Tag Archives: Drastically

U.S. grapples with how to drastically ramp up COVID-19 contact tracing

Before Washington state lifts its stay-at-home order, public health workers in Seattle’s King County want to be ready to douse any new sparks of infection.

That task, they say, requires at least 20 more investigators to call people who test positive for the coronavirus, track down their contacts and get them into quarantine. Without the extra help, the workers insist, the state can’t possibly be ready to resume normal everyday activities.

“We are trying to build these teams and processes in the midst of a crisis,” county health spokesperson Sharon Bogan said.

The challenge extends well beyond Seattle. As federal officials weigh how and when to reopen the country, experts say the United States does not have enough public health workers to suppress another outbreak, especially those qualified to do contact tracing, the critically important effort to find people who may have been exposed to the virus.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated it could require 100,000 people, while Dr. Tom Frieden, the former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), believes the number could be as high as 300,000.

Both estimates represent a daunting number given that the combined federal, state and local public health workforce has been shrinking and is now probably less than 280,000, according to some estimates.

The budget approved by Congress for the CDC has fallen by 10 per cent between 2010 and 2019 when adjusted for inflation, according to the nonprofit group Trust for America’s Health, and that has had a trickle-down effect at state and county levels.

The problem has inspired some novel ideas, including enlisting Peace Corps volunteers, furloughed social workers and public health students. San Francisco is training librarians, medical students and people who work for the city attorney’s office.

WATCH | Canada’s challenges with contact tracing:

Canada is calling for more people to help investigate coronavirus cases. 2:33

While the exact number of workers needed is a subject of debate, a top federal health official this week acknowledged the mandate to find many more.

“Everybody agrees that our public health capacity at the local and state level is not ready to take this on at a very large scale without reinforcements,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC, who oversees the agency’s coronavirus response work.

The extra workers would help conduct testing, isolate sick cases and trace everyone those sick people had contact with.

New funds approved for response efforts

It’s crucial that such a system be in place before government officials ease physical-distancing guidelines, reopen schools or lift stay-at-home orders, said Frieden.

“If we have explosive spread when we reopen, we’ll have to close again. That will be very damaging, not just economically but from a health standpoint,” he said.

The U.S. government has funnelled about $ 800 million US to states for coronavirus response work that can include contact tracing. And on top of hundreds of staff sent to states to help with coronavirus work, the CDC has already assembled “community protection teams” of six to 12 people each to do contact tracing and investigate tools that could help with it. Some have already been deployed to states where spread of the virus has been relatively low.

A smartphone belonging to Rhode Island native Drew Grande shows notes he made for contact tracing on Wednesday. Grande began keeping a log on his phone at the beginning of April, after he heard Gov. Gina Raimondo urge residents to start out of concern about the spread of the coronavirus. (Steven Senne/The Associated Press)

Tiny Rhode Island has nearly 100 people “focused on nothing but contact tracing,” reaching out to hundreds of contacts of infected people each day, Gov. Gina Raimondo told reporters. She has urged all state residents to take a minute each evening to write down who they physically encountered that day and where those encounters took place.

“If I’m going out to the store, I’ll put the date, what store I went to and then the time I was there,” said Drew Grande, 40, of Cranston, R.I. He started a contacts diary on a note-taking app on his phone after he heard the governor’s request.

Contact tracing has changed over the last few months in the U.S. When the first handful of infections were being identified, teams of 20 or more might be assigned to each confirmed case. Investigations would often start with a staffer or two doing an in-person interview at a hospital bedside. Disease trackers might spend hours asking a sick person and that person’s relatives who they had been in contact with since symptoms surfaced.

In-person interviews are often better, said Isaac Ghinai, a CDC disease tracker assigned to work with Chicago’s health department.

“There’s a value to looking someone in the eye. You can build a relationship face to face that you can’t always do by phone,” he said. Some people are comfortable sharing personal details over the phone but others “require more cajoling.”

With hundreds of new cases emerging each day in Chicago, that kind of attention to individual infections has largely stopped. Instead, the priority is large groups of people who are particularly vulnerable, like those at nursing homes or homeless shelters. Many new confirmed cases are not being investigated, and when they are, the interviews may be done by only two or three people, and over the phone, Ghinai said.

Lack of testing materials, too

Could there be a digital solution? Apple and Google are teaming up on a contact-tracing app, and other efforts use Bluetooth to gather data from phones that came close to an infected person. Seattle scientist Trevor Bedford has developed a digital interview that public health departments can use if they don’t have enough people trained in contact tracing.

Whatever the solution, it will take a while.

People have to be tested and diagnosed before contact tracing kicks into gear, and testing remains limited in many parts of the country. This week, the Association of American Medical Colleges sent a letter to the White House Coronavirus Task Force saying that testing materials and machines remain in short supply.

President Donald Trump has floated the idea of easing at least some restrictions as early as May 1.

Some observers believe restrictions could be eased first in places where the spread is low, if rigorous testing and contact tracing could prevent a sudden explosion in infections.

But Schuchat warned that “there is no way the entire country could relax mitigation on May 1 and the country not experience a major resurgence.”

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CBC | World News

Global pact forged to drastically cut oil production to contain price crash

The OPEC cartel and other oil producers agreed Sunday to cut crude production by at least a tenth of global supply — an unprecedented move to stabilize the market.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman all support the deal, which would see global crude output cut by 9.7 million barrels a day, the Kremlin said Sunday.

OPEC confirmed in a release the cuts will begin May 1 and continue until June 30. After that, the countries will keep gradually decreasing curbs on production until April 202. From July until December of this year, output cuts will continue at 7.7 million bpd, and 5.8 million bpd for the 16 months after that.

The so-called OPEC+ countries agreed to have Mexico reduce its daily output by 100,000 barrels only for those two months, which had been a sticking point for the accord. The pact came after a marathon video conference between officials from 23 nations. The group will meet again in June to determine if further actions are needed.

OPEC+ said in a draft statement seen by Reuters effective oil output cuts could amount to more than 20 million bpd, or 20 per cent of global supply, if contributions from non-members, steeper voluntary cuts by some OPEC+ members and strategic stocks purchases were taken into account.

Global measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus have destroyed demand for fuel and driven down oil prices, straining budgets of oil producers. Consumption has dropped by an estimated 30 million bpd.

Trump had threatened OPEC leader Saudi Arabia with oil tariffs and other measures if it did not fix the market’s oversupply problem. Low prices have put the U.S. oil industry, the world’s largest, in severe distress.

Canada hasn’t committed to specific cuts

OPEC+ has said it wanted producers outside the group, such as the United States, Canada, Brazil and Norway, to cut a further five per cent, or five million bpd. 

Canada and Norway had signalled their willingness to cut, but as of Friday, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had said Canada had yet to promise any specific production cuts.

Alberta, Canada’s biggest oil-producing region, “has already formerly curtailed 80,000 barrels per day,” O’Regan said.

“This is good. We welcome any news that brings stability to global oil markets,” O’Regan said in an emailed statement to CBC News Sunday.

“The federal government is deeply concerned about oil price instability and the impact on thousands of workers in Canada’s energy sector, and their families. 

“Canada is committed to achieving price certainty and economic stability. We will keep working with provinces, businesses, labour, Indigenous communities and our international partners, including the G20.”

A government source told CBC News Sunday that Canada has not committed to production cuts as that would fall under provincial jurisdiction.

Deal won’t turn market around, economist says

Concordia University economics professor Moshe Lander said while the news should in theory be good for Canadian producers, “the proof is in the pudding.”

“I think that markets in general are usually pretty suspicious of OPEC announcements unless there’s a clear announcement of enforcement and consequences for noncompliance,” he said. “Maybe when markets open on Tuesday you might see oil prices jump a little bit.

“I don’t think that this is going to turn the market around.”

Kevin Birn, an analyst with IHS Markit in Calgary, said though the scale and scope of the deal was unprecedented, it is not a sufficient solution to ongoing demand shock brought on by COVID-19.

“What it will potentially do is stave off the lowest potential price that we could’ve seen,” he said. “Of course, the outcome of this remains to be seen in how well the producers adhere to it themselves, which has always been a traditional problem of any of these deals.”

Additional volumes will still have to come off during this period, Birn said, implying there is still a tough road ahead for producers around the world and in Western Canada.

“I think it’s reasonable that we will see some movement on price coming out of the other side of this when the markets open, some optimism,” he said. “But I would caution being too excited about this. We still have a larger issue.”

The United States, where legislation makes it hard to act in tandem with cartels such as OPEC, said its output would fall steeply by itself this year due to low prices.

Mexico had initially blocked the deal but its president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, had said Friday that he had agreed with Trump that the U.S. will compensate what Mexico cannot add to the proposed cuts.

“The United States will help Mexico along and they’ll reimburse us sometime at later date when they’re prepared to do so,” Trump said at a White House press briefing Friday.

‘Economic conditions continue to worsen’

Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments in Toronto, said in a release that while the deal was historic, challenges remain — such as the capacity of storage facilities before the deal begins, and questions about what enforcement mechanisms will apply to nations who renege on the agreement. 

“Perhaps most importantly, economic conditions continue to worsen on a global basis, with shutdowns extending, trade flat lining, and unemployment levels surging to historic levels. Demand declines may outpace any production cuts, leaving storage facilities to continue filling,” he wrote.

A 15 per cent cut in supply might not be enough to arrest the global price decline, banks Goldman Sachs and UBS predicted last week, saying Brent prices would fall back to $ 20 US per barrel from $ 32 at the moment, and $ 70 at the start of the year.

As Asian markets reopened Monday local time, West Texas Intermediate crude was trading at $ 22 US per barrel.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Twitter Sunday that while there are challenging months ahead, the deal puts the sector on a path to recovery.

“We are glad to see sanity return to global oil markets. As I have said, OPEC+ started the fire, and it was their responsibility to put it out,” he wrote.

A spokesperson for Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage referred CBC News to a Friday statement, saying the minister was cautiously pleased by the deal.

“The agreement to implement production limits by OPEC+ brings global energy producers in line with measures that Alberta has reluctantly taken since January 2019,” she said

“However, demand will return as economies around the globe recover from this pandemic. Life will return to normal. In the interim, we hope that the measures taken by OPEC+ will stabilize the global price of oil and prevent further stress to energy workers in Alberta.”

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CBC | World News

‘The Hills: New Beginnings’ First Trailer Drops: ‘Life Has Drastically Changed’ — Watch!

‘The Hills: New Beginnings’ First Trailer Drops: ‘Life Has Drastically Changed’ — Watch! | Entertainment Tonight

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