States on both coasts are now banning together to fight the pandemic. On the East Coast, the Northeastern states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have joined forces to restore the regional economy and get people back to work.
“Now it is time to start opening the valve slowly and carefully while watching the infection rate meter so we don’t trigger a second wave of new infections,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “This is not a light switch that we can just flick on and everything goes back to normal — we have to come up with a smart, consistent strategy to restart the systems we shut down and get people back to work.”
Out West, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington agreed on a regional pact to reopen the economy.
“In the coming weeks, the West Coast will flip the script on COVID-19 — with our states acting in close coordination and collaboration to ensure the virus can never spread wildly in our communities,” said a joint statement from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
The number of infections — which stood at more than 570,000 on Monday afternoon — was also down Saturday and Sunday.
This comes as US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams says cases in some of the country’s hotspots — New York, New Jersey, Detroit and New Orleans — appear to be “leveling off” or even declining. The situations in California and Washington, meanwhile, remain stable.
Still, many states are in the throes of an intense effort to stem the illness’ spread. New York crossed the 10,000-death threshold Monday, as its cases topped 190,000, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. New Jersey and Michigan also have frightening death tolls, with more than 2,300 and 1,400 respectively.
The upside to New York’s numbers is that the three-day average for hospitalization, new hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and intubations are all down, Cuomo said Monday morning.
States band together to fight Covid-19
Cuomo announced Monday the beginning of a “geographically coordinated” reopening plan in conjunction with leaders in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Each state will name health and economic officials to join the governors’ chiefs of staffs to a working group, which will begin discussions Tuesday.
The group will come up with “parameters to go forward,” Cuomo said, and while they may not agree on every aspect of the strategy, finding areas where they can coordinate will be important, especially given the states’ close economic, health and transportation ties.
Calling the commuter thoroughfare from his state of Connecticut to New York the “Covid corridor,” Gov. Ned Lamont said it was vital that “you don’t pull the trigger too early,” but applauded the partnership.
“The reality is this virus doesn’t care about state borders, and our response shouldn’t either,” Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said.
“By working, sharing our information and intelligence, I think will help each of us make better decisions,” Delaware Gov. John Carney added, while Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said, “We can do anything better when we work together in this region.”
On the West Coast, California, Oregon and Washington are joining forces “on a shared approach for reopening our economies,” a joint statement from the three governors read.
The public health leaders in the three statements will focus on four main goals, the statement read. These goals include: Protecting vulnerable populations at risk like those in nursing homes, ensuring care for those who may contract Covid-19, mitigating the non-direct health impacts of the virus on disadvantaged communities and protecting the public by ensuring the lifting of restrictions comes with adequate testing.
“The states will work together to share best practices and coordinate a framework to get it done,” Inslee tweeted.
On the federal level, planning is underway for a federally supported “public health force” to carry out the state-level epidemiology “that’s going to be necessary to open the country back up,” a federal health official with knowledge of the planning told CNN.
The official, who is directly involved in the day-to-day national coronavirus response, told CNN the plan was part of discussions of next steps by the White House Task Force.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars are going out to the state health departments right now,” the official said. “They are who are going to hire people to do this work. This is to beef up our public health infrastructure through individuals that the CDC hires and places in state health departments, as well as the state health departments themselves hiring people. This plan would really beef up capabilities for if in fact we reopen and we start to see a re-emergence of cases.”
The federal health official told CNN that the “large-scale” push for epidemiology is part of the recent initiative led by eight “community protection” CDC field teams deployed in recent weeks. Those CDC teams were sent to states where transmission rates are low to assist state and local health departments with contact tracing and testing.
Neither the Task Force nor the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responded to CNN’s request for comment.
Trump is scheduled Tuesday to announce the formation of the “Opening our Country Council,” which is expected to focus on ways to stimulate the economy. Another panel, the White House’s coronavirus task force, has been focusing on providing advice to the states on what to do once reopening is advised.
The task force is weighing potential benchmarks that would precede reopening the states, but have yet to settle on specific targets, people familiar with the discussions said.
Doctors in wait-and-see mode
All 50 states are under a federal disaster declaration for the first time in US history. There are more than 29,000 members of the National Guard deployed across the country to deal with the pandemic, according to the National Guard Bureau. Guardsmen have been called to serve a variety of roles, from staffing emergency operations centers to restocking grocery shelves.
Key to how optimistic Americans should be will depend on what comes next. The country’s testing trajectory will be hugely important, experts say.
While President Donald Trump says he wants to reopen the country next month — even telling state governments to “be ready” as he plans to announce a special council to reopen the country — health officials say they’re still in wait-and-see mode even if the numbers look promising.
“It’s important to look at the country as many different separate situations,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on NBC’s “Today” show.
“This pandemic has affected different parts of the country differently,” Redfield said. “We’re looking at the data very carefully, county by county by county, and we will be assessing that.”
Public health capabilities need to be improved to perform early case detection, isolation and contact tracing, he said, and officials need to “start working to rebuild confidence in the community, so the community has confidence to reopen.”
Testing and social distancing
The US is “nearing the peak right now,” Redfield told the morning show.
“You’ll know when you’re at the peak when the next day is less than the day before,” he said. “We are stabilizing across the country in terms of the state of this outbreak.”
Detroit and Los Angeles reported lower rates of cases Monday.
As for getting the country back to normal, Redfield said it has to be done correctly and “it’s going to be a step-by-step, gradual process.”
The call for caution is being echoed on the world stage as World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked people to remember the virus accelerates faster than it decelerates, so “control measures can only be lifted if the right public health measures are in place.”
Redfield concurred with Adams that social distancing is working — and said the potential death toll “while sadly too high, was far less than we anticipated” — but said relaxing those guidelines would need to be done carefully.
Testing is still not widely available, and many states have still tested only small percentages of their populations.
Antibody tests, which reveal past coronavirus infection — an especially important test for health care workers — will “give us a good idea from a surveillance point of view of how significant the outbreak was.”
Weather adds to social distancing stress
A majority of the storms were across the South and East Coast, according to the National Weather Service, with at least 34 tornadoes reported in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia as of early Monday. At least 18 people died.
Forecast models show the worst of the weather sweeping up the eastern portions of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, but even as far north as New York, officials were urging caution.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told residents the best protection from the weather is to continue to practice social distancing.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Gisela Crespo, Amanda Watts, Elizabeth Joseph and Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.