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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Americans Attempt to Resume Normalcy as COVID Cases Spike

Facemasks and other PPE remain critical as Americans seek to resume daily life and favorite summer pastimes amidst recent spikes in COVID-19 infection rates.  

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Americans Attempt to Resume Normalcy as COVID Cases Spike

Summer has officially begun. Lockdown restrictions are loosening nationwide, professional athletes are preparing to play, and lockdown-weary individuals are hoping to travel. Yet, despite these optimistic attempts to return to normal, some states are seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. In other instances, stores and venues reopened for business have been forced to pull back.

Meanwhile, airlines feel the pinch as summer travel operates at a fraction of its usual capacity, and eager travelers face frustration over quarantine waiting periods upon arrival. As athletes and eager fans prepare for opening day, Major League Baseball and the National Football League question whether their seasons will be a go.

 

Cases Spike in California, Florida, Others

In recent days, California has seen an unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases. On Friday, June 19, California saw a record 4,317 new cases, topping the previous day’s record of 4,084. In response, California governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order requiring facemasks. North Carolina and the state of Washington have also followed suit with statewide mask mandates.

Florida has also experienced rapid COVID escalation, with a recent, single-day high of 5,506 cases. Despite Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ insistence that there is “plenty of hospital space,” other figures indicate that the number of available hospital beds in the state’s intensive care units has fallen to below 20%.

As the median age of infection in Florida has fallen, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, Cindy Prins, believes improper adherence to social distance and mask-wearing is a factor, saying, ““I’m definitely seeing when I’m out and about that people are not necessarily adhering to social distancing guidelines, that they’re not necessarily wearing a mask or wearing it correctly.”

Similarly, Arizona has experienced rapid COVID escalation of late, with some hospitals nearing capacity and Governor Doug Ducey also issuing a facemask requirement. Ducey recently admitted, “I said two weeks ago that there is not a trend here. Looking at the last two weeks of data, there is a trend. And the trend is headed in the wrong direction and the actions we’re going to take are intended to change that direction and reverse this trend.”

Nevada and Texas have also seen recent infection-rate spikes.

Travel, Sports Face Uncertain Future

More than three months into the pandemic, Americans are eager to return to usual activities, hoping to watch sports and travel for business and pleasure. However, coronavirus spikes and other uncertainty shroud these activities. The aviation industry has been hit hard. Southwest Airlines has fared better than most airlines, but is still operating at only 40% of its usual capacity for this time of year.  Closed borders, a halt on business travel, and pocketbooks hit by recession are all factors in decreased travel. Moreover, leery travelers worry about safety due to lax enforcement of in-flight mask policies. Delta and American Airlines intend to remedy such laxity with strict, new policies of enforcement, while JetBlue, hopeful for a travel uptick, will reinstate some flights beginning in July and August.

Further complicating matters is the fact that many states have imposed quarantine measures for out-of-state travelers, reducing the appeal or practicality of interstate travel. Recently, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut announced a 14-day quarantine for any individuals traveling from viral hotspots, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Utah, and Texas. These nine states are being monitored, with the potential to fall off that list if infection rates improve. Of course, other states could find their way onto the list if they experience similar spikes.

Another staple of summer, Major League Baseball, has faced uncertainty, missing its usual opening day and having proposed a shortened, 60-game season to begin July 19. However, the Philadelphia Phillies recently confirmed that five players and three staff are COVID-19 positive. As a result, the team closed its spring training facility indefinitely, casting an air of uncertainty over the viability of a 2020 season. As NFL teams begin to practice, in anticipation of a September 10 start date, White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has offered a grim prediction: “Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall.”

Retail Opens, and Closes

Over the past several weeks, many of the business that shut down in March have begun to reopen. In New Jersey, one of the areas hardest hit by illness, Governor Phil Murphy has announced a June 29 mall reopening, with stores at 50% capacity and face coverings required. New York is also preparing for its next opening phase, to include offices, in-store retail, hair salons, barbershops, real estate, and auto sales.

However, some stores that have resumed business are being forced to close again. Apple, which had reopened the majority of its stores, is one such business. The closures include eleven stores in hotspot states – Florida, Arizona, North Carolina and South Carolina. According to an Apple spokesperson, “Due to current COVID-19 conditions in some of the communities we serve, we are temporarily closing stores in these areas. We take this step with an abundance of caution as we closely monitor the situation and we look forward to having our teams and customers back as soon as possible.”

Retail has been hit especially hard during the pandemic. Apple stock prices fell upon the announcements of these re-closures, while Triple Five Group missed a $7 million mortgage payment in June for its Mall of America in Minnesota.

PPE Still Necessary for Successful Reopening

A common thread as retail, travel, sports and other services seek to resume and stay open is the necessity of face-coverings. From tightened airline restrictions to mask-wearing mandates, protective face-coverings appear to be a feature of everyday life that is not going away anytime soon.

As certain industries reopen, demand for PPE has increased, but some businesses are finding the necessary equipment in short supply. According to Don Yoshikawa, a dentist in Huntington Beach, California, “It’s been impossible to get enough proper PPE equipment. My dental supply company has been on back-order for months.”

To meet the need for face masks and other PPE, companies such as Blueflame Medical have stepped in the gap to source and distribute these high-demand items. What is clear is that facemasks and other protective equipment will continue to be essential as Americans move to resume, and retain, their usual routines and activities.

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Contact Tracing and Testing Critical to Lifting Social Distancing Restrictions – Covid-19 News

As more and more states prepare to reopen segments of their economies in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, public health experts hail contact tracing and testing as vitally important. Tracing, combined with testing, will allow for isolation of Covid-positive patients, with or without symptoms. According to Dr. Ashish Jha, a physician and professor at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “If we don’t have extensive contact tracing in every community in America, it’s going to be really hard not to see this virus when we open back up.” 

In New York City, Major Bill de Blasio has likewise indicated that widespread testing and tracing of those who have been in contact with infected individuals will be central to lifting restrictions and reopening the city for business.  

What is Contact Tracing? 

What is contact tracing and how does it work? In short, contact tracing is identifying those with whom an infected individual has come into contact.  As simple as this may sound, developing contact tracing programs is a logistical challenge. Up to this point, most so-called ‘contact tracing’ has been word-of-mouth, with infected individuals reaching out to friends, family, and coworkers with whom they have been in close proximity. This strategy has its limitations, however, in that it relies upon memory and accurate reporting to be effective. In the current environment of social distancing, an individual may not want to admit to having been part of a large gathering.  Or, a person may have not known or remember all of the people with whom he or she has been in contact. 

In order to facilitate a more robust tracing system, technological solutions are in the works. Both Apple and Google are developing apps that users can download onto iphones or android phones. The app will send a beacon via Bluetooth, connecting with others also using the apps. This will build a network of contacts. If someone with whom a person has been in contact is later diagnosed with Covid-19, that person will receive an alert. While this system promises to provide a comprehensive body of data to monitor spread and trends, privacy concerns and willingness of the public to buy in will determine its effectiveness.     

Meanwhile, Salesforce has teamed up with the city of New York to create a contact tracing network that the city hopes will be up and running by the end of May. Major de Blasio stated, “It will allow us to track every case, analyze the data constantly, keep the right information on each and every case, [and] manage the whole process efficiently.”

States Prepare for Contact Tracing

Contact tracing programs have proved effective in places such as South Korea, while North Dakota and South Dakota are already using tracing apps to monitor the viral spread. New York City hopes that, by the end of June, it will have hired 2,500 “foot soldiers” as part of its “test and trace corps” in order to fully implement its tracing program. The state is also working to develop its own smartphone apps to help monitor the spread. 

As of May 7, 44 states around the nation, plus the District of Columbia, had indicated plans for contact tracing programs. These states indicate a combined need for 66,000 individuals, to include epidemiologists, nurses, and trained citizens, to form a contact tracing workforce. In Minnesota alone, the state anticipates the need for 4,200 individuals, for as long as 18 months, to make up its network of contact tracers. This would put the state health department at two and half times its current staffing level. 

Increased Testing Still Required 

Experts stress that states must also increase rates of testing alongside contact tracing. One research group, Harvard’s Global Health Institute, says that the U.S. should be doing more than 900,000 tests per days. According to the group, only 9 states are testing at the necessary level, with many others quite far from this target. 

Minnesota Department of Health Deputy Commissioner Margaret Kelly has indicated that, while already in the works, contact tracing is phase two of the battle against coronavirus, but phase one – testing – must still increase as part of the overall strategy.  In South Carolina, the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) plans to nearly double its current test rate during May and June. According to DHEC agency director Rick Toomey, “It’s going to be a challenge. As we accelerate South Carolina and as we return to the new normal, however that is going to be defined, we and our partners will be expanding the testing.’’

Not only are state governors and health departments highlighting the need for further testing, business owners themselves are weighing in on the safest way to reopen their businesses.  From small mom and pop establishments to larger hotel conglomerates to behemoths such as Microsoft and Amazon, businesses have begun to plan for and implement employee test programs. According to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, “Regular testing on a global scale, across all industries, would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running.” 

Conclusion

To reach these tracing and testing goals, local, state, and federal governments face obstacles such as funding and availability. Tracing programs will be expensive, and Covid test kits have not yet been available on the levels needed to meet such aggressive testing goals. Availability does continue to improve, as new tests are developed and new players enter the field, such as Blueflame Medical, which offers Covid-19 test kits alongside its PPE supplies. Still, the need for significant, coordinated effort looms as states pave the way for reopening with test and trace programs.

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PPE Shortage Threatens to Extend Lockdowns Worldwide – Covid 19 Update

As the Covid-19 pandemic has spread across the globe, experts cite PPE shortages as a major contributor to death rates and the need for strict lockdown measures. PPE, or personal protective equipment, includes items such as medical gloves, masks, eye protection, gowns, aprons, and respirators.  These items protect health care workers, who are in close proximity to the sickest patients, from disease. However, the shortage of necessary equipment has already contributed to sickness and death amongst this front-line group of workers. 

PPE shortages both in the United States and worldwide have necessitated social distance measures intended to stem the tide of viral spread, preventing already ill-supplied hospitals and hospital workers from being further overwhelmed by patient volume and exposure. As the economic and social impact of these lockdown measures take their toll, governments both at home and abroad seek to lift restrictions as soon as possible. Without the needed PPE in place, however, many find themselves extending, rather than loosening, social distance measures. 

As States Struggle to Reopen, PPE Shortages Hinder Progress 

In the United States, while some states have begun to relax stay-at-home measures and allow certain businesses to reopen, others have extended lockdown orders that were set to expire at the end of April. In several instances, hoped-for reopening dates hinge on the availability of PPE and other medical supplies, namely, Covid-19 test kits. In Michigan, one of the states hit hardest by the pandemic, concerned citizens have met to protest the state’s recent extension of its stay-at-home order, and the state legislature has taken steps to sue its governor. 

Amidst this unrest, however, Michigan’s Governor Whitmer cites a critical shortage of PPE in some areas, as well as the availability of test kits and other testing materials, such as swabs and chemical solution. According to Whitmer, “The CDC guidelines are that we should be testing between 1 to 2% of our population over the course of a week in order to have some confidence that it is safe to reopen. It’s [going to] be a little while before we get there.” 

In Grand Rapids, on the west side of the state, Tasha Blackman, CEO of Cherry Health told reporters that, while they have a sufficient number of test kits, they lack the number of gowns and N95 masks needed by medical personnel to increase their rate of testing. 

Michigan is not alone in its PPE requirements, with governors in other states also citing PPE equipment and testing ability as a central concern in the move to reopen. 

Countries Worldwide Announce Lockdown Extensions, Cite PPE Shortage

The PPE shortage is not just a concern for the United States, but worldwide. Countries such as India and Ireland recently announced extensions to their lockdown requirements, extending those measures until May 18. In Russia, President Vladamir Putin extended the lockdown to May 11, citing PPE shortage as a crucial factor. “Compared to before, [we’re producing] a lot. But compared what we need, it’s still not enough,” he said during a televised conference, adding, “Despite increased production, imports – there’s a deficit of all sorts of things.”                          

In Russia, which ranks 8th in the world for confirmed cases, medics have expressed concern about working without proper protective equipment, and doctors in Germany, to protest a similar lack of protective clothing and equipment, have launched a campaign called Naked Qualms in which health care workers post pictures of themselves naked. According to GP Ruben Bernau, “The nudity is a symbol of how vulnerable we are without protection.” 

Although some parts of the globe, like areas in the United States and Europe, have seen a flattening of curve, the coronavirus pandemic is just ramping up in other areas, like South America and Africa, meaning that demand for already-scare PPE supplies will only increase in many parts of the world.   

Economic Impact of Lockdowns

The economic impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns has and will continue to be significant.  According to the International Labour Organization, nearly half the world’s “informal workforce,” workers who are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable, without employment and wage protections, stand to see their livelihood destroyed.  In the first 6 weeks since the start of the pandemic, over 30 million people in the United States filed for unemployment benefits, while economists expect the economy to contract by 40% during the April-June quarter. Polling shows that consumer confidence is the lowest it has been in 6 years, and 1 in 5 employed Americans expect their incomes to decrease in the next 6 months.     

The economic impact has varied state by state, but amongst the hardest hit are Michigan and New Mexico. Michigan has fared worse than most states, and is looking at a $3 billion lose of revenue. New Mexico, one of the union’s smallest states population-wise, has been hit especially hit hard by plummeting oil prices, in addition to Covid-related job loss. While the state expects a $400 million budget deficit for 2020, projections for 2021 indicate a shortfall as large as $1.6 billion. 

With schools closed in all but a handful of states, working parents are 

struggling to work as much as usual, or at all. Getting students back in the classroom will be key in many families’ ability to maintain their income. 

Conclusion

With the need to increase the PPE supply at the center of ending lockdown restrictions, hospitals, doctor’s offices, local municipalities, and state and federal governments must be aggressive in seeking new sources of supply. Companies such as Blueflame Medical are stepping in to open up new supply lines to bring PPE and testing equipment to those in need. The availability of protective equipment will be fundamental to reopening the economy and in preventing further economic disaster abroad and domestically.   

PPE Shortages

To Reopen Economy, PPE Shortages Must Be Addressed

In the fight against Covid-19, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and gowns is critical to protecting the wellbeing of health care and other front line workers. Nevertheless, from hospitals to fire stations, these items have been in short supply. Nationwide, as social distancing measures continue, local, state, and federal governments cite the necessity of PPE availability as they seek to reopen the economy. 

California was the first state to issue a stay-at-home order on March 19. Since then, the vast majority of states have followed suit with some measure of social distance mandates. While experts laud the efforts and indicate that we have seen a large measure of success in flattening the curve, the collateral has come in the form of significant job loss and economic stagnation. As states make plans to reopen their economies and businesses implement hygiene practices required to keep employees and patrons safe, PPE shortage remains a major concern. 

States’ Plans for Reopening Dependent on PPE supplies

Several states have planned, or have already begun, multi-phase easing of restrictions. In some cases, governors are making decisions on a county- by-county basis in coordination with local municipalities. These decisions hinge not only on infection rates, but also PPE supplies. In Oregon’s Deschutes County, for example, city officials feel confident that PPE supply level are adequate, though they still need more N95 masks. In Washington, Governor Inslee has extended the stay-at-home order through May 31, while outlining a 4-step plan for reopening. Ten counties with lower infection rates may apply for more rapid opening, provided PPE supplies and medical capacity remain adequate. 

New York, meanwhile, is devising a 12-step plan for reopening, but as yet remains unprepared, with too few masks and inadequate testing capacity. States such as Maine and Virginia have also begun to unveil their plans to reopen, with PPE being a central feature. In Maine, residents must wear face coverings, while health care providers that have heretofore been subject to lockdown must be sure to “manage the use of essential resources such as personal protective equipment and testing supplies” as they reopen.  Governor Ralph Northam of Virginiaexpressed confidence in his state’s progress as far as PPE supply and testing capacity, but has emphasized the need to maintain this stream of goods in order to successfully and fully reopen. 

Even Where Reopening Allowed, Many Businesses Delay Due to PPE Shortage 

Even as states make moves to lift restrictions, many business and industries are ill equipped to open their doors. In Georgia, one of the first states to lift its stay-at-home mandate, beauty salon owner Alyson Hoag says that she is not ready to reopen, even though the state has given her the green light. According to Hoag, “We need to be in protective gear. I need time to get the supplies and sterilize the studio.” 

Similarly, West Virginia businesses must provide appropriate PPE to employees as a condition of reopening, but many business owners cannot find these supplies due to the nationwide shortage. In Arizona, Green Valley Recreation, which owns and runs several recreation centers, says that PPE equipment required to open for business, which they ordered during the first half of March, still had not arrived as of May 1.

Some dental offices have likewise indicated that they cannot open due to insufficient PPE. The American Dental Association has published a guide for recommended PPE and cautioned dentists to consider the availability of these items before seeing patients again. 

Why the PPE Shortage?

Although the federal government maintains a stockpile of items such as respirators and ventilators, that supply has proven insufficient. For example, the stockpile includes 15,000 ventilators, but New York City alone expects to need 16,600. A further problem is the supply chain for obtaining such goods. Much of our needed medical equipment comes from China, and when the pandemic there began to spread, supply chains were disrupted as exports from China came to a halt. As conditions in China have improved, they have shipped items, such as masks, to other countries as part of goodwill packages, of which the United States has not been a recipient. 

While some companies stateside, such as Ford Motor Company, have converted their factories to produce these high-need goods, new business like Blueflame Medical have emerged as purveyors of PPE and Covid-19 testing equipment. Other efforts to extend current supplies include decontaminating and reusing items such as masks. 

Conclusion 

With joblessness, lost wages, and lockdown fatigue on the rise, private citizens as well as state and federal governments understand the urgent need to reopen the economy as soon as possible. Doing so safely, however, is key.  In addition to sickening workers, experts warn that moving too quickly without sufficient precautions risks undoing progress made in the fight against Covid-19, further extending the economic and social impact of this deadly pandemic. They say that increasing the availability of PPE is crucial to a safe and lasting reopening.