New federal projections show that if the restrictions are lifted after only 30 days, it could lead to a drastic spike in cases.


Credit…The New York Times
  • The global death toll surpassed 100,000, with more than 1.6 million confirmed cases.

  • President Trump called the question of when to relax social distancing guidelines “the biggest decision I’ll ever make.”

  • The World Health Organization will soon begin large-scale antibody testing in multiple countries.

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New federal projections show that stay-at-home orders, school closures and social distancing greatly reduce infections of the coronavirus. But if the restrictions are lifted after 30 days, experts say, it would lead to a drastic spike in cases.

For states like New York, Massachusetts and Illinois, which ordered restrictions in late March, that spike would come in mid- to late summer, according to the projections.

“It’s important to remember this is not the time to feel that, since we have made such important advance in the success of the mitigation, that we need to be pulling back at all,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert and member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said on Friday.

The projections, which were prepared by the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, offer a sobering argument for continued restrictions:

  • Without any mitigation, the projection says, the death toll from the coronavirus could have reached 300,000.

  • If officials lift stay-at-home orders after 30 days, the death total is estimated to reach 200,000 — even if schools remain closed, people work remotely and social distancing continues.

The restrictions must be lifted eventually, of course, and Dr. Fauci noted that an increase in cases would undoubtedly follow. But the new projections show how crucial the timing will be.

“The facts are going to determine what we do,” President Trump, who has been eager to restart the economy, said on Friday. “We hope we’re going to be able to fulfill a certain date. But we’re not doing anything until we know that this country is going to be healthy. We don’t want to go back and start doing it over again.”

If not now, when? The Times Magazine asked five experts — including a bioethicist, an economist and a civil rights leader — about the moral and ethical considerations that will go into deciding to resume the usual rhythms of American life.

The Times is providing free access to much of our coronavirus coverage, and our Coronavirus Briefing newsletter — like all of our newsletters — is free. Please consider supporting our journalism with a subscription.

While much of the world has put draconian measures in place to fight outbreaks, South Korea and Iceland have avoided doing so — and found a degree of normalcy that remains a distant dream for most countries.

South Korea’s success managing the epidemic is well-known: After an initial explosion of cases, it employed swift, widespread testing and contact tracing. There are now fewer than 50 new confirmed cases a day.

The country has made so much progress that on Friday, it proceeded with a nationwide election. Unlike in this week’s Wisconsin primary, polling stations in South Korea all followed extensive precautions: After voters waited at three-foot intervals, and they were required to have their temperatures taken, use hand sanitizer and don disposable gloves to cast a ballot.

Iceland, whose outbreak started much later than South Korea’s, is trying to follow a similar path — with the goal of testing every single person in the country.

Primary schools, day care centers and some restaurants remain open, and tourists are still allowed to enter. About a tenth of the Nordic island’s 360,000 residents had been tested as of Wednesday morning.

Critics say there are not enough resources to test the whole country expediently, and many have warned that a false sense of optimism could bring disastrous consequences.

But the assistant to Iceland’s director of health has said officials believe that the case count — 1,675 — has already peaked and that more people are now recovering than getting infected.

Determining when Americans will be able to go back to school or work could depend on something called an antibody test. Here’s what we know — and what we don’t — about these tests.

What is an antibody test?

When your body encounters a virus, it triggers an immune response and produces antibodies. The test looks for signs of that response — in this case, the antibodies that appear to fight the coronavirus.

I’m pretty sure I had the coronavirus already. Can I take a test and go back to work?

Not yet. Most of these tests offer a simple yes-no answer to the question of who has antibodies. But simply having antibodies does not guarantee immunity — if you had mild or no symptoms, for example, you might not have developed antibodies strong enough to prevent reinfection.

When will these tests be widely available?

Dr. Fauci said on CNN this morning that more would be available in the U.S. within a week or so, and the World Health Organization is planning to test large numbers of people in multiple countries. Some tests are already available, particularly in research projects and hospitals, but it’s unclear how reliable they are.

How long would immunity last?

We don’t know. But if the coronavirus is like other viruses, it could be anywhere from one to eight years.

  • More than 7,800 deaths have been reported in New York State, but the actual tally is most likely much higher, as many home deaths go uncounted. In New York City, some victims are being buried in mass graves as morgues become overwhelmed.

  • Michigan — the third hardest-hit state, with 21,375 cases — will ban travel between homes beginning Saturday.

  • Yemen reported its first case. It could be particularly vulnerable to the crisis, as its economy and health infrastructure have been ravaged by five years of war.

  • After months of denial, Russia admitted to a surge in cases: In Moscow, the number more than doubled over the past week to 6,500, pushing its health care system to the limit.

Entertain yourself: Our culture writers offer suggestions on music, theater and more to experience at home this weekend.

Don’t fall for these myths: Gloves won’t protect you as well as you might think, and there’s no need to stock up on vitamin C.

Host a family meeting: Does everyone in your household dislike everyone else now? Maybe it’s time for a family meeting. Here’s how to host a successful one.

Wear a face mask while you run: Even though outdoor exercise is probably safe with or without a mask, most of us probably should cover our faces. Our Ask Well column answered more questions about working out and face masks.

The Times is collecting the stories of people who have died in the pandemic. Here are a few from this week.

John Prine, 73: The raspy-voiced country-folk singer was a favorite of Bob Dylan.

Sandra Santos-Vizcaino, 54: She was one of the most beloved instructors at Public School 9 in Brooklyn.

David C. Driskell, 88: The artist, art historian and curator was pivotal in bringing recognition to African-American art.

While walking my dog in the evenings after work, I’ve begun to greet everyone I see, whether I know them or not. I shout a loud “good evening” to passers-by and those out in their yards or simply sitting on their porches. Every car that goes by gets a smile and a wave. We all now have one stitch of commonality, and these simple actions are my way of putting aside all of our other petty differences and saying that together, we will get through this.

— Ann D. Baus, La Crosse, Kan.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the outbreak. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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  • Updated April 11, 2020

    • When will this end?

      This is a difficult question, because a lot depends on how well the virus is contained. A better question might be: “How will we know when to reopen the country?” In an American Enterprise Institute report, Scott Gottlieb, Caitlin Rivers, Mark B. McClellan, Lauren Silvis and Crystal Watson staked out four goal posts for recovery: Hospitals in the state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care; the state needs to be able to at least test everyone who has symptoms; the state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts; and there must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • How does coronavirus spread?

      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • Is there a vaccine yet?

      No. Clinical trials are underway in the United States, China and Europe. But American officials and pharmaceutical executives have said that a vaccine remains at least 12 to 18 months away.

    • What makes this outbreak so different?

      Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • What if somebody in my family gets sick?

      If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Should I stock up on groceries?

      Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • Should I pull my money from the markets?

      That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.

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