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Public health care leaders urge national ‘reset button’ in COVID-19 fight

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A group of national public health experts joined with a nonprofit public interest group Friday in urging American political leaders to shut down again as coronavirus cases continue spiking in the nation.

“Our decision-makers need to hit the reset button,” said Matt Wellington of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “Continuing on the path we’re on now will result in widespread suffering and death. And for what? Health experts laid out criteria for how to reopen safely. It’s time to listen to them.”

The organization describes itself as the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, and as a “consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society,” according to spokesman Ross Sherman.

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The doctrine, which can be read here, was signed by, among others, the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel; Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Dr. William Hanage; Northwestern University’s Dr. Seth Trueger; and Yale School of Medicine’s Dr. Reshma Ramachandran.

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The organization said it plans to gather support from additional experts and will update the letter with new signers next week before delivering it to a set of governors, congressional leadership and the Trump administration.

The letter points out that more than 117,000 Americans had died of COVID-19 by mid-June. The letter says many states reopened non-essential businesses and loosened shelter-in-place orders too quickly and did so without meeting key criteria that health experts laid out to reopen safely. Those criteria include:

  • Enough daily testing capacity to test everyone with flu-like symptoms plus anyone they have been in close contact with during the last two weeks. This means at least 10 additional tests per symptomatic person.
  • A workforce of contact tracers large enough to trace all current cases. That’s 210,000 more contact tracers than totals in April.
  • More personal protective equipment to keep essential workers such as health professionals, emergency responders and grocery store clerks safe.

Teams of military medics were deployed in Texas and California to help hospitals deluged by coronavirus patients, as Miami-area authorities began stepping up enforcement Friday of a mask requirement — echoing efforts in many parts of the world to contain infections.

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In California, military doctors, nurses and other health care specialists were being deployed to eight hospitals facing staffing shortages amid record-breaking case numbers. In Houston, an 86-person Army medical team worked to take over a wing of United Memorial Medical Center.

Several states have been reporting record numbers this week, contributing to a surge in the national death rate. The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths has risen 34% from two weeks ago, while the case count in that period shot up 43%.

Florida reported 128 new deaths Friday and 11,345 new cases.

Credit: AJC

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Credit: AJC

Texas reported at least 10,000 new cases for the third consecutive day Thursday and 129 additional deaths. California reported its largest two-day total of confirmed cases, nearly 20,000, along with 258 deaths over 48 hours.

Public officials must take charge in these deeply troubling times, the letter said. ”Tell the American people the truth about the virus, even when it’s hard,” the letter said about the responsibility government must take. “Take bold action to save lives — even when it means shutting down again.”