The coronavirus is now striking in geographic areas where more Americans are older or have underlying health problems, making them extra vulnerable to complications from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
That bodes poorly for the U.S. death toll, which has now topped 4,600.
The novel coronavirus first took root on the West and East coasts, where Americans are disproportionately younger and healthier than the general population. Now cases are spiking in Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis only yesterday ordered a statewide lockdown, even though 1 in 5 Florida residents are 65 years or older.
“At this point, even though I think there’s a lot of places in Florida that have very low infection rates, it makes sense to make this move now,” said DeSantis, who is reportedly on close terms with President Trump. “I did consult with folks in the White House. I did speak to the president.”
“He agreed with the approach of focusing on the hot spots,” DeSantis added. “But at the same time, he understood that this is another 30-day situation and you’ve got to do what makes the most sense.”
While underlying conditions aren’t always present in victims of the virus, they frequently are. That’s according to illustrative new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 4 in 5 coronavirus patients put in intensive care units had at least one underlying health condition, out of 7,160 covid-19 cases researchers analyzed. Of the ICU patients, 32% had diabetes, 29 percent had cardiovascular disease, 21 percent had chronic lung disease and 12 percent had long-term kidney disease.
Within the entire group, 184 patients died. And 173 of those had an underlying condition.
“Covid-19 is a respiratory disease,” the Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach and William Wan report. “The virus typically infects the upper respiratory tract, but it can also venture deeper into the lungs and in some patients results in pneumonia-like symptoms, requiring hospitalization and sometimes intubation on a ventilator. People who smoke or have chronic lung conditions are especially vulnerable.”
Thirty-eight per cent of American adults have a higher risk of developing serious illness from the virus, according to an estimate by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Of that group, just over half are at elevated risk because they’re at least 65. The rest have heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), uncontrolled asthma, diabetes, or a BMI greater than 40.
The federal data is comparable to statistics states have released. Officials in Louisiana, where 14 percent of people have diabetes, announced that 40 percent of people who died of covid-19 had the illness. Twenty-three percent had chronic kidney disease. Just 3 percent of those who died had no underlying condition.
The virus is now the third-leading daily cause of death for Americans, after cancer and heart disease. It hasn’t even been three weeks since San Francisco became the first city to order a lockdown – and now life has dramatically changed for virtually every American, as people face staying at home for at least four more weeks, and maybe longer.
New York is still considered the area hit hardest by the outbreak. Add reported cases in New Jersey and California, and all three states contain more than half of all reported cases in the United States. But now other states are being upgraded to a deep brown on a colour-coded map maintained by the CDC to show where the outbreak is worst.
In Florida, reported cases have doubled in the past four days, to more than 7,000. West Virginia, just behind Florida in its share of the population who are elderly, has reported fewer than 200 cases – but doctors there are preparing for a surge, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Amid all these dismal headlines, there’s a spot of bright news. Washington and California – those coastal states where the coronavirus first appeared – are finding that social distancing is working.
“Those states were the first to report community cases of covid-19 and also the first in the nation to mandate residents stay at home to keep physically apart,” the Post’s Geoffrey Fowler, Heather Kelly and Reed Albergotti report. “Analyses from academics and federal and local officials indicate those moves bought those communities precious time – and also may have ‘flattened the curve’ of infections for the long haul.
“While insufficient testing limits the full picture, it’s clear the disease is spreading at different speeds in different places in the United States. California and Washington continue to see new cases and deaths, but so far they haven’t come in the spikes seen in parts of the East Coast. Social distancing efforts need to continue for several more weeks to be effective, experts say.”
An ominous warning
Deaths in the United States passed 4,600 Wednesday as Vice President Mike Pence issued an ominous warning that America’s situation is most comparable to Italy’s struggle with the virus, which has pushed that nation’s hospitals to capacity and has left more than 13,000 people dead despite a weeks-long lockdown.
The prediction was among a fresh batch of reminders that as the United States makes its agonizing march toward the peak of the covid-19 pandemic, each day will bring more suffering than the last.
In total, the nation added at least 900 virus-related deaths to its overall tally on Wednesday, as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections rose to more than 211,000. State officials warned their hospitals might soon run short on needed masks, gowns and ventilators, and Homeland Security officials acknowledged the federal government’s emergency stockpile of supplies also was nearly exhausted.
The virus also continued to ravage social life and the economy in America and across the world. A day after the White House warned that the country should steel itself for hundreds of thousands of deaths, the stock market continued its historic plunge.
President Donald Trump said Wednesday that officials were “looking at” potential flight restrictions between hard-hit areas of the United States, though he noted that it would be difficult to entirely suspend air travel.
“I am looking where flights are going into hotspots,” Trump said.
The president also seemed to resist the idea of a nationwide stay-at-home order even as individual states that had been holding out – including Florida – decided to require residents to remain at home and to avoid gatherings to prevent viral spread. Many of the nation’s most-populous areas are now hunkered down, with people allowed to leave their homes only for essential errands, isolated exercise and emergencies.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the United States might be able to ease its social distancing measures when newly reported deaths and infections are headed toward zero, and when officials are able to develop mechanisms to rapidly identify newly infected people, quarantine them and identify those with whom they have had contact. Fauci, who has become the face of the White House’s response, has faced both threats and unwanted attention from admirers for his handling of the crisis, and the government has stepped up his security, people familiar with the matter said.
New York again absorbed the most pain, tallying 391 new deaths on Wednesday, bringing its total to 1,941. It also added more than 7,900 newly confirmed infections, for a staggering total of 83,712. But evidence continued to emerge that areas outside of the Empire State could see precipitous rises as well: Neighbouring New Jersey added more than 85 deaths, while Michigan recorded more than 75. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, confirmed the death of a 6-week-old baby who had the virus.
“There are tough days ahead,” Pence told CNN.