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Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

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Now that we can be pretty sure the coronavirus was loose in the U.S. much earlier than anyone previously knew, quite a few Americans are recalling that nasty bug that walloped them over the winter and asking, could that have been Covid-19?

And it’s not just civilians. Doctors are thinking back to unexplained respiratory cases among their patients. Medical examiners are looking for more misattributed deaths like the ones in California that rewrote the U.S. virus timeline this week. And local politicians are demanding investigations.

Researchers now say that hidden outbreaks were seeping through cities like Chicago, New York, Seattle and Boston in January and February, as unaware residents were going about their lives with no restrictions on their movements.

Public health experts now believe that for every known coronavirus case in the U.S., there are 5 to 20 more unknown ones — people who either had no symptoms or chalked them up to some other illness, and were never tested.

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Could you be one of them — and now possibly immune to the virus? It’s complicated, experts say.

If you got over it a while ago, the virus probably won’t show up in a diagnostic test now. The way to spot past exposure is with an antibody test — but the tests presently being used to survey large populations do not yield reliable results for individuals.

More accurate antibody tests are on the way, but even if yours comes back positive, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re protected. Scientists don’t yet know how much immunity the antibodies offer, or how long it lasts.

“Everyone desperately wants to be immune to this thing,” said Andrew Noymer, an associate professor of public health at the University of California, Irvine, “and they’re projecting the hope onto the data.”

More likely: Keep in mind that for all the focus on the coronavirus, it was also a bad winter for seasonal influenza. So if you felt lousy in January or February, that’s probably what it was, not Covid-19.

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High rates: Antibody screening tests are finding surprisingly high rates of coronavirus exposure in some states, including New York. Out of about 3,000 grocery shoppers who were checked, 14 percent statewide — and 21 percent in New York City — were positive.

Experts warned against reading too much into preliminary results, noting that the sample was far from representative. Even so, the results raised hope that many people who never became ill may now have some immunity.

With much of the American economy shut down, job losses have hit some parts of the population harder than others. African-American and Hispanic people and people in low-income households are more likely to have been laid off than others, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

The debacle has prompted Gov. Ron DeSantis to appoint an unemployment czar and sign executive orders waiving some requirements to ease the backlog.

In the coming months there will be a lot of discussion of a messy variable that is written R0 and pronounced R-naught.

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R0 gauges the spread of a disease by estimating how many new infections stem from each case. For example, if an average of 3.6 people catch it from each person who has it, the disease’s R0 would be 3.6.

What does R0 tell policymakers?

An R0 below 1 suggests that the outbreak is shrinking, possibly allowing societies to open back up. An R0 above 1 means the outbreak is growing, and governments may need to respond with lockdowns.

Does an R0 below one mean the virus is defeated?

No. An R0 of 0.8 means that 100 people would infect 80 more, and those people would go on to infect 64 more, and so on. While the spread of the virus is slowed, people can still get sick and die.

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What does the coronavirus’s R0 look like around the world?

In general, studies have estimated it at 2.0 to 2.5, but human and environmental factors can influence it. Germany now puts its R0 at 0.9, up from a recent low of 0.7. A French study estimates that country’s figure at 0.5, down from 3.3. The U.S. has multiple outbreaks that started at different times with different dynamics, so it’s difficult to give a national R0.

Say the right thing. Here’s what to say — and not say — to workers on the front lines. Send messages of support, but don’t expect a reply.

Keep your glasses clear. Eyeglasses tend to fog when you are wearing a face mask. Healthcare workers have a few tricks for this vexing problem; it’ll take trial and error to find what works for you.

Collect refunds. Here’s what you need to know about getting your money back from airlines, live events and summer camps.

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  • Britain has begun Europe’s first human trial for a potential coronavirus vaccine, the BBC reports.

  • Americans overwhelmingly favor stay-at-home orders and other efforts to slow the spread of the virus, with little difference across partisan lines, according to an Associated Press-NORC survey.

  • With public pools closed, day camps canceled and summer jobs unavailable because of the pandemic, it will be a bleak summer for children in New York City.

  • Parents are postponing trips to the doctor for children’s checkups and vaccinations, putting millions at risk of contracting potentially deadly diseases like measles.

  • When Covid-19 patients recover and are discharged, hospitals in New York are playing anthems like “Don’t Stop Believin’” and the “Rocky” theme to celebrate.

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  • People who lived through other viral outbreaks, like SARS, Ebola and the 1918 flu, spoke to Slate magazine about what it was like when the diseases faded and life began to return to normal.

Every morning our rabbi leads a short online service and gives a short lesson or commentary. We have been doing this for weeks now, and it is a structured way to start the day, be calm, see people and have contact with the world.

— Stanley Stern, Mission, Kans.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the outbreak. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

Sign up here to get the briefing by email.Lara Takenaga and Jonathan Wolfe helped write today’s newsletter.

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