Updated Mar 27, 2020 - Health

What a coronavirus exit ramp looks like

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans are looking for an exit ramp away from the extreme social distancing brought on by the coronavirus, but that will require steps we're not yet prepared for.

The big picture: Responsibly easing off of social distancing will only be possible as the number of new cases levels off, and will depend on extensive testing to avoid another surge in infections.

"The problem is that the next phase of containment is contingent on resources we don't have,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Where it stands: If we're going to back off of aggressive measures like school and business closures, the next phase of the response would involve doing a lot of the things we should have done from the beginning.

  • That includes quickly identifying and isolating newly infected patients, and identifying others they may have infected.
  • Places that house vulnerable people, like nursing homes, would still need strong oversight.
  • “You need to bring down the overall burden and then you can get to the point where you can target the individual cases,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb sad.

Yes, but: All of that requires fast, widespread testing, which the U.S. still can't do.

  • We’re still facing shortages of some supplies needed to make and conduct tests, and it still takes several days to receive test results.
  • “If we let up, we’ll be back to where we were before social distancing,” said Ali Khan of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

What's next: Syndromic surveillance — testing a random portion of the community — might help the U.S. get a better handle on the true prevalence of COVID-19.

  • Seattle has launched an effort to do just that, adapting an existing program that checks for influenza prevalence.
  • And the FDA recently signed off on a test that can deliver results within 45 minutes, though it's only available to help diagnose very sick patients, not to catch cases before they become severe.

Life won’t go back to normal for a long time. Normalcy will return in doses, and at different paces in different parts of the country.

  • “It’s not like a switch that’s going to be flipped. It’s going to be much more gradual. And people that are high risk are probably going to be the last ones” to see relaxed restrictions, John Hopkins’ Joshua Sharfstein said.

The bottom line: “The worst-possible outcome would be a second epidemic, a second wave…we can’t afford to have this happen again,” Gottlieb said.

Go deeper

19 hours ago - Health

Controlling the coronavirus in nursing homes won't be easy

Data: FREOPP.org; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The structural issues that have plagued U.S. nursing homes for years will make it difficult for them to prevent coronavirus infections and deaths, even though we now understand the high-risk nature of the facilities.

Driving the news: Within the 80% of nursing homes that have reported coronavirus data to the federal government, nearly 26,000 residents died, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced yesterday.

18 hours ago - Health

Protests against police brutality threaten coronavirus response

Protesters in Philadelphia on June 1. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Protests against police brutality have prompted the closure of coronavirus test sites across the country, including in Pennsylvania, Florida, California and Illinois, Politico reports.

Why it matters: This adds to concerns that the protests themselves create an environment in which the virus can easily spread, particularly if and when protesters aren't wearing masks or social distancing.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 6,377,596 — Total deaths: 380,180 — Total recoveries — 2,728,363Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,831,806 — Total deaths: 106,180 — Total recoveries: 463,868 — Total tested: 17,757,838Map.
  3. 2020: N.C. governor says GOP should plan for a "scaled-down convention."
  4. Public health: Protests against police brutality threaten coronavirus response — Controlling the virus in nursing homes won't be easy.
  5. Business: More than 1 in 6 black workers lost jobs between February and April.
  6. Tech: Zoom revenues and profit soar as pandemic propels videoconferencing.