coronavirus pandemic

US Virus Updates: White House Limiting Congressional Testimony; Treasury Borrowing Nearly $3T

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

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State officials continued to exercise their authority in responding to the coronavirus pandemic over the weekend as some moved to reopen their economies while others banned together to get more medical supplies.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday a coalition of seven states from Delaware to Massachusetts will create a regional supply chain of equipment and supplies that have been hard to come by during the pandemic. The Northeast remains one of the nation's largest hotspots. Meanwhile, state officials in Alaska, Iowa, Maine, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, Texas and Wyoming decided not to extend lockdowns, allowing some businesses to reopen even though virus cases continue to climb.

The nation's death toll totals more than 68,000 with over 1.1 million confirmed infections, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

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

White House Limiting Congressional Testimony for at Least a Month

No members of the White House coronavirus task force or their top deputies "may accept hearing invitations" from Congress during the month of May, the White House Office of Legislative Affairs told congressional staff directors in new guidance Monday.  

The guidance, a copy of which was provided to NBC News, also seeks to limit the number of coronavirus-related hearings administration officials are called to attend.   

“For the month of May, no Task Force members, or key deputies of Task Force members, may accept hearing invitations,” the guidance says, but adds that some exceptions may be made by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

The guidance comes after the White House blocked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and current member of the task force, from testifying before the Democratic-controlled House on Wednesday. He is being allowed to testify in a hearing before the Republican-controlled Senate on May 12. That testimony before the committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is still scheduled to happen.

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Treasury: April-June Borrowing Will Be a Record $2.99T

The Treasury Department said Monday it will need to borrow a record $2.99 trillion during the current April-June quarter to cover the cost of the government's various pandemic rescue efforts.

This quarter's borrowing will far surpass the Treasury's previous record, $569 billion in October-December 2008 when the government was dealing with the shock waves from that year's financial crisis.

This quarter's extraordinary sum also dwarfs the $1.28 trillion the government borrowed in the bond market for all of 2019.

Treasury said the borrowing is needed to fund the nearly $3 trillion the government has approved for supporting workers and businesses with direct economic payments, the Paycheck Protection Program and other efforts.

In addition, the government needs to borrow to cover the shortfall in revenue that will occur because the Trump administration has delayed the deadline for tax payments this year from April to June.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin talks about the impact coronavirus has had on the economy and what he expects moving forward.

UN: US Hasn't Shared Evidence on Alleged Coronavirus Origin

The World Health Organization's emergencies chief said Monday that it has received no evidence from the U.S. government to back up allegations by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the coronavirus could have originated at a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

“From our perspective, this remains speculative,” Dr. Michael Ryan told reporters in Geneva. “We have not received any data or specific evidence from the U.S. government relating to the purported origin of the virus.”

He said WHO would be “very willing” to receive any such information the U.S. has.

The comments come as the Trump administration has denounced both China and the U.N. health agency for alleged missteps in handling the outbreak that first emerged in the city of Wuhan and has now infected millions and killed at least 239,000 people. Trump on Friday said WHO was “like the public relations agency for China.”

Ryan reiterated that the evidence and advice that the U.N. health agency has received suggest that the novel coronavirus is of natural origin, even if Pompeo and Trump have alleged evidence they have seen suggests it could be from the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab.

2020 Met Gala Celebrated With Online Event, DIY Outfits

Usually, on the first Monday of May, Hollywood and fashion's brightest converse on the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for an evening of true opulence.

The Met Gala also serves as the grand opening of the Met’s Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibit, which revolves around a different theme or designer each year, and attendees are encouraged pay homage to the topic through their outfits.

This year's "Oscars of fashion" was postponed indefinitely last month following the coronavirus outbreak. Organizers have announced an alternative event streamed online to celebrate the first Monday of May. "A Moment With the Met" will kickoff on Youtube at 6 p.m. ET and feature an address from Vogue's editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, as well as a live performance by Florence and the Machine.

Meanwhile, many on social media have taken on the Vogue #MetGalaChallenge and recreated some iconic looks from years past. Check out the best DIY outfits here.

Met Gala Themes: Fashion Hits, Misses

Two More NorCal Counties Defy Gov., Allow Businesses to Reopen

Two more counties in Northern California have allowed many businesses to reopen in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders intended to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Yuba County and adjacent Sutter County on Monday followed last week’s move by Modoc County amid pressures to restart California’s economy even as hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 continue.

Newsom’s six-week-old order requires nearly 40 million residents to remain mostly at home.

Businesses not deemed essential were ordered closed until COVID-19 testing, hospital and death rates indicate the state outbreak is beginning to ease. Millions have been unable to work.

Should Your State Reopen?

For states considering lifting quarantine measures, the official guidelines propose either a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases within two weeks or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests.

As shown below, when you compare yesterday’s new case count with that of two weeks ago, the number is often lower, simply because the counts fluctuate. Critics call the measures vague and ultimately because they aren’t binding, some states are choosing to reopen whether they meet the criteria or not.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

NFL Moving London, Mexico City Games Back to US Stadiums

The NFL is moving its five games scheduled for London and Mexico City this season back to U.S. stadiums because of the coronavirus pandemic.

All five regular-season games will now be played at the stadiums of the host teams. The Jacksonville Jaguars had been scheduled for two home games in consecutive weeks at Wembley Stadium in London. Two games were also planned for Tottenham’s new facility, with the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins as hosts. And the Arizona Cardinals were set to be the home team for a game at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Opponents had not been announced.

The NFL says it plans to resume international games in the 2021 season.

FDA Tightens Rules for Virus Blood Tests After Accuracy Concerns

The Food and Drug Administration is pulling back a policy that has allowed scores of coronavirus blood tests to reach the U.S. market without first providing proof that they worked.

The move Monday follows criticism by doctors, lab specialists and others who say the lack of oversight has created a Wild West of unregulated tests. Under the new policy, companies with test kits for sale will be required to submit information on their test's accuracy within 10 days.

The blood tests are designed to show who has had a coronavirus infection in the past and may have some immunity.

Dr. Deborah Birx explains the difference between the two types of testing that will happen with coronavirus as the United States begins a path toward reopening the country.

UK Medical Experts Define Rare Inflammatory Condition Linked to COVID-19 in Kids

A group of medical experts in the United Kingdom announced Monday a case definition, a set of standard criteria for classifying whether a person has a particular disease or syndrome, for a new inflammatory disorder in children that's likely linked to COVID-19.

The announcement from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health comes after experts specializing in pediatric infectious disease, cardiology and intensive care management met in a webinar on Saturday to discuss cases of what they're now calling "pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome," NBC News reports.

Dozens of kids in the U.S., Italy, Spain and the UK have developed dangerous inflammation around the heart and other organs. It's similar to a rare condition called Kawasaki disease, which causes swelling of the coronary arteries, primarily in children.

"This rare syndrome shares common features with other paediatric inflammatory conditions including: Kawasaki disease, staphylococcal and streptococcal toxic shock syndromes, bacterial sepsis and macrophage activation syndromes," the group wrote in a news release. "It can also present with unusual abdominal symptoms with excessive inflammatory markers."

Smithfield Pork Plant Reopens in South Dakota

Some meatpackers are returning to work at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls. The company is opening part of the plant Monday after being closed for more than two weeks.

The meatpacking plant asked about 250 employees to report to work in two departments — ground pork and night cleanup, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers local union.

The coronavirus has infected 853 of the plant's 3,100 workers.

Smithfield has told employees who are sick, those over 60 or who have existing health problems to stay home, according to the union.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.

Meanwhile, OSHA is looking into worker complaints that the plant operated under unsafe conditions, the Argus Leader reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention toured the facility last month and recommended several changes to reduce crowding, especially in the break and locker rooms and cafeterias.

President Donald Trump is using the Defense Production Act to order meat and poultry plants hit hard by the coronavirus to stay open. More than a dozen plants have closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks among their workers. One union says 20 employees have died.

Roche Wins FDA Approval for Antibody Test

Swiss drugmaker Roche has received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA for an antibody test designed to help determine if a person has been infected by the coronavirus and developed antibodies against it, Reuters reports.

According to Roche, its antibody test has a specificity rate exceeding 99.8% and sensitivity of 100%, meaning tests would show very few false positives and no false negatives. The test uses blood drawn from veins, rather than blood from a finger prick, Reuters reported.

Thomas Schinecker, Roche's head of diagnostics, said the company is going to increase its production from 50 million to more than 100 million tests a month by the end of 2020.

As governments look to reopen after lockdowns and business closures tanked state economies, many are hoping such an antibody test could be key to determine who could go back to work without fear of reinfection. The World Health Organization, however, has warned that it's too early to say whether people who have had the virus are immune from subsequent infections.

Roche CEO Severin Schwan told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Monday that "it’s very likely" that people who have had the virus developed an immunity, but acknowledged that more studies are needed "to really see whether those people who have been infected once are subject to reinfection."

Trump Warns Coronavirus Death Toll Could Reach 100,000

President Donald Trump has warned that the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus outbreak could reach 100,000 — revising upwards his estimate on the number of people the outbreak could kill by tens of thousands.

Speaking during a Fox News virtual town hall, the president also promised that a vaccine would be available this year, contrary to the predictions of senior scientific advisors, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In the two-hour broadcast, Trump addressed a wide number of concerns, including reopening schools, while urging states to accelerate opening up the economy.

Asked whether it was the right decision to impose a broad nation-wide shutdown, Trump said: "We did the right thing. I do look back on it. Because my attitude was we're not going to shut it down.

"Look, we're going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people. That's a horrible thing. We shouldn't lose one person out of this. This should have been stopped in China. If we didn't do it, the minimum we would have lost is a million, two million, four million, five. That's the minimum."

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Supreme Court Meets by Phone for First Time

It's a morning of firsts for the Supreme Court, the first time audio of the court's arguments will be heard live by the world and the first arguments by telephone.

The changes are a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has made holding courtroom sessions unsafe, especially with six justices aged 65 or older and at risk of getting seriously sick from the virus.

The experiment beginning Monday could propel the court to routinely livestream its arguments. Or the 10 cases over six days could just be extraordinary exceptions to the court's sustained opposition to broadening the audience that can hear, if not see, its work live.

The session is set to begin Monday at the usual time of 10 a.m. EDT, when Marshal Pamela Talkin will call the court to order and Chief Justice John Roberts will announce the day's case. Arguments are scheduled to last an hour as they would generally in the courtroom.

Senate Set to Re-Open as Virus Risk Divides Congress

The Senate will gavel in Monday as the coronavirus rages, returning to an uncertain agenda and deepening national debate over how best to confront the deadly pandemic and its economic devastation.

With the House staying away due to the health risks, and the 100 senators convening for the first time since March, the conflicted Congress reflects an uneasy nation. The Washington area remains a virus hot-spot under stay-home rules.

Tops on the Senate agenda is not necessarily the next virus aid package, despite a nationwide jobless rate that’s approaching Great Depression-level heights and pleas from the governors for more money.

“There’s kind of a pause period right now,” said White House's Larry Kudlow, director of the national economic counsel, on CNN. "Let’s see how it’s doing as we gradually reopen the economy.”

Senate Republicans are trying to set the terms of debate, frustrated that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was able to fill up earlier aid bills with Democratic priorities. They're reluctant to unleash federal funds beyond the nearly $3 trillion Congress already approved in virus relief.

“We are going to need more help,” Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, the chairman of the National Governors Association, said on CNN.

Instead, Senate Republicans are counting on the country’s reopening to kick-start the economy as their best hope to limit a new round of big spending on virus aid.

Unimpressed by Online Classes, College Students Seek Refunds

They wanted the campus experience, but their colleges sent them home to learn online during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, students at more than 25 U.S. universities are filing lawsuits against their schools demanding partial refunds on tuition and campus fees, saying they’re not getting the caliber of education they were promised.

The suits reflect students’ growing frustration with online classes that schools scrambled to create as the coronavirus forced campuses across the nation to close last month. The suits say students should pay lower rates for the portion of the term that was offered online, arguing that the quality of instruction is far below the classroom experience.

Colleges, though, reject the idea that refunds are in order. Students are learning from the same professors who teach on campus, officials have said, and they’re still earning credits toward their degrees. Schools insist that, after being forced to close by their states, they're still offering students a quality education.

Class-action lawsuits demanding tuition refunds have been filed against at least 26 colleges, targeting prestigious private universities, including Brown, Columbia and Cornell, along with big public schools, including Michigan State, Purdue and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Some of the suits draw attention to schools’ large financial reserves, saying colleges are unfairly withholding refunds even while they rest on endowments that often surpass $1 billion.

Several colleges declined to comment on the lawsuits, but some said students have continued to get what they paid for.

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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