Coronavirus government response update: Fauci says death toll may be much lower than expected, Trump to form economic task force

(WASHINGTON) — As the nation’s top health expert said Thursday that he thinks the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could be far less than the original White House projection of up to 240,000 lives, President Donald Trump is preparing to form a second coronavirus task force focused on reopening the economy — while jobless claims soared for the third week in a row.

Fauci confirmed on Thursday morning that social distancing and behavior changes are “starting to have a real effect” and that the virus death toll may look “more like 60,000 than the 100,000 to 200,000” initially predicted.

Amid that comparatively positive development, the president at Wednesday’s briefing argued once again that Americans “want to go back” to work and are going “stir crazy,” before CDC Director Robert Redfield announced new guidelines that would allow what he called “essential workers” to return to their jobs sooner.

Redfield said asymptomatic health care workers, first responders and those working in food supply, among others, can now return to work even after being exposed to someone infected with COVID-19, under the guidance.

Even with one key model projecting tens of thousands of fewer deaths by the end of summer, doctors of the coronavirus task force warn that current mitigation levels and social distancing must continue or even intensify to keep that number down, as the country nears it’s expected peak one-day death toll.

Here are the latest developments in the government response:

Fauci confirms Americans ‘bending the curve’ but warns against complacency, says most U.S. cases “probably” came from Europe

Dr. Anthony Fauci, in an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, expressed hope that by the end of April the country will see a “bending in the curve” of the COVID-19 outbreak but said ultimately, “the virus itself will determine the guideline” on when it’s safe to loosen social distancing recommendations.

“I do hope by the time we get there that we will see that curve, that bending in the curve …There’s some indication that that might be going on, particularly in New York,” Fauci told George Stephanopoulos Thursday morning.

Fauci said it’s “tough to tell” if the virus has hit its peak in New York, even as he said he’s cautiously optimistic that that may be happening.

Asked about studies suggesting the virus was spreading in New York in mid-February — with most of those cases coming from Europe — Fauci said that’s “probably correct.”

The president frequently trumpets the travel restrictions imposed on China Feb. 2 as a key mitigation strategy, but he didn’t impose restrictions on Europe until mid-March.

In a separate interview on CBS, Fauci said the answer is a cautious “yes” when asked if he could envision weddings, beach-going and reunions happening in the summer.

“It can be in the cards, and I say that with caution because as I said, when we do that, when we pull back and try to open up the country as we often use that terminology, we have to be prepared that when the infection starts to rear its head again,” he said.

On NBC, Fauci cautioned against “conspiracy theories” suggesting that the death count is inflated, saying “there’s more of a chance” that the death count due to COVID-19 has been undercounted than the other way around.

He repeated that social distancing and behavior changes are “starting to have a real effect” and that the virus death toll may look “more like 60,000 than the 100,000 to 200,000” initially predicted.

Fauci expressed optimism that, once there are widespread antibody tests available, there may be “something akin to” letting people go back to work if they are found to have been infected and were asymptomatic.

“It’s likely, we need to prove it, that once you’ve been infected and you have an antibody profile you are very likely protected against subsequent challenge to the same virus,” he said.

Dept. of Labor: 6.6 million more Americans filed for unemployment last week

A record-shattering 6,648,000 people filed for unemployment last week amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a Department of Labor report released Thursday.

The past three weeks have seen more than 16 million Americans file for unemployed claims — far more than during the first six months of the Great Recession.

The unprecedented influx in jobless claims has created a number of issues for those in dire need of benefits as Americans across the country report ongoing struggles in applying for unemployment insurance.

Barr criticizes some government-imposed lockdowns “draconian,” should be revisited next month

Attorney General William Barr told Fox News Channel Wednesday night that some of the government-imposed lockdown measures meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak were “draconian” and suggested they be eased next month.

Barr said the federal government would be “keeping a careful eye on” state and local authorities and that officials should be “very careful to make sure that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified.”

“When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under their bed, but allow them to use other ways — social distancing and other means — to protect themselves,” the attorney general said.

When the White House social distancing guidelines expire April 30, Barr said, “I think we have to consider alternative ways of protecting people.”

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