Current Events in March 2020

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    How likely is it for consumers to catch a virus on a plane?

    Experts say proximity to the infected person is key

    Though airlines have started taking extra precautions to reduce the spread of germs onboard, many consumers have become more fearful about getting sick after hopping a flight. 

    Now, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have analyzed just how likely it is to catch a virus while on a plane and what consumers can do to make sure they stay healthy. 

    “...We try to identify vulnerabilities in different policy or procedural options, such as different boarding procedures on a plane,” said researcher Ashok Srinivasan. “We generate a large number of possible scenarios that could occur and examine whether one option is consistently better than the other. If it is, then it can be considered more robust. In a decision-making setting, one may wish to choose the more robust option, rather than rely on expected values from predictions.” 

    Reducing the spread of germs

    The researchers used advanced computer technology to analyze countless different scenarios that could happen aboard a plane to evaluate how germs are spread. Though models don’t assess humans’ behavior perfectly, the researchers were able to mimic how humans move through airports and airplanes so that they could evaluate thousands of possible events. 

    Srinivasan explained that because of the close quarters and crowding during the boarding process, consumers are more likely to get sick during boarding than deplaning. 

    “Airlines use several zones in boarding,” Srinivasan said. “When boarding a plane, people are blocked and forced to stand near the person putting their luggage in the bin -- people are very close to each other. This problem is exacerbated when many zones are used. Deplaning is much smoother and quicker -- there isn’t as much time to get infected.” 

    The researchers also explained that proximity is typically the fastest way travelers can contract an infection while on a plane, as those sitting in the rows closest to the infected person are at the highest risk. However, it isn’t the only way -- it’s also important for consumers to consider the way air flows and travels on planes. 

    “You may still be at risk [for a virus] even if you are farther away than six feet,” said Srinivasan. “In discussion with modelers who advocate it, it appears that those models don’t take air flow into account. Just as a ball goes farther if you throw it with the wind, the droplets carrying the virus will go farther in the direction of the air flow.” 

    The close proximity, the masses of people, and the quantity of flights, which is up to nearly 100,000 per day, make it difficult for germs to stay contained among airplane travelers. The researchers urge all consumers to use their best judgement when traveling, and to just stay home if it’s too risky. 

    “When the stakes are high, one may wish to err on the side of caution,” said Srinivasan. 

    Though airlines have started taking extra precautions to reduce the spread of germs onboard, many consumers have become more fearful about getting sick aft...

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      Coronavirus update: New York in crisis, Walmart adopts new safety measures

      China has changed the way it counts coronavirus cases

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 175,067 (144,672)

      Total U.S. deaths: 3,415 (2,575)

      Total global cases: 809,608  (745,308)

      Total global deaths: 39,454 (35,307)

      New York crisis deepens

      New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reports that cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the state surged 14 percent overnight to more than 75,000, with 1,500 deaths. The governor said the virus has put nearly 11,000 New Yorkers in the hospital -- 2,710 of them in the ICU. He said hospital admissions last night grew by nearly 400.

      “I’m tired of being behind this virus,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing with reporters. “We’ve been behind this virus from day one. We underestimated this virus. It’s more powerful, it’s more dangerous than we expected.” 

      Unfortunately, Cuomo says there is little relief in sight for the state -- in particular New York City -- since the virus isn’t expected to peak for another two to three weeks.

      New safety measures at Walmart

      Walmart stores have remained open during coronavirus shutdowns, and now the retailer says it is taking additional safety measures to protect its associates and consumers. The company says it will begin taking the temperature of each employee when they report for work.

      Employees with a fever of 100 degrees or higher will be sent home with pay and not be allowed to return until they have been fever-free for three days. Additionally, masks will be offered to any employee who wishes to wear one.

      The company says it may take up to three weeks for its stores to receive the necessary infrared thermometers and masks to begin the new policy.

      Florida denies cruise ships’ request to dock

      Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused requests from two South American cruise ships to dock in the state because both vessels carry passengers with symptoms of the coronavirus. In fact, some passengers have already died from the illness.

      The ships -- the Sandaam and the Rotterdam -- are still at sea, but they are headed for Florida with 300 U.S. citizens among the passengers. DeSantis says he has held discussions with the U.S. Coast Guard and the White House about a course of action.

      At this point, DeSantis has remained adamant in his refusal to allow the ships to dock, saying the state’s medical resources are already stretched to the breaking point. Holland America President Orlando Ashford has gone public with his appeal for mercy, writing in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the situation is “testing our common humanity.”

      “To slam the door in the face of these people betrays our deepest human value,” he wrote.

      China cases may start rising again

      The coronavirus began in China, but over the last few weeks the number of cases has leveled off. Last week, the number of cases in the U.S., with a smaller population, surged past China.

      But the Chinese government revealed today that it had not been reporting all coronavirus cases. If someone tested positive but displayed no symptoms, they were not included in the official tally.

      The Chinese Health Ministry says it is changing that policy and will now include asymptomatic cases in its count.

      Social distancing inadequate, researcher says

      Americans have been told to avoid groups and stay at least six feet from other people, but a researcher at MIT says that advice is outdated and woefully inadequate.

      Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, associate professor Lydia Bourouiba contends that droplets from a sneeze can travel up to 27 feet, and pathogens can hang in the air for hours.

      When an infected person sneezes or coughs, the pathogens will eventually settle on surfaces and contaminate them.

      Around the nation

      • Mississippi: Gov. Tate Reeves has signed an order overriding local officials’ measures to contain the coronavirus. Reeves declared nearly every type of business in the state as “essential,” allowing them to remain open.

      • Wisconsin: Health officials have revised estimates on when the virus is expected to peak. Estimates now predict a peak nearly two weeks after the expected national peak on April 15. They say that may relieve some of the stress on hospital ICUs.

      • Rhode Island: State police are stopping all cars on the state’s southern border if they have out-of-state license plates. Occupants who plan to stay in Rhode Island are being required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 175,067 (144,672)...

      Ford to make ventilators for coronavirus patients after postponing car production restart

      The automaker hopes to build 50,000 units by July 4

      Ford is postponing the resumption of vehicle assembly in an effort to protect workers. Instead, it will help GE Healthcare turn out much-needed ventilators to help people suffering from severe coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms.

      Ford joins GM in retooling production lines to build machines that help patients with reduced lung capacity breathe. The company says it will use one of its plants in Michigan to produce 50,000 of the vitally needed units within 100 days and up to 30,000 a month after that if needed. 

      The automaker brings its manufacturing capabilities to the table, making the ramp-up process easier. GE Healthcare will provide clinical expertise and will license the current ventilator design from Airon Corp. – a small, privately held company whose design already has approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

      The GE/Airon Model A-E ventilator uses a design that operates on air pressure and does not require electricity, addressing the needs of most COVID-19 patients. Ford says production can get underway quickly to help meet growing demand.

      “The Ford and GE Healthcare teams, working creatively and tirelessly, have found a way to produce this vitally needed ventilator quickly and in meaningful numbers,” said Jim Hackett, CEO at Ford. “By producing this ventilator in Michigan, in strong partnership with the UAW, we can help health care workers save lives, and that’s our No. 1 priority.”

      To start, Ford will send a team to work with Airon to boost production in Florida. By the week of April 20, it will start production at Ford’s Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich.

      1,500 units by the end of April

      The company says it thinks it can produce 1,500 units by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May, and 50,000 by July 4 – helping the government meet its goal of producing 100,000 ventilators in 100 days.

      Ford is delaying the restart of production at its other North American assembly plants in an effort to protect employees from the coronavirus. The company had planned to restart operations on April 6.

      When the Rawsonville Components Plant begins production of ventilators, Ford says the workforce will be protected by additional health and safety measures.

      Ford is postponing the resumption of vehicle assembly in an effort to protect workers. Instead, it will help GE Healthcare turn out much-needed ventilators...

      Coronavirus job losses hit renters particularly hard

      Zillow analysis shows what two months of being out of work does to housing expenses

      Food service and retail workers were among the first to lose their jobs as the coronavirus (COVID-19) forced many U.S. stores and restaurants to close. If and when those jobs come back, these workers will pay a much higher percentage of their income on housing.

      In an analysis, Zillow looked at how just a two-month loss of income could affect the finances of people who rent their homes. The company concluded that these consumers would be paying 40 percent of their annual income on rent over a 12-month period under these circumstances.

      A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 30 percent of annual income on housing. Zillow reports that the average for people in food service and retail is closer to 35 percent. 

      Even if laid-off workers were able to return to work after two months, Zillow estimates that most would face economic hardship as they scramble to make up for missed paychecks. The company’s findings suggest that single earners working in food service or retail have been spending a median of 33.6 percent of their income on rent. Missing a month of work would raise that to 35 percent of their annual income. 

      But if they are out of work for two months, they could spend 40 percent of their income on housing if they had no way to make up the missing paychecks. Previously, Zillow researchers found that only half of renters said they could pay an unexpected $1,000 expense.

      Aid package will help

      Fortunately, these workers can expect some help from the recently enacted aid package that will send $1,200 to individuals, $2,400 to couples, and provide families with an additional $500 per child.

      “A one-time payment similar to this legislation would ease some of the financial strain on renters who are out of work for two months, lowering the share of annual income needed to cover the year's rent from 40 percent to 35.8 percent,” Zillow said in its analysis.

      Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said those payments will start to flow to Americans in about three weeks, distributed through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

      Increase in unemployment benefits

      The relief act, signed by President Trump at the end of last week, also provides for an increase and extension in unemployment benefits. Those benefits would be paid for 39 weeks, an increase from the current 26 weeks.

      "We're still in the early stages of understanding exactly what effects the coronavirus will have on the housing market in the long term, but many workers and families are living through an immediate strain as their jobs are cut back and paychecks dry up," said Zillow Senior Policy Advisor Alexander Casey. 

      Casey says renters have already stretched their budgets as the cost of housing has continued to rise. He says losing income will not only make it harder to pay the rent each month but also leave little money to pay for essentials.

      Food service and retail workers were among the first to lose their jobs as the coronavirus (COVID-19) forced many U.S. stores and restaurants to close. If...

      Coronavirus impact may lead to unemployment rate over 30 percent, economists say

      The projected jobless figure is worse than the peak of the Great Depression

      The number of unemployment claims has skyrocketed in recent weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has taken hold of the U.S., and Federal Reserve officials say the worst is yet to come. 

      A recent analysis by the Fed’s St. Louis district predicts that the unemployment rate could soon hit 32.1 percent, a figure slightly higher than St. Louis Fed President James Bullard’s recent estimate of 30 percent, CNBC reports. 

      “These are very large numbers by historical standards, but this is a rather unique shock that is unlike any other experienced by the U.S. economy in the last 100 years,” St. Louis Fed economist Miguel Faria-e-Castro wrote in a research paper published last week.

      The projected figure could ultimately prove to be an overestimate because it doesn’t account for the impact of the coronavirus stimulus package recently signed into law, nor does it account for those who may exit the workforce altogether. 

      But comparatively, the projected number is higher than it was at the peak of the Great Depression (25 percent unemployment).

      Rebound may follow

      A record number of unemployment claims were filed for the week ending March 21. The Labor Department reported Thursday that nearly 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits the week prior. Economists expect another 2.65 million to be tacked on to that figure this week, according to CNN. 

      Bullard said that while the numbers look bleak, the nation is likely to bounce back from the effects of the virus on the labor force.

      The jobless number “will be unparalleled, but don’t get discouraged,” he said during a CNBC interview last week. “This is a special quarter, and once the virus goes away and if we play our cards right and keep everything intact, then everyone will go back to work and everything will be fine.”

      The number of unemployment claims has skyrocketed in recent weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has taken hold of the U.S., and Federal Reserve officials say...

      Zoom’s privacy practices questioned by New York Attorney General

      Consumers need to know exactly what data they’re letting platforms see and use

      As the spread of COVID-19 forced the world to start hunkering down from home and using technology like videoconferencing to hold virtual meetings, religious services, and family get-togethers, remote conferencing service Zoom has taken off like a rocket. In Italy alone, during the peak week of its crisis, the Zoom app was downloaded more than a half-million times.

      Getting lots of love is welcome at any technology company, but Zoom’s rise has created a lift-the-covers look-see from New York Attorney General Letitia James, who wants to make sure the company’s data privacy and security practices are up to snuff.

      According to the New York Times, the Attorney General’s office sent Zoom a letter pointedly asking what, if any, new security measures the company has put in place to handle increased traffic on its network and to detect hackers.

      Who’s zooming who?

      While the Attorney General says her office regards Zoom as “an essential and valuable communications platform,” her letter details several concerns. James suggests that the company has slacked on its efforts to address security flaws such as vulnerabilities “that could enable malicious third parties to, among other things, gain surreptitious access to consumer webcams” -- a novelty some refer to as “Zoombombing.” 

      Unfortunately, this novelty is anything but fun. It has allowed mavericks to take advantage of a Zoom screen-sharing feature to hijack meetings and butt in on educational teleconferences and Sunday School group meetings. Some hackers have even gone so far as posting white supremacist messages while a webinar on anti-Semitism was going on. 

      Someone bringing up the subject of security flaws is nothing new to Zoom. In July, 2019, security research company Checkpoint Research notified Zoom that it had detected a flaw in the company’s system that “allowed a threat actor to potentially identify and join active meetings” by using randomly generated meeting IDs. When Checkpoint tested out the hackers’ method, it was able to successfully mimic that break-in technique roughly 4 percent of the time. 

      In response, Zoom made changes that would keep those bad actors from joining meetings at their will by building in a trigger that would cause hackers’ devices to be blocked for a period of time if they repeatedly attempted to scan for meeting IDs. 

      Zoom updates its privacy policy

      ConsumerAffairs thought it might be interesting to take a comparative look at Zoom’s privacy policy as of March 29 -- about the time the company should have received the AG’s letter -- to see how it framed its privacy policy a week or so before (March 18, 2020). What we found indicates that Zoom has taken a much harder look at how it articulates what its users should expect when it comes to privacy and what uses the company allows for itself.

      To its credit, Zoom made its policy easier to understand and more straightforward. For example, it did away with the whitewashing of how it went about data collection and scrapped gauzy phrases like: “We use this information to offer and improve our services, trouble shoot, and to improve our marketing efforts.” 

      One big change that ConsumerAffairs found to be more consumer-friendly was dispensing with the laundry list of bullet points and paragraphs detailing its privacy policy and going with a table where the company laid out a far more understandable portrayal of what data it collects, examples, and how it uses that information. You can find the company’s revamped privacy policy on its website here.

      As the spread of COVID-19 forced the world to start hunkering down from home and using technology like videoconferencing to hold virtual meetings, religiou...

      Golden Mushroom brand Enoki Mushroom recalled

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

      Goldenway International Trade Co. Ltd. is recalling Golden Mushroom brand Enoki Mushroom.

      The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

      No illnesses have been reported to date.

      The following product, sold in the Canadian province of Ontario and, perhaps Quebec and nationally, is being recalled:

      Golden MushroomEnoki Mushroom200 g8 809201 000039All units sold up to and including March 24, 2020

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it.

      Consumers may contact the company at (905) 206-8977 or by email at IEWEIDONG@HOTMAIL.COM

      Goldenway International Trade Co. Ltd. is recalling Golden Mushroom brand Enoki Mushroom.The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes....

      Volkswagen recalls model year 2019-2020 Audi A6s

      Moisture may enter the starter generator

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 5,471 model year 2019-2020 Audi A6s with mild-hybrid technology and 2.0TFSI engines.

      Moisture may enter the starter generator and cause an electrical short circuit.

      A short circuit in the starter generator increases the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will replace the starter generator free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin by May 15, 2020.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at (800) 893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 27H2.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 5,471 model year 2019-2020 Audi A6s with mild-hybrid technology and 2.0TFSI engines. Moisture may enter the sta...

      8 home improvement projects you now have time for

      Why not take care of these 'do-list' items while at home?

      Maybe you just moved to town, or perhaps you’re between jobs. Or maybe there's a global pandemic, and you're stuck in quarantine. Regardless, should you find yourself at home for a couple of weeks with some spare time on your hands, here are a couple of the best home improvement projects that anyone can do.

      #8: Replace that kitchen faucet

      The sink faucet in the kitchen doesn't get the credit it's due. The difference a new kitchen faucet makes to your daily routine is incredible. These days there are a ton of styles, finishes, and other options. The real kicker is that swapping out a faucet is pretty simple. We bet you can do it in an hour.

      Buy on Amazon

      #7: Hang new window blinds or shades

      Unless you live in a recently built or renovated home, chances are your window coverings are outdated and beginning to show their age. Blinds, shades, and curtains offer several advantages, including privacy, heating or cooling efficiency, and aesthetic appeal. A variety of styles exist, with the most popular including cellular shades, wooden blinds, and roller shades. In most cases, installation is simple, with only a screwdriver needed.

      Buy on Amazon

      #6: Install a video doorbell

      Your traditional doorbell has made some leaps forward from its original form. Ring, Nest, and Arlo seamlessly send alerts straight to your phone or smart home device, notifying you of activity at the front door. With two-way audio, you can talk in real time to whoever is at the front door. Additionally, these doorbells alert you to motion activity during unexpected times, such as when you are away on vacation or during the night.

      Buy on Amazon

      #5: Stay cool with a ceiling fan

      Ceiling fans make a significant difference in the comfort level of every room. During the summer, fans move air around the room to make the perceived temperature of the room cooler. During winter, fans circulate warm air from above, with cooler air near the floor. In both seasons, fans help reduce the load on your heating or cooling system and save utility costs. With a variety of sizes, styles, and designs, fans work in nearly every room in the house.

      Buy on Amazon

      #4: Stay safe with wireless smoke/CO2 detectors

      While all of us agree that smoke detectors are a critical part of home safety, they are easy to overlook or ignore when they are no longer functional. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends you install a smoke detector inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every floor of the home. This is an excellent time to double-check the location of the smoke detectors in your home and test their functionality to make sure you and your family are safe.

      Buy on Amazon

      #3: Increase efficiency with a smart thermostat

      A smart thermostat increases the comfort level of your home and decreases utility costs. These units are simple to install, and the whole project will likely take less than an hour. There is a range of functionality, from simple scheduled thermostat changes to units that automatically set home or away conditions. Some units also have additional wireless sensors that help cool or heat that one room in the house that always struggles to be comfortable.

      Buy on Amazon

      #2: Upgrade your space with LED smart lighting

      Smart lighting has come a long way in the last couple of years. Plug-and-play installation makes it as simple as screwing in a lightbulb and downloading an app. Want to dim the lights without getting off the couch? No problem. Turn the lights on automatically at sunset and off at bedtime? Sure. Change the lighting colors per your mood? You can do that. Philips Hue, LIFX, Wink, and Cree all offer lightbulbs ranging in colors, brightness, and design. These lights work with your Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, or other smart home hubs.

      Buy on Amazon

      #1: Upgrade your standard shower head

      A project with so much reward and requiring so little time, this one is possibly our favorite. Showerheads screw off and back on, so the work is minimal. Rain showers are popular, as they have a large spray area and make for a relaxing experience. Like high pressure? Many options offer message settings to increase the water pressure and provide a therapeutic session during your shower. Seriously, a new shower head is a simple install and can make your morning routine truly special.

      So whether you pick one, pick two, or pick all eight, these are some simple ways anyone can improve their home. You'll be thankful you took advantage of the extra time!

      Buy on Amazon

      Ready to tackle home improvement projects? Make the most of your time at home with these 8 easy projects to upgrade your space in 2020....

      Coronavirus update: Hospital ship arrives in New York, new hope for a vaccine

      Antibody treatments are beginning in Houston

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 144,672 (135,499)

      Total U.S. deaths: 2,575 (2,381)

      Total global cases: 745,308 (710,918)

      Total global deaths: 35,307 (33,551)

      Navy hospital ship arrives in New York

      As New York City struggles to cope with the rising number of serious coronavirus cases, the city’s overburdened hospitals are getting some much-needed relief. The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort docked in New York Harbor today.

      The ship, with 1,000 hospital beds and a dozen operating rooms, will be used to treat New Yorkers with health conditions other than the coronavirus. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it a “relief valve” for the city’s hospitals, which are straining to treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients.

      Hopeful announcement about a vaccine

      Johnson & Johnson has been working on a coronavirus vaccine since January, and today it announced that it has a “lead candidate” that it expects to enter into clinical trials by September. It further anticipates the first batches of the vaccine could be available for emergency use authorization in early 2021.

      Since time is of the essence, J&J said it is expanding its manufacturing capacity both in the U.S. and abroad. It says that step will assist in the rapid production of a vaccine and would give health officials more than one billion doses of the vaccine, should trials show it to be safe and effective.

      Antibody treatments begin in Houston

      Houston Methodist hospital has received FDA approval to become the first academic hospital in the nation to transfuse donated plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient into a critically ill patient. 

      Scientists think that the antibodies from the blood of patients who have recovered from the virus might help patients who are struggling to recover. The FDA fast-tracked approval of the treatment amid a soaring caseload.

      The new treatment method is known as convalescent serum therapy, and it isn’t exactly new. It dates back more than a century to when similar treatments were used during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, a diphtheria outbreak in the 1920s, and during other outbreaks of infectious diseases.

      Test results in five minutes

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a new coronavirus test that can render results in five to 15 minutes. The test, from Abbott Labs, could address one of the major drawbacks to the U.S. response -- a lack of timely testing.

      Abbott Labs says the test can deliver positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes. The test will run on the company's ID NOW platform, providing rapid results in a wide range of health care settings such as physicians' offices, urgent care clinics, and hospital emergency departments.

      "The COVID-19 pandemic will be fought on multiple fronts, and a portable molecular test that offers results in minutes adds to the broad range of diagnostic solutions needed to combat this virus," said Robert B. Ford, Abbott’s CEO. "With rapid testing on ID NOW, healthcare providers can perform molecular point-of-care testing outside the traditional four walls of a hospital in outbreak hotspots."

      Abbott said it will begin shipping the new tests this week.

      Macy’s furloughs most employees

      Macy’s, which closed all of its stores earlier this month in response to the coronavirus, announced today that it is furloughing most employees because of a huge loss of business.

      “While the digital business remains open, we have lost the majority of our sales due to the store closures,” the company said in a statement. “We’ve already taken measures to maintain financial flexibility, including suspending the dividend, drawing down our line of credit, freezing both hiring and spending, stopping capital spend, reducing receipts, canceling some orders and extending payment terms, and we are evaluating all other financing options.”

      More than one virus?

      Why do some people seem to have light symptoms when they get the coronavirus but others get much sicker? A lot has to do with age and underlying health conditions.

      But researchers at Stanford say there could be another complicating factor -- suffering from other viruses as well as COVID-19. Nearly 20 percent of people diagnosed with COVID-19 are also infected with other respiratory viruses, according to a preliminary analysis led by Ian Brown, MD, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine.

      The analysis also found that about 10 percent of patients with symptoms of respiratory illness at an emergency department, and who are subsequently diagnosed with a common respiratory virus, are co-infected with the COVID-19 virus.

      Around the nation

      • Kansas: Gov. Laura Kelly today issued an order for all residents to stay at home as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state continues to rise. The order makes an exception for church services and gun sales. 

      • Ohio: The FDA has authorized Ohio-based Battelle Corp. to sterilize thousands of respirator masks for health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. The company previously received partial approval, but that limited how many masks they could clean in a 24-hour period. 

      • New Mexico: The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that immigration detainees in a facility near Grants are being crowded into close quarters with no social distancing. “We’re all together,” one detainee told the newspaper. “That’s why we’re afraid.”

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 144,672 (135,499)...

      Mayors say their cities lack the equipment to cope with the coronavirus

      The health of residents is being ‘seriously compromised,’ they warn

      As the coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread across the country, hospitals and first responders have complained of a lack of proper medical and safety equipment.

      In a new survey, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) asked city officials around the nation to assess the situation, and they are nearly universal in saying it’s getting worse. Mayors from 213 cities in 41 states and Puerto Rico say the shortage of test kits, masks, and other personal protective equipment has reached crisis proportions.

      The mayors organization says the safety of city residents, health care workers, first responders, and other city workers is being “seriously compromised.”

      On the frontlines

      As the survey was taken, 303 member mayors signed a letter to Congress seeking federal resources to deal with the daily increase in the number of cases.

      "Our first responders and health care workers are on the frontline of the COVID-19 outbreak, and mayors are doing all we can to provide them with the resources to stay safe and to keep our residents healthy," said USCM President Bryan K. Barnett. "While cities are doing everything they can, we need support from our state and federal leaders. This survey confirms what mayors already know to be true: we need adequate resources to end this pandemic."

      The survey quizzed the mayors of cities large and small, with populations ranging from under 2,000 to 3.8 million. Six of the cities have populations over one million, while 45 have populations below 50,000. Needs and concerns are largely the same.

      Over the weekend, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams used social media to warn that individual cities now face a rising threat from the pandemic. In particular, he said Indianapolis could become a “hot spot” for the disease. Adams is a former Indiana health commissioner.

      Miami has seen a recent spike in coronavirus cases. As of Sunday, Miami and Dade County had reported more than 1,100, accounting for about a fourth of all the cases in Florida.

      Specific findings

      The USCM survey found that 91.5 percent of the included cities lack an adequate supply of face masks for their first responders and medical personnel. More than 88 percent don’t have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) other than face masks to protect these workers.

      Nearly all mayors -- 92.1 percent -- said they don’t have enough test kits, and 85 percent said hospitals in their city don’t have enough ventilators.

      "The ability of a city to protect its residents from COVID-19 depends on first responders and health care personnel, our first line of defense, staying healthy as they save lives," said Tom Cochran, USCM’s CEO and Executive Director. 

      He said the survey clearly shows the nation’s cities need a lot more help.

      As the coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread across the country, hospitals and first responders have complained of a lack of proper medical and safety equipmen...

      FDA provides emergency authorization for fast-acting COVID-19 test

      A toaster-sized test from Abbott can provide a positive or negative result in minutes

      ​In an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been looking into a number of COVID-19 tests. Most recently, the agency issued emergency authorization for use to Abbott’s ID NOW lab-in-a-box. 

      The test, which is as small as a toaster and works by scanning for a small segment of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, can let users know if they have COVID-19 in just a few minutes. 

      “What makes this test so different is where it can be used: outside the four walls of a traditional hospital such as in the physicians' office or urgent care clinics,” Abbott wrote in an announcement. “Because of its small size, it can be used in more non-traditional places where people can have their results in a matter of minutes.” 

      Providing rapid answers

      Abbott said it has sped up production of the tests and expects to deliver 50,000 per day to the healthcare system starting next week. 

      "Through the incredible work of teams across Abbott, we expect to deliver 50,000 COVID-19 tests per day to healthcare professionals on the front lines, where testing capabilities are needed most," Chris Scoggins, senior vice president, Rapid Diagnostics, Abbott said in a statement. "Portable molecular testing expands the country's capacity to get people answers faster."

      In a statement, FDA Commissioner Steve Hahn said the tests could be a “game changer” when it comes to diagnosing the virus and helping ensure that people receive prompt treatment. 

      "I am pleased that the FDA authorized Abbott's point-of-care test yesterday. This is big news and will help get more of these tests out in the field rapidly," FDA Commissioner Steve Hahn said in a statement. "We know how important it is to get point-of-care tests out in the field quickly. These tests that can give results quickly can be a game changer in diagnosing COVID-19."

      In the midst of the current health crisis, the FDA has also given emergency authorization for use to California-based Cepheid, which offers a test that provides a positive or negative result within 45 minutes. Mesa Biotech has also received authorization for a small test to be used at temporary screening facilities and labs, which can give results in 30 minutes. 

      ​In an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been looking into a number of COVID-19 tests. Mo...

      Social distancing guidelines extended to the end of April

      President Trump hopes for a return to normal business by June 1

      After initially asking the American people to stay home or maintain social distance for 15 days to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), President Trump is extending that request to the end of April.

      The previous social distancing guidelines -- calling for older people to remain in their homes and others to avoid being in groups larger than 10 people -- would have expired today. At a Sunday briefing at the White House, Trump said time is a powerful weapon against the virus, which has spread rapidly over the last week.

      "The better you (the American people) do, the faster this whole nightmare will end," Trump said.

      Trump told reporters that the White House task force would present a new strategy for dealing with the illness early in the week. Very likely, the plan will include a very gradual relaxation of restrictions through the month of May.

      The peak may be two weeks away

      At Sunday’s briefing, the president said projections he has seen suggest that the peak of the death rate in the U.S. will not occur for another two weeks. That outlook was echoed Monday morning by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Appearing on CNBC, Gottlieb concurred that deaths related to the virus would likely peak toward the end of April.

      “After that, we need another two weeks to make sure the peak is real and we don’t have another spike,” Gottlieb said, suggesting that life might start returning to some sort of normalcy after the middle of May.

      In nearly every jurisdiction, restaurants remain closed except for take-out service. All other “non-essential” businesses are shuttered as well. Schools have closed for the term, and colleges and universities are completing the spring semester online.

      Numbers will get ugly

      The health officials advising the president warn that the numbers from the coronavirus are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Monday morning, the official coronavirus map compiled by Johns Hopkins University showed more than 143,000 cases in the United States, with more than 2,500 deaths.

      Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAD) and a key member of the coronavirus task force, said the death toll could reach 200,000 people before it peaks.

      At this point, the virus is more widespread in the nation’s large cities than in sparsely populated regions of the country. New York City remains the epicenter of the outbreak, with hospitals being overwhelmed by the end of last week.

      Health officials warned that other cities -- including Detroit, New Orleans, and Indianapolis -- could see a significant increase in cases this week.

      After initially asking the American people to stay home or maintain social distance for 15 days to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Presi...