The country is moving forward in fits and starts over the coronavirus pandemic, with Texas announcing an easing of restrictions on retail stores and reopening parks while protesters in some states take on governors who hold fast to stay-at-home orders. The stock market was up, and a drug shows promise for treatment of the virus.
President Donald Trump said Friday the nation was close to the “light at the end of the tunnel”. New cases are “low and steady” on the West Coast as cases and hospitalizations decline in hotspots like New York City and New Orleans, Vice President Mike Pence said.
But the deluge of grim news also shows little sign of slowing. Unprecedented weekly unemployment reports have become the norm, some stimulus payments are stuck in limbo, tensions over some states’ social distancing restrictions are prompting protests and virus deaths continue to climb.
The latest fatality figures for the U.S., as tallied by Johns Hopkins University, pushed the total death toll in the country to over 37,000 as of Saturday morning. U.S. and global death totals have been unusually volatile this week, likely in part because of new counting methods for the dead in New York City and newly revised numbers in China.
There are over 706,000 coronavirus cases in the U.S. and over 2.25 million worldwide Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Protests erupt over coronavirus restrictions
Rallies cropped up this week across the country with a common message to governors: relax the strict stay-at-home orders deployed to combat the novel coronavirus.
On Wednesday, in perhaps the largest protest so far, thousands of motorists gridlocked Lansing, Mich. And on Friday, a man protesting the handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Florida prisons was taken into custody after he trapped himself in two concrete-filled barrels outside the Governor’s Mansion, police said.
President Donald Trump said Friday some states’ restrictions are “too much,” and called on supporters to “liberate” states that have experienced protests.
Trump, who announced guidelines for states to start opening their economies, has lurched from slamming Democratic governors, to saying he has developed friendships with them and back to attacking them. In a series of combative tweets Friday, Trump defended his performance on the virus, renewed his criticism of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and attacked his predecessor, President Barack Obama.
Health officials have warned against relaxing restrictions too soon, for lack of adequate testing to track where the disease spreads and continue to contain it.
– Joel Shannon, Bart Jansen, John Fritze, David Jackson, Alicia Devine and Jim Rosica
Texas opens parks, eases retail store rules but keeps schools closed
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced executive orders Friday that will ease some of the most severe coronavirus restrictions on retail stores and parks, but declared that all schools, public and private, will remain closed for the rest of the school year.
Abbott said all stores in Texas will be able to operate retail-to-go beginning next Friday, in which they can deliver items to customer’s cars, homes or other locations.
State parks will be reopened Monday. Visitors must wear face coverings or masks and maintain a distance of 6 feet from non-family members and not gather in groups of more than five.
“We’re now beginning to see glimmers that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us,” Abbott said Friday. “We have demonstrated that we can corral the coronavirus.”
The governor said that, effective Wednesday, the ban on nonessential surgery will be loosened to allow doctors to perform procedures, such as diagnostic testing for cancer, without having to get an exemption, as long as they don’t deplete hospital space and personal protective equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients.
– Jonathan Tilove
Drug reportedly shows promise treating coronavirus
A Gilead Sciences antiviral drug is reportedly showing promise for treatment of the coronavirus. Remdesivir is causing “rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms, with nearly all patients discharged in less than a week” in patients at a Chicago hospital, medical site STAT reported.
“The entire world has been waiting for results from Gilead’s clinical trials, and positive results would likely lead to fast approvals by the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies,” STAT reported. “If safe and effective, it could become the first approved treatment against the disease.”
Remdesivir is one of numerous drugs under development to treat or cure the coronavirus. Clinical trials are conducted to ensure safety and efficacy, and there’s no guarantee the Chicago hospital’s results will be replicated elsewhere.
Evercore ISI drug industry analyst Umer Raffat wrote late Thursday in a research note that it’s “not a silver bullet” but there’s reason to be “cautiously optimistic.”
– Nathan Bomey
New Yorkers can get married by video
In New York state, couples will now be able to get married by video because of the coronavirus pandemic.
At his Saturday briefing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo seemed uncertain initially when asked by a reporter if marriages were possible during the crisis.
Asking aloud to his staff what they were doing about it, his chief of staff, Melissa DeRosa jumped in with the answer.
“We actually have thought about it,” she said. “We are today signing an executive order allowing people to get their marriage licenses remotely and allowing clerks to perform ceremonies over video. So if that’s an avenue people want to go down, it will be available to them.”
Cuomo quickly endorsed the idea.
“Video marriage ceremonies,” he said. “There’s now no excuse when the question comes up for marriage. No excuse. You can do it by Zoom: ‘Yes or no.’”
– Doug Stanglin
Report shows Latinos ill-prepared for fighting coronavirus
Latinos across the U.S. are ill-prepared for their battle against the coronavirus, a crisis that threatens to leave many in this already vulnerable population sick and destitute, according to a new report. Because of a combination of factors — including working in low-paying front-line jobs and a lack of savings and health insurance — Latinos are shouldering a disproportionate burden during this crisis.
Their plight, activists say, will have a ripple effect as the nation tries to re-open.
“We are the fastest growing segment in the U.S., so what happens to us will reverberate,” says Priscilla Gonzalez, campaigns manager for Mijente, a national social justice organization that along with The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement explores the plight of Latinos in “The Impact of COVID-19 on Latinos in the U.S.”
Across the country, only 49% of Latinos have access to private health care, the lowest of any demographic group, the report finds. Some 70% have no assets in a retirement account.
Meanwhile, Latinos are heavily represented on farms and in stores and warehouses, essential businesses that remain open during the virus shut-down. These jobs often find workers crowding together or facing the public without proper safety gear.
– Marco della Cava
Trump, faith leaders discuss phased-in return of worship
Trump held a call with faith leaders on Friday that included discussion about a phased-in return to broader in-person worship after weeks of religious services largely shifting online in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump’s call came one day after the White House included houses of worship among “large venues” that could be able to reopen while observing “strict physical distancing protocols” in the first stage of a three-part plan to reopen a U.S. economy that’s been frozen by the toll of the highly contagious virus.
The call included representatives of multiple Christian denominations as well as Jewish and Islamic leaders, according to a statement distributed by the White House.
Jack Graham, pastor of Texas-based Prestonwood Baptist Church, said the call included conversation about “how would we go about bringing people back together,” adding that those involved agreed that “we’re going to do that carefully and gradually, and not put people at risk.”
– Associated Press
Hawaii counties begin shutting down vacation rentals
As the coronavirus continues to slam the United States, counties in Hawaii have slowly begun to shut down vacation rentals.
As of noon Friday, Hawaii had 553 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nine people had died, according to the state’s website. Meanwhile, Gov. David Ige on Friday shut down beaches and restricted recreational boating and fishing to two people.
While Ige has declared hotels and motels as essential businesses that can remain open, vacation rentals or bead and breakfasts are not included. So counties are taking restrictions a step further: In Hawaii and Kauai counties, the mayors are shutting down vacation rentals.
On April 10, Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim declared that bed and breakfasts, short term rentals and time shares must ceases operation. Any guests who are already there may stay until the end of their pre-booked period.
Kim’s rule went into effect April 13 and is expected to continue through April 30, though that date is subject to change at Gov. David Ige’s or Kim’s discretion in future emergency proclamations.
– Morgan Hines
Where is your missing stimulus payment?
Americans are reaching out to tax preparers and lining up at their offices around the country to find out what happened to their stimulus checks.
One answer: The IRS sent those missing payouts to an intermediary bank account if a client got an advance on their tax return, tax professionals say.
Clients tipped tax preparers off to the problem when they used Get My Payment, the government’s new stimulus deposit tracking portal, and uncovered that the payments of up to $1,200 for individuals were sent to an account number they didn’t recognize.
The IRS said it is moving to provide additional information and resolve any issues as soon as possible. Read more here.
– Dalvin Brown and Jessica Menton
Walmart, Sam’s Club to require employees to wear face masks
Walmart and Sam’s Club will require employees to wear masks or other face coverings starting Monday to prevent the spread of the virus.
Shoppers also will be encouraged to wear face masks as part of the retailers’ updated COVID-19 response. The retail giant announced the changes in a letter sent to employees that was posted on Walmart.com late Friday.
Employees can bring their own masks if they meet certain guidelines or the retailers say they will provide them after employees pass the daily health screens and temperature checks, which were first announced March 31.
– Kelly Tyko
Trump’s Mar-a-Lago furloughs ‘nonessential’ employees
Two of the Trump Organization’s properties in South Florida — the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and Trump Doral in Miami — have furloughed all “nonessential” staff, a total of 713 people, due to the coronavirus.
The furloughed workers include both indoor and outdoor staff, and range from dishwashers to tennis pros to executive assistants. Both furloughs are said to be temporary, although when workers will be called back remains unknown.
The coronavirus pandemic has crippled the tourist-oriented Florida economy, forcing the closure closure of hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and recreational facilities just before the lucrative spring vacation season.
Mar-a-Lago Club first notified members of a partial closure on March 19, in response to health concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak, that would affect its restaurant and spa and cancel aerobics classes.
– Shannon Donnelly, Palm Beach Daily News
Trump announces relief package for farmers
President Donald Trump announced a new $19 billion relief package on Friday to assist American farmers who have been financially hurt by the coronavirus outbreak.
The aid package includes a mass government purchase of $3 billion in dairy, produce and meat products and $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers to bolster their income, according to Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
“This will help our farmers and our ranchers and it’s money well deserved,” Trump told reporters at a press conference at the White House Friday.
A decline in consumer spending and the shuttering of restaurants under social-distancing restrictions has upended the U.S food supply chain, while the pandemic has hampered exports of American agricultural products.
U.S. farmers, who’ve already been hurt by U.S. trade disputes, are projected to lose $20 billion in net income in 2020, according to an updated economics report published this month by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri.
– Courtney Subramanian and John Fritze