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The number of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 2 million worldwide on Wednesday, though experts say the virus has in all likelihood infected far more people. The outbreak has spread across all continents except Antarctica, with a known death toll of 120,000 people. Nearly a quarter of the global deaths have been reported in the United States, including more than 2,400 on Wednesday alone as leaders in Washington and around the country grapple with how to safely lift restrictions.

Here are some significant developments:

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April 15, 2020 at 11:18 PM EDT
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Rep. Steve Scalise says WHO chief should be replaced

By Teo Armus

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Wednesday criticized the World Health Organization and its director, saying that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said should be replaced at the agency’s helm.

“If WHO wants to restore their credibility around the world, the most important first step they can take is by removing Dr. Tedros as their head,” Scalise told the Daily Caller. “But that would just be the beginning.”

In an interview with the conservative news site, Scalise echoed claims from President Trump that the WHO catered to China early in the outbreak. But he also went further, alleging the organization covered up Ebola and other epidemics while defending the “countries that started those diseases.”

There is no evidence that any nation’s government was responsible for creating Ebola, a virus scientists say spread from an animal host, possibly bats.

Trump on Wednesday said he will suspend payments to the WHO for a period of 60 to 90 days, a move that drew praise from some Republican lawmakers but prompted leaders around the world to rally behind the organization.

Other GOP members of Congress have in recent days called for Ghebreyesus to testify about the agency’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

April 15, 2020 at 10:59 PM EDT
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WWE announces layoffs two days after Florida deems company an ‘essential business’

By Jake Russell

As part of sweeping changes amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, World Wrestling Entertainment announced Wednesday its decision to lay off a number of employees, including wrestlers and producers such as Kurt Angle and Rusev.

The company said in a release that it would reduce executive and board member compensation; decrease operating expenses; cut talent expenses, third-party staffing and consulting; furlough a portion of its workforce; and defer spending on the build-out of the its new headquarters for at least six months.

These moves come two days after WWE was deemed an “essential business” in the state of Florida.

Read more here.

April 15, 2020 at 9:53 PM EDT
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Nicaragua president defends decision to keep economy open despite pandemic

By Ismael Lopez Ocampo and Mary Beth Sheridan

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega appeared on live television on Wednesday after a mysterious, five-week-long absence, and defended the government’s strategy to keep economic activity going despite the covid-19 pandemic.

The 74-year-old Sandinista leader gave no reason for his disappearance, which had fueled rumors that he was ill or even dead.

Ortega said that Nicaragua had the fewest number of coronavirus cases in Central America. Authorities have confirmed only nine cases, one of them fatal. The government has encouraged people to continue going to rallies and the beach and carrying out normal activities — an approach criticized by the Pan-American Health Organization.

Independent doctors have questioned the government’s figures, saying few tests have been done.

“We have fought coronavirus in a responsible way,” Ortega said. “We haven’t joined a stampede, if we had, we’d have the same result as people do in stadiums, we’d be crushed.”

The former leftist guerrilla said that peasants should keep working because it was necessary to produce food and “we’re not going to die of hunger.”

Ortega’s wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, had been giving daily interviews and updates on the covid-19 epidemic during his absence.

April 15, 2020 at 9:36 PM EDT
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Police found 17 bodies at a New Jersey nursing home, New York Times reports

By Meryl Kornfield

Police found 17 bodies being stored in a small morgue at the long-term-care facility Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center in New Jersey, the New York Times reported.

The morgue was meant for four bodies. The facility has been linked to 68 total coronavirus deaths, including the deaths of two nurses.

“They were just overwhelmed by the amount of people who were expiring,” Eric C. Danielson, the police chief in Andover, told the newspaper.

The facility didn’t immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment.

New Jersey Gov. Philip D. Murphy (D) is one of several state officials to call for a look at these facilities after the pandemic passes.

Nursing homes have been hot spots for coronavirus cases in states across the country. Federal health officials have faced mounting pressure to start tracking coronavirus cases and deaths in nursing homes and make that information available publicly.

April 15, 2020 at 9:19 PM EDT
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Trump loyalist Michael Caputo joins HHS to sharpen White House message

By Steven Goff

Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo is joining the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee public affairs, a move suggesting the White House wants greater influence over Secretary Alex Azar, who reportedly has clashed with the president over policy during the pandemic.

Azar confirmed the appointment, tweeting, “I’m delighted to have Michael Caputo join our team at @HHSGov as our Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, especially at this critical time in our nation’s public health history.”

HHS has had four communications directors in three years. Ryan Murphy served as the acting assistant secretary since October after Judy Stecker was promoted to deputy chief of staff.

Although Caputo has not been involved in pandemic strategy, he hasn’t hesitated in targeting Democrats for their criticism of the president during the crisis. In one since-deleted tweet, he wrote: “For the Democrat 2020 victory strategy to work, 100,000+ Americans have to die.”

April 15, 2020 at 8:53 PM EDT
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What you need to know from Wednesday’s White House briefing

By Amber Phillips

Each day, President Trump speaks at a White House coronavirus briefing. Here are some of the things he said on Wednesday:

  • Trump did not deny emerging reporting that the virus emanated from a Chinese lab
  • Trump will announce new guidelines to reopen the economy Thursday
  • Trump is threatening to force the Senate out of session to make recess appointments related to coronavirus

Read the full briefing rundown here.

April 15, 2020 at 8:40 PM EDT
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Coronavirus could halt large gatherings in Los Angeles until 2021, mayor says

By Meryl Kornfield

Los Angeles may hold off on allowing large gatherings like sporting events and concerts until 2021, Mayor Eric Garcetti predicted.

“It’s difficult to imagine us getting together in the thousands anytime soon,” Garcetti (D) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “ ... I think we all have never wanted science to work so quickly.”

He said he isn’t the first mayor or elected official to express the same expectation, naming New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D). Garcetti said it would likely take developing a vaccine or herd immunity to ensure the safety of gathering en masse.

“Public health officials have been very clear, we’ve got many, many miles to walk before we’re going to be back in those environments,” he said.

Garcetti’s estimation was first reported by the Los Angeles Times, which obtained an email from the chief of the fire department quoting Garcetti’s comments during a conference call. He said it wasn’t a secret.

April 15, 2020 at 8:34 PM EDT
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Despite elevated numbers of deaths, Louisiana continues to flatten the curve of new infections

By David Montgomery

Louisiana reported its second-largest death tally from covid-19 Wednesday, a day after marking its highest daily total.

There were 90 new deaths, for a total of 1,103, and 21,951 cases statewide, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said at a news briefing. New Orleans reported 11 more deaths, for a total of 287, and 5,769 cases in the city.

Deaths are a tragic “lagging indicator” of the spread of the virus, Edwards said, occurring an average of 11 days after a person shows symptoms and even longer after the person is infected. Other evidence — such as a slight reduction in hospitalizations, fewer people on ventilators and a slower growth in the number of new cases — suggests the state continues on a path out of the most intense period of infections.

“We certainly have flattened the curve, but it doesn’t take much for these cases to spike,” Edwards said, referring to the need to continue strict social distancing and good hygiene to maintain the hopeful trend.

Separately, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) announced that she was extending her order closing businesses, canceling large gatherings and making people stay at home as much as possible until the morning of May 16.

So far, Edwards has not extended the statewide stay-at-home order beyond April 30.

April 15, 2020 at 8:19 PM EDT
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Trump administration is paying third-party vendors a premium for N95 masks

The Trump administration has awarded bulk contracts to third-party vendors in recent weeks in a scramble to obtain N95 respirator masks, and the government has paid the companies more than $5 per unit, nearly eight times what it would have spent in January and February when U.S. intelligence agencies warned of a looming global pandemic, procurement records show.

The N95 masks are essential protective gear for health-care workers and others at elevated risk of coronavirus infection, and the government has recommended that people across the country wear masks and other face coverings when outside. Demand for the masks has created a frenzied, freewheeling global market that has pitted U.S. states against the federal government and rich nations against poorer ones.

Read more here.

April 15, 2020 at 7:55 PM EDT
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Half of U.S. states will not reopen schools this academic year

By Steven Goff

With Tennessee and Louisiana announcing Wednesday that schools will remain closed the rest of the academic year, half the states have now given up hope of welcoming back students.

Governors in most of those 25 states have ordered closures, while some, such as Tennessee’s Bill Lee, have recommended it. Lee said he expected all school districts to follow his recommendation.

Closures in California, Idaho, Maine and South Dakota were also recommended, but not ordered, by the respective governors.

In Louisiana, students in the 69 districts will finish the school year via online classes. Private schools there set their own rules but have followed Gov. John Bel Edwards’s lead throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

No states are planning to reopen schools before April 23, a date currently targeted by Wisconsin. Maryland schools are shut until at least April 24. The District of Columbia will not reopen before May 15, Mayor Muriel Bowser said Wednesday.

April 15, 2020 at 7:42 PM EDT
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Birx: Decline in new U.S. cases over past week shows social distancing is working

By Meryl Kornfield

Americans staying home have slowed the spread of the coronavirus in the past week, especially in certain states, Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said at a briefing Wednesday.

Birx said numbers of new cases have declined over the past five to six days. In nine states, there have been fewer than 1,000 cases and less than 30 new cases a day in each state, she said.

California, Oregon and Washington state “never really had a peak because of the [social distancing] their populations did,” she said.

But other areas are rising hot spots, Birx warned. She said Rhode Island is concerning because of its proximity to New York and Boston, which were both flooded with cases.

Birx said the positive numbers, however, shouldn’t inspire social gatherings.

“To all of you that are out there that would like to join together and just have that dinner party for 20 — don’t do it yet,” she said.

April 15, 2020 at 7:35 PM EDT
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Trump avoids answering if the U.S. believes the coronavirus emanated from a Wuhan lab

By Meryl Kornfield

President Trump wouldn’t say if reports that the coronavirus emanated from a lab in Wuhan that had safety issues were true after a reporter pressed him at Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing.

Fox News reporter John Roberts cited “multiple sources” who said the United States was confident that the virus emanated from a virology lab in Wuhan. Roberts asked if Trump had heard that the lab had lax safety protocols and that an intern who passed the infection to her boyfriend, and then went to the fish market in Wuhan where the first known cases were tied.

“More and more we’re hearing the story, and we’ll see,” Trump said, without confirming or denying its authenticity.

“When you say multiple sources, now there’s a case we can use the word sources,” he said, referring to how he has previously discounted journalism that cites unnamed sources.

Roberts followed up asking if Trump had brought up the lab with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I don’t want to discuss what I talked to him about the laboratory,” Trump said before calling on another reporter. “It’s inappropriate right now.”

The idea that the virus was man-made or came from a lab has been propelled by conspiracy theorists on the Internet. Pew Research Center found that a third of Americans surveyed believe the virus came from a lab.

“There’s absolutely nothing in the genome sequence of this virus that indicates the virus was engineered,” Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, told The Post in February. “The possibility this was a deliberately released bioweapon can be firmly excluded. ”

April 15, 2020 at 7:11 PM EDT
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Trump threatens to adjourn Congress to get his nominees through

By Colby Itkowitz and Erica Werner

President Trump threatened to shut down both chambers of Congress to allow him to fill vacancies in his administration without Senate approval.

He spent several minutes of his daily coronavirus briefing Wednesday blaming Senate Democrats for blocking his nominations, even though most of the vacancies in the federal government are because Trump hasn’t selected anyone to fill them. Several of his nominees haven’t been given a confirmation hearing yet in the Republican-led Senate.

Trump cited a never-exercised power the Constitution grants the president to adjourn Congress if leaders of the House and Senate can’t agree on whether to adjourn. The Senate often recesses but stays open in a “pro forma” session, which thwarts Trump’s ability to make recess appointments that bypass the regular confirmation process.

Read more here.

April 15, 2020 at 6:35 PM EDT
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In Britain, a pregnant nurse who contracted coronavirus died but delivered her daughter safely

By Siobhán O'Grady

A pregnant nurse who contracted coronavirus died in a British hospital Sunday, but her daughter was delivered safely through a Caesarean section, British media reported.

Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, 28, worked at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital in southeast England. The National Health Service worker tested positive for the virus April 5 and was admitted to the hospital April 7, David Carter, CEO of the Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said in a statement.

Carter said Agyapong worked at the hospital for five years and “was a highly valued and loved member of our team, a fantastic nurse and a great example of what we stand for.”

It was not clear how she contracted the virus. A spokesman for the hospital said in an email that she last worked March 12 in a ward that was not handling coronavirus patients and that her baby is doing “very well.”

Agyapong is one of a growing number of health workers to die after contracting the virus, and her death has garnered social media attention across Britain as an example of the tremendous risk the pandemic poses to those on the front line. Last weekend, Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, said that at least 19 NHS workers had died since the outbreak began. Some British news outlets have reported higher figures.