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Vice President Pence told reporters today that the coronavirus task force created to manage the federal government’s response to the pandemic could be disbanded within a month because “of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country.”

The number of people who have died in the U.S. from covid-19 passed 70,000 on Tuesday, with nearly 1.2 million confirmed cases, according to state health departments and tracking by The Washington Post.

Here are some significant developments:

  • President Trump’s latest red line for the next phase of coronavirus legislation — a payroll tax cut for workers — has few fans in Congress, further complicating the path toward a new rescue package.
  • A complaint filed to the House suggests the coronavirus response being spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been hampered because it relies on volunteers that are under-qualified and ill-suited for the job.
  • A research paper, not yet peer-reviewed, reports that one strain of the virus has emerged in Europe and become dominant around the planet, leading the researchers to believe it has mutated to become more contagious. The bold hypothesis, however, was immediately met with skepticism by many infectious-disease experts.
  • Some public companies are declining to return the money given to them under the small-business Paycheck Protection Program, saying the initial rules never barred them from applying.
  • Rand Paul, who was the first senator to test positive, attended Tuesday’s Senate session without a face mask, declaring that he has immunity — even though experts remain uncertain whether recovered covid-19 patients are actually immune.
  • French doctors found a patient had covid-19 in December, signaling the disease may have reached Europe far earlier than previously thought.
3:34 a.m.
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GOP lawmakers sue to stop Washington state’s stay-at-home order

Four Washington state legislators sued Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Tuesday to strike down his stay-at-home order, arguing “the emergency has been contained” and that restrictions must be lifted.

In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the Republican lawmakers and four others argued that the threat of the coronavirus has been overblown.

Inslee most recently extended his emergency directive through May 31, although some workplaces and construction sites have begun reopening in recent weeks.

But state Reps. Drew MacEwen, Andrew Barkis, Chris Corry and Brandon Vick, all Republicans, claim the order is no longer legally justified. Only the most vulnerable populations, such as the sick and elderly, are seriously at risk and should face targeted restrictions, they said.

“The threat has faded,” their suit claimed. “But Inslee continues on.”

Washington state officials have sent ventilators to other parts of the country, they said, and a U.S. Army field hospital has been taken down.

Four Washington state residents also named as plaintiffs argued that the extended order has harmed their individual rights to work, run businesses, seek medical care or pray.

At a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Inslee said the lawsuit’s claims were “biologically ignorant and humanly heartless.”

“It’s just ignorant, because this is a very transmittable disease,” he said, according to the Seattle Times. “It continues to transmit disease, we had hundreds of new cases just yesterday, it’s just a biological fact.”

2:48 a.m.
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N.Y. reports 1,700 previously undisclosed deaths in nursing homes

New York’s nursing homes may be even deadlier than previously thought.

On Tuesday, health officials reported more than 1,700 previously undisclosed deaths at the state’s nursing homes and adult-care facilities, according to the Associated Press. Those patients were believed to have had the virus but had not been officially diagnosed.

The data dramatically expands the death toll in New York facilities by more than half. As of Sunday, more than 4,800 people had died of the virus in homes for the elderly, which for months have faced heavy scrutiny for failing to curb or report outbreaks.

Gary Holmes, a spokesman for the New York Health Department, told the New York Times that the state’s system for gathering and evaluating data on nursing home fatalities had been revised and would probably continue to change.

“This crisis and our response to it continues to evolve,” he said. “And the unprecedented amount and specificity of data we are providing to the public will continue to evolve with it.”

With the new deaths added to the state’s totals, nursing homes make up about one quarter of all fatalities in New York, though some experts have said that figure could rise to as much as 50 percent.

The number of nursing homes reporting fatalities nationwide has also seen similar, sudden jumps, as newly released information drives those figures upward.

Late last month, officials in New York state said they would release the names of only homes with at least five deaths, citing patient confidentiality.

2:14 a.m.
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Baseball is bracing for an economic hit. How bad will it be?

As Major League Baseball plots its way forward through the most disruptive crisis in its modern history, hoping to salvage a 2020 season amid a global pandemic that has delayed Opening Day by five weeks and counting, one thing is already clear: Barring a miraculous development, MLB will almost certainly experience some degree of economic devastation that could take years to dig out of.

The only questions: How bad it is going to get? And who will share in its toll?

“We’re going to lose billions of dollars this year, no matter what,” said one high-ranking baseball official. While all of the major North American professional sports are experiencing some degree of disruption and financial pain, baseball in many ways has it the worst.

Read more here.

1:44 a.m.
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Court rules Miami jail can’t be forced to provide inmates with tests, soap, masks

In a 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit blocked a judge’s order forcing Miami-Dade County to give soap, masks and cleaning supplies to inmates at a Miami jail that has been plagued by the coronavirus.

The Tuesday ruling was in regard to the “adequacy of the measures implemented by Metro West [Detention Center] to protect its prisoners from the spread of covid-19.”

On April 5, seven Metro West inmates filed a class action complaint that challenged the conditions of the inmates’ confinement. The class-action complaint alleged that inmates at Metro West did not have enough soap or towels to wash their hands properly, waited days for medical attention and were “denied basic hygienic supplies.”

In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams ordered the Miami-Dade jail system to provide individual soap and cleaning supplies to inmates, in addition to ensuring access to proper testing for anyone displaying known symptoms of covid-19 and to ensure social distancing. Additionally, Williams ordered that jail officers frequently wash their hands, wear masks and gloves, and change gloves each time they interact with an inmate.

Tuesday’s decision stays Williams’s order, but allows litigation between the parties to continue.

“The injunction hamstrings MDCR officials with years of experience running correctional facilities, and the elected officials they report to, from acting with dispatch to respond to this unprecedented pandemic,” the majority wrote.

Judge Charles Wilson, who dissented, said he failed to “see an abuse of discretion” in Williams’s ruling.

“To avoid contempt, then, MDCR must allocate limited testing resources to Metro West at the expense of other county facilities,” the majority wrote. “In short, the district court assumed the role of ‘super-warden’ that our decisions repeatedly condemn.”

According to the Miami Herald, 163 inmates have tested positive for covid-19 at Metro West.

1:34 a.m.
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Starbucks will reopen 85 percent of its coffee shops, but with new protocols

Starbucks plans to reopen 85 percent of its U.S. coffee shops by the end of this week, with an emphasis on mobile ordering, contactless pickup and cashless payments, as more cities and states ease lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The company’s mobile app — which is already used by roughly 20 million customers — will include new options for voice ordering and curbside pickup, chief executive Kevin Johnson wrote in a letter to customers on Monday.

The new protocols, he said, will be a natural fit for Starbucks, where more than 80 percent of U.S. orders were placed “on the go” via drive-through or mobile app, even before the pandemic. The company is also applying the lessons it has learned in China, where more than 98 percent of its stores have reopened, and is ramping up investments in artificial intelligence that will help make “data-driven decisions” about store reopenings and other changes.

Read more here.

1:20 a.m.
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Researchers hypothesize that a highly contagious strain is spreading, but other experts remain skeptical

A research paper from scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, not yet peer-reviewed, reports that one strain of the novel coronavirus has emerged in Europe and become dominant around the planet, leading the researchers to believe the virus has mutated to become more contagious.

The bold hypothesis, however, was immediately met with skepticism by many infectious-disease experts, and there is no scientific consensus that any of the innumerable mutations in the virus so far have changed the general contagiousness or lethality of covid-19, the disease caused the coronavirus.

Read more here.

1:10 a.m.
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Almost every inmate at a Louisiana women’s prison facility has tested positive for coronavirus

Inside a Louisiana correctional facility for women, almost every inmate has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

According to state figures, the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel has 192 positive cases, including 126 who carried the virus without showing symptoms. A spokesman for the state Department of Corrections told the Associated Press that the unit houses approximately 195 inmates, though that number can vary.

The women’s prison accounts for 63 percent of the positive covid-19 cases inside Louisiana correctional facilities. One inmate inside the Louisiana Correctional Institute has died because of complications of the covid-19 disease.

On Monday, a small group of advocates held a rally and prayer outside the prison, calling for the state to take more action in protecting the health of those incarcerated.

“If we don’t give attention to this crisis on the inside of prison, it’s not going to be good and the numbers are showing this,” Ivy Mathis, a former inmate, told Baton Rouge TV station WAFB 9.

The spread of the virus has affected other prison populations. In San Pedro, Calif., a sixth inmate inside the Terminal Island federal prison died Monday of the virus, according to reports. On Tuesday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) announced 625 new positive cases in the state, the highest number in a single update. More than 300 of those cases come from the Green River Correctional Complex, where a third inmate recently died.

As of Tuesday, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported 2,066 federal inmates and 359 staffers nationwide with confirmed positive test results.

12:48 a.m.
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Disney plans first park reopening next week

Disney is bringing its theme park business back to life — but only in China.

The company announced plans Tuesday to reopen Shanghai Disneyland on May 11, months after shuttering it in late January as the novel coronavirus spread in China, with new health and safety measures in place.

In an announcement, the entertainment giant said the Shanghai park will have “limited and pulsed attendance,” meaning visitors will only be able to buy tickets for specific dates and annual pass holders will need to make a reservation before getting there.

Walt Disney Co. chief executive Bob Chapek said during an earnings call Tuesday afternoon that the government is limiting capacity to about 24,000 visitors a day, or 30 percent of normal attendance. The park will wait a few weeks to get to that number, however.

Guests will undergo temperature screening and have to use the government’s health QR code system for early detection and contact tracing, and high-touch areas such as railings, turnstiles, rides and handlebars will be sanitized more frequently.

12:15 a.m.
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Wisconsin state Supreme Court judge compares stay-at-home order to WWII internment

The Wisconsin state Supreme Court’s conservative judges forcefully questioned Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s extension of stay-at-home orders, in a suit brought by Republican state lawmakers who challenged the administration’s power to decide.

“I’ll direct your attention to another time in history, in the Korematsu decision, where the court said the need for action is great and time is short, and that justified ‘assembling together and placing under guard all those of Japanese ancestry’ in assembly centers during World War II,” said Justice Rebecca Bradley, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court case in 1944 that upheld internment camps.

Bradley said, “Isn’t it the very definition of tyranny for one person to order people to be imprisoned for going to work among other ordinarily lawful activities?”

Read more here.

12:01 a.m.
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Trump admits reopening country may cost American lives

In a rare prime-time network interview, Trump admitted on ABC’s “World News Tonight with David Muir” that it’s “possible” there will be more deaths when the country begins to reopen.

“It’s possible there will be some because you won’t be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever,” Trump said, but he added that people will practice social distancing and wash their hands.

Muir asked Trump what, after more than three years in office, he had done to restock medical equipment that was in short supply when the virus hit.

“Well, I’ll be honest, I have a lot of things going on,” he said, before blaming the Russia investigation and the impeachment probe.

At the end of the interview, Muir asked the president whether he had anything to say to the families of the roughly 70,000 Americans who have died of coronavirus-related causes.

“I want to say I love you,” Trump said.

He then pivoted to talking about bringing the economy back and said, “It’s gonna be so good. No matter how well those people — can never ever replace somebody they love. But we’re going to have something that they’re going to be very proud of, and to the people that have lost someone, there is nobody … that is taking it harder than me.”

11:59 p.m.
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U.S. companies cut thousands of workers while continuing to reward shareholders during pandemic

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Caterpillar has suspended operations at two plants and a foundry, Levi Strauss has closed stores, and toolmaker Stanley Black & Decker is planning layoffs and furloughs. Steelcase, the office furniture manufacturer, and World Wrestling Entertainment have also shed employees.

While thousands of their workers are filing for unemployment benefits, these companies rewarded their shareholders with more than $700 million in cash dividends. They are not alone. As the pandemic squeezes big companies, executives are making decisions about who will bear the brunt of the sacrifices, and in at least some cases, workers have been the first to lose, even as shareholders continue to collect.

Executives say the layoffs support the long-term health of their companies, and often the executives are giving up a piece of their salaries. Furloughed workers can apply for unemployment benefits. But distributing millions of dollars to shareholders while leaving many workers without a paycheck is unfair, critics say, and belies the repeated statements from executives about their concern for employee welfare during the crisis.

Read more here.

11:17 p.m.
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Royal Caribbean agrees to CDC guidelines for disembarking quarantined employees from cruise ships

In a letter to Royal Caribbean crew members, chief executive Michael Bayley outlined plans for mass repatriations, ending the extended quarantine on cruise ships for thousands of employees.

With the May 3 memo, Royal Caribbean confirmed that it was the latest cruise line to submit to a signed attestation from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has allowed crew members on ships in U.S. waters to disembark, but only if the companies agree to several guidelines.

Since April 23, the agency has approved more than 30 disembarkations from cruise lines. Royal Caribbean held out because one of the CDC’s stipulations would penalize company executives if disembarked employees used public transportation. In Bayley’s letter, he described the punishment as “criminal penalties including imprisonment.”

“We are happy to do all the things they requested,” Bayley wrote, “but the criminal penalties gave us (and our lawyers) pause.”

American crew members who are on ships near the United States will be sent back home beginning Wednesday. Other U.S. crew members in Asia will be flown back from the Philippines when the Manila airport reopens.

According to the letter, 25,000 Royal Caribbean crew members across an international fleet of 26 cruise ships have completed 14 days of in-room quarantine. Also, five employees currently on ships remain in isolation and have received treatment for flu-like symptoms. According to reports, three Royal Caribbean crew members have died of complications of covid-19. The family of a crew member who died has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the cruise line.

10:54 p.m.
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Vague rules for Paycheck Protection Program hamper Treasury effort to claw back money

Ambiguity in the rules governing a small-business rescue program is complicating the Trump administration’s effort to claw back money doled out under the program to publicly traded companies.

The Treasury Department has asked public companies that received loans under the Paycheck Protection Program to return the money by Thursday, saying they were not the intended recipients. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has warned of possible penalties for companies that do not comply.

But some public companies are declining to return the money, saying the program’s initial rules never barred them from applying. And some outside experts agree.

Read more here.

10:49 p.m.
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Trump tours mask production facility in Arizona while not wearing a mask

President Trump did not wear a mask Tuesday afternoon during a tour of the Honeywell mask production facility in Phoenix, his first trip outside the Washington area since late March.

After delivering remarks at a roundtable, Trump and several others were led on a tour of the facility by one of the company’s leaders. Trump and the leader of the tour wore goggles, but no one in the group wore a face covering.

A sign was posted in the part of the facility Trump toured reading, “Face Mask required in this Area.” A separate sign at the entrance of the Honeywell facility read, “Please wear your mask at all times.” According to a White House official, the Honeywell facility said officials were not required to wear masks.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump suggested he would wear a mask during the visit. “I think it’s a mask facility, right? If it’s a mask facility, I will, yeah,” he told reporters as he prepared to leave the White House.

Last month, Vice President Pence was sharply criticized after he met with patients and staff at the Mayo Clinic while not wearing a mask, an apparent violation of the Minnesota medical center’s policy during the coronavirus pandemic. Pence acknowledged in a Fox News town hall Sunday night that he should have worn a mask during the visit.