Coronavirus Live Updates: Georgia Businesses Begin to Reopen; F.D.A. Issues Warning on Anti-Malaria Drugs

Georgia moves ahead with some reopenings despite plenty of misgivings.

Across Georgia, salons and barbershops and other businesses reopened Friday morning after Gov. Brian Kemp defied public opposition from the president, public health experts and some mayors in his state.

Lines started forming around 7 a.m. and snaked around some businesses. Mr. Kemp’s order generally allowed barbershops, nail salons, gyms, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors to reopen on Friday. Dine-in service at restaurants will be allowed to resume on Monday.

The move to reopen in Georgia on Friday, along with similar plans in Oklahoma and Alaska, is being closely scrutinized as other governors consider future steps for their own states.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta urged people to stay home.

“Listen to the scientists,” Ms. Bottoms said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “There is nothing essential about going to a bowling alley or getting a manicure in the middle of a pandemic.”

But at a shopping center on Auburn Avenue, the heart of Atlanta’s historic black business district, every spot in the parking lot was full. There are two barbershops in the shopping center, and both were open and receiving a slow trickle of customers. Few employees were wearing masks.

In Georgia, government statistics show the state has recorded more than 22,000 virus cases and that at least 892 people have died.

The pain in Georgia has not been spread evenly. In rural Dougherty County, which includes Albany, officials have reported nearly 1,500 known cases and 108 deaths.

The most overall cases are concentrated in the Atlanta area. But the highest per capita rates are in the state’s southwest. In addition to Dougherty County, the situation has been notably bleak in Sumter, Lee, Mitchell, Early and Terrell C

ounties. Black Georgians make up a plurality of cases and deaths, even though they account for only about one-third of the state’s population.

In a series of tweets on Thursday night, Mr. Kemp said the state had been “successful in our efforts to protect Georgians and our state’s health care infrastructure.”

“Now, with favorable data and approval from state health officials, we are taking another measured step forward by opening shuttered businesses for limited operations,” he continued. “I know these hardworking Georgians will prioritize the safety of their employees and customers.”

Even as some hairstylists were readying work spaces for their first customers in weeks on Friday morning in Georgia, others said they would stay home, afraid of spreading the virus to clients.

In Atlanta, Lindsey Maxfield, 33, a hair stylist, said she was glad her workplace, Cameo Salon, would remain closed. “Having people come to the salon is ridiculous,” she said.

But the loosening of restrictions in several states on Friday represents the first wider test of how the nation will inch toward a new future, where people may be able to book manicures by appointment only and newly reopened restaurants will serve only a few customers at a time.

Alaska on Friday lifted some restrictions for restaurants, retail stores and personal care services, like hair and nail salons. But some local governments and Native Alaskan tribal groups were pushing back. In Anchorage, the state’s largest city, the mayor said he had authority over reopening schedules and rules, and he planned to outline the city’s response on Friday.

In Oklahoma, salons and state parks were scheduled to open back up on Friday, followed by restaurants and houses of worship in May.

A number of other states, including Ohio, have discussed the possibility of a phased reopening starting as soon as early May. The state-by-state approach means that there is no one unified strategy for reopening the nation.

Some states are opening up salons and barbershops first. Others started with retail stores and kept salons closed. There is even confusion within each state, with questions about whether a governor’s decision to reopen trumped local orders to stay home.

But most everywhere, officials seemed to agree that a phased-in approach was needed. In Colorado, where a stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire on Sunday, Gov. Jared Polis described a new phase starting next week, in which doctors can begin doing elective medical procedures and retail businesses will be able to open for curbside pickup. But he said residents should still expect to maintain 60 to 65 percent physical distancing. “We still have work to do,” he said. “We are not through the woods yet.”

In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little outlined a detailed plan for reopening in four stages, starting with houses of worship in early May. The approach would ramp up reopening with restaurants, gyms and salons in late May, but keep large, recreational venues, like nightclubs and movie theaters, closed until at least late June.

“The F.D.A. is aware of reports of serious heart rhythm problems in patients with Covid-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, often in combination with azithromycin” and other drugs that can disrupt heart rhythm, the agency said. The statement also noted that many people were getting outpatient prescriptions for the drugs in the hopes of preventing the infection or treating it themselves.

The warning is based on a review of adverse events reported from multiple sources, the agency said, adding: “These adverse events were reported from the hospital and outpatient settings for treating or preventing COVID-19, and included QT interval prolongation, ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation, and in some cases death.”

There is no proof that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can help coronavirus patients. They are approved to treat malaria and the autoimmune diseases lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. But reports from France and China suggesting a benefit sparked interest in the drugs, even though the reports lacked the scientific controls needed to determine whether the drugs actually worked.

With no proven treatments for the coronavirus, many hospitals have been using hydroxychloroquine, sometimes with azithromycin, in the hope that they might help.

Scientists have urged that the drugs be tested in controlled clinical trials to find out definitively whether they can fight the virus or quell overreactions by the immune system that can become life-threatening. Studies are underway.

Another report on Friday, from doctors in New York, adds to concerns about combining hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. In 84 patients receiving the drugs, electrocardiograms found a rhythm disruption called a prolonged QT interval a few days after the treatment began.

In nine cases the disorder was severe, reaching levels known to increase the risk of sudden death. None of the patients died from heart problems.

Patients given the combination should be carefully monitored, especially if they have other chronic conditions and if they are also receiving other drugs known to affect heart rhythm, the doctors, from NYU Langone Health, said in a letter to the journal Nature Medicine.

Mr. Trump said the bipartisan legislation, which passed unanimously in the Senate and with just five negative votes in the House, would be “great for small businesses, great for the workers” and added that it will “extend relief to thousands of African-American and Hispanic American business owners.”

Mr. Trump was joined in the Oval Office by a half-dozen Republican lawmakers, including Representatives Kevin McCarthy of California, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Steve Scalise of Louisiana as well as Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Cornyn of Texas and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader who steered the bill through Congress, was not present, nor were any Democrats.

At least three states — California, New York and Ohio — are expected to deplete their trust funds within two weeks, with Massachusetts, Texas and Mr. McConnell’s state of Kentucky close behind. Once those funds run out, the states can borrow money from the federal government, but must repay it within two years.

Delays in delivering benefits, though, are as troubling as the sheer magnitude of the figures. Such problems not only create immediate hardships, like not being able to pay rent or buy food, but also affect the shape of the recovery when the pandemic eases.

Some small business owners fear that without connections in Washington, they have little hope of getting help. And critics question whether it is appropriate to prop up groups trying to influence the political debate in the middle of a presidential campaign.

Cases rise aboard another U.S. Navy ship.

Crewmembers on a U.S. Navy destroyer have been stricken with the coronavirus, according to Pentagon officials, marking the second American warship at sea to be hit by the illness.

At least one crew member aboard the USS Kidd, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer with a crew of roughly 300, has been medically evacuated and the ship is returning to port where it will be cleaned.

“There have been other positive cases,” said Jonathan Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesman, during a news conference Friday. “I don’t have the number but the Navy will be able to give that information later.”

Other medical personnel have been flown aboard the warship to begin testing of the crew and contact tracing, said Mr. Hoffman.

More than a dozen Navy ships that are currently in their home ports, are contending with the virus in some fashion, but the Kidd is the only ship, other than the Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier currently docked in Guam, to be hit with the virus during a deployment.

The Kidd, which was deployed to the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific, is part of the counter-narcotic mission that was announced by President Trump earlier this month.

The number of virus patients in hospitals has fallen sharply, too, by more than 3,000 people since last Friday, according to statistics he cited. While polling places would remain open, he announced that he would direct the state Board of Election to send every voter a postage-paid application for an absentee ballot for the upcoming June 23 primary.

The president asserted, without any scientific evidence, at his daily White House briefing on Thursday that sunlight, ultraviolet light and household disinfectants could possibly kill the coronavirus inside the body.

The president’s theorizing on Thursday came after a scientist, William N. Bryan, the head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters at the briefing that the government had tested how sunlight and disinfectants — including bleach and alcohol — could kill the coronavirus on surfaces in as little as 30 seconds.

“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but we’re going to test it?” he added, turning to Mr. Bryan, who had returned to his seat. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.”

Apparently reassured that the tests he was proposing would take place, Mr. Trump then theorized about the possible medical benefits of disinfectants in the fight against the virus.

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?” he asked. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

The White House on Friday sent a corrected briefing transcript, which initially misrepresented a response from Deborah L. Birx, Mr. Trump’s coronavirus response coordinator. In the earlier version, sent Thursday night, after the president suggested treating the coronavirus with light and heat, Dr. Birx is quoted as saying, “That is a treatment.” The corrected version clarified that Dr. Birx actually said, “Not as a treatment.”

Shortly after, the White House also accused news organizations of taking the president’s comments out of context.

“President Trump has repeatedly said that Americans should consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment, a point that he emphasized again during yesterday’s briefing,” the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said in a statement.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi ridiculed Mr. Trump’s comment on Friday as she criticized his priorities for coronavirus relief, including his refusal to agree to provide money to bail out the U.S. Postal Service and reluctance so far to send aid to cash-strapped states. “They told me, it came right from the president: No money for the post office,” she said, before leaving the press conference. “Instead inject Lysol into your lung as we shut down the states.”

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” the company said. The words “under no circumstance” were highlighted in bold.

Wall Street climbs even as global stocks fall.

Stocks on Wall Street rose in early trading on Friday, even as shares in global markets slipped, as a week of dramatic turns in the financial markets came to a close.

The S&P 500 rose about half a percent in early trading. Shares in Europe were slightly lower, and Asian markets also had a down day.

But the focus among traders in the U.S. this week has been oil prices after the American benchmark for crude crashed into negative territory on Monday — an unprecedented move that broke through the relative calm that had settled over financial markets. On Tuesday, stocks suffered their sharpest drop in three weeks after the dive in oil prices, and even after rebounding slightly the S&P 500 is still on track to end the week with a drop.

Still, stocks are subject to sudden changes in sentiment or reversals in efforts to reopen economies. Economic and corporate data continues to outline the toll the virus has taken on the global economy, and American officials emphasized that recovery would be difficult. On Friday, new data showed that the near-shutdown of the economy has pushed U.S. manufacturing into free-fall.

And even as some companies begin to consider reopening factories, they face opposition in some quarters. For example, the United Automobile Workers union said on Thursday that it was opposed to companies restarting auto production next month, saying it was not yet safe for its members to return to work.

Oil prices continued to find a footing, climbing slightly. Still, they remain near historical lows amid concerns about oversupply.

In January, a mystery illness swept through a call center in a skyscraper in Chicago. Close to 30 people in one department alone had symptoms — dry, deep coughs and fevers they could not shake. When they gradually returned to work after taking sick days, they sat in their cubicles looking wan and tired.

“I’ve started to think it was the coronavirus,” said Julie Parks, a 63-year-old employee who was among the sick. “I may have had it, but I can’t be sure.”

The retroactive search is happening on many levels. People who had suffered dreadful bouts with flulike illnesses are now wondering if it was the virus. Doctors are thinking back to unexplained cases. Medical examiners are poring over their records looking for possible misdiagnosed deaths. And local politicians are demanding investigations.

“I think it was here long before we knew it,” said Brian Gustafson, a coroner in Rock Island County, Ill. “That’s the only logical thing I can think of.”

Included in Mr. Gustafson’s suspicions of an undercount: himself.

When should businesses reopen? What should be done about residents who ignore stay-at-home orders? Is it possible to balance the restlessness of those stuck inside with the dire predictions of public health experts?

These questions and others are keeping public officials up at night across America. It’s joblessness versus sickness. It’s cabin fever versus the risk of a real fever.

That debate is particularly contentious in the Kansas City, Mo., metropolitan area. The philosophies of various leaders collide across two states — Missouri and Kansas — as well as multiple counties and cities. Some want to reopen businesses May 3; others said May 15 at the earliest.

“I do think we’re going to have to show some kind of movement off the May 15 date,” said Stephen Arbo, the city manager of Lee’s Summit, Mo., arguing that a restless public may not obey stay-home orders for that long.

Quinton Lucas, the mayor of Kansas City, Mo., urged against a premature reopening that he felt could put lives at risk.

“What I cannot simply say is, ‘Well, good luck to everybody over 60 or overweight in Kansas City, Mo., with some higher likelihood of infection,’” he said, “because that’s a heck of a lot of us.”

New Mexico averts the worst of the virus for now despite challenges.

New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the country, has averted a soaring death coronavirus toll despite heading into the crisis with a severe shortage of hospital beds, a rapidly aging population and high rates of underlying conditions like chronic liver disease.

Infectious disease specialists say New Mexico seems to have staved off disaster — for the moment, at least — with a death rate that is lower than neighboring states like Colorado and Oklahoma.

As state and local authorities grasp for strategies, New Mexico’s series of decisive moves early in the crisis reflect how even states with a dearth of resources can mount a dynamic pandemic response.

New Mexico’s measures included shutting down schools before most states, aggressively expanding social distancing, ramping up testing beyond levels achieved in richer states and using a pioneering telemedicine initiative to quickly train rural health workers for coronavirus care.

“Hundreds of lives were saved because of what the state did early on, and that’s using conservative estimates,” said Helen Wearing, a mathematician specializing in disease ecology at the University of New Mexico.

Still, infectious disease specialists say it is far too early to declare victory. New Mexico is among states grappling with the outbreak on the Navajo Nation, which spreads over New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Epidemiologists also warn that the easing of distancing measures in neighboring states could provide a boost for the virus.

But after reporting a crucial slowing in the spread of the infection this week, New Mexico has some breathing space – something specialists couldn’t imagine even just a few weeks ago.

Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Eileen Sullivan, William J. Broad, Sarah Mervosh, John Eligon, Dan Levin, J. David Goodman, Michael Rothfeld, Julie Bosman, Patricia Cohen, Richard Fausset, Amy Harmon, Carl Hulse, Rick Rojas, Simon Romero, Thomas Fuller and Marc Santora.

source: nytimes.com

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