With hospitals under siege, U.S. to build hundreds of temporary coronavirus wards

With hospitals under siege, U.S. to build hundreds of temporary coronavirus wards
By Susan Heavey and Nick Brown

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States aims to build hundreds of temporary hospitals to ease pressure on medical centers struggling to keep up with a surge of coronavirus patients, officials said on Tuesday, a day after the number of U.S. deaths hit a new daily high.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which converted a New York convention center into a 1,000-bed hospital in the space of a week, is searching for hotels, dormitories, convention centers and large open space to build as many as 341 temporary hospitals, the chief of corps said on Tuesday.

“The scope is immense,” Lieutenant General Todd Semonite of the corps told the ABC News “Good Morning America” program. “We’re looking right now at around 341 different facilities across all of the United States.”

The U.S. caseload rose by more than 20,000 confirmed cases on Monday, overwhelming hospitals that are running out of doctors, nurses, medical equipment and protective gear.

A record 575 people died, pushing the death toll past 3,000 on Monday, more than the number killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the caseload rose to more than 163,000, according to a Reuters tally of official statistics.

U.S. officials estimate the death toll could reach 100,000 to 200,000.

The corps, the engineering arm of the U.S. Army, joined with New York state officials to convert New York’s Jacob Javits Convention Center into a facility to treat non-coronavirus patients. The conversion will relieve the pressure on hospitals treating patients with COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by the novel coronavirus.

In addition, construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in Manhattan’s Central Park. Provided by the Mount Sinai Health System and non-profit organization Samaritan’s Purse, the makeshift facility is expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The converted convention center is blocks away from the Hudson River pier where the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort docked on Monday. The floating hospital will take up to 1,000 non-coronavirus patients starting on Tuesday. Another temporary New York hospital is planned for the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center where the U.S. Open is played.

In Los Angeles, the USNS Mercy, similar to the Comfort, is already treating patients. Authorities in New Orleans, Los Angeles and Chicago were setting up field hospitals and convention centers in their cities.

EMOTIONAL TOLL

In the New York City suburbs, nurses are bracing for a surge of patients. The medical surgery unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Hudson Valley branch has 17 coronavirus patients, more than half its capacity, said nurse Emily Muzyka, 25.

Muzyka, who is training nurses on loan from other units, said she was trying to stay calm, but broke down when a relatively healthy, 44-year-old COVID-19 patient declined quickly and required ventilation.

“I had a meltdown and cried to my boyfriend,” she said.

No-visitor policies mean very ill patients may die alone, adding to the emotional toll.

“I’ve held patients’ hands through their final breaths in the past,” Muzyka said. “It’s a lonely death.”

In a tribute to first responders, New York’s landmark Empire State Building on Tuesday night illuminated the top of its tower in red with a pulsating light on its antenna that simulated an emergency siren. The building’s website said this was an homage to the “heroic COVID-19 emergency workers.”

The temporary hospitals aim to free all of New York City’s 20,000 hospital beds for coronavirus patients, de Blasio said.

New York is still short on doctors and nurses, and de Blasio asked the U.S. military for help.

“We are going to need a lot more military presence. We’re going to need a lot more help from the federal government, including medical personnel from the military, very, very quickly,” de Blasio told NBC’s “Today” show.

U.S. health officials are urging Americans to follow stay-at-home orders until the end of April to contain the spread of the virus, which originated in China and has infected about three-quarters of a million people around the world.

The U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert said on Tuesday there was some evidence that social distancing efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus were having an impact, even though the situation remained very dangerous.

“We’re starting to see glimmers that that is actually having some dampening effect,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN in an interview. “But that does not take away from the seriousness … We clearly are seeing cases going up.”

At least 30 of the 50 states have ordered people to stay home, leading economists to predict severe economic contraction.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said lawmakers needed to take up another coronavirus economic relief bill, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said Congress should “wait and see” whether another bill was needed.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Nick Brown and Barbara Goldberg; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller)

Coronavirus hits hundreds of U.S. police amid protective gear shortages

By Michelle Conlin, Linda So, Brad Heath and Grant Smith

New York (Reuters) – When nine police officers showed up to make an arrest near Melrose Avenue in the Bronx last Wednesday, none wore a mask or gloves to protect them from coronavirus.

Similar scenes play out all over the city daily: officers making arrests, walking their beats and responding to 911 calls without protective gear, according to interviews with nearly two dozen New York City officers and scenes witnessed by Reuters.

As of Sunday, 818 members of the nation’s biggest police force had tested positive for coronavirus, including 730 uniformed officers and 88 civilian staffers, according to NYPD. The department said about 5,000 of its 55,000 total employees are on sick leave.

Major city departments nationwide, such as Houston and Detroit, are being forced to sideline officers as infections rise in the ranks, according to a Reuters survey of the nation’s 20 largest U.S. police agencies conducted between March 25 and March 29. The police agencies have confirmed 1,012 cases of COVID-19 among officers or civilian staff, according to the survey and a Reuters review of the departments’ public statements.

The pandemic has depleted police forces already strained by staffing shortages. Many departments have told officers to limit their interactions with the public and maintain social distancing. Some agencies are re-assigning detectives and administrative staff to help respond to emergencies as more patrol officers get sick, which requires pulling the investigators away from major cases.

“There’s a lot of triaging going on,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank that advises police on policy issues. “Many departments are having to re-order priorities and the calls they respond to. Police are having to reshuffle how they use their resources.”

NYPD may face the biggest challenge because of the severity of the city’s outbreak: Of the 2,477 deaths reported nationwide as of Monday, 678 came in New York City.

The officers interviewed by Reuters said shortages of gear leave them vulnerable and that they fear spreading the virus to their families and the public.

“We show up first, to everything, and we are completely unprotected,” said one officer in the 33rd precinct.

All of the New York officers interviewed by Reuters spoke on condition of anonymity. They say the department forbids them from speaking to reporters.

Sergeant Jessica McRorie, an NYPD spokesperson, said that the department was responding to an “unprecedented” crisis and has issued detailed guidance to officers on how to protect themselves. Since the outbreak began, she said, the NYPD has distributed 204,000 pairs of gloves, 75,000 N-95 masks, 340,000 surgical masks and distributed 125,000 alcohol wipes and hand sanitizer to employees.

NYPD did not answer questions from Reuters about whether that amount of gear – much of it disposable – was sufficient to protect its 36,000 officers and 19,000 civilian employees. The department also did not comment on the accounts of officers who said they had little or no protective gear, or whether it had experienced difficulty in purchasing enough supplies.

Masks and other protective or sanitary supplies have often been scarce since the pandemic sent worldwide demand surging, prompting safety concerns from a wide range of workers who interact daily with the public, from first responders to doctors to delivery drivers.

One uniformed NYPD officer and two civilian employees have died after contracting COVID-19. The officer – 23-year veteran detective Cedric Dixon from the 32nd precinct in Harlem – died on Saturday.

On March 13, the New York City police union filed a complaint with state health and safety regulators over the department’s failure to provide protective equipment and adequate cleaning and sanitizing supplies. The union emphasized the threat to officers’ families.

“It’s important for our leaders to remember that we aren’t the only ones at risk,” said Patrick J. Lynch, president of the city’s police union, in a statement. “Our husbands and wives and daughters and sons didn’t pick this job, but they share our sacrifice.”

Reuters was not able to determine whether any family members of NYPD officers had been infected.

SIDELINED OFFICERS, DELAYED ARRESTS

Departments nationwide are struggling to protect their officers – and to operate without those who are getting sick. The Reuters survey asked police agencies how many of their employees tested positive for coronavirus, how many were quarantined, and how the outbreak has impacted their operations.

The Nassau County Police Department – just outside New York City on Long Island – reported the second highest number of cases with 68 employees testing positive. In Detroit, a fifth of the city’s 2,200-member force has been quarantined after at least 39 officers tested positive – including the police chief. Two department staffers, a commanding officer and a 911 dispatcher, have died after contracting the virus.

The departments in San Antonio and Honolulu were the only ones that reported no confirmed infections on their forces.

In New Orleans and Seattle – which are not among the top 20 departments but are hotspots of infection – another seven police employees tested positive, the departments told Reuters.

The outbreak is forcing law enforcement agencies nationwide to implement sweeping changes to their policing strategies.

The Philadelphia Police Department, the nation’s fourth-largest law enforcement agency with 6,540 officers, has begun delaying arrests for certain non-violent offenders. The change means individuals will be temporarily detained only to confirm identity and complete required paperwork instead of being processed at a detective division. The person will then be arrested at a later date.

The 2,440-officer Nassau County department had quarantined 163 officers as of Saturday. Its dispatchers are screening all 911 calls to check if anyone needing help is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Responding officers and medics are ordered to wear an N95 mask, gloves, eye protection and gowns, the department said.

Some departments are limiting access to their buildings. Intercoms have been installed at the entrance doors of all seven precincts of the Suffolk County police department – also in Long Island, with nearly 2,500 officers – to screen visitors for symptoms before allowing entry.

In Dallas, where 34 employees from the police department have been quarantined and two have tested positive, officers are no longer physically responding to calls for certain minor crimes. People are instead being asked to file a report online.

Complaints over shortages of protective gear are growing in major police departments. The Dallas Police Department, for instance, has issued N95 masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to its more than 3,000 officers. But the police union president says it’s not enough. Many officers, he said, are using the same mask for days even though N95 masks are not meant to be reused.

“Those masks are in such dire need,” said Michael Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association. “We’re in a very bad spot.”

Mata says he’s been told the police department has ordered more protective gear. A Dallas police spokesman said the new supplies would be handed out starting Monday and confirmed that some patrol divisions had run low on gear.

In New York City, resentment over a lack of protective gear runs deep, according to interviews with current and former officers. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, cops working on the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center were told the air was safe to breathe. Years later, many developed fatal 9/11-related cancers and illnesses.

“This is even worse than 9/11,” said one NYPD officer. “We are bringing this home to our families.”

‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’ FOR CRIMINALS

While local stay-home orders and business closures have paralyzed the economy, they do not appear to have significantly slowed crime. Reuters reviewed police dispatch records in a handful of large cities, which showed far fewer traffic stops but similar rates of calls reporting more serious crimes.

In Baltimore, the Monday after Maryland’s governor issued an order shutting non-essential businesses, city police reported making just 71 traffic stops, compared to a daily average of more than 350 a day in the months before the virus hit, dispatch records showed.

But dispatches to more serious incidents were not diminished. The number of calls reporting a family disturbance, such as domestic fights, for instance, increased slightly after the governor imposed the first business restrictions on March 16. The number of dispatches involving assaults was largely unchanged.

Baltimore’s police force did not respond to requests for comment.

ShotSpotter – a company that tracks gunshots for many large police departments using networks of microphones – said there had been no perceptible slowdown in gunfire in New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco or Miami.

“It’s business as usual, sadly, with respect to gun violence,” said ShotSpotter president Ralph Clark.

(Reporting by Michelle Conlin, Linda So, Brad Heath and Grant Smith; Editing by Jason Szep and Brian Thevenot)

On Oklahoma plains, an island of near normality in a pandemic

By Andrew Hay

GUYMON, Okla., March 28 (Reuters) – On red cobbled Main Street in Guymon, the biggest town in Oklahoma’s panhandle, Jesus Ruiz gives “high and tight” hair cuts as a red, white and blue barber’s pole turns lazily outside.

About half the customers in the barber shop work at the busy pork processing plant in Guymon, a majority Hispanic/Latino community which rises like an island in a sea of corn and grass. Ruiz hopes this remoteness protects it from the coronavirus encroaching on all sides.

“I love it that nobody knows we’re here,” says Ruiz, 33, a Mexican-American who said the crime rate in Riverside, California, prompted him to quit the city near Los Angeles two years ago and move to this close-knit town of 11,500, where people often leave their doors unlocked when they go out.

In contrast to shuttered businesses and tens of millions of people confined to their homes across America, life seems fairly normal in Guymon, the closest case of coronavirus still more than 100 miles (160 km) away. There is nevertheless fear that COVID-19 may already be here, or will find its way in as workers from Texas, Kansas and other areas of the state commute to jobs in meat processing, feedlots and farms.

Guymon has not been spared the panic buying seen elsewhere and its library and recreation center are closed. All Oklahoma schools are shut for the remainder of their year.

But locally-owned small businesses and restaurants remain open, albeit limiting customers, many owners more fearful of the economic impact of the virus than the virus itself.

Unlike in neighboring New Mexico and Colorado, most Oklahomans do not face a stay-at-home order, but adults over 65 and people with underlying conditions are asked not to go out.

City Manager Joe Dunham said, under an order by Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, it will take just one COVID-19 case in Guymon’s Texas County for non-essential businesses to close.

“I was hoping to keep restaurants open as long as possible just to create a sense of normalcy and not have panic,” said Dunham, who is still getting used to not shaking hands with visitors to city hall. “It’s a little bit quieter, the highway still seems pretty busy though.”

CRITICAL FOOD BUSINESS

There is nothing quiet about the Seaboard Foods SEB.A pork processing plant three miles up U.S. Highway 64. It is operating at full capacity with nearly 2,600 workers, more than 80 percent of whom live in Guymon or the county.

People from at least four continents speaking about 19 languages and dialects process more than 20,000 hogs a day. This “critical” food operation, by far Guymon’s biggest employer, has been ordered to stay open.

As hundreds of workers change shifts, four Spanish speaking employees pile out of a Chevy Caprice after car-pooling the 40-miles from Liberal, Kansas. One has worked at the plant for a week, another several months, two of them for years.

“Of course we’re scared of coronavirus,” said a 61-year-old woman from Mexico, who asked that her name not be used. “It’s really cold in there and there are a lot of people with flu.”

Plant employees are asked to stay home if they feel sick and Seaboard is offering two weeks paid leave to any worker told to self-quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19, said spokesman David Eaheart. The company is giving extra pay to employees who meet attendance requirements in the busy weeks ahead.

Thirteen coronavirus tests have come back negative in the county, with zero positive and 10 results pending, Texas County Memorial Hospital reported.

‘DETACHED FROM REALITY’

Back on Main Street, Kalye Griffin, 42, arranges shirts at her Top Hand western store and trusts in God to safeguard families in this county where eight in ten voters backed President Donald Trump in 2016.

Services have not stopped at Griffin’s Victory Center Church and other houses of worship.

“We are very grounded in our faith and know we are protected,” said Griffin, who has seen sales dwindle as rodeos and dances are canceled. “The fear is doing more damage than the virus.”

A few blocks north, hairdresser Rick French, 66, is skeptical about shutting businesses to fight a virus he believes may only be as deadly as the flu.

At the same time, he says there is some denial in Guymon that anything as nasty as coronavirus could ever come to town.

“It’s almost like we’re detached from reality. Nobody can believe it is going to happen here,” said French, who plans to vote for Trump again this year. He said his business has dropped off as older female customers stay home. “We watch it on TV and just hope it doesn’t come here.”

(Reporting By Andrew Hay in Guymon, Oklahoma; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis)

Verses of Comfort and Hope from God’s Word

By Kami Klein

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (KJV)

We are living in a time of great worry and fear. There is not anyone on this planet that is not being affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus. It seems there are more questions than answers from the world but we, as Christians, know where our strength comes from. God’s Word encourages us, holds us and comforts our spirit. Now is the time to turn to the Bible and spend time with the Lord in deep gratitude and love. Though the world around us may be in turmoil, you can rest within the Holy Spirit.

1 Chronicles 16:11 Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. (NIV)

Psalm 34:4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. (NIV)

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)

Please remember that you are not alone. God is always with you! Reach out to others and give them the peace that comes from HIM! This is the time to show your faith and wisdom through your kindness and grace.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (NIV)

Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)

John 16:33 “I told you these things so that you can have peace in me. In this world, you will have trouble, but be brave! I have defeated the world.”(NCV)

The world needs our faithful prayers. Pray for our healers, those who are out on the front lines. Pray for those who are sick, for those that are mourning their loved ones. Pray to bring joy to those around you. Pray for patience and discernment. Pray for our leaders! Pray for those that are in such fear but do not know the relief, the hope and love found in Jesus. We are prayer warriors. Now is the time to do battle!

Jeremiah 29:12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (NIV)

1 John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (NIV)

Ephesians 6:18 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times with all kinds of prayers, asking for everything you need. To do this you must always be ready and never give up. Always pray for all God’s people. (NCV)

We may all be in our homes but we can be a witness to the Power and Glory of God by our peace, by sharing a kind word and keeping a joyful attitude. Worry and stress are bad for our immune systems so stay healthy and have faith. Remember that what you fear the most is what you are trusting God with the least. Our Faith will always win!

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and will praise your Father in heaven. (NCV)

Latest on the spread of the coronavirus around the world

(Reuters) – Coronavirus cases across the globe jumped on Thursday as G20 leaders said they were committed to presenting a united front against the pandemic, the International Labour Organization warned of far more than 25 million job losses, and the U.S. Senate unanimously backed a $2-trillion aid package.

DEATHS, INFECTIONS

** Almost 489,000 people have been infected globally and over 22,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

** For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

EUROPE

** The number of cases in Italy’s northern region of Lombardy increased by some 2,500, a steeper increase than in previous days.

** Spain extended its lockdown to at least April 12.

** Switzerland’s infections topped 10,000 as the government pumped money into the economy and army medical units helped hospitals handle the spreading epidemic.

** President Vladimir Putin said he hoped Russia would defeat the virus in 2-3 months, as authorities suspended international flights, ordered most shops in the capital to shut and halted some church services.

** In Lisbon, a “drive-thru” clinic is performing five-minute swab tests through car windows on people with symptoms, as Portuguese authorities ramp up testing facilities.

** Britain has placed an emergency order of 10,000 ventilators from Dyson.

** Slovakia aims to sharply increase daily testing in the next few weeks.

AMERICAS

** The U.S. death toll topped 1,000 as government data showed a record number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits and hospitals struggled to treat a surge of patients.

** Americans should receive cash payments within three weeks, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said.

** New York, experiencing more deaths and infections than any other U.S. state, is showing tentative signs of slowing the spread of the virus, while New Orleans is on track to become the country’s next epicentre.

** The U.S. ambassador to London has blamed China for endangering the world by suppressing information about the outbreak.

** Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro faced a political backlash for calling the coronavirus lockdown a crime.

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC** Japan banned entry from 21 European countries and Iran, and set up a new crisis task force.

** China ordered airlines to sharply cut the number of flights in and out of the country as Beijing worries that travellers from overseas could reignite the outbreak.

** Three more people died overnight in India as the government sought to improve basic services to 1.3 billion people locked indoors.

** South Korea warned that it will deport foreigners while its citizens could face jail if they violate self-quarantine rules after a surge in imported cases.

** Australia entered 4,000 healthcare workers into a trial to see if a century-old vaccine for tuberculosis can fight off the new coronavirus.

** New Zealand started a one-month compulsory lockdown, with warnings from authorities to stay at home or face big fines and even jail.

** Armenia and Kazakhstan reported their first deaths on Thursday.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

** About half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa still have a “narrowing” opportunity to curb the spread of the virus, the regional head of the World Health Organisation said.

** Turkey could order the public to stay at home if infections continue to spread, the government said as it clamped down further on medical equipment leaving the country.

** Iran started an intercity travel ban, a day after Tehran warned the country might face a second outbreak. Iran has reported 2,234 deaths and 29,406 infections so far.

** Lebanon will begin an overnight shutdown from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., as it steps up measures to combat the virus.

** The United Arab Emirates will impose overnight curfews as a temporary measure this weekend, when it will carry out a nationwide disinfection campaign.

** Qatar signed agreements to increase its strategic food stuff reserves.

** Saudi Arabia has released 250 foreign detainees held on non-violent immigration and residency offences.

** South African President tested negative for the virus, as the country begins a countrywide lockdown.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

** A Wall Street rally powered global gains in stocks despite a record number of new unemployment filings in the United States, as traders focused on the Senate’s passage of the relief bill and the possibility of more stimulus to come.

** The number of jobs lost around the world due to the coronavirus crisis could be “far higher” than the 25 million the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated just a week ago, a senior ILO official said.

** European Union leaders will back plans to defend healthcare, infrastructure and other firms considered strategic from hostile foreign takeovers, draft EU summit conclusions show.

** The Group of 20 major economies will do “whatever it takes” to overcome the coronavirus crisis and are injecting $5 trillion into the global economy though national measures as part of their efforts to lessen its impact.

** The United States “may well be in recession” but progress in controlling the outbreak will determine when the economy can fully reopen, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said.

** India announced a $22.6 billion stimulus plan that provides direct cash transfers and food security measures to millions of poor people hit by a nationwide lockdown.

** China is implementing $344 billion of mainly fiscal measures in its fight against the outbreak.

** Japan’s government offered its bleakest assessment on the economy in nearly seven years, saying conditions in March were “severe.”

EVENTS

** It is too soon to decide whether the Tour de France can go ahead, but if it does it may be without roadside spectators, France’s sports minister said.

(Compiled by Milla Nissi, Sarah Morland and Aditya Soni; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

How many Americans have coronavirus? New Reuters poll might offer a hint

By Maurice Tamman

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The official count of coronavirus infections in the United States sits at about 70,000 cases, but a chronic shortage of tests means only a fraction of the people infected are being counted. So how can we know how many Americans actually might have the disease?

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in the past several days could offer what one behavioral health expert called a “fascinating” hint of the possible numbers.

In the nationwide poll, 2.3% of Americans surveyed said they’ve been diagnosed with the coronavirus, a percentage that could translate to several million people.

Of course, it’s impossible to know if the answers are a result of misinformed self-diagnoses, untested professional diagnoses or test-confirmed infections. But Carnegie Mellon University professor Baruch Fischhoff, who studies risk perception and analysis, said that the poll results shouldn’t be viewed as merely a collective neurotic reaction to the pandemic.

Given the shortage of coronavirus test kits, it may well be a broadly accurate estimate of the extent of the infection across the United States, he said. “It may be the best available data,” he said.

A further 2.4% of those polled said they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. And in an illustration of the degrees of separation with the deadly virus, a further 2.6% said they knew someone who has been in close contact with a person who has tested positive.

The poll, which surveyed 4,428 adults between March 18 and 24, shows a dramatic increase in those saying they have tested positive for the virus from a similar poll conducted just a few days earlier. In the Reuters/Ipsos poll of 1,115 Americans conducted March 16 and 17, about 1% said they were infected.

The latest poll also suggests that Latinos are far more likely to come in contact with people who may be infected than whites; the same appears true for younger people compared to older Americans. The disease appears to be concentrated in the Northeast, according to the poll, but the survey also suggests it’s widespread throughout the country.

David Cates, director of behavioral health at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, was intrigued by the results.

“Going back to that concept of the wisdom of crowds, you’re getting a response that may actually be closer to reality than confirmed testing,” he said. “And that is just absolutely fascinating.”

But he said the conflicting information from officials and in the media, as well as the shortage of testing, may also explain some of the response to the poll.

“They are listening to the news and thinking, ‘Yeah, you know, that’s what my father has, and that’s what I have,'” he said. “And this is probably what’s going on with the neighbor.”

Still, the poll results may fill some gaps in knowledge in the face of limited testing.

For example, Fischhoff said, on March 15, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine estimated there were about 100,000 infections in his state, which represents about 1% of the state’s population, despite there only being a handful of confirmed cases at the time. The governor’s office declined to comment on the estimate.

“You know, with the doubling rate in the country, it’s not implausible that the infected rate was 1% and now it’s 2.3%,” he said.

He commented on another finding in the poll, the difference in proximity between rural and urban areas. In rural communities, according to the poll, about 9% of people said they were either infected; had contact with someone infected; or knew someone infected in their extended social network. In denser urban areas, that rate rose to 13%.

“As you would expect, as you’ve got greater density, you’d expect a higher rate,” he said.

Northwestern University economics professor Charles Manski said he was gratified to see that older Americans may have less exposure to infected people than other age groups. The disease poses a particular risk for the elderly.

Only 6% of Americans 55 and over said they were either infected; had contact with someone infected; or knew someone infected in their extended social network, the poll showed. That compares to 19% for adults under 35.

He said older people tend to have smaller social circles, which might explain part of the results, but he also thinks older Americans are being more careful than their younger counterparts.

Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Maryland, said the results also illustrate the risk to some ethnic communities as the broader economy shrinks and many retreat into their homes.

High-risk, low-paying jobs that have not been shut down – such as hospital custodial workers, farm laborers, delivery drivers and warehouse workers – tend to have a high percentage of minority workers.

The poll shows that about 16% of Latinos said they were either infected; had contact with someone infected; or knew someone infected in their extended social network, compared to about 9% for whites.

She also noted that the poll is a rare example of a subject that doesn’t have a massive partisan divide: About 14% of Democrats said they are infected or know of someone infected, compared to about 10% of Republicans.

(Reporting by Maurice Tamman; editing by Kari Howard)

Who gets the ventilator? British doctors contemplate harrowing coronavirus care choices

By Stephen Grey and Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic is forcing senior doctors in Britain’s National Health Service to contemplate the unthinkable: how to ration access to critical care beds and ventilators should resources fall short.

The country’s public health system, the NHS, is ill-equipped to cope with an outbreak that is unprecedented in modern times. Hospitals are now striving to at least quadruple the number of intensive care beds to meet an expected surge in serious virus cases, senior physicians told Reuters, but expressed dismay that preparations had not begun weeks earlier.

With serious shortages of ventilators, protective equipment and trained workers, the physicians said senior staff at hospitals were beginning to confront an excruciating debate on intensive care rationing, though Britain may be a long way from potentially having to make such decisions.

Rahuldeb Sarkar, a consultant physician in respiratory medicine and critical care in the English county of Kent, said local NHS trusts across the country were reviewing decision-making procedures drawn up, but never needed, during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic. They cover how to choose who, in the event of a shortage, would be put on a ventilator and for how long.

Decisions would always be based on an individual basis if it got to that point, taking into account the chance of survival, he said. But nevertheless, there would be difficult choices.

“It will be tough, and that’s why it’s important that you know, that two or more consultants will make the decisions.”

Sarkar said the choices extended not only to who was given access to a ventilator but how long to continue if there was no sign of recovery.

“In normal days, that patient would be given some more days to see which way it goes,” he added. But if the worst predictions about the spread of the virus proved correct, he suspected “it will happen quicker than before”.

Britain is by no means the only country that faces having its health system overwhelmed by COVID-19, but the data on critical care beds – a crucial bulwark against the disease – is concerning for UK authorities.

Italy, where the coronavirus has driven hospitals to the point of collapse in some areas and thousands have died, had about 12.5 critical care beds per 100,000 of its population before the outbreak.

That is above the European average of 11.5, while the figure in Germany is 29.2, according to a widely-quoted academic study https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00134-012-2627-8 dating back to 2012 which doctors said was still valid. Britain has 6.6.

‘MANY TIMES MORE’ VENTILATORS

Estimates of the potential death toll in Britain range from a government estimate of around 20,000 to an upper end of over 250,000 predicted by researchers at Imperial College. As of March 19, 64,621 people had been tested, with 3,269 positive.

The NHS is preparing for the biggest challenge it has faced since it was founded after the ravages of World War Two, promising cradle-to-grave healthcare for all.

It was stretched long before COVID-19, struggling to adapt to the vast increase in healthcare demand in recent years. Some doctors complain that it is underfunded and poorly managed. About a tenth of its more than one million staff roles in the health service are vacant while almost nine out of 10 beds are occupied.

The department of health referred a request for comment to NHS England, which said it was crucial to reduce the coronavirus’s infection rate to ease peak pressure on the health system.

“Unmitigated, there is no health service in the world that would be able to cope if the virus let rip,” said NHS England head Simon Stevens. “In the meantime, what the NHS is doing, of course, is pulling out all the stops to make sure that we have as many staff, beds and other facilities available.”

So how many life-saving ventilators are needed?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that hospitals had around 5,000 but that they needed “many times more than that”.

The physicians interviewed by Reuters said, if ventilators were secured, the aim was to increase intensive care beds from around 4200 to over 16,000, partly by using beds in other parts of hospitals.

Rob Harwood, a consultant anesthetist in Norfolk who has worked in the health service for almost four decades, said access to critical care could ultimately have to be determined by patient scoring systems for survivability. Systems developed for SARS, another coronavirus that broke out in 2003, could for example be refined, he added.

“Once you have exhausted your capacity and exhausted your ability to expand your capacity you probably have to make other decisions about admission into intensive care.”

But he emphasized that, for now, admission criteria would stay unaltered: “We are a country mile from that at the moment.”

‘BECOME CANNON FODDER’

While shortages of critical care equipment may be most alarming, the coronavirus has exposed how generally ill-equipped the health system is for a pandemic.

The British Medical Association said doctors have been asked to go to hardware stores and building sites to source protective masks.

Some doctors are worried about Public Health England’s (PHE) new advice last week which reduces the level of the protective equipment they need to wear.

Previously, staff on ward visits were told to wear full protective equipment, comprising high quality FFP3 face masks, visors, surgical gowns and two pairs of gloves. But the new advice recommends only a lower-quality standard paper surgical face mask, short gloves and a plastic apron.

PHE referred queries about doctors’ worries to the health department, which did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

A senior NHS epidemiologist, who was not permitted to be named, told Reuters this advice was based on a sensible assessment of the biohazard risk of the virus. “It’s not Ebola,” the doctor said, pointing out the risk to medical staff without underlying medical conditions was low.

Matt Mayer, head of the local medical committee covering an area in south of England, said GPs had been sent face masks in boxes that said “best before 2016” and that have been relabeled with new stickers reading “2021”.

“If you are going to lead people into a hazardous situation then you need to give them the confidence that they have the kit to do a decent job and they are not just going to become cannon fodder,” said Harwood the anesthetist.

The department of health said that they had tested certain products to see if it is possible to extend their use.

“The products that pass these stringent tests are subject to relabelling with a new shelf-life as appropriate and can continue to be used,” a spokesman said.

RAPID GUIDELINES

Dr Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Medicine and a consultant in Leeds, northern England, said there had been chronic underinvestment in critical care in Britain. But she said the country was not yet at the stage where it had to make calls about rationing patient resources.

She said, if rationing became necessary, medical ethics should still prevail and guidelines needed to be issued on a national level so that no patient was worse off based on where they lived. The NHS might need also need the advice of military leaders, she said, on how to effectively triage.

“If we got to a difficult position where we had to exhaust every bit of resource in the country then, yes, we may have to change the way we approach the decision-making.”

Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director of NHS England, said there were plans to issue new guidance to give doctors advice on how to make difficult decisions if there was a surge in coronavirus cases, like in Italy.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said on Friday it would shortly announce a “series of rapid guidelines” on the management of people with suspected and confirmed COVID-19, including in critical care.

The guidelines are not, however, expected to be prescriptive but to suggest leaving key decisions to individual doctors.

Pittard said patients with pre-existing conditions who already had life-threatening health difficulties should be having conversations with their family about how they wished to spend their last days, in the event of them being infected.

“If I get coronavirus now I’ve got a very high chance of dying of it,” she said, putting herself into the shoes of such a patient. “So do I want to die in hospital and when my relatives can’t come in to visit me because it’s too risky, or would I like to die at home?

“And if I do want to go into hospital, do I then want to go to intensive care where my chances of surviving are minimal?”

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Pravin Char)

America’s cleaners: fighting on the coronavirus front line

By Jonnelle Marte

NEW YORK (Reuters) – It’s been roughly two weeks since Amazon encouraged most employees at its Seattle headquarters to work remotely after one tested positive for coronavirus.

Since then, Ismahan Ali and other janitors who clean the tech giant’s offices say they have been getting paid to work overtime to wipe down stairwells, conference rooms and other high-traffic areas.

Ali, 29, doesn’t clean the building where the infected Amazon employee worked, but she shares a break room with some janitors who do. So every cough or sneeze is a reminder that coronavirus could be lingering on a surface they’ve cleaned, or that one may already have been exposed, she said.

“Everyone is scared,” said Ali, who works for ABM, a maintenance and cleaning firm that employs more than 140,000 people. “We just keep going, let’s do what we can.”

For the three million janitors, housekeepers and maids across America, remote working is not an option. They are on the front line of the war against the virus, often working overnight and weekends to deep clean offices, airports and hotels.

Ali said at first she was not used to the stronger cleaning product she was asked to use as part of an enhanced cleaning protocol put in place because of the virus. The chemical irritated her eyes, throat and skin, but she has since been provided with goggles and a mask, which she said is helping.

ABM did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls requesting comment.

A spokeswoman for Ali’s union, Service Employees International Union Local 6, said ABM had been responsive to its concerns and has committed to providing janitors with more protective gear and training. A janitor with experience of using stronger chemicals is also now providing guidance to other staff at Amazon, the union representative said.

Amazon said safety was a top priority and that it had notified employees and service providers, including janitors, who may have been in close contact with its employee who tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Amazon also said it was committed to paying hourly workers who cannot come to work because of coronavirus.

“We continue to pay all hourly employees that support our offices around the world – from food service, to security guards to janitorial staff – during the time our employees are asked to work from home,” an Amazon representative said in a statement.

‘PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK’

Other cleaning professionals have seen demand for their services dry up as major events are canceled, malls and movie theaters close, and business travel is put on hold.

Those working in the hospitality and entertainment industry have been hit hard, with lost wages adding a new layer of uncertainty to their already precarious financial lives.

Earlier this month, Larrilou Carumba, a 47-year-old housekeeper at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis hotel, applied to rent a two-bedroom apartment.

But then she got her work schedule: she wasn’t needed for at least two weeks. Suddenly unsure of when her next paycheck would land, she withdrew her application.

“I’m more afraid about my bills than the coronavirus,” she said, adding that she would struggle to afford groceries, her car payments and insurance, and other outgoings. “Being a single mom, you live paycheck to paycheck.”

Janitors earned a median hourly wage of $12.55 in 2018 while housekeepers made $11.43. Low-wage workers without unions are also less likely to have fundamental health benefits, including health insurance or sick leave, according to surveys from the Economic Policy Institute.

Think-tank Pew Research Center estimates https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/16/immigrants-dont-make-up-a-majority-of-workers-in-any-u-s-industry more than a third of cleaners and maintenance workers in America are immigrants.

“I’m going to keep cleaning because I have to help my family,” said Ali, who is studying to become a nurse and sends money to her family in Somalia. “I don’t have a choice to stay home. I have to go.”

‘FALLING OFF A CLIFF’

Hotel companies are reeling from a sharp drop in business over the past couple of weeks as conferences are canceled, vacations scrapped and casinos shut down.

Occupancies in the second week of March were 24.4% lower than the same week last year, according to data firm STR. Of the 25 markets it studied, the San Francisco region reported the second biggest hit to occupancy, which fell by 51.6% from 2019.

“Our industry is falling off a cliff,” said D. Taylor, president of the UNITE HERE, a union that represents about 300,000 members in the hotel, gaming, food, transport and other service industries in the United States and Canada.

Taylor said hospitality workers were under significant pressure as schools close, and traffic at hotels, casinos and airports plummets. He is advocating for more workers to receive paid sick leave so they can afford to stay home if they are unwell, or need to be quarantined.

For people who are laid off, the union is pushing for fast access to unemployment benefits and extended access to health insurance. “The coronavirus is a pretty scary thing and often our folks are on the front lines,” Taylor said.

Marriott International <MAR.O> said a significant drop in demand worldwide was forcing it take remedial measures.

“Unfortunately, occupancy dictates staffing levels – we are adjusting global operations accordingly and working quickly to mitigate the impact to our business,” it said in a statement.

U.S. regulators and lawmakers are considering different options that could provide relief to low-income workers affected by the pandemic, including leniency with loans, expanding unemployment benefits and providing other financial assistance.

After withdrawing her bid for the apartment, Carumba submitted a different application – for unemployment benefits.

She is still waiting to hear whether she will get any assistance until she can return to work.

“I have a strong faith that this will end,” she said. “I just don’t know when.”

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte; Editing by Heather Timmons and David Clarke)

Coronavirus forces U.S. lawmakers to overcome steep partisan divide

By Andy Sullivan and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With coronavirus cases reported in all 50 U.S. states, lawmakers in Washington are working to limit the economic damage from the widening epidemic. To do so, they must overcome another problem – partisan gridlock.

The Republican-controlled Senate is expected on Wednesday to vote on a roughly $105 billion aid package that bolsters safety-net programs and provides free testing for the highly contagious coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the package by an overwhelming bipartisan margin on Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is urging his colleagues to approve it quickly.

“Gag and vote for it,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday.

That may be difficult for some Senate Republicans who worry that the proposed legislation’s sick-leave provisions could heap costs on small businesses. Others have objected it does not cover those who work at corporations that employ more than 500 people.

“I’m pretty concerned with the House bill making a bad situation worse in our economy,” Republican Senator James Lankford said on Tuesday.

Senator Rand Paul, a conservative Republican, will offer an amendment to pay for the new spending in the legislation, said Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Paul. “This would include ending our decades-long involvement in Afghanistan,” he said.

Still, the Senate is expected to approve the bill this week and immediately turn to a third effort, after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin privately warned that unemployment could hit 20% if Congress does not act.

The third package could include popular items, like giving $1,000 checks to Americans, and less popular items, such as an expensive bailout for airlines that risk falling into bankruptcy due to the sharp decline in travel due the outbreak.

It was unclear when that would be passed or how soon Americans would get the money, but President Donald Trump took to Twitter early Wednesday morning to push the effort.

“For the people that are now out of work because of the important and necessary containment policies, for instance the shutting down of hotels, bars and restaurants, money will soon be coming to you,” Trump said in his tweet.

McConnell said lawmakers were working as rapidly as possible on the third package. “But first, we need to pass the House bill, which hopefully we’ll do later today,” he said on the Senate floor.

‘VOTE AND LEAVE’

Mindful of the backlash to the bank rescue package put together during the 2008 financial crisis, Republicans working on the third effort say it does not amount to a bailout of the industry.

“Chairman Shelby opposes bailouts,” said Blair Taylor, a spokeswoman for Republican Senator Richard Shelby, who is working on the effort.

Separately, the Trump administration on Tuesday night also asked Congress for another $45.8 billion to shore up U.S. agencies responding to the outbreak.

It would also give extra funds to help beef up sanitation efforts at airports, provide extra protective gear to federal agents, bolster cybersecurity protections, improve teleworking capabilities and shore up the Amtrak passenger rail service, which has seen a steep drop in ridership.

Health officials have advised Americans to avoid non-essential travel and large gatherings in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 6,500 people across the country and killed at least 115.

McConnell on Wednesday warned his fellow senators to abide by the containment guidelines, admonishing them against congregating as they normally do during votes, especially at the “well” of the chamber where staffers work.

“Come in and vote and leave,” said McConnell, who also announced that the Senate’s typical 15-minute roll-call votes would be extended to 30 minutes so that members did not all rush into the chamber at once.

STIMULUS PACKAGE

Disputes over taxes and spending have repeatedly brought Washington to a standstill over the past decade, but lawmakers so far have overcome their partisan divisions to confront the crisis.

Congress quickly approved an initial $8.3 billion package to boost the medical response to the pandemic, and the House-passed bill enjoyed broad support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Sick-leave and family-leave provisions alone in the House-passed legislation would cost $105 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Mnuchin said the third package could cost $1.3 trillion – surpassing the $838 billion in stimulus provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which passed Congress with only a handful of Republican votes.

Conservatives like Republican Senator Tom Cotton are calling for it to include expanded safety-net benefits.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, has proposed spending $750 billion on further safety-net enhancements, such as emergency child care for health workers, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday that the third package should include benefits for self-employed workers.

Lawmakers from both parties also have lined up against Trump’s proposed payroll tax cut on the grounds that it would take too long to make a difference and would not help those who lose their jobs.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan, David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Angus MacSwan and Paul Simao)

National Day of Prayer, Sunday, March15th, Join us in praying for our world and nation!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

Sunday, March 15th has been declared a National Day of Prayer by President Donald Trump. The President stated, “We are a country that, throughout our history has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these. No matter where you may be, I encourage you to turn towards prayer in an act of faith. Together we will easily prevail!”

Please join us tomorrow, March 15th in praying for our nation and this world as we face the trials, fear, and diversity of this Pandemic. May we come together in faith to pray for the peace of God, compassion, strength, and healing. May we continue to remember that no adversity or circumstance in our lives can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God Bless You!