COVID-19 Roundup: Administration Seeks COVID-19 Aid; Report Warns of Grim Mortality Toll

March 18, 2020

The Trump administration asked Congress for billions in COVID-19 assistance for Americans while a report said government responses in both the United States and the United Kingdom were suddenly being influenced by a grim analysis forecasting half a million to over 2 million deaths if the virus is allowed to run rampant without nonpharmaceutical interventions—ie, social isolation.

President Donald Trump asked Congress to speed emergency relief checks to Americans, enlisted the military for MASH-like hospitals, and implored people to stay home to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Trump administration, as well as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, were influenced by a hair-raising analysis released Monday by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team. The paper said that if the pandemic turns into an epidemic that runs unchecked over the next several months, without nonpharmaceutical interventions—social isolation—Great Britain would see 510,000 deaths, and the United States 2.2 million.

Those numbers are just from coronavirus alone, and not from other deaths that would occur as healthcare systems are overwhelmed and intensive care units are overflowing, as individuals die from other diseases that could not be treated, such as cancer, cardiovascular issues, or traumatic accidents.

The Associated Press reported that the proposed economic package alone could approach $1 trillion, a rescue initiative not seen since the Great Recession.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed the Senate would not adjourn until it was passed, including the House’s $100 billion package of sick pay, emergency food and free testing, despite Republican objections.

Separately, The New York Times reported that an unprecedented effort by a team of hundreds of scientists are working at a “breakneck pace” to develop treatments for the coronavirus. Fifty drugs are being examined as possible treatments. Many of the candidate drugs have already been approved to treat other diseases, such as cancer.

The necessity of effective treatments to address the rapid spread of the coronavirus were further stressed by news issued today by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) saying that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19 disease, is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on services. Scientists found that SARS-CoV-2 was detectable in aerosols for up to 3 hours, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to 2 to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel.

In other developments Monday:

  • The president said that public gatherings need to be limited to 10 people for the next 15 days.
  • The US surgeon general said the trajectory of infections from the novel coronavirus and deaths in the United States seem to be on par with Italy’s. Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, spoke a day after the CDC recommended that Americans prepare to practice social distancing for 6 to 8 weeks and avoid gatherings of more than 50 people. Doctors have had to ration care in northern Italy, prioritizing equipment and supplies for those with the best chance of survival, The Washington Post reported Sunday.
  • The Annals of Internal Medicine reported that the number of COVID-19 cases in Iran may not be fully known. Researchers are concerned that countries that have close travel relationships with Iran have a low volume of cases, while countries with a lower level of travel originating from Iran have a higher number. Between February 19 and 23, Iran reported its first 43 cases, with 8 deaths; 3 cases originating in Iran were identified in United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Canada. Using statistical analysis of outbound air travel volume, the researchers estimate that 18,300 COVID-19 cases (95% CI, 3770-53,470 cases) would have had to occur in Iran in order for those 3 cases to have been reported. The AP reported that business in Iran’s capital remained open Monday, even as the country reported another 129 deaths.
  • The US Supreme Court postponed oral arguments for 2 weeks.
  • As St. Patrick’s Day approached, states began enacting or recommending curfews to keep people at home. Maryland ordered bars, restaurants, gyms, and movie theaters closed at 5 pm Monday; New Jersey made a similar move, but set 8 pm as the curfew.
  • States began pleading with the federal government to coordinate a national response, with the governors of New York and New Jersey saying the resources of the military should be used to contain the virus.
  • The NIH administered the first experimental vaccine in a phase 1 clinical trial for COVID-19 at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) in Seattle. The NIAID, part of the NIH, is funding the trial. KPWHRI is part of NIAID’s Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Consortium. The open-label trial will enroll 45 healthy adult volunteers ages 18 to 55 years over approximately 6 weeks.
  • The FDA approved a COVID-19 test kit from Thermo Fisher and updated a policy issued on February 29 on diagnostic testing to promote more rapid testing capacity in the United States. The updated policy seeks to expand the number and variety of diagnostic tests by addressing issues relating to laboratories and commercial manufacturers, as well as examining the testing capabilities in healthcare settings, and reference and commercial laboratories.