Coronavirus live updates: 200,000 global deaths reported; antibody testing ramps up

The world passed another ominous milestone Saturday as global reported coronavirus deaths surpassed 200,000. Meanwhile in the United States, many states have announced phased plans to reopen their economies, often using health data to establish a timeline.

This as another Navy ship has reported an outbreak of coronavirus: the USS Kidd off the Pacific side of Central America. Officials said at least 18 members of the destroyer’s crew have tested positive and expect the number to grow.

As antibody testing ramps up across the U.S., New York announced Saturday that healthcare workers and transit and law enforcement officials will begin receiving tests this week.

However, the World Health Organization issued a warning Friday, saying “there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.”

The virus has killed more than 200,000 people globally, according to Johns Hopkins University data. More than 2.8 million confirmed cases have been reported, including more than 924,000 in the U.S., with more than 53,000 deaths.

Sailors aboard Navy ship test positive

A number of sailors aboard the USS Kidd, a Navy destroyer off the Pacific coast of Central America, have tested positive for the coronavirus, and the ship was preparing to return to port, the Pentagon said Friday.

“Using lessons learned from other cases,” the Navy sent an eight-person medical team aboard the ship after a sailor who was showing symptoms was flown to a medical facility in San Antonio and tested positive for the virus, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said.

The outbreak comes after hundreds of cases were reported aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier that is docked in Guam. The ship’s captain was fired for sending a fraught email to commanders pleading for faster action to protect his crew from a coronavirus outbreak, but a top Navy officer later recommended his reinstatement. 

– Grace Hauck

Up to 100 hospitals could close within a year

In rural communities across America, more than 800 hospitals already faced financial peril before the pandemic took hold. Now, they must find a way to treat the thousands of coronavirus patients in their communities, which could trigger a financial cascade that sinks up to a hundred hospitals within the next year.

A USA TODAY Network analysis of financial reports submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that almost half of the counties with coronavirus cases are served by a hospital that reported a net loss in 2017. For 640 of these struggling medical centers, there is no other hospital in town.

– Josh Salman and Jayme Fraser

Even if you can find an antibody test, it may not tell you much

From coast to coast, epidemiologists are using some of the many antibody tests that have entered the market recently to determine how much COVID-19 has spread.  The importance of these tests are not lost on Americans, who are itching to go back to work, see loved ones and find out if they have been infected with the virus.

Many have questions about where to find antibody tests, how they work and if they can even be trusted. With little public data about the tests’ accuracy, experts question whether the tests will give people false reassurances by indicating they have immunity to the disease. 

“There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” the World Health Organization said in a statement Friday. The tests also “need further validation to determine their accuracy and reliability,” the statement said. 

– Adrianna Rodriguez and Grace Hauck

Trump’s medical advice draws criticism 

Since the first coronavirus case was diagnosed in the United States more than three months ago, President Donald Trump has repeatedly made assertions about the illness and floated treatments that medical experts in his own administration have had to walk back.

From saying in February that the virus would “miraculously” disappear, to touting an untested anti-malaria drug at his daily press conferences, Trump has often ventured far afield of science to put a positive light on the pandemic.

The latest example of that came Thursday, when Trump suggested that scientists look into whether ultraviolet light or disinfectants could play some role in treating patients with the disease. His remarks prompted a rebuke from doctors and urgent warnings from state health agencies against self-treatment. 

– Nicholas Wu and John Fritze 

40 cases in Milwaukee now thought to be tied to election

The number of coronavirus cases in Milwaukee linked to Wisconsin’s controversial April 7 election appears to be more than five times greater than originally thought.

In a Friday media briefing, Milwaukee health commissioner Jeanette Kowalik noted that she originally reported there were seven suspected coronavirus cases found in people who voted on election day or worked at the polls. “Now there’s 40 people that showed up,” she said. “We’re analyzing more to show the connections between the people.” 

Gov. Tony Evers attempted to delay the election out of fears that masses of people at polling places would result in more people contracting COVID-19. The governor’s eleventh-hour bid was blocked by the Republican-dominated state Legislature and Supreme Court.

– Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Postal carriers, delivery workers keep Americans safe at home

Thousands of employees of the U.S. Postal Service are making it possible for Americans to limit their movement. “It makes me feel good that they can stay in, especially if they are older or have health issues, and I can be out here to help them,” said Colorado postal carrier Amy Bezerra, 51. 

The Postal Service, Amazon, FedEx and UPS report they’re delivering more packages.  A USPS spokesman said carriers could even tell when stimulus checks began to hit bank accounts because deliveries began increasing within days.

But USPS said the amount of first-class mail – letters – has dropped so dramatically that even with the rise in parcel deliveries, overall volume is down about 25%. The drop in revenue is so severe that earlier this month the Postal Service received permission to borrow up to $10 billion to weather the coronavirus outbreak. That may be just a stopgap measure for the service, which has run a deficit for years.

– Trevor Hughes

USDA let poultry plants put workers close together even as they got sick

As coronavirus cases mounted at meatpacking plants this month, the federal government granted 15 poultry processors waivers to cut chickens faster, usually by crowding more workers onto their production lines.  

Overall, poultry plants with such waivers are at least 10 times more likely than the meatpacking industry as a whole to have coronavirus cases among workers, USA TODAY and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting found.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted more of those waivers in one week in April than it had in any previous month over the past eight years of the program’s existence. 

Three of the 15 poultry plants granted new waivers in April have reported outbreaks of COVID-19, the media outlets found. Another three plants that already had waivers also have outbreaks. Some 53 poultry plants nationwide have the waivers. 

As of Friday morning, 66 of the nation’s more than 6,400 meatpacking plants have had documented coronavirus outbreaks affecting more than 3,700 workers, according to USA TODAY and Midwest Center tracking. About 400 of the plants are large-scale.

– Sky Chadde and Kyle Bagenstose 

Will there be a vaccine by 2021? Experts say that may be unrealistic

In a series of breathtaking multibillion-dollar bets, possible vaccine candidates to fight the new coronavirus are being prepared for production across the globe in one of the most dramatic examples of short cuts and streamlining aimed at meeting what many experts consider unrealistic U.S. target dates for a vaccine. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci has repeatedly said a vaccine may be ready in 12 to 18 months, but that timeline would shatter all precedents for developing a new vaccine, which typically takes many years. 

Manufacturing tens of millions of unproven vaccine doses on spec is unheard of, there is no certainty any will work, and if one does prove effective, getting it into the arms of people will require the Food and Drug Administration to speed up its approval process. 

– Elizabeth Weise, David Heath and Joey Garrison