In the hours following President Trump’s address to the nation last night—where he issued a new 30-day travel ban in Europe—several states and cities, as well as sports leagues, proclaimed broad social distancing measures meant to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shortly after Trump’s address, the State Department issued a yellow level 3 (second highest) alert over the pandemic coronavirus, urging Americans to reconsider foreign travel to any country, due to widespread COVID-19 activity.
West Coast states limit size of gatherings
In California and Oregon, two states with confirmed community COVID-19 spread, governors put a stop to all gatherings of more than 250 people statewide.
“Changing our actions for a short period of time will save the life of one or more people you know,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom in a press release. “That’s the choice before us. Each of us has extraordinary power to slow the spread of this disease. Not holding that concert or community event can have cascading effects—saving dozens of lives and preserving critical health care resources that your family may need a month from now.”
According to Newsom’s office, a gathering is considered, “any event or convening that brings together people in a single room or single space at the same time, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, cafeteria, or any other indoor or outdoor space.” According to the New York Times’ COVID-19 tracker, California has 201 cases and 4 deaths.
The West Coast has been a hot spot of coronavirus activity since February, with large outbreaks in Seattle and Santa Clara County, California, and community spread documented across Oregon. Yesterday, Washington Governor Jay Inslee also put a ban on all 250 people in three counties in and around Seattle, and closed all Seattle public schools for at least 14 days.
According to the Seattle Times, the decision was made as absenteeism by teachers approached 10%. More than 100,000 students will be at home during the 2 weeks. Washington state has the most COVID-19 cases in the country, with 341 and 29 deaths as of Thursday afternoon.
#Flattenthecurve trends on Twitter
All these efforts are attempts at forcing social distancing, which has been touted by public health experts as one of the best ways to flatten the epidemiological curve of the virus, or distribute the number of infections over a long period of time so as not to strain the nation’s healthcare system.
On Twitter, scientists, researchers, and journalists used the hashtag #flattenthecurve to encourage social distancing measures, such as working from home and canceling major events.
Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, DPhil, said health departments should put resources into social distancing instead of contact tracing.
“We need measures that while painful for all will slow social contact – cancelling public gatherings, paid sick leave, working from home, and the like. Social distancing is the general name for these interventions,” Lipsitch said on Twitter.
“And we need to stop feeling sheepish about it and just realize that some places (Italy, Iran) are in crisis, and some are very likely in the days before crisis, a crisis that will be less bad if we slow down the virus. #flattenthecurve to reduce peak demand on health care.”
Professional, college sports respond
Last night and today, two members of the Utah Jazz announced they had tested positive for the virus. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has postponed all games indefinitely this season.
The National College Athletic Associate (NCAA) announced today that the March Madness basketball tournaments for both men and women are canceled, along with all remaining winter and spring championships. On Wednesday, the NCAA had said March Madness games would be played, but in mostly empty arenas.
“While I understand how disappointing this is for all fans of our sports, my decision is based on current understanding of how COVID-19 is progressing in the United States,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert.
The National Hockey League (NHL) also said it will suspend the current season beginning today.
“Following last night’s news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus—and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that a member of the NHL community will test positive at some point—it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in a press release explaining his decision.
Shortly after the NHL’s announcement, Major League Baseball said it would be suspending Spring Training and delay the start of the baseball season, which was scheduled for Mar 26, by at least 2 weeks.
New York, New Jersey take steps to contain spread
In New York City, officials postponed the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today a ban on all New York City gatherings of more than 500 people, including Broadway shows, effective this evening.
Cuomo also said during a briefing from Albany that his state has 112 new cases since Wednesday evening, raising the total to 328. Of those cases, 148 are in Westchester County, and 95 are in New York City.
New Jersey also put a ban on all gathering of over 250 people. Governor Phil Murphy said in a video posted on Twitter: “We are taking this step because we know social distancing works.” As of Thursday afternoon, New Jersey had 29 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
In the nation’s capital, the Associated Press reported Congress has ordered the Capitol, House, and Senate office buildings closed to the public through Apr 1.
Mayo, Cleveland Clinic roll out tests
Also today, two of the most noted research hospitals in the country announced they had developed their own tests for detecting COVID-19. In Rochester, Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic said Mayo Clinic Laboratories will be making tests available to health care providers at Mayo starting today, and will open the test to other providers in the coming days.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Mayo’s initial capacity will be 200 to 300 tests per day but is expected to grow in the coming weeks.
In Cleveland, local media report the Cleveland Clinic will soon roll out a rapid test for COVID-19 that will provide same-day results.
As of this afternoon, the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracking map showed 1,323 cases in the United States, including at least 34 deaths.
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