Saturday, September 26, 2020

California surpasses 10,000 deaths as Trump signs economic relief orders

Aug 09. 2020
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By  The Washington Post · Derek Hawkins, Marisa Iati · NATIONAL, HEALTH, POLITICS, SCIENCE-ENVIRONMENT 

California on Friday became the third U.S. state to report more than 10,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus, offering a stark reminder of the pandemic's mounting human toll as President Donald Trump announced several executive orders meant to provide economic relief to hurting Americans.

The orders, one of which aims to offer $400 in weekly unemployment aid, came after the White House failed to reach an agreement with congressional Democrats. The benefit could affect nearly 3,000 people without work in California, where the unemployment rate in June stood at about 15 percent.

At least 10,011 people have died of the virus in California, and daily deaths have steadily increased since early July, according to The Washington Post's tracking. Only New York and New Jersey have reported more deaths since outbreaks began there, with 29,813 and 15,860, respectively.

Nationwide, daily deaths surpassed 1,000 for the fourth day in a row Friday, with 1,316 fatalities reported. States also reported a combined 60,674 confirmed cases, marking the first time in a week that daily nationwide infections have exceeded 60,000, according to The Post's tracking.

Total U.S. cases are likely to surpass 5 million this weekend.

Weekly averages in infections have fallen in California and other hard-hit states after an early summer surge, but a recent testing blunder in the Golden State raises questions about whether the spread of the virus is more severe than the most recent numbers indicate.

A technical glitch in California's electronic collection of coronavirus test data created a backlog of as many as 300,000 records, causing an underreporting of cases since July 25, California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Friday. He said teams were working around-the-clock to fix the error.

Ninez Ponce, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, told The Post that it is understandable for public-health-data systems to be stretched right now.

"But as a researcher, if data was more open to data advocates, researchers, the media - more disaggregated race data for example - then these glitches and reporting inefficiencies could be detected sooner to help build a data system where we can confidently run our models on which communities are most at risk and on the timing of safe reopening," Ponce, who is also the principal investigator of the California Health Interview Survey, wrote in an email.

The debacle has clouded officials' ability to gauge their success against the virus after cases appeared to drop from a weekly average of about 10,000 on July 22 to a little more than 5,000 on Friday. A notice on the state health department's coronavirus page reads: "Due to issues with the state's electronic laboratory reporting system, these data represent an underreporting of actual positive cases in one single day."

California has reported more than 538,000 cases in total, by far the most of any state, but its infection rate is relatively low compared to the rest of the country, with 1,375 cases per 100,000 residents, according to The Post's data. Infection rates in New York and New Jersey exceed 2,000 cases per 100,000 residents. California's death rate also remains significantly lower than the death rate in those states.

In Ohio, public health experts had a different concern about testing: Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's false positive test this week will become a misleading data point for those who doubt the pandemic's severity or, in some cases, its very existence. DeWine has since tested negative twice, his office announced Saturday.

Some states have reported declines in infections in recent weeks, though the data may paint an incomplete picture of the pandemic's trajectory.

In Arizona, where cases skyrocketed starting in early June, reported infections have fallen steadily for several weeks, prompting President Trump this week to tout the state as a success story. Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, and Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, have attributed the decline to a mix of voluntary actions and state restrictions.

But Arizona has experienced major backups in its reporting of coronavirus tests, making it unclear how many tests were being administered in the state. The state reported 120,000 test results in the last week in June, compared with 58,000 reported from the week ending Aug. 1.

The situation was worsening in states throughout the West and Midwest. Montana, Idaho, Oklahoma and Missouri all saw significant increases in their caseloads in the past week, according to The Post's tracking.

Even as the pandemic wreaks havoc on Americans' health, portions of the country continued to disregard public health guidelines meant to prevent the spread of the virus and ultimately get the economy back on track.

Motorcyclists from around the country rumbled into Sturgis, S.D., for an annual rally expected to draw 250,000 people in one of the biggest public gatherings of any kind since the pandemic began. Locals have voiced fears that the event could become a "super-spreader" event. Cases and deaths are trending upward in the state, which has no mask requirements or restrictions on indoor gatherings.

Some organizations and government leaders maintained a more cautious approach. The Mid-American Conference postponed its football season, the conference announced Saturday, becoming the first Football Bowl Subdivision league to decide not to hold games this fall because of the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Friday that schools in the state can open for in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year if community coronavirus infection rates are low - but that it is up to the more than 700 districts to decide when and how they will begin.

 

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