Former hot spots reopen, but Fauci warns coronavirus is not over yet

By | June 10, 2020

The pandemic is not over in parts of the United States, top government expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned, as Arizona and a few other states are seeing a surge in cases even as former hot spots New York and New Jersey are reopening.

“In a period of four months, it has devastated the whole world,” Fauci told biotech executives at a conference held by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization Tuesday. “And it isn’t over yet.”

He called the pandemic his “worst nightmare, the New York Times reported. A highly contagious disease, he said, will normally travel the world in six months to a year. But COVID-19 “took about a month.”

While former viral hot spots, such as Northern Italy, New York City, and New Jersey, are beginning to recover and reopen after months of lockdown to curb the spread, new hot spots are emerging. Latin America, for instance, has reported more than 60,000 deaths and over 1.2 million cases throughout the region. According to the World Health Organization, Latin America has not reached peak transmission yet, and the number of fatalities will likely increase.

Individual states in the U.S. are also seeing an alarming increase in cases. Cases in Arizona have risen by the hundreds daily since last week. The count rose to 28,296 on Tuesday, with 1,070 deaths reported, according to AZ Central. Hospitalization rates are rising.

Florida has reported roughly 1,000 new coronavirus cases each day since last week. However, the spike in cases may be a function of more widespread diagnostic testing, according to Holly Smith, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County. Smith also pointed out that the rate of testing positive is low in Florida, hovering around 4%.

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Fourteen states have seen a spike in new coronavirus cases since last week as former COVID-19 hot spots move toward reopening. The number of COVID-19 cases confirmed in the U.S. is just shy of 2 million. Since the start of June, states such as Alaska, California, Kentucky, New Mexico, and South Carolina recorded their highest-ever seven-day average of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, the Washington Post reported.

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist with the World Health Organization, walked back a surprise statement that people without symptoms cannot easily spread the novel coronavirus, saying Tuesday that too much about the virus remains unknown.

“I was responding to a question at the press conference. I wasn’t stating a policy of WHO or anything like that. I was trying to articulate what we know, and in that, I used the phrase ‘very rare.’ And I think that’s a misunderstanding, to state that asymptomatic transmission is very rare,” Kerkhove said in a Facebook Live event Tuesday.

She added Tuesday that as much as 40% of viral transmission could be from asymptomatic patients, but too little is understood about the virus to make that conclusion.

Some members of the D.C. National Guard who responded to protests against police brutality have tested positive for COVID-19, according to spokeswoman Brooke Davis. She told McClatchy Tuesday that “the safety and security of our personnel is always a concern, especially in light of the COVID-19 era” but did not say how many service members tested positive for the virus.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the state’s stay-at-home order Tuesday to allow nonessential retail to open up to customers. Murphy has also raised the limit on gatherings. Indoors gatherings must be at 25% of a building’s capacity or 50 people, whichever is lower. Outside gatherings can be as large as 100 people, according to Bloomberg.

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Churches, synagogues, and mosques can reopen for in-person services in New Jersey under new capacity limits for indoor gatherings. People must wear face masks and stand 6 feet apart.

Republicans criticized Democratic governors for prolonging state lockdowns and keeping people from attending worship services in person.

“The rights of free speech, free assembly, and the free exercise of religion are all First Amendment rights,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. “They have the same constitutional pedigree. But apparently, while protests are now permissible, prayer is still too dangerous.”

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said Tuesday, “Democratic governors encouraged, and often participated in, mass protests that didn’t follow their own social distance guidelines. How can they continue to discriminate against churches trying to safely reopen?”

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said Tuesday that masks will be compulsory “until we permanently defeat the virus, which is when we have an effective treatment or vaccine against it,” the Local reported. Just three days ago, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told journalists that everyone over the age of 6 will be required to wear masks in public as long as it’s not possible to maintain a safe distance from others even after phase three of Spain’s de-escalation plan ends on June 21.

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said Tuesday that the odds of President Trump approving a fourth stimulus package “are very, very high,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

“There are a lot of things that really are necessary to make sure that once we open up that we actually lift off,” Hassett said. “The odds of a phase four deal is something we talked with the president about last week. We even had a small group meeting this morning to talk about it.”

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Hassett said that Trump may still consider a fourth legislative package even if data on output and jobs continues to surpass expectations. The Labor Department reported a surprising gain in jobs last week that is likely to slow momentum for another round of major fiscal relief from Congress. McConnell has said that Congress will not take up another bill until all of the coronavirus stimulus funding has been allocated. Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, also downplayed the urgency of enacting the kind of massive stimulus measure sought by congressional Democrats when the jobs report came out.