U.S. health officials say death toll may fall short of most dire projections

By Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two senior U.S. health officials have said they now believe the coronavirus outbreak may kill fewer Americans than some recent projections, pointing to tentative signs that the death toll was starting to level off in New York and other hot spots.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Tuesday said he concurred with the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that some research models have projected death totals that may prove too high, though neither would offer an alternate estimate.

The White House coronavirus task force projected a death toll of 100,000 to 240,000 a week ago, saying containing deaths to that range was possible if strict social distances measures were respected, implying it could go even higher.

Adams on Tuesday told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he was encouraged by recent data showing a possible “flattening” of the outbreak in some areas, referring to the shape of the curve when deaths are shown on a graph.

Asked if he believed the death toll would come in below the dire White House task force projection, Adams said, “That’s absolutely my expectation.”

“I feel a lot more optimistic, again, because I’m seeing mitigation work,” he said, adding that he agreed with CDC director Robert Redfield that deaths could fall short of totals that some computer models showed.

The governors of New York, New Jersey and Louisiana pointed to tentative signs on Monday that the coronavirus outbreak may be starting to plateau but warned against complacency.

The coronavirus death toll has surpassed 10,000 in the United States and confirmed cases have topped 367,000.

President Donald Trump, who previously said the coronavirus would miraculously disappear, responded to the recent White House projection by saying any death toll less than 100,000 would be considered a success.

Redfield on Monday told KVOI radio in Tucson, Arizona, that social distancing of the type ordered by nearly all state governors was effective.

“If we just social distance, we will see this virus and this outbreak basically decline, decline, decline. And I think that’s what you’re seeing,” Redfield said. “I think you’re going to see the numbers are, in fact, going to be much less than what would have been predicted by the models.”

A research model from the University of Washington – one of several cited by leading health authorities – forecasts 81,766 U.S. coronavirus fatalities by Aug. 4, down about 12,000 from a weekend projection.

The pandemic has upended daily life around the globe, killing more than 74,000 people and infecting at least 1.3 million.

American hospitals have been overwhelmed with sufferers of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, reporting shortages of personnel, protective garments and other supplies while patients agonize alone, prohibited from receiving guests.

Even so, rates of growth and hospitalizations were slowing, possibly signaling a peak was at hand in three U.S. epicenters of the pandemic, the governors of New York and New Jersey said on Monday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said statewide deaths from COVID-19 had leveled off around 600 per day in recent days, highest in the nation. But hospitalizations, admissions to intensive care units and the number of patients put on ventilator machines to keep them breathing had all declined, Cuomo said.

In neighboring New Jersey, the state with the second-highest number of cases and deaths, Governor Phil Murphy said efforts to reduce the spread “are starting to pay off.” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards likewise expressed cautious optimism, noting that new hospital admissions were trending down.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. CDC says not yet invited to assist with coronavirus investigation in China

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday it had not yet been invited to send in experts to assist with the investigation of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 1,000 people.

An advance team of World Health Organization medical experts arrived in China on Monday to help investigate the outbreak, and the United States has been waiting for approval to send its experts as part of the WHO team.

(Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

U.S. declares coronavirus a public health emergency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Friday declared a public health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak and said it would take the extraordinary step of barring entry to the United States of foreign nationals who have traveled to China.

Starting on Sunday, U.S. citizens who have traveled to China’s Hubei Province within the last 14 days will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a media briefing at the White House on Friday.

The administration will also limit flights from China to seven U.S. airports, he said.

“The actions we have taken and continue to take complement the work of China and the World Health Organization to contain the outbreak within China,” Azar said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said there were six confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States. He said there were 191 individuals under investigation for the disease.

Redfield said the risk to the U.S. public from the outbreak is low.

The flu-like virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and was first identified earlier this month, has resulted in 213 deaths in China.

More than 9,800 people have been infected in China and more than 130 cases reported in at least 25 other countries and regions, with Russia, Britain, Sweden and Italy all reporting their first cases on Thursday or Friday.

The U.S. State Department warned Americans on Thursday not to travel to China because of the epidemic.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Sandra Maler; editing by Diane Craft)

Officials confirm five U.S. cases of coronavirus after China travel

By David Henry

(Reuters) – Five people in the United States, all of whom recently traveled from Wuhan, China, have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus, officials of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday.

The count includes new patients identified over the weekend in the Los Angeles and Phoenix areas, as well as cases reported earlier in Chicago and Seattle.

Another 25 people have tested negative for the illness, but at least 100 more possible cases are being investigated, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a conference call with reporters.

She said to expect more cases to be reported in the United States in coming days.

Messonnier described the risk to health in the United States as “low at this time” because all of the patients traveled from Wuhan. She said there is no evidence in the United States of the disease spreading to other people.

Health authorities around the world are racing to prevent a pandemic after more than 2,000 people were infected in China and 56 have died after contracting the virus.

The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are a still many important unknowns surrounding it. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases. It is still too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people.

(Reporting by David Henry in New York and Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; editing by John Stonestreet and Marguerita Choy)

U.S. vaping-related deaths climb to 39, illnesses to 2,051

U.S. vaping-related deaths climb to 39, illnesses to 2,051
(Reuters) – U.S. health officials on Thursday reported 2,051 confirmed and probable cases and 2 more deaths from a mysterious respiratory illness tied to vaping, taking the total death toll to 39.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,888 cases and 37 deaths from the illness.

As of Nov. 5, 39 deaths have been confirmed in 24 states and the District of Columbia, the agency said.

Investigators have not linked the cases to any specific product or compound, but have pointed to vaping oils containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, as being especially risky.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla and Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)

FCC suggests ‘988’ as new suicide prevention hotline

FILE PHOTO: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) logo is seen before the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

By Bryan Pietsch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Federal Communications Commission staffers recommended the agency designate “988” as a new phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in place of the current 10-digit number, the FCC said on Thursday.

The current phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The 10-digit number received over 2 million calls in 2018, the FCC said.

A division of the FCC sent a report to Congress on Wednesday recommending the change to a shorter number because it “would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that he intends to propose regulations to create the new phone number.

In 2017, 47,173 people in the United States died by suicide, the 10th highest cause of death, and more than 1.4 million adults attempted suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Reporting by Bryan Pietsch; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. measles cases in 2019 highest since 1992

FILE PHOTO: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo/File Photo

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The United States recorded 971 cases of measles in the first five months of 2019, surpassing the total for any year since 1992, which was before the disease was declared eradicated in the country, federal officials said on Thursday.

The United States declared measles eradicated from the country in 2000, but officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Thursday that the country risks losing its measles elimination status.

There were a total of 2,126 U.S. cases of measles in 1992, the CDC said in a statement.

The disease has spread mostly among school-age children whose parents declined to get them vaccinated.

Public health officials blame the resurgence on the spread of misinformation about vaccines. A vocal fringe of parents opposes vaccines, believing, contrary to scientific studies, that ingredients in them can cause autism.

“Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement.

“Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism,” Redfield said.

When measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, it meant the virus was no longer continually present year-round although outbreaks have still happened via travelers coming from countries where measles is common.

Communities in New York City’s Brooklyn borough and Rockland County, an area of New York state about 30 miles (50 km) north of Manhattan, are dealing with measles outbreaks that have lasted nearly eight months.

Other measles cases have occurred in Oklahoma and Washington state.

Decades ago, before widespread use of the measles vaccine, about 3 million to 4 million people a year became sick with the disease in the United States with 400 to 500 deaths a year.

(Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Chang and Diane Craft)

U.S. abortion rate dropped sharply in decade ending 2015, CDC reports

An exam room at the Planned Parenthood South Austin Health Center is shown in Austin, Texas, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ilana Panich-Linsman

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Abortion rates among U.S. women in all age groups plunged to a decade low, with teens experiencing a greater decrease than older women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.

Statistics for 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, show the abortion rate was 11.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. That is down 26 percent from 2006, when the study began and the rate was 15.9 abortions per 1,000 women.

Among teens aged 15 to 19, the rate decreased 54 percent from 2006 to 2015, the CDC said.

“This decrease in abortion rate was greater than the decreases for women in any older age group,” the CDC said in a statement.

The CDC did not provide any reason for the decline in the rates, but the drop comes amid efforts by many states to restrict a woman’s access to the procedure.

The total number of reported abortions fell to 638,169 in 2015, from 842,855 in 2006, a 24 percent decrease. In 2015, there were 188 abortions per 1,000 live births, compared with 233 abortions per 1,000 live births in 2006, a drop of 19 percent.

In 2015, all measures reached their lowest level for the entire period of analysis (2006-2015), the CDC said of the annual study, “Abortion Surveillance-United States 2015.”

Conservative state lawmakers are passing increasingly restrictive abortion laws in a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision that established that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

The Republican-controlled Ohio House of Representatives last week approved a measure that would ban abortions at six weeks, while an Iowa law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected is tied up in a court battle.

Such laws are designed to be thrust into a Supreme Court that has become more conservative following President Donald Trump’s appointments of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The CDC study also showed nearly all abortions, 91.1 percent, performed in 2015 were in a woman’s first 13 weeks of pregnancy. There was also a shift toward earlier abortions, with the number performed at six weeks or less increasing 11 percent.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Florida has identified 10 more Zika cases; calls in feds for help

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen at the Laboratory of Entomology and Ecology of the Dengue Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The state of Florida has identified 10 more cases of Zika virus caused by local mosquitoes and has asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send in experts to help with the investigation of the outbreak.

The state now has a total of 14 cases of Zika caused by locally transmitted mosquitoes, according to a statement issued on Monday by Florida Governor Rick Scott.

The Florida Department of Health said it believes active transmission of Zika is restricted to one small area in Miami-Dade County, just north of downtown Miami.

The health department said six of the 10 new cases are asymptomatic and were identified through the door-to-door community survey and testing that it is conducting.

Scott said the state has called on the CDC to activate a CDC Emergency Response Team to assist the Florida Department of Health and other partners in their investigation, sample collection and mosquito control efforts.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Bill Trott)

Zika virus confirmed in Texas traveler, health officials say

Health officials in one Texas county say they’ve received word that a traveler who recently visited Latin America contracted the Zika virus, a puzzling mosquito-borne illness that has collected lots of attention because it may be linked to a substantial rise in birth defects in Brazil.

Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services made the announcement Monday, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the diagnosis.

Harris County encompasses Houston and is one of the country’s largest counties.

According to the CDC, the Zika virus is spread when an infected mosquito bites a person, usually triggering a mild illness that causes people to experience symptoms like fever, rashes and joint pain. Most people recover within a week, and there’s seldom any need for hospitalization.

However, the Brazilian Ministry of Health is currently investigating more than 3,000 cases of microcephaly, a disorder that causes children to be born with abnormally small heads. Brazil only saw 147 cases of microcephaly last year, but the numbers have surged since the Zika virus arrived in May and authorities are still working to see if there’s a direct link between the two.

The CDC has said there hasn’t been any indication Zika has been contracted in the United States, though there have been multiple cases of people getting infected while visiting a foreign country and returning home. Officials didn’t indicate when or where this traveler got infected.

The virus has caused outbreaks in at least 12 countries in North and South America, according to the CDC, as well as many others in Africa and Southeast Asia. In late December, the CDC issued a travel notice for Puerto Rico after the island identified its first locally-acquired Zika infection.

The CDC asks people traveling to Puerto Rico — and other countries where Zika is present — to take proactive steps to safeguard themselves from mosquito bites, like wearing insect repellant and wearing long sleeves and pants. But the organization says the virus will likely continue to reach new territories because the specific kind of mosquitos that spread it live across the globe.

That type of mosquito — the Aedes species — are present in Harris County, according to the county Public Health & Environmental Service’s website. The agency echoed the CDC’s calls for travelers to take preventative steps when they’re traveling to nations where Zika is found.

There’s currently no vaccine against the virus, the CDC says.