May 11, 2020 - Health

South Korea's new outbreak should be a warning

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

South Korea — a model for how to handle the coronavirus well — has had to re-tighten some of its commercial restrictions as on Sunday it reported the biggest-single day increase in cases it has seen in over a month with 34 new cases.

Why it matters: The U.S., by contrast, is seeing roughly 25,000 new cases per day — a discrepancy that far outstrips the differences in population between the two countries.

  • What happened in South Korea is pretty much what you'd expect: An infected person went to several clubs in one night. He is believed to have infected 43 fellow clubgoers, who in turn infected another 11 people, per NPR.

We will almost certainly see much bigger subsequent waves of infection here in the U.S., where the focus is on reopening — even in nursing homes. We're already seeing full flights again, and our adherence to social distancing has never been uniform.

  • There's even a risk of an outbreak within the White House — close quarters where many people are still showing up to work and few are wearing masks.
  • Two West Wing workers have tested positive, prompting a slew of senior officials to self-quarantine — including, per the New York Times, CDC director Robert Redfield, FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn, and the NIH's Anthony Fauci.
  • Eleven Secret Service employees also have the coronavirus, Yahoo News reports.

Between the lines: The White House is a model of what it would look like to go back to work with ample testing and ample protections, which most of the country will not have.

My thought bubble: The coronavirus can gain a foothold even in the most highly guarded workplace in the country. We've seen in South Korea that a return to normal life can open the door to a new outbreak, even after things seemed under control. We know they're not under control here.

  • We know this is a highly contagious virus, and we know that distance from other people is the only real protection at this point.
  • In other words, we know what awaits us as we reopen.

Go deeper: U.S. coronavirus caseload has held steady

Go deeper

Coronavirus still has a foothold in the South

Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Overall, new coronavirus infections in the U.S. are on the decline. But a small handful of states, mainly clustered in the South, aren't seeing any improvement.

The big picture: Our progress, nationwide, is of course good news. But it's fragile progress, and it’s not universal. Stubborn pockets of infection put lives at risk, and they can spread, especially as state lockdowns continue to ease.

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

About 40.7 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic began, including 2.1 million more claims filed from last week.

Why it matters: Even as states reopen their economies, Americans are still seeking relief. Revised data out Thursday also showed U.S. economy shrunk by an annualized 5% in the first quarter — worse than the initially estimate of 4.8%.

MGM plans to reopen major resorts in June

The Las Vegas Strip on May 21. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

MGM Resorts International plans to reopen four major Las Vegas resorts on June 4, the company announced Wednesday.

The big picture: Nevada depends on tourist dollars and has seen its economy upended by the coronavirus pandemic. But even if casinos and entertainment venues reopen, guests may stay away, as Las Vegas' Clark County is reporting the bulk of Nevada's COVID-19 cases and deaths.