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This week signaled a turning point in America’s health emergency

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This week signaled a turning point in America’s health emergency


The latest coronavirus news:There are more than 152,000 coronavirus cases in 129 countries and territories, according to the World Health Organization.More than 5,700 people have died worldwide.In the United States, there are at least 2,800 cases in 49 states, 49 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington D.C.At least 59 people have died: 40 in Washington state, five in California, three in Florida, two each in New York and New Jersey and one each in Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, Virginia and Oregon. President Donald Trump declared a state of national emergency in response to the outbreak on Friday. An expansion the country’s current travel ban from Europe will now include the United Kingdom and Ireland.Trump was tested for the coronavirus after coming into recent contact with two individuals who tested positive. The White House issued a statement Saturday saying the president tested negative for the virus. From behind the big oak desk in the Oval Office, the most solemn setting in times of national emergency, President Donald Trump somberly addressed the public.Americans desperately needed reassurances about the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus. After all, it was now official: The virus had touched every continent except for Antarctica. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic. It had killed dozens and infected thousands of Americans, shut down schools, universities and businesses across the country and begun to sow widespread fear.”The virus will not have a chance against us,” the President said Wednesday night, announcing a ban on most travel from Europe. Around that same time, more than 1,300 miles away, NBA fans packed Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena. Some chanted, “O-K-C! O-K-C!” The Jazz were about to tip off against the Thunder.But amid the pregame fervor, team officials huddled with the refs. With each minute of the delay, the crowd grew restless. Soon, players from both teams — some waving at fans — left for the locker rooms. A smattering of boos rose from the stands.”Fans, due to unforeseen circumstances the game tonight has been postponed,” the public address announcer told the crowd.The alert was vague. But soon came news that a Utah Jazz player had tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the league to suspend the remainder of its season. Within a day, the NCAA’s March Madness tournaments, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and others would follow suit.As fans in Oklahoma City streamed out of the arena, the loudspeakers blared with “Rhythm of the Night.”Then within hours came word that Tom Hanks and his actress wife, Rita Wilson, had been diagnosed with coronavirus in Australia. They instantly became the most recognizable faces of the outbreak.”Well, now. What to do next?” the 63-year-old Academy Award-winning actor said in a statement posted on Instagram.What to do next? Indeed. A nursing home becomes an epicenter of the US outbreakThe first U.S. case was reported in January. Coronavirus had infected a man from Snohomish County in western Washington state. He had arrived from Wuhan, China —where the virus first appeared in late December — at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Jan. 15, before the mandatory health screenings started at U.S. airports. He sought medical care on Jan. 19, after four days of self-quarantine at home.A 60-year-old U.S. citizen died in early February in Wuhan.The first fatality from the virus on U.S. soil occurred later that month, on Feb. 29, in Washington state. At least 30 other state residents would die in the weeks to come.That first victim, a man in his 50s, had underlying health conditions. He appeared to become ill as the virus spread in the community. There was no evidence the patient had close contact with an infected person or a travel history that would have exposed him, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two other cases were connected to the Life Care Center, a nursing and rehab facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland. It would become an epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with at least 19 deaths. Relatives and friends of the 108 patients were barred from visiting — a policy that soon spread across the country.One case from the center involved a health care worker, in her 40s, who had no relevant travel history. Another was a center resident in her 70s.An almost ‘perfect killing machine’The older and sicker one is, the greater the chance of dying from the virus. The roughly 2.5 million Americans in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities are the most vulnerable.”The grim reality is that, for the elderly, COVID-19 is almost a perfect killing machine,” said Mark Parkinson, president of the American Health Care Association, which represents 13,000 skilled-nursing sites around the country.Now, nursing homes even disinfect the saltshakers. At Aldercrest Health & Rehabilitation Center in Edmonds, Washington, the front door was locked. A nurse in gloves greeted visitors in mid-March with a thermometer. Anyone above 100.3 degree Fahrenheit was turned away.At some nursing homes, relatives have begun to communicate with quarantined residents through windows panes, as if visiting prisoners at the local lockup.Dorothy Campbell, 88, stood in front of a closed window at the Life Care Center one day earlier this month. On the other side, beyond her reflection, her 89-year-old husband, Gene, spoke with her on a phone. They couldn’t touch.Her son Charlie, a retired nurse, helped her stand by the window.Bonnie Holstad wasn’t so fortunate. She had not been able to hug — or even speak — with her husband, Ken, a Life Care Center resident. He has Parkinson’s disease, dementia and a cough.She stood outside the facility on March 1 with a sign.”No one at Life Care is answering the phones,” it reads. “He needs to be attended to … what is his temperature?”The Department of Veterans Affairs last week banned visitors from its nursing homes. Parkinson’s industry group had suggested that, to protect the most vulnerable, they all do the same. On Friday, nursing home visits nationwide were temporarily restricted under a national emergency declaration — limiting all visitors, volunteers and nonessential personnel, with a few exceptions, such as end-of-life situations.Calls for improved test availabilityVice President Mike Pence, head of the U.S. coronavirus task force, had said anyone with a doctor’s order could get tested for the coronavirus.”There’s no barrier,” Pence insisted on CNN last week. “Make no mistake about it, we’re making steady progress.”But only 11,079 specimens had been tested in the U.S. as of Wednesday. By comparison, more than 230,000 people were tested over the last two months in South Korea, which has about one-sixth the U.S. population.By Thursday morning, there were 81 public health labs that had been verified and were offering testing for coronavirus, including at least one in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, said Michelle Forman of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.Still, across the country, people who believe they might have the virus said they couldn’t get tested. Among those waiting for tests were nearly 20 Washington state firefighters and paramedics who believe they were exposed to people who tested positive. The reason: They have shown no signs of illness.Officially declaring the national emergency on Friday, Trump said $50 billion in federal funds would become available for states to combat the virus. Private labs and vaccine developers will provide millions of coronavirus tests within a month, including half a million by this week, according to the President. The White House announced Saturday night that Trump had tested negative for the coronavirus. He was tested Friday night after recent contact with two people who have tested positive. The President, speaking Friday at the Rose Garden event, had said of the outbreak: “This will pass. This will pass through, and we will be even stronger for it.”Religious leaders cancel worship servicesHouses of worship are pillars of comfort and support in the community. But even religious life in America has been touched by the coronavirus.Like sports leagues, museums and other cultural institutions, churches and mosques, synagogues and sanghas, temples and gurdwaras are temporarily closing to guard against spreading the virus. In Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop for about 2.2 million Catholics, announced the suspension of public Mass beginning Saturday evening. Schools in the diocese, the pastoral center and agency offices have been closed.”This was not a decision I made lightly,” Cupich said in a statement, adding that “we must take the better part of caution in order to slow the spread of this pandemic.”The Archdiocese of New York left it up to its 2.8 million Catholics to “use their prudential judgment” on whether to attend Mass.When Episcopal congregants receive Holy Communion this weekend, they may choose not to dip the consecrated bread into the single, shared chalice. During the sign of peace, worshipers will wave or bump elbows instead of the typical handshakes or hugs.Some churches will offer Mass online and on TV. Synagogues streamed readings of the Scroll of Esther for Purim.Muslims at the Islamic Center of Southern California were asked not to embrace or kiss each other on the cheek but rather place a hand over their hearts, give a respectful nod or flash a warm smile.Schools close and shoppers panic Schools are also closing because of the outbreak. Millions of students across several entire states and in big-city districts from coast to coast have suspended classes, some into April and perhaps longer.The closures have sent parents scrambling for child care, for homeschooling plans and to find replacement meals for the more than 20 million lunches distributed free each day in American schools. Some of the largest school districts are trying to feed students with “grab-and-go” breakfast and lunches.Beyond that, the outbreak has unleashed unprecedented waves of stress, panic and confusion.At first, people started snatching up masks and respirators, despite pleas from health officials to stop. Healthy people in the U.S. shouldn’t wear masks because they won’t protect from the coronavirus. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams warned that medical masks might actually increase the risk of infection if they aren’t worn properly.Still the face mask boom prompted sellers to jack up prices and exploit demand. Soon, there were shortages for medics who really needed them.The panic-buying extended to hand sanitizers, cleaning wipes and even toilet paper.Long lines formed at stores throughout the country, with people desperate to stock up on cleaning products. Retailers could not keep up with demand. Pictures on social media showed lines snaking around Costco and empty shelves of sanitizers at CVS, Walgreens and other drug stores.Richie Maruffi of Arnold bread distributor saw his route on Manhattan’s West Side completely wiped out early Friday morning.”I can’t even keep up,” he said. The week had started just like any other, he said, with supermarket shelves stacked high with loaves. But then ordinary life seemed to change.”Came out here, like, in the middle of the week, and it just got insane,” Maruffi said.

The latest coronavirus news:

  • There are more than 152,000 coronavirus cases in 129 countries and territories, according to the World Health Organization.
  • More than 5,700 people have died worldwide.
  • In the United States, there are at least 2,800 cases in 49 states, 49 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington D.C.
  • At least 59 people have died: 40 in Washington state, five in California, three in Florida, two each in New York and New Jersey and one each in Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, Virginia and Oregon.
  • President Donald Trump declared a state of national emergency in response to the outbreak on Friday.
  • An expansion the country’s current travel ban from Europe will now include the United Kingdom and Ireland.
  • Trump was tested for the coronavirus after coming into recent contact with two individuals who tested positive. The White House issued a statement Saturday saying the president tested negative for the virus.

From behind the big oak desk in the Oval Office, the most solemn setting in times of national emergency, President Donald Trump somberly addressed the public.

Americans desperately needed reassurances about the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus. After all, it was now official: The virus had touched every continent except for Antarctica. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic. It had killed dozens and infected thousands of Americans, shut down schools, universities and businesses across the country and begun to sow widespread fear.

“The virus will not have a chance against us,” the President said Wednesday night, announcing a ban on most travel from Europe.

Around that same time, more than 1,300 miles away, NBA fans packed Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena. Some chanted, “O-K-C! O-K-C!” The Jazz were about to tip off against the Thunder.

But amid the pregame fervor, team officials huddled with the refs. With each minute of the delay, the crowd grew restless. Soon, players from both teams — some waving at fans — left for the locker rooms. A smattering of boos rose from the stands.

“Fans, due to unforeseen circumstances the game tonight has been postponed,” the public address announcer told the crowd.

The alert was vague. But soon came news that a Utah Jazz player had tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the league to suspend the remainder of its season. Within a day, the NCAA’s March Madness tournaments, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and others would follow suit.

As fans in Oklahoma City streamed out of the arena, the loudspeakers blared with “Rhythm of the Night.”

Then within hours came word that Tom Hanks and his actress wife, Rita Wilson, had been diagnosed with coronavirus in Australia. They instantly became the most recognizable faces of the outbreak.

“Well, now. What to do next?” the 63-year-old Academy Award-winning actor said in a statement posted on Instagram.

What to do next? Indeed.

A nursing home becomes an epicenter of the US outbreak

The first U.S. case was reported in January. Coronavirus had infected a man from Snohomish County in western Washington state. He had arrived from Wuhan, China —where the virus first appeared in late December — at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Jan. 15, before the mandatory health screenings started at U.S. airports. He sought medical care on Jan. 19, after four days of self-quarantine at home.

A 60-year-old U.S. citizen died in early February in Wuhan.

The first fatality from the virus on U.S. soil occurred later that month, on Feb. 29, in Washington state. At least 30 other state residents would die in the weeks to come.

That first victim, a man in his 50s, had underlying health conditions. He appeared to become ill as the virus spread in the community. There was no evidence the patient had close contact with an infected person or a travel history that would have exposed him, said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Two other cases were connected to the Life Care Center, a nursing and rehab facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland. It would become an epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with at least 19 deaths. Relatives and friends of the 108 patients were barred from visiting — a policy that soon spread across the country.

One case from the center involved a health care worker, in her 40s, who had no relevant travel history. Another was a center resident in her 70s.

An almost ‘perfect killing machine’

The older and sicker one is, the greater the chance of dying from the virus. The roughly 2.5 million Americans in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities are the most vulnerable.

“The grim reality is that, for the elderly, COVID-19 is almost a perfect killing machine,” said Mark Parkinson, president of the American Health Care Association, which represents 13,000 skilled-nursing sites around the country.

Now, nursing homes even disinfect the saltshakers. At Aldercrest Health & Rehabilitation Center in Edmonds, Washington, the front door was locked. A nurse in gloves greeted visitors in mid-March with a thermometer. Anyone above 100.3 degree Fahrenheit was turned away.

At some nursing homes, relatives have begun to communicate with quarantined residents through windows panes, as if visiting prisoners at the local lockup.

Dorothy Campbell, 88, stood in front of a closed window at the Life Care Center one day earlier this month. On the other side, beyond her reflection, her 89-year-old husband, Gene, spoke with her on a phone. They couldn’t touch.

Her son Charlie, a retired nurse, helped her stand by the window.

Bonnie Holstad wasn’t so fortunate. She had not been able to hug — or even speak — with her husband, Ken, a Life Care Center resident. He has Parkinson’s disease, dementia and a cough.

She stood outside the facility on March 1 with a sign.

“No one at Life Care is answering the phones,” it reads. “He needs to be attended to … what is his temperature?”

The Department of Veterans Affairs last week banned visitors from its nursing homes. Parkinson’s industry group had suggested that, to protect the most vulnerable, they all do the same. On Friday, nursing home visits nationwide were temporarily restricted under a national emergency declaration — limiting all visitors, volunteers and nonessential personnel, with a few exceptions, such as end-of-life situations.

Calls for improved test availability

Vice President Mike Pence, head of the U.S. coronavirus task force, had said anyone with a doctor’s order could get tested for the coronavirus.

“There’s no barrier,” Pence insisted on CNN last week. “Make no mistake about it, we’re making steady progress.”

But only 11,079 specimens had been tested in the U.S. as of Wednesday. By comparison, more than 230,000 people were tested over the last two months in South Korea, which has about one-sixth the U.S. population.

By Thursday morning, there were 81 public health labs that had been verified and were offering testing for coronavirus, including at least one in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, said Michelle Forman of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

Still, across the country, people who believe they might have the virus said they couldn’t get tested.

Among those waiting for tests were nearly 20 Washington state firefighters and paramedics who believe they were exposed to people who tested positive. The reason: They have shown no signs of illness.

Officially declaring the national emergency on Friday, Trump said $50 billion in federal funds would become available for states to combat the virus. Private labs and vaccine developers will provide millions of coronavirus tests within a month, including half a million by this week, according to the President.

The White House announced Saturday night that Trump had tested negative for the coronavirus. He was tested Friday night after recent contact with two people who have tested positive.

The President, speaking Friday at the Rose Garden event, had said of the outbreak: “This will pass. This will pass through, and we will be even stronger for it.”

Religious leaders cancel worship services

Houses of worship are pillars of comfort and support in the community. But even religious life in America has been touched by the coronavirus.

Like sports leagues, museums and other cultural institutions, churches and mosques, synagogues and sanghas, temples and gurdwaras are temporarily closing to guard against spreading the virus.

In Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop for about 2.2 million Catholics, announced the suspension of public Mass beginning Saturday evening. Schools in the diocese, the pastoral center and agency offices have been closed.

“This was not a decision I made lightly,” Cupich said in a statement, adding that “we must take the better part of caution in order to slow the spread of this pandemic.”

The Archdiocese of New York left it up to its 2.8 million Catholics to “use their prudential judgment” on whether to attend Mass.

When Episcopal congregants receive Holy Communion this weekend, they may choose not to dip the consecrated bread into the single, shared chalice. During the sign of peace, worshipers will wave or bump elbows instead of the typical handshakes or hugs.

Some churches will offer Mass online and on TV. Synagogues streamed readings of the Scroll of Esther for Purim.

Muslims at the Islamic Center of Southern California were asked not to embrace or kiss each other on the cheek but rather place a hand over their hearts, give a respectful nod or flash a warm smile.

Schools close and shoppers panic

Schools are also closing because of the outbreak. Millions of students across several entire states and in big-city districts from coast to coast have suspended classes, some into April and perhaps longer.

The closures have sent parents scrambling for child care, for homeschooling plans and to find replacement meals for the more than 20 million lunches distributed free each day in American schools. Some of the largest school districts are trying to feed students with “grab-and-go” breakfast and lunches.

Beyond that, the outbreak has unleashed unprecedented waves of stress, panic and confusion.

At first, people started snatching up masks and respirators, despite pleas from health officials to stop. Healthy people in the U.S. shouldn’t wear masks because they won’t protect from the coronavirus. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams warned that medical masks might actually increase the risk of infection if they aren’t worn properly.

Still the face mask boom prompted sellers to jack up prices and exploit demand. Soon, there were shortages for medics who really needed them.

The panic-buying extended to hand sanitizers, cleaning wipes and even toilet paper.

Long lines formed at stores throughout the country, with people desperate to stock up on cleaning products. Retailers could not keep up with demand. Pictures on social media showed lines snaking around Costco and empty shelves of sanitizers at CVS, Walgreens and other drug stores.

Richie Maruffi of Arnold bread distributor saw his route on Manhattan’s West Side completely wiped out early Friday morning.

“I can’t even keep up,” he said.

The week had started just like any other, he said, with supermarket shelves stacked high with loaves. But then ordinary life seemed to change.

“Came out here, like, in the middle of the week, and it just got insane,” Maruffi said.



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