10 Million Coronavirus Cases Globally By July : Consider This from NPR Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, started Wednesday's coronavirus briefing on a somber note: By next week there will be a total of 10 million cases globally. A reminder, says Ghebreyesus, that the pandemic isn't over, despite places around the world reopening.

There's been a lot of news about coronavirus spikes in states like Texas and Florida. But not in Georgia. Why? Georgia Public Broadcasting reporter Grant Blankenship has more.

And we talk to a public health official in Washington State scrambling to identify hotspots in her community.

America can't fully get back to work without childcare, and many children are suffering without social opportunities. But how to reopen schools, camps and daycares safely? NPR's Anya Kamenetz talks to childcare centers that have stayed open on how they've been trying to keep kids and staff safe.

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This episode was recorded and published as part of this podcast's former 'Coronavirus Daily' format.
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The Pandemic Isn't Over: Nearly 10 Million Coronavirus Cases Worldwide

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The Pandemic Isn't Over: Nearly 10 Million Coronavirus Cases Worldwide

The Pandemic Isn't Over: Nearly 10 Million Coronavirus Cases Worldwide

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Hey. Just a quick thing before we get started. Pretty soon, the show is going to have a new name. We're calling it Consider This. We will be bringing you stories that are not just about the virus because we know people want news about other stuff, too. That said, just want to be clear - the show is not going anywhere. We are still going to cover the pandemic. It is here, and we are here. In the meantime, we would love to hear from you. Email us at coronavirusdaily@npr.org. All right. Here's the show.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

MCEVERS: The head of the World Health Organization, the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus...


TEDROS: In the first month of this outbreak, less than 10,000 cases were reported to WHO.

MCEVERS: ...Did not have good news today.


TEDROS: In the last month, almost 4 million cases have been reported. We expect to reach a total of 10 million cases within the next week.

MCEVERS: Just because places are reopening, he said, this pandemic is not over.


TEDROS: Questions about how to hold gatherings of large numbers of people safely have become increasingly important. This is especially true of one of the world's largest mass gatherings, the annual hajj pilgrimage.

MCEVERS: Every year, millions of Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca. It's one of Islam's most important religious requirements. This year, the government of Saudi Arabia says it will limit the number of pilgrims allowed into Mecca and bar anyone from outside the kingdom.


TEDROS: WHO supports this decision. We understand that it was not an easy decision to make. And we also understand it is a major disappointment for many Muslims. This is another example of the hard choices that all countries must make to put health first.

MCEVERS: Coming up, what we can learn from child care centers that stayed open during the pandemic. This is CORONAVIRUS DAILY from NPR.

I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Wednesday, June 24.


MCEVERS: The United States hit its third-highest number of new cases of coronavirus ever yesterday - more than 35,000. Many of these cases are in Southern states that opened up early. Texas and Florida are seeing record cases. In Houston, public health experts are worried about running out of ICU beds, so they're looking to build field hospitals in stadiums. But in one Southern state that also opened up early, the numbers look different - Georgia. The question is, is there really less spread in Georgia or just less good data?


TJ MUEHLEMAN: The challenge with Georgia is that the data is - been so inconsistent and lumpy that it's difficult to know what's actually happening. And it's difficult to know how trustworthy it is.

MCEVERS: That's data scientist TJ Muehleman, who runs the COVID Mapping Project. It pulls data from all over the country and organizes it in one place. He told Georgia Public Broadcasting that while he doesn't think the data issues are intentional, they are real. For instance, some people have waited nearly two weeks to get their coronavirus test results.


MUEHLEMAN: The data that we're seeing in the Georgia Department of Public Health - there's a lag. And it's really difficult to know exactly what's going on.

MCEVERS: The state also started out combining results from viral tests - which tell you if you currently have the virus - with antibody tests, which tell you whether you had it at some point. And so now all that data has to be reconciled. Muehleman says all of this raises some big questions.


MUEHLEMAN: For me, the big question I'm asking is, like, well, what at-risk populations are getting hit harder than other populations?

MCEVERS: And here's why this is so important. For Georgia and for all states, it is data that's supposed to help officials make life and death decisions.


ROBERT REDFIELD: When confronted by any disease threat, CDC and public health departments must make real-time decisions based on real-time data. Data is the backbone of any disease threat response.

MCEVERS: That's CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield. He told Congress on Tuesday that the data we have could be better.


REDFIELD: Because for decades, we have underinvested in what I call the core capabilities of public health - data, data analytics to have predictive data analysis, laboratory resilience, public health workforce, emergency response form and then our close - our global health security around the world.


MCEVERS: To contain the virus, public health experts are scrambling to identify coronavirus clusters. That's where a group of people all get the virus at the same place or event. Turns out these clusters are popping up all over the country.


ERIKA LAUTENBACH: We're definitely seeing an increase in Whatcom County.

MCEVERS: Erika Lautenbach is director of the Whatcom County Health Department in northwest Washington state. Like in many places, she's seeing that these clusters are now skewing much younger. In June, 2 out of 3 cases in Whatcom County have been people under 30.


LAUTENBACH: The concern is that because these younger people are having more mild symptoms, they are going to work sick. They are visiting with their parents and grandparents sick. And they're continuing to go to social events where they expose more and more people.

MCEVERS: All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro talked to Lautenbach about how contact tracing is going in her community.


ARI SHAPIRO: Can you give us an example of a cluster you've identified and how you traced the cases that arose from it?

LAUTENBACH: So we found in our investigations in early June that there was a party with somewhere between a hundred and 150 people outside. And from our investigations, we identified that 14 cases were associated with that party. And subsequently, an additional 15 cases were associated with those initial cases. So that one event spread to 29 people and 31 related employers.

SHAPIRO: And just to clarify, how much farther do you trace it after that? I mean, presumably, at least one of those second- or third-tier infections would lead to a fourth- or fifth-tier infection.

LAUTENBACH: Yes. And that's our challenge - is to continue to trace as this moves through families, as it moves through workplaces, as it moves through additional social events as well.

SHAPIRO: There's been a lot of concern over whether racial justice protests could spread the virus. Did you have those gatherings in Whatcom County? And if so, what did you see?

LAUTENBACH: Yeah. We did have a rally in Bellingham, which is our county seat. And there was also a protest. And we have not been able to connect a single case to that rally or to the protest. Almost everyone at the rally was wearing a mask. And it's really a testament to how effective masks are in preventing the spread of this disease.

SHAPIRO: It's incredible that with 7,000 people gathering in one place, shouting, that there hasn't been a single case traced back there.

LAUTENBACH: Yeah. It's actually surprising for us as we continue to investigate new cases. We're finding that the social events and gatherings - these parties where people aren't wearing masks - are our primary source of infection. And then the secondary source of infection is workplace settings. There were 31 related employers just associated with that one party because of the number of people that brought that to their workplace. So for us, for a community our size, that's a pretty massive spread.

MCEVERS: NPR's Ari Shapiro talking to Erika Lautenbach.


MCEVERS: Throughout the pandemic, day care centers for children of frontline workers stayed open - like, tens of thousands of children. And since March, these centers so far have reported no coronavirus clusters. NPR's Anya Kamenetz has the story.



ANYA KAMENETZ: These are children playing at the Valley of the Sun YMCA in Phoenix on a recent morning. They keep to pods of no more than nine to limit their close contacts.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: I got purple.

KAMENETZ: Throughout the lockdowns, YMCAs across the country cared for up to 40,000 children of essential workers. And in the weeks that New York was the pandemic's epicenter, that city's department of education cared for more than 10,000 children. And since March, these centers have followed rules, like keeping children in small separate pods, temperature checks at the door, frequent hand-washing and social distancing.

At the Valley of the Sun YMCAs in Arizona, says Chief Operating Officer Libby Corral, they tried to make all this as fun as possible for the kids.

LIBBY CORRAL: We taught a lot of airplane arms, right? And so when kids make airplanes with their arms, they're able to see what that social distancing looks like.

KAMENETZ: So did all of these precautions pay off? Well, the YMCA of the USA emphasizes it doesn't have comprehensive data, but nor does it have any reports of multiple cases at any one of their 1,100 locations. Similarly with New York City's Department of Education, they told NPR there were no clusters of coronavirus cases associated with its 170 sites. This was true even though family members of these kids were going out to work in public each day, risking exposure at hospitals and grocery stores.

Tatiana Laimit is one of those family members. She's a nurse and a single mom in Phoenix. She has been sending her 6-year-old daughter to Valley of the Sun YMCA since schools closed in March.

TATIANA LAIMIT: When I'm at work, especially providing care for others - and it's absolutely chaotic right now. Arizona's on the rise with their COVID cases. Not having to worry about my daughter and her safety and is she having fun and having all of her needs met - it's a savior for me. It's a weight off of my shoulders.

KAMENETZ: How relaxed should parents like Laimit be? Dr. Joshua Sharfstein at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health says we can learn from the YMCA and New York City examples.

JOSHUA SHARFSTEIN: It is certainly understandable from this and from evidence from other countries where they started to reopen school that there are ways to substantially reduce the risk when kids get together.

KAMENETZ: Dr. Sharfstein says there is converging evidence that children don't play as big a role in spreading the coronavirus as they tend to do with other infectious diseases, like the flu. Children seem to be less likely to catch the coronavirus in the first place. And when they do test positive, they have fewer symptoms, like coughing or sneezing, which makes them less likely to pass the disease along. But, he says, we don't know why. In fact, we're missing the answers to a lot of questions.

SHARFSTEIN: I think there's a big weakness right now that we don't have a clear national research strategy on this.

KAMENETZ: As tens of thousands of school districts make plans to reopen in the fall and as child care, summer camps and day cares open up now, parents are being left to balance the benefits for their children and their sanity against a sea of unknowns.

MCEVERS: That was NPR's Anya Kamenetz.

Reporting in this episode from Georgia Public Broadcasting's Grant Blankenship. You can find a link to his story about Georgia's coronavirus data in our episode notes. Additional reporting from Jane Arraf. For more on the coronavirus, you can stay up to date with all the news on your local public radio station. For podcasts, local news and the latest headlines, take NPR with you with the NPR One app. You can find it in your app store.

I'm Kelly McEvers. Thank you for listening. We will be back tomorrow with more.

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