coronavirus pandemic

US Virus Updates: Confirmed Cases Top 960k; Thousands Pack Beaches During SoCal Heat Wave

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

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With about one in six workers now without a job, the debate amongst governors and the American people over whether to reopen businesses continues to rage.

However, health officials are urging people to follow their social distancing recommendations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They're also warning that injecting disinfectants is "irresponsible" and "dangerous" after President Donald Trump wondered at a press briefing Thursday if it might be a way to keep the virus from "doing a number on the lungs."

The U.S. death toll in the coronavirus pandemic surpassed 54,000 on Sunday, with over 965,000 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.

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

Family of Fallen US Marine Surprised With Parade

The family of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq last month had to postpone his memorial service because of restrictions on large gatherings in California to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

On Sunday morning, they were surprised with a parade outside their Simi Valley home that began with a police helicopter flyover, followed by about 1,500 law enforcement vehicles, fire engines and cars.

The Ventura County Star reports the huge turnout to honor Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo was orderly.

Pongo’s sister-in-law helped organize the parade to surprise his parents and brothers. The city’s police department helped with traffic control.

Community members kept the parade going for more than two hours, and many of their cars blasted music while kids hung out of windows waving flags. People who gathered on the sidewalk to watch the parade followed social distancing measures, Sgt. Patrick Zayicek told the newspaper.

“It was a great show of support in our community,” he said.

Thousands Pack Beaches During SoCal Heat Wave

A lingering heat wave lured people to Southern California beaches, rivers and trails again Sunday, prompting warnings from officials that defiance of stay-at-home orders could reverse progress and bring the coronavirus surging back.

Tens of thousands of people packed the sand at Newport Beach in Orange County, where residents compared weekend crowds to the Fourth of July and lifeguards reminded people to stay apart if they were in groups of six or more.

Neighboring Huntington Beach also saw big gatherings, despite the closure of parking lots and metered parking restricted along Pacific Coast Highway. Temperatures were close to 90 degrees.

Robin Ford surveyed the crush of visitors with concern.

“Unless all these people are in one household, it does look like they are not social distancing," Ford told the Orange County Register. "They could be spread out more.”

Vice President Mike Pence told the media on Friday that Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is hoping to double his state's testing capacity in the next week.

Fauci: 'Safety and Efficacy' Owed in Exploring Covid-19 Treatments

Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging careful science to prove whether any of the drugs being explored as COVID-19 treatments actually work.

Fauci, infectious diseases chief at the National Institutes of Health, said Saturday during an online meeting of the National Academy of Sciences that the only way to get an answer that is not just perpetual ambiguity is by doing a randomized controlled trial.

"We need something out there, but safety and efficacy is something we owe to the global population,” Fauci said.

Fauci also stressed that caution is needed as economies reopen, pointing to a step-wise approach with restrictions gradually lifted as areas reach certain milestones.

“Any attempt to leapfrog over these almost certainly will result in a rebound, and then we can set ourselves back,” he said. “If we don’t get control of it we will never get back to normal. I know we will, but we’ve got to do it correctly.”

Fauci also cautioned against looking for a magic number of available tests needed as the country reopens.

“We don’t want to get fixated on how many tests you need,” Fauci said. Instead, places must “have enough tests to respond to the outbreaks that will inevitably occur."

Trump Tweets Questioning Value of Press Briefings

President Donald Trump says his press briefings are “not worth the time & effort” as his administration prepares to adjust his public presence amid the coronavirus pandemic toward addressing the nation’s economic woes.

Tweeting on Saturday, one of the few days in which he has not held a daily briefing since the start of the outbreak, Trump says: “What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the Lamestream Media asks nothing but hostile questions, & then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately.”

The president’s tweet comes two days after he used a briefing to muse about the injection of chemical disinfectants, drawing warnings from manufacturers and the nation’s top medical professionals. The White House claimed Friday that Trump was misinterpreted, though the president later asserted he was speaking “sarcastically.”

His tweet questioning the value of press briefings also comes as White House aides are developing plans to shift the president’s public emphasis from the virus to addressing the economic crisis it has caused and the government’s plans for reopening the economy.

Potbelly to Return Relief Money

Potbelly Sandwich Shop is the latest large company to say it will return money it received as part of the Payroll Protection Program.

The company said Saturday that its sales dropped dramatically when COVID-19 hit, forcing it to furlough employees and close shops. Potbelly applied for and qualified for assistance under the program.

“We were surprised and disappointed when the fund was quickly exhausted, leaving many without help,” the company said in a news release. “We are returning the PPP loan after further clarification from the Treasury Department.”

The Chicago-based sandwich shop has about 6,000 employees and annual revenues of more than $400 million, according to FactSet.

The PPP is intended to help small businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Its initial $349 billion in funds ran out last week and the House gave final approval to $310 billion in additional funds Thursday.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo read a letter he received from a farmer in Kansas who sent one of his last five N95 masks for a medical worker to New York despite having a wife with one lung and diabetes.

Number of Sailors With Coronavirus on USS Kidd Doubles: Navy

The Navy reports that the number of sailors aboard the USS Kidd confirmed to be infected with the novel coronavirus has nearly doubled, rising from 18 to 33.

The destroyer with its crew of 350 are off the Pacific coast of South America on a mission related to U.S. counter-drug activities.

In a statement issued Saturday, the Navy said a medical team continues testing of the Kidd’s crew. Two sailors have been medically evacuated to the United States. Meanwhile, officials say those aboard the Kidd are wearing N95 masks and other personal protective equipment.

The Navy says the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island is en route to rendezvous with the Kidd in case medical support is required at sea. Officials say the Makin Island has a fleet surgical team, intensive care capacity and ventilators, as well as additional testing capability.

The Kidd is the second Navy ship at sea to report an outbreak of the coronavirus. Officials say the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt has reported more than 850 cases of infection among its nearly 5,000 crew members. Most of its crew has been moved ashore to quarantine on Guam.

More than two dozen oil tankers are anchored near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach due to decreased demand for oil amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Florida Medical Center President Says He Told His Parents to Remain Indoors Regardless of Possible Changes

The president of a Florida medical center said at a press conference Saturday that any changes made going forward will have to be evaluated daily.

Orthopedic surgeon Wael Barsoum was referencing remarks by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about restarting activities, such as elective procedures and surgeries.

“I think that there is a lot of excitement about seeing what happens as we move forward, as we start slowly seeing changes with the requirements that we’ve had put in place," said Barsoum, president of Cleveland Clinic Florida. “But please recognize that we will learn every day, and we may have to step back from some of those decisions as a society.”

Barsoum said he told his parents, who are 75 and 84 years old, that regardless of what happens in the coming weeks he expects they will remain indoors.

US Oil Production Plummets

Oil producers in the U.S. are making painful decisions about how to shut down operations after the pandemic decimated the need for fuel.

The price of U.S. benchmark crude plummeted more than 70% since the start of the year, selling for $17 a barrel Friday, well below what producers need to remain viable.

Parsley Energy, a mid-sized fracking company based in Austin, Texas, lost half its market value since the year began and told regulators it has been shutting down enough wells to take about 400 barrels of oil per day off the market.

In recent weeks, Exxon slashed its capital spending plan by 30%, or $10 billion, and Chevron gutted its capital expenses by 20%, or $4 billion. Both companies are planning to halt drilling for new oil in different parts of the world and will likely shrink further since conditions have deteriorated since their announcements. is made up of more than 3,500 volunteer therapists providing free or low-cost services to frontline workers in the U.S. The group has received more than 7,000 requests in the last two weeks and a shout-out from actress Kristen Bell.

Arizona's Pace of Coronavirus Deaths Slows

The pace of additional deaths in Arizona’s coronavirus outbreak has slowed following a recent surge.

The Department of Health Services’ tally of deaths statewide rose by seven to 273 as of Saturday, following an increase of 17 deaths reported Friday and a total of 62 deaths reported over the previous three days.

The department said there were 6,820 cases reported statewide as of Saturday, an increase of 235 from Friday.

Health officials say the recent surge in reported fatalities likely resulted from a boost in cases weeks ago. It was expected to slow because it often takes weeks for patients to die once hospitalized and because hospitalizations appear to have leveled off.

Surgeon Says Daily Evaluation of Changes Needed

The president of a Florida medical center said at a press conference Saturday that any changes made going forward will have to be evaluated daily.

Orthopedic surgeon Wael Barsoum was referencing remarks by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about restarting activities, such as elective procedures and surgeries.

“I think that there is a lot of excitement about seeing what happens as we move forward, as we start slowly seeing changes with the requirements that we’ve had put in place," said Barsoum, president of Cleveland Clinic Florida. “But please recognize that we will learn every day, and we may have to step back from some of those decisions as a society.”

Barsoum said he told his parents, who are 75 and 84 years old, that regardless of what happens in the coming weeks he expects they will remain indoors.

USNS Comfort to Return to Va. as NY Deaths Fall to Lowest Level in Weeks

The Pentagon says the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship that has been in New York harbor for several weeks to help fight the coronavirus, will return to its home port of Norfolk, Virginia.

Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman did not say when the ship would depart New York. Once it is back in Norfolk, it will restock and prepare to deploy again if requested.

Hoffman says it will be up to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to decide whether the Comfort should undertake a coronavirus support mission elsewhere.

The announcement comes as New York reported its lowest number of daily COVID-19 deaths in weeks. The state recorded 422 deaths Thursday, the fewest since March 31, when it recorded 391 deaths. More than 16,000 people have died in the state from the outbreak.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the figures are still at “an unimaginable level, and it’s dropping somewhat,” but says it is still “devastating news.”

The total number of people hospitalized statewide continues to drop slowly, hitting about 14,000. But Cuomo says the number of new patients coming into hospitals is basically flat.

Trump Signs $484B Measure to Aid Employers, Hospitals

President Donald Trump signed a $484 billion bill Friday to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 Americans and devastated broad swaths of the economy.

The bill is the latest effort by the federal government to help keep afloat businesses that have had to close or dramatically alter their operations as states try to slow the spread of the virus. Over the past five weeks, roughly 26 million people have filed for jobless aid, or about 1 in 6 U.S. workers.

Trump thanked Congress for “answering my call” to provide the critical assistance and said it was “a tremendous victory.” But easy passage of this aid installment belies a potentially bumpier path ahead for future legislation to address the crisis.

The measure passed Congress almost unanimously Thursday as lawmakers gathered in Washington as a group for the first time since March 27. They followed stricter social distancing rules while seeking to prove they can do their work despite the COVID-19 crisis.

The bill includes $250 billion in help for small businesses and $100 billion for hospitals.

US Death Toll Surpasses 50,000

The U.S. coronavirus death toll topped 50,000 Friday, a grim milestone that comes as several states begin opening some businesses and easing restrictions on social distancing.

The number of infections was nearing 1 million, 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.

Across the country, governors are wrestling with weeks of quarantine-fueled job losses, soaring unemployment claims and the simultaneous warnings of public health officials who say lifting stay-at-home orders now could spark a resurgence of COVID-19. 

401(k) Balances Fall 19% Amid Pandemic

Retirement balances have taken a heavy hit since notching a record high before the coronavirus pandemic upended the global economy.

The average 401(K) balance has sunk 19%, to $91,400, according to a report by the nation's largest provider of 401(K) plans, CNBC reported.

Fidelity's report on the first quarter for 2020 also found the average individual retirement balance fell by 14%, to $98,900.

In contrast, the average 401(k) balance was $112,300 in the fourth quarter of last year. The average IRA balance was $115,400.

Still, Fidelity said savers have continued to contribute at a steady rate.

Stocks have been generally rallying since late March on promises for massive aid from Congress and the Federal Reserve, along with more recent hopes that the outbreak may be leveling off and could lead parts of the economy to reopen. But the S&P 500 is on track for a loss this week, which would snap its first two-week winning streak.

FDA Warns Against Using Antimalarial Drugs to Treat COVID Outside of Hospital

The Food and Drug Administration warned Tuesday against using two malaria drugs widely touted by President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus, unless closely monitored by health care professionals in a hospital setting.

The FDA cautioned against prescribing hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, especially in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin, after reports that patients taking the drugs had experienced life-threatening heart issues.

“We understand that health care professionals are looking for every possible treatment option for their patients and we want to ensure we’re providing them with the appropriate information needed for them to make the best medical decisions,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn in a news release.

Hahn said clinical trials to determine the safety and effectiveness of these drugs for COVID-19 are ongoing and urged doctors to consider "the risks of serious and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems that can occur with these drugs."

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, an older drug similar to hydroxychloroquine, are FDA-approved to treat or prevent malaria. The FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization to allow them to be used in limited circumstances, such as for certain hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and for clinical trials, to determine the efficacy of treating the new coronavirus.

A nationwide study released Tuesday showed no benefit in an analysis of its use in U.S. veterans hospitals. The analysis involved 368 male veterans hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infection at Veterans Health Administration medical centers who died or were discharged by April 11. There were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine, with or without the azithromycin, versus standard care, researchers report. 

Earlier this month, scientists in Brazil stopped part of a study testing chloroquine, after heart rhythm problems developed in one-quarter of people given the higher of two doses being tested.

Lysol Warns Against Internal Use After Trump Comments

The parent company of Lysol and another disinfectant warned Friday that its products should not be used as an internal treatment for the coronavirus after President Donald Trump wondered about the prospect during a White House briefing.

Trump noted Thursday that researchers were looking at the effects of disinfectants on the virus and wondered aloud if they could be injected into people, saying the virus “does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

That prompted a strong warning from the maker of disinfectants Lysol and Dettol, which said it was issuing a statement to combat “recent speculation.”

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” said the statement from Reckitt Benckiser.

Trump has often talked up prospects for new therapies and offered rosy timelines for the development of a vaccine as he encourages states to move to reopen their economies.

The Environmental Protection Agency also issued a warning Friday reminding people to only use disinfectant on surfaces.

During a press conference on Thursday, President Donald Trump asked that the White House coronavirus task force investigate whether a disinfectant could be injected as a treatment for coronavirus patients.

Georgia Reopens Some Nonessential Businesses Friday

Georgia is set to allow some nonessential businesses to reopen Friday despite warnings from public health experts that moving too quickly could fuel a resurgence in infections.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced earlier this week that he's easing restrictions on some close-contact businesses including barber shops, nail salons, gyms, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys and massage therapists, less then a month after ordering them closed amid the coronavirus pandemic. Kemp is allowing elective medical procedures to resume Friday. In-person religious services can resume this weekend and limited in-restaurant dining and movie theaters may reopen Monday. All the businesses are subject to restrictions including separating workers and enhanced sanitation.

Critics of Kemp's plan say the state's coronavirus case numbers don't meet the threshold needed to reopen under White House guidelines, which calls for 14 days of declining COVID-19 cases. According to data from the state's Department of Health, Georgia has not seen a 14-day downward trajectory in the rate of new cases.

Experts say increasing testing for infections and tracking down those who have been in contact with infected people are key to preventing an increase in cases as activity expands. Georgia has ranked in the bottom 10 states for testing per capita, but the state reported nearly 7,000 tests from Wednesday to Thursday, the most so far in a day.

Confirmed cases of the virus in Georgia surpassed 21,000 on Thursday and at least 870 deaths have been recorded, according to data from the state’s Department of Public Health.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is allowing some "hands-on" businesses like gyms, spas, hair and nail salons to open Friday morning, followed by restaurants and movie theaters Monday. While some business owners are opening their doors again with new social distancing measures in place, others are not happy and say they will remain closed.

As Curve Begins to Flatten, California Sees Deadliest Day Yet

The past 24 hours has been the state’s deadliest day since the COVID-19 crisis began with a reported 115 deaths, but the Bay Area overall has seen a steadying of the curve.

“One hundred and fifteen human beings lost their lives, families torn apart,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “It was the deadliest day in the state of California.”

Most reported deaths were in Southern California but Newsom added the numbers of hospitalizations dropped again and the Bay Area appears to be flattening the curve.

Though Santa Clara County, which was the first county to issue a stay-at-home order, is nearing 2,000 cases, the number of patients in hospitals and those in the ICU is still slightly down from April 1.

As the curve is bent, Bay Area counties are expected to slowly get back to normal.

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

'Republicans Are Nervous': Some in GOP Eye Protests Warily

The latest demonstration by right-wing groups against measures to contain the coronavirus will be held Friday in Wisconsin, where hundreds, and possibly thousands of people plan to descend on the state Capitol to protest the Democratic governor's stay-home ordinance.

It's expected to be among the biggest of the protests that have popped up around the U.S. in recent days. But as with some earlier events, one group will be noticeably absent: the state's most prominent Republicans.

That includes Sen. Ron Johnson, a Trump ally, who says he'll be sheltering in place at his home in Oshkosh about 90 miles from Madison.

"I’m neither encouraging nor discouraging them," said Johnson, 65, whose career was launched by the tea party movement, a protest effort with ties to the current one. He urged anyone who decides to attend the protest to practice good personal hygiene and social distancing.

Johnson's distance and ambivalence is shared by many Republicans as they warily watch the protests — with their images of gun-toting activists, the occasional Confederate flag, and protesters wearing Trump hats but no face masks. Six months away from an election, the protests are forcing some Republicans to reckon with a restless right flank advocating an unpopular opinion even as the party seeks to make gains with moderates, women and suburban voters.

Polls show the sentiment behind these groups is currently unpopular. A survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found only 12% of Americans say the measures in place where they live to prevent the spread of the coronavirus go too far, though Republicans are roughly four times as likely as Democrats to say so — 22% to 5%. The majority of Americans — 61% — feel the steps taken by government officials in their area are about right.

Still, a network of conservative groups has activated to support the efforts — seizing on the anxiety and distrust that comes with a moment of turmoil. Conservative groups with national networks, including FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, have pushed the “reopen” message on social media.

Protests calling for cities and states to ease COVID-19 stay-at-home orders continued across the country. President Trump has voiced his support for the rallies, and also taken the message online, calling for several states to "liberate" even though they haven't met guidelines created by his administration to reopen. Now, many governors are pushing back.
The Associated Press/NBC
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