Global COVID-19 total cases reach 350,000

March 23, 2020

The global number of COVID-19 cases has reached 350,000, with numbers soaring in western Europe and pandemic activity heating up in North America and other parts of the world.

In the United States, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the first point-of-care rapid test for the virus. Also, confirmed U.S. cases approached 36,000, according to the Johns Hopkins online tracker, making it the fourth hardest-hit country in the world.

New Jersey's Governor Phil Murphy announced a shelter-in-place order for the state, which affects nearly 9 million people. The order went into effect at 9:00 pm on March 21 and lasts indefinitely. It closes most nonessential businesses but exempts grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, hardware stores, laundromats, pet stores, liquor stores and car repair shops.

New Jersey is the nation's third worst-hit state and has reported 1,327 cases so far, 16 of them fatal. The state's main hot spot is Bergen County, which has reported 363 cases. New Jersey is the fourth state to announce a shelter-in-place order. The others are California, New York, and Illinois.

With testing capacity in the United States is still severely limited due to several factors, health officials in Los Angeles and New York City have announced changes in testing strategy, CNN reported. Los Angeles officials advise doctors to not test people who only have mild symptoms and to reserve testing for patients for whom the diagnosis would change clinical management, a strategy that shifts from containing the disease to slowing transmission and preventing excess morbidity and mortality. The Los Angeles policy targets testing to those with symptoms, health workers, nursing home residents, paramedics and others at high risk. The New York City policy urges all healthcare facilities to stop testing nonhospitalized patients.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Italy's illnesses and deaths soared again, and an ongoing surge in Spain lifted its case total past 33,000.

Italy's health ministry reported 6,557 new cases and 793 deaths, boosting its respective totals to almost 60,000 and almost 5,500. The country's government announced new restrictions to further limit movements, shutting down parks and urging people to stay indoors, Reuters reported. The story also said Italy's death count is much higher than the official total, because many sick elderly people are dying in their homes or in nursing homes without having been tested for COVID-19.

In Spain, which is now the third hardest-hit country, the number of new confirmed cases rose by 3,803, with 285 more deaths, lifting its respective totals to 33,000 and almost 2,200.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany's total grew by 2,705 more cases, for a total of 26,220, according to the Robert Koch Institute. France's health ministry warned of a rapidly worsening epidemic, with 16,257 cases reported so far, 676 of them fatal, Le Monde reported, citing the country's health ministry. The report said 6,172 people are hospitalized, including 1,525 who are in intensive care units (ICUs). Half of the ICU patients are people younger than 60.

Some South American nations are reporting steady rises in COVID-19 activity, and Colombia announced a national quarantine in effect until April 13, Reuters reported. The country, which has a population of 49 million, has reported 235 cases and two deaths.

Argentina recently announced a similar measure, and the governor of Brazil's most populous state, Sao Paulo, announced a quarantine in effect until April 7, Reuters reported. So far, the country has reported 266 cases, four of them fatal.

Elsewhere, for the third day in a row China reported no new local cases, though it did report 41 more imported cases, according to its National Health Commission.

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