One day after saying that the COVID-19 task force would be winding down, President Donald Trump said Wednesday that it would continue indefinitely, but focus more on rebooting the economy.
Trump tweeted that the panel's focus would be on "SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN."
A White House official acknowledged Wednesday morning that signaling that the task force was preparing to shut down sent the wrong message and created a media maelstrom. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking, said the membership in the task force group would change as the nature of the crisis evolves.
On Tuesday, Trump had praised the task force for doing a great job, but said "we’re now looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety and opening. And we’ll -- we’ll have a different group probably set up for that.”
His tweet on Wednesday said “the Task Force will continue on indefinitely.” He added that the White House "may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate. The Task Force will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics.”
Meanwhile, a model from the University of Washington this week nearly doubled its projection of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. to around 134,000 through early August, with a range of 95,000 to nearly 243,000. Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the institute that created the projections, said the increase is largely because most states are expected to ease restrictions by next week.
New confirmed infections per day in the U.S. now exceed 20,000, and deaths per day are well over 1,000, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.
Infection numbers show that when the New York metropolitan area’s progress against the coronavirus is taken out of the equation, the rest of the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction, according to an Associated Press analysis.
When the still-locked-down area is included, new infections in the U.S. appear to be declining. The AP analysis found the five-day rolling average for new cases decreased from 9.3 per 100,000 people three weeks ago on April 13 to 8.6 on Monday.
But subtracting the New York area from the analysis changes the story. Without it, the rate of new cases in the U.S. increased over the same period from 6.2 per 100,000 people to 7.5.
Trump acknowledged Tuesday “there’ll be more death” related to the coronavirus pandemic. These revelations beg the question: Is it responsible to reopen businesses? Scientists say no, not yet.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
As the nation continues to grapple with the virus, the death toll rose above 73,000 with over 1.2 million confirmed infections nationwide Wednesday evening, according to Johns Hopkins' tally.
Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:
US Sees 1st Detained Immigrant Death From Coronavirus
A 57-year-old person in immigration custody died Wednesday from complications related to the coronavirus, authorities said, marking the first reported death from the virus among about 30,000 people in immigration custody.
The detainee had been held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego and hospitalized since late April, said Craig Sturak, a spokesman for the San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would neither confirm nor deny the death. CoreCivic Inc., the private company that operates the detention center, didn't respond to a request for comment.
Otay Mesa has been a hotbed for the spread of COVID-19, with nearly one of five detainees who have tested positive nationwide. As of Wednesday, 132 of ICE's 705 positive cases were at the San Diego facility. Additionally, 10 of 39 ICE detention employees who have tested positive are at Otay Mesa.
A Justice Department attorney, Samuel Bettwy, said at a hearing on Monday that the San Diego detainee was intubated at a hospital with a prognosis that was not good. While the death came as no surprise, advocacy groups that have been pressing ICE to release detainees on bond swiftly criticized the agency.
Clorox Ramps Up Production of Wipes, Disinfectants in Coronavirus Fight
The numbers are staggering. One of America’s most well-known manufacturers of cleaning products, Clorox, produced 40 million more items in the first quarter of 2020 than it did during the same time last year.
For its disinfectants, the company has seen a 500 percent increase in demand since March and, in some cases, it sold as much in one week as it usually does in a month.
“We are in completely uncharted territory,” Clorox CEO Benno Dorer said. “We're in catch-up mode.”
Most New Hospitalizations in NY Are People Who Were Staying Home, Gov. Cuomo Says
Gov. Andrew Cuomo revealed Wednesday that as the infection rate of new coronavirus cases slows, data submitted by 113 hospitals over the last three days show that most new admissions have been older people of color who had been mostly been staying at their homes in New York City.
Most are non-essential employees and 66 percent were admitted from their own residences, NBC New York reported. 18% of cases were from nursing homes.
Of the new New York City hospitalizations, 90 percent have not been traveling by car service, personal automobile, mass transit or even walking around. If they've been working, they've been doing it from home and apparently weren't going out much, Cuomo said.
Cuomo stressed the need for precautionary measures for personal safety and public health, including wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer.
“It reinforces what we’ve been saying, which is much of this comes down to what you do to protect yourself,” Cuomo said. “Everything is closed down, the government has done everything it could … now it’s up to you.
Ex-FDA Chief Gottlieb on 'Mutant' Virus Study: Doesn't Prove Strain Is More Contagious
Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory recently published what they warned was an "urgent concern" -- the strain of coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China, has mutated and appears to be more contagious. That mutant strain is what has taken hold across the world, according to the report, which has not yet been peer reviewed.
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb cautions, though, that it "isn't proven" that any mutant strain of the coronavirus is more infectious.
“The analysis could be confounded by the fact that this just became the dominant strain in Europe because it got into Europe early and then got into the United States from Europe,” Gottlieb told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday. “It really doesn’t prove anything.”
Gottlieb said the study needs cell culture data to support the researchers' computation analysis.
If the study is proven correct, that could complicate efforts at a vaccine, CNBC reported.
'Coronavirus Party' Linked to Cases in Washington
Officials in southern Washington state are warning against people throwing "coronavirus parties," saying that intentionally contracting the virus risks serious illness to others, NBC News reported.
"Health officials stress that there is much we don’t know about COVID-19," a release from Walla Walla County said. "Epidemiologists don’t know if immunity is a sure thing, if reinfection is possible, or if [the] virus could continue living inside you. They do know that even the young can be hospitalized, survivors may suffer long-term damage, and even a ‘mild’ case isn’t mild."
The alert comes as the county has 94 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death. Some of the cases are reportedly linked to COVID parties, according to the county's community health director.
“We don’t know when it is happening. It’s after the fact that we hear from cases," she said. "We ask about contacts, and there are 25 people because: ‘We were at a COVID party.’”
There is at least one other documented case of a coronavirus party happening in the U.S., in Kentucky, according to NBC News.
'Unprecedented' Job Losses Hit Record 20.2 Million in April, Payroll Report Says
Employers shed more than 20 million jobs in April, according to a report by payroll company ADP Wednesday that's a likely preview of the government's release of official jobless numbers for the month on Friday.
Service industries were hit hardest by the pandemic, along with trade, transportation and utilities and construction, CNBC reported. Businesses with more than 500 workers lost about 9 million jobs, while companies with fewer than 50 workers shed 6 million jobs. Medium-sized companies laid off 5.27 million.
“Job losses of this scale are unprecedented,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “The total number of job losses for the month of April alone was more than double the total jobs lost during the Great Recession.”
The previous monthly record from ADP's survey was 834,665 in February 2009.
Home Purchases Rise as Interest Rates Hit Record Low
Mortgage applications to buy a home rose last week for the third week in a row, as interest rates hit a record low and agents made it easier to showcase homes while still complying with social distancing guidelines, CNBC reported.
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages fell to 3.40% from 3.43%. Points decreased to 0.30 from 0.34, including the origination fee, for loans with a 20% down payment.
Total mortgage application volume rose 0.1% last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Purchases were up 7% from the prior week, though volume is still down 19% year over year. That's still better than the 35% decline the housing market faced a few weeks ago.
Real estate agents have responded to the pandemic by offering do-it-yourself tours and virtual showings, CNBC reported.
Refinance applications were down 2% for the week but 210% higher than the same time last year.
Meanwhile, global stock markets were mostly higher Wednesday as hopes for economic recovery rose after more governments eased anti-virus controls.
Air Travel Is Down More Than 90% From A Year Ago, But Some Planes Are Still Packed
The number of people traveling on airlines is scraping along at levels not seen in decades, and there are only about 17 passengers on the average domestic flight. Still, photos on social media have shown some packed flights.
What's going on?
In some cases, airlines are creating the crowds by canceling other flights and packing passengers on the few remaining planes. Carriers say, however, that they are taking action to ease passengers’ fears about coronavirus contagion. Some are blocking middle seats — or letting passengers pay extra to guarantee an empty seat next to them. They are also starting to require passengers to wear facial coverings.
"On routes where there used to be scores of flights between the different carriers, now there may be two or three," says Robert Mann, a former airline executive and now a consultant in the New York area.
Airlines slash their flight schedules, and then they cancel even more flights in the last few days before departure. That can force passengers who were booked on several different flights to board the same plane.
Planes are more likely to be crowded on certain routes, especially those between so-called hub airports operated by the same airline.
Overall, the number of people passing through airport security checkpoints has been rising since mid-April, but it is still down 93% from a year ago. The Transportation Security Administration screened 163,692 people on Monday, compared with nearly 2.5 million on the comparable day a year ago.
Tyson Will Reopen Waterloo Plant Where Hundreds Sickened
Tyson Foods will begin limited operation Thursday of its huge pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, more than two weeks after closing the facility because of a coronavirus outbreak among workers, the company announced Tuesday.
Tyson said workers have been invited to tour the plant Wednesday to see enhanced safety measures and social distancing procedures that have been implemented. The plant has been closed since April 22, and the Iowa Department of Public Health reports 444 workers have tested positive for the virus.
The company said in a news release that local officials, union leaders and others toured the plant to see the changes.
The plant is Arkansas-based Tyson's largest pork processing operation, with the ability to process 19,500 hogs per day. That accounts for 3.9% of the U.S. pork processing capacity, according to the National Pork Board.
All those who will return to work have been tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, the company said. Those who have tested positive will remain on sick leave until they can return to work.
Michigan Holds Largely Mail-Based Elections, Gets Record Turnout
Michigan communities saw record turnout for local elections Tuesday, as voters participated in largely mail-based contests that could be a blueprint for the presidential battleground in November.
In a first, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office automatically sent absentee ballot applications to all 740,000 registered voters in roughly 50 municipalities — about 10% of the electorate — to discourage in-person voting in a state where nearly 4,200 people have died from coronavirus complications. Turnout was projected to be at least 22%, nearly double the average for May elections.
Voters decided school tax, bonding and other proposals.
“People want to vote and weigh in on critical issues in their communities. ... Even in crisis, democracy is essential,” Benson, a Democrat, said.
Each jurisdiction had at least one place for in-person voting, though only about 850 people had done so as of late afternoon. Absentee ballots — roughly 180,000 had been returned by 6:30 p.m. — accounted for 98% of the vote.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in March used her emergency powers to expand absentee voting by letting the state mail ballot applications with postage-paid return envelopes to every voter in 53 communities across 33 counties.
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