coronavirus pandemic

US Virus Updates: Airline Announces Temperature Checks; Govs. Disregard Trump Reopening Guidelines

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

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One day after saying that the COVID-19 task force would be winding down, President Donald Trump said Wednesday that it would "continue on indefinitely," but focus more on rebooting the economy.

He said in a tweet Wednesday that the White House "may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate. The Task Force will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics.”

Trump's reversal comes as deaths and infection rates outside of New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus, are rising even as states move to lift their lockdowns.

Researchers recently doubled their projection of deaths in the U.S. to about 134,000 through early August. So far the U.S. has recorded over 74,000 deaths and 1.2 million confirmed infections.

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

Frontier Airlines Announces Temperature Checks, Drops Open-Seat Fee Plan

Frontier Airlines said Thursday it would begin implementing mandatory temperature checks on passengers prior to boarding, the first U.S.-based airline to announce such a measure. 

The temperature checks, which will begin June 1, are another added layer of protection, Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle said in a press release. Any passenger with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will be denied boarding. 

"This new step during the boarding process, coupled with face coverings and elevated disinfection procedures, will serve to provide Frontier customers an assurance that their well-being is our foremost priority and we are taking every measure to help them travel comfortably and safely," Biffle said. 

Although many U.S. airlines have imposed face mask requirements and social distancing measures, mandatory temperature readings have yet to become an industry standard. Air Canada announced Monday that it would be the first North American carrier to start infrared temperature checks.  

Frontier Airlines is also dropping plans to charge passengers extra to sit next to an empty middle seat after congressional Democrats accused the airline of trying to profit from fear over the new coronavirus.

Democrats had railed against Frontier's plan to charge passengers at least $39 per flight to guarantee they would sit next to an empty middle seat. The offer was to begin with flights Friday and run through Aug. 31.

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee called it "outrageous." Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said the Denver-based airline is using the need for social distancing "as an opportunity to make a buck ... capitalizing on fear and passengers’ well-founded concerns for their health and safety."

Rome's Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport is using "smart" helmets to conduct temperature checks on travelers.

Governors Disregarding White House Guidelines on Reopening

Many governors across the U.S. are disregarding or creatively interpreting White House guidelines in easing their states' lockdowns and letting businesses reopen, an Associated Press analysis found.

The AP determined that 17 states do not appear to meet one of the key benchmarks set by the White House for loosening up — a 14-day downward trajectory in new cases or infection rates. And yet many of those have begun to reopen or are about to do so, including Alabama, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah.

Because of the broad way in which the nonbinding guidelines are written, other states, including Georgia, have technically managed to meet the criteria and reopen despite not seeing a steady decline in cases and deaths.

The push to reopen across the country comes amid pressure from businesses that are collapsing by the day and workers who have been thrown out of a job. Over 33 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits over the past seven weeks, and a highly anticipated report on Friday is expected to show U.S. unemployment as high as 16%, a level not seen since the Depression.

Acting CBP Chief: US Could Extend Period for Border Restrictions

U.S. officials say fewer illegal immigrants are trying to enter the country from Mexico amid new enforcement rules imposed in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan says agents are encountering about half the number of migrants along the southwest border than in the month before President Donald Trump authorized the rapid expulsion of migrants under a March 21 public health order.

Total encounters in April were about 16,700.

The public health order was initially renewed for 30 days and is scheduled to expire this month. But Morgan and Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez suggested Thursday that the public health restrictions may have to stay in place longer even as the U.S. starts to ease quarantine restrictions.

Morgan also said border agents have encountered their first two migrants with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The first was from India and was captured near Calexico, California, on April 23. The second was a man from Mexico captured this week as he tried to enter the U.S. to seek medical attention for his illness.

NIH Director: Not Clear If Recovered COVID-19 Patients Are Immune

The director of the National Institute of Health told lawmakers Thursday there's still a lot scientists don't know about the novel coronavirus, including whether people can get reinfected after they recover and how long antibodies provide immunity.

“I think at the present time to be able to evaluate the meaning of a positive antibody test, one should be quite cautious,” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said Thursday during a hearing about coronavirus testing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Collins also told lawmakers that as states ease social distancing measures and Americans head back to work, the U.S. needs better diagnostics testing technology, noting existing testing still relies on sending samples to labs for results.

"As America moves back into public spaces but seeks to avoid further infections, tests have to be more accessible, ideally to people at the point of care, to make it easier for people to be tested," Collins said. "We need tests that don't require hours or days to determine results."

The NIH launched a “Shark Tank”-style program last week to incentivize the private sector to develop rapid coronavirus tests in order to make millions available to all Americans "by the end of summer and even more in time for the flu season.” Collings said they've received over 1,000 applications and 79 are already completed.

“I have honestly never seen anything move this quickly,” said Collins of the response from the private sector.

Texas Court Orders Release of Salon Owner Jailed for Reopening

The Texas Supreme Court has ordered the release of a Dallas salon owner who was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to keep her business closed during the coronavirus crisis, NBC DFW reports.

Shelley Luther was booked in the Dallas County jail this week after keeping her salon open in defiance of state restrictions. Luther refused to apologize for repeatedly flouting the order, leading a Dallas County judge to find her in contempt of court and sentence her to a week behind bars.

The decision by the state's high court follows a move by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's to remove jail as a punishment for violating his executive order for coronavirus restrictions. Abbott's reversal reflects the increasing pressure he is under to reboot the state’s economy at a much faster pace.

US Military Member Detailed to White House Tests Positive for COVID-19

 A member of the U.S. military who works at the White House has tested positive for coronavirus, NBC News reports.

“We were recently notified by the White House Medical Unit that a member of the United States Military, who works on the White House campus, has tested positive for Coronavirus," deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement to NBC News, adding that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence "have since tested negative for the virus and they remain in great health.”

CNN first reported that the person who tested positive serves as one of President Donald Trump's personal valets, raising concerns about the president's possible exposure to the virus. The valets are members of an elite military unit dedicated to the White House and often work very close to the president and first family.

Neiman Marcus Files for Bankruptcy

Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus filed for bankruptcy Thursday, CNBC reports.

The department store chain had been struggling with competition from online rivals and dwindling cash before the pandemic. The health crisis exacerbated its problems, forcing it to furlough most of its 14,000 workers and close its 43 Neiman Marcus stores.

It is now the second major retailer to file for bankruptcy during the pandemic, following J. Crew’s filing earlier this week

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McDonald's Workers Shot Over Coronavirus Restrictions in Dining Area

Two McDonald's employees in Oklahoma City were shot and wounded by a customer who was angry that the restaurant's dining area was closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, police said.

A female suspect was in custody after the Wednesday night shooting, but police have not yet released her name or what charges she may face. The woman entered the lobby of a McDonald's in Oklahoma City and was told the dining room was closed for safety reasons, police said.

The woman "became agitated and fired two to three rounds at employees,” Oklahoma City Police Capt. Ronnie Beck said.

One employee was shot in the shoulder and another employee was shot in the arm, police said. A third employee suffered a head injury during the altercation, police said.

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the employees were expected to make a full recovery.

33 Million Have Sought Unemployment Aid Since Virus Hit

Nearly 3.2 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the business shutdowns caused by the viral outbreak deepened the worst U.S. economic catastrophe in decades.

Roughly 33.5 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the seven weeks since the coronavirus began forcing millions of companies to close their doors and slash their workforces.

That is the equivalent of one in five Americans who had been employed back in February, when the unemployment rate had reached a 50-year low of just 3.5%. 

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo Calls Out 'Selfish' New Yorkers Not Wearing Masks

Gov. Andrew Cuomo discusses the global praise he's received for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and how he's handled becoming the internet's new boyfriend.

Texas AG Calls for Release of Jailed Dallas Salon Owner Who Defied Executive Order

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is calling for the immediate release of a Dallas salon owner who was jailed for opening her business despite the order to keep it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NBC DFW reports.

Shelley Luther, the owner of Salon a la Mode, was sentenced to seven days in jail Tuesday and was also ordered to pay $500 for each of the seven days the salon was open. Luther reopened her salon on April 24, despite state and county orders.

Dallas County Judge Eric Moye ruled against Luther for both criminal and civil contempt.

Moye told Luther she owes local leaders an apology and called her decision to open early selfish.

"I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I am selfish because feeding my kids is not selfish. I have hair stylists that are going hungry because they'd rather feed their kids. So sir, if you think the law is more important than kids being fed, then please go ahead with your decision. But I'm not going to shut the salon," said Luther.

Paxton sent a letter to the judge stating he abused his authority by putting Luther in jail for opening her salon to feed her family.

“I find it outrageous and out of touch that during this national pandemic, a judge, in a county that actually released hardened criminals for fear of contracting COVID-19, would jail a mother for operating her hair salon in an attempt to put food on her family’s table,” the Republican attorney general said in a statement. “The trial judge did not need to lock up Shelley Luther. His order is a shameful abuse of judicial discretion, which seems like another political stunt in Dallas. He should release Ms. Luther immediately.”

Read the full story here.

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

Trump Admin Shelves CDC Guidelines for Reopening Country, Official Says

A set of detailed documents created by the nation's top disease investigators meant to give step-by-step advice to local leaders deciding when and how to reopen public places such as mass transit, daycare centers and restaurants during the still-raging pandemic has been shelved by the Trump administration.

The 17-page report by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team, titled "Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework," was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen.

It was supposed to be published last Friday, but agency scientists were told the guidance "would never see the light of day," according to a CDC official. The official was not authorized to talk to reporters and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The AP obtained a copy from a second federal official who was not authorized to release it. The guidance was described in AP stories last week, prior to the White House decision to shelve it.

The Trump administration has been closely controlling the release of guidance and information during the pandemic spurred by a new coronavirus that scientists are still trying to understand, with the president himself leading freewheeling daily briefings until last week.

Traditionally, it's been the CDC's role to give the public and local officials guidance and science-based information during public health crises. During this one, however, the CDC has not had a regular, pandemic-related news briefing in nearly two months. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield has been a member of the White House coronavirus task force, but largely absent from public appearances.

Coronavirus Payments Sent to Dead Should Be Returned, Government Says

The federal government wants the money it sent dead people returned, NBC News reports.

The Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday updated its website to say that people who have died do not qualify for the coronavirus relief payments and that: "A Payment made to someone who died before receipt of the Payment should be returned to the IRS."

The Treasury Department also tweeted the same Wednesday.

Before that, it was unclear whether the payments, which amounted to as much as $1,200 for individuals, needed to be repaid.

The Treasury Department called the payments to deceased people as well as those who are incarcerated as inadvertent.

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Calculate Your Coronavirus Stimulus Payment

Source: Staff reports, NBC News
Credit: Nelson Hsu, Vince Lattanzio / NBC

Staff, AP
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