US Virus Updates: Confirmed Cases Near 1M; Fed. Prosecutors to Look for ‘Unconstitutional' Rules

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As states weigh plans for reopening their economies, the Trump administration is reviewing proposed new guidelines for how restaurants, schools, churches and businesses can safely reopen. 

The U.S. death toll has surpassed 56,000, with over 987,000 confirmed cases as of Monday afternoon, 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. Worldwide, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 hit 3 million.

President Donald Trump is projecting that coronavirus deaths in the United States could reach 70,000 but said original projections were much higher as he explained why voters should consider re-electing him in November.

Trump has at times this month cited 60,000 as the estimate of how many people would die from COVID-19.

Trump was asked during a White House news conference on Monday whether an American president deserved to be re-elected after losing more Americans in six weeks than died in the Vietnam War. Approximately 58,000 U.S. troops were killed during the Vietnam War.

The draft guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been sent to Washington but still could be revised before being released to the public. The Associated Press obtained the recommendations from a federal official who was not authorized to release them publicly.

The "decision tree" guidelines include suggestions such as closing break rooms at offices, using disposable menus in restaurants and having students eat lunch in their classrooms.

White House officials previously released a three-phase reopening plan for the nation that mentioned schools and other organizations that come back online at different points. But it hadn't previously offered more specific how-to guidelines for each kind of entity with specific steps they can take.

During an appearance on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, the White House coronavirus task force response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx warned that social distancing practices will still need to continue through the summer for the safety of all Americans.

Meanwhile, the White House is expected to shift President Donald Trump's focus from the coronavirus to the economy after a rocky week last week punctuated by the president suggesting that people inject toxic disinfectants to cure themselves of COVID-19 at a press conference Thursday. Health officials dismissed his idea, and Trump himself later said he was being "sarcastic."

The White House plans to unveil Monday what it describes as a comprehensive overview of its efforts to make testing for COVID-19 more widely available, with the goal of having enough tests and supplies available for states to test at least 2.6% of their people per month. And the CDC will release new priorities for coronavirus testing, including testing asymptomatic individuals who are in high-risk settings.

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

Barr to Prosecutors: Look for Unconstitutional Coronavirus Rules

Attorney General William Barr on Monday ordered federal prosecutors across the U.S. to identify coronavirus-related restrictions from state and local governments “that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”

The memo to U.S. attorneys directs the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan to coordinate the department’s efforts to monitor state and local policies and take action if needed.

Barr’s memo comes about two weeks after the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in a civil case in Mississippi, siding with a Christian church where local officials had tried to stop Holy Week services broadcast to congregants sitting in their cars in the parking lot.

The directive also comes as many stay-at-home orders are set to expire and governors eager to rescue their economies are moving to ease restrictions meant to control the spread of the coronavirus, even as new hot spots emerge and experts warn that moving too fast could prove disastrous.

Census Says Restart to Field Operations Will Be in Phases

The U.S. Census Bureau's return to field operations for the 2020 national head count will take place in phases based on a region's lockdown orders and the availability of protective gear against the new coronavirus, bureau officials told lawmakers late last week.

Census Bureau officials told members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform last Friday that there would be a phased start to the resumption of field operations on June 1.

The spreading virus, and subsequent stay-at-home orders, forced the bureau in mid-March to halt field operations such as hiring and training, reaching out to college students in off-campus housing and dropping off paper questionnaires to households without traditional addresses.

The bulk of the field operations in which hundreds of thousands of census takers knock on the doors of homes where people haven't yet answered the questionnaire isn't starting until August, after the pandemic forced a delay from a May start.

NY Cancels Dem Primary, NJ Gov. Says State Reopening 'Weeks Away'

New York has canceled its Democratic presidential primary that was originally scheduled for June 23.

Democratic members of the State’s Board of Elections voted Monday to nix the primary in an unprecedented move. New York Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs has said that the cancellation of the state’s presidential primary would mean a lower expected turnout and a reduced need for polling places.

New York will still hold its congressional and state-level primaries on June 23.

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that health clinics will begin using a "self-swab" procedure that lets people collect samples themselves at a health care worker’s direction. He says the tests would allow for more and easier testing and make it safer for test-seekers and health care workers alike.

New York City has seen more than 155,000 COVID-19 cases of the state's nearly 285,000 total, NBC New York reported.

New York released new data Monday showing that nearly 15 percent of those tested had antibodies to the virus -- suggesting as many as 2.9 million New Yorkers may have been infected at some point, about 10 times what the state has reported officially.

Still, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo predicted that lesser hit areas upstate would be able to "unpause" when the state's directive expires on May 15, NBC New York reported.

"Get creative. Everybody will have to think outside the box because there is no box," Cuomo said. "Government will set the criteria for a phased reopening. Businesses will reimagine their workplaces and protocols. Individuals will make decisions on their own health. We will build back better."

In neighboring New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said officials are “several weeks away" from taking the first steps to reopen following the coronavirus outbreak, NBC10 reported.

With 6,044 deaths from COVID-19 and the number of cases topping 111,000, Murphy revealed a six-principle plan to restore "economic health through public health" that includes reducing hospitalizations, expanding testing, providing isolation space, restarting the economy responsibly and ensuring long-term resiliency.

Cellphone Data Shows More People Going Outside Amid 'Quarantine Fatigue'

Researchers tracking social distancing efforts by using anonymous cellphone data found a 3% decline across the country for last week, NBC News reported.

"What we see right now is that individual Americans — many of them are deciding on their own that they’re going to reopen themselves to go out more," University of Maryland professor Lei Zhang said. "It’s just a major shift as the nation fights the pandemic."

Zhang told NBC's TODAY show it seemed that people were getting "quarantine fatigue."

The findings come as several states this week are beginning to reopen even as Dr. Birx with the coronavirus task force warned that social distancing efforts should continue through the summer.

In California over the weekend, tens of thousands of people packed beaches at Newport Beach in Orange County. Residents compared weekend crowds to July 4 and lifeguards reminded people to stay apart if they were in groups of six or more.

Neighboring Huntington Beach also saw big gatherings as a heatwave hit the region, despite the closure of beach parking lots and restrictions of metered parking along Pacific Coast Highway.

Cases continue to grow in California but at a manageable pace that hasn’t overwhelmed hospitals, health authorities have said. State and local stay-at-home orders have been cited as successfully slowing the rise in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths. Recent polls show Californians overwhelmingly support them.

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

'The Food Supply is Breaking,' Tyson Foods Warns

Tyson Foods, the nation's largest meat supplier, warned in a full-page ad in The New York Times and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Sunday that grocery stores across the country will face a "limited supply" of their pork, chicken and beef products until the company is able to reopen facilities shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” wrote John Tyson, the executive chairman of the board for Tyson.

He forecast that farmers unable to sell their livestock would have to "depopulate" millions of chickens, pigs and cattle.

"The food supply chain is breaking," he wrote.

Tyson called for government officials to help come up with a solution to "allow our team members to work in safety without fear, panic or worry."

The ad comes as Tyson and dozens of other meat-processing plants have been forced to close temporarily amid a spike in infections of their workforce -- and at least 10 deaths. Many of the companies have workers stand side-by-side cutting meat, making it had to practice social distancing.

The Washington Post reported that workers have said Tyson waited too long to provide masks, with some saying instructions on when to return to work while sick were confusing.

Tyson's ad defended its record and outlined steps it is taking to ensure worker safety, provide "thank you" bonuses and help offset medical costs for those who fall ill.

“It’s not that people aren’t trying. It’s just that it is very difficult to control this illness,” Dennis Burson, an animal science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, told The Associated Press last week.

Second Round of Funding for Small Businesses Resumes

The next round of funding for the government's rescue loan program will become available after 10:30 a.m. ET today, but the $310 billion for Paycheck Protection Program loans, and $60 billion for disaster loans, is unlikely to meet the soaring demand that's needed from reeling small businesses, according to the president of the Consumer Bankers Association.

Richard Hunt told CNBC that the funding could run out in days, just as an earlier $349 billion infusion of funds that came from an earlier bill, the CARES Act, did. About $1 trillion is needed, according to the association.

Those who applied for the program before it first ran out of funds are expected to be first in line and Hunt didn't expect new borrowers would make the cut.

The scramble for relief comes as CNBC reports more than 200 public companies had lined up for at least $854.7 million in funds from the government program, which had been targeted at small businesses.

Amid backlash, 11 companies have returned $75 million of those funds, according to CNBC.

Georgia to Continue Reopening Monday

Georgia's reopening is set to continue Monday when movie theaters can welcome customers and limited in-restaurant dining may resume in a loosening of coronavirus restrictions.

This comes after other businesses, including barbershops, gyms, tattoo shops and nail salons, were allowed to start seeing customers Friday. While many gratefully opened their doors after a monthlong closure, others didn't feel ready yet and remained shuttered.

A similar mixed response is expected for the businesses allowed to reopen Monday.

Gov. Brian Kemp last week announced that he was relaxing restrictions despite health experts’ warnings of a potential surge in infections and disapproval from President Donald Trump.

Here's a list of where things stand with other states that are beginning to reopen parts of their economy this week.

Barbershops are among the businesses Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has allowed to open on Friday.
The Associated Press/NBC
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