 420 million masks per year and Honeywell will increase capacity by 120 million masks, Vice President Mike Pence said during a March 19 news briefing. He added that the government is working directly with hospitals to make sure they understand the supply of protective gear has "greatly expanded." Among other updates shared in the news briefing, President Trump said cruise operator Carnival promised to make ships available if needed for treatment space.

4. Fifty-two percent of COVID-19 patients are younger than 55, according to the CDC. Researchers analyzed data on COVID-19 cases reported to the CDC from Feb. 12 to March 16 in the U.S. Among 2,449 patients with known age, 6 percent were 85 or older, 25 percent were 65 to 84 years, 18 percent were 55 to 64 years, 18 percent were 45 to 54 years, 29 percent were 20 to 44 years, and only 5 percent were 19 or younger. Patients 65 and older accounted for 80 percent of deaths.

5. Multiple members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19, CNN reports. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah, both announced the infections the night of March 18. The Capitol physician is contacting members who might have been exposed, a Republican aide told CNN. 

6. No new cases have been reported in China for the first time since the outbreak began, The Wall Street Journal reports. No new local infections were confirmed in China for March 17, though experts warn that an outbreak can only be considered over if no new infections are reported for at least 14 consecutive days, according to The New York Times.

7. The U.S. Air Force flew half a million test swabs from Italy to Tennessee March 16, according to Defense One. The swabs, used to collect samples to be tested, were shipped to Memphis and will be distributed around the nation. Similar missions are expected in the coming days to distribute testing kits.

8. A flu drug from Japan shows promise against COVID-19, according to The Guardian. In a clinical trial, 340 infected patients in China were given the antiviral drug favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm, and tested negative for COVID-19 after a median of four days, compared to 11 days for those without the drug. Researchers also claimed lung condition improved in about 91 percent of patients taking favipiravir, compared to 62 percent of patients who weren't treated with the drug. 

Editor's note: This article was updated March 19 at 5:20 p.m. CDT.

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