U.S. Now Leads the World in Coronavirus Cases
The U.S. passed a grim milestone Thursday when it became the country with the most confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, overtaking both China and Italy.
The U.S. now has at least 85,381 cases to China's 81,340 and Italy's 80, 539, according to data provided by The New York Times and updated at 4:34 a.m. Friday Eastern Standard Time. And its death toll has also risen past 1,000.
"We are the new global epicenter of the disease," Johns Hopkins Medicine infectious disease specialist Dr. Sara Keller told The New York Times.
The new coronavirus has so far infected more than 523,700 people in at least 171 countries worldwide, according to The New York Times' figures. It has killed nearly 24,000. The U.S. death toll still lags behind that in Italy, Spain and China, which have reported around 8,000, 4,000 and 3,000 deaths respectively.
President Donald Trump responded as the news of the world-leading U.S. caseload broke during a press briefing Thursday by attributing the surge to robust testing for the virus that causes COVID-19.
"It's a tribute to the amount of testing that we're doing," Trump told reporters, as The Guardian reported. "We're doing tremendous testing, and I'm sure you're not able to tell what China is testing or not testing. I think that's a little hard."
But public health experts say the surge in U.S. cases could have been avoided if the administration had responded more effectively when the disease first emerged. Even before the outbreak, the Trump administration had cut funding for public health and disease response agencies and dismantled the National Security Council team in charge of pandemic response. Once the outbreak began, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was criticized for rolling out ineffective tests and setting up extremely narrow criteria for who could be tested.
"This could have been stopped by implementing testing and surveillance much earlier — for example, when the first imported cases were identified," Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen told The New York Times. "If these are the cases we've confirmed, how many cases are we still missing?"
Those failures have taken a toll on the health and daily lives of people across the U.S. In New York City, the U.S. epicenter of the outbreak, more people died on Wednesday of the new disease than Americans killed in the war in Afghanistan in the last five years, The Independent reported.
Hospitals in the city are overwhelmed and are around 90,000 beds short of what it is predicted they will need, according to Sky News.
"It's hell, biblical. I kid you not," Dr. Steve Kasspidis, who works at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens, told Sky. "People come in, they get intubated, they die, the cycle repeats. The system is overwhelmed all over the place."
Outside of the hospitals, daily life has ground to a halt in many places. Twenty-one states have told residents to stay at home, according to BBC News. The subsequent economic disruption has meant that a record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, The Guardian reported Thursday. That's a jump of almost three million compared to the 281,000 applications filed the week before, the largest week-long jump in history.
Trump has said he wanted to get the country back to work by Easter Sunday, April 12, but this approach has been criticized as ignoring scientific advice for how to reduce infections, CNN's Stephen Collinson pointed out.
"If the White House were to relax the social distancing measures 'soon,' well ahead of the necessary timeline to have a significant impact on our view, it would raise the risk of increasing the peak or delaying the time to peak," a report issued Tuesday by investment bank Morgan Stanley warned.
Still, the U.S.'s new role as disease epicenter hasn't stopped Trump from touting a return to work in the near future.
"They [the American people] have to go back to work, our country has to go back, our country is based on that and I think it's going to happen pretty quickly," he said Thursday, according to BBC News. "We may take sections of our country, we may take large sections of our country that aren't so seriously affected and we may do it that way."
He said any return would still accommodate social distancing measures and promised more details next week.
Meanwhile, Keller of Johns Hopkins told The New York Times what the country had to do now that it had failed to prevent the spread of the disease.
"Now, all we can do is to slow the transmission as much as possible by hunkering down in our houses while, as a country, we ramp up production of personal protective equipment, materials needed for testing, and ventilators," she said.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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