US infection rate rising outside New York as states open up

A subway service information at Times Square station show the the new nightly closures for coronavirus disinfection on May 5, 2020. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Updated 06 May 2020

US infection rate rising outside New York as states open up

  • New confirmed infections per day in the US exceed 20,000
  • Daily number of new deaths in the New York area has declined markedly in recent weeks

Take the New York metropolitan area’s progress against the coronavirus out of the equation and the numbers show the rest of the US is moving in the wrong direction, with the known infection rate rising even as states move to lift their lockdowns, an Associated Press analysis found Tuesday.
New confirmed infections per day in the US exceed 20,000, and deaths per day are well over 1,000, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. And public health officials warn that the failure to flatten the curve and drive down the infection rate in places could lead to many more deaths — perhaps tens of thousands — as people are allowed to venture out and businesses reopen.
“Make no mistakes: This virus is still circulating in our community, perhaps even more now than in previous weeks,” said Linda Ochs, director of the Health Department in Shawnee County, Kansas.
The densely packed New York metropolitan area, consisting of about 20 million people across a region that encompasses the city’s northern suburbs, Long Island and northern New Jersey, has been the hardest-hit corner of the country, accounting for at least one-third of the nation’s 70,000 deaths.
When the still locked-down area is included, new infections in the US appear to be declining, according to the AP analysis. It found that the five-day rolling average for new cases has decreased from 9.3 per 100,000 people three weeks ago on April 13 to 8.6 on Monday.
But subtracting the New York area from the analysis changes the story. Without it, the rate of new cases in the US increased over the same period from 6.2 per 100,000 people to 7.5.
While the daily number of new deaths in the New York area has declined markedly in recent weeks, it has essentially plateaued in the rest of the US Without greater New York, the rolling five-day average for new deaths per 500,000 people dropped slightly from 1.86 on April 20th to 1.82 on Monday.
US testing for the virus has been expanded, and that has probably contributed to the increasing rate of confirmed infections. But it doesn’t explain the entire increase, said Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang, a public health researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“This increase is not because of testing. It’s a real increase,” he said.
Pockets of America far from New York City are seeing ominous trends.
Deaths in Iowa surged to a new daily high of 19 on Tuesday, and 730 workers at a single Tyson Foods pork plant tested positive. On Monday, Shawnee County, home to Topeka, Kansas, reported a doubling of cases from last week on the same day that business restrictions began to ease.
Gallup, New Mexico, is under a strict lockdown until Thursday because of an outbreak, with guarded roadblocks to prevent travel in and out and a ban on more than two people in a vehicle. Authorities have deployed water tankers, hospital space is running short, and a high school gym is now a recuperation center with 60 oxygen-supplied beds.
On Monday, a model from the University of Washington nearly doubled its projection of COVID-19 deaths in the US to around 134,000 through early August, with a range of 95,000 to nearly 243,000.
Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the institute that created the projections, said the increase is largely because most states are expected to ease restrictions by next week.
Without stay-at-home orders and similar measures, Murray said, “we would have had exponential growth, much larger epidemics and deaths in staggering numbers.” But cooperation is waning, with cellphone location data showing people are getting out more, even before their states reopen, he said.
President Donald Trump, asked about the projections before traveling to Arizona to visit a mask factory, disputed the accuracy of models in general and said keeping the economy closed carries deadly costs of its own, such as drug abuse and suicide.
“We have to get our country open,” Trump said.
A senior US government scientist alleged in a whistleblower complaint Tuesday that the administration failed to prepare for the onslaught of the coronavirus. Dr. Rick Bright also said he was reassigned to a lesser role because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug unproven for treating COVID-19, that was being pushed by Trump.
The Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that he was transferred to the National Institutes of Health to work on coronavirus testing, a crucial assignment.
Zhang, the UCLA researcher, said it’s worrying that the rate of new cases is increasing at the same time some states are easing up: “We’re one country. If we’re not moving in the same step, we’re going to have a problem.”
He said he is particularly concerned about Florida and Texas, where cases have been rising steadily and the potential for explosions seems high.
While death rates in some places have been trending down, that could change and hospitals could become overwhelmed, he said.


Philippines cracks down on clandestine COVID-19 clinics

Updated 29 May 2020

Philippines cracks down on clandestine COVID-19 clinics

  • Intelligence, immigration officials investigating illegal facilities that catered mostly to foreigners

MANILA: The Philippines has intensified its crackdown on uncertified medical facilities offering treatment to people, particularly foreigners, with COVID-19 symptoms.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to help the Philippine National Police (PNP) track down foreign nationals behind the illegal clinics.
“It seems that clandestine medical clinics catering mostly to foreign nationals have sprouted and have been operating without proper authority,” Guevarra told reporters.
He said the facilities could have compromised the health of those who had undergone treatment.
“I’ll therefore ask the NBI and the BI to help the police in locating other similar underground clinics and the people running them, and if warranted, to file the appropriate charges against them,” he added.
Guevarra issued the order following a raid on Tuesday on an illegal clinic catering to Chinese patients in Makati City. Arrested in the operation were Chinese nationals Dr. David Lai, 49, and Liao Bruce, 41.
The clinic was reportedly operating without a permit, while the arrested did not have a license to practice medicine in the country.
Seized from the site were swab sticks, vials, syringes and boxes of medicine with Chinese labels — believed to be unregistered with the Food and Drug Administration.
Last week, law enforcers also swooped on a makeshift hospital for Chinese patients in the Fontana Leisure Park in Clark, Pampanga province.
The raid came after police received information that a COVID-19 patient was “undergoing medical attention” in a Fontana villa.
Arrested during the raid were Chinese nationals Liu Wei, who reportedly supervised the facility, and Hu Shiling, allegedly a pharmacist. Both were released on the same day without charge.
Immigration officials on Thursday said the duo had been placed on their watch list to prevent them from leaving the country while an investigation is underway.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said intelligence operatives will trace four of the patients, and are looking into the case of the Chinese nationals arrested in Makati.
“I’ve instructed our intelligence division to investigate if these alleged Chinese doctors are legally staying in the country,” he said.
“Should we find they violated our immigration laws, they’ll be charged with deportation cases before our law and investigation division,” he added.
“Even if no criminal charges were filed against them, they can be charged for immigration law violations if we can establish that they violated the conditions of their stay in the country.”
If criminal charges are filed, however, the BI will only deport them after their cases have been resolved or they have served their sentences, if convicted.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros called for the “immediate deportation and blacklisting” of the Chinese nationals because of their “blatant disregard of our laws.”
She added that while the Philippines is working hard to protect its people from the virus, “these criminals freely roam and pose a danger to public health.”