Coronavirus cases in the United States surged past 55,000 on Wednesday, while the death toll has climbed past 800, with 354 recoveries, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Nearly half of those cases are in New York, which had reported more than 260 deaths as of Wednesday.
All numbers are moving targets in this fast-changing situation, both because of the rate of spread and state-by-state differences in testing.
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Louisiana reportedly has the third-highest case load of coronavirus in the United States on a per capita basis – after New York and Washington – and the fastest growth, according to a University of Louisiana at Lafayette analysis of global data.
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Some health experts say it’s no surprise New Orleans would be hard hit after over a million people flocked to the city to celebrate Carnival for more than a month, culminating in Mardi Gras at the end of February.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has requested a Major Disaster Declaration for the state, where at least 46 people have died.
“It is still impossible to know exactly how long the COVID-19 pandemic will impact Louisiana,” the governor said, “but what we do know is that we have more cases per capita than every state, except for New York and Washington.” On Sunday, he issued a stay-at-home order to slow the rapid rise.
While some parishes appear to be unaffected, Edwards said testing just hadn’t caught up. “We shouldn’t delude ourselves. It’s in every single parish,” he said.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said New York’s order for people to stay home to curb the spread of the new coronavirus led some people to leave — and come to Florida. At a news conference, the governor said he’d spoken with President Trump about doing something about airline flights ferrying New Yorkers to Florida.
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COVID-19 diagnoses continue to be made in Washington state every day, the Seattle Times reported — an indication of both the virus’ spread and of expanded testing capacity. The state Department of Health announced 248 newly confirmed cases Tuesday, bringing the state total to 2,469 cases, including 123 deaths. The bulk of Washington’s cases remain in King County, which has seen 1,277 people fall ill and 94 die.
Possibility of “ventilator triage”
Faced with more critically ill COVID-19 patients than equipment to treat them, hundreds of hospitals are mapping out how they can ration care and equipment in order to save the greatest number of patients possible.
Guidelines were provided this week to scores of hospitals around the country that include a point system that could – in extreme cases – end up determining what patients live or die.
“Priority is assigned to those most likely to be saved, and most likely to live longer,” said Dr. Scott Halpern, professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania.
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Potential employer liabilities
Decisions made in the fluid pandemic crisis could lead to liability issues in the future. Marsh & McLennan has advised employers that even well-intended actions can lead to liability claims. In particular, it advises them to keep in mind:
- Employees who refuse to work due to a belief that their health could be in immediate danger could be considered to be engaged in protected activity under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Employers should avoid subjecting those employees to adverse action.
- A group of employees who refuse to work because of concerns about the virus could also be considered protected under the National Labor Relations Act. Disciplinary action or termination of these employees could thus lead to an unfair labor practice claim.
- There are no federal requirements that nonexempt (hourly) employees be paid for time not working — for example, while under an employer-mandated quarantine — nor is there a federal paid leave of absence law. But employers must be cognizant of the myriad state and local laws that bear on these issues.
Health insurer costs and profit pressure
Managed care companies in the U.S. are likely to see elevated cost trends and more significant pressure on their profits the longer the COVID-19 pandemic continues, according to S&P Global Ratings.
S&P said in a report that the impact will depend on how far and how quickly the coronavirus spreads, as well as how many hospitalizations it causes.
“If the outbreak is mild both in terms of the infection rate as well as morbidity, the impact will be limited,” the report reads. “However, an increased spread of the virus and higher morbidity from COVID-19 could result in higher-than-expected cost trends for insurers. The claims trend will be especially affected if more patients are treated in inpatient facilities compared to lower-cost outpatient settings.”