Daily COVID-19 Briefing: 4/12/20

Top news, reports and insights for today:

  1. U.S. deaths pass 20,000, increase 10% on Saturday
    The U.S. data show stable rates of COVID-19 deaths over the last 5 days, hovering around 2,000 a day, rising on Saturday by 10% to 20,454. The U.S. continues to report the highest death toll in the world. However, as disease detectives, we compare countries using rates in addition to raw numbers. The U.S. ranks 14th in crude death rate (COVID-19 deaths divided by confirmed cases) at 65 per 1 million population. By comparison, Spain, Italy and Belgium are all over 300 deaths per 1 million. As is true for cases, flat growth in deaths does not mean peak in deaths.
  1. Regional patterns are seen in state death tallies
    Yesterday, I commented on regional patterns in state case trends. Today I made a similar chart for 3-day changes in deaths for each state to see whether there were regional patterns. The figure shows change in daily deaths over the last 3 days by states and DC grouped by region. Looking at percent changes can be a better clue to where the next hotspots will be. Deaths rose by 50% in three days in 14 states and DC. These states are doubling deaths every 6 days on average. As was true of cases, the hardest hit region was the northeast with half the states hitting this threshold (DC, Delaware, Massachussetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island). Two of twelve southern states (North Carolina and Virginia) had 50% growth in deaths. Only Hawaii, Idaho and Nevada were above that mark out west, while four of 14 states did in the Midwest (Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and North Dakota). The governors of two of these states, Iowa and North Dakota, have refused to issue stay at home orders despite significant rises in deaths. In the hard-hit northeast region, both New York and New Jersey saw less rapid rise in deaths, while states south and west of New York are seeing more rapid growth.
  1. No need to disinfect delivery boxes and groceries
    People keep asking me how they should “sterilize” the boxes that come in the mail or the groceries from the store. This is an area where we don’t have perfect answers. However, based on what we do know, best-practice guidelines do not suggest the need to disinfect the stuff you get outside. A new story from NPR on April 12 summarizes things nicely. Based on their interviews with infectious disease experts, they suggest focusing on the people and not the food. The biggest risk of infection when shopping is just being in the store, not the products you bring home. So, practice your standard precautions when going out: 1) maintain social distance, 2) shop when stores are less crowded, 3) sanitize cart handles and baskets, 4) wash your hands frequently, and 5) wear a cloth mask to reduce chances of giving the disease to others. Experts say you can skip wearing gloves when you are out (unless you have cuts or sores on your hands). The point is not to keep the virus off your hands, but to keep it out of your airway. When out, assume your hands (this includes gloves) could be contaminated, so don’t touch your face. Most people don’t wash gloves and you can increase your risk by putting them on and taking them off wrong. As far as food goes, experts don’t suggest going crazy trying to sterilize your food. Regular washing of fruits and vegetables is most likely fine. Disinfecting sprays and wipes are intended for hard surfaces, not cereal boxes and plastic wrap.
    The bottom line: When a box is delivered, take your stuff out of the box, throw the box away and wash your hands. When you get home from the grocery store, put the food away, discard bags and containers and wash your hands. Then, wash your hands again.
  2. Happy Easter and Passover!

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