The U.S. debate over reopening lockdowns has polarized along partisan lines as over 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment and business activity has ground to a halt.
Meanwhile, coronavirus cases show no sign of slowing down. The U.S. has seen 1.3 million infections and nearly 80,000 deaths in the pandemic — the most in the world by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:
US Senator to Self-Quarantine, Staffer Positive
Sen. Lamar Alexander will not return to Washington this week and will self-quarantine in his home state of Tennessee after a member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19.
The Republican senator will be working remotely and will chair the Senate health committee hearing on Tuesday morning by video conference. Witnesses will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Robert Redfield, Dr. Brett Giroir and Dr. Stephen Hahn, according to Alexander Chief of Staff David Cleary.
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Fauci, Redfield and Hahn have also self-quarantined after exposure to an infected staffer. The witnesses will testify from remote locations as well.
Cleary said the staff member tested positive Sunday and is home recovering, and doing well. Alexander consulted with his physician and decided not to go back to Washington. He will self-quarantine for 14 days “out of an abundance of caution.”
Cleary said almost all of the senator’s Washington staff are working from home, and there is no need for any other staff member to self-quarantine.
Pence Isolates After Virus Exposure
Vice President Mike Pence is self-isolating after an aide tested positive for the coronavirus last week.
An administration official says Pence is voluntarily limiting his exposure. He has repeatedly tested negative for COVID-19 since his exposure but is following the advice of medical officials.
Pence’s move comes after three members of the White House’s coronavirus task force placed themselves in quarantine after coming into contact with the aide, Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller.
Pence was informed of the positive test Friday morning before he left Washington for a day trip to Iowa.
“Vice President Pence will continue to follow the advice of the White House Medical Unit and is not in quarantine," said Pence spokesperson Devin O’Malley.
"Additionally, Vice President Pence has tested negative every single day and plans to be at the White House tomorrow.”
Illinois Gov. Defends Extended Stay-Home Order
Gov. J.B. Pritzker defended his stay-at-home order and incremental plans to reopen, saying Sunday that Illinois residents have to change the way things are done until COVID-19 is “eradicated.”
The Democrat's comments on CNN’s “State of the Union” came as he faced a southern Illinois salon owner's lawsuit, criticism from some Republicans who deem his plans an overreach and a Chicago Tribune editorial accusing him of being “cautious to the extreme.”
Pritzker dismissed the criticism Sunday.
“The truth is that coronavirus is still out there,"' he told CNN. “It hasn’t gone anywhere. And so we all are going to have to change the way we do things until we’re able to eradicate it.”
Florida City Closes Beaches After Visitors Sit Too Close
A Florida city closed its beaches Sunday, one week after they reopened, because officials said visitors were not practicing social distancing and could have contributed to the spread of the new coronavirus.
Officials in Naples on Florida's southwest coast said that the crowds on Saturday were packed too tightly together, so they decided to close beaches until a city council meeting can be held Monday to discuss solutions.
Councilman Gary Price went to the beach Saturday after learning about the crowds and took photos of people not obeying rules that require groups to remain apart.
“It’s pretty sad,” he told the Naples Daily News. “It’s such a popular place. We’ll figure it out. We are doing this to keep people safe. We are erring on the side of caution.”
Mnuchin Says US Jobless Numbers Probably Going to Get Worse
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the jobless numbers in the United States “are probably going to get worse before they get better,” but the bigger risk to the country is keeping businesses closed rather than states allowing some to reopen.
Mnuchin spoke as most states begin to loosen their restrictions on businesses after extended shutdowns designed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. He says that if re-openings are not allowed it would have permanent economic damage to the American public.
Another 3.2 million U.S. workers applied for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total over the last seven weeks to 33.5 million.
Mnuchin says that increased testing and the prospect of better treatments will give businesses and workers the confidence to reopen in a careful way. He says, ”you are going to have a very, very bad second quarter. And then I think you’re going to see a bounce-back from a low standpoint.”
Mnuchin spoke on Fox News Sunday.
Public Health Expert Warns 'This Virus Isn't Going to Go Away'
A public health expert says the new coronavirus still “has a long way to run” despite President Donald Trump’s claim last week that it will go away without a vaccine.
Dr. Tom Inglesby says it’s likely that only a small portion of the country has been infected, “so most of us are still susceptible to this virus.” Inglesby is the director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
He says the nation does not have sufficient testing or tracing the contacts of people who do test positive for what he described as a “really nasty virus.” Inglesby says the danger is that as businesses reopen and Americans start to resume normal activities “with increased social interaction, we will again see increased transmission and rising number of cases.”
Reacting to Trump’s assertion that the virus simply will disappear, Inglesby says, “No, this virus isn’t going to go away. Hopefully, over time, we’ll learn to live with it and we’ll be able to reduce the risk of transmission. But it’s going to stay as a background problem in the country and around the world until we have a vaccine.”
Inglesby made the comments on Fox News Sunday.
Mother's Day This Year Means Getting Creative From Afar
Treats made and delivered by neighbors. Fresh garden plantings dug from a safe 6 feet away. Trips around the world set up room-to-room at home.
Mother's Day this year is a mix of love and extra imagination as families do without their usual brunches and huggy meet-ups.
As the pandemic persists in keeping families indoors or a safe social distance apart, online searches have increased for creative ways to still make moms feel special.
Absent help from schools and babysitters, uninitiated dads are on homemade craft duty with the kids. Other loved ones are navigating around no-visitor rules at hospitals and senior-living facilities.
3 Members of White House Virus Task Force in Quarantine
Three members of the White House coronavirus task force, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, placed themselves in quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, another stark reminder that not even one of the nation’s most secure buildings is immune from the virus.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading member of the task force, has become nationally known for his simple and direct explanations to the public about the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes. Also quarantining are Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Stephen Hahn.
Fauci's institute said that he has tested negative for COVID-19 and will continue to be tested regularly. It added that he is considered at “relatively low risk” based on the degree of his exposure, and that he would be “taking appropriate precautions" to mitigate the risk to personal contacts while still carrying out his duties. While he will stay at home and telework, Fauci will go to the White House if called and take every precaution, the institute said.
Redfield will be “teleworking for the next two weeks" after it was determined he had a “low risk exposure" to a person at the White House, the CDC said in a statement Saturday evening. The statement said he felt fine and has no symptoms.
Just a few hours earlier, the Food and Drug Administration confirmed that Hahn had come in contact with someone who tested positive and was in self-quarantine for the next two weeks. He tested negative for the virus.
All three men are scheduled to testify before a Senate committee on Tuesday. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the panel, said the White House will allow Redfield and Hahn to testify by videoconference, a one-time exception to the administration's policies on hearing testimony. The statement was issued before Fauci's quarantine was announced.
Obama Bashes Trump for Virus Response
Former President Barack Obama, meanwhile, harshly criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as an “absolute chaotic disaster,” while U.S. states began gradually reopening, even as health officials are anxiously watching for a second wave of infections.
During a conversation with ex-members of his administration, Obama said combating the virus would have been bad even for the best of governments, but it’s been “an absolute chaotic disaster” when the mindset of “what’s in it for me” infiltrates government, according to a recording obtained by Yahoo News.
The United States has suffered nearly 80,000 deaths from COVID-19, the most of any nation.
Trails, Golf Courses Reopen in Hard-Hit LA
Hiking to the Hollywood sign and hitting the links is being allowed Saturday as the California county hardest hit by the coronavirus cautiously reopened some sites to recreation-starved stay-at-homers.
Los Angeles County permitted the reopening of trails and golf courses, but with social distancing restrictions. For those interested in retail therapy, there was even better news as Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday allowed tens of thousands of stores to reopen, including florist shops, just in time for Mother’s Day.
The city of Los Angeles announced it also was reopening some public spaces, including sprawling Griffith Park, which includes popular paths to the Hollywood sign.
But mounted police and park rangers would be keeping hikers to small, distant groups wearing face coverings. Mayor Eric Garcetti urged “good judgment” and said the city would rely on education and encouragement rather than heavy-handed enforcement.
It was “not our vision to make this like a junior high school dance with people standing too close to each other,” he said.
County beaches could reopen next week with restrictions designed to keep people from thronging the shore and possibly spreading COVID-19.
Airline Trade Group OK With Temperature Checks
A trade group representing major airlines says its members support having the government do temperature checks of passengers as long as necessary during the coronavirus crisis.
Airlines for America said Saturday that the checks will add a layer of protection for passengers as well as airline and airport employees. Airline workers who come in contact with the public also would be checked.
The association said passenger screening is the responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration. “Having temperature checks performed by the TSA will ensure that procedures are standardized, providing consistency across airports so that travelers can plan appropriately.”
Last week, the group announced that airlines would require customer-facing employees and passengers to wear cloth face masks from check-in through the end of the trip.
3 NY Youths Die From Syndrome Possibly Linked to COVID-19
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says two young children and a teenager in the state have now died from a possible complication from the coronavirus involving swollen blood vessels and heart problems.
At least 73 children in New York have been diagnosed with symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease — a rare inflammatory condition — and toxic shock syndrome.
Cuomo announced two more deaths on Saturday, a day after discussing the death of a 5-year-old boy at a New York City hospital.
There is no proof that the virus causes the mysterious syndrome.
Colorado Reaches 967 Deaths, More Than 19,300 Confirmed Cases
Colorado has reached 967 deaths from the coronavirus, and more than 19,300 people have tested positive for the illness, state health officials said.
The state Department of Public Health and Environment said Saturday more than 100,000 have been tested for COVID-19.
State data show more than 3,600 have been hospitalized since the outbreak. Fewer than 600 people were in Colorado hospitals with symptoms of the illness as of Friday.
On Saturday, a host of Denver businesses — from clothing stores to hair salons — opened their doors for the first time in nearly two months as Mayor Michael Hancock’s stay-at-home order expired, The Denver Post reported. Business owners who have been hard hit financially say it’s the only way to stay afloat as they try to recoup lost sales while giving their employees a much-needed paycheck.
But despite the go-ahead from city leaders, many business owners are choosing to keep their stores shut for now. Those who have made the choice not to resume walk-in business say there is simply not enough evidence yet that bringing workers and customers back into their spaces is safe and won’t contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
New Mexico Officials Want Health Orders Reviewed
New Mexico Republicans and sheriffs are asking U.S. Attorney General William Barr to look into Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s health orders aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce and New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association President Tony Mace each sent letters to Barr last week seeking a review into the health orders that have shuttered some businesses since late March. They say the orders, which have closed several small businesses, violate residents’ civil rights.
“We want to express our fears and frustrations regarding New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham’s public health order, a policy many in our state believe to be a blatant violation of peoples’ civil rights, liberties and their right to conduct free commerce,” Pearce wrote. “The situation in New Mexico is one that is unjust and inequitable.”
Mace, the Cibola County sheriff and a frequent critic of fellow Democrat Lujan Grisham, said the health order was unfairly hurting residents.
“The governor has been discriminatory in her policies, keeping big box corporate giants open — draining New Mexico dollars out of state — while shutting down mom and pop locally owned establishments,” Mase wrote. “This is not only preferential treatment for the big box stores but a violation of the civil rights of our small business owners whose livelihoods are now in free fall.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Pearce said he wanted Barr to look at New Mexico to see if the U.S. Constitution “is being respected” during the health order.
A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham declined to comment.
Nevada Businesses Able to Reopen Saturday
Restaurants, hair salons and other Nevada businesses that closed or had their operations reduced under state-imposed restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus were able to reopen Saturday and allow customers inside their establishments.
Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday had said restaurants, salons and other nonessential businesses could reopen Saturday with limited capacity. He said hospitalization rates and positive tests had stabilized.
Sisolak ordered the closures on March 17.
The state reported over 300 deaths from the coronavirus outbreak as of Saturday, with over 6,000 cases of COVID-19.
US Approves New Coronavirus Antigen Test With Fast Results
U.S. regulators have approved a new type of coronavirus test that administration officials have promoted as a key to opening the country.
The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday announced emergency authorization for antigen tests developed by Quidel Corp. of San Diego. The test can rapidly detect fragments of virus proteins in samples collected from swabs swiped inside the nasal cavity, the FDA said in a statement.
The antigen test is the third type of test to be authorized by the FDA. Antigen tests can diagnose active infections by detecting the earliest toxic traces of the virus rather than the genetic code of the virus itself.
Currently, the only way to diagnose active COVID-19 is to test a patient’s nasal swab for the genetic material of the virus. While considered highly accurate, the tests can take hours and require expensive, specialized equipment mainly found at commercial labs, hospitals or universities.
Drug Remdesivir Being Shipped to Six More States
The federal government is sending supplies of the first drug that appears to help speed the recovery of some COVID-19 patients to six states, where it will be distributed by health departments.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Saturday that it is delivering 140 cases of the drug remdesivir to Illinois, 110 cases to New Jersey, 40 cases to Michigan, 30 cases each to Connecticut and Maryland and 10 cases to Iowa. Each case contains 40 vials of the drug, the department said in a statement.
“State and local health departments have the greatest insights into community-level needs in the COVID-19 response,” the statement said.
Earlier this week the government sent 565 cases to New York, 117 to Massachusetts, 94 to New Jersey, 38 to Indiana, 33 to Virginia, 30 to Rhode Island, and seven to Tennessee.
The company that makes the antiviral drug, California-based Gilead Sciences, has said it is donating its entire current stockpile to help in the U.S. pandemic response.
Remdesivir was cleared for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration last week.
The department says the doses have to go to more critical patients including those on ventilators or in need of supplemental oxygen.
FDA Head in Self-Quarantine, Has Tested Negative for Virus
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, is in self-quarantine for the next two weeks after coming in contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Stephanie Caccomo, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration, says Hahn tested negative for the virus after he learned of the contact. He wrote a note to staff on Friday to alert them to the contact.
Hahn was scheduled to testify before a Senate panel on Tuesday, along with infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Robert Redfield.
The administration is not confirming the person Hahn had contact with that tested positive for the virus. But the news follows the confirmation that two people who work in the White House complex are known to have tested positive for the virus this week.