- The National Academies of Sciences is warning the White House not to rely on warmer weather to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
- This is because many factors can affect the virus, the most notable being the “lack of host immunity globally” since this is a new virus.
- Despite this, there is hope that the virus is beginning to slow its spread in the United States because of social distancing measures.
- Still, officials warn that continuing to practice social distancing even as parts of the U.S. flatten the curve will be key in gaining control over the outbreak.
We’re “Likely” Beginning to See a Flattening of the Curve
The goal of “flattening the curve” has been on the minds of many Americans over the past few weeks, and now certain areas in the United States could be beginning to experience that.
Despite New York reporting 799 deaths in the Empire State on Thursday—it’s highest single-day death toll—over the last few days, the number of people checking into hospitals for COVID-19 has stabilized and even started to go down.
Prompted by a question by Savannah Guthrie on The Today Show Thursday morning, leading Coronavirus Task Force expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the state’s condition could be turning around and it may be starting to see a flattening of the curve.
“You know, I don’t want to jump the gun on that, Savannah, but I think that is the case,” Fauci said. “You want to see a steady, several day program and profile like that. I think that’s what’s going on. I’m always very cautious about jumping the gun and saying, ‘Well, we have turned the corner’ but I think we are really looking at the beginning of that, which would really be very encouraging. We need that right now.”
In Washington, Oregon and California, the virus has also slowed. Like New York, officials have credited social distancing measures as key to those successes.
In fact, because of social distancing, Fauci says he believes the U.S. will see around 60,000 deaths—much less than the 100,000 to 240,000 deaths the Coronavirus Task Force had predicted only two weeks ago.
Still, Fauci warned that despite the seemingly good news, now is not the time to let up on social distancing measures.
“But, having said that, we better be careful that we don’t say, ‘Okay, we’re doing so well that we can pull back,’” he said. “We still have to put our foot on the accelerator when it comes to the mitigation and the physical separation.”
On Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged his state to continue practicing social distancing measures to avoid a second spike in cases.
“So to the extent that we are seeing a flattening or a possible plateau of the curve, that’s because of what we are doing, and we have to keep doing it,” Cuomo said. “I know it’s hard, but we have to keep doing it.”
“If we stop what we are doing, you will see that curve change,” Cuomo added in warning.
Cuomo also seemed to indicate that New York may not fully return to normal anytime soon. After being asked about the Broadway League announcing tentative plans to reopen by June 7, Cuomo told people not to use that as a “barometer” for when non-essential businesses could reopen.
He added that decisions to reopen places like schools and workplaces need to come first and that even those decisions will rely on infection rates and the state’s ability to protect people in the vulnerable population.
In California, lockdown measures may also take a while to be lifted because Governor Gavin Newsom doesn’t expect the peak of the state’s outbreak to happen until mid-May.
AG Barr Says U.S. Must Re-evaluate “Draconian” Measures Soon
However, in an interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News Thursday, Attorney General Bill Barr suggested that once the White House’s social distancing measures expire at the end of the month, the government should start potentially easing lockdown measures.
“I think we have to be very careful to make sure that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified, and they’re not alternative ways of protecting people,” he told Ingraham. “When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under their bed, but allow them to use other ways — social distancing and other means — to protect themselves.”
Barr and Ingraham also discussed recent restrictions on religious gatherings in many states. While Barr said he believed governments have the right to prohibit such gatherings in times of emergency, he also said that rule only applies if churches are treated the same as any other institution.
Scientists Warn Virus Won’t Likely Go Away With Warm Weather
Despite optimism that parts of the U.S. are flattening the curve, researchers with the National Academies of Sciences have sent a letter to the White House telling it not to rely on warmer weather to slow the spread of the virus.
That’s because despite some evidence suggesting that this virus “may transmit less efficiently in environments with higher ambient temperature and humidity, given the lack of host immunity globally, this reduction in transmission efficiency may not lead to a significant reduction in disease spread.”
The letter comes in spite of Trump having made the claim in February that warmer weather would kill the virus.
The report also goes on to explain that multiple factors “besides environmental temperature, humidity, and survival outside of the host” influence how the virus spreads among people around the world.
Those researchers also highlighted countries already experiencing “summer” climates like Australia and Iran, which have both seen rapid spread of the virus.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Post) (CNN)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.