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March 19, 2020 12:26 pm

US Focuses on Expanding Testing as Coronavirus Spreads

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

An empty subway car is seen during the morning rush, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York City, March 19, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Lucas Jackson.

US officials were focused on Thursday on expanding testing for the coronavirus, with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo saying the state tested nearly 8,000 people overnight, likely the largest surge in the country to date.

With the United States slow to roll out mass testing for the virus that has infected more than 227,000 people worldwide, officials fear the number of known cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness lags far behind reality.

“I think the spread of the virus is well in advance of any of these numbers,” Cuomo told MSNBC television. “We haven’t gotten this morning’s tally, but you’re going to see a jump astronomically — I have no doubt — because we did so many tests.”

Nearly 9,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in the United States, more than 3,000 of them in New York state, according to state health departments.

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Some 151 deaths had been reported nationwide, including 21 in New York and 66 in Washington state by late Wednesday night.

Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, agreed the most important issue at this stage was getting accurate data by implementing the widest possible testing.

“I think we need to see 100% of the cases… We’re asking every hospital, every clinic to report both the testing results and their outcomes at the hospitalization places,” Birx said on “CBS This Morning.”

New travel advisory

The US State Department is set to announce a travel advisory applying to all international travel due to the coronavirus pandemic, warning Americans to return to the United States or prepare to shelter in place, Politico reported.

The advisory, the department’s most serious warning, will also instruct Americans not to travel abroad, according to the report.

With more than 9,300 deaths worldwide so far, the fast-spreading epidemic has stunned the world and drawn comparisons with traumatic periods such as World War Two, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

US health experts fear the United States is on a similar trajectory as Italy, now the epicenter of the pandemic, where the government reported a record 475 deaths on Wednesday alone, increasing that nation’s death toll to 2,978.

New York City was considering turning some of the city’s biggest hotels into temporary hospitals to treat non-coronavirus patients and free up beds, Deanne Criswell, the commissioner for the city’s Emergency Management Department told CNN.

“If we can take and move some minor patients over to hotels or other types of locations, it will relieve the pressure on our hospital systems,” Criswell said.

Another location being considered is the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan, one of the biggest convention centers in the world, Criswell said.

US stock markets, after initially falling again, reversed course in late morning trading, with the major indexes up about 1%

But the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surged by the most since 2012 to a 2-1/2-year high last week, as companies in the services sectors laid off workers with businesses shutting down due to the pandemic.

US President Donald Trump, who declared a national emergency last week after initially downplaying the threat, plans to visit Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, DC, where he will hold a video teleconference with state governors on the coronavirus.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who is chairman of National Governors Association, said governors had agreed to a list of five issues they want to discuss with Trump on the call.

Top of the list is a request for 50 percent of any new emergency funding approved by Congress to go directly to the states. They also want increased production and supply of test kits, ventilators and other much needed medical supplies.

Hogan said governors also want to hear more about how Trump intends to implement his authority under the Defense Production Act, a law that allows the US government to speed up production in times of crisis. Trump said on Wednesday he would invoke the decades-old law.

‘Get off the beach’

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday urged Congress to pass a $1 trillion economic relief measure by early next week, saying he expects bipartisan support for the bill to get cash payments to Americans during the crisis.

Mnuchin, in an interview on Fox Business Network, said the federal government was focused on being able to provide liquidity to companies and had no problem issuing more debt, but that it expected loans to businesses to be paid back.

US lawmakers already passed a $105 billion-plus plan to limit the damage to Americans from the outbreak through free coronavirus testing, paid sick leave and expanded safety-net spending, as well as an $8.3 billion measure to combat the spread of the pathogen and develop vaccines. Trump has signed both into law.

“We’re going to get through this,” Mnuchin said. “This is not the financial crisis that will go on for years.”

Surgeon General Jerome Adams, the United State’s top public health official, said Americans should continue to self-isolate and follow precautionary guidelines.

Many Americans were ignoring expert advice, however.

“Get off the beach,” US Senator Rick Scott of Florida said on Thursday, amid scenes of college students flocking to the shore on their spring breaks.

If people failed to heed social isolation warnings, government officials might need to take more extreme actions, Scott told CNN in an interview.

“You’ve got to figure out how to get these people off the beach,” he said.

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