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Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

The mass protests against police brutality and racism roiling dozens of cities across the United States have prompted officials and public health experts to warn of a possible second wave of coronavirus outbreaks.

Even though many protesters have taken precautions — like wearing masks and trying to stay socially distant — gatherings of thousands of people will inescapably carry risk: Shouting, panting and yelling slogans can accelerate the production of respiratory droplets that transmit the virus.

The aggressive police response in many cities may also be increasing transmission. Tear gas and pepper spray provoke secretions from the eyes, nose and mouth, and induce coughing; police efforts to corral protesters in tight urban corridors reduce the distance between people; and jailing protesters expands the potential for the virus to spread.

The protests come as many areas of the country are still experiencing the most lethal days of the pandemic. While coronavirus cases are dropping in the Northeast, there are fierce flare-ups in rural parts of Southern states like Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. And the Midwest is still troubled by persistent outbreaks: In Wisconsin, hospitalizations are on the rise, and in Minnesota, where the protests began, cases are trending upward.

While the demonstrations were ignited by the death of George Floyd last week, they are also channeling the outrage felt by those who have seen the virus lay bare entrenched inequalities in American society. Covid-19 kills black Americans at a higher rate than whites, and it has stripped black Americans of their jobs and income at an outsize rate.

For many who came out to protest, the virus was the lesser of two risks.

“I can go home, clean myself up, go get tested, make sure I take proper precautions,” a protester told NBC. “But police brutality, I don’t know, I don’t know what I can’t do to not be harassed.”

It’s not just the coronavirus: In New York and New Jersey, the two hardest-hit states, thousands more people than usual have died in the past few months from causes like heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Experts say some of these deaths, which started to rise in early March, may be undiagnosed Covid-19 cases. It’s also possible that some patients with chronic illnesses may have chosen to stay home rather than risk exposure to the virus by going to the hospital.

  • Updated June 1, 2020

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.

  • Students were allowed to return to some elementary schools in England, but many parents decided to keep their children home anyway.

  • South Africa lifted its ban on alcohol sales. The deeply unpopular measure was credited with a drop in murders and traffic accidents in the country.

  • Michigan lifted its stay-at-home order and will allow groups of up to 100 people to gather outdoors while social distancing. Restaurants will also be able to open as long as tables are six feet apart.

  • Despite the continuing outbreaks in parts of Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves announced that all businesses could reopen and travel restrictions had been lifted.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

  • The United States has delivered two million doses of hydroxychloroquine to Brazil for use in the fight against the virus, the White House announced on Sunday, despite widespread concern that it may not be effective, or even safe, for patients.

  • From an underground flood wall in Connecticut to the resettlement of a coastal Louisiana community, climate change projects in more than a dozen states are now in jeopardy because of the pandemic.

  • At least 26,000 nursing home residents in the U.S. have died during the pandemic, The Washington Post reports.

  • Despite a soaring unemployment rate and millions of new jobless claims each week, people are still paying their rent. But there are signs that may slip as federal relief programs expire.

  • A small amount of the virus was detected in a 2-year-old pug in North Carolina, but the U.S.D.A. later found the dog was not infected with the coronavirus.

  • The Metropolitan Opera announced that the pandemic had forced the company to cancel its fall season.

My cousin and I decided to spruce up the graves of our beloved mothers and fathers. I can’t tell you how satisfying and rewarding it was to plant those marigolds and geraniums, mulch and finish it off with American flags (both our fathers served their country)! We reminisced and learned things about each other we had long forgotten.

— Lois Gambino Adamson, Otisville, N.Y.

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Tom Wright-Piersanti contributed to today’s newsletter.

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