- Confirmed cases worldwide passes 15 million.
- Texas sees highest single-day increase in coronavirus deaths since pandemic started.
- Special leave for Canadian federal employees cost at least $440M from March-May.
- Brazil registers new daily record for confirmed cases.
- South Africa accounts for well over half of confirmed African cases.
- Pan American Health Organization says more areas of concern than bright spots in the Americas.
Laboratories across the Unites States are buckling under a surge of coronavirus tests, creating long processing delays that experts say are actually undercutting the pandemic response.
With the U.S. tally of infections at 3.9 million Wednesday and new cases surging, the bottlenecks are creating problems for workers kept off the job while awaiting results, nursing homes struggling to keep the virus out and for the labs themselves, dealing with a crushing workload.
Some labs are taking weeks to return COVID-19 results, exacerbating fears that asymptomatic people could be spreading the virus if they don't isolate while they wait.
"There's been this obsession with, 'How many tests are we doing per day?"' said Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The question is how many tests are being done with results coming back within a day, where the individual tested is promptly isolated and their contacts are promptly warned."
Frieden and other public health experts have called on states to publicly report testing turnaround times, calling it an essential measure of progress against the virus.
The testing lags in the U.S. come as the number of people confirmed to be infected globally passed a staggering 15 million on Wednesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. leads the world in cases as well as deaths, which stand at more than 142,000 nationwide.
More mandatory mask orders
U.S. officials have recently called for ramping up screening to include seemingly healthy Americans who may be unknowingly spreading the disease in their communities. But Quest Diagnostics, one of the nation's largest testing chains, said it can't keep up with demand and most patients will face waits of a week or longer for results.
Quest has urged health-care providers to cut down on tests from low-priority individuals, such as those without symptoms or any contact with someone who has tested positive.
As testing has expanded, so have mask orders and other measures aimed at keeping infections down. Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota and Oregon became the latest to announce statewide mandatory mask orders on Wednesday.
The U.S. is testing over 700,000 people per day, up from less than 100,000 in March. Trump administration officials point out that roughly half of U.S. tests are performed on rapid systems that give results in about 15 minutes or in hospitals, which typically process tests in about 24 hours. But last month, that still left some nine million tests going through laboratories, which have been plagued by limited chemicals, machines and kits to develop COVID-19 tests.
There is no scientific consensus on the rate of testing needed to control the virus in the U.S., but experts have recommended for months that the U.S. test at least one million to three million people daily.
California, Texas see rising cases
New York, once by far the U.S. leader in infections, has been surpassed by California, though that is partly due to robust testing in a state with more than twice the population of New York.
California's confirmed coronavirus cases have topped 409,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins showing Wednesday that California now has about 1,200 more cases than New York.
However, New York's 32,520 deaths are by far the highest total in the country and four times more than California's tally, and its rate of confirmed infections of about 2,100 per 100,000 people is twice California's rate.
California is by far the most populous U.S. state, with nearly 40 million people, while New York has about 19.5 million.
In addition to California, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Alabama are among 40 states where cases are rising.
In Texas, coronavirus deaths rose by 197 on Wednesday to 4,348 total, the highest single-day increase since the pandemic started, according to the state health department. Cases rose by 9,879 to 351,618 total.
While Dallas County and Houston are seeing signs of optimism after enduring a tough month so far, the outlook is concerning in Starr and Hidalgo counties, located near the Mexico border. In Starr County, Judge Eloy Vera said "we're very close to losing the situation."
Florida reported 9,785 new cases and 140 new deaths on Wednesday, while COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized hit a record high of 9,530. Alabama reported a record 61 new deaths on Wednesday, a day after hospitalizations hit a record high.
Nineteen states have reported a record number of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients so far in July. Thirty-two states have reported record increases in cases in July and 16 states have reported record increases in deaths during the month.
What's happening with coronavirus in Canada
As of 7:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada has seen 112,240 coronavirus infections. Provinces and territories listed 98,142 of those as recovered or resolved, with a total of 5,194 still active. A CBC News tally based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC's reporting indicates that 8,904 Canadians have died.
In Ottawa, more information is being learned this week about the government's early response to COVID-19 and the adjustments it has made with its own workforce due to the resulting lockdown.
A little-known medical unit within Canadian Forces Intelligence Command briefed Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan about the burgeoning COVID-19 crisis in China on January 17, it has been revealed.
In response to an order paper question from a Conservative MP, the Department of National Defence confirmed that its medical intelligence unit shared its briefing documents about COVID-19 widely with other government departments and agencies. But questions are being asked if time was squandered given that the government's incident response group — led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and composed of cabinet ministers — didn't meet to discuss the virus until 10 days later, by which time China had finally given a sense of the virus's dangers.
WATCH | Canadian cases 'price to pay' of reopening, but U.S. scenario a warning, doctor says:
Meanwhile, more than a quarter of all federal public servants were granted paid time off work during the first 11 weeks of the pandemic, at an estimated cost of $439 million, according to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
The "other leave with pay" provision, also known by its pay code 699, is approved at the discretion of management when employees are unable to report to work for reasons beyond their control. It is separate from vacation or sick pay.
Between March 15 and May 31 of this year, a total of 76,804 employees — 27 per cent of all federal public workers — were granted this type of leave.
On Tuesday, legislation introduced by the Liberal government to change the federal wage subsidy and provide relief to people with disabilities passed in the House of Commons by unanimous consent.
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What's happening in the rest of the world
Brazil registered a new daily record for confirmed cases on Wednesday — 67,860 — pushing the total across Latin America past four million, according to a Reuters tally.
Brazil had 2,227,514 cases in total on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the government says President Jair Bolsonaro is still testing positive for the coronavirus following his July 7 announcement that he had contracted the virus.
The positive test Tuesday came after a follow-up check on July 15. The government says he remains in good health.
The World Health Organization says the median time from onset to clinical recovery for mild cases is approximately two weeks.
The government say Bolsonaro will keep holding video conferences instead of face-to-face meetings.
The director of the Pan American Health Organization, a UN public health agency with offices throughout Central and South America, as well as the U.S. and the Caribbean, said Tuesday the pandemic is showing "no signs of slowing down" in many of its member nations. The virus has landed in the Guiana shield countries on South America's northeastern coast and surges have also been detected in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, Carissa Etienne said.
But PAHO said Tuesday that Nicaragua hasn't given the organization authorization to send in a team of experts to evaluate the coronavirus outbreak in the Central American country.
The Nicaraguan Health Ministry gave a periodic update Tuesday, claiming deaths had increased from 99 to 108 and confirmed cases rose to 3,439. The civic group Citizens Observatory, however, said independent doctors and activists had collected reports of 2,260 deaths and 8,508 cases.
Iran says 138 health-care professionals have died so far while battling the coronavirus pandemic. The semi-official ISNA news agency on Wednesday quoted Hossein Kermanpour, spokesperson for the regulatory body for Iranian health-care professionals, as saying that the death toll includes 90 doctors and 28 nurses.
Iran is grappling with the deadliest outbreak in the Middle East. It has so far reported more than 278,000 confirmed cases and 14,634 deaths. On Tuesday, the country saw its single-day highest death toll at 229.
South Africa has well over half of the confirmed coronavirus cases on the African continent, with new Health Ministry data showing 381,798 cases, including 5,368 deaths.
The country's current epicentre is Gauteng province, home to Johannesburg and one-quarter of the population. It has over one-third of South Africa's cases.
While the country is now legitimately a global hot spot, its percentage of total African cases partially reflects a limited testing capacity in several countries on the continent.
In Australia, the state of Victoria reported a record 484 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday as health authorities warned that numbers could continue to rise.
With Australia's second-largest city Melbourne now in lockdown for two weeks, authorities had hoped the infection rate would begin to plateau. Instead, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said "we're going to look at 500-600 cases per day. I absolutely don't want us to go there."
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced two more deaths, both men in their 90s, bringing the national death toll to 128. Neighbouring New South Wales state reported 16 new cases on Wednesday.
With files from CBC News and Reuters
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