First reopen

Late to shut down, first to reopen, Georgia reports its highest daily death toll – USA TODAY


Putting your child on the bus for the first day of school is always a leap of faith for a parent. Now, on top of the usual worries about youngsters adjusting to new teachers and classmates, there’s COVID-19. (Aug. 3)

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It wasn’t easy for Jenny Hunter to send her kids back to school this fall, but she knew it was the better of two impossible choices for her family.

“I’m well aware of the clinical risks for children,” Hunter, a nurse and mother of two in Cherokee County, just outside Atlanta, told USA TODAY on Wednesday afternoon. “I’m not a teacher, and neither is my husband. I felt the benefit versus the risk was better to get them in person for their education.”

Minutes after hanging up, Hunter received a text from her son: His high school would be temporarily closing for two weeks after 14 students tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I was not surprised at all,” Hunter said. “My son was saying how low in volume some of his classes were throughout the day because of kids getting quarantined. It was becoming a question of when, not if.”

More than 1,600 students and staff are in quarantine this week as cases rise in Georgia – a state that has received criticism for its inaction and mixed signaling on the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the last states to institute a shelter-in-place order and the first to reopen businesses, Georgia is now seeing a rising number of COVID-19-related deaths. The state reported 136 deaths Tuesday – its most in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic – and another 109 deaths Wednesday, according to the state’s department of health.

US coronavirus tracking: Where are cases rising? What’s going on in your state?

Dr. Harry Heiman, a professor at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health, said that with high numbers of hospitalizations and full ICUs in regions across the state, the death rate is likely to continue rising.

“Georgia is very much the poster child for what happens when leadership take a hands-off approach to managing a pandemic,” Heiman said. “There are clear policies and practices that we know work to control this pandemic. Candidly, we’re not doing any of those things in our state.”

Georgia is faring better than some other states, but it isn’t trending in the right direction. Georgia has the fifth-most COVID-19 cases (seventh-most per capita) and the fourth-most hospitalizations, behind New York, Florida and New Jersey, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state is the middle of the pack when it comes to coronavirus testing per capita and has conducted nearly 1.9 million tests. About 10% of those tests are coming back positive, meaning that Georgia is among the 36 states that don’t meet the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% average positivity rate to reopen businesses.

Ben Lopman, a professor of epidemiology at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, said the state’s approach has been “cavalier.”

“We’ve had mixed messages about masks, with the governor trying to stop local leaders like Atlanta’s mayor from putting in a mandate,” Lopman said. “The effort to control transmission in the community has been weak, so it’s not safe to open schools. Students, along with teachers and parents, have been put in a terrible position because of the state’s inaction.”

Will you get a COVID-19 vaccine when there is one? The pandemic won’t end unless enough do

After declaring a statewide public health emergency in March, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a shelter-in-place order at the beginning of April. The order loosened some restrictions that cities and counties had put in place to fight the spread of the coronavirus, angering some local officials.

The mayor of Tybee Island, a small coastal city near Savannah, called the decision a “reckless mandate” that put the town’s residents and visitors at risk. “As the Pentagon ordered 100,000 body bags to store the corpses of Americans killed by the coronavirus, Gov. Brian Kemp dictated that Georgia beaches must reopen, and declared any decision-makers who refused to follow these orders would face prison and/or fines,” Mayor Shirley Sessions said at the time.

Local officials said they were blindsided again weeks later when Kemp announced plans to reopen some Georgia businesses, including gyms, bowling alleys, and hair and nail salons, despite no evidence of a 14-day downward trend in cases – a metric that was recommended by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and others criticized the move.

“We really are at a loss and I am concerned as a mother and the mayor of our capital city,” Bottoms said at the time. “I am perplexed that we have opened up in this way. … As I look at the data and as I talk with our public health officials, I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical.”

Measles or flu outbreaks? Doctors worry as kids miss scheduled vaccinations

But some Georgia business owners said they were eager to reopen their doors. At the time, more than 16% of Georgia’s workforce had filed for unemployment in the preceding month, and protests against stay-at-home orders were cropping up across the nation.

Cases in Georgia rose steadily from March to mid-June as the nation’s epicenter became New York. 

In April, the state set up a temporary hospital at one of the nation’s largest convention centers, the Georgia World Congress Center, but wound down operations in May. That month, Kemp announced that summer camps would be allowed to reopen in Georgia, and about 260 people at one overnight summer camp would later test positive for the coronavirus.

New cases in Georgia began to accelerate in mid-June, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health. That’s when the governor signed two executive orders that extended the state’s public health emergency and existing COVID-19 safety measures. 

A month later, as several states were implementing face mask requirements to slow the spread of COVID-19, Kemp signed an executive order prohibiting cities and counties from mandating masks and sued Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council, saying they overstepped their authority by requiring masks. 

Days later, Kemp urged residents to wear masks in public, saying that “it’s the community that defeats this virus, not the government.”

Dr. Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health and a former 11-year Georgia resident, said he was initially shocked that Georgia would “go out of its way” to prevent local jurisdictions from implementing their own mandates, especially in light of the preponderance of public health experts in the state, which is home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There’s no shortage of expertise here, so that really concerns me,” Omer said. “It sends the signal more broadly that these kinds of measures are not just not important, but that you should oppose them.”

Some residents may have gotten that message. Since mid-July, the state has been averaging more than 3,000 new cases a day, and Kemp has reopened the temporary hospital in Atlanta. As of Thursday, Georgia was trailing just Florida and Mississippi in the rate of new cases per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

“We have not controlled transmission in the community,” Lopman, the Emory epidemiology professor, said. “Without doing that first, in-person schools are going to be the site of outbreaks and will amplify transmission in the wider community.” 

Meanwhile, several school districts in Georgia gained national attention last week when photos of maskless students and crowded hallways went viral on social media. Many of those districts are now seeing COVID-19 infections.

As of Thursday, more than 80 students and staff in Cherokee County School District had tested positive for the virus since schools reopened Aug. 3, and nearly 1,400 students and dozens of staff were in quarantine. Nearby Paulding and Gwinnett counties have also seen outbreaks.

Back to school: Teachers are drafting wills along with lesson plans; one even wrote her own obituary

Despite the outbreaks, Kemp said Monday that school reopening was going “well.”

“There’s definitely going to be issues when you open anything. We saw that when we opened businesses. We’re seeing that when we opened schools,” Kemp said at a news conference with U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams. “Quite honestly, this week went real well other than a couple of virtual photos.”

Health experts say there are clear steps Georgia can take to rein in the outbreak. More than 3,000 health care workers wrote two letters to the governor last month, pleading with him to “revisit” the state’s COVID-19 strategy and implement policies recommended by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, such as requiring residents to wear face masks in public, limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, and closing bars and gyms.

“We don’t need a total lockdown, but we need to take some evidence-based steps … that are aligned with what we know works,” Heiman, the Georgia state professor, said. “This is a very manageable pandemic if we would have the kind of leadership we would need at both the national and state level.”

Georgia needs to take action now, before colder weather sets in, Omer said.

“Believe it or not, this is the low season for the virus in the sense that the virus is transmitting under suboptimal conditions. The humidity is high. The temperature is high,” he said. “When the fall comes … it will get colder. There will be additional disadvantages and better conditions for transfer.”

Moving forward, Jenny Hunter said she’d like to see her kids’ schools implement face mask policies. Hunter said she encourages her kids to wear their masks but isn’t there to control it at school.

“They manage dress codes every day in schools. Girls can’t wear a shirt that’s not 3 inches wide. Why this couldn’t be mandated, particularly with the older kids, I don’t get,” she said. “If you don’t think masks do anything, please let your surgeon know next time you roll into an OR, and they won’t have to wear theirs.”

Contributing: Wyatte Grantham-Philips

‘Leaving us behind’: High-risk students ask, why can’t all college courses be offered online?


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Massachusetts reopen

What can reopen in Massachusetts under Phase 2 – The Boston Globe

Retail storefronts and those in shopping malls can open for browsing — with requirements for masks and social distancing. No more than eight people, including employees, will be allowed for every 1,000 square feet of indoor space, or 40 percent of a store’s maximum occupancy.

For those shopping for makeup and clothes: There can be no “sampling or application of personal goods (i.e., makeup, perfume, lotion),” and fitting rooms for trying on clothes will be closed.

Restaurants — outdoor dining only

Restaurants initially will only be allowed to offer outdoor dining for now. Tables must be 6 feet apart or be separated by walls or 6-foot-high Plexiglass dividers. Parties will be capped at six, and diners won’t be allowed to sit at the bar. Printed menus must be disposed of after each use, and tables must be sanitized between seatings.

Restaurant employees will need to wear masks, as will patrons walking the floors. But diners don’t need to wear their face covering while seated.

Restaurants also should get diners’ contact information, and in the event of a presumptive or positive case of COVID-19 in a worker, patron, or vendor, the restaurant must immediately shut down for 24 hours to be cleaned and disinfected.

Beer gardens, breweries, wineries, and distilleries have gotten the go-ahead to open if they are “providing seated food service under retail food permits issued by municipal authorities.”

Child care

Day camps and child care facilities — but not overnight camps — will be allowed to reopen after meeting requirements for keeping children and staff safe.

Children and staff must have their temperatures checked every day before they enter. Parents will also have to answer a series of questions about the health of the child and others in their household, including specifics on individual symptoms, before the child can enter a day care space.

Children will be restricted to groups of 10 and must remain with the same staff and the same children throughout the day. Staff and children over 2 are encouraged to wear masks whenever 6 feet of physical distancing is not possible. The requirements cover all programs serving children and youths, including recreational summer programs, camps, home-based child care, and center-based child care.

Preventive health care and patient visits

The state will allow health care providers to incrementally resume elective procedures and services, including routine office visits. Beginning June 10, hospital patients will be allowed visitors, one at a time, and patients can bring a companion to any ambulatory care appointment.

Residential facilities

Residents of nursing homes, group homes, and children’s facilities will also allow outdoor visits, on a staggered calendar. The state’s Soldiers’ Homes in Holyoke and Chelsea will begin allowing outdoor visits on June 15, as long as infection rates remain stable. Both facilities were hit hard by COVID.

Organized sports

Limited organized youth and adult amateur sports programs and activities will be allowed to resume. Adults can only play outdoors; supervised youth programs and activities can be held indoors.

Professional sports practice and training programs also can resume under Phase 2, though no games can yet be played.


Hotels, motels, inns, and other short-term lodgings that were restricted to serving essential workers and vulnerable populations will be allowed to reopen to other guests.

Within guest rooms and suites, hotels must take out pens, paper, and any magazines, directories, and brochures. They are also required to sanitize all hard surfaces “at a minimum each time a guest checks out and before the next guest is admitted,” as well as launder all linens, bedspreads, and covers.

Other businesses

Car dealerships, playgrounds, driving ranges, flight schools, and funeral homes can open Monday.

Minor, nonconstruction-related home improvements also can resume, including the installation of carpets, home theaters, and security systems.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox. Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @JaclynReiss

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Illinois reopen

Reopen Illinois rally planned for Loop this Friday – Chicago Tribune

Protesters who want Gov. J.B. Pritzker to announce a plan to reopen the Illinois economy have scheduled a Friday rally outside the Thompson Center in the Loop.

“Illinois residents have tolerated the government’s plan for over a month — without a plan on how to slowly and safely reopen the state’s economy,” a news release announcing the event states. “We need to discuss the process of cautiously returning back to work.”

The Friday demonstration would be the latest in a series of protests around the country against stay-at-home orders designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Beth Rogers, of Springfield, stands in the rain with her sign demanding,

Beth Rogers, of Springfield, stands in the rain with her sign demanding, “Open Illinois Now,” during a protest in front of the Capitol building on April 25, 2020.(Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register)

It follows a Sunday event where a small group of protesters holding “Don’t tread on me” flags and chanting “Open Illinois!” demonstrated outside the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

Asked about lawsuits against Pritzker to end the stay-at-home order and the planned Friday downtown rally, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday said it only makes sense to start easing the restrictions when evidence shows the state is getting the outbreak under control.

“The notion that we are going to open up before the data and the science tell us that we’re ready is really foolish, and we would be putting lives at risk to do so,” Lightfoot said. “I’m very mindful of what’s happening in other states that haven’t taken the steps that we have taken here in Illinois. And what are we seeing? We’re seeing a doubling of cases at an unbelievable rate, even six weeks into this crisis. So I feel very comfortable about the steps that have been taken here. As far as Chicago, we’re staying the course.”

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The Loop event is being organized by Freedom Movement USA, which on its website describes itself as “a group of like-minded Republican activists.” The organization has held pro-President Donald Trump rallies in other parts of the state.

The Thompson Center event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will feature several speakers, according to the Freedom Movement USA release.

There’s also a petition launched by frequent political candidate William Kelly to seek signatures in support of recalling Pritzker.

A similar rally is planned for noon on Friday in Springfield.

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officials reopen

As officials plan to reopen the economy, a key unknown remains: How deadly is the coronavirus? – The Washington Post

Singapore, renowned for its careful testing, contact tracing and isolation of patients, saw only 10 deaths out of 4,427 cases through April 16. That yields a strikingly low case fatality rate of 0.2 percent, about twice the rate of seasonal influenza.

In the United States, the case fatality rate has steadily ticked upward, from about 1.35 percent in late March to over 4 percent on April 15, according to figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate saw another spike to nearly 5 percent Thursday because of a large wave of “probable” deaths reported in New York City.

This does not mean that the disease itself is getting deadlier, though. Covid-19 typically takes weeks to become severe enough to kill a patient, and the rising rate may reflect the disease’s gradual progression, combined with discoveries of additional deaths.

Without widespread testing to find out how many people have been infected, it remains impossible to determine precisely the lethality of the virus in any given community or demographic group. Researchers know that many infections result in no symptoms.

In Michigan, whose official case fatality rate has surged to 7.2 percent, public health experts and elected officials say they need more tests and better data.

“Honestly, we talk about this every day,” said Detroit’s EMS medical director Robert Dunne. “That’s something we’re all wondering. What’s the actual case fatality rate?”

The testing shortfalls and other weaknesses in public health surveillance have also sparked concerns that there are jurisdictions that are missing large numbers of covid-19 deaths. In some instances, officials have increased their numbers after redefining what counts as a coronavirus-related death. On Friday, China acknowledged that many people in Wuhan died at home from undiagnosed covid-19 in the early days of the outbreak, and the government raised the Wuhan death toll by 50 percent, from 2,579 to 3,869.

European countries like France and Spain have noted that “all-cause mortality,” especially in the elderly, has been unusually high during the pandemic.

A case fatality rate is the number of deaths divided by the number of confirmed cases. But in this global crisis, both the numerator and the denominator are fuzzy.

“You need to do more testing,” said Teena Chopra, associate professor of medicine at Wayne State University’s division of infectious diseases. Without testing, she said, public health experts are forced “to live in an unknown world, and an unknown environment.”

In the early days of the outbreak in China, scientists around the world realized that this was a remarkably contagious virus that could lead to a pandemic. But they were cautious about drawing a parallel with the 1918 influenza pandemic.

The two pandemics were caused by completely different viruses, and their deadliness depends on many factors, including the vulnerability of the population. The 1918 pandemic occurred when viral diseases were not well understood, medical interventions remained primitive, and many nations were mired in a terrible, preoccupying war that led to a censoring of news about the contagion.

No one knows exactly how many people died from influenza in 1918; estimates range from 15 million to 100 million globally. Historians estimate that the virus killed about 675,000 people in the United States across three waves of the pandemic. In contrast to this current pandemic, older people in 1918 seemed to carry at least partial immunity to the influenza virus, probably from exposure to pandemic flu earlier in their lives. The median age of a victim in 1918 was just 28, according to Cecile Viboud, an epidemiologist at the Fogarty International Center, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Even with these sharp distinctions, the lethality and contagiousness of the novel coronavirus, along with its ability to spread and disrupt economies planetwide, has now made 1918 the inescapable comparison point for infectious disease experts.

“If, in fact, the case fatality rate is higher than the 1918 flu, then this one has the potential to kill even more people,” said Donald Forthal, an immunologist at the University of California at Irvine. “There’s been nothing like this in my generation. Or my parents’ generation. It was the generation before that that lived through 1918.”

One telling point of comparison: One scholarly estimate finds that the 1918-1920 pandemic killed 218 out of every 100,000 people living in the world at that time. The current outbreak has been nowhere near that deadly to date, but the virus has been spreading for only a few months. In Spain, the death toll already stands at 41 out of 100,000 people; in Belgium the number is 45. In New York state, it is 63, and that number rises even higher if you consider the “probable” death toll in New York City.

So is the coronavirus as deadly? “This depends on how long this continues,” said Jason Oke, a health statistician at the University of Oxford.

A safe and effective vaccine could be at least a year away. That leaves “mitigation,” such as social distancing, the only currently available tool for fighting the pandemic. A newly published paper in the journal Science argues that some mitigation will probably be necessary until 2022.


The virus officially named SARS-CoV-2 is not only contagious and deadly, it’s also wildly unpredictable. It can kill a person or leave no mark at all. Most clinical cases are mild to moderate and people can recover at home.

Patients often see symptoms come in waves, and sometimes a patient who seems on the road to recovery will take a drastic turn for the worse. There is concern about long-term effects even among those who recover. Covid-19 is categorized as a respiratory disease, but doctors have found that it can affect many organs, including the heart, liver and kidneys.

The “virulence” of the virus — its ability to cause illness — has been steadily coming into focus. The disease is far more likely to cause severe outcomes in older people, with the oldest cohorts the most vulnerable. That said, in every age group — even 85-plus — most people who contract the disease will recover.

Preliminary research indicates that the virus is not mutating significantly as it spreads, and so there is no evidence that some countries are dealing with a more virulent strain of SARS-CoV-2.

What is sharply different from country to country is the demographic profile. Some European countries with relatively elderly populations — Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom — are reporting official figures that equate to fatality rates over 10 percent. There are also European countries that are doing far better, like Norway and Germany, where the figure is in the 2 to 3 percent range.

“Think about Italy and Germany,” said Carlos del Rio, an epidemiologist at Emory University. “They’re pretty close to each other . . . [but] one of the things that is clearly different is the median age of patients in Italy is 63 or 64 years; the median age of patients in Germany is 47. The mortality is much lower [in Germany] because they avoided having the older population affected.”

The other major factor in mortality is chronic disease. Most people hospitalized with severe cases of covid-19 have chronic health conditions such as diabetes, lung disease and heart disease. Where there is a high percentage of noncommunicable diseases like high blood pressure, the coronavirus will also be more deadly.

This is a critical problem for people of color and those living in low-income communities, who have higher rates of these long-term conditions and often have less access to health care.

The fatality rate for African Americans in Detroit, for example, has been significantly higher than for whites in the region.

“We haven’t seen [the infection rate] to be materially different, but the fatality rate is running two to three times higher among blacks than whites,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said.

Duggan — who ran a major hospital system in Detroit before becoming mayor — said the higher fatality rate for blacks is the product of an African American population that suffers from a series of ailments that leave them more vulnerable to covid-19.

“We saw it everyday. African Americans have three times the rate of chronic kidney disease that Caucasians have, and 25 percent higher heart disease. They’ve got higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and asthma,” Duggan said. “I fully expect that when people are hit hard and they are on a ventilator to breathe and their body needs to fight the infection, that people who already have compromised hearts or kidneys or lungs are that much more in jeopardy.”

Also critical is the nature, and robustness, of the national health system. For instance, Japan, where the current case fatality rate is 1.6 percent, and Singapore are reporting extremely high rates of hospitalization for coronavirus patients, at 80 percent and higher, figures that are unheard of in the United States. But this probably helps improve treatment and also reduces disease spread by isolating patients. The result is fewer deaths.

Policies clearly count. Several of the countries with low fatality rates — Germany, South Korea, Norway — have very high rates of coronavirus testing. This gave them a better look at the disease within their borders.

These disparities can be seen within the United States. John Balmes, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine who is working with covid-19 patients at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, noted that the hospital nearly tripled the capacity of its intensive care unit by adding doctors, nurses and technicians while the city adopted social distancing measures shortly ahead of New York.

“We were ready for a surge that never happened,” Balmes said. “They’re every bit as good as we are in intensive care in New York, but the system was overwhelmed. We did physical distancing just a few days earlier than New York, but it was a few days to the good.”

New York state, which has now developed high levels of coronavirus testing, is still reporting an official fatality rate of 5.4 percent.


Early in the outbreak, China’s case fatality rate was 2.3 percent. That was an alarming figure, suggesting that a global pandemic could kill millions of people. Then on March 3 the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a news conference that the global case fatality rate was 3.4 percent. That was treated as a revelation about the innate deadliness of the disease, but in fact was simply the WHO’s crude mortality ratio for confirmed covid-19 cases up to that point in time.

President Trump said he believed the 3.4 percent was “a false number,” calling that a “hunch” and saying he’d spoken to many people about it. His view echoed that of top U.S. health officials, who had recently told members of Congress that the fatality rate might be between 0.1 percent and 1 percent.

But more than a month later, the WHO number has gone even higher: On April 16, the WHO showed a global fatality rate of 6.6 percent among confirmed cases.

Any case fatality rate is, in general, an inaccurate number. And yet in the middle of an epidemic, it is hard to do better. With this coronavirus in particular, the inadequate testing means many infections have been missed. Someone who is asymptomatic or has only a mild case is unlikely to seek a test. That makes a virus appear more deadly than it really is.

The size of this asymptomatic cohort could be huge, as some preliminary scientific studies have suggested in recent weeks. A new study from researchers at Stanford, not yet peer-reviewed, looked for coronavirus antibodies in a sample population in Santa Clara County, Calif., and concluded that the actual infection rate in the county by early April was 50 to 85 times greater than the rate of confirmed cases.

“The story of this virus is turning out to be more about its contagiousness and less about its case fatality rate,” said David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a University of Pennsylvania professor of pediatrics. “It’s less fatal than we thought, but it’s more contagious.”

Where extensive testing has been done, estimates for the case fatality rate are often below 1 percent, The Post has found, suggesting these countries are getting closer to a rate that takes into account all infections. In Iceland, which has tested over 10 percent of the population, vastly more than other countries, the fatality rate is just 0.5 percent.

Any search for a global case fatality rate would have to mesh such numbers with those from countries with sky-high current fatality rates, typically above 3 percent. Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch has written that he and most experts suspect the fatality rate is about 1 to 2 percent for symptomatic cases. A 1 percent fatality rate is 10 times the average fatality rate for seasonal flu.

“It’s probably about an order of magnitude higher for covid-19,” said Viboud, the NIH epidemiologist. “It’s more severe in terms of mortality than the pandemics we’ve seen since 1918.”

Greg Jaffe contributed to this report.

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