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The White House released new guidance Thursday afternoon for states to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. The guidance doesn’t lay out a specific timeline for relaxing social distancing restrictions. It lists a set of criteria — such as testing and hospital capacity — for local leaders to use in making decisions.

Here are some significant developments:

  • China said its economic output fell by an annualized 6.8 percent in the first quarter. That drop marks the first contraction since the country began releasing figures in 1992, showing the devastating economic effects of the pandemic.
  • Glitches are preventing millions of Americans from receiving their stimulus payments on time. Meanwhile, a new lending program for small businesses has stopped accepting claims because it is out of money.
  • Draft guidance on reopening from the CDC and FEMA were detailed about things like day cares, churches and workplaces with vulnerable employees, but those specifics did not make it into the White House guidance. At the Thursday White House briefing, Trump said some states would be able to take the first steps to reopen “tomorrow.”
  • The U.S. labor market is tumbling closer to Depression levels, with an additional 5.2 million people filing for unemployment benefits last week. A staggering 22 million Americans have filed jobless claims over the past month.
  • Thousands of complaints have been filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over coronavirus safety lapses, including a lack of masks and working in close quarters.
  • Japan expanded its state of emergency to cover all 47 prefectures as infections spread.
  • British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that his country’s lockdown would be extended for at least three more weeks. And Italy’s Civil Protection Agency announced 525 deaths, increasing the death toll in the country to 22,170.

Pandemic delivers crushing blow to China’s economy

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The coronavirus pandemic is sending China’s economy, long the world’s growth engine, into a tailspin.

Gross domestic product fell at an annual rate of 6.8 percent in the first quarter, the first contraction since the country began releasing GDP figures in 1992, official data showed Friday. That’s a dramatic reversal for the world’s second-largest economy, which had been slowing in recent years but had still achieved growth rates of close to 6 percent or more.

China’s leaders locked down swaths of the country in late January to prevent the spread of infection, weeks after the coronavirus emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year.

As the virus spread around the globe, the ruling Communist Party has pressed to get business gradually returning to normal without unleashing a second wave of domestic virus transmissions. That is proving to be a challenge, as many restrictions remain in place. More recently, Beijing has grown concerned as imported cases trickle in from abroad, notably among Chinese nationals returning from Russia.

Businesses that have resumed operations have often faced higher costs associated with hygiene measures and supply-chain disruptions. And with export markets in the United States and Europe facing Great Depression-style downturns and millions out of work, China’s policymakers face an uphill battle to right the ship.

Asian markets traded higher earlier Friday and were little moved after China’s GDP figures came out. Japan’s Nikkei, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 indexes were each about 2.5 percent higher, while U.S. stock futures were up more than 3 percent.

China cracks down on shoddy mask manufacturing amid criticism of defective products

5:59 a.m.
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Chinese authorities are cracking down on fraudulent activity involving face masks, arresting dozens of people for hoarding materials and driving up prices, and closing down a factory accused of making substandard masks.

China is a key producer of surgical masks and the advanced N95 masks used by medical workers, but countries that have bought Chinese masks and test kits, including the Netherlands and Spain, have rejected tens of thousands of them for being defective.

A total of 42 people were arrested across four provinces for criminal activities involving the fraudulent production and sale of melt-blown fabric, the synthetic polymer material used to filter out particles. Melt-blown fabric is in short supply globally because of skyrocketing demand for masks and the relative difficulty in producing the nonwoven fabric.

China’s Ministry of Public Security arrested the people in Guangdong and three other provinces for hoarding and trying to drive up prices, seizing material worth almost $5 million, the ministry said in a statement Friday.

“The public security organs will always maintain a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to crimes involving protective materials related to the epidemic,” an unnamed ministry official said.

Separately, Jiangsu provincial officials shut down factories producing melt-blown fabric in the city of Yangzhong after reports they were producing inferior-quality masks for export.

The city, northwest of Shanghai, had seen a sudden proliferation of melt-blown fabric producers as prices for the material skyrocketed. The wholesale price of melt-blown fabric has increased from $2,260 to as much as $97,500 per ton in less than six months, according to the Yicai financial news website.

The Commerce Ministry has also revoked the licenses of two exporters of personal protective equipment that it said were tarnishing the image of “Made in China.” One of the companies, Shenzhen-based AIPO, was producing earphones and microphones until it switched to producing face masks, disinfectant and protective suits in February. The other, Beijing-based Tus-Digital Group, had been a blockchain tech firm.

A total of 3,517 people have been arrested for epidemic-related criminal offenses since the outbreak, according to the Supreme People’s Procurate, the highest prosecutorial agency in China. These included people who had refused to wear masks or had obstructed officials.

Michael Cohen’s attorney says Trump’s ex-lawyer allowed to leave prison due to pandemic

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A lawyer for Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, claimed Thursday that he had been informed by Cohen’s family that Cohen would be released to home confinement as part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ push to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Roger Adler, a lawyer for Cohen, said that he had filed paperwork with prison officials seeking “compassionate release” for Cohen during the global health pandemic because Cohen had “an underlying medical condition that he has been hospitalized for.” He said it was his “understanding from speaking with a family member” that the request had been granted, and that Cohen would soon be moved to home confinement.

The Washington Post could not immediately verify the assertion with government officials. The lawyer’s claim was first reported by CNN.

A Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman said in a statement, “I am unable to address any specific offenders suitability for home confinement.” Neither the Justice Department nor the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which prosecuted Cohen, could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

Read more here.

College students are rebelling against full tuition after classes move online

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His professors adapted swiftly to the campus closure. His classes are continuing online. He expects to graduate on time this spring from Johns Hopkins University, albeit without the pomp of commencement.

Yet Pavan Patel wonders why he and others at the private research university in Baltimore are not getting at least a partial tuition refund. Their education, as this school year ends in the shadow of a deadly pandemic, is nothing like the immersive academic and social experience students imagined when they enrolled.

But tuition remains the same: $27,675 per semester.

Patel, the school’s senior class president, and other student government leaders sent a letter to the university recently asking for a 25 percent refund, or nearly $7,000 per student. They are part of a growing rebellion against colleges and universities that refuse to cut tuition at a moment of financial peril.

Amid unprecedented economic downturn, China braces for long-term challenges

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China said on Friday that its economic output fell at an annualized 6.8 percent in the first quarter, the first contraction since the country began releasing the figures in 1992. The figures offer a glimpse into wider challenges. Massive stimulus from China helped stave off a deeper global downturn in 2008, but this time a return to business requires more than cash. The adversary is a microscopic one that thrives on many of the most cherished forms of ­economic consumption: movie theaters, live concerts and, yes, even tongue-obliteratingly-hot hot pots.

“This is a long-term change,” said Chiara Capitanio, a Beijing-based advertising executive. “Brands will need to rethink their business models.”

Read more here.

Doctor who sounded the alarm about covid-19 is now a children’s book hero

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Li Wenliang, the doctor revered by people across China after trying to warn the public about the virus that eventually took his life, is now the subject of a children’s book.

Author Francesca Cavallo told CNN that she penned the book, titled “Doctor Li and the Crown-Wearing Virus,” as a way to help parents discuss the virus with their children. Though the illustrated tome has a specific target audience, its true-life inspiration did not experience a happy ending.

In late December, Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, sent what he believed to be a private message to several peers. Li wanted to caution them about a new virus that was similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) sweeping through Wuhan. In January, police detained Li for allegedly spreading “false comments.”

Upon his release, Li returned to work, where he contracted the virus. He shared his story on a popular Chinese social media site, but on Feb. 7, he died of complications caused by covid-19.

Since his death, Li has been mourned as a hero who tried to warn the world about the pending pandemic. Even China’s Communist Party gave Li the highest state honor as a “martyr,” despite previously censuring him and attempting to downplay the effects of the virus.

In the book, Cavallo equates Li’s story with the significance of heeding to science.

“In different ways, this is the same thing that happened to many other scientists and doctors in other countries,” Cavallo said, according to CNN. “Leaders refused to listen to the scientists and the doctors, and that caused huge delays and made the crisis so much worse.”

Biden criticizes the White House for not taking the lead on testing

1:50 a.m.
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Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, dismissed the White House’s new guidelines for how to reopen the country and accused President Trump of passing off the tough decisions to the states.

“Well, I wouldn’t call it a plan. I think what he’s done he’s kind of punted, he’s decided he doesn’t have the right to make the call for the country,” Biden said during an interview on CNN on Thursday night.

After claiming total authority to lift safety restrictions earlier in the week, Trump now says it’s up to governors to figure out plans for their states.

The former vice president said the medical experts he’s receiving counsel from have told him that testing capacity is key and that the country is “way behind” where it needs to be. He suggested that the federal government set up a “Pandemic Production Board” to coordinate testing.

“I mean, it seems to me there ought to be something that focuses on how we get as many tests as possible to allow some elements of the economy, some elements of society, to be able to get back to some sort of normal,” Biden said.

Burials on Hart Island, where New York’s unclaimed lie in mass graves, have risen fivefold

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Video from Reuters and AP on April 9 showed laborers burying coffins on Hart Island in New York. (The Washington Post)

NEW YORK — Desolate Hart Island, a mile-long stretch of dirt off the Bronx, has taken New York City’s unclaimed dead for 151 years: Civil War soldiers, stillborn babies, the homeless and AIDS patients, who were confined to the island’s southernmost tip for fear that their little-understood virus might spread from their corpses.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the mass-grave burials of indigent New Yorkers whose families could not be found or who could not afford a private funeral have quintupled, officials said, growing from an average of 25 per week to 120. They’re happening five days a week now instead of one. And Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office confirmed “it is likely” that people who have died of covid-19, the savage respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are among those being interred.

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Meat processing plants are closing, and beef shortages may follow

1:22 a.m.
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The coronavirus has sickened workers and forced slowdowns and closures of some of the country’s biggest meat processing plants, reducing production by as much as 25 percent, industry officials say, and sparking fears of a further round of hoarding.

Some of the slowdown is because of facility closures. Two of the seven largest U.S. facilities — those with the capacity to process 5,000 beef cattle daily — are closed because of the pandemic. Absenteeism, fewer employees and spreading out those remaining employees to maintain social distance are also contributing to the slow down.

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Santa Monica hospital suspends nurses for refusing to work without proper protection

12:53 a.m.
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A Santa Monica hospital has suspended 10 nurses who refused to work in a coronavirus ward with what they considered “inadequate” protection, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Three of the nurses have been suspended from St. John’s Medical Center since last Friday, the Times reported. That’s the same day they learned a co-worker working in the coronavirus ward had tested positive for the virus, the story says. A representative from St. John’s was not immediately available for comment late Thursday.

“We told them we’re willing to reuse the same mask all day long and cover it up with a surgical mask, just issue us one mask a shift,” Jack Cline, one of the suspended nurses, told the Times. “That’s all what we’re asking for.”

The Times said the hospital declined to discuss the specific situation but did send this statement: “We are so grateful for the heroic work our nurses perform each day and will not let the actions of a few diminish the appreciation we have for all our nurses and their commitment to our community. … Saint John’s cherishes its nurses and is taking precautions sanctioned by leading world, national, state and local health agencies to ensure their safety.”

“I’ve been a nurse for 25 years; I don’t need the CDC to tell me when I need an N95,” Cline told the Times. “When I have a patient coughing directly in my face … I’m not going into that room unless they provide me with one.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention had originally suggested all medical providers wear N95 masks while treating or testing patients for the coronavirus. The CDC has since softened those guidelines, a possible measure to maximize a limited supply of masks.

Dr. Oz apologizes for Fox News coronavirus comments

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When Fox News host Sean Hannity wondered what would it take to reopen the country, he turned to his trusted source on all things medicine and science: Mehmet Oz, the surgeon and TV personality better known as Dr. Oz.

“First, we need our mojo back,” Oz said Tuesday night, in a soundbite that has since gone viral. He suggested that some things could be opened “without getting into a lot of trouble,” such as schools. “I tell ya, schools are a very appetizing opportunity,” he said, adding that resuming classes, according to his reading of a new medical journal analysis, “may only cost us 2 to 3 percent in terms of total mortality.”

That death rate, he concluded, “might be a trade-off some folks would consider.”

His suggestion sparked an enormous response on social media — prompting his somewhat apologetic statement late Thursday: “I misspoke,” he said in a video released on Twitter , acknowledging that his words had “confused and upset people.” The goal, he said, was to discuss “how do we get our children safely back to school” as he is “being asked constantly how will we be able to get people back to their normal lives.”

Read more here.

Clinical trial for coronavirus drug treatment shows small but encouraging results

12:09 a.m.
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Most of the Chicago-area patients assessed in a small clinical trial of an antiviral medicine to combat the novel coronavirus have been released from the hospital, according to a report from STAT News.

In experiments conducted by Gilead Sciences over several weeks at the University of Chicago, 125 patients with cases of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, were administered the drug remdesivir. Among the group, 113 were deemed to have a “severe” case of the disease.

However, Kathleen Mullane, the University of Chicago infectious diseases professor, informed faculty members this week that “most of our patients have already been discharged,” according to the website.

Two patients within the clinical study died from complications of the disease.

The group received daily treatments as part of two Phase 3 trials. Some showed marked improvement and came off ventilators a day after receiving therapy, Mullane told faculty members. The experiment, however, did not include a placebo group.

“It’s always hard,” Mullane said, according to STAT, about not having a control group to compare and contrast results, “but certainly when we start [the] drug, we see fever curves falling.”

The experiment – small in scope, yet encouraging – mirrors separate trials conducted by Gilead on 53 patients worldwide, including 22 in the United States. The “compassionate-use” administration of remdesivir resulted in 57 percent of the patients being removed from ventilators and 47 percent of the patients being discharged from the hospital. Seven of the 53 patients (13 percent) died from the disease.

White House guidelines on reopening are less detailed than CDC and FEMA guidance

11:42 p.m.
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White House guidelines on how states can reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic are far less detailed than guidance drafted recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The blueprint from those agencies was sent to the White House coronavirus task force.

In recent days, White House officials had asked the CDC for detailed guidance on reopening in four settings: schools and day camps; child-care facilities; workplaces with vulnerable employees; and faith communities, according to a federal official involved in the response who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

The CDC provided “long bulleted lists with a page-and-a-half of specific guidance for each setting,” said the official, who has seen the CDC guidance.

For example, the CDC guidance for houses of worship included recommendations for plans to protect staff and congregants from infection, to make worship services available for remote viewing and to remove hymnals and bibles and other items that can be shared. The CDC guidance also called for modifying religious rituals and services and the collection of financial contributions.

By comparison, the White House-issued guidelines state that places of worship can operate under “strict physical distancing protocols” in phase 1, under “moderate physical distancing protocols” in phase 2 and under “limited physical distancing protocols” in phase 3. The White House provides no additional specifics.

The initial reaction from state health groups was generally positive.

“We are glad that the proposal leaves the ultimate decision to reopen to the states that are currently developing similar reopening plans,” said Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

But much more detail is going to be needed to safely guide reopening efforts in specific industries and in different communities, Fraser said. “The key to reopening is going to be a public willing to follow these guidelines for many more months, and a robust effort to test for covid-19 and a contact tracing workforce to contain new outbreaks,” he said. “Unfortunately, no state has the covid-19 testing and contact tracing capacity needed to safely reopen in two weeks,” he said, adding that states are working hard to expand that capacity as quickly as possible.

Guatemala says it won’t accept deportees from the U.S. ‘until further notice’

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MEXICO CITY — Guatemalan officials on Thursday said that on a single flight of deportees this week, 44 of 76 passengers tested positive for the coronavirus.

Guatemala will no longer accept deportees from the United States, one official said, “until further notice.”

This week’s flight marks the second time in the past month that a flight of deportees was full of passengers infected with the virus. On a March deportation flight, roughly 75 percent of the passengers tested positive, Guatemalan Health Minister Hugo Monroy said.

The United States has insisted on continuing deportations throughout the pandemic, attempting to reassure Guatemalan officials by implementing new health protocols before deportees boarded planes.

But the coronavirus has spread in a number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities over the past month, raising questions about the danger of deporting people who might have been exposed to the virus.

“Unless deportees have access to testing prior to boarding the plane, there is no guarantee that they are not at risk of spreading the virus to others on the plane or to their families once they arrive home,” said Rachel Schmidtke, Refugees International’s advocate for Latin America.

With deportations to Guatemala paused, it is likely that those who would have been sent back to their home country will remain longer in ICE facilities.