As the record numbers of jobless claims amid the coronavirus pandemic rose again Thursday, casting a dim light on the extent of the virus’ economic damage, more than half of states plan to lift some stay-at-home restrictions by the end of the week.
President Donald Trump also hopes to “reopen” the country as federal government will not extend social distancing guidelines set to expire Thursday. Despite this, California moved in the opposite direction: A targeted “hard close” of some beaches in Orange County.
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Here are the most important developments of the day on the coronavirus pandemic:
Despite President Trump’s executive order to keep meat packing plants open, American slaughterhouses processed nearly a million fewer cattle, hogs and sheep this week than they did during the same time a year ago. Experts say this new low will likely increase “spot” shortages of meat at some grocery stores. Rankled by the tens of thousands of people who disobeyed stay-at-home orders last weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a targeted “hard close” of beaches at “a few coastal cities off and around the Orange County area. Roughly 3.8 million people filed for unemployment last week alone, the Labor Department said Thursday, down from the all-time high of 6.86 million applications in late March. Scroll down for more details.
Here’s some good news for the day: A British army veteran who raised more than £31 million ($38 million) for his health care workers is celebrating his 100th birthday with a military flyover, more than 150,000 birthday cards, and a message from the Queen and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
What we’re talking about: Vice President Mike Pence faced criticism after he toured the Mayo Clinic earlier this week without wearing a mask. Second lady Karen Pence said he didn’t know the Minnesota hospital’s policy asking that everyone wear one.
Newsom: Some Southern California beaches to be temporarily closed
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced a targeted “hard close” of some Southern California beaches after they were overrun with people during a heatwave last weekend. The announcement followed speculation Newsom would close all beaches in the state after a memo to police chiefs leaked Wednesday.
“The conditions last week, the images we saw on a few of our beaches were disturbing,” Newsom said. He called out crowded beaches in Orange County and praised local officials in San Diego, Los Angeles and other regions for not allowing their beaches to be overrun.
Calling himself a “beach advocate,” Newsom said he understood the desire to exercise and enjoy the outdoors after spending weeks social distancing. Physical exercise on trails and beaches can be done without risking public health if proper social distancing guidelines are followed, he said.
Newsom said the targeted closure affecting “a few coastal cities off and around the Orange County area” would be short-term and could be rolled back once plans were in place to reopen with guidelines to maintain physical distancing.
Local leaders in San Diego County have used measures such as parking lot closures to help meter the number of people who can access the beach.
— Joel Shannon
Little League World Series canceled for first time in its 74-year history
For the first time since it began in 1947, the Little League World Series will not be played this year.
The regional tournaments leading up to and including August’s championship event in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, has become yet another of the sports world’s casualties because of the coronavirus outbreak, Little League International announced Thursday.
“After a thorough assessment of the impact the devastating COVID-19 pandemic has had on 6,500 community-based Little League programs in 84 countries and based upon the direction of governmental and public health authorities, and in consultation with medical professionals and our Board of Directors, Little League International has made the difficult and disappointing decision to cancel its seven World Series tournaments and their respective regional qualifying events,” the organization said in a statement.
However, Little League International said the events would return next year.
— Steve Gardner
Making face mask filters in China is like printing money
In late March, business owners and families desperate for work in Yangzhong, a tiny island in eastern China, began converting their workspaces into makeshift manufacturing plants to churn out one thing: the unusual fabric at the heart of the N95 and other medical-grade masks now in high demand.
As melt-blown producers popped up and ramped up overnight, so did problems ranging from substandard products and unsafe working conditions to price gouging.
Yangzhong has since announced a crackdown on fly-by-night manufacturers, shutting down more than 800 operations.
But people living there describe a booming marketplace that churned out melt-blown filter fabric for several weeks. Producing the special material, they say, was almost like printing money.
– Dian Zhang
Fact check: COVID-19 may be ‘here to stay,’ even after a vaccine
Many experts have said a true return to normalcy likely isn’t possible until a vaccine is widely available, which could be a year or more. But a vaccine doesn’t necessarily mean the end of COVID-19.
Based on what we know now, we rate this claim as TRUE. Experts say it’s still too early to know this with complete certainty, since much remains unknown about the nature of immunity. And we have no clue how effective a future vaccine may be. But a best guess at this point is that COVID-19 could indeed stick around long-term, waxing and waning similar to the seasonal flu. Experts say there’s also reason to believe that a lingering version could be less severe, though.
“It is entirely plausible that this could become part of our regular landscape of respiratory viraI infections,” said Bill Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.
– Eric Litke
New York City subway system to shut down from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. each day
New York City will shut down its subway system from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. every day beginning Wednesday in order to disinfect each train nightly, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.
The nightly shutdown plan will disrupt the subway system’s 24-hour service, which Cuomo said was necessary to ensure each train can be appropriately cleaned as the state remains the epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus outbreak.
“This is as ambitious as anything we have ever undertaken and it’s going to require a lot of effort from many agencies working together,” Cuomo said.
– Jon Campbell
Global environmental leaders call for shutdown of high-risk wildlife markets
More than 100 scientists and conservation leaders from more than 25 countries have signed a letter calling on governments to shut down some wildlife markets, especially ones in high-density areas, and to amp up global efforts to curb wildlife trafficking.
The environmental leaders say the steps are necessary to help prevent the possible outbreak of another global pandemic. Many scientists agree the novel coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan, China, late last year jumped from animals to humans, possibly at a wildlife market.
Wildlife markets provide a setting with “perfect opportunities” for viruses to jump species, said Steve Osofsky, the Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife Health & Health Policy at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“If you’re a virus whose ‘goal’ is to spread, you couldn’t really design a better system to aid and abet a pandemic, particularly in dense urban centers,” Osofsky said. The World Wildlife Fund organized the letter’s launch and signatures.
Kristen Bell: Homeschooling amid quarantine is ‘absolutely miserable’
Kristen Bell is getting real about teaching her children amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On the Season 5 premiere of the actress’ web series “#Momsplaining” Thursday, Bell explained why homeschooling hasn’t been so great.
“Of course, we’ve all come to know the two worst words in the human language: Home schooling,” she said. “Doing school work with them, it is absolutely miserable. When we started this quarantine, the first math worksheet I gave my daughter, in all the answer lines she wrote, ‘No. No. No. No. No.’ “
She continued, “There are a few people that have come out victorious in this situation though. Germaphobes, stay-at-home moms, they’re all like, ‘I told you how (expletive) hard this is.’ “
– Sara M. Moniuszko
The latest on which states are reopening
The statewide, stay-at-home orders for several states expire Thursday, including Alabama’s (at 5:00 p.m.), Texas’ (through the end of the day) and Idaho’s (through the end of the day). Still, many counties have implemented their own sets of regulations. For the latest details on your state’s plan, follow along here.
Trump’s intelligence chief: Coronavirus not man-made
American intelligence officials agree with “the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified,” President Donald Trump’s top intelligence office said Thursday.
But U.S. intelligence agencies will continue to examine whether the virus originated in animals and then jumped to humans – or if it was accidentally released by a laboratory in Wuhan, China, where the virus first emerged.
Trump and his allies have called for an investigation into the origins of the virus. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has suggested, without citing evidence, that the virus may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology – a theory that many scientists have disputed. The World Health Organization said earlier this month the virus probably came from an animal.
Thursday’s statement from national intelligence director Richard Grenell comes after the New York Times reported that Trump administration officials were pushing intelligence agencies to search for evidence supporting the theory it escaped the lab in Wuhan.
– Deirdre Shesgreen
Evidence grows that deaths from coronavirus is undercounted
Federal data released this week offers more evidence that the official tally of coronavirus deaths is low. The number of deaths recorded in the U.S. this year is higher than normal, even when factoring in deaths attributed to COVID-19.
The phenomenon is pronounced in states with some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks. From March 22 to April 11:
New York saw 14,403 more deaths than the average of the previous six years
New Jersey saw an additional 4,439 deaths
Michigan an additional 1,572
Experts suspect that unconfirmed coronavirus cases could be responsible for some of those deaths, but it might also be related to a shift in other causes of death, such as pneumonia. Read more here.
– Jayme Fraser, Daveen Rae Kurutz, Jessica Priest and Kevin Crowe
Unemployment claims climb to 30M; Stocks fall
About 30 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits over the past six weeks, a grim marker revealing how badly the pandemic has crippled the U.S. economy.
Roughly 3.8 million people filed for unemployment last week alone, the Labor Department said Thursday, lower than the 4.4 million who filed the week before and down from the all-time high of 6.86 million applications in late March. Jobless claims provide the best measure of layoffs across the country.
While the number of claims continues to slide, the tally is still monumental and is building toward a projected unemployment rate of 16.4% in May that would be the highest since the Great Depression, according to Morgan Stanley.
Stocks fell Thursday after the Labor Department announcement, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 338 points, or 1.4%, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 down 1.1%. The Nasdaq was down 0.5%.
– Charisse Jones and Jessica Menton
Supreme Court to hear oral arguments over the phone and stream them live
The Supreme Court next week begins hearing oral arguments over the phone – a small step for social distancing, but a giant leap for the justices.
For decades, the court has ignored most of the technological and transparency advancements adopted by other branches of government. It took a global pandemic to shake things up.
When Supreme Court Marshal Pamela Talkin cries “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” at 10 a.m. sharp Monday, she will be using Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of 1876, but with a twist: C-SPAN, which came along a century later, will carry two weeks of arguments live.
“COVID-19 was able to do in two months what C-SPAN has been trying to get the court to do for 35 years,” says Bruce Collins, the public affairs network’s general counsel.
– Richard Wolf
Need-to-know numbers Thursday: Florida shutdown
Gov. Ron DeSantis is easing back on Florida’s month-long shutdown, softening stay-at-home restrictions across the state but maintaining tough limits in hard-hit Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“We need to focus on facts, not fear,” DeSantis said of the phase-in, set to take effect Monday. Flagler County beaches are already open 24 hours a day without restrictions. (Social distancing is in place.)
As the pandemic is continuing to unfold, USA TODAY is tracking the data. Here’s what’s new.
More than 1 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19 – equivalent to the population of Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale combined. More than 60,000 Americans are already dead – a number greater than the entire population of Sarasota.
In Florida, more than 32,000 cases are confirmed with more than 1,200 are dead. More than 5,400 were hospitalized.
– Mike Stucka, John Kennedy, Erica Van Buren
Roger Goodell reduces salary to $0 as NFL workers take pay cuts
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who makes upward of $30 million a year from salaries and bonuses, voluntarily had his salary reduced to $0 this month, The Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed source.
Other NFL workers have also taken paycuts or furloughs due to the economic impacts of the pandemic. The league is implementing tiered reductions in base salary, but no employee earning a base salary of less than $100,000 will be affected by these reductions, and no employee’s salary will be reduced below $100,000 by the reductions, Goodell said in a memo to league office staffers.
Remdesivir sees positive trial results as possible coronavirus treatment
The first possible scientifically proven treatment for COVID-19 emerged Wednesday with early data from a global study finding patients given the experimental drug remdesivir recovered faster and may be less likely to die.
Early results released from the global study conducted by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found patients who received remdesivir had a 31% faster recovery time than those who received a placebo.
While not a “knock out,” NIAID director Anthony Fauci said at an Oval Office meeting Wednesday, the study results were “a very important proof of concept.”
Earlier Wednesday, pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences said remdesivir produced “similar improvement” in patients over a 10-day treatment plan compared with a five-day treatment plan.
– Elizabeth Weise and Nathan Bomey
NYC funeral home stored bodies in moving trucks
Police were called to a New York City funeral home that was storing bodies on ice in rented trucks after a a passerby complained about the smell, authorities said.
A law enforcement official speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said that about 50 corpses were found in the four trucks outside Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home in Brooklyn on Wednesday.
No criminal charges were brought, and workers in protective gear were seen transferring the bodies from the rented trucks to a larger refrigerated truck, obtained later in the day. The funeral home was cited for failing to control the odors.
Jared Kushner: Government’s response to coronavirus ‘great success story’
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner called the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak “a great success story” on Wednesday as cases topped 1 million and the death toll passed 60,000 in the United States.
Kushner, the president’s son-in-law who has been serving on the White House coronavirus task force, doesn’t often make public appearances. During an interview on Fox News on Wednesday, Kushner said, “I think that we’ve achieved all the different milestones that are needed. So the government, federal government, rose to the challenge and this is a great success story. I think that’s really what needs to be told.” He also claimed that by June “a lot of the country should be back to normal,” and that by July, “the country’s really rocking again.”
Researchers at Harvard University recently concluded the U.S. would need to conduct 500,000 to 700,000 coronavirus tests a day to begin reopening safely. Last week the country averaged 210,000 daily tests, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
– Savannah Behrmann
Trump’s meat order brings anxiety to COVID-stricken Iowa town
Local officials worry that President Donald Trump’s executive order requiring meatpacking plants to remain open could threaten the health of 2,800 workers at the Tyson plant in Waterloo, Iowa, that closed last week because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
But pork producers say the president’s action provides “hope and relief” for farmers who face destroying thousands of pigs backed up on farms as the coronavirus has slowed and closed meatpacking processing plants across the country.
The conflict between the president, meat processors and local officials has been brewing for weeks, as the number of positive virus tests among meatpacking employees has shot up. As the workers have gotten sick, companies have shut down massive plants, raising supply chain fears.
About 90% of the 1,326 people testing positive for COVID-19 in Black Hawk County, Iowa, are tied to the Tyson pork processing plant, health officials have said. Thirteen people in the county have died from the coronavirus.
Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said he hopes Tyson and other companies that have closed plants “aren’t forced to open” before putting the necessary safety precautions in place to protect workers. State Rep. Ras Smith said it had only been a week since the Tyson plant in closed, and COVID-19 testing for employees was not complete.
– Donnelle Eller and Barbara Rodriguez
Costco returning to normal hours, but face masks required
Costco plans to return to normal operating hours next week but customers and employees alike will be required to wear face-coverings or masks.
The requirement does not apply to children under the age of 2 or to people who are unable to wear a mask or face covering due to a medical condition, according to a Costco statement. Select Costco warehouses will also be open from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday, for members ages 60 and older and people with disabilities.
– Coral Murphy
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announces free testing for all residents
Hours after Los Angeles County reported its greatest surge in new coronavirus cases, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced free testing would be available for all residents in the city and county.
“While priority will still be given to those with symptoms, individuals without symptoms can also be tested,” Garcetti said on Twitter, directing people to sign up at Coronavirus.LACity.org/Testing. He touted Los Angeles as the “first major city in America” to open free COVID-19 testing to all residents.
There were 1,541 new confirmed cases on Wednesday in Los Angeles County, nearly 1,000 more than on Tuesday, the county’s public health department announced. Los Angeles’ death toll of 1,056 as of Wednesday night is the highest of any city in the western United States.
– Steve Kiggins