coronavirus pandemic

US Virus Updates: Deaths Near 50K; Experts Rip Trump Idea of Injecting Disinfectant

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The U.S. death toll in the coronavirus pandemic reached nearly 50,000 people — the highest in the world — with nearly 870,000 confirmed cases on Thursday, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. The true figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of limited testing and difficulties in counting the dead.

On Capitol Hill, the House passed a $500 billion virus aid bill to help struggling small businesses and hospitals. The bill is awaiting President Donald Trump's signature.

As both governors and American workers across the U.S. debate over whether to reopen businesses, health officials continue to caution against lifting lockdown measures too quickly. The director of the CDC has warned of a possible second wave of infections that would likely coincide with the seasonal flu, putting an "unimaginable strain" on the nation's health care system.

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:

’Dangerous’: Experts Rip Trump Idea of Injecting Disinfectant to Treat COVID-19

President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested exploring disinfectants as a possible treatment for COVID-19 infections — an extremely dangerous proposition that could kill people, medical experts warn.

After a Homeland Security official mentioned the ability of disinfectants like bleach to kill the coronavirus on surfaces, Trump remarked on the effectiveness.

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?" Trump said during his daily press briefing at the White House. "Because you see it gets on the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it’d be interesting to check that. So that you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds — it sounds interesting to me."

Disinfectants like bleach are poisonous and dangerous when mishandled, doctors say.

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During a press conference on Thursday, President Donald Trump asked that the White House coronavirus task force investigate whether a disinfectant could be injected as a treatment for coronavirus patients.

Cuomo: McConnell Floating State Bankruptcy is 'Really Dumb' and 'Reckless'

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's suggestion that states should consider bankruptcy instead of receiving financial assistance from the federal government "one of the dumbest ideas of all time" and denounced the senator’s office for distributing a document on the issue titled “Stopping Blue State Bailouts.”

"How ugly a thought. Just think of what he's saying, '15,000 people died in New York, but they were Democrats so why should we help them,'" Cuomo said Thursday at a daily news briefing. "If there’s ever a time for humanity and decency and a time to stop your obsessive political bias and anger, now is the time."

McConnell, R-Ky., floated the idea on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s syndicated show Wednesday. The Republican was discussing his concerns about sending additional aid to local and state governments to cope with reduced revenue because of the pandemic. Many of the virus-stricken states facing budget shortfalls are largely Democratic.

Cuomo has pleaded for a federal bailout for weeks and has said New York will lose anywhere between $10 billion to $15 billion in revenues during the pandemic, with businesses shuttered and hundreds of thousands of residents forced to file jobless claims. The governor said the money is to help fund police and fire departments, and schools.

He said if hard-hit states like New York, California and Illinois were to go bankrupt, "you will see a collapse of this national economy."

Cuomo also noted that New York contributes more to the federal coffers than it takes out, whereas Kentucky takes out more than it puts in.

"When it comes to fairness, your state is living on the money we generate," Cuomo said. "Sen. McConnell, whose state is getting bailed out here? Not my state."

New York GOP Rep. Peter King also slammed McConnell, calling him the "Marie Antoinette" of the Senate.

NY Antibody Survey Suggests 13.9% Had Virus

More evidence is emerging that far more New Yorkers have had the coronavirus than the number confirmed by lab tests.

A state survey of around 3,000 people found that 13.9% had antibodies suggesting they had been exposed to the virus, Gov. Cuomo said.

Cuomo cautioned that the data was preliminary. The sample of people tested was small and people were recruited for the study at shopping centers and grocery stores, which meant they were healthy enough to be out in public.

Blood tests that check for antibodies, substances the immune system makes to fight the virus, are expected to allow health officials to better understand how many people had the virus with few or no symptoms.

But such tests need to be done with random sampling, ensuring that the people being tested are representative of the geographic, social, racial and other conditions. There are also questions about the accuracy of the blood tests being used. Scientists have found that some of them aren’t reliable enough, with too many false positives and false negatives.

And experts also say having antibodies is not necessarily proof someone is immune from the virus.

Still, Cuomo said knowing how many people have antibodies could potentially help set policy on when to reopen parts of the state. More than 263,000 people in the state have tested positive for the virus.

Elizabeth Warren's Oldest Brother Dies of Coronavirus

The oldest brother of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Donald Reed Herring, has died from the coronavirus.

The former Democratic presidential candidate said Thursday that her brother died Tuesday evening. She tweeted that he spent his career in the military after joining the Air Force at the age of 19 and was “charming and funny, a natural leader."  

The Boston Globe reported that Reed died in Norman, Oklahoma, about three weeks after testing positive for the virus. He was 86. Warren thanked the nurses and staff who took care of him.

Gap Stops Paying Rents, Warns it Might Not Have Enough Cash for Operations

Gap said Thursday it did not pay April rents and warned that the company may not have enough cash flow to sufficiently fund its operations in the next 12 months as stores remain shut because of the coronavirus pandemic, CNBC reports.

The apparel retailer said in a securities filing that it must take further actions to find liquidity, such additional job cuts and new debt financing. It said other measures could include reducing receipts and orders for merchandise, and extending the terms for payment of goods and services.

Gap said it had suspended April rent payments on temporarily shuttered stores, which amounts to roughly $115 million in monthly expenses in North America.

The retailer, which also operates Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta, said it was in talks with landlords to defer payments, modify lease agreements or in some cases terminate the leases and permanently close some of the stores.

Gap also cautioned that its profit margins could erode as it is forced to use steep discounts to try to sell merchandise amid a pullback in spending by consumers. With a nationwide shutdown of malls and most stores, the pandemic is putting many clothing retailers in peril. U.S. retail sales plummeted 8.7% in March, far outpaced the previous record decline of 3.9% that took place during the depths of the Great Recession in November 2008.

VA Medical Facilities Struggle With Staff, Equipment Shortages

The Department of Veterans Affairs is struggling with shortages of workers at its health care facilities as it cares for veterans infected with the novel coronavirus.

The agency responsible for the health care of 9 million veterans is also facing shortages of the equipment necessary to protect employees from contracting the virus. That's according to VA staff and internal documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The documents show about 1,900 VA health care workers have become sick with the coronavirus, and 20 have died. Another 3,600 health care workers are quarantined and unable to work because they have been exposed.

More than 5,700 veterans treated by the VA have been infected by the coronavirus, and nearly 380 have died.

The Labor Department is now investigating, and several Democrats in Congress plan to send a letter Thursday calling on President Donald Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to get more supplies for VA health facilities.

The VA denied it was short of supplies and stressed that it follows federal health guidelines when rationing personal protective equipment like masks and gloves.

The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office is launching an investigation into a nursing facility in Holyoke where more than a dozen veterans have died amid an outbreak of the new coronavirus.

26 Million Have Filed for Unemployment Since Virus Hit

More than 4.4 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week as job cuts escalated across an economy that remains all but shut down, the government said Thursday.

Roughly 26 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the five weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors.

About one in six American workers have now lost their jobs since mid-March, by far the worst string of layoffs on record. Economists have forecast that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20%.  

House Expected to Send $500 Billion Relief Aid Bill to Trump

The House is reassembling to send President Donald Trump a fourth bipartisan bill to help businesses crippled by the coronavirus, an almost $500 billion measure that many lawmakers are already looking beyond.

Anchoring the latest bill is a request by the administration to replenish a fund to help small- and medium-size businesses with payroll, rent and other expenses.

Thursday's vote in the House would bring the total cost of the four bipartisan bills to respond to various impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to about $2.5 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Washington's impartial scorekeeper.

The legislation swept through the Senate on Tuesday by voice vote barely hours after being first circulated.

A $484 billion bill, earmarked for small businesses shut down by the coronavirus, is headed for the House after the Senate passed it on Tuesday. It includes items that Democratic lawmakers insisted on adding, including $75 billion for hospitals and another $25 billion to support expanded testing efforts. President Trump is expected to sign it by the end of the week if it passes.

Vegas Workers Push Back After Call to Reopen Casinos, Hotels

After Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman called Wednesday for the swift reopening of hotels and casinos, many who earn livelihoods in such establishments said they were afraid to return unless strict safety measures were introduced for themselves and guests.

Although Goodman said the businesses should reopen, she did not provide any guidelines on how they should handle social distancing and other safety measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

"I want us open in the city of Las Vegas so our people can go back to work," Goodman said in a CNN interview. She was asked how that could be accomplished while prioritizing employees' safety by implementing social distancing.

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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

The Associated Press/NBC
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