US death toll hits 100,000; employers can mandate tests

Deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus outbreak are exceeding the pace that several models projected earlier this year.

On Wednesday, the death toll hovered at 99,000 on the Johns Hopkins University site, while Worldometer, shows the death toll has surpassed 100,000.

Without the wide scale stay-at-home orders, which most states adopted, and travel bans in and out of the U.S., the death toll was projected to be more than 1 million. As enforcement was put in place in April, that reduced the estimates to below 65,000, but as states began to lift restrictions the projections jumped back up to 74,000 by August. The current projection is 131,000 deaths by August.

Globally, cases continue to climb, surpassing 5.6 million, with more than 350,000 deaths. Meanwhile, U.S. cases are nearing 1.7 million.

Meanwhile, tensions. between the U.S. and China have bubbled over, with the trade war escalating even as the world’s two largest economies battle the ongoing pandemic. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress that Hong Kong can no longer be considered an autonomous territory from China, pulling Asia’s international business hub into the battle. The announcement could affect a number of multi-national companies which have offices in the territory — which had seen escalating political tensions as China began to enforce more authority in the region.

The U.S. withdrawing funding from the World Health Organization, over concerns that the WHO did not hold China accountable in the early days of the outbreak, was another point of tension. WHO announced Wednesday the creation of a new foundation to help it raise funds from “non-traditional” sources, but claims it is unrelated to the U.S. pulling out.

Waiting for possible second wave

Meanwhile, as companies seek ways to ensure safety at work while they contemplate reopening offices, the two largest commercial labs, Quest Diagnostics (DGX) and LabCorp (LH) have unveiled employer packages that include testing and temperature scans to help monitor employees.

But how those tests could be utilized and whether employers could mandate employees to take them had been a point of concern. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance Wednesday, saying it would not be in violation of workers’ rights.

Many of the largest companies are looking to reopen in phases as early as June, while others are eyeing September or early 2021 openings.

Businesses are weighing how to operate against a backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, which includes a potential second wave in the fall or winter.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks remotely during a virtual Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing, Tuesday, May 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Win McNamee/Pool via AP)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN the ongoing uptick in cases is inevitable, but a second wave isn’t inevitable if people don’t continue to follow social distancing and frequent cleaning guidelines.

But how well directions are followed remain to be seen, and concerns over a silent Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue.

Former CDC director and current chief patient officer at Merck (MRK), Dr. Julie Gerberding, told Yahoo Finance that social media and a highly political environment have affected the CDC’s ability to communicate more comfortably.

“As the social media world has evolved, people are increasingly uncomfortable communicating uncertainty,” Gerberding said. “What that means is that information is slow to come out.”

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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