coronavirus pandemic

US Virus Updates: Unreleased White House Report Shows Spikes in Heartland; Deaths Reach 80K

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.

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U.S. coronavirus cases show no sign of slowing down. The U.S. has seen over 1.3 million infections and more than 80,000 deaths in the pandemic — the most in the world by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

As the debate over lifting lockdowns continues to divide the U.S. along partisan lines, the Trump administration and the nation's top health officials are now facing the coronavirus within their own ranks.

Last week, a valet for President Donald Trump and a spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence tested positive for the virus. Pence is self-isolating but is not in quarantine, while Trump is continuing about his days as normal. According to officials, both Trump and Pence have repeatedly tested negative for the virus.

As the White House deals with the virus, so are many of the nation's top health officials. Three members of the coronavirus task force -- Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Robert Redfield, and the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Stephen Hahn --  placed themselves in quarantine after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:

Unreleased White House Report Shows COVID-19 Rates Spiking in Heartland Communities

Coronavirus infection rates are spiking to new highs in several metropolitan areas and smaller communities across the country, according to undisclosed data the White House's pandemic task force is using to track rates of infection, which was obtained by NBC News.

The data contained in a May 7 coronavirus task force report are at odds with President Donald Trump's Monday declaration that "all throughout the country, the numbers are coming down rapidly."

The top 10 areas saw surges of 72.4 percent or greater over a seven-day period compared to the prior week, according to a set of tables produced for the task force by its Data and Analytics unit. They include Nashville, Tennessee; Des Moines, Iowa; Amarillo, Texas; and — atop the list with a 650 percent increase — Central City, Kentucky.

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Trump Abruptly Ends Briefing After Contentious Exchanges

President Donald Trump abruptly ended his White House news conference Monday following combative exchanges with reporters Weijia Jiang of CBS News and Kaitlan Collins of CNN.

Jiang asked Trump why he was putting so much emphasis on the number of coronavirus tests that have been conducted in the United States.

“Why does that matter?” Jiang asked. “Why is this a global competition to you if everyday Americans are still losing their lives and we're still seeing more cases every day?”

Trump replied that “they're losing their lives everywhere in the world. And maybe that's a question you should ask China. Don't ask me. Ask China that question.”

He called for another question, and there was no immediate response.

“Sir, why are you saying that to me, specifically?” Jiang asked. Jiang, who has worked for CBS News since 2015, was born in Xiamen, China, and emigrated to the United States with her family at age 2.

Trump said he would say that to “anyone who asks a nasty question.”

“It's not a nasty question,” Jiang said. “Why does that matter?”

Trump again asked for another question, then said, “Nah, that's OK” and waved off CNN's Collins when she approached the microphone.

“You pointed to me,” Collins said.

The president said, “I pointed to you and you didn't respond.” Collins said she was giving Jiang the time to finish her questioning.

“Can I ask a question?” Collins said.

With that, Trump ended the news conference, held in the White House Rose Garden, and walked away.

Jiang and Collins wore masks to the news conference, as did most reporters, following the recent reports that two White House employees — an aide to Vice President Mike Pence and a valet to the president — had tested positive for the coronavirus.

At a press conference on Monday, Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health, confirmed that HHS is working with a network of children's hospitals and intensive care units to better understand the extreme coronavirus symptoms in infected children.

White House to Require Staffers to Wear Masks in West Wing

President Donald Trump continued to paint an improving picture of the coronavirus pandemic Monday even as the threat of the virus hit home inside the White House, which increased precautions again in the wake of positive employee tests the previous week.

The White House began requiring all staffers entering the West Wing to wear a facial covering Monday, according to two sources familiar with the decision, and asked aides to avoid going there "unless you absolutely need to conduct in-person business in the West Wing," according to a memo sent to staffers.

The decision comes days after a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence tested positive for coronavirus. Trump has repeatedly declined to wear as a face covering in public settings.

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control has been that any employees who are exposed to the virus should be wearing a mask in the workplace for 14 days after any contact with a person who tests positive.

White House staffers returned in the morning to a thoroughly cleaned West Wing and new protocols around testing and masks after the president’s personal valet and Pence’s spokesperson both tested positive for the virus in recent days.

Secret Service members in close proximity to the president have begun wearing masks and visitors were asked additional questions before entering the White House grounds about whether they’d been experiencing any symptoms in addition to temperature checks. Staffers who are in regular, close contact with the president — roughly a dozen people — are also being tested daily.

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Twitter to Label Tweets With Misleading COVID-19 Information

Twitter announced Monday it will warn users when a tweet contains disputed or misleading information about the coronavirus.

The new rule is the latest in a wave of stricter policies that tech companies across are rolling out to confront an outbreak of virus-related misinformation on their sites.

Twitter will take a case-by-case approach to how it decides which tweets are labeled and will only remove posts that are harmful, company leaders said Monday.

Some tweets will run with a label underneath that directs users to a link with additional information about COVID-19. Other tweets might be covered entirely by a warning label alerting users that “some or all of the content shared in this tweet conflict with guidance from public health experts regarding COVID-19.”

The new labels will be available in roughly 40 languages and should begin appearing on tweets as soon as today. The warning could apply retroactively to past tweets.

Twitter won't directly fact check or call tweets false on the site, said Nick Pickles, the company's global senior strategist for public policy. The warning labels might direct users to curated tweets, public health websites or news articles.

“People don't want us to play the role of deciding for them what's true and what's not true but they do want people to play a much stronger role providing context,” Pickles said.

It seems like information about how to protect yourself from the coronavirus is constantly changing. NBCLX host Nik Zecevic clears up the CDC’s new guidance about wearing face masks

CDC Study: Virus Death Toll in NYC Worse Than Official Tally

New York City’s death toll from the coronavirus may be thousands of fatalities worse than the official tally kept by the city and state, according to an analysis released Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between mid-March and early May, about 24,000 more people died in the city than researchers would ordinarily expect, based on the season, the report said.

New York City's official death toll from confirmed COVID-19 infections tops 14,000, and "probable" cases account for another 5,000 more, by the city's own accounting, NBC New York reports.

But that leaves about 5,000 more deaths over the baseline and not immediately explained by a confirmed or probable COVID-19 diagnosis.

These so-called “excess deaths” could have been caused by byproducts of pandemic, the report found, including “the demand on hospitals and health care providers and public fear related to COVID-19” prompting delays in people seeking or receiving lifesaving care.

The report, based on data compiled by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, underscored the challenges authorities face in assessing — and quantifying — the human toll of the crisis. Even deaths caused by the coronavirus are believed to be widely undercounted worldwide, due in large part to limits in testing and the different ways countries count the dead.

Ill. Gov., Staff to Work From Home After Pritzker Aide Tests Positive

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office says a senior staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, but the governor has tested negative, NBC Chicago reports.

The first-term Democrat’s office released a statement Monday saying all employees, including Pritzker, will work from home “for an appropriate isolation period.” The statement didn't specify how long that would last.

The office says the staff member was asymptomatic, but tested positive last week and was in close proximity to the governor. Pritzker and all other staff have tested negative.

Roughly 20 administration officials have been working from a downtown Chicago office building where Pritkzer was holding daily news conferences during the pandemic.

NY Gov. Cuomo: Statewide Shutdown to End May 15, Parts of Upstate to Reopen

Several regions of upstate New York that have shown progress in taming the coronavirus outbreak are ready to gradually restart economic activity by the end of the week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

Cuomo shut down the entire state March 22 as the New York City area emerged as a global pandemic hot spot, but the outbreak has been less severe in the state’s smaller cities and rural areas. He said three upstate regions have met all criteria for opening some business activity after May 15: the Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley and the Finger Lakes. Other upstate regions are making and could follow soon after.

The reopening regions still need to work out logistics, such as creating regional “control rooms” to monitor the effects of the reopening.

Cuomo last week said regions of the state could phase in re-opening if they met seven conditions. Those seven metrics are based on two core factors: infection rate and capacity. Regions must prove they have controlled their infection rates and that they have established the hospital, testing, tracing, isolation and compliance capacities to safely sustain their reopenings and handle any potential resurgence, NBC New York reports.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined new details of his regional reopening strategy for New York state; it's based on seven metrics.

14-Year-Old Shares Experience Fighting Mystery Illness Affecting Children

A 14-year-old who is now back home after spending 10 days in the intensive care unit battling the mystery inflammatory disease related to coronavirus that is affecting children said his symptoms began as a sore throat and rash before getting "a whole lot worse."

“I had a really bad fever, and I was getting really hot," Jack McMorrow said Monday in an interview on TODAY. "I couldn't move [my body] and if you tried to move it, it was very painful because all my organs were inflamed. It was a lot of shortness of breath and a hard fight, but I feel I did pretty well.”

His father, John McMorrow, told TODAY's Sheinelle Jones that his son's recovery was "miraculous," saying he believes the turning point came "after all the prayers."

"He turned around in three hours, just before they were about to intubate him, and I find that was a definite sign," John McMorrow said. "I don't know why, the doctors don't know why, the nurses didn't know why, but we were celebrating that day when he stabilized."

"It was a very dire situation, I just finished telling my family that it was going bad," he added.

The rare illness dubbed by medical experts as pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome has features similar to Kawasaki disease — a rare inflammatory condition in children — and toxic shock syndrome.

As many as 85 children in New York have been diagnosed with similar symptoms and up to five may have died of complications from the condition.

White House Advisor Navarro Threatens Coronavirus Retaliation Against China

White House trade advisor Peter Navarro on Monday threatened unspecified retaliation against China for its role in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, warning in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that “a bill has to come due” for the country. 

 “It’s not a question of punishing them, it’s a question of holding China accountable, the Chinese Communist Party accountable,” Navarro said.

The comments come as tensions escalate between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies, as each seeks to pin blame on the other for the spread of Covid-19.

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All Aboard Amtrak Must Wear Face Masks

Starting Monday, Amtrak will require that all passengers wear face coverings.

Passengers will be required to provide their own facial covering and wear it over their nose and mouth while in stations and on trains and thruway buses. The coverings can be removed when customers are eating in designated areas or are seated alone or with a travel companion. Small children are exempt.

In the skies, several U.S. carriers will also begin to enforce face covering rules. Alaska, Southwest, American Airlines and Spirit will require that passengers wear face masks starting Monday. Frontier, Jetblue, Delta and United have already begun to make wearing masks mandatory.

As more and more Americans don face masks in public, parents are facing a dilemma: How young is too young to mask up kids?

Anti-Lockdown Protesters Carry Weapons Into NC Sandwich Shop

A group of armed demonstrators protesting North Carolina's stay-at-home order walked the streets of Raleigh, North Carolina, this weekend, weapons slung over their shoulders, and were captured at a restaurant in photographs that went viral.

Travis Long, a photojournalist with The News & Observer, said he shot the photos inside a Subway on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.

One photo shows a protester carrying what appears to be an AT4 rocket launcher and two pistols in holsters on his waist. Another shows a protester holding a large weapon over his shoulder as he appears to take a selfie. Two of the demonstrators who appear in the photos are wearing masks.

Saturday's demonstration was organized by a group called Blue Igloo, according to The News & Observer. The group responded to a request for comment about the event by email late Sunday. "The walk on Saturday wasn't a protest, it was a gathering to support our God given freedoms as Americans," the group said in an email. "We headed out for a walk to get some fresh air, sunshine, and some much needed exercise."

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Texas Officials Use Poop to Track the Spread of COVID-19

City health officials and Rice University scientists have begun testing Houston wastewater samples for COVID-19, a process they hope will reveal the true spread of the new coronavirus as clinical testing continues to lag.

The city-led effort makes use of studies that show traces of the virus can be found in human feces, according to the Houston Chronicle. By testing samples of sewage collected at the city’s wastewater treatment plants, officials hope to uncover the scale of the outbreak in Houston and, perhaps, locate hotspots undetected by in-person tests.

"It’s an evolving field. We hope that it will help give us just more information on where the virus is and how much of it is out there," said Loren Hopkins, a Rice University statistics professor who also serves as the health department’s chief environmental science officer.

Though Gov. Greg Abbott gave some Texas businesses the green light to reopen last week, health officials warn that cities and counties across the state are not conducting enough daily tests to capture how many people are infected with the coronavirus. Further complicating efforts to track the virus are concerns about false negative tests, evidence showing a significant chunk of infected people do not display symptoms, and data that reveals Harris County’s coronavirus cases largely have been concentrated close to testing sites.

The emerging effort to trace the coronavirus through wastewater may help overcome those obstacles, officials say, though it remains early. Dr. David Persse, the city’s health authority, said the health department has gathered initial data, but the area covered by the treatment plants remains too large to yield useful results.

"Quite honestly, nobody’s ever done this before," Persse said. "We’ve never really tracked an illness across a huge community like the fourth largest city in the nation, using not only testing of individuals, but at the same time testing the wastewater. So, we’re trying some new techniques, and we need to refine those before we can really hang our hat on what the results show."

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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

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