By MORGAN WINSOR and EMILY SHAPIRO, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 324,000 people worldwide.
Over 4.9 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual number are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding the scope of their nations’ outbreaks.
Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than 1.5 million diagnosed cases and at least 92,128 deaths.
Here’s how the news is developing Wednesday. All times Eastern:
12:20 p.m.: Religious gatherings to resume in NY
Beginning Thursday, religious gatherings can resume across New York state, but with no more than 10 people and with strict social distancing guidelines, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
State officials have asked religious groups to consider drive-in and parking lot services, Cuomo said.
Cuomo said New York City’s new coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths are originating in minority and low-income neighborhoods, a finding based on antibody tests administered at churches.
In lower-income communities and communities of color, 27% tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, compared to 19% of the general population citywide.
Cuomo said New York will increase testing in 40 public housing projects, get personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer into these neighborhoods and launch a public health education effort.
11:45 a.m: World sees highest one-day increase of cases since outbreak began
With an increase of 106,000 COVID-19 cases worldwide in the last day, the globe is experiencing its highest one-day increase since the outbreak began, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.
Two-thirds of those cases were reported in four countries, he said.
He added that WHO officials are particularly encouraged by how South Korea built on experience gained during the SARS outbreak to quickly find, test, isolate and trace cases, curtailing a first wave and quickly identifying and containing new cases.
11:10 a.m.: Motor vehicle fatality rates spike 14% in March
Despite Americans across the country staying home, early data shows a 14% spike in car accident deaths nationally in March, according to the National Safety Council.
Through the first three months of 2020, states with notable jumps in roadway deaths are: Arkansas (16%); Connecticut (42%); Illinois (11%); Louisiana (23%); Nevada (10%); New York (17%); and North Carolina (10%).
“Disturbingly, we have open lanes of traffic and an apparent open season on reckless driving,” said Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council.
“Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and crisis, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely,” Martin said. “If we won’t do it for ourselves, we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our healthcare workers, who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes.”
10:35 a.m.: NYC offering testing to all of its 169 nursing homes
New York City is expanding testing to reach residents at all of the city’s 169 nursing homes, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
Senior are especially vulnerable to the virus and U.S. homes have experienced outbreaks.
Starting next week, New York City will offer on-site tests in all nursing homes and will “continue as long as it takes,” de Blasio said.
The city is expected to run 3,000 tests per day through a city-contracted lab, he said.
Mandatory staff testing has begun, the mayor said, and any staff member who tests positive will be required to stay out of work for 14 days. New York City’s surge staffing has already added 240 personnel and will fulfill all staffing requests by the end of the week, de Blasio said.
De Blasio said 10 outbreak response teams are ready to jump into action if an outbreak hits a nursing home or senior center. Each team has an epidemiologist and experts in infection control, mental health and social work, he said.
Part of the recovery planning will also include looking at the way to maximize home-based care, rather than nursing home care, the mayor said.
De Blasio on Wednesday also called attention to the “troubling” decline in vaccination rates during the pandemic.
With families staying home and fewer doctors’ offices open, the number of administered vaccine doses are down 63%, de Blasio said.
Vaccinations are down 91% for those older than 2 years, and down 42% for those younger than 2.
Over a six-week period in 2019, almost 400,000 doses were administered in the city, compared to fewer than 150,000 doses over the same six weeks in 2020, he said.
“Something has to be done immediately,” the mayor stressed, calling vaccinations “essential work” and “a reason to leave your home.”
Vaccines are being offered for free at over 1,000 facilities in the city. The mayor urged parents to call their pediatrician to make an appointment.
When it came to New York City’s three tracking progress indicators, de Blasio called it “not perfect, but a good day.”
There were 63 people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19 on Monday, up from 57 admissions on Sunday.
But there were 483 patients in city ICUs on Monday, down from 492 patients on Sunday.
And of those tested citywide on Monday, 8% were positive, down from 9% one day earlier.
9:19 a.m.: Wuhan nearly doubles number of COVID-19 tests per day
The Chinese city of Wuhan, ground zero of the coronavirus pandemic, conducted 856,128 nucleic acid tests on Tuesday, nearly doubling the previous day, according to the local health authority.
No confirmed cases of COVID-19 with symptoms were found during Tuesday’s testing period; however, 13 new asymptomatic carriers were identified, according to daily reports published by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission.
Last week, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission announced a citywide campaign to test the entire population of 11 million residents for COVID-19 in an effort to search for asymptomatic carriers of the virus, after a cluster of new cases emerged for the first time since the city had lifted its strict lockdown on April 8. The number of nucleic acid tests conducted in the city daily has rapidly increased since then.
Although recommended, participation in the testing campaign is voluntary. Residents who were previously tested do not need to take part. It is not recommended to test children under the age of 6, according to the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission’s website.
8:29 a.m.: Students start returning to classrooms across South Korea
South Korean schools began welcoming back students on Wednesday for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds of thousands of high school seniors in South Korea were allowed to return to their schools Wednesday morning, while students in lower grades are expected to go back in phased steps in the coming weeks. Both students and teachers must have their temperatures taken before entering schools and wear face masks in classrooms.
Some 5.4 million students in South Korea have been taking classes online prior to Wednesday’s reopening of schools.
South Korea once had the largest novel coronavirus outbreak outside China, where the virus first emerged, but appears to have brought it under control with an extensive “trace, test and treat” strategy. A total of 11,110 people in the country have been diagnosed with COVID-19, of which 10,066 have recovered and 263 have died, according to South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After relaxing its social-distancing restrictions earlier this month, South Korea saw a small yet sharp spike in new infections linked to reopened nightclubs in the capital, Seoul.
7:43 a.m.: Dutch officials say mink may have infected human with COVID-19
Dutch investigators believe a human may have contracted the novel coronavirus from a mink at a farm in the Netherlands.
New research findings in the ongoing investigation into the country’s mink farms also show that the animals can have COVID-19 without showing any symptoms, according to a press release from the Dutch government.
Investigators also believe cats may have a role in the spread of the virus on the mink farms. Coronavirus antibodies were detected in three out of 11 cats at one of the mink farms under investigation. Pending further research, the Dutch government is advising mink farm owners to ensure that cats cannot enter or exit the site.
The government is now instituting mandatory antibody testing of minks at all farms in the Netherlands.
“These new findings have a major impact on mink farm owners and staff and their families, as well as on local communities,” Dutch Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten said in a statement late Tuesday night. “I’m in close contact with all those involved.”
7:08 a.m.: Russia surpasses 300,000 total cases of COVID-19
Russia on Wednesday reported 8,764 new cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 308,705, according to the country’s coronavirus response headquarters.
There were also a record 135 coronavirus-linked fatalities registered over the same period — the country’s highest single-day increase so far — which places the nationwide death toll at 2,972. The previous record was 119 deaths reported on May 16.
For the first time on Wednesday, Russia’s coronavirus response headquarters reported more patients recovering from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours — 9,262 — than the number of people testing positive.
Russia has one of the world’s highest nationwide tallies of diagnosed cases in the coronavirus pandemic, second only to the United States, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
Russia’s latest daily caseload is down from a peak of 11,656 new infections reported on May 11. Last Thursday marked the end of a 12-day streak during which the country registered over 10,000 new cases per day.
6:24 a.m.: UN chief warns virus pandemic threatens Africa’s progress
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic threatens Africa’s progress, although the vast continent seems to be relatively spared from the scourge of the virus so far.
There have been less than 3,000 deaths from COVID-19 out of some 88,000 cases of the disease reported throughout Africa. That could be, in part, due to the fact that many countries across the continent took swift action in imposing preventative measures to stem the spread of the virus.
“As of now, reported cases are lower than feared,” Guterres said in a video message Wednesday, while warning that “much hangs in the balance” and the pandemic “will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.”
The U.N. chief called for “international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings.” He said the continent needs more than $200 billion and “an across-the-board debt standstill for African countries” to help address the devastating economic and social fallout of the crisis.
“Already, demand for Africa’s commodities, tourism and remittances are declining,” Guterres said, adding that “the opening of the trade zone has been pushed back.”
5:41 a.m.: University of Cambridge to keep all lectures online until summer 2021
The prestigious University of Cambridge plans to keep all lectures online over the course of the next academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The University is constantly adapting to changing advice as it emerges during this pandemic,” a spokesperson told ABC News in a statement Wednesday. “Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the University has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year.”
It’s the first globally-known university to announce such plans beyond the upcoming fall term.
“Lectures will continue to be made available online and it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person, as long as this conforms to social distancing requirements,” the spokesperson added. “This decision has been taken now to facilitate planning, but as ever, will be reviewed should there be changes to official advice on coronavirus.”
The University of Cambridge, one of the oldest universities in the world, closed its campuses in the United Kingdom in March due to the pandemic. All teaching has been moved online and exams are conducted virtually.
4:19 a.m.: All 50 US states have now eased coronavirus restrictions
All 50 U.S. states have now taken steps to ease restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Connecticut was among the last to begin reopening its society and economy, with residents allowed to go to retail shops and dine outdoors at restaurants starting Wednesday. Hair salons and barbershops, however, won’t be allowed to reopen until June 1, while guidance on gyms, nail salons, massage therapy businesses and tattoo parlors will come at a later date.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont called it a “slow and methodical reopening.”
“There is a balance and there’s nothing that is risk-free,” Lamont said at a virtual press conference Tuesday. “I think we can proceed on a very thoughtful basis with those businesses that are least likely to be dangerous and most likely to have a real economic value for the state. And I’m looking forward, I think this is a good day for the state and I hope everybody maintains their discipline because that’s going to make it successful.”
The process hasn’t been without controversy. Earlier this month, protesters gathered outside the Connecticut state capital and the governor’s mansion in Hartford demanding that businesses be allowed to resume activities, as a growing number of other states across the country began reopening.
Connecticut, home to some 3.5 million people, has so far tested more than 185,000 people for COVID-19 and at least 38,430 have returned positive results.
At least 3,472 people in the state have died from the disease, while another 914 remained hospitalized Tuesday.
“These are trend lines that I think give us some confidence,” Lamont said. “The timing is right, and we hit the key metrics that we thought we would.”
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