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Coronavirus update: Worldwide infections top 2 million; Trump ready to reopen states in phases

·6 min read
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The number of people infected by the novel coronavirus worldwide topped 2 million on Wednesday, led by a surging number of confirmed cases in the United States, in the midst of an escalating battle between President Donald Trump and the World Health Organization.

The outbreak’s center is now in the U.S., as Asia and parts of Europe relax social distancing rules. Still, America’s sluggish testing per capita has stoked a debate over when its economy can normalize from stay-at-home rules that have sparked a deep recession.

Trump said late Wednesday the country was ready to reopen in parts, citing declining case numbers in major metros and noting some states have fewer than 1,000 cases.

The White House coronavirus task force is working on guidelines to reopen the economy in phases, which will be presented to all 50 governors Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence said.

But the New York-New Jersey metro area hasn’t seen a definitive trend just yet, officials said.

In hard-hit New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday ordered that all residents must wear face coverings in public, as confirmed cases and deaths in the state continue to climb. The Big Apple is a global epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, where confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses have surpassed 600,000 and the domestic death count has topped 25,000.

Amid a polarizing debate over when the world’s largest economy will relax strict stay at home orders that have shuttered businesses and left over 16 million unemployed, President Donald Trump has gone on the offensive against the World Health Organization, announcing late Tuesday that the U.S. would cut its contribution to the agency.

Trump has fended off accusations that his administration was slow to recognize the gravity of the crisis. Meanwhile, the president has faulted the WHO for fumbling its response, a critique that Director General Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was forced to address on Wednesday.

“We regret the decision of the president of the United States to order a halt in the funding to the WHO," Ghebreyesus told a daily press conference — calling the pathogen a “dangerous enemy” that required all parties to work together in order to defeat.

The U.S. is by far the WHO’s top contributor, accounting for 15% of its budget, and Trump has recently stepped up his critique that the organization mishandled the crisis in an effort to placate China, where the virus originated. Early in the crisis, the WHO was critical of Trump’s proposed travel ban, and was slow to declare the outbreak a pandemic.

“The WHO pushed China’s misinformation about the virus,” the president said on Tuesday. Trump argued that the organization “willingly took China’s assurances at face value, and they willingly took it at face value and defended the actions of the Chinese government even while praising China for its so-called transparency.”

Chinese and European officials have attempted to persuade Trump to continue providing funding, while Bill Gates called the move by Trump “dangerous.”

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. keep climbing, and are now above 600,000. Deaths are also on the rise.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. keep climbing, and are now above 600,000. Deaths are also on the rise.

Trump battles America’s governors

In recent days, Trump has asserted the federal government’s primacy over the U.S. economy, but on Tuesday backed away from a claim that he had total authority to reopen the government. Governors in large coastal states have formed a coalition to outline plans about when states can relax stay at home orders that have closed businesses and put millions on the dole.

Data on Wednesday revealed the damage wrought by the crisis, as the Commerce Department on reported an 8.7% plunge in retail sales in March.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has said the U.S. is nowhere near ready to reopen, but Trump has pushed for a May 1 opening, or perhaps even earlier.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo speaks as the USNS Comfort pulls into a berth in Manhattan during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
New York governor Andrew Cuomo speaks as the USNS Comfort pulls into a berth in Manhattan during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The threat of a second wave of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has become an increasingly acute fear. On Monday, Trump said the possibility of a new outbreak "does weigh on my mind.”

In China, Singapore, and South Korea — which was applauded for its aggressive efforts to bend the curve of new infections — are all grappling with cases of new infections, or recovered patients seeing “reactivated” infections.

It adds a new dimension to the furor over when it will be safe for U.S. workers to return to their jobs, and have businesses open their doors again as unemployment figures surge and a deep recession looms.

Public health experts and economists have their doubts about a rapid reopening. California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday the state had “no precise timeline” for rebooting the Golden State’s economy as infections appear to plateau.

New York, the largest cluster of domestic infections, has over 200,000 cases on a death toll that broke 10,000 on Tuesday. Still, hospitalizations in the Empire State have fallen, an encouraging sign that a strained health care system has yet to break.

However, neighboring New Jersey reported its worst day yet of COVID-19 deaths at 365 and has well over 68,000 confirmed cases. The state’s Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli told Yahoo Finance the state’s positivity rate is still more than 44%.

But outside the New York-New Jersey metro area, the U.S. has struggled to ramp up mass testing, with just over 3 million tested, according to the Trump administration’s data.

This is a key to reopening as testing companies struggle to meet existing demand.

The federal government said it will increase the reimbursement for testing, doubling from $51 to more than $100, in an effort to help labs with the cost of testing. Backlogs of coronavirus testing have been exacerbated as major labs, like Quest Diagnostics (DGX), have seen a reduction in other parts of the business and had to furlough employees.

Abbott (ABT) meanwhile announced a new antibody test Wednesday, which can help determine if individuals have had the virus and built up antibodies to it. This is a key focus for Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force.

[Click here for more of Yahoo Finance’s coronavirus coverage: Personal finance tips, news, policy, graphics & more from Yahoo Finance]

Javier David is an editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @TeflonGeek

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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