COVID-19 global cases pass 4.7 million, deaths in the US close to 90,000

May 18, 2020

COVID-19 activity across the world this weekend reflects a mixed picture of many earlier affected countries navigating the uneasy task of unwinding restrictions and extinguishing flare-ups, while more recently affected nations struggle to blunt exponential spread, as case counts topped 4.7 million.

The US House of Representatives narrowly passed a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill aimed at helping state, local, and tribal governments, with other measures targeted to individuals and outbreak response activities, such as testing and contact tracing, the Washington Post reported. However, Senate Republicans have said they won’t advance the bill and President Donald Trump has said he will veto the bill. 

In another development, Trump said he is considering restoring some US funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), but no decisions have been made, Reuters reported. One proposal would match China’s funding level, which would amount to 10% of the United States’ former funding level to the WHO.

The global total of COVID-19 cases has reached 4,744,216 cases, along with 315,740 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins dashboard. Deaths in the US are close to 90,000.

Brazil is poised to become the next pandemic epicenter, with infections rising sharply amid a low rate of testing, uneven application of distancing measures, and conflicting strategies and messaging that stem from the president's downplaying the virus threat, Time magazine reported, citing several Brazilian public health experts.

According to the Johns Hopkins dashboard, Brazil’s total cases are now 243,968 with 16,196 deaths. Scientists told Time that Brazil is not close to its peak yet, and skepticism about distancing measures from President Jair Bolsonaro has led to lukewarm adherence. The country's large population that is concentrated in dense urban areas has also helped fuel the spread of the virus.

Though Brazil's proportion of intensive care unit (ICU) beds per population is double that of some of Europe's hot spots, they aren't evenly distributed, and eight of the country's states are already at 90% ICU occupancy, according to the report. Brazil's health minister, who had only been on the job for about a month, resigned following criticism from the president that he wasn't doing enough to reopen the economy or push hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, despite the lack of scientific evidence.

Other South American nations are also battling COVID-19 surges, including Ecuador, which has 33,182 cases, according to the Johns Hopkins dashboard. Though an outbreak in Guayaquil that has overwhelmed health systems and mortuaries has stabilized, the situation in the capital city of Quito is worsening, Reuters reported. The city's residents are on a strict lockdown, and city officials said six people have died in the streets and public hospital ICU beds are nearing capacity, with a plan to add 80 more. The mayor, who opened a temporary 380-bed hospital yesterday, warned that the city's health system is reaching its limit.

Health officials in Wuhan, China, said they conducted 116,000 tests yesterday, part of a plan to test the whole city, following the identification of a COVID-19 cluster in a residential area of the city, which is where the pandemic first accelerated, Reuters reported. However, some city residents worried that waiting for testing in lines at crowded testing centers would trigger more disease spread. China today reported eight more cases, two of them local cases from Jilin province; it also reported 13 more asymptomatic cases, 1 of them imported.

In other international developments:

Earlier affected countries are weighing when and how to reopen borders. Italy's government today approved travel to and from international destinations starting June 3, but Thailand has extended its ban on incoming international flights until the end of June.

Qatar's cases have grown steadily in the past two months, and though illnesses have spread across all of the country's population, many illnesses are thought to be inside cramped labor camps that house about 600,000 foreign workers from Asian and East African countries, CBS News The disease is known to spread in congregate living situations, and Singapore is battling outbreaks in migrant worker dorms. 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a risk assessment that 230 suspected cases have been reported in European countries, two of them fatal. As of May 12, 102 suspected cases have been reported in New York state, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CIDRAP has the report.

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