U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Pass 200,000 as New Surge in Cases Begins
The United States passed 200,000 deaths due to COVID-19 Tuesday and experts warn that number may double before the end of the year as an autumn surge in cases starts, according to USA Today.
Researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington (IHME) analyzed various scenarios that include fatigue from wearing masks and social distancing to create projections for the number of COVID-19 deaths we should expect by Jan. 1. One of their models has the U.S. reaching just shy of 400,000 deaths by the beginning of 2021.
"The worst is yet to come. I don't think perhaps that's a surprise, although I think there's a natural tendency as we're a little bit in the Northern hemisphere summer, to think maybe the epidemic is going away," said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the IHME, earlier this month, as CNBC reported.
The U.S. accounts for roughly one-fifth of all the confirmed COVID-related deaths around the world despite having only 4 percent of the population, according to CNBC. The virus claimed the lives of roughly 100,000 Americans in the first four months of the outbreak. That number doubled over the next four months. Now, several states are seeing surges in cases after summer peaks in the Southeast, Texas and Arizona have diminished.
The surges that took place across those states quickly declined with mitigation efforts like social distancing and mandated mask wearing, according to The New York Times.
According to The Washington Post, 27 states and Puerto Rico have seen an increase in the number of cases over the last week. It also found that six states and Puerto Rico set record highs for the number of positive cases for a single day on Monday. While roughly half the states are seeing an increase in cases, only seven are seeing decreases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, as CNN reported.
"We're entering into the fall and into the winter, and that means there's going to be more indoor things than outdoor things," Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday during the Atlantic Festival, as CNN reported. "Going into that situation, I would like to have seen the baseline of where we are — the daily number of infections — come way, way down, and not be stuck at around 30 to 40,000 per day."
In addition to the death toll, experts note that we are just starting to learn about the long-term effects of people who have survived the virus, but are experiencing physical or cognitive side effects that hamper their daily life. Also, the true death toll may be much higher since there have been more than 200,000 excess deaths this year since February, according to CDC statistics, as CNBC reported. Excess deaths are the actual number of deaths compared to a projection based on historical averages.
"Pandemics are inevitable. They're going to happen. But does it have to get this bad? No," said Dr. Syra Madad, senior director of the systemwide special pathogens program at New York City Health + Hospitals, as CNBC reported. "That was avoidable, and we've made significant mistakes as a nation. We have been behind the eight ball from the very beginning."
The U.S. is not alone in seeing a surge in cases as the weather starts to change and restrictions ease up slightly. France, Spain and Israel are all struggling as new cases start to spread, according to The Washington Post. They were among the 73 countries that are seeing upticks in cases, as The New York Times reported.
In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced strict new measures that may last for the next six months as the country saw 5,000 new cases Tuesday. Pubs and restaurants will close by 10 p.m. and fines for not wearing a mask will double to $255, according to The New York Times. The new mitigation efforts came as government scientists and medical advisers warned that the UK could see 50,000 new cases a day in short order if the virus is allowed to spread unchecked.
"We always knew that while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real," Johnson said to the House of Commons Tuesday, as The New York Times reported. "I'm sorry to say that, as in Spain and France and many other countries, we've reached a perilous turning point."
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By Teri Schultz
Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing.
Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus.
<div id="bfda0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c60b1a0dedbedbe5e0ce44284aff852f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1308390775328251906" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Covid-19 dogs started their work today at the Helsinki Airport at arrival hall 2B. Dogs have been trained to detect… https://t.co/nw4mrw6eJM</div> — Helsinki Airport (@Helsinki Airport)<a href="https://twitter.com/HelsinkiAirport/statuses/1308390775328251906">1600779644.0</a></blockquote></div><p>If it were left to Kossi and his pals, crowds of potential virus carriers could be cleared in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost with none of the physical discomfort that accompanies the current nasal swab test based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method.</p>
No Human Nose Needed<p>A dog can sniff a cloth wiped on a wrist or neck and immediately identify if it comes from someone who has contracted the virus as much as five days before any symptoms appear which would lead a person to go into isolation. "A dog could easily save so so, so many lives," University of Helsinki veterinary researcher Anna Hielm-Bjorkman told DW, who says their testing has shown an accuracy level of nearly 100%.</p><p>It was originally her idea to see whether Kossi, a talented disease-detection dog, could redirect his skills in sniffing out mold, bedbugs and cancer to detecting the new virus just as it started to spread in Europe. "It took him seven minutes to figure out 'okay, this is what you want me to look out for," Hielm-Bjorkman said. "So that totally blew our minds."</p><p>Susanna Paavilainen, the executive director of the Wise Nose scent-detection foundation and the woman who saved Kossi from euthanasia in a Spanish shelter eight years ago, immediately started retraining her dogs to find the coronavirus.</p><p>Miina, who used to track a young girl's blood sugar levels by scent, quickly came on board, along with two others already working in disease detection. In all, they hope to train 15 dogs in the first phase.</p><p>Hielm-Bjorkman said once they discovered the new capabilities, while the normal academic procedure would be to test, publish and get peer-reviewed, their first instinct was to get the dogs into service. "[Researchers] who are actually publishing," she noted wryly, "are not at the airports."</p>
Wags, Not Wages<p>But for that, they needed permission and ideally, some funding. Vantaa Deputy Mayor Timo Aronkyto, who is also responsible for airport security, saw the benefit straight away. "It took me two minutes," he told DW.</p><p>However, his funding options were limited to about $390,000 total for the four-month pilot project aiming to prove that results from the dog tests are at least as accurate as the PCR test. Anyone who tests positive at the voluntary canine site is requested to go to the medical unit for confirmation.</p><p>The interest of Aronkyto, a trained physician, is rooted in both health and wealth. "Our testing at the airport costs more than 1 million [euros] (USD $1.2 million) a month at the moment," he said, explaining he expects that to go up to €3 million (USD. $3.5 million) per month in winter. "These dogs would be much cheaper," he pointed out.</p><p>He's optimistic support will grow as data from the current pilot project accumulates, explaining there is already work underway to change Finnish legislation so eventually sniffer dogs would have the same "authority" as customs dogs.</p><p>Aronkyto anticipates one animal performing both functions in the near future. He plans to continue this level of funding from his city budget into next year but that doesn't train new dogs nor expand the capacity beyond the four that split shifts currently at the airport, even as infection rates rise.</p>
Helsinki Hesitates<p>Notably, however, the Finnish government has not signaled it would like to pick up the program itself, despite a huge surge in publicity and, as Hielm-Bjorkman and Paavilainen emphasize, interest from other countries. Travelers have been eager to participate, waiting in line more than an hour at times.</p><p>Finnish ambassador in Ramallah, Palestine, Paivi Peltokoski, praised the experience after a recent trip but, apparently, her enthusiasm is not overly contagious.</p>
<div id="d9823" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61d382f115fe66a44eb793d9ebee3d94"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318564228450615299" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">I was tested negative by two #coronadogs upon arrival at the #Helsinki airport in #Finland. Later a medical test ve… https://t.co/cGlWQn8DJb</div> — Päivi Peltokoski (@Päivi Peltokoski)<a href="https://twitter.com/PaiviPeltokoski/statuses/1318564228450615299">1603205184.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"If the government would see this already as something that they would believe in," Hielm-Bjorkman said, she could envision training hundreds of dogs, stationing sniffers at concert halls or sports matches or elderly care homes. She adds there's a need for a "paradigm shift" for both medical professionals and the public.</p><p>Usually it's doctors telling patients if they're sick, she explained, and "here it's a dog handler."</p>
Little Political Will on German Project<p>This situation is not limited to Finland. In Germany researchers also <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dogs-show-promise-at-detecting-coronavirus/a-54300863" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced promising results</a> with canines <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-german-military-training-sniffer-dogs/a-54062180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">detecting COVID-19</a>, but no dogs have been used anywhere so far. And then, says Professor Holger Volk of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, there has been insufficient political will or funding to move the project forward, something he called "very troubling" especially with a resurgent infection rate.</p><p>"When we started this whole project, we we did it because we wanted to help to stop the pandemic," Volk told DW. "It's really has been a very frustrating ride. I have had a lot of naysayers in the whole process. If I wasn't a very determined person, having done a lot of research, I would have probably stopped it."</p><p>He agrees with Hielm-Bjorkman's assessment that "it's just not in the perception of doctors that dogs are able to do this precise work." But he also echoes her faith in the vast potential of their discovery. "If you had a dog who could sniff every day quickly your cohort of workers, for example," he said, "think about the impact. You could continue having a workplace."</p><p>Speaking of workplaces, Susanna Paavilainen is starting to think if Finland doesn't want to unleash the dogs' potential at home, she and Kossi might accept one of the many requests from all over the world to provide training. "We can move because Kossi likes warm weather," she says, petting her star sniffer.</p>
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