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The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidelines to help protect essential workers in the United States, including taking the workers’ temperatures, wearing masks at all times, and to avoid sharing headsets and other equipment that is used near the face.

In the United States, signs of optimism that the spread of the coronavirus was flattening contrasted with rising death tolls, opposing messages about social-distancing orders, and political frustration.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director-general, said countries should unify or risk worsening the pandemic. His comments came after President Trump on Tuesday threatened to withhold funds from the U.N. agency.
  • New York announced 779 new deaths from the virus, its highest single-day toll, though the state’s number of hospitalized patients is down. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) acknowledged progress but cautioned, “It’s not a time to get complacent.”
  • Ahead of Easter and Passover, Kansas legislators voted along party lines to strike down an executive order that Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly issued the day before, limiting religious gatherings to 10 people.
  • As law enforcement personnel are tasked with making sure citizens comply with unprecedented restrictions on their freedom of movement, coughing ‘attacks’ may be prosecuted as terrorism.
  • A leading forecasting model used by many states and the White House now estimates tens of thousands fewer covid-19 deaths by August. But a separate report to the White House by a panel of medical experts finds that the coronavirus is unlikely to significantly wane with the arrival of summer.

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Trump preparing to unveil second coronavirus task force, officials say

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President Trump is preparing to announce as soon as this week a second, smaller coronavirus task force aimed specifically at combating the economic fallout of the virus and focused on reopening the nation’s economy, according to four people familiar with the plans.

The task force will be made up of a mix of private-sector and top administration officials, including chief of staff Mark Meadows, whose first official day on the job was last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and national economic adviser Larry Kudlow, a senior administration official said.

The second task force adds yet another layer to an already unwieldy bureaucratic coronavirus response process within the White House.

Read more here.

As covid-19 cases mount, flight attendants grow increasingly fearful of flying

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Airlines are slashing flights and parking planes to cope with coronavirus and a drop in air travel. Yet, flights continue to go out nearly empty. This is why. (The Washington Post)

Their public face is smiling and helpful. Greeting passengers and offering words of assurance at a time when things are frightening and uncertain. But in their off hours, via text messages and in private Facebook groups and interviews, the anxiety and fear of flight attendants pour out.

“I am 27 weeks pregnant and a FA,” a flight attendant wrote in a private Facebook group where she and thousands of her colleagues are sharing stories about covid-19. “On Sunday I started coughing and a sore throat, my body and chest aches, but I don’t have any fever and still breathing ok, so that’s my only hope.”

From Jacksonville to Boston to Denver to Los Angeles, flight attendants say they are increasingly fearful and anxious. They have watched as the number of coronavirus cases has skyrocketed. And now with news that one of their own — an American Airlines flight attendant based in Philadelphia — died of covid-19 last month, that fear has deepened.

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Barr calls some restrictions ‘draconian,’ suggesting they should be revisited next month

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Attorney General William P. Barr said Wednesday that some of the government-imposed lockdown measures meant to control the spread of covid-19 were “draconian” and suggested that they should be eased next month.

In an interview with Fox News, Barr, who has long been a proponent of executive power, said the government — and in particular state officials — had broad authority to impose restrictions on people in cases of emergency. But he said the federal government would be “keeping a careful eye on” the situation and stressed that officials should be “very careful to make sure that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified.”

“When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under their bed, but allow them to use other ways — social distancing and other means — to protect themselves,” Barr said.

The White House has advised people to limit the size of social gatherings and practice other social distancing measures through April.

Barr was laudatory of President Trump in the interview, and there was no indication he would legally object to the steps taken by him or state leaders so far. Barr praised in particular Trump’s deference to state officials. But his comments suggest he might harbor some wariness of state governments closing nonessential businesses and ordering people to stay at home in hopes of stemming the spread of the coronavirus.

“I am concerned that we not get into the business of declaring everything an emergency and then using these kinds of sweeping, extraordinary steps,” Barr said. “But given where we were back in March, I think the president made the right decision.”

In a portion of the interview aired later, Barr noted the economics of the shutdown could cost lives. For example, he said, cancer researchers were likely at home now, not doing their critical work.

“We will have a weaker health-care system if we go into a deep depression,” Barr said. “So just measured in lives, the cure cannot be worse than the disease.”

Governor tells brother he had ‘trouble’ during worst day of pandemic in New York

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During the fifth on-air interview between CNN anchor Chris Cuomo and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) — in which the siblings blur the lines of press and public official — their jousting shed light on the politician’s state of mind during the Empire State’s worst day of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, Cuomo shared hospitalization statistics that revealed a potential flattening of the curve but also reported a record 799 deaths in New York in one day. The journalist asked the governor how he could “sell” these two divergent facts to the masses.

“You don’t. It’s hard for me to hear it,” the governor said. “I had trouble today, to tell you the truth, Chris. Talk about mixed emotions.

“You have this theoretical good news,” he said, “and the worst news that you can possibly have with the record number of deaths. How do you hold both of those emotions at the same time?”

As the segment continued, brotherly ribbing commandeered the interview.

Chris referred to his brother as the “Love Gov” for being “soft” on President Trump. To which Andrew responded: “I’ve always been a soft guy. I am the Love Gov. I’m a cool dude in a loose mood. You know that. I just say let it go. Just go with the flow, baby.”

After dramatically rolling his eyes, Chris retorted: “You’ve never said any of those things. … I’ve known you my whole life.”

When pressed on running for president, the governor poked fun at the newsman, who was diagnosed with the coronavirus: “I can tell you’re feeling better because of your animation.”

At the end of the segment, Chris surprised viewers with a black-and-white family photo from the 1970s. Upon seeing the outfit that included bell-bottom pants, Andrew removed the microphone from his lapel: “There are no words,” he said.

Testing sites that lose federal funding may close this week

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Some federally funded coronavirus testing sites across the country may be shut down if states and municipalities can’t keep them running.

The drive-through sites, which are part of the Community-Based Testing Sites program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will lose federal funding this week, NPR first reported. Philadelphia announced it would shut down two of the federally funded sites and disperse tests across the city instead, according to local station WHYY.

However, not all testing sites will close. Dallas confirmed on Wednesday that two sites set to close after Friday will end up staying open through May 30 after the federal government extended its support for those sites.

The Department of Health and Human Services and FEMA did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment, but agency representatives told NPR that the change merely gives states the authority to run the sites.

“The transition will ensure each state has the flexibility and autonomy to manage and operate testing sites within the needs of their specific community and to prioritize resources where they are needed the most,” the HHS representative said.

Coughing ‘attacks’ may be prosecuted as terrorism

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One day in early March, a man named Cody Lee Pfister walked into a Missouri Walmart and filmed himself licking 10 deodorants on one of the shelves. He turned to a phone camera and asked, “Who’s scared of coronavirus?” before sticking out his tongue and dragging it across the containers.

Within days of posting the video, the 26-year-old was charged with making a terrorist threat in the second degree, a felony.

As governors and mayors issue stay-at-home orders and ban gatherings, law enforcement personnel are tasked with making sure citizens comply with unprecedented restrictions on their freedom of movement and, in some cases, their livelihoods, during a crisis unlike any most have ever experienced.

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Birx and Fauci: Theories that the U.S. coronavirus death toll is inflated are inaccurate

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Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci on Wednesday pushed back on conspiracy theories suggesting that the U.S. coronavirus death toll is falsely overcounted, particularly by including people who died of preexisting conditions.

Those ideas, which Fauci described as distractions, have been shared online and by television commentators including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who on his Tuesday night show said he thinks pneumonia deaths have been incorrectly labeled. His guest, former Fox News host Brit Hume, argued that the death toll was exaggerated by people dying of other causes and played a clip of Birx saying at a briefing that “if someone dies with covid-19, we are counting that as a covid-19 death.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Fox host Harris Faulkner played the same comment by Birx.

“How many of those people had other health risks at play, though, and maybe it wasn’t in fact covid-19 that caused their death?” Faulkner said.

Hours later, during the Wednesday coronavirus task force briefing, Birx objected to that argument, which she said was a misinterpretation of data from Italy that showed that patients who died often had co-morbidities.

“Those individuals will have an underlying condition,” she said, “but that underlying condition did not cause their acute death when it’s related to a covid infection.”

Underlying medical conditions do not cause covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but can increase a person’s risk of contracting it and dying of it, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so those conditions should be reported as part of certifying deaths but should not be listed as the condition that led directly to death.

90,000 medical workers volunteered to help in New York, but most are sitting idle

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Every day, he goes online and checks his messages again and again, and every day is the same: no response. George Weinhouse, a 67-year-old retired anesthesiologist, answered the call weeks ago for volunteers with medical experience to help New York weather the worst pandemic since 1918.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Weinhouse was among 89,456 medical volunteers ready to relieve exhausted front line health providers. But just 7,000 have been assigned to a job, leaving about 92 percent yet to be deployed.

“I don’t know what’s going on here. I don’t understand this,” Weinhouse said this week, in the most recent of several telephone interviews with The Washington Post. “I’m waiting and I want to help, and I mean, it’s really frustrating.”

Read more here.

Pelosi urges GOP to continue talks on small business

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held her ground Wednesday and refused to buckle to the Trump administration’s demand for swift congressional approval of $250 billion in additional funds for small businesses, urging Republicans to continue negotiations on more relief to minority-owned companies and others struggling to secure loans during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pelosi’s remarks, in an interview with The Washington Post, left the request by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in jeopardy, with the speaker prepared to wait on action in the House until Republicans move closer to her position. She is calling for changes to the GOP proposal plus another $250 billion that would benefit hospitals and states as they seek to increase testing and buy supplies.

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With police sick, New Yorkers take social distancing — and crowding — into their own hands

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NEW YORK — The Empire State is famous for its cynicism, but this week saw its governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, clinging to a glimmer of hope. In his way.

“You don’t have the right to risk someone else’s life,” he said, as he doubled fines for social distancing violations from $500 to $1,000. The crackdown came upon encouraging signs of abatement here. Social distancing is the answer, Cuomo said, but overcrowding remains a problem. Complaints make up about 30 percent of all calls to the city’s 311 service, a non-emergency version of 911.

Cuomo warned Wednesday that, although the alarming rise in new cases is leveling off and a few hospitals are discharging more patients than they’re admitting, the potential remains for a ferocious resurgence.

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Coronavirus crisis highlights Trump’s resistance to criticism — and his desire for fervent praise

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The pandemic has crystallized several long-standing undercurrents of President Trump’s governing ethos: a refusal to accept criticism, a seemingly insatiable need for praise — and an abiding mistrust of independent entities and individuals.

Those characteristics have had a pervasive effect on the administration’s handling of the crisis, from Trump’s suggestions that he might withhold aid from struggling state governments based on whether he is displeased with a governor to his repeated refusal to take responsibility for shortcomings in the laggard federal response.

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Trip at center of top Navy official’s resignation cost taxpayers over $243,000

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Acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly boarded one of his service’s executive jets Monday to visit Guam — a trip that turned out to be costly for both him and U.S. taxpayers.

During his visit, Modly created an uproar by insulting the former commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, who had raised concerns about how the Navy was handling a coronavirus outbreak on the warship.

For Modly, the trip resulted in his resignation. For taxpayers, the cost of the flight alone was at least $243,151.65, according to a Navy estimate.

The detail emerged amid the continuing fallout from Modly’s recent actions, which include his decision to remove Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, the Roosevelt’s commander. Last week, Crozier wrote a letter to Navy leaders requesting that 90 percent of his 4,800-sailor crew be temporarily removed from the ship in Guam to allow for coronavirus testing and quarantining.

As of Wednesday, 286 members of the crew had tested positive for the virus. Crozier is among them.

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CDC issues new guidelines for essential workers

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Essential workers who have been exposed to the coronavirus will have new safety procedures to abide by, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.

During Wednesday’s White House coronavirus task force briefing, Robert Redfield shared guidelines to keep the “critical workforce working,” which recommend that asymptomatic essential employees wear a face mask at all times. Essential workers should also check their temperature before work and practice social distancing while at work.

Employees are not to report to work if they feel sick. Nor should they congregate in break rooms or share headsets and other items worn on the face. Additionally, employers were advised to check their employees’ temperatures before their shifts and send them home immediately if they become sick.

“We really looked at the essential workforce and how to maintain that workforce,” Redfield said, “particularly at this time as we begin to get ready to reopen and have confidence in bringing our workforce back to work.”

Critical workers include first responders, health-care workers and those employed in the food industry.

Louisiana governor says the virus curve seems to be flattening

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For the third consecutive day, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said that data on new infections and hospitalizations in the state suggest that the curve of the coronavirus’s spread may be flattening — but he warned residents that the number of cases will “spike right back up” if they relax social distancing.

“We do believe we are seeing a flattening of the curve,” he said at a news briefing Wednesday, citing a reduction in the rate of new hospitalizations.

Still, it is too early to be absolutely certain of the trend because of another worrisome statistic: For the second day in a row, Louisiana reported 70 more deaths, the highest single-day total. Many of those people could have died over the past several days and their deaths only reported in the last 24 hours, he said.

Louisiana currently has a total of 17,030 cases and 652 deaths, with 5,070 cases and 208 deaths in New Orleans.

The state is directing medical supplies, such as ventilators, to other parts of the state where the virus is spreading beyond the areas hardest hit around New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

In one measure of the economic toll of the virus, Edwards reported that 277,000 Louisianans had filed for unemployment benefits from March 1 to April 4. In all of 2019, total claims reached 103,000.

With Easter coming, Edwards asked residents to keep their crawfish boils limited to family members already living together in one household. “This Easter is not going to look like previous Easters,” he said, adding that there are other ways to celebrate.

“There was no Easter exemption from the stay-at-home order, there was no Easter exemption from the 10-person limit” for gatherings, he said, “because that virus is not going to honor that.”