Coronavirus live updates: Trump to unveil guidelines for opening economy; New York to require face masks; stimulus payments arrive
President Trump said the White House would issue guidelines about opening up the economy in the U.S. while the country deals with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The Thursday announcement will come after a conference call with all 50 governors.
The U.S. death toll spiked sharply for the second day in a row, and sick workers were putting a strain on the nation's meat supply, but the national payday prompted by the pandemic arrived Wednesday for more than 80 million Americans.
Payments of up to $1,200 per person were being transferred into bank accounts as the federal government injects vast sums of money into the economy left battered by stay-at-home orders.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an executive order that will mandate masks be worn when people are unable to maintain a six-foot distance between each other.
The cash influx comes as the U.S. daily death toll doubled, although it remains possible that newly implemented methods to count the dead in New York City could be responsible for the spike. The death toll in the U.S. was approaching 30,000 Wednesday evening, with more than 4,500 reported deaths occurring in the preceding 24 hours, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Previously the highest daily death toll in the U.S. was 2,228, on Tuesday. New York City has been adding thousands more to its death rolls in recent days - not because of new deaths, but because they have been re-classifying previous deaths as COVID-19 related. Health authorities began including people who "probably had COVID-19" but died without being tested.
New York City listed 10,899 deaths as of Wednesday night, more than 10 times the next closest city in terms of deaths. The U.S. has more than 63700,000 confirmed cases. Worldwide, the number of cases surpassed 2 million with over 130,000 deaths.
Our live blog is being updated throughout the day. Refresh for the latest news, and get updates in your inbox with The Daily Briefing. More headlines:
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Retail sales plummet to record levels
U.S. retail sales plummeted 8.7% in March, an unprecedented decline, as the viral outbreak forces an almost complete lockdown of commerce nationwide.
The deterioration of sales far outpaces the previous record decline of 3.9% that took place during the depths of the Great Recession in November 2008. Auto sales dropped 25.6%, while clothing store sales collapsed, sliding 50.5%. Restaurants and bars reported a nearly 27% fall in revenue.
U.S. consumer confidence has plunged, and the vast majority of Americans are hunkered down at home under shelter-in-place orders. Consumer spending drives two-thirds of the U.S. economy, and the record drop in retail sales is a symptom of the sharp recession that most economists believe the U.S. has already entered. Economists at JPMorgan Chase now forecast the U.S. economy will shrink by a record-shattering 40% in the April-June quarter.
White House to issue guidelines on opening economy
Citing the positive impact of the social distance guidelines, President Donald Trump said recommendations about opening the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic would be released Thursday.
Trump, speaking Wednesday at the White House task force press conference, noted improvements in fighting the COVID-19 hot spots in New York, Detroit and Louisiana in addition to other areas across the country.
The president said some states could start with economic activity before the current guidelines aimed at slowing the pandemic end on May 1. The unveiling, according to Trump, will come after a conference call with all 50 governors Thursday.
“These encouraging developments have put us in a very strong position to finalize guidelines for states on reopening the country,” Trump said.
“They’ll be safe. They’ll be strong. And we want to get our country back.”
– Erick Smith
Cuomo: Health care system has not been overwhelmed by outbreak
New Yorkers will soon have to start wearing masks or cloth coverings in public, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
He announced plans to issue an executive order mandating the masks be worn whenever New Yorkers cannot maintain at least six feet of space between themselves and others in public, citing the social-distancing measure taken to limit the risk of infection.
Meanwhile, the health care system in the state has stabilized, and "phased reopening" of normal life will depend on large scale testing for the coronavirus, Cuomo said Wednesday. In his daily briefing, Cuomo said the spread of the virus has been controlled and the latest hospitalization numbers and daily death toll – 752 – could signal plateauing that could lead to a downward trend.
The timeline for reopening the state's economy will depend on federal assistance for massive testing for the virus. While calling that "inarguable," he added: "it's just very very hard to do" because of the size and scope of the effort.
"It's going to be a phased reopening," Cuomo said. "The single best tool to doing this gauging is large scale testing – test, trace and isolate."
– Doug Stanglin and David Robinson
More than 400 TSA officers test positive for coronavirus
A third Transportation Security Administration employee has died of the coronavirus, according to the agency, and 405 officers have tested positive at 51 airports.
The TSA said Tuesday that Dian Phipps, an officer at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International who had been with the agency for 14 years, died Monday.
The Atlanta airport is one of the TSA's coronavirus hot spots, with 12 officers testing positive, 11 of them involved in passenger screening. The New York region has the highest concentration of coronavirus cases among TSA officers, with 155 testing positive.
– Curtis Tate
Illinois governor addresses reports of ‘secret’ PPE shipment from China
Amid reports that Illinois is “secretly” having PPE shipped from China to avoid federal interference, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker told reporters at a briefing Wednesday that the state is “doing what we need to do to make sure that we get the kind of PPE that we need.”
Reports of a shipment from China began to circulate Tuesday after Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza announced an online portal tracking the state’s expenditures during the outbreak. As of April 14, Illinois had spent more than $168.52 million on purchases related to COVID-19.
The portal also lists two payments of $888,275 to Fedex Trade NTWK Trains Inc. for “aircraft charter flight to Shanghai, China for COVID-19 response.”
“We’ve had to search the entire globe to find what we need. Shipping is very difficult,” Pritzker said. “It is true that the federal government seems to be interrupting supplies that are being sent elsewhere in the nation, and so I wanted to make sure that we received what we ordered.”
Pritzker confirmed that “shipments” were scheduled to arrive. He did not explicitly say that the shipments were coming from China, and his office did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.
– Grauce Hauck
President Trump's name will appear on checks
Stimulus payments of up to $1,200 per person began hitting American bank accounts Wednesday, and the IRS has launched an online portal that allows people to input their direct deposit information. For those who require a check, it could be in the mail next week – and will include Trump's signature, according to multiple media reports citing Treasury Department and IRS officials. Trump had said earlier this month he did not plan on signing them.
The Treasury Department said a "large majority of eligible Americans will receive Economic Impact Payments within the next two weeks." The goal is to provide as much money as possible electronically rather than mailing checks, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. The deposit is labeled "IRS Treas 310" on bank statements.
China waited a week before warning of pandemic, report says
Chinese officials determined they likely were facing a pandemic a week before going public, allowing the epicenter city of Wuhan to host a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people and millions to travel for Lunar New Year celebrations. President Xi Jinping warned the public on Jan. 20 – after more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly chastised Chinese officials for withholding and delaying information on the outbreak there that could have saved lives around the globe. Trump has also blasted the World Health Organization, and on Tuesday cut off U.S. funding, saying the group had failed to report accurate information from China during the early stages of the pandemic.
FedEx workers worry about exposure
In Memphis, Tenn., FedEx employees fear the risk of exposure among the hub’s approximately 11,000 workers because, they say, social distancing is effectively not taking place, temperature checks are uneven and the use of masks is optional.
These employees claim social distancing is not taking place in various settings – including on the sorting line, where workers process thousands of packages per hour.
"We don’t have any disinfectants, cleaners, nothing to kill the germs with, nothing to wipe down the computer doors," said Raquel King, a materials handler at the FedEx Express World Hub.
"Everything we touch, every day, all day, there’s nothing there to clean or disinfect."
A FedEx executive said Monday that about 10 hub employees had tested positive for COVID-19. It's the first time the company has confirmed cases at its Memphis site, the flagship hub of FedEx's global shipping network.
– Jesse Yomtov
Sick meatpacking workers threaten food supply
Soaring numbers of meatpacking plant workers sickened by COVID-19 have sparked fears for the employees’ health and for the continuity of the nation’s meat supply. In Iowa, Tyson Foods closed one of the nation's major pork processing plants after 186 employees have tested positive for the illness. The plant is one of several meatpacking facilities across the nation where business has been suspended after being hit hard by the highly contagious coronavirus.
“We are taking on water fast,” National Pork Producers Council President Howard “A.V.” Roth said, adding that thousands of hog farms could close this year without government intervention. “Immediate action is imperative, or a lot of hog farms will go under.”
– Tommy Birch and Tyler Jett, Des Moines Register
Chicago is beginning to flatten the curve, officials say
Chicago, a recent hot spot of the outbreak, is beginning to reduce the rate of new daily coronavirus cases, city officials announced Wednesday.
“... Chicago is beginning to flatten the curve on COVID-19 cases,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a press briefing. “However, we should not confuse improvement with success … we still have a long way to go.”
Chicago’s nearly 10,000 confirmed cases account for about 41% of all cases in Illinois, which is also seeing a lowering rate of new cases, according to Dr. Allison Arwady, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
That’s because Chicagoans are staying home, Arwady said. Based on a study of cellphone data, an estimated 80% of Chicagoans are staying home throughout the day, and the number of cases is doubling every 12 days, according to Arwady.
To think about lifting restrictions, Chicago would need to see a “significant and sustained drop” in the rate of new cases, Lightfoot said. But the city still isn't testing “nearly enough people,” she said.
– Grace Hauck
Congressman: Time to put on 'big girl pants' and go back to work
Sending Americans back to work at the risk of falling ill from the coronavirus is the "lesser of these two evils" compared with the tanking economy, says Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Indiana. Speaking in an interview Tuesday on radio-station WIBC, Hollingsworth acknowledged the warnings against ending stay-at-home orders too soon.
"It is policymakers’ decision to put on our big boy and big girl pants and say it is the lesser of these two evils," he said. "That is our responsibility and to abdicate that is to insult the Americans that voted us into office.”
President Donald Trump had suggested May 1 as a possible date for beginning the process of restarting the economy. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said that timeline might be "overly optimistic."
– Savannah Behrmann
June SAT and ACT test dates impacted; at-home test on tap if needed
The College Board, the nonprofit company that administers the SAT college admissions exam, announced Wednesday it had canceled the June test date. To make up for missed testing, the company said it would offer a new test during September, though the exact date has not been announced.
The ACT, another organization that runs a college admissions exam, announced students scheduled to take the test this summer will be able to switch to later dates without change fees. Students scheduled to take the exam June 13 may bump to June 20, and students scheduled for July 18 may bump to July 25.
The College Board and the ACT both said they would provide a digital version of the test for students to take at home should schools remain closed and social distancing guidelines stay in place this fall. That would be a dramatic change for the testing companies, which have long administered the test in controlled, in-person environments.
– Chris Quintana
Bill Gates hits Trump on World Health Organization funding freeze
President Donald Trump's announcement of a halt on funding for the World Health Organization drew criticism Wednesday from one of the world's biggest philanthropists, Bill Gates. Trump accused WHO of “severely mismanaging and covering up” the coronavirus crisis in the early days of the outbreak in China. But Gates said cutting off WHO funding during the global crisis "is as dangerous as it sounds."
"Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them," Gates said on Twitter. "The world needs @WHO now more than ever."
Samantha Power, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Barack Obama, accused Trump of a "transparent and deadly attempt to divert attention from his own gross mishandling" of the outbreak.
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Schools reopen in Denmark, Australia
Some schools have reopened in Denmark and Australia, and stores are back in business in Austria. But many shoppers, parents and politicians concerned about health risks are wary about a return to normal so soon. Denmark, which has had more than 300 COVID-19 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, let preschoolers and students up to fifth grade return to classrooms in about half of the country's cities and towns. Older students, including those at college, still must study online from home.
“I’m very impressed. The children are very happy to see their buddies again,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told TV2 as she attended the first school day in Valby, a Copenhagen suburb.
In Austria, which has had almost 400 deaths, there was cautious optimism. "I am incredibly relieved, both for my colleagues and for myself because it was a very, very long time for us, and above all an uncertain time," Vienna florist Barbara Kugler told Reuters.
– Doug Stanglin
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Contributing: The Associated Press