By Nikhila Natarajan
New York, April 14: Outside the epicentres of New York and New Jersey, the US coronavirus infection curves were “starting to plateau”, the White House task force indicated even as the country’s death toll has increased to 23,608 and some states on the east and west coasts began collaborating on strategies to reopen their economies.
Of the 23,608 US deaths, New York’s coronavirus death toll alone topped 10,000 but a glimmer of hope emerged as new hospitalisations continued to slow. Monday marked the first time in a week that the daily toll dipped below 700.
Chicago and Boston caseloads were now emerging as new concerns while social distancing measures blanket virtually all of America in varying degrees of stringency.
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said on Monday that tracking the asymptomatic spread of the virus has become a core focus area for the US government.
For that to happen, testing is a key piece. About 3 million tests have been completed at last count, according to Birx.
“People are unknowingly infected and passing the virus on and so those are the ones that we’re very interested in finding and you might say, well, how do you find them, because they don’t have symptoms and so this is where we really have to increase surveillance in a very deliberative way,” she said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious diseases doctor, backed up Birx’s remarks by speaking to the containment strategy that must be put in place before America re-opens its economy.
The ability to test, isolate and contact trace are “crucial”, Fauci said, in order to be able to begin a “rolling re-entry” into business as usual.
It’s not like a “light switch” Fauci explained. “It’s just not going to be that way because we have a very large country. I refer to it as sort of like a rolling reentry.”
At Monday’s briefing, Fauci stubbed out spiralling speculation about him and President Donald Trump being on a collision course over the timing of mitigation measures in the country, saying that hypothetical questions from the media have led to problematic interpretations.
“I’ve been up here many times telling you that mitigation works. So if mitigation works, and you initiated earlier, you will probably have saved more lives. If you initiated it later, you probably would have lost more lives,” Fauci said after his comments to CNN on Sunday sparked a firestorm.
“I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” Fauci told CNN when asked if social distancing measures put in place in February could have saved lives.
Over the last week, Trump has been doubling down on his messaging that the World Health Organisation and China both gave the US got incorrect information on the mechanics and the threat of community spread of the COVID-19.
Fauci has also underlined, in multiple interviews, that the information coming from China was incorrect, especially China’s claim that the virus spread was animal to human and “inefficient”.
Health experts around the world are warning more loudly than ever that halting social-distancing measures just when the infection curve is being blunted could result in a deadly second wave of the COVID-19 disease.
(Nikhila Natarajan can be reached at @byniknat)