Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked coroners to review California cases dating to December after autopsies revealed this week that two people in the state died of coronavirus in early and mid-February — up to three weeks before the first known US death from the virus at the time.
“We are doing the same across the state and in other counties as well to ultimately help guide a deeper understanding of when this pandemic really started to impact Californians directly,” Newsom said Wednesday.
The revelation raises new questions on where else the virus spread undetected before the US announced its first death. It has since killed about 47,000 people nationwide and sickened nearly 843,000, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.
In Indiana, officials are tracking cases going back to at least mid-February — weeks before the state announced its first case in early March.
“We’re going to do our absolute very best to identify every death that we think was associated with Covid-19 and make sure that we appropriately count that number,” state health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said. “There will be individuals that never hit the hospital system that may very well have had Covid-19.”
California is one of the hardest-hit states with more than 1,400 deaths while Indiana has more than 650 deaths.
Indiana should expect to see a total increase of less than 100 deaths due to the review effort, Box said. Newsom said there would be “subsequent” announcements as the state works to determine the early origins of the virus.
Governors and mayors are feuding over reopening
The pandemic has hit the US especially hard, leading to stay-home orders in more than 40 states to limit the spread of the disease.
The decision to reopen some states even as coronavirus deaths linger is pitting governors against mayors in some of the largest cities.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said the city’s businesses are ready to reopen, but she refused to provide any social distancing guidelines on how to do so safely.
“For a restaurant to be open or a small boutique to be open, they better figure it out. That’s their job. That’s not the mayor’s job,” Goodman told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
The state’s key leader did not share her enthusiasm. “We are clearly not ready to open,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak told CNN.
The power to reopen the casinos belongs to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which has put out guidelines to follow after the state’s stay-at-home order is lifted.
Trump is at odds with his key ally
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp made the most aggressive move yet to reopen the state economy by allowing businesses such as barbershops, nail salons, bowling alleys and gyms to reopen Friday.
Trump initially applauded the decision by one of his key allies, a source said, then criticized it during his daily coronavirus briefing Wednesday.
“I disagree with him on what he’s doing but I want to let the governors do (what they want),” the President said.
The mayor of Georgia’s largest city said the decision to reopen left her puzzled.
“I have searched my head and my heart on this and I am at a loss as to what the governor is basing this decision on,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat.
The state is struggling with an epidemic that has left about 850 people dead across.
“You have to live to fight another day. And you have to be able to be amongst the living to be able to recover,” she said
The mayors of Augusta and Savannah have also criticized the move to reopen.
And in neighboring South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster announced certain stores can reopen at 20% capacity along with beaches. Mayor Stephen Benjamin of Columbia accused him of using “arbitrary dates” instead of data to make his decisions.
“When you should go back to business is when you have some true indicators over two weeks that show a deceleration of the pandemic,” Benjamin said, referring to one of the White House’s criteria for reopening state economies. “We need more testing. We need more data, and then we can decide how we go back into business.”
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said the governor’s reopening plan was “a measured response” that took safety and social distancing into account. “It’s not like he opened the barn door and everything flies out,” Tecklenburg said
Following the lead of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the Anchorage mayor plans to allow some businesses to reopen Monday. However, he said, he reserves the right to put more restrictions on those businesses than the state.
Not so fast, experts warn states
A coronavirus model routinely cited by the White House warns that no state should be opening before May 1.
South Carolina and Georgia should not open until June 5 and June 19, respectively, according to the model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned Kemp to be careful.
“Going ahead and leapfrogging into phases where you should not be, I would advise him, as a health official and a physician, not to do that,” Fauci said.
Montana has the best forecast at May 1. The only other states that should open by May 10 are Alaska, Hawaii, North Carolina, Vermont and West Virginia, the model says.North Carolina is the only one of the six states with more than 1,000 confirmed cases.
About half the states in the country should remain closed until May 25 or later, according to the model. The reopening dates are based on an assumption that states will have aggressive testing, contact tracing, isolation and limits on the size of gatherings to prevent another wave of the virus.
Experts warned that the US is not conducting enough tests.
“We have estimated we need at least three times as much testing as we have right now,” said Dr. Anish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Initiative. “We have been flat for like three and a half weeks. We have made no progress.”