As some governors in the U.S. — largely Republican ones — move to reopen an ever-wider variety of businesses, others are taking a more cautious approach and have come under mounting pressure from protesters complaining that their livelihoods are being destroyed and their freedom of movement is being infringed on.
Still, health officials continue to caution against lifting lockdown measures too quickly and the director of the CDC has warned of a possible second wave of infections that would likely coincide with the seasonal flu, putting an "unimaginable strain" on the nation's health care system.
Meanwhile, the U.S. death toll reached nearly 47,000 — the highest in the world — with over 841,000 confirmed cases, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. The true figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of limited testing and difficulties in counting the dead.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:
Trump Suspends Issuance of Some Green Cards
President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that will temporarily suspend the issuance of certain green cards for 60 days as the country continues to combat the coronavirus.
Trump announced the signing during a White House briefing.
He says the order will “ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy re-opens.”
The order signed by Trump includes a long list of exceptions, including for those who are currently in the country, those who have valid immigrant visas, people seeking entry to work as physicians and nurses, and the spouses and unmarried children of U.S. citizens.
Trump has said he will reassess whether to extend the order in 60 days
Trump 'Disagrees Strongly' With Georgia's Plan to Reopen
President Donald Trump said he told Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp that he “disagreed strongly” with Kemp's decision to begin allowing some nonessential businesses to soon reopen.
Speaking at a daily White House briefing Wednesday evening, Trump said he told Kemp he had misgivings over the governor's plan, but would not stand in his way.
“The people of Georgia ... have been strong, resolute, but at the same time he must do what he thinks is right,” Trump said of Kemp, a Republican. “I want him to do what he thinks is right. But I disagree with him on what he's doing. ... But I think (opening) spas and beauty salons and tattoo parlors and barbershops in phase one ... it's just too soon."
In addition to pushback from Trump, Kemp’s plan to begin cracking open the Georgia economy faces two major hurdles — the state is struggling to increase testing for new coronavirus infections and boost tracking of those in contact with infected people.
Without those capabilities, experts said Georgia risks a quick rebound of the COVID-19 illness as Kemp allows some businesses to reopen in coming days. The Republican governor's decision has been questioned because the state has yet to show continuing progress in those areas, and it could be difficult to catch up.
Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Lead Regional Contract Tracing Effort
Michael Bloomberg has volunteered to help a lead massive regional effort to test and trace the contacts of people infected with the coronavirus in the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
Tracing the contacts of people found to be infected with the coronavirus — a public health strategy that's been widely credited for limiting its spread in South Korea — will be done across city, county and state lines around New York, Cuomo said.
"This entire operation has never been done before, so it's intimidating. You've never heard the words testing, tracing, isolate before," Cuomo said. "But I say, 'So what? Who cares that you've never done it?' That's really irrelevant. It's what we have to do now."
Tyson Foods Closes Largest Pork Plant Over Outbreak
Tyson Foods suspended operations Wednesday at an Iowa plant that is critical to the nation's pork supply but had been blamed for fueling a massive coronavirus outbreak in the community.
The company said the indefinite closure of the Waterloo, Iowa, plant would deny a vital market to hog farmers and further disrupt the nation's meat supply. Tyson had kept the facility, its largest pork plant, open in recent days over the objections of local officials.
The plant can process 19,500 hogs per day, accounting for nearly 4% of U.S. pork processing capacity, according to the National Pork Board. Tyson Fresh Meats president Steve Stouffer warned that the closure would have “significant ramifications beyond our company” since it's part of a supply chain that includes farmers, truckers, distributors and grocers.
More than 180 infections have been linked to the plant and officials expect that number to dramatically rise. The company said that mass testing of its 2,800 workers would begin later this week.
Employers have struggled to contain the virus in meatpacking plants, where workers toil side by side on production lines and often share crowded locker rooms, cafeterias and rides to work. Several packing plants have temporarily closed after large outbreaks, including a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minnesota.
Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac to Buy Home Loans in Mortgage Bailout Program
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will now buy home loans that go into the government’s mortgage forbearance program just after they close, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced Wednesday in a move that aims to ease a cash crunch for lenders.
Citing the need to keep the mortgage market "working for current and future homeowners during these challenging times," FHFA Director Mark Calabria said in a news release that purchasing these loans will "help provide liquidity to mortgage markets and allow originators to keep lending."
The forbearance program allows borrowers with economic hardship due to Covid-19 to delay monthly payments for up to a year. Those payments must be made at a later date. Nonbank mortgage lenders, however, remain obligated to pay their investors on time.
CNBC reports more than three million loans are already in the forbearance program. Because Fannie and Freddie wouldn’t buy the loans that had just closed, credit tightened up dramatically, making it harder borrowers to get a new loan. Lenders were afraid any loans they made might go into forbearance before they were sold, leaving them on the hook, unable to sell them.
For more information and eligibility criteria for loans read the full story on CNBC.com.
Atlanta Mayor: Georgia Gov.'s Decision to Reopen Businesses 'Defies Logic'
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to allow hair and nail salons, massage therapists and other businesses to reopen “really defies logic,” says Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
The mayor says the governor didn’t tell her before he announced the decision publicly on Monday.
“He did not tell me directly, and he’s the governor so I don’t always expect to receive a call directly from the governor,” Bottoms said in an interview on the TODAY show Wednesday. “But something of this magnitude, I would have expected at least a call from someone on his team.”
The mayor says with manicures, haircuts and massages, “the nature of the business is that you are in close contact with someone and that’s what’s most disturbing to me about the way this order has been lifted.”
Publix to Buy Produce, Milk From Struggling Farmers and Donate it to Food Banks
Publix announced Wednesday it was launching an initiative to buy surplus dairy and produce from local farmers and donate it to food banks grappling with a shortage of donations.
The Lakeland, Florida-based supermarket chain said in a news release it would purchase produce from Florida farmers and milk products from southeastern dairy farmers, and then donate the fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy to Feeding America's partner food banks.
“As a food retailer, we have the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the needs of families and farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Publix CEO Todd Jones. “In this time of uncertainty, we are grateful to be able to help Florida’s produce farmers, southeastern dairies and families in our communities.”
According to Feeding America, more than 17 million additional people will experience food insecurity due to school closures and rising unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of acres of fruits and vegetables grown in Florida are being plowed over or left to rot because farmers can't sell to restaurants, theme parks or schools nationwide that have closed because of the coronavirus. Similarly, dairy farmers and cooperatives from Florida to Wisconsin to New England are dumping milk because state-wide closures wiped out much of the food service market which makes up for a big chunk of the dairy business.
Meanwhile, demand at food banks is up as much as 60% in some places as food donations have declined significantly. Providers have seen people lining up hours before pantries open, with cars stretching sometimes for miles.
CDC Director: Second COVID-19 Wave Could Be Worse When Paired With Flu
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday that a second wave of coronavirus cases in the U.S. could be even worse than the first as a fresh outbreak would likely coincide with flu season.
"There's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through," Robert Redfield told The Washington Post. "We're going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time."
Redfield said the simultaneous outbreaks would put an "unimaginable strain" on the nation's health care system.
More than 46,000 people so far have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, across the U.S. Redfield said federal and local officials need to use the next few months to prepare by increasing testing and contact tracing abilities.
He also called protests against stay-home orders "not helpful."
New Model Projects Higher Death Total, Longer Timeline for NY
An updated model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects COVID-19 deaths in New York will be 64% higher than it modeled just a week ago -- driven, in part, by a new effort to count New York City’s “probable” deaths on top of the state’s confirmed cases, NBC New York reports.
Last week, it projected New York would see more than 14,000 total fatalities by early-to-mid May. Now it says the Empire State could see up to 23,741 deaths through May 22.
The IHME model now assumes New York will have a triple-digit death toll every day through May 4, and a double-digit toll daily through May 13. As of Tuesday, the state had 14,828 fatalities.
The model also registered higher fatality projections for New Jersey and Connecticut, at 7,116 and 2,884, respectively. Their timelines now extend later as well, to May 20 and May 30. Nationally, projected fatalities increased slightly.
Notably, the model also revised its projected dates after which states could begin to relax social distancing restrictions. Presuming strong containment strategies remain in place, including testing, contact tracing, isolation and crowd limitations, IHME now says New York could begin to ease social distancing -- paving the way to reopen nonessential business -- after May 27. In its previous model run, IHME projected that date to be June 1.
First US Death Happened Weeks Before Originally Believed
An autopsy report has revealed the first COVID-19-related death in the United States happened weeks earlier than previously thought.
Officials in Santa Clara County, California, said Tuesday two people died at home on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17. The Medical Examiner-Coroner received confirmation Tuesday that tissue samples sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested positive for the virus, officials said.
Before this, the first U.S. death from the virus had been reported on Feb. 29 in Kirkland, Washington.
The autopsy of a third Santa Clara County resident who died on March 6 also tested positive for COVID-19, the Medical Examiner-Coroner said. The county had initially reported its first coronavirus death on March 9.
How Coronavirus Has Grown in Each State — in 1 Chart
New York has quickly become the epicenter of the American coronavirus outbreak. This chart shows the cumulative number of cases per state by number of days since the 10th case.
Source: Johns Hopkins University
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC
7 Wisconsin Virus Cases May Be Linked to In-Person Voting, Officials Say
Health officials in Wisconsin said they have identified at least seven people who may have contracted the coronavirus from participating in the April 7 election, the first such cases following in-person voting that was held despite widespread concern about the public health risks.
The infections involve six voters and one poll worker in Milwaukee, where difficulty finding poll workers forced the city to pare nearly 200 voting locations back to just five, and where voters — some in masks, some with no protection — were forced to wait in long lines for hours.
It's not certain that the seven people contracted the virus at the polls. The possible connection was made because local health officials are now asking newly infected people whether they participated in the election.
“It means they were at the polls, which is a potential exposure, but (we) can't say they definitely got it at the polls,” said Darren Rauch, the health officer/director for suburban Greenfield, and one of the health officials helping with the coronavirus response in the Milwaukee area.
Milwaukee officials are still gathering information from about 70% of people who have tested positive since the election and hope to have a full report later this week, city health commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said.
The election, which included a presidential primary as well as a state Supreme Court race and local offices, took place after a legal struggle between Democrats and Republicans. A day before the election, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers ordered that it be delayed and shifted to all-mail voting, only to be overturned when Republican legislative leaders won an appeal in the state's conservative-controlled Supreme Court.