Coronavirus updates: Retail sales tumble; prestigious medical journal blasts Trump; CDC publishes (short) reopening guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued long-awaited guidance on how businesses, schools and other establishments should go about reopening safely to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as states lift stay-at-home orders.

The six one-page documents, though, are much shorter and less detailed than others that the CDC developed and Trump administration shelved, media reports say.

Meanwhile, Friday will see parts of New York, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., allowed to reopen, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned residents to remain cautious. “We’re starting to turn the activity valve; watch what happens to the testing rate, infection rate, hospitalization rate,” Cuomo said. “We expect to see an increase but that increase has to be monitored and has to be controlled.”

The U.S. has the largest coronavirus outbreak in the world by far. There are almost 86,000 deaths and 1.4 million confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. Worldwide, the virus has killed more than 302,000 people and has infected more than 4.4 million.

Cuomo: New York beaches open for Memorial Day weekend

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed Friday that the state’s beaches would open on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.

Cuomo’s announcement comes a day after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said his state’s beaches would open May 22. Officials in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware have said they would coordinate when to open beaches in order to prevent one state from opening before the others and having residents in the region flock to that state.

Cuomo said that concessions at state beaches would not open and that anyone going to a beach must still socially distance. Beaches will operate at 50% capacity, picnic areas will be closed and group activities like playing volleyball won’t be allowed, he said.

On Friday, half of New York’s 10 regions reopened a wide range of businesses, from construction and manufacturing to tennis courts and drive-in theaters. New York City is not among areas ready to reopen, and the state’s stay-at-home order will remain in effect at least through June 13 as remaining regions work to meet the reopening criteria.

No stimulus check yet? Your taxes may be the issue

More than 130 million people have received stimulus checks totaling more than $200 billion since the government started distributing the payments under the CARES Act, a new federal law designed to reinvigorate the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, the IRS said last week.

However, some people who have tax returns that are under audit or review say they haven’t gotten their stimulus check.

People who are eligible for a stimulus check are supposed to receive the money even if they owe back taxes. The IRS says stimulus payments won’t be reduced or offset because the recipient owes federal or state debts, except in cases involving past-due child support. The IRS website doesn’t say, however, whether stimulus checks will be delayed until issues with a recipient’s taxes have been resolved.

It’s possible the stimulus payments could be held up because the IRS discovered an anomaly, such as a Social Security number that didn’t match its records or discrepancies in a child-tax credit claim, when it was processing an individual’s tax returns, said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Tax Policy Center.

– Michael Collins

Retails sales tumble by record 16% in April

Retail sales in the United States plunged by a record 16.4% from March to April as business shutdowns caused by the coronavirus kept shoppers away, threatened stores across the country and weighed down a sinking economy.

The Commerce Department’s report Friday on retail purchases showed a sector that has collapsed so quickly that sales over the past 12 months are down a crippling 21.6%. The sharpest drops from March to April were at clothiers, electronics stores, furniture stores and restaurants. However, online purchases ticked up as that segment posted a 8.4% monthly gain.

The plunge in retail spending is a key reason why the U.S. economy is contracting.

Mitch McConnell: I was ‘wrong’ to say Obama left no pandemic plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has issued a rare mea culpa, saying he mistakenly accused the Obama administration of not leaving a plan for President Donald Trump on how to deal with a pandemic.

“I was wrong,” McConnell told Fox News on Thursday. “They did leave behind a plan. So, I clearly made a mistake in that regard.”

McConnell was referring to remarks he made Monday to Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, during a reelection campaign livestream. Referring to the coronavirus crisis, he told Lara Trump that the Obama administration “did not leave any kind of game plan for something like this.”

– Ledyard King

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to reopen partially Saturday

President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club will reopen Saturday almost two months after it closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But there will be some changes: It’s BYOT – Bring Your Own Towel –as there will be no towel service. Germ-y noodles, floats and any other pool toys will be banned. Also, the main house, tennis courts, spa, gym, and locker rooms will remain closed.

Social distancing has dropped significantly in the US, poll finds

More Americans are leaving their homes than at any point in weeks.

The number of Americans who say they are social distancing amid the nation’s coronavirus pandemic – although still a majority – has dropped by 17 percentage points since late March as several states have ended stay-at-home orders, according to a new Gallup poll released Friday.

But the drop isn’t just from individuals who live in states where they can now dine in restaurants, get haircuts at barbershops or visit parks. More people in states that still have stay-at-home restrictions are also no longer social distancing.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans said they are either completely (17%) or mostly (41%) isolating themselves, the poll found, down from a high of 75% who said they were between March 30 and April 4 and 68% who said they were April 20-26.

However, an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday found that almost 70% of Americans that have children under 18 who typically go to school are currently not willing to send them back. The poll also found nearly 3 in 4 Americans believe there is a shortage of coronavirus tests available in the U.S.

– Joey Garrison

CDC releases ‘decision tools’ to guide reopenings

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Thursday six one-page documents to help guide schools, restaurants, mass transit and other businesses to reopen safely while protecting against the spread of the virus.

The six pages include details for how schools, child care programs, camps, restaurants and bars, mas transit and workplaces should reopen.

All of the documents require the establishments to comply with local health officials’ orders and to be able to protect higher risk employees. Schools, child care and camps require screening of children and employees for symptoms and exposure history.

The Associated Press reported that the six documents are much shorter than more extensive reopening guidelines that the CDC had prepared but that the Trump administration delayed. Those documents give businesses and other establishments more detailed instructions, the AP reported.

Lancet editorial blasts Trump, calls for president not guided by ‘partisan politics’

The British medical journal The Lancet published an editorial blasting President Donald Trump and his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic while also calling for a president to take office in 2021 who “will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.”

The prestigious medical journal wrote in the editorial the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made mistakes in the early days of the virus spread in the U.S., but that years of funding cuts and consistent undermining of the agency’s health experts by the Trump administration has further weakened the CDC’s response.

“There is no doubt that the CDC has made mistakes … But punishing the agency by marginalising and hobbling it is not the solution,” the journal wrote.

Ivanka Trump wears a mask inside the White House and ‘everyone is instructed to do so as well’

Ivanka Trump, daughter and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, says she wears a mask at the White House, and that’s one reason the president doesn’t have to. “There are different procedures as it relates to interacting with the president,” Ivanka Trump told USA TODAY on Thursday when asked about criticism her father has received for declining to wear a mask in public.

The president “is tested on a daily basis – all those who come into contact with him are tested on a daily basis,” she said in an interview. “No one is in close proximity to him that isn’t wearing a mask. I always wear a mask when I am with the president, and everyone is instructed to do so as well.”

Last week, the White House implemented new safety measures after two aides tested positive for the coronavirus and three members of the coronavirus task force entered quarantine after attending meetings with one of the staff members diagnosed with the virus.

– David Jackson and Courtney Subramanian

Congressman: Airlines should leave seats empty on planes to promote social distancing

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee called on airlines Thursday to dramatically cut back the number of seats they offer on aircraft to promote social distancing.

Rep. Peter DeFazio said he was acting after seeing a tweeted photo from a physician on a United Airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, that showed passengers in every seat. Dr. Ethan Weiss’ tweets said passengers, including a group of 25 fellow health workers like himself who had been caring for coronavirus patients in New York, were “shocked” and “scared” at the sight of a full Boeing 737.

“I would be, too, if I were about to spend the next five hours sealed in a tube with up to 184 passengers, all seated inches from one another, and any number of whom could be a carrier of COVID-19,” wrote DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, in letters to two industry groups, Airlines for America and the National Air Carrier Association.

Many airlines say they have been voluntarily leaving middle seats empty on flights in order to promote social distancing.

– Chris Woodyard and Dawn Gilbertson

Coronavirus could be contracted through eyes

More Americans are using cloth coverings to shield their noses and mouths in an effort to blunt the spread of coronavirus, but eyes — long believed to be a possible infection route — usually remain open to the air. That’s how a high-profile infectious disease expert believes he caught the virus.

Virologist and NBC contributor Joseph Fair says he was likely infected through his eyes while on a crowded airplane flight, Fair told the Today Show. He said he was taking precautions he advises others to take, including wearing a mask.

Yet, days later, he began presenting symptoms of COVID-19 and soon needed to be hospitalized. “You can still get this virus through your eyes … it’s the best guess I have of probably how I got it,” Fair said. He also said he expects he will soon be discharged.

Experts told USA TODAY Thursday that, while the story underscores a risk that people should take seriously during a pandemic, it isn’t one that should prompt panic.

– Joel Shannon

1 in 4 restaurants may shut down permanently

One of the most noticeable long-term victims of the COVID-19 crisis may be restaurants, with 25% of them likely shuttering for good. That’s the forecast from the reservation service OpenTable, whose bookings on Wednesday had shrunk by 95% compared to May 13 of last year, Bloomberg reported.

The National Restaurant Association said its members lost about $30 billion in March, and $50 billion in April. In the last week alone, several restaurants have announced they won’t re-open, including the buffet chain Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation, Jen’s Grill in Chicago and 32-year-old Ristorante Franchino in San Francisco.

– Jefferson Graham

Global deaths pass 300,000 and counting

Crossing the 300,000 mark in global deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday served as another grim reminder of the enormous damage inflicted by the virus, with the U.S. right in the middle of the pandemic.

No country approaches even half the 85,000-plus lives the U.S. has lost. That figure represents about 28% of the world’s total even though the American population makes up only 4.3% of the global amount.

Next on the death toll list is Great Britain with more than 33,000. The UK population of 67 million is about 20% of the U.S.’s 330 million, so the British rate of fatalities is considerably higher than America’s.

The Jersey shore to open Memorial Day weekend

New Jersey’s beaches can reopen by Memorial Day weekend but with rules in place that will require beachgoers to spread out their umbrellas and chairs more than usual. Gov. Phil Murphy said towns that open their beaches, boardwalks and lakefronts must comply with social distancing measures and limit capacity. More than 15,000 coronavirus deaths have been reported in New Jersey so far, the second-highest total behind New York.

“The Jersey Shore after all is where memories are made,” Murphy said. “The last thing any of us wanted was a summertime down the shore to be a memory.”

– Stacey Barchenger