The latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the nation and world.

The Navy, the military service hit hardest by the coronavirus, scrambled Friday to contain its first at-sea outbreak, with at least two dozen infected aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of 11 active aircraft carriers whose mission is central to the Pentagon’s strategy for deterring war with China and Iran.

The Roosevelt and its contingent of warplanes may be sidelined for days in Guam as the entire crew – more than 5,000 – is tested. Navy leaders say the carrier could return to duty at any time if required, but the sudden setback is seen as a harbinger of more trouble to come.

“The Navy is headed into choppy waters in terms of readiness in the months ahead,” says retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former ship commander who rose to become NATO’s top commander in Europe.

The carrier, like other Navy ships, is vulnerable to infectious disease spread given its close quarters. The ship is more than 1,000 feet long; sailors are spread out across a labyrinth of decks linked by steep ladder-like stairs and narrow corridors. Enlisted sailors and officers have separate living quarters, but they routinely grab their food from crowded buffet lines and eat at tables joined end-to-end.

Stavridis fears that berthing compartments, or sleeping quarters where a dozen sailors are often packed into spaces not much larger than an average kitchen, will become “birthing compartments” for the virus.

Read the full story here.

FDA clears test that can quickly detect virus

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared a new rapid test from Abbott Laboratories that the company says can detect the coronavirus in about 5 minutes.

Medical device maker Abbott announced the emergency clearance of its cartridge-based test in a release Friday night. The company says that its test delivers a negative result in 13 minutes when the virus is not detected.

The U.S. has been trying for weeks to ramp up coronavirus testing after a series of problems with the initial government-designed test. The nation’s daily testing capacity has been increasing as more diagnostic makers and large laboratories have developed tests.

U.S. turns to public, private partnerships to continue feeding students

WASHINGTON — The federal government is turning to public-private partnerships to keep feeding students in need after the global pandemic forced nationwide school closures.

At a White House press briefing Friday, officials highlighted a pair of private sector-led initiatives aimed at feeding impoverished students who depend on their daily school meals.

McLane Global Logistics Chairman Denton McLane announced that his company, working with Baylor University, Pepsico, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, would be delivering pre-packaged meals that last two weeks directly to students’ homes.

He called the initiative “a real game-changer for rural families.”

Panera Bread CEO Niren Chaudhary said his company is launching a partnership with the USDA and Children’s Hunger Alliance to deliver boxed lunches to students across Ohio. He says the goal is to expand the program to other states later.

Districts across the U.S. have been looking for ways to continue feeding students during closures. Some are delivering breakfast and lunch by school bus, while others are asking families to pick up meals at district sites.

U.S. becomes first country to record 100,000 coronavirus cases

The United States, which recorded its first confirmed case two months ago, now has more than 100,000 cases of the coronavirus, as reported by states’ health departments. The nation passed 10,000 cases on March 19 and Thursday became the country with the most confirmed cases.

While New York remained the worst hit city in the U.S., Americans braced for worsening conditions elsewhere, with worrisome infection numbers being reported in New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit.

“We are not through this. We’re not even halfway through this,” said Joseph Kanter of the Louisiana Department of Health, which has recorded more than 2,700 cases, more than five times what it had a week ago.

New Orleans’ sprawling Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, along the Mississippi River, was being converted into a massive hospital as officials prepared for thousands more patients than they could accommodate.

As the new health crisis loomed, economic catastrophe had already arrived in the city, where many already live in poverty and the tourism industry has screeched to a halt.

In New York, where there are more than 44,000 cases statewide, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 passed 6,000 on Friday, double what it had been three days earlier.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for 4,000 more temporary beds across New York City, where the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center has already been converted into a hospital.

Read the full story here.

Parts of U.S. won’t be back to normal after 15-day period, Trump says

WASHINGTON — President Trump said there are certain parts of the country that will not be ready to return to a semblance of normalcy when his administration’s 15-day guideline to stem the spread of the new coronavirus expires next week.

Trump, who issued his guidelines on March 16, said he will meet with Vice President Mike Pence, White House task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday or Tuesday to review data on the spread of the disease.

Trump said in a letter to governors Thursday that risk considerations based on geography would likely dictate the next round of guidelines from the federal government. The president has said he wants to broadly reopen the economy by Easter Sunday, April 12.

Stars of virus thriller ‘Contagion’ reunite for PSA on COVID-19

NEW YORK — The stars of the 2011 virus thriller “Contagion” – a prescient film these days – have reunited for a series of public service announcements to warn about COVID-19.

Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle have teamed up with scientists from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health to offer four individual homemade videos.

“Wash your hands like your life depends on it,” Winslet says in her PSA. “Because right now, in particular, it just might.”

Ehle stresses that the coronavirus is novel, meaning no one is immune. “Every single one of us, regardless of age or ethnicity, is at risk of getting it,” she says.

Read the full story about the “Contagion” PSA here.

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This combination photo shows actors, from left, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon and Kate Winslet, who are among the stars of the 2011 thriller “Contagion” who have reunited for a series of public service announcements to warn about COVID-19. They have teamed up with scientists from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health to offer four individual homemade videos. Associated Press photos

ACLU of Rhode Island questions constitutionality of stopping New York cars

PROVIDENCE, R.I.  — The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island is questioning the constitutionality of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s directive allowing state police to stop vehicles with New York license plates to collect information from drivers and passengers in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

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Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo gives an update on the coronavirus on March 22. Kris Craig/Providence Journal via Associated Press

The Democratic governor on Thursday called the measure extreme but pointed out that the New York City area is the epicenter of the disease in the U.S.

While Raimondo has the authority to suspend some state laws and regulations to address a medical emergency, she cannot suspend the Constitution, ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown said in a statement late Thursday.

“Under the Fourth Amendment, having a New York state license plate simply does not, and cannot, constitute ‘probable cause’ to allow police to stop a car and interrogate the driver, no matter how laudable the goal of the stop may be,” he said.

An email seeking comment was left with the governor’s office Friday.

The information collected from travelers will be used only for public health reasons, not for police or immigration purposes, Raimondo said.

Rhode Island has more than 160 confirmed cases of COVID-19, state health officials said Thursday.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

Italy hopes virus is easing but fears new onslaught in south

ROME  — Doctors and nurses in Italy’s overwhelmed northern hospitals have welcomed a slight stabilizing in the number of coronavirus infections but fear the virus is still silently spreading in the south two weeks into the West’s most extreme nationwide shutdown.

As the dead in Italy keep piling up, virologists warn that the actual number of Italy’s positive cases is up to five times as high as the official count of 80,539. That means infections will still climb even with Italians ordered to stay home for all but essential activity.

Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s pandemic, has by far the most virus deaths of any nation in the world, a grim tally of 8,165. On Friday, Italy is on track to surpass China in its infection count and have the most cases of any nation behind the U.S.

‘’It is something devastating,’’ said the Rev. Mario Carminati, who has turned over a church in the tiny Lombard town of Seriate to host coffins before they are taken by military convoy to be cremated. This week, dozens were lined up in two neat rows down the central aisle, and were immediately replaced by new ones when they were taken away.

“At least the relatives and family know that someone is taking care of them, with a prayer and a benediction before they are taken away,’’ he said.

Despite the toll, officials have also expressed cautious optimism that the exponential spread of the virus is starting to slow in the hard-hit north, thanks to two weeks of military-enforced stay-at-home orders. For several days this week, new infections and deaths showed signs of slowing down, and emergency rooms weren’t seeing the tsunami of sick that characterized the first weeks of the pandemic following Italy’s first positive test Feb. 20.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tests positive for the novel coronavirus

LONDON— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday he has tested positive for the new coronavirus, but remains in charge of the U.K.’s response to the outbreak.

Johnson’s office said he was tested on the advice of the chief medical officer after showing mild symptoms.

It said Johnson is self-isolating at his 10 Downing St. residence and continuing to lead the country’s response to COVID-19.

In a video message, Johnson said he had a temperature and a persistent cough.

“Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team, to lead the national fightback against coronavirus.”

Earlier this week Britain’s Prince Charles announced that he had tested positive for the virus.

Read full story.

WHO warns of virus danger for war-torn countries

CAIRO — The World Health Organization representative in the East Mediterranean warned Friday of the repercussions of a potential spread of the novel coronavirus in the region’s war-torn countries.

“The emergence of the virus in much more vulnerable countries with fragile health systems in the Region, including Syria and Libya, is of special concern,” said WHO East Mediterranean Office Director Ahmed Al Mandhari.

On Wednesday, the count of infectious cases in Syria rose to five. A day earlier, Libya recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case.

“A country like Syria, ravaged by conflict and displacement, and with a health system already pushed to its limits, will clearly be overburdened by an outbreak of COVID-19, and the impact could be catastrophic,” he added in a statement issued Friday.

Libya’s ongoing civil war coupled with its poor health system weakens the country’s ability to respond to the new pandemic, added Mandhari.

Unproven coronavirus drug touted by Trump now being tested on thousands in New York

New York is moving at unprecedented speed and scale in a human experiment to distribute tens of thousands of doses of anti-malarial drugs to seriously ill patients, spurred by political leaders including President Trump to try a treatment that is not proved to be effective against the coronavirus.

With no proven treatment for the coronavirus, and infections in New York topping 30,000, health experts say the Food and Drug Administration has moved with uncommon speed to authorize New York’s sweeping plan to distribute the drugs through hospital networks.

Planning for such a complex initiative would ordinarily take up to nine months, those experts say. In New York, the U.S. epicenter of the covid-19 pandemic, that timeline has been compressed into three days.

The effort has raised concerns among health experts about safety risks — including the danger of fatal heart arrhythmia and vision loss associated with the drugs — and of raising false hopes in the American public. But Trump’s direct intervention into complex medical issues, as well as New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s embrace of the strategy, has generated popular excitement about the drugs.

The attention by political leaders also has contributed to runs on supply and hoarding, which New York and other states have tried to block with executive orders restricting prescriptions.

New York will use three medications — hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin — contributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Amneal Pharmaceuticals, the state said. The first wave of patients will receive hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin.

 

South Korea refuses entry to anyone with fever

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it will block any passenger with even a mild fever from entering the country starting next week to counter a rise in coronavirus cases linked to arrivals from abroad.

Health Ministry official Koh Deuk-young on Friday said all airlines flying to South Korea from Monday will be required to screen passengers for fevers and deny boarding anyone with a temperature higher than 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit).

Koh says airlines will refund tickets for those who are denied flights.

South Korea in past weeks has been scrambling to strengthen border controls, including enforcing two-week quarantines on South Korean nationals and foreigners with long-term stay visas arriving from the United States and Europe amid broadening outbreaks in the West.

France reports death of school girl, youngest victim

PARIS — A 16-year-old French schoolgirl from the Essonne region has become the youngest person in the country to die from COVID-19.

The girl, called Julie and whose surname has not been revealed, was hospitalized Monday and died Tuesday evening at the Necker children’s hospital in Paris.

Her older sister, Manon, spoke to the French press to warn that “we must stop believing that this only affects the elderly. No one is invincible against this mutant virus.”

Manon said that Julie had no pre-existing illness before contracting coronavirus.

She recounted that Julie had a “slight cough” last week and when it worsened this weekend, they saw a doctor — from when the virus accelerated at a “violent” pace.

Even though the death rate from the virus among young people is low, France’s public health body has said that 35% of intensive care patients are under 60.

A 21-year-old woman died of the virus in Britain on Tuesday.


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