While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for October 16


INDIANAPOLIS — There were several developments in the coronavirus pandemic that you may have missed overnight.

Here’s a look:

Record pace. Coronavirus cases around the world have climbed to all-time highs of more than 330,000 per day as the scourge comes storming back across Europe and spreads with renewed speed in the U.S., forcing many places to reimpose tough restrictions eased just months ago.

Well after Europe seemed to have largely tamed the virus that proved so lethal last spring, newly confirmed infections are reaching unprecedented levels in Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy and Poland. Most of the rest of the continent is seeing similar danger signs.

France announced a 9 p.m. curfew in Paris and other big cities. Londoners face new restrictions on meeting with people indoors. The Netherlands closed bars and restaurants this week. The Czech Republic and Northern Ireland shut schools. Poland limited restaurant hours and closed gyms and pools.

In the United States, new cases per day are on the rise in 44 states, with many of the biggest surges in the Midwest and Great Plains, where resistance to masks and other precautions has been running high and the virus has often been seen as just a big-city problem. Deaths per day are climbing in 30 states.

“I see this as one of the toughest times in the epidemic,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious-disease specialist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. “The numbers are going up pretty rapidly. We’re going to see a pretty large epidemic across the Northern Hemisphere.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, said Americans should think hard about whether to hold Thanksgiving gatherings.

“Everyone has this traditional, emotional, warm feeling about the holidays and bringing a group of people, friends and family, together in the house indoors,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “We really have to be careful this time that each individual family evaluates the risk-benefit of doing that.”

At-risk populations. Italy has two weeks to stop the rising rate of transmission of coronavirus or it risks “following in the footsteps” of European neighbors where exponential spreads have ushered back harsh restrictions, a virologist on the front lines says.

Italian health officials have declared that the resurgence of COVID-19 has reached an “acute phase.” Massimo Galli, the director of infectious diseases at Milan’s Luigi Sacco hospital, said Italy’s surge — which hit pandemic highs of new daily infections this week — is not the result of record testing, as policy makers have suggested, but a sign of a real return among the population most at risk.

It only takes a look at Sacco’s COVID-19 ward, a few steps from Galli’s office, to raise the alarm.

“We have a situation that reminds one quite distressingly of the one that we already have experienced,’’ Galli told The Associated Press, referring to the peak in March and April when the surge in infections resulted in a one-day record of 969 deaths.

Already in Milan, he said, the number of elderly patients or those with other risk factors is growing, indicating a spread beyond the expansion seen in late September, when most new positives were among people caught by contact tracing and screenings, for example people returning from vacation.

‘’The trend is already there, and it is frankly alarming,’’ he said, adding that “it is not a generalized situation, it is not all of Italy.”

Hawaii testing. About 8,000 people landed in Hawaii on the first day of a pre-travel testing program that allowed travelers to come to the islands without quarantining for two weeks if they could produce a negative coronavirus test.

Angela Margos was among the first passengers in San Francisco to get on a plane to Hawaii Thursday morning.

“Vacation, peace of mind,” said Margos, a nurse from San Carlos, California, of why she’s flying to Hawaii. “I need time to relax, unwind.”

The new testing program is an effort to stem the devastating downturn the pandemic has had on Hawaii’s tourism-based economy. Officials had touted the mandatory quarantine rule as an integral part of Hawaii’s early success in keeping the coronavirus at bay.

But gaps in the pre-travel testing program coupled with increasing cases of COVID-19 across the U.S. have raised questions about whether Hawaii is ready to safely welcome back vacationers.

And when local restrictions were eased before summertime holidays, community spread of the disease spiked to alarming levels, forcing a second round of stay-at-home orders for residents and closures for non-essential businesses.

Margos ran into hiccups with getting her test. She first did it at the hospital where she works, only to find out it wasn’t an approved site for United Airlines and the state of Hawaii. She then paid $105 for a drive-thru test, but she was later informed there was an error with that test.

Margos ultimately paid $250 for a fast-result test Thursday at the airport in San Francisco, which came back negative.

Marion County restrictions. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine gave an update Thursday on the city’s coronavirus response including Halloween guidelines.

Hogsett announced Marion County’s current coronavirus mitigation efforts will stay in place and asked residents to avoid face-to-face trick or treating and indoor Halloween gatherings.

Officials later clarified that Halloween and trick-or-treating activities being discouraged are not coming in the form of an executive order, but follow previously-announced CDC recommended guidelines.

Hogsett opened the briefing by announcing COVID-19 transmission rates in schools are steady. He thanked students, teachers and administrators for staying consistent by wearing masks and maintaining social distancing guidelines.

“We are keeping the restrictions that we have in place. We have reason to believe that they are working.”

Hogsett said it’s now time to double-down on mask-wearing and hand-washing after reporting Marion County’s seven day positivity rate at 5%.

Dr. Caine said the past two weeks saw a slow rise in newly confirmed cases. Early September saw 15-20 hospital cases per day in Marion County, now around 25. 

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