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US Coronavirus Cases More than 60K, Expert Foresees 6-Week Peak

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US Coronavirus Cases More than 60K, Expert Foresees 6-Week Peak

2020-03-25 22:30:581 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer

One thing that makes living in the time of coronavirus COVID-19 so difficult is we just don't know what to expect, especially with timing. Now that it's here in the United States and is escalating, how much longer will this last? When can we expect to leave self-quarantine and stay-in-place? An expert is predicting it will reach its peak in about six weeks. 

It's good that there is an end in sight, as it's frightening to look at the numbers and see that there are now more than 60,000 cases of coronavirus in the country. Worldwide there is more than 458,000, with more than 20,800 deaths.

Helping that number, Spain surpassed China with the number of fatalities. Spain has had one of the fastest-growing outbreaks of coronavirus. On Wednesday there were 738 new deaths from COVID-19, raising the death toll there to more than 3,400. The situation there is so dreadful that elderly people were found unattended to and dead in their nursing home beds, and a skating rink is being used as a makeshift morgue. 

Only Italy has reported more deaths than Spain, with 7,503. Overall infections in Italy are climbing in number to being equal to China. Italy has 74,386 to China's 81,661. India has instituted a stay-at-home order for the entire country, making it the most extensive in the world.

In Britain, Prince Charles has tested positive for coronavirus and has mild symptoms. Queen Elizabeth is in good health, according to her spokesman, who did not comment on whether she has been tested for COVID-19. The United Kingdom has more than 8,300 cases in total. 

With its more than 60,000 cases, the United States is behind only Italy and China. More than 860 have died here. New York has close to half the nation's coronavirus cases with just over 30,000. That number jumped dramatically once testing was increased.

With hospitals struggling with those dramatic numbers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is looking to increase the number of hospital beds to 140,000 and get more equipment. He'd like to see 15,000 ventilators, but the federal government gave him only a few hundred. 

"We're looking at hotels. We're looking at former n7rsing homes, converting other facilities to make up the differential," said the governor. Manhattan's Javits Center, where large conventions are often held, will be used as a makeshift hospital. It's better than being used as a morgue, like in Spain. Looking for hospital beds is much better than looking for morgue space.

Cuomo points to New York City's density, especially in parks, as being a problem. He signed off on a pilot program to close some streets to cars to allow pedestrians more room to walk to help with that social distancing. 

On the positive side, he believes some of the restrictions are working, as the rate at which the hospitalizations were increasing is slowing. "I'm not 100 percent sure it holds or it's accurate, but the arrows are heading in the right direction," he said.

Additionally, in Westchester County that experienced one of the earliest clusters in the U.S., and was also one of the first to see quarantine restrictions, Cuomo notes, "We have dramatically slowed what was an exponential increase." 

Idaho, Minnesota, and Puerto Rico joined other states in placing restrictions on residents. These restrictions seem to be working, yet it's hurting the economy. Cities and states are trying to find additional resources. Chicago is turning the United Center, where the Bulls and Blackhawks play, into assistance for virus situations. This includes food distribution, first responder staging, and medical supplies collection.

The Senate finally passed the $2 trillion stimulus package that will dole out checks to many Americans and will help businesses as well and provide resources for the health care industry. Donald Trump added to the good feelings by suggesting that the country can reopen by Easter. Because of optimism being spread, U.S. stocks rose on Wednesday. 

Yet, leading epidemiologist, professor Ira Longini with the Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infectious Diseases at the University of Florida, is suggesting the peak will be about three weeks from now. After that point, he predicts, "most of the damage will be done," and at that point, the U.S. can start isolating only the vulnerable and let others go back to work.

Longini works with the center on COVID-19 modeling, and while not precise, known data is used to project trends in the spread of disease. There are mixed reactions to his estimate. 

"I would guess the U.S. will hit a peak in deaths in the next two to three weeks, as the doubling time seems to be about two to three days," explained Longini, adding, "Maybe a partial lifting of the shelter-in-place for those less vulnerable may make some sense in about three weeks. By then, much of the damage will have been done."

Asked about chances for a relapse of the disease in the following weeks, the professor replied, "If it were limited, and we continued to protect the most vulnerable, that may be acceptable for now. Also, let's see what happens in the next two to three weeks. We can also keep an eye on China as they begin to relax restrictions there." 

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University believes the peak may take three additional weeks. "My notions are harmonious in that I also anticipate ... (the next) three to six weeks will be critical here in the United States," he said.

He sees the peak being in six weeks as the country is a "very diverse country with a hot spot in New York right now and warm spots. The rest of the country is warming up. In the next three to six weeks, all those areas will start to surge or will have their curve depressed or blunted by the social distancing that's going on. The virus will tell us." 

Schaffner is even more skeptical of lifting restrictions on only some of the public. "Asking a subset to remain sheltered in place, to remain in home, that's more difficult to do," he said.

Dr. Arnold Monto, an epidemiology professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, wrote in an email, "I agree that by three weeks we will have a better idea of what is going to happen going forward. The outbreaks seem to be hitting different communities at different times and at different intensities, so it is hard to generalize. However, I agree in general. And that is why action now in terms of social distancing is so important." 

Yet another expert, Dr. Stefan Flasche, a disease modeler at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in an email that the peak was influenced by how efficient the lockdown measures are and "may be anywhere between some time very soon and not for another few months."

"One scenario is we can indeed reverse the spread as done in China and South Korea, then reach a point to lift the distancing measures," explained Flasche. 

"But (we may) have to repeat this cycle for a few times because of an inevitable resurgence of cases in the absence of population immunity. In that scenario, we would see multiple peaks in the upcoming 12 months."

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