Fauci speculates Americans could take summer vacations, but there are caveats

Coronavirus

Marcus Bouliany, center, wears a mask while making his way along the BeltLine in Atlanta, during the coronavirus outbreak Saturday, April 4, 2020. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

(CNN) — Americans have the potential to take summer vacations this year — provided that the country continues aggressive mitigation efforts now and gets to a place where it can modify them, the nation’s top infectious disease official said Thursday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci’s comment comes amid a tension between desires to gradually open the economy and maintaining the social distancing measures that experts say will hold down deaths only if those policies continue.

On “CBS This Morning” Thursday, Fauci was asked if he could envision a typical summer with vacations, baseball games, weddings and family reunions.

“It can be in the cards,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS.

But, he warned: “When we pull back and try to open up the country … we have to be prepared that when the infections start to rear their heads again,” the country has a way to aggressively and effectively “identify, isolate, contract trace and make sure we don’t have those spikes we have now.”

Moving toward normalcy will be gradual, and could be different by region, he said.

“Hopefully, by the time we get to the summer, we will have taken many steps in that direction” that would allow some normalization.

The United States has more than 432,500 known US coronavirus cases and at least 14,808 deaths. Many of its workers are idle amid states’ stay-at-home orders, and national social distancing guidelines running through at least April 30.

Fauci has consistently stressed social distancing should be maintained now, and that the virus, not people’s wishes, “makes the timeline” about when measures could be relaxed.

“We are not there yet,” Crystal Watson, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins’ public health school, told CNN on Thursday.

Watson coauthored a report suggesting prerequisites for reopening the economy, including a sustained reduction in cases for 14 days, and improved abilities to test people and monitor and trace cases.

Easing social distancing too soon risks “a huge resurgence — and much worse than what we’ve seen already,” she told CNN’s “New Day.”

Economy takes heavy blows, while experts say social distancing is working

The Trump administration and health officials are navigating potentially competing circumstances: Hard economic news, as workers stay home; and indications that social distancing is helping to keep coronavirus deaths down.

Another 6.6 million people filed claims for unemployment benefits last week, data released Thursday show. This means more than 16.8 million Americans have sought unemployment aid since mid-March.

President Donald Trump’s aides have started discussions on a plan to reopen the US economy as soon as the start of May, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

The country set another record for coronavirus deaths in a day Wednesday — 1,922, according to data supplied by Johns Hopkins University.

Yet there is hope that social distancing is working, health experts say, with models projecting lower numbers of deaths by the time the pandemic subsides.

The US will reach its highest daily number of deaths on or around Sunday, according to modeling by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle. The peak of demand on hospital beds and ventilators is projected to hit on or around Saturday.

On Wednesday, the IHME estimated 60,415 in the US would die for coronavirus disease by August, assuming social-distancing policies continue through May. That projection is down from the figure that the model predicted earlier in the week: 82,000.

That decrease is thanks to the actions taken by Americans, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said.

“What has been so remarkable, I think, to those of us that have been in the science field for so long,” Birx said, “is how important behavioral change is, and how amazing Americans are at adapting to and following through on these behavioral changes.”

Some hospitals in hot spots such as Detroit and New York, however, still are straining to keep up with the weeks of influx in patients. Detroit’s Sinai-Grace Hospital has been so overwhelmed, at least two people have died in its emergency room hallways before help can arrive, health care workers there told CNN.

CDC teams protecting areas with low transmission

Some areas have yet to see high transmission rates of the virus, and the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has deployed eight teams in hopes of keeping it that way, a federal official involved in the day-to-day coronavirus response told CNN.

The “community protection field teams” work directly with state and local health departments, but the official declined to say where the teams would be placed.

A second federal health official said at least one would be deployed to Wyoming.

“They have not had a lot of cases. You want to make sure it stays that way,” the senior federal health official told CNN when asked about Wyoming. “You work closely with them to make sure their public health capacity is working. Find cases, interrupt clusters, and do containment as opposed to mitigation,” the official said.

“If containment is achieved, you don’t have to have broader heavy duty mitigation restrictions.”

Philadelphia and D.C. expected to be new hotspots, official says

Philadelphia and Washington D.C. are expected to be new hotspots for the coronavirus pandemic, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said in a conference call with House Democrats Wednesday, according to a source on the call.

Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that he was briefed that Philadelphia is “an area of particular concern.”

“Our message to the people of the Philadelphia area is now more than ever, practice the social distancing so that Philadelphia and to some extent even Pittsburgh do not have to endure what other communities before them have had to endure,” Pence said.

Birx added that the Philadelphia metropolitan area is seeing 1,400 cases per day and the Baltimore/Washington, DC area is seeing a 15% positivity rate with 500 cases per day in DC and 200 cases per day in Baltimore.

Outbreaks in jails and prisons

A jail in Chicago is now the largest known source of coronavirus infections in the US outside of medical facilities, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

The Cook County Sheriff’s office said Wednesday 251 detainees and 150 staff members of the Cook County Jail have tested positive for the virus. Of the detainees sickened in the outbreak, 22 are hospitalized for treatment and 31 others have been moved to a recovery facility.

A detainee died of apparent coronavirus complications, but the autopsy is pending, the sheriff’s office said.

“Jails in this country are petri dishes. They’re the government equivalent of nursing homes or cruise ships,” said Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board president. “It’s very difficult in a jail to maintain social distancing.”

In the California prison system, the number of inmates infected grew by more than seven times in a little more than a week and staff cases nearly tripled, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Wednesday.

“You have people in Italy dying, people in Spain dying, people in America dying, people are panic buying, people are concerned and people are scared,” Samuel Brown, an inmate at California State Prison, Los Angeles County told CNN. “And the truth of the matter is prisoners are people. So we’re also afraid.”

“And there’s a potential of us dying, too.”

States say measures are working

Some states are reporting that social distancing measures and stay at home orders are working to mitigate the virus.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson lauded the state’s targeted approach and residents’ social distancing measures Wednesday, noting the state has 2.5 hospitalizations per 100,000 people.

“That makes a difference in how we get out of this, how soon we get out of this and that we beat that curve and so I want to thank everybody for paying such close attention to it and doing a good job,” Hutchinson said.

And though Kentucky saw its largest increase in reported cases Wednesday, Gov. Andy Beshear said that the state’s low numbers relative to the rest of the nation show that social distancing measures are working.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday that although the state’s cases are still growing, the trajectory of growth is lower than anticipated. But, he said, the good news should not be a sign for residents to let their guards down when it comes to social distancing and stay at home orders or cases will spike right back up.

In California, with more than 18,700 cases, social distancing has slowed the doubling of cases in Santa Clara country from three days to two weeks or longer, said Health Officer Dr. Sarah Cody.

“We cannot let up. Most of the people living in our community are still susceptible,” Cody stressed. “This is a marathon, maybe an ultra-marathon.”

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