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National Guard Activated in 3 States as U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 34,000

MONDAY, March 24, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- As the number of known U.S. coronavirus cases soared past 34,000 and the death count eclipsed 400 on Sunday, President Donald Trump approved disaster declarations for regions hit hardest by the pandemic, activating the National Guard in three states.

The declarations will bring supplies, medical stations and naval hospital ships to New York, Washington state and California, CNN reported. Trump said Sunday that the federal government was deploying the National Guard units to "to carry out approved missions" and as a "backup" to state leaders.

Four large medical stations with 1,000 beds each are going to be built in New York, Trump said, while eight medical stations are heading to California over the next 48 hours. In Washington state, Trump said seven medical stations will be set up, CBS reported.

Nearly half all U.S. cases -- 16,887-- are in New York state, making it the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, CNN reported. New Yorkers, along with millions of people in at least seven other states, are now facing orders from their governors aimed at keeping them home to prevent further spread, CNN reported.

The huge spike in cases over the weekend propelled the United States to a position no country would want: America has now overtaken Germany as the country with the fourth-highest number of cases, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

Meanwhile, the federal government has warned Americans to avoid international travel and, if they are already abroad, to return home before flights into the United States become unavailable.

Borders with Canada and Mexico were also closed to everyone but essential travelers, beginning at midnight on Saturday, federal officials said.

California, which was the first state to issue a stay at home order, will remain that way until "further notice," the governor's office said Thursday. Residents of San Francisco and Los Angeles had been issued similar orders earlier that week. The state has had at least 1,468 coronavirus cases and 27 deaths.

"There's a social contract here. People I think recognize the need to do more and to meet this moment," Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a news conference streamed on social media. "People will self-regulate their behavior, they'll begin to adjust and adapt as they have been quite significantly."

Last Thursday, the State Department raised its global health advisory to the highest warning level and announced that Americans should not travel outside the country and citizens abroad should either return home or stay in place as the coronavirus pandemic grows.

"If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite time frame," the advisory warned.

Economic help

Last Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an $850 billion coronavirus relief package into law.

The package will provide sick leave, unemployment benefits and free coronavirus testing.

Even as the legislation became law, negotiations on a $2 trillion economic stabilization package appeared to stall on Sunday, though negotiators plan to return to the table on Monday. That package would send $500 billion in direct payments to taxpayers and provide loans to businesses, the Times reported.

Trump has also invoked a wartime law that would allow the federal government to direct companies to produce medical supplies if needed.

As countries around the world wonder what is in store for their citizens in the coming months, one glimmer of hope emerged: For the fifth day since the coronavirus outbreak began, China on Sunday reported no new local infections for the previous day, the Times reported.

The country of 1.4 billion is not out of the woods yet, since experts say there will have to be at least 14 consecutive days without new infections for the outbreak to be deemed over. Whether the virus will re-emerge once daily life returns to normal remains to be seen.

The good news in China stood in sharp relief to what is unfolding in Italy, as that European country passed China's death total on Thursday, the Washington Post reported.

By Sunday, Italy had more than 60,000 cases and 5,470 deaths, surpassing China as the country with the highest death toll, the AP reported. The virus has been especially deadly for the European country's large older population. The health care system has also been stretched to a breaking point, especially in northern Italy.

State, local officials continue shutdowns

Meanwhile, state and local officials across the country continued to order the temporary closings of bars, nightclubs and restaurants.

Last Monday, the Trump administration ramped up its coronavirus "social distancing" advisory to now discourage gatherings of 10 or more people.

"This afternoon we're announcing new guidelines for every American to follow over the next 15 days," Trump said during a Monday media briefing.

In addition to advising against group gatherings of more than 10 people, Trump also discouraged eating and drinking at restaurants, bars and food courts, and any discretionary travel.

A computer modeling report from researchers at Imperial College London that predicted 2 million American deaths unless stringent social distancing measures were enacted may have convinced U.S health officials to take the extraordinary step, the Times reported.

Progress on testing

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, all Americans need to limit their contact with others to slow the rate of new infections.

"The worst is yet ahead for us," Fauci warned, and the crisis could continue into the summer. "It's how we respond [now] to that challenge that will determine what the ultimate endpoint is going to be."

The president also said his administration is doubling down on testing for COVID-19. Experts, including Fauci, have already called the initial slow rollout of such tests a system failure.

Stores such as Walmart, CVS and Walgreens have set aside part of their parking lots for drive-through testing.

In a news briefing last Friday, Birx said 170,000 Americans have already been tested for COVID-19. "I know that in general our positivity rate is between 9% and 11%," Birx told CNN.

Changing lives

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.

A majority of states have shuttered all public schools, Broadway has gone dark, Disney World and Disneyland were closed, March Madness was canceled, and most professional sports leagues postponed their seasons. The International Olympic Committee also said Monday that it is considering postponing the upcoming Summer Olympics in Japan.

In New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has turned a New York City suburb into a "containment zone." Schools and houses of worship in the city of New Rochelle will be closed for two weeks. A cluster of more than 1,873 cases there could be the largest in the nation, and National Guard troops have been ordered to help clean public spaces and deliver food during the containment period, the AP reported.

New York, Washington state and California now have the highest number of coronavirus cases in the United States, the Times reported. New York has 15,887, Washington state has 1,996 cases and California has 1,468.

Meanwhile, officials in Florida closed most popular beaches in the state on Sunday, after young spring breakers ignored social distancing guidelines and partied with abandon on the sand. That state now has 1,007 cases, with 13 deaths.

As of Monday, the World Health Organization had reported 332,935 cases of coronavirus in 186 countries and territories, including over 14,510 deaths.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporters



SOURCES: March 16, 2020, media briefing with: President Donald Trump; March 9, 2020, media briefing with Vice President Mike Pence; U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director, U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; CNN; Washington Post; Associated Press; The New York Times

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