(HealthDay News) — With the U.S. coronavirus death toll edging closer to 15,000 on Thursday, Americans faced more bleak news on unemployment numbers.
U.S. Labor Department statistics released Thursday morning showed that 6.6 million more workers joined the jobless rolls in the past week, the Associated Press reported. That comes on top of 10 million jobless claims that were filed in the previous two weeks.
It’s as if “the economy as a whole has fallen into some sudden black hole,” Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics, told the wire service.
In an effort to make returning to the workplace easier after being exposed to coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday issued new, more relaxed guidance on when exposed employees can return to work.
They must take their temperature before heading to their workplaces, wear a face mask at all times and practice social distancing while on the job, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, said during a coronavirus task force briefing on Wednesday.
They should not share headsets or other objects that touch their faces, and they should not gather in break rooms or crowded areas, he added.
The goal is to “get these workers back into the critical work force so that we don’t have worker shortages,” Redfield explained.
Blacks at high risk
Meanwhile, a new analysis found that COVID-19 is infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate. A Washington Post review of early data from across the country shows that counties that are mostly black have three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are in the majority.
President Donald Trump acknowledged the racial disparity during a coronavirus task force briefing Tuesday.
“We are doing everything in our power to address this challenge, and it’s a tremendous challenge,” Trump said. “It’s terrible.”
“Why is it three or four times more so for the black community as opposed to other people?” Trump said. “It doesn’t make sense, and I don’t like it, and we are going to have statistics over the next probably two to three days.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, also weighed in during the briefing, saying that the coronavirus crisis is “shining a bright light on how unacceptable” those disparities are.
“There is nothing we can do about it right now except to try and give” black Americans “the best possible care to avoid complications,” Fauci added.
Regardless of race, coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx issued stark advice about this week to all Americans last Sunday: “This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe,” she stressed.
That warning comes as many Americans prepare to celebrate religious holidays that mark the onset of spring. Passover begins Wednesday night, and Easter is this coming Sunday.
And there was more disheartening news on Wednesday: Two reports, including one from the U.S. National Academy of Science, undermined hopes for an easing of coronavirus cases as the weather warms.
Face coverings in public
Even if Americans do leave their homes this week, new federal guidance now urges all Americans to wear face coverings in public to curb the spread of COVID-19.
These face coverings can be non-medical masks, T-shirts or bandanas and they can be used while out at everyday shopping spots such as the grocery store, pharmacy or gas station, the AP reported. Medical-grade masks would be reserved for those dealing directly with the sick.
Any additional COVID-19 prevention measures are welcome, as the number of coronavirus cases worldwide neared 1.5 million.
Meanwhile, the death toll in the United States topped14,800 on Thursday and it continued to outpace other nations with more than 429,000 confirmed infections, a Johns Hopkins tally shows.
New York City hit hard
New York remains the hardest hit area of the country. More than 6,200 people have died in New York as of Thursday. But other measures of the pandemic have been slowing.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that the decreasing number of new hospitalizations and other data suggest the state is “bending the curve,” the New York Times reported.
“There is good news in what we are seeing: that what we have done, and what we are doing, is actually working and it’s making a difference,” he said.
But he cautioned that, “It’s not a time to get complacent. We’re not through it. It’s not over. We are in the midst of it.”
As the U.S. economy continues to falter, Americans have struggled to find out if they can receive benefits from a $2 trillion stimulus package that was passed into law in March.
The legislation should send $1,200 to millions of Americans, including those earning up to $75,000, along with $500 per child. It will also give an additional 13 weeks in unemployment aid and a four-month enhancement of jobless benefits, the Times reported.
Hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic will also get $100 billion, the Times reported.
The help comes not a moment too soon, as roughly 90% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders, the AP reported.
Cases are just starting to spike elsewhere, particularly in the South: Louisiana, Florida and Georgia are facing alarming increases, with nearly 43,000 cases and 1,344 deaths reported in those three states alone, the Times reported Thursday.
Some health officials are warning that parts of Michigan, Colorado and Illinois could be the next epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic, CNN reported. By Thursday, Michigan had 20,220 cases and 959 deaths, the Times reported.
As different nations wonder what is in store for their citizens in the coming months, one glimmer of hope has emerged:
All restrictions in the Chinese city of Wuhan — the first to go into lockdown back in January — were lifted Wednesday as the city’s 11 million residents returned to their jobs and schools.
The good news in China stood in sharp relief to what is unfolding in Europe.
On Thursday, Spain reported more than 15,000 deaths, despite signs the infection rate is slowing, a Johns Hopkins tally showed. Meanwhile, Italy recorded almost 17,700 deaths, the worst of any country, though new infections continued to level off.
In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared a state of emergency in seven prefectures that include the country’s largest population centers as cases there are on the rise, the Times reported. Abe also announced an economic stimulus package worth nearly $1 trillion.
In the United Kingdom, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson remained in intensive care after being taken to St. Thomas’ hospital over the weekend for persistent COVID-19 symptoms. He is not on a ventilator, and is in good spirits, the AP reported.
In the meantime, the public lives of Americans have come to a halt, as the coronavirus pandemic has prompted officials across the country to close, cancel or postpone any event or activity that might foster the spread of COVID-19.
New York, New Jersey and California have been hard hit by coronavirus cases in the United States. New York has more than 149,000 cases, New Jersey has 47,437cases and California’s case count is just over 19,000, according to the Times.
However, signs of hope have emerged in Washington state, where strict social distancing measures may be contributing to a leveling off in new cases, the Times reported.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections was close to 1.5 million on Thursday, with more than 89,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.