Daily updates on the emerging novel coronavirus from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
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March 16, 2020

Note: although we include case counts to help provide situational awareness to our readers, the numbers are constantly changing. Please refer to the WHO or the public health agencies of affected countries for the latest information.

EPI UPDATE The most recent WHO situation report tallies 153,517 cumulative cases and 5,735 deaths globally including 10,982 new cases and 343 new deaths. The vast majority of new cases and deaths were generated in regions outside of China. As of 930 AM EDT, the John Hopkins CSSE COVID-19 map reported 169,387 cases and 6,513 deaths worldwide. 

In Europe, outbreaks of COVID-19 continue to grow. The ECDC reported 51,771 cases and 6,507 deaths in the EU/EEA and the United Kingdom as of this morning. As of the evening of March 15, the Italian Ministry of Health reported 24,747 total cases and 368 new deaths, bringing the total deaths there to 1,809. Spain, France and Germany are all seeing increases in case numbers. 

South Korea reported less than 100 new cases for two days in a row, continuing a decline there. Local reports express hope that the outbreak is coming under control, but there is also concern over new clusters of infections. In Japan, the Ministry of Health reported only 13 newly confirmed cases and 4 deaths. Malaysia reported 190 new COVID-19 cases in the country, many of which were tied to a mass gathering attended by roughly 16,000 people in early March. The Malaysian government reports having contacted at least 4,942 participants in recent days. Iran reported 1,209 new cases, raising the total there to 13,938 cases and 724 deaths.

The Johns Hopkins CSSE map reports 3,813 COVID-19 cases and 69 deaths in the United States across 49 US states. The largest outbreaks are reported in New York, Washington, and California, in addition to several other states topping 100 cumulative cases. Earlier today, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced 221 new cases in New York State, bringing the total there to 950. The Washington State Department of Health reports 769 COVID-19 cases and 42 deaths. Over half of the cases (55%) and deaths (88%) are tied to patients from King County. California’s Department of Health’s most recent report listed 335 COVID-19 cases and 6 deaths. 

CURFEWS BEING IMPLEMENTED Several US states and territories have implemented curfews and other restrictions. Certain cities in New Jersey , such as Hoboken, have instituted a curfew that prevents people from leaving their homes from 10 PM to 5 AM. Puerto Rico has also issued an executive order requiring a two-week closure for most businesses as well as an overnight curfew starting at 9 PM through March 30. Other countries, including Iraq and the Philippines, have also instituted curfews in key cities to encourage social distancing. 

US RESPONSE The US Senate is expected to vote on the House-passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act to support businesses and families affected by response measures. The bill allows for paid sick leave for companies of 500 employees or fewer. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees, however, could apply for exemption from this rule if offering the benefit is detrimental to the business. The exemptions could apply to over 30 million Americans who are employed by small businesses. The bill also includes funding for expanding food support programs and for free COVID-19 testing. 

On March 15th, the CDC published guidance that recommends cancelling or postponing mass gatherings of over 50 people. The new guidance follows reports of many states implementing restrictions to encourage social distancing, including closing bars and restaurants or allowing for take-out food only, and recommending that senior citizens stay at home. In a press conference on March 15th, the White House did not rule out possible domestic travel restrictions.   

The Department of Health and Human Services suffered from a cyber-attack on March 15th that resulted in the spread of disinformation about a possible national quarantine. According to sources interviewed, hackers did not appear to steal data from the systems. 

As case counts continue to grow across the United States, there are a number of pressing concerns. Many hospitals are feeling the burden of increased demand, and have taken measures to try and prepare for an expected surge in cases. Businessman Jack Ma has reportedly shipped 500,000 testing kits and 1 million masks to the United States in an effort to support the US’s national response. 

UNITED KINGDOM CONSIDERS ISOLATING ELDERLY FOR EXTENDED TIME According to BBC News , UK Secretary Matt Hancock has said that residents over 70 years old and those with certain underlying health conditions will soon be asked to remain at home. The recommendation could come “within weeks.” Reuters has reported that quarantine or isolation of the elderly could last for up to four months. The news follows a March 12th announcement from the UK Department of Health and Social Care that response efforts are shifting from containment to a “delay” phase. New measures include asking those who are ill to isolate at home for seven days. The UK has not moved to close schools or limit mass gatherings; these decisions depart from the actions of many countries where broad social distancing measures have already been implemented. UK officials have said that they may take additional measures “at the time of greatest risk.” In a statement originally published March 14th and updated March 16th, a group of scientists expressed concerns that delaying social distancing measures on a wider scale could lead to substantial health system burden in the coming weeks. 

NEW PREPRINT FINDINGS Two papers recently posted on the preprint server bioRxiv report on SARS-CoV-2 studies with rhesus macaques. The first study describes the potential transmission of the via the conjunctiva membrane in the eye. The study’s results suggest that macaques in the study could be infected via this route, but the authors note that additional research is needed to confirm this finding. The second study describes the potential for re-infection in rhesus macaques who had been infected and recovered. The study reintroduced the SARS-CoV-2 virus to the macaques and found that none showed notable viral loads five days after the reintroduction. The researchers suggest that these findings provide evidence that initial SARS-CoV-2 infection could offer protective immunity for those re-exposed. The duration of that protection is not known.

ECONOMIC IMPACT Reuters reported that the US Federal Reserve further cut interest rates yesterday, in an effort to quell stock market sell-off. The move was followed by other actions by central banks across the world to further stabilize the global economy. Despite these measures, stock markets have continued to fall today due to fears about the economic impact of COVID-19.  

HAND LOTION TO HAND SANITIZER Luxury goods conglomerate LVMH announced that it is transitioning some of its makeup and perfume production lines in France to instead produce hand sanitizer. LVMH will donate the hand sanitizer to French health agencies in order to supplement supply nationwide. Production is scheduled to start today, and LVMH stated that it will continue “for as long as necessary.”