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Feds Loosen Virus Rules for Workers    04/09 06:12

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a first, small step toward reopening the country, the 
Trump administration issued new guidelines to make it easier for essential 
workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 to get back to work if they do not 
have symptoms of the coronavirus. 

   Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the the Centers for Disease Control and 
Prevention, announced Wednesday at the White House that essential employees, 
such as health care and food supply workers, who have been within 6 feet (1.8 
meters) of a confirmed or suspected case of the virus can return to work under 
certain circumstances if they are not experiencing symptoms.

   The new guidelines are being issued as the nation mourns about 15,000 deaths 
from the virus and grapples with a devastated economy and medical crises from 
coast to coast. Health experts continue to caution Americans to practice social 
distancing and to avoid returning to their normal activities. At the same time, 
though, they are planning for a time when the most serious threat from COVID-19 
will be in the country's rear-view mirror.

   President Donald Trump said that while he knows workers are "going stir 
crazy" at home, he can't predict when the threat from the virus will wane. 

   "The numbers are changing and they're changing rapidly and soon we'll be 
over that curve. We'll be over the top and we'll be headed in the right 
direction. I feel strongly about that," Trump said about the coronavirus, which 
he called "this evil beast." 

   "I can't tell you in terms of the date," Trump said, adding cases could go 
down and then once again "start going up if we're not careful. "

   At some point, he said at his daily briefing, social distancing guidelines 
will disappear and people will be able to sit together at sports events. "At 
some point we expect to be back, like it was before," he said. 

   Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said if the 
existing guidelines asking people to practice social distancing through the end 
of April are successful in halting the spread of the virus, more relaxed 
recommendations could be in order. 

   He said the White House task force was trying to dovetail public health 
concerns with practical steps that need to be in place when the 30-day 
guidelines end at the end of the month so the nation can "safely and carefully 
march toward some sort of normality."

   If, by fall, things start to return to normal, Americans will still need to 
wash their hands frequently, sick schoolchildren should be kept home and people 
with fevers need to refrain from going to work, Fauci said during an online 
interview Wednesday with the editor of the Journal of the American Medical 
Association.

   People also should never shake hands again, Fauci said, only half-jokingly.

   "I mean it sounds crazy, but that's the way it's really got to be," he said. 
"Until we get to a point where we know the population is protected" with a 
vaccine. 

   Under the new guidelines for essential workers, the CDC recommends that 
exposed employees take their temperatures before their shifts, wear face masks 
and practice social distancing at work. They also are advised to stay home if 
they are ill, not share headsets or other objects used near the face and 
refrain from congregating in crowded break rooms.

   Employers are asked to take exposed workers' temperatures and assess 
symptoms before allowing them to return to work, aggressively clean work 
surfaces, send workers home if they get sick and increase air exchange in 
workplaces. 

   Fauci said he hoped the pandemic would prompt the U.S. to look at long-term 
investments in public health, specifically at the state and local level. 
Preparedness that was not in place in January needs to be in place if or when 
COVID-19 or another virus threatens the country. 

   "We have a habit of whenever we get over a challenge, we say, 'OK, let's 
move on to the current problem,'" he said. "We should never, ever be in a 
position of getting hit like this and have to scramble to respond again. This 
is historic."

   Even the new guidelines will not be a foolproof guard against spreading 
infection.

   Recent studies have suggested that somewhere around 10% of new infections 
might be sparked by contact with people who are infected but do not yet exhibit 
symptoms. Scientists say it's also possible that some people who develop 
symptoms and then recover from the virus remain contagious or that some who are 
infected and contagious may never develop symptoms.

   As of Thursday, the U.S. had more than 430,000 confirmed cases of infection, 
according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

   On the other side of the globe, the journey back to normalcy is further 
along. 

   In Wuhan, the Chinese industrial city that first reported cases of the new 
coronavirus, authorities ended a 76-day lockdown Wednesday. Residents can 
travel in and out of the city without special authorization but must use a 
smartphone app showing they are healthy and have not been in recent contact 
with anyone confirmed to have the virus.

   Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, chimed in with a cautionary tweet from 
the sidelines, writing: "Social distancing bends the curve and relieves some 
pressure on our heroic medical professionals. But in order to shift off current 
policies, the key will be a robust system of testing and monitoring --- 
something we have yet to put in place nationwide."

   Conservative voices are pushing for an economic and social restart, urging 
Trump to overrule health officials.

   "At some point, the president is going to have to look at Drs. Fauci and 
Birx and say, we're opening on May 1," Fox commentator Laura Ingraham tweeted. 
"Give me your best guidance on protocols, but we cannot deny our people their 
basic freedoms any longer."

   For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such 
as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially 
older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe 
illness, including pneumonia, and death.


(KR)

 
 
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