Experts say more COVID-19 deaths are coming despite decline in new cases in parts of US

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Maryland Cremation Services transporter Morgan Dean-McMillan loads the remains of a coronavirus victim into her vehicle at Stauffer Funeral Home May 12, 2020 in Frederick, Maryland. MCS transporters can travel hundreds of miles a day throughout the Washington Metro area while retrieving the remains of COVID-19 victims from hospitals and other care facilities to prepare them for cremation. The workload at the crematory is beginning to return to normal — about nine cremations a day — but during the recent height of the pandemic they processed an unprecedented 19 cremations in one day. For Dean-McMillan, 30, working in the cremation and funerary business is as much a calling as a career choice. Dean-McMillan is frustrated that social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic has prevented her from hugging and comforting family members. “Not being able to do that is terrible,” she said. “People need that love right now.” She will begin funerary school in the fall. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

No one wants to see another horrific milestone like the one reached this week.

The US death toll from coronavirus topped 100,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That means an average of almost 900 Americans died each day since the first known coronavirus-related death nearly four months ago.

While the number of new cases each day is slowly declining in parts of the US, several models indicate the death toll will continue rising in the next weeks.

Dr. Chris Murray, a researcher behind an influential coronavirus model from the University of Washington, said he still sees “many deaths coming” even after his model projected fewer deaths than a week ago.

The number of US deaths forecast by August shifted to 132,000 — 11,000 fewer than projected a week ago — according to the model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, or IHME.

Murray noted that he expects the spread of the virus to increase in September and “then really pick up speed towards January.”

“That’s the part we need to get our thinking around,” Murray said. “How do we prevent that? How do we prepare for those cities where transmission may tip over into exponential growth again, and what are we going to do when that happens.”

An analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of more than a dozen models shows that the number of deaths will likely surpass 115,000 by June 20.

The CDC’s forecast does not include IMHE projections.

Socializing outdoors and wearing masks may help

Scientists say there are ways to help minimize future tragedies because the virus generally doesn’t spread outdoors as easily as it does indoors.

Those socializing with friends outdoors should still stay at least 6 feet apart, said Erin Bromage, associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

“As long as you’ve got that 6 feet of distance and you’ve got the air blowing and you just are enjoying each other’s company, then 6 feet is fine,” Bromage said. “If you’re exercising and huffing and puffing away from 6 feet, I would get a little further apart.”

Wearing face coverings is also critical to help stop the spread of coronavirus — especially because many carriers of the virus don’t even know they’re infected.

“A standard mask, the ones that we’ve been making, cut things down by 50%. I wear it to protect you, you wear it to protect me,” Bromage said.

If you’re interacting with someone who’s more vulnerable to severe complications from Covid-19, Bromage advises having “a better quality mask on both you and them.”

6 feet of distance may not be enough, experts warn

For months, health officials have urged people to stay 6 feet apart to slow its spread through respiratory droplets. But three experts are now warning that 6 feet may not be enough.

In a commentary published in the journal Science, three experts said aerosols from breathing and speaking can accumulate, remain infectious in indoor air for hours, and can be easily inhaled into the lungs.

“Evidence suggests that [the novel coronavirus] is silently spreading in aerosols exhaled by highly contagious infected individuals with no symptoms,” wrote Chia Wang of National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan, and Kimberly Prather and Dr. Robert Schooley of the University of California, San Diego.

The experts, who are specialists in chemistry and infectious diseases, said “a large proportion” of the spread of coronavirus disease appears to be occurring through airborne transmission of aerosols produced by asymptomatic people during breathing and speaking.

The CDC said respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes “can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”

Transmission is more likely when people are in close contact with one another, or “within about 6 feet,” the CDC said.

You asked, we’re answering: Your top coronavirus questions

Change of behavior is more crucial than a vaccine

The US did not have to lose 100,000 people in four months, according to an expert on viruses and biotechnology.

Better preparation and guidance could have helped lower the death toll, said Dr. William Haseltine, president of the think tank ACCESS Health International.

“We already know how to control the virus in a big population. It can be done through human behavior,” the former professor at Harvard Medical School said.

Experts had worked with the US Department of Defense and Homeland Security to plan and protect the country from bioterrorism, as well as from threats like the coronavirus.

“It was totally predictable that another coronavirus was on its way,” Haseltine said. “The mechanism exists, the stockpile, the drugs,” he said. “There was a hole in our safety net.”

China, New Zealand, and Australia have effectively dealt with coronavirus outbreaks, bringing their cases down through testing, contact tracing and isolation, Haseltine said.

The key to their success was behavior change without the benefit of a vaccine or effective drug.

Boston Marathon canceled

The Boston Marathon, planned for September, was officially canceled on Thursday.

Tom Grilk, chief executive officer of the Boston Athletic Association, described it as “difficult decision” and said a “historic virtual marathon” will be held.

The association hopes to “bring the spirit of the Boston marathon to the world” through the virtual race, Grilk said.

Meanwhile, the NBA is still in talks to resume its season.

Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry told CNBC’s “Halftime” on Thursday that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will present multiple options at the league’s board of governors meeting on Friday. The vote could happen early next week, he added.

Starting on Sunday, Texas will allow outdoor sporting events to host fans, Gregg Abbott announced on Thursday.

Venues must limit capacity to no more than 25% and fans won’t be allowed for indoor events. The order does not include high school and college sports.

States are seeing up and down trends in new cases

Some parts of the country are reporting fewer new cases each day, but others are seeing the opposite.

Track the virus in your state and nationwide

Washington, DC will move Friday into Phase 1 of reopening after it had a 14-day decline in cases of coronavirus community spread, Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

But as of Wednesday, there were 14 states in which the numbers of new cases each day were still trending upward.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves warned residents to stay vigilant as the state’s stay at home order is lifted on Monday and health officials are still seeing a steady number of cases.

“We continue to see new cases that are closer to 300 new cases a day rather than the 200 number where we have been for some period of time,” Reeves told reporters on Thursday.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper said health officials were reporting one of the highest single day totals for deaths and hospitalizations in the state since the pandemic began. There were 827 people who died and 708 people in the hospital, he said.

“We remind ourselves that these aren’t just numbers. They’re people who’ve died in North Carolina, our case count continued to go up,” Cooper said. “We know that one reason is because we have increased testing, which is critical to reigniting our economy and keeping people safe.”

Cooper said the state is “ready to hold” the Republican National Convention and authorities were waiting to see the organizers potential plans.

California became the fourth state Wednesday with more than 100,000 cases. New York, New Jersey and Illinois were the first three to reach the milestone.

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