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President Trump on Thursday said mass testing for the coronavirus is not necessary for the United States to get back to normal, contradicting experts who say widespread testing is critical to ease out of social distancing. The Trump administration is pushing to reopen much of the country next month.

Epidemiologists and infectious-disease specialists have included widespread testing as part of the strategy for sending people back to work safely.

Here are some other significant developments:

  • The death toll continues to rise rapidly in the United States, with New York alone having recorded 7,067 fatalities as of Thursday. But even as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) cited the state’s grim needs, he said hospitalizations and intensive care admissions had fallen, suggesting that the curve was beginning to flatten.
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved Thursday evening from intensive care but remains at a central London hospital, where he will continue receiving treatment for the coronavirus.
  • Another 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week as the economy continued to spiral downward.
  • Competing proposals for coronavirus relief failed in the Senate, as Democrats objected to a proposed $250 billion increase in a small-business program and Republicans shot down the counter-offer.
  • Italy announced 4,204 new cases of the novel coronavirus, along with 610 deaths. Both numbers were below peak but increases from earlier this week, suggesting a slow decline of the outbreak in the hard-hit nation.
  • Life is slowly returning to the streets and shops of Wuhan after 76 days of nearly complete lockdown.
  • Half a billion more people could be pushed into poverty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the anti-poverty group Oxfam warned in a report.

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California subsidizes hotel rooms for health workers

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California will provide health workers with heavily discounted hotel rooms, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Thursday, so they can stay closer to their work sites and maintain a safe distance from relatives at home.

“We need to provide the kind of support that increasingly is needed for a workforce that is deeply stressed out, deeply stretched,” Newsom said.

The program will launch Friday and comes in response to requests for such a measure from health workers. Doctors, nurses and others have had to sleep in their cars or commute long distances after 12-hour shifts, he said, while others are spending their own money on hotel rooms to avoid infecting family members at home.

The move will also allow the state government to inject a combination of federal and private funds into hotel chains, many of which have had their facilities empty as most travel nationwide came to a halt. Higher-wage employees will receive vouchers and stipends from the state for subsidized hotel rooms, while lower-wage workers are likely to have their rooms covered entirely.

The initiative does not overlap with a separate action to provide hotel rooms to people experiencing homelessness.

In addition, Newsom said that four airlines will be helping California expand its health-care workforce. The companies will provide free round-trip travel to 86,000 licensed individuals who have signed up as part of a corps program to staff field medical stations around the state and serve patients with less urgent needs.

Guardsmen from Niagara Falls help New York City retrieve its dead

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At a base down the road from Niagara Falls, a specialized unit from the New York Air National Guard had spent years preparing for one of the military’s grimmest missions: finding and recovering the bodies of those killed in a chemical attack, natural disaster or other mass tragedy.

But when the unit’s deployment orders arrived March 21, the Guardsmen were sent to do a job their practice sessions didn’t foresee. They have been carrying body after body out of New York City homes and apartment buildings, in some cases winding 200 pounds down the narrow staircases of walk-ups without an elevator.

Read more here.

Nearly 70 percent of small businesses have applied for loans, but it’s unclear how many have received them

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About 70 percent of U.S. small business owners have already tried to apply for an emergency loan through a new $349 billion program, according to an industry survey released Thursday.

However, it is unclear how many of the thousands of businesses that have applied for these loans have received them, if any. The Small Business Administration has not released data showing how many businesses have received the funds and has not answered basic questions about the program.

Read more here.

New Zealand just confirmed its second covid-19 death. Its success battling the virus stands out.

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New Zealand officials confirmed the country’s second death of a coronavirus patient, as low case numbers in the island nation continue to signal that strict measures not just to contain covid-19 but to “eliminate” it have been successful.

Health official Caroline McElnay said Friday that the second fatality was a woman in her 90s in Christchurch. Like the first person in New Zealand to die of covid-19, the disease the virus causes, she suffered from existing health conditions, McElnay said.

Social distancing measures meant family members were not able to be with the woman when she died, McElnay said. But even as she shared that grim detail, the health official urged New Zealanders to continue the behavior that has made their country’s coronavirus situation stand out worldwide.

“This latest sad news reinforces the importance of our move to Alert Level 4 and the measures we are all taking to limit spread, break the chain of transmission and prevent deaths,” McElnay said, referencing the state of response that swiftly kept people home, closed schools and nonessential businesses, and imposed other restrictions nationwide.

“Other countries have had a gradual ramp-up, but our approach is exactly the opposite,” Michael Baker, one of the New Zealand’s top epidemiologists, told The Washington Post recently. While other Western countries have tried to slow the spread of the disease and “flatten the curve,” New Zealand is attempting to stamp it out entirely.

Daily new case numbers peaked at 89 on April 2. On Friday, the country reported 44 new cases, 23 of them confirmed and 21 deemed probable.

The vast majority of cases can be linked to international travel, making contact tracing relatively easy, and many are consolidated into identifiable clusters. Because there is little evidence of community transmission, New Zealand’s hospitals have not been overwhelmed as they have been in other countries.

Postcards from a nervous world: Personal stories from four continents

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Amanda Coletta, Canada correspondent for The Washington Post, is trying to navigate life in a pandemic while living with her mom, who is immunocompromised. (The Washington Post)

In Toronto, a daughter worries about her mother, whose immune system is compromised.

In Sydney, a surfer tries to find some escape from the pandemic lockdown rules.

These are among the personal stories shared with The Washington Post from around the world.

“Amid the deserted streets, you can still catch the tempting whiff of freshly baked bread rising seemingly out of nowhere,” wrote Inna Lazareva from Tbilisi, Georgia.

“It will lead to you to basement bakery, offering steaming bread oozing with melted cheese or sweet cream. It’s perhaps the most comforting reassurance that Tbilisi is still Tbilisi.”

Read more here.

Grandmother who went viral for accidentally inviting teen to Thanksgiving loses husband to covid-19

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For four years, hearts have melted over the story of Wanda Dench and Jamal Hinton, the Arizona grandmother and young man who struck up a lasting bond after meeting through an errant text.

In 2016, Dench tried to invite her grandson to Thanksgiving dinner and accidentally messaged Hinton, then 17 years old. Hinton ended up coming over anyway, and the gathering was such a hit that their families reunited every November afterward — charming the Internet along the way.

“Family is more than blood,” Wanda Dench said at Thanksgiving 2018. “It’s the people you want to be with.”

That chosen family came together this week to comfort Wanda as the coronavirus infected her and her husband and as tragedy hit. Lonnie Dench died this week, Hinton announced Thursday on social media.

Read more here.

Testing sites will continue to receive federal funding

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Community-based coronavirus testing sites across the country will continue to receive federal support, in a reversal of previous plans to end funding, the Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday.

The HHS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday that local authorities can choose whether they want to transition to state control or stay with federal oversight and help. Under state control, sites would still receive technical assistance from the federal government and be able to request supplies through normal FEMA systems.

NPR first reported this week that drive-through sites would lose federal funding. Philadelphia had announced that it would shut down two of its federally funded sites and disperse tests across the city instead, according to local station WHYY.

HHS and FEMA stated that because of the technological advancements in testing, many states indicated that they wanted to transition fully to state control to have more flexibility in testing and reporting.

The federal government will continue supporting each community-based testing site through the transition process to ensure that states can fully manage and operate their sites independently. This includes providing each site with enough supplies to continue operating for seven to 14 days after the agreed-upon transition date.

According to the HHS, advantages for a fully state-managed site include the “potential to expand patient throughput to >250 per day, use a credentialed provider of their choice, and route patient samples to a lab of their choice.”

The HHS said that so far the model for community-based coronavirus testing sites has been a “profound success,” screening more than 84,800 people, testing over 77,000 and having a positive test rate of about 20 percent.

Amazon developing coronavirus testing lab for workers

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SEATTLE — Amazon said Thursday that it is developing a lab to screen its workers for the coronavirus, showing that more visibility into who is infected is essential to returning its business to normal.

Employees in at least 64 of the company’s warehouses and shipping facilities have tested positive for the coronavirus, and workers have spoken out about the risks inherent in their working conditions.

The e-commerce giant has begun assembling the equipment needed to build a facility and said in a blog post Thursday that it hopes to “start testing small numbers of our front line employees soon.” Amazon described the lab as “incremental testing capacity” relative to what governments might set up. It is unclear whether any other employers are working on labs to test their workers.

“Regular testing on a global scale across all industries would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running,” Amazon wrote in its blog post. “But, for this to work, we as a society would need vastly more testing capacity than is currently available.”

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.

Read more here.

After spending six days on a ventilator, David Lat writes: ‘It saved me, but my life is not the same’

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David Lat, the founding editor of Above the Law, is a survivor of the novel coronavirus. In a first-person piece for The Washington Post, he writes:

The ventilator has become an object of national fascination — and controversy. The previously obscure medical device, which mechanically helps patients to breathe, has shot to worldwide fame during the coronavirus pandemic. Many patients with serious cases of covid-19 suffer respiratory failure and will die if they can’t be connected to ventilators.

I should know. I spent six days on a ventilator, in critical condition in the intensive care unit at New York University Langone medical center in New York City. I would not be here today without a ventilator.

On March 16, I was admitted to the hospital with the coronavirus. I had a number of flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, aches and fatigue. But my most serious complaint — as someone who suffered from asthma as a child and has exercise-induced asthma as an adult, albeit managed well with an inhaler — was difficulty breathing.

I spent my first few days in the hospital in stable condition, receiving supplemental oxygen. But on the evening of March 20, I took a turn for the worse. Late that night, I learned that I would need to be intubated, or placed on a ventilator.

This terrified me. A few days earlier, after my admission to the hospital, my physician father had warned me: “You better not get put on a ventilator. People don’t come back from that.”

Read more here.

FDA tells Alex Jones to stop promoting unapproved, misbranded coronavirus cures online

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The Food and Drug Administration told Infowars founder Alex Jones on Thursday to halt the sales of multiple products on his website that falsely claim to cure the coronavirus.

The FDA stated in a letter to Jones that his “Superblue Silver Immune Gargle,” “SuperSilver Whitening Toothpaste,” “SuperSilver Wound Dressing Gel” and “Superblue Fluoride Free Toothpaste,” all of which claim to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose or cure the coronavirus, are “unapproved new drugs.”

“We request that you take immediate action to cease the sale of such unapproved and unauthorized products for the mitigation, prevention, treatment, diagnosis, or cure of COVID-19,” the letter states.

The FDA also listed a handful of videos it wants Jones, the founder of the outlet, which is known for spreading conspiracy theories, to take down. It cited those videos as promoting the use of products that misleadingly claim to be “safe and/or effective for the treatment or prevention of the coronavirus.”

The FDA stated it is taking “urgent measures” to protect consumers from certain products that, without FDA approval or authorization, claim to cure the coronavirus.

The letter also stated that Jones “should take” immediate action to correct the violations cited in the letter. Failure to do so “may result in legal action, including, without limitation, seizure and injunction.”

In late March, Google removed the Android version of the Infowars app from the Google Play online store after Jones made comments about the coronavirus that were seen as false and harmful. This followed a cease-and-desist order issued to Jones in mid-March by the New York State attorney general after Jones was deemed to have made false claims on his website that his diet supplements and toothpaste could be used to fight the coronavirus.

Trump is pushing to reopen much of the U.S. next month

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The Trump administration is pushing to reopen much of the country next month, raising concerns among medical experts and economists of a possible covid-19 resurgence if Americans return to their normal lives before the virus is truly stamped out.

Behind closed doors, President Trump — concerned with the sagging economy — has sought a strategy for resuming business activity by May 1, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Read more here.

Trump says mass testing not needed to reopen the country, contradicting experts

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“It’s not necessary, but it would be a good thing to have,” President Trump said of mass testing for coronavirus on April 9. (The Washington Post)

President Trump on Thursday said mass testing for the coronavirus is not necessary for the United States to get back to normal, contradicting experts who say widespread testing will be key to successfully easing out of social distancing.

Asked how the administration could discuss potentially “reopening” the country when officials and health workers say testing continues to fall short of demand, Trump said at Thursday’s coronavirus task force briefing that “we have a great testing system … the best testing system in the world.”

“It’s not necessary, but it would be a good thing to have,” Trump said of mass testing, which federal officials have struggled to roll out. Tests for 325 million people — about the population of the United States — “is not going to happen,” Trump said.

Vice President Pence’s statements seemed at odds with the president’s on Thursday, as he said that “more widespread testing” — which “we’re scaling up each and every day” — would be important to reopening the country.

According to Pence, more than 100,000 people are being tested for the virus each day nationwide. More than 2 million tests have been performed, he said.

“We’re moving every day toward meeting that moment,” Pence said when asked whether the United States had sufficient testing.

Epidemiologists and infectious-disease specialists, as well as former top agency officials, have put out their own ideas for how to ease back into normalcy — in preprint papers online, via Twitter and in op-eds. The Washington Post reported last month that a consensus had begun to coalesce around several key proposals for an American strategy to move forward while minimizing human and economic casualties.

The flurry of recommendations includes mounting a large-scale contact-tracing effort, widespread testing, building up health-care capacity before easing restrictions, making future quarantines more targeted and allowing those who have recovered to go back to work.

In a self-isolated world, New Orleans musicians fight to beat back the silence

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NEW ORLEANS — The coronavirus turned off the music at the worst possible time of year for New Orleans and the practitioners of its boisterous style.

Festival season was just gearing up — the giant French Quarter Festival was set for this month, to be followed by the even bigger New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Both have been pushed to the fall.

This is a vital three months for the city’s musicians, who, along with New Orleans cuisine, represent the essence of the city to the world. With a total population of about 390,000, New Orleans has 38,000 “cultural workers” with jobs in music venues and restaurants, according to a 2016 study by the city.

“It lets you know that things are different,” said Doreen Ketchens, the renowned jazz clarinetist exiled from her corner on Royal Street to self-isolation in her home. “It lets you know that things can die.”

Insurance companies reducing premiums because of coronavirus pandemic

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Multiple insurance companies are reducing premiums amid the coronavirus outbreak, with companies such as Allstate, American Family, Geico, USAA, Liberty Mutual and State Farm all taking part.

With schools and businesses closed, and many across the country under shelter-in-place orders, people are driving less now, so companies are returning value to customers.

State Farm announced Thursday that a dividend of up to a $2 billion will go to its auto insurance customers. On average, State Farm auto customers can expect to receive a credit of about 25 percent of their premium for the time period March 20 through May 31, though exact percentages will vary by state, according to a news release.

“We see from our claims activity people are driving less,” State Farm president and chief executive Michael L. Tipsord said in a statement. “This dividend is one of the ways we’re working to help our customers during this unprecedented situation."

USAA, the country’s fifth-largest property-casualty insurer, announced Wednesday it will be returning $520 million to its members and that every member with an auto insurance policy in effect as of March 31 will receive a 20 percent credit on two months of premiums in the coming weeks.

“We understand the impact this pandemic is having on our country, and especially our military community and their families, many of whom also are working on the front lines of the crisis. Returning premiums provides timely help for our members,” USAA chief executive Wayne Peacock said in a statement.

Insurers including Allstate and Liberty Mutual are issuing a 15 percent refund on premiums, according to announcements earlier in the week. Geico said Tuesday it would give a 15 percent credit on all policies that come up for renewal between now and October. American Family is issuing a one-time $50 refund per covered vehicle.