A version of this story appeared in the May 27 edition of Bioreports’s Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.
The World Health Organization issued that assessment yesterday as outbreaks accelerate in several Latin American countries.
Brazil has the most cases outside of the United States, Mexico recorded its largest single-day increases in cases and deaths yesterday, and Peru and Chile now have the world’s highest infection rates per capita over a seven-day rolling average.
“For most countries in the Americas, now is not the time to relax restrictions or scale back preventive strategies,” WHO’s regional director Dr. Carissa Etienne said. “Now is the time to stay strong, to remain vigilant and to aggressively implement proven public health measures.”
Brazil’s daily death rate became the highest in the world this week, according to one widely used model, which is now projecting that deaths there will hit 125,000 by early August. As the country’s health crisis grows, controversy is swirling around President Jair Bolsonaro, who continues to downplay the virus’ risks as he focuses on the financial impact instead — much like his US counterpart, President Donald Trump, who banned most travel from Brazil yesterday.
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED
Q: What don’t we know about the coronavirus?
A: Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician and medical researcher at Brown University, spent last week testifying before Congress on what we know — and still don’t know — about the coronavirus. After explaining the disease to lawmakers, she outlined our understanding of Covid-19 in a Twitter thread that quickly went viral. Things we’re still in the dark about: The true case fatality rate, what works to treat it, how long immunity lasts and when we might get an effective vaccine. While those are critical knowledge gaps scientists are working to bridge, we do know (crucially) how to decrease transmissions and deaths: Social distancing, testing, isolation and contact tracing, adequate personal protective equipment. We must keep doing those things to keep ourselves and our communities safe, Ranney says.
Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY
A debate over masks in America underscores deep political polarization
The simple act of wearing a mask to protect others during a pandemic is now a political and cultural flashpoint, underscoring the polarization afflicting every corner of American life, Stephen Collinson writes.
President Trump’s use of the bully pulpit to defy his own government’s advice on face coverings has turned into the era’s latest ideologically-motivated assault on science and civility. The episode is unfolding at a particularly intense moment of the President’s cycle of distortion and distraction. His latest target: presumptive Democratic 2020 rival Joe Biden. In his first in-person interview since stay-at-home orders began, Biden hit back at Trump for mocking his mask, saying the President was a “fool,” whose “macho” behavior was costing lives.
How many people have coronavirus? Sometimes, it’s just a guess
Dozens of tests are on the market, but their reliability varies greatly. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which look for evidence of the coronavirus, are usually accurate — but not always.
Some studies are beginning to indicate that when patients are severely ill, the virus replicates deeper in the respiratory system, beyond the reach of the swabs used for most of the testing. And just as false negatives cause headaches for doctors, they can also cause people to make the wrong decisions when it comes to lifting restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19.
The EU is still divided over coronavirus relief. That could tear it apart
A fight over how to fund the European Union’s recovery from the pandemic is stoking tensions between wealthier and poorer countries. That rift is threatening to delay the region’s economic rebound and unleash political and financial forces that could pull the bloc apart, Julia Horowitz writes.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is unveiling her proposal for digging Europe out of a historic recession today— a €750 billion ($826 billion) coronavirus recovery fund. But deep divisions between member states still need to be bridged, raising the risk that urgently needed relief could be held up.
Australia angered China by calling for a coronavirus probe. Now Beijing is retaliating
It didn’t take long after Australia’s first calls for an international investigation into the origins of the virus before rumblings of retaliation came from China. Now, Beijing is targeting its exports, and that’s a problem. As Australia faces the very real prospect of recession, relations with China — its largest trading partner by far — are more important than ever, Ben Westcott writes.
Experts say Australia is seen as a test case — can a liberal democracy with close trade ties to the authoritarian government in Beijing still maintain an independent foreign policy, which will at times be critical of the Chinese Communist Party?
Inside one of the world’s largest brothels a desperate situation is unfolding
“Because of this coronavirus pandemic, we are now in trouble,” said Nodi, 25. “We have no work.” She’s one of nearly 1,500 women and girls, and 500 children, packed inside a 12-acre brothel complex in Daulatdia, Bangladesh, resembling an overcrowded slum.
The site has been locked down since Bangladesh issued a nationwide stay-at-home order in late March. No one — including clients — is allowed in or out. The government, police and local NGOs are supplying some relief to the women, but Nodi says they aren’t getting nearly enough food. “If it continues, children will die from starvation. We pray that the virus will go away.”
ON OUR RADAR
- Denmark is allowing cross-border “sweethearts” to reunite — but only if they can provide proof (like love letters or photos) that they’ve been in a relationship for 6 months.
- Thailand isn’t reopening to international tourists yet. But when they do, it may be first for long-stay packages in isolated areas where health monitoring can be easily controlled — like the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan.
- A two-hour choir rehearsal in Washington state turned into a Covid-19 “super spreader” event, infecting 53 people. Two later died.
- Dating is a debacle during this pandemic, even for sporting stars. But at least tennis champ Genie Bouchard is getting to do it for a good cause — raising $4,000 for charity.
When is it OK to be around other people? And how close is too close?
People who have been sick with coronavirus should stay away from other people until they’ve gone at least three days with no fever, have seen symptoms improve, and until it’s been 10 days since they first noticed symptoms, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said in updated guidance. The new recommendations include tips on using public transportation and ride shares, as states loosen lockdowns. Here’s what you need to know:
- Avoid gathering in groups, and stay out of crowded spaces when possible, especially at transit stations and stops.
- Consider skipping a row of seats between yourself and other riders if possible.
- Enter and exit buses through rear entry doors if possible.
- Look for social distancing instructions or physical guides offered by transit authorities (for example, floor decals or signs indicating where to stand or sit to remain at least 6 feet apart from others).
“Every decision suddenly feels exhausting because we keep on searching for the most relevant information and it’s not always there at all.” — Neuroscientist Daphna Shohamy
What should I eat for dinner? What should I watch on TV? On the podcast, Bioreports Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explores why even small decisions feel harder than normal during a pandemic. Listen Now.