Monday marked the lowest number of coronavirus-related fatalities in the U.S. in two weeks, just days after the number of deaths had spiked to 4,591 in a single day. According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. lost 1,433 people to coronavirus on April 20, adding to the overall death toll of 42,364. According to the data, nearly 93 percent of all U.S. deaths from the pandemic have occurred in the past three weeks, 44 percent of which have occurred over the last seven days. But after several sharp spikes last week, the number seems to be slowing, with the data reflecting an average of 600 less deaths than previous days.
The news comes as several states begin cautiously plotting out plans to slowly reopen businesses as early as the end of this week. Georgia, which as of Tuesday had 19,398 cases and at least 774 deaths, will reopen gyms, hair salons and other businesses beginning on Friday. Gov. Brian Kemp, who earlier this month ordered Georgia’s schools to remain closed for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, said Monday that his state would expand COVID-19 testing and that hospitals were in a position to resume elective surgeries after securing necessary protective personal equipment.
“Given the favorable data, enhanced testing, and approval of our healthcare professionals, we will allow gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools and massage therapists to reopen their doors this Friday,” Kemp said.
Meanwhile, South Carolina, which has at least 4,439 COVID-19 cases and 124 deaths, said businesses previously deemed nonessential could begin reopening to customers as early as 5 p.m. on Monday, but would need to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Gov. Henry McMaster also “restored public beach access for locals.”
There was no decision on whether the state would be reopening schools.
Experts have cautioned about re-opening the country too early without widespread testing availability, over fears that doing so would create another spike in the number of cases and further increase the death toll. Data compiled by the CDC indicates that, since the start of April, up to 140,000 COVID-19 tests per day have been conducted in the U.S., but several experts caution that number is far too low, and it’s targeted at the wrong patient populations.
“The United States isn’t performing anywhere near enough tests. Worse still, we are testing the wrong people. To safely reopen closed businesses and revive American social life, we need to perform many more tests—and focus them on the people most likely to spread COVID-19, not sick patients,” oncologist Ezekiel Emanuel and Nobel Laureate economist Paul Romer, wrote in DefenseOne.
Others have called for widespread coronavirus antibody testing to determine who can safely return to work, which have begun to roll out in some areas of the country. In one study conducted in Santa Clara County, researchers found that the true number of coronavirus infections may be 85 times higher than what’s been recorded. The Stanford-University-led researchers said their findings could help better determine the virus’ true fatality rate.
Another antibody study in Los Angeles found that 4.1 percent of the county’s adult population had been exposed to the virus. Based on the county’s population, that means that between 221,000 and 442,000 adults in the area have previously been infected, the study estimated. “We haven’t known the true extent of COVID-19 infections in our community because we have only tested people with symptoms, and the availability of tests has been limited,” said lead investigator Neeraj Sood, professor of public policy at the USC Price School for Public Policy. “The estimates also suggest that we might have to recalibrate disease prediction models and rethink public health strategies.” The U.S. still leads the world in both COVID-19 cases and fatalities. Italy has the second-highest number of fatalities, at 24,114, while China, where the outbreak began, has not updated its count since Friday.