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The House on Thursday passed a $484 billion aid package to replenish a small-business loan program that was overwhelmed with demand. Trump has said he will sign the bill, which also includes funding for hospitals and a new coronavirus testing program.

Meanwhile, the official death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in the United States is closing in on 50,000, with the number of total reported cases approaching 862,000. In addition, more than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since the outbreak began to paralyze the economy — a figure that grew by 4.4 million last week, according to jobless figures released Thursday.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Vaccine expert Rick Bright is filing a whistleblower complaint, his attorneys said Thursday. Bright said he was ousted as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority because he resisted efforts to join President Trump in pushing hydroxychloroquine as a potential covid-19 cure.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was criticized by governors from both major parties for suggesting that states hit hard by the outbreak should be allowed to seek bankruptcy protections rather than be given a federal bailout. “This is really one of the dumb ideas of all time,” New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said.
  • More than 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labor Department, a signal the tidal wave of job losses continues to grow during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Donald Reed Herring, the oldest brother of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), died of covid-19 in Oklahoma, Warren said Thursday. He was 86.
  • Millions of Americans are still waiting for their first unemployment check. The growing national backlog, according to a Post analysis, has proved particularly problematic in Florida — where fewer than 7 percent of applicants have received aid.
  • The NFL draft began Thursday night with general managers and coaches from the 32 teams and dozens of draft-eligible players participating remotely, many from their living room couches. Commissioner Roger Goodell asked viewers to participate in a moment of silence for victims of covid-19. Harry Connick Jr. then performed the national anthem from his home.

Sign up for our free coronavirus newsletter | Mapping the spread of the coronavirus: Across the U.S. | Worldwide

3:45 a.m.
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South Africa says it will begin gradually reopening in May

South Africa will begin slowly reopening its economy at the beginning of next month, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday.

In a televised address to the nation, he said the government would begin adopting a five-tier alert system to determine restrictions, ratcheting down from the strictest level starting May 1.

Under loosened rules, people will be allowed to exercise outside under strict social distancing rules and some industries will be allowed to reopen, including much of South Africa’s key mining sector.

Still, borders will remain closed and almost all travel between provinces will remain prohibited. Vendors will be allowed to resume selling cigarettes, though bars, entertainment venues and similar spaces will continue to be closed.

In a nationwide effort that has arguably been unmatched by any other government, South Africa has sent more than 28,000 health-care workers across the country to conduct door-to-door checkups or set up pop-up clinics in the dense, poor communities called townships.

Earlier this month, Ramaphosa announced a $26 billion economic relief package, equivalent to about 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, in what he described as an “extraordinary coronavirus budget."

Elsewhere, officials in Ghana reopened nonessential businesses in the West African nation’s two largest cities, citing ramped-up testing and the lockdown’s devastating impact on its poorest and most vulnerable residents.

3:32 a.m.
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Trump administration considers leveraging emergency coronavirus loan to force Postal Service changes

The Treasury Department is considering taking unprecedented control over key operations of the U.S. Postal Service by imposing tough terms on an emergency coronavirus loan from Congress, which would fulfill President Trump’s longtime goal of changing how the service does business, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Officials working under Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who must approve the $10 billion loan, have told senior officials at the USPS in recent weeks that he could use the loan as leverage to give the administration influence over how much the agency charges for delivering packages and how it manages its finances, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are preliminary.

Read more here.

2:57 a.m.
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Farmers dump food as millions struggle to eat. A federal plan will play matchmaker.

Farmers in the upper Midwest euthanize their baby pigs because the slaughterhouses are backing up or closing, while dairy owners in the region dump thousands of gallons of milk a day. In Salinas, Calif., rows of ripe iceberg, romaine and red-leaf lettuce shrivel in the spring sun, waiting to be plowed back into the earth.

Drone footage shows a 1.5-mile-long line of cars waiting their turn at a drive-through food bank in Miami. In Dallas, schools serve well north of 500,000 meals on each service day, cars rolling slowly past stations of ice chests and insulated bags as food service employees, volunteers and substitute teachers hand milk and meal packets through the windows.

Across the country, an unprecedented disconnect is emerging between where food is produced and the food banks and low-income neighborhoods that desperately need it. Late last week, the Trump administration stepped in, announcing a $19 billion program to help the struggling agriculture sector and distribute food to families in need.

Read more here.

2:23 a.m.
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An inspired photographer, a disrupted senior class and 500 portraits that capture what they lost

Matt Mendelsohn is a Washington photojournalist who has covered campaigns and wars, football games and the red carpet. But last week, amid a pandemic that has shuttered the nation’s schools, he set out to do something completely different: shoot 500 portraits of seniors at one Virginia high school — a project that photographers across the country are now following.

The power in the images Mendelsohn is making of the Yorktown High School Class of 2020 isn’t what the subjects are doing in them, but what they’re not doing.

“There’s a sense of loss in them,” he said. And also a sense of promise.

He’s got the kid who was born on 9/11 and wants to be the first U.S. president with cerebral palsy; the girl adopted from Ethiopia when she was 7 years old who is deaf, and they had a hard time when his face mask prevented her from reading his lips; there’s the chess player, the actor, the dancer.

1:51 a.m.
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Chris Cuomo’s wife says she has bathed in bleach as she recovers from coronavirus

Cristina Cuomo, wife to CNN anchor Chris Cuomo and sister-in-law to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, recently revealed she bathed in Clorox bleach while recovering from the coronavirus, along with using multiple other holistic methods.

Bleach is poisonous if inhaled or swallowed and is a skin irritant. Clorox’s website states bleach “is not recommended for personal hygiene of any kind” and “consumers should always avoid direct skin and eye contacts with both undiluted bleach, as well as prolonged contact with the various bleach solutions we recommend for household cleaning and laundry.”

Cristina Cuomo is the founder and CEO of a wellness publication called the Purist, where she has blogged about her family health and wellness regimens following her diagnosis. Her husband, Chris, revealed he had a positive coronavirus diagnosis on March 31 and later shared that she had one as well. Their 14-year-old son, Mario, also has contracted the coronavirus.

According to her post, she details enlisting a doctor to administer at-home antiviral infusions at her home. The doctor showed up in a hazmat outfit and 3M mask, before administering the multiple infusions.

While stating IVs are costly, she promotes and notes there is a cheaper option for “neutralizing heavy metals”: bathing in bleach.

“I added ½ cup ONLY of Clorox to a full bath of warm water to combat the radiation and metals in my system and oxygenate it,” Cristina wrote.

She also mentions that “household bleach is not chlorine.”

The World Health Organization warned that spraying people with chlorine and other powerful disinfectants can harm their eyes and mouths and “will not kill viruses that have already entered” the body. Bleach and alcohol can be an effective disinfectant on hard surfaces.

1:43 a.m.
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How the House holds a vote during a pandemic

With a white scarf wrapped around her face, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) swooped into the well of the House and took out a green card, signed her name and voted yes. She then headed toward the back of the chamber, serving as a stern enforcer giving orders.

When Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) lingered after casting her vote, Pelosi waved her hands, gloved in medical blue, at her close friend, ordering her to leave quickly.

“Don’t stand there,” she yelled at DeLauro.

So began one of the strangest set of votes in congressional history.

Read more here.

1:38 a.m.
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Emerging evidence shows warm, humid weather could aid containment this summer

President Trump and Vice President Pence showcased emerging laboratory evidence that found the coronavirus is not as durable when exposed to ultraviolet light and hot and humid conditions.

The experiments, carried out by the Homeland Security Department’s Science and Technology Directorate at the Army’s high biosecurity lab at Ft. Detrick, Md., largely match other laboratory studies conducted elsewhere showing that the novel coronavirus, like many other viruses, does not survive as long on certain surfaces when exposed to high ultraviolet light and warm and humid conditions.

The laboratory results show that increases in temperature, humidity and sunlight can all speed up how fast the virus is destroyed, based on measurements of its half-life when exposed to these elements. The half-life is a measurement of the time it takes for a given amount of the virus to become reduced by half.

“So you start with a thousand particles of the virus. In 18 hours, you’re down to 518, hours after that, you’re down to 250 and so on and so forth,” said William N. Bryan, acting undersecretary for science and technology at DHS.

A slide shared by Bryan revealed that the half-life of the virus, in the absence of sunlight, lowers from 18 hours to one hour when the temperature rises from the low 70s to the mid-90s and the humidity rises from 20 to 80 percent.

Adding in sunlight, the virus’s half-life decreases from 18 hours at temperatures of 70 to 75 degrees and humidity of 20 percent to just around 1.5 minutes.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed, and Bryan cautioned that officials cannot rely on summer conditions alone to beat the virus. Warm states, such as Georgia and Florida, are seeing significant outbreaks, as are warm and humid countries, such as Singapore, suggesting the weather may not be a dominant factor in spreading the virus.

Trump said the results may indicate the virus will ebb in the summer, as he had previously suggested but was criticized for due to a lack of scientific evidence. “I hope people enjoy the sun and if it has an impact, that’s great,” he said.

Read more here.

1:25 a.m.
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Trump has been uncharacteristically silent on hyroxychloroquine in daily briefings

For several days, President Trump has refused to answer questions about a study that showed poor outcomes for a drug combination that he previously hailed as a “game changer” for treating covid-19.

Reporters have tried to ask the president about hydroxychloroquine in the daily White House briefings this week, but each time it comes up, Trump moves quickly to the next question — a stark departure from previous briefings, when he would promote the drug unprompted. On April 13, for example, Trump boasted that his administration had “deployed roughly 28 million doses of hydroxychloroquine. . . . We have millions of doses that we bought, and many people are using it all over the country.”

On Tuesday, a preliminary study, which has not been peer reviewed, was posted that indicated hydroxychloroquine had no benefit in patients and was associated with higher rates of death.

At Tuesday's White House briefing, a reporter asked Trump if he had seen the study.

“I don’t know of the report,” Trump said. “Obviously, there have been some very good reports, and perhaps this one’s not a good report, but we’ll be looking at it. We’ll have a comment on it at some point.”

On Thursday, The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker asked Trump why he had stopped promoting hydroxychloroquine.

“I haven’t at all,” the president said. “We’ve had a lot of very good results, and we had some results that perhaps aren’t so good.”

Rucker asked whether he had seen the Veterans Affairs study.

“I have not,” Trump said.

1:04 a.m.
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At remote NFL draft, Roger Goodell says, ‘This is different for us and it’s different for you’

The NFL draft began Thursday night with Commissioner Roger Goodell, the general managers and coaches from the 32 teams and dozens of draft-eligible players participating remotely.

Goodell, speaking from his home in New York state, opened the remote version of the NFL draft. “This is different for us and it’s different for you,” Goodell said, “because it has to be.”

Goodell wore a sports coat and no tie. He stood in front of two screens with NFL Draft 2020 logos. “We will get through this together,” Goodell said. “And when we do, we will be here for you.”

Goodell asked viewers to participate in a moment of silence for victims of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Harry Connick Jr. then performed the national anthem from his home.

12:39 a.m.
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Iowa governor: Tip from Ashton Kutcher led to state’s testing program

Actor Ashton Kutcher helped set up Iowa’s $26 million contract with Utah companies to increase coronavirus testing, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said Thursday at her daily news briefing.

“He asked if I was familiar with what was happening with ‘Test Utah,’ and how it looks very promising, and it looked like other states should potentially take a look at that,” Reynolds said. “He knew one of the individuals that had been working on that was a friend of his, or just a colleague and knew him, and so he said, ‘If you’d like, I’d be happy to connect the two of you.’ ”

On Tuesday, Reynolds announced that the state had launched the “Test Iowa Initiative” to expand testing capacity to limit the spread of the virus in Iowa. The state is partnering with Nomi Health and DOMO, which are part of a partnership that already launched a similar initiative in Utah.

Last week, Iowa signed a $26 million contract with the Utah firms to set up drive-through sites to test Iowans for the virus.

Reynolds said Kutcher, an Iowa native, told her about the testing efforts in Utah during a recent phone call when she was asking him if he would record a public service announcement for the state.

After speaking with the connection from Kutcher and checking in with the Utah government officials, Reynolds said she and her team were impressed with the companies and the testing and decided to move forward.

During Thursday’s White House briefing, Vice President Pence referred to Reynolds and Iowa’s initiative. He said the White House coronavirus task force would convene on a conference Friday where governors such as Reynolds would be discussing the practices and methods they are employing to increase testing, he said.

As of Thursday, there had been a total of 96 coronavirus-related deaths in Iowa and 3,924 confirmed infections, according to the state health department.

12:25 a.m.
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‘Complete disbelief’: Governors blindside front-line staff with abrupt reopening plans

Governors preparing to roll back restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus are in some cases acting without the input and against the wishes of their own medical and emergency management staff.

Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, announced he would let tattoo parlors, hair salons and bowling alleys reopen without receiving guidance from the panel of doctors tapped to advise him and without giving advance notice to regional health departments responsible for carrying out his orders, according to physicians and state officials.

In Utah, the governor lifted a statewide lockdown on elective procedures before his medical supply team had finished estimating how quickly hospitals would exhaust their supply of personal protective equipment, according to members of the state’s response team. In these states, among those moving fastest to jump-start idle economies, plans are proceeding without the full approval of medical professionals and emergency response officials closest to the ground-level unfolding of the outbreak.

Read more here.

12:23 a.m.
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Flight attendants ask government to end leisure travel until pandemic wanes

A union representing 50,000 flight attendants asked the federal government Thursday to use its authority to mandate masks for everyone boarding planes and end all leisure travel until the novel coronavirus pandemic wanes.

In a letter to the departments of Transportation and Health and Human Services, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said, “While this global system is integral to our modern economy, its essential inter-connectedness also provides a convenient pathway for opportunistic pathogens to hitch rides on unsuspecting crew members and travelers and spread all over the world.

“As some of the most frequent travelers, flight attendants feel a deep responsibility to ensure that our workplace risks of acquiring and spreading communicable diseases are minimized as much as possible.”

The letter came the same day United Airlines announced, effective Friday, all flight attendants will wear a mask.

The union is also asking the government to mandate that airlines provide hand-washing stations, sanitizer and disposable gloves.

The union said at least 250 members have tested positive for the coronavirus. Air travel is down about 95 percent compared to this time last year, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

11:43 p.m.
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In multiple interviews, Pence expresses confidence virus will ebb in summer

Vice President Pence has repeatedly expressed confidence the United States will have much of the coronavirus pandemic “behind us” by early summer.

In multiple interviews over the past two days, including Thursday’s White House news briefing, Pence reiterated – while looking at current trends – that by Memorial Day weekend or into early June, he believes the country will “largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us.”

In an interview with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh on Thursday, Pence sounded optimistic: “if current trend lines hold, that by early June, we could largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us, and begin to see our nation open back up and go back to work.”

Pence also stated that there was a “high likelihood” that if people have had coronavirus in the past, they will be able to “enjoy some immunity from it in the future.”

At the Thursday briefing, Pence once again pushed the timeline when discussing the potential “summer respite” from the virus. He also acknowledged the potential return of the coronavirus in the fall. Pence also backed up his early summer timeline by pointing to emerging evidence showing warm, humid weather could aid the containment of covid-19 in the summer.

William N. Bryan, acting undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, discussed the emerging laboratory evidence at Thursday’s briefing.

“[Bryan] will outline, as the president said, encouraging news about the impact that heat and sunlight have on the coronavirus, which will increase the confidence that we feel about the coming summer,” Pence said.

11:30 p.m.
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Trump suggests injecting coronavirus patients with light or disinfectants to cure them

After an administration official presented findings from a lab study that showed direct sunlight helps to kill the coronavirus, Trump had ideas.

“Supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way,” Trump said to Bill Bryan, the undersecretary for science and technology at the Homeland Security Department during the evening White House briefing. He urged him to test it.

The president then mused that perhaps bleach or another disinfectant can also be injected into the body to kill the virus.

“Is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets on the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs,” the president said.

He encouraged Bryan to test that theory too, but noted the government should involve medical doctors on that one.

Trump also reminded everyone that he had once suggested that heat would kill the virus.

“I just threw it out as a suggestion, but it seems like that’s the case, because when it’s on a surface, that would last for a long time. When that surface is outside, it goes very quickly. It dies very quickly with the sun,” Trump said.

Later, the president again mentioned that Bryan should test whether light and heat could be used to cure the coronavirus.

“If you could and maybe you can, maybe you can’t. Again, I say maybe you can. Maybe you can’t. I’m not a doctor. I’m like a person that has a good you know what,” Trump said, pointing to his head.