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The US is starting to see 'glimmers' that social distancing could be slowing the spread of coronavirus -- but there's more to do, officials say

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Nurse practitioner Elyse Isopo says that in the 20 years she's been working in a New York ICU, she has never seen things as bad as they are now with the coronavirus.

Posted: Mar 31, 2020 5:51 PM
Updated: Mar 31, 2020 5:51 PM

Early clues -- in places like New York, California and Seattle -- indicate social distancing may be slowing the rate at which coronavirus cases otherwise would have increased in the United States.

But health officials warn it's too early to know how well it's working -- and even if mitigation measures continue, the number of US deaths still could be hard to take.

"We're starting to see glimmers that (social distancing) is actually having some dampening effect" on the spread of coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Tuesday morning.

"We hope ... that we may start seeing a turnaround, but we haven't seen it yet," he said.

Cases and deaths are soaring: At least 3,561 people have died in the United States -- more than 770 of which were reported Tuesday alone. More than 178,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in the country.

There are, however, signs that rates of case increases may have been slowed in some places. It's too early to pinpoint why, though the signs have come after federal and state officials urged people to stay at home or avoid crowds:

• New York has by far the most US cases (75,700+) and deaths (1,500+). But the state's average of day-over-day case increases for the past seven days was 17%, compared to 58% for the previous seven-day period, a CNN analysis shows.

• In Northern California, "the surge we have been anticipating has not yet come," Dr. Jahan Fahimi, medical director at the University of California San Francisco Health, told CNN. San Francisco issued the country's first shelter-in-place order two weeks ago, and officials hope it is paying off. That hope has not necessarily reached Los Angeles County, where hospitals are seeing a steady patient increase.

• In Washington state's King County, two new reports from an institute that specializes in studying disease transmission dynamics showed social distancing measures appeared to be making a difference.

Still, even if all states mandate social distancing within the next week, and then maintained this through May, some 82,000 people in the US could die from coronavirus by August, University of Washington health metrics sciences professor Christopher Murray told CNN on Tuesday, citing his modeling.

The model estimates that more than 2,000 people could die each day in the United States in mid-April, when the virus is predicted to hit the country hardest.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, has said worst-case projections show "between 1.6 million and 2.2 million deaths if you do nothing."

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said the United States would extend its set of social distancing guidelines for 30 days.

Doctors and health officials still are pleading for people to stay home, to slow the disease's spread and dampen the rush at hospitals in hot spot cities, where physicians are running low on supplies to protect themselves and equipment to support patients.

"We don't have a magic bullet (treatment) for this disease, so the best thing we can do is prevent infection," and therefore we must continue to generally stay at home, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious disease at Massachusetts General Hospital, told CNN Tuesday.

New Orleans hospitals may run out of ventilators by the weekend, Collin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, told CNN.

"Staying at home and isolating is the way to beat this," he said Tuesday.

Your coronavirus questions, answered

Economic consequences

Signs continue to emerge that the pandemic is posing huge challenges to the US economy.

Food banks across the nation are struggling. Millions of newly unemployed people mean the food banks are seeing a flood of new clients, just as supplies start to dwindle because of growing demand from consumers stuck at home.

The investment bank Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, predicts the unemployment rate rising to 15% by the middle of the year.

'Stay at home, buy us time'

In parts of the country, walking into work feels like walking into a war zone for many medical care workers.

"There is not enough of anything," one trauma physician at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital said. "There are just so many patients who are so sick, it seems impossible to keep up with the demand."

Inside New York City's Elmhurst hospital, one doctor told CNN "we are at the brink of not being able to care for patients."

It may seem simple, another doctor says, but staying at home could also be saving those working to save patients.

"It feels like coronavirus is everywhere and it feels like we have very little to protect ourselves from getting very sick ourselves as healthcare workers," Dr. Cornelia Griggs, a pediatric surgery fellow at Columbia University, said Monday. "I want everyone at home to know that even though it seems like staying at home is futile, it's not."

"We need everyone at home to hold the line, stay at home. Buy us time, flatten the curve."

The city's police and fire personnel are struggling, too.

At the New York Police Department, 1,193 employees -- 1,048 uniformed officers and 145 civilian workers -- had tested positive for coronavirus by Tuesday morning, a law enforcement source told CNN. More than 5,600 members of the department -- about 15% of the force -- were out sick Tuesday, according to the source.

New York City Fire Department paramedic Madelyn Higueros, who works in the area near Elmhurst hospital, said her shifts have been extra hectic, responding to call after call from people with flu-like symptoms.

Her husband, also a city paramedic, has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating away from the family. She doesn't have symptoms.

"Most of the station is out with symptoms," she said. "The ones that are still working, we're so tired. ... We're working over 16 hours a day."

The city fire department had 282 members test positive for coronavirus, spokesman Jim Long said Tuesday.

States clamp down

More than two dozen governors have stepped up to combat the spread of the virus, issuing stay-at-home orders that now cover more than three-fourths of the American population -- and authorities have begun cracking down on those who refuse to abide.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear also issued an executive order Monday barring residents from traveling to other states -- with just a handful of exceptions -- and directing those who are returning to Kentucky from another state to self-quarantine for two weeks.

"Right now we have more cases in other states," he said. "What it means is your likelihood of getting infected and potentially bringing back the coronavirus may be greater in other states than ours. You need to be home anyways."

In North Dakota, residents coming back from any of the 24 states the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have classified as having "widespread disease" are also required to quarantine for two weeks. Those states include California, New York, Illinois and Georgia.

Those not following orders to stay at home and keep a distance have begun facing consequences.

A popular Florida pastor was arrested Monday for continuing to hold large services and charged with unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both second-degree misdemeanors.

"Last night I made a decision to seek an arrest warrant for the pastor of a local church who intentionally, and repeatedly, chose to disregard the orders set in place by our president, our governor, the CDC and the Hillsborough County Emergency policy group," Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said.

"His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk, and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week in danger," he added.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 26980

Reported Deaths: 1159
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin9099657
Ramsey3351149
Stearns205614
Nobles15775
Anoka152779
Dakota144664
Washington70035
Olmsted68911
Rice5243
Kandiyohi5141
Scott4712
Clay44930
Mower4462
Wright3492
Todd3441
Sherburne2492
Carver2402
Benton1853
Steele1700
Freeborn1590
Blue Earth1490
Martin1355
St. Louis11914
Lyon1012
Unassigned9611
Pine930
Nicollet8811
Cottonwood820
Winona8115
Crow Wing815
Watonwan790
Carlton750
Goodhue736
Otter Tail731
Chisago691
Polk632
Itasca5610
Dodge540
Chippewa521
Morrison480
Le Sueur471
Douglas460
Meeker460
Becker440
Jackson420
Murray410
McLeod410
Isanti360
Pennington300
Waseca290
Mille Lacs241
Rock230
Faribault220
Wabasha200
Swift191
Beltrami180
Sibley170
Brown172
Fillmore171
Norman150
Pipestone130
Kanabec121
Aitkin120
Marshall120
Cass112
Big Stone110
Wilkin113
Wadena100
Pope100
Koochiching90
Redwood70
Yellow Medicine70
Renville70
Mahnomen61
Lincoln60
Red Lake40
Traverse40
Grant40
Clearwater30
Houston30
Hubbard30
Lac qui Parle30
Roseau30
Stevens10
Lake10
Kittson10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 21114

Reported Deaths: 593
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk4614140
Woodbury286137
Black Hawk178849
Buena Vista10672
Linn97879
Dallas95226
Marshall91418
Wapello63615
Johnson6198
Muscatine56741
Crawford5512
Tama41129
Scott38510
Dubuque35921
Louisa35011
Pottawattamie31910
Sioux3060
Jasper26917
Wright2210
Washington1968
Warren1671
Plymouth1522
Story1311
Allamakee1204
Mahaska9913
Poweshiek928
Hamilton760
Webster741
Henry732
Boone720
Bremer716
Clarke690
Des Moines681
Taylor660
Clinton651
Guthrie553
Cedar501
Benton431
Cherokee410
Monroe415
Jones370
Shelby370
Osceola360
Jefferson360
Marion350
Dickinson350
Buchanan341
Iowa340
Clayton343
Cerro Gordo331
Madison292
Lee290
Sac280
Davis280
Emmet270
Fayette270
Clay270
Monona260
Harrison260
Hardin240
Lyon240
Winneshiek240
Lucas222
Mills200
Grundy200
Franklin200
Humboldt201
Pocahontas200
Delaware191
Floyd191
Hancock180
Appanoose173
Butler161
Kossuth160
Carroll151
Ida150
Greene150
Keokuk140
Jackson140
Page140
Audubon131
Cass130
Chickasaw130
Howard120
Winnebago110
Calhoun100
Union100
Van Buren90
Adair90
Montgomery92
Adams70
Palo Alto70
Ringgold40
Fremont40
Mitchell40
Worth30
Unassigned20
Wayne10
Decatur10
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