By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 rose past 6.5 million on Thursday, and California reported a rise in infections after weeks of slowing, raising concerns that the protests at the death of George Floyd, and the reopening of certain counties, are helping spread the illness.
California is one of 20 states that have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases in the last five days, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University . Cities, including Los Angeles, have seen crowds gather to protest the death of the unarmed George, an African American, at the hands of a white police officer in Minnesota last week.
California now has 115,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,374 people have died, the data show. The Golden State recorded more than 3,000 cases in a 24-hour period twice this week, according to The Mercury News.
At the same time, counties across the state have been pushing back on lockdown orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom and Californians have been heading back to beaches and parks.
UCLA Health issued a set of guidelines to advise anyone attending protests, including law enforcement agents and reporters, on the best ways to avoid infection, urging them to wear face masks covering their noses and mouths at all times and goggles to protect against tear gas and pepper spray. As the illness is mostly caused by droplets that are released when people cough, speak loudly or sing, UCLA is advising protesters to consider other ways to make their point.
“Examples include use of drums and other noise makers and carrying signs,” the guidelines say. “Consider the effect of contemplative, soulful, soft chanting as a dramatic way to protest in public.”
The guidelines remind protesters to maintain social distancing, use hand sanitizer frequently, self- quarantine when they return home and consider getting tested three to seven days after attending a protest. That effort may be complicated by the fact that some testing centers have been impacted by protests.
The guidelines also address the risks facing protesters who are arrested and held in close quarters in indoor settings, where the virus has more chance to spread. “Recent studies show as many as 80% of infected cases are asymptomatic, making close physical proximity to potentially infected individuals dangerous,” the guidelines say. And asymptomatically infected people are unaware of their contagiousness, “but nonetheless spread the virus.”
There are now 6.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and at least 386,795 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins data. At least 2.8 million people have recovered.
The U.S. has the highest case toll in the world at 1.9 million and the highest death toll at 107,474.
Brazil has 584,016 cases and 32,548 fatalities, after another record one-day death toll overnight, according to Health Ministry data. The nation recorded 1,349 confirmed deaths and another 28,633 confirmed cases. President Jair Bolsanaro has been widely criticized for repeatedly downplaying the risks of the virus, which he has dismissed as a small flu, as he pushes for states to reopen for business.
Russia has 440,538 cases and 5,376 fatalities.
The U.K. has 281,270 cases and 39,911 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe and second highest in the world after the U.S.
Early hot spot Spain has 240,660 cases and 27,133 deaths, while Italy has 233,836 cases and 33,869 deaths.
India has 221,222 cases and 6,318 deaths. France has 188,802 cases and 29,024 deaths, while Germany has 184,472 cases and 8,635 deaths.
Peru, Turkey, Iran, Chile, Mexico, Canada and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are next, all ahead of China, where the illness was first reported late last year. China has 84,165 cases and 4,638 deaths.
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There was renewed controversy about the use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, after another clinical study found the drug is no more effective than a placebo.
The study, results of which were published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine , is the first double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of the drug as a virus treatment. It has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in treating rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and has received an FDA emergency use authorization for COVID-19.
The use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 or prevent disease in high-risk individuals, like frontline health care workers or those deemed not at high risk, has been steeped in controversy, creating a seesaw effect as researchers and politicians debate its merits.
President Donald Trump has actively promoted the drug—including before it received an EUA—and recently told reporters that he was taking it.
Earlier this week, a negative study published in The Lancet that indicated hospitalized patients taking the drug were at higher risk of death was criticized for inaccuracies in the data. And on Wednesday the World Health Organization said it would resume testing hydroxychloroquine in a clinical trial for COVID-19 patients after investigating safety concerns.
Separately, health insurer Anthem Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203808743/composite ANTM +2.24% said it would offer between a 10% and 50% one-time credit on monthly premiums to members as part of a total $2.5 billion financial assistance package during the pandemic. The move mimics action taken by car insurers, who have been giving customers refunds as stay-at-home orders limit driving.
Anthem also said it would expand an initiative to waive cost-sharing for telehealth through Sept. 30, and is offering dental providers a credit of $10 per patient per visit for personal protective equipment, among other initiatives. Like most health insurers, Anthem has reported a decline in members having elective medical procedures and office visits since lockdown orders went into place in mid-March.
Also Thursday, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, are planning a video meeting with public-health experts at midday to discuss the impact of the virus on existing racial health disparities and the unequal burden of this public health crisis on communities of color.