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Young and middle-aged people, barely sick with covid-19, are dying from strokes, physicians report. Doctors say some of the patients didn’t even know they were infected. Once thought to be a pathogen that primarily attacks the lungs, the coronavirus has turned out to be a much more formidable foe — impacting nearly every major organ system in the body.

The known coronavirus death toll in the United States has surpassed 50,000, though the true figure is unknown. Experts have called the soaring U.S. toll an “underestimation” because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts only fatalities in which the virus is confirmed in a laboratory test and state health officials have divergent methods for counting covid-19 victims.

Here are some significant developments:

  • President Trump claimed Friday that he was speaking sarcastically when suggested disinfectants might be used inside the human body. The federal government scrambled Friday to stave off a potential wave of public health emergencies sparked by President Trump’s dangerous suggestion.
  • House Democrats plan to act swiftly with the next coronavirus relief package, but President Trump has been unclear about his priorities, creating an uncertain path forward. Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office delivered a grim forecast of the economic trauma that could last into next year.
  • The Food and Drug Administration warned Friday that people should not take chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat covid-19 outside of a hospital or formal clinical trial, citing reports of “serious heart rhythm problems.”
  • AutoNation, a Fortune 500 company that runs a network of auto sellers, received nearly $95 million in federal small-business funds, according to internal company documents and two company employees.
  • Trump said he would not approve an emergency loan for the U.S. Postal Service if it did not immediately raise its prices for package delivery.
  • Trump spoke Friday with the president of Ecuador and pledged to provide the Latin American country with ventilators, a day after health authorities there reported 11,000 new infections due to a delay in testing.

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April 24, 2020 at 11:11 PM EDT

California to pay restaurants to bring free meals to vulnerable seniors

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Friday announced a new state program to pay restaurants to deliver free meals every day to vulnerable seniors, in an effort to boost local businesses and help some of the people most threatened by covid-19.

The first-of-its-kind program will send three free meals per day, seven days a week, to people over age 65 who are below the federal poverty line, have been exposed to the coronavirus, or have compromised immune systems.

Restaurants will be reimbursed for the meals they provide, up to $66 per day. The Federal Emergency Management Administration will cover the first 75 percent of costs, and California will cover the rest.

“Now we have the ability to have a locally driven decision-making to start employing workers and get these restaurants reopened and provide hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of prepared meals every day delivered to our seniors throughout the state of California,” Newsom said.

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the restaurant business in California, where a statewide lockdown remains in effect. The loss of tax revenue has, in turn, gutted local governments’ coffers. Newsom said the new initiative could help replenish some of those funds.

There will be nutrition guidelines for the meals — restaurants will have to avoid dishes that are high in sodium and sugar — and the state will prioritize local produce to help California’s farms, according to Newsom.

The governor encouraged people who think they may qualify to call the meal service’s 211 hotline. “It is not just about the meals," he said. “It is about a human connection.”

The coronavirus has killed more than 1,600 people in California and infected more than 40,000.

By Derek Hawkins
April 24, 2020 at 11:02 PM EDT

Families seek transparency as coronavirus cases at D.C.-region nursing homes pass 2,000

There are at least 255 nursing homes in the District, Maryland and Virginia with coronavirus cases as of Thursday, nearly double the number on April 11. Officials across the region have promised to ramp up testing at facilities and take every possible precaution. But in the meantime, many relatives of residents say they remain in the dark about cases and fatalities where their loved ones live.

The District last week began publishing information about infections at facilities. But Maryland and Virginia refuse to do so, citing patient privacy.

Patients’ families say the lack of comprehensive information makes it difficult to decide how to care for loved ones and can compound their grief when relatives die. Advocates warn that a lack of transparency may allow outbreaks to go undetected and shield facilities that respond poorly to the crisis.

By Rebecca Tan
April 24, 2020 at 10:31 PM EDT

Federal inmates get mixed signals about home-confinement releases amid pandemic

The early release of about 200 federal inmates to home confinement amid the coronavirus pandemic abruptly stalled earlier this week as the Bureau of Prisons and the Justice Department issued shifting, contradictory guidelines, interviews and documents show.

Some inmates already in prerelease quarantine were returned to cells as a result, surprising families who had been contacted about the steps needed for their return. The Justice Department now says the inmates will indeed be released, though others like them might face a harder time going forward.

By Neena Satija and Matt Zapotosky
April 24, 2020 at 10:05 PM EDT

Protest to open Wisconsin draws more than a thousand at state capitol

Hundreds of protesters crowded outside the Wisconsin State Capitol on Friday, flouting social distancing measures and demanding that the state reopen during one of its worst days of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The scene in Madison, which has played out in other cities around the country, drew a crowd estimated by police at 1,500 people on the original date the state’s stay-at-home restrictions were set to expire, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Last week, Gov. Tony Evers (D) extended the order to keep nonessential businesses and churches closed until May 26. A petition to recall Evers circulated among the demonstrators, the Journal Sentinel reported.

Some protesters brandished rifles while wearing camouflage. Others waved American flags or held signs with the message #OpenWisconsinNow.

“Take a look at all these people around you,” an unidentified woman said, projecting her voice through a megaphone. Video footage showed protesters clustered close together.

“No one should be able to make you a decision that impacts your family,” the woman continued. “We are the people.”

Groups across the United States have demanded the reopening of the economy. A Michigan conservative group held a protest April 15 designed to block traffic in the state capital, and other rallies have occurred in North Carolina, Arizona, Kansas, New York, Texas and more.

The Wisconsin demonstration happened on the day the state reported 304 new positive tests for the coronavirus, its largest one-day leap.

On Thursday, nurses preemptively opposed the protest by placing 1,300 electronic candles on the capitol steps, symbolizing the current number of coronavirus hospitalizations in the state, local news reported. The counter-demonstration followed a viral moment involving health-care workers in Colorado this week when a masked nurse in scrubs stood in traffic as a protester yelled from the passenger seat of a truck.

By Candace Buckner
April 24, 2020 at 9:50 PM EDT

Pentagon, under scrutiny about aircraft carrier captain, defers decision on his future

The Pentagon has deferred a decision about the future of an aircraft carrier captain who was relieved of command after he raised concerns about the Navy’s handling of a sprawling coronavirus outbreak on his ship, defense officials said Friday.

The delay comes after days of speculation that the Navy could reinstate Capt. Brett Crozier, who was removed from his job as commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after sending a memo to senior Navy officials that raised alarm about how quickly the service was moving to test and quarantine sailors. Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, has said he was open to Crozier’s reinstatement and recommended it Friday, a person familiar with the discussions said.

By Dan Lamothe
April 24, 2020 at 9:19 PM EDT

Young and middle-aged people, barely sick with covid-19, are dying from strokes

Doctors are treating a growing number of stroke victims in their 30s and 40s who test positive for coronavirus.

The patients are mostly experiencing the most deadly kind of stroke that can obliterate large parts of the brain responsible for movement, speech and decision-making in one blow because they are in the main blood-supplying arteries.

Many researchers suspect such strokes in novel coronavirus patients may be a direct consequence of blood problems that are producing clots all over some people’s bodies. Now for the first time, three large U.S. medical centers are preparing to publish data on the stroke phenomenon. The numbers are small, only a few dozen per location, but they provide new insights into what the virus does to our bodies.

By Ariana Eunjung Cha
April 24, 2020 at 8:52 PM EDT

Trump’s reversal on Georgia reopening highlights growing tensions with Kemp

President Trump was for reopening the state of Georgia before he was against it. After giving Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) the green light to begin lifting his state’s coronavirus restrictions, Trump blindsided him by publicly reversing course and announcing Wednesday that he “strongly” disagreed with the move to allow certain businesses to begin opening in the state.

The president’s rapid about-face added to the sense of confusion about how states should begin restarting economic activity. It also underscored underlying tension between the president and Kemp, who soared to the governorship on a pro-Trump platform and pivotal endorsement but has since resisted the president’s suggestions on some of his most significant decisions as governor.

Read more here.

By Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey
April 24, 2020 at 8:18 PM EDT

Trump administration scrambled to warn against injecting disinfectants after president suggested it

The federal government scrambled Friday to stave off a potential wave of public health emergencies sparked by President Trump’s dangerous suggestion that injecting bleach or other household disinfectants into the body might cure people of the novel coronavirus.

It was only the latest dubious medical tip from a president struggling to contain a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Americans. Within hours came a universal rejection of the president’s hypothesis, as urgent bulletins were issued — including from inside Trump’s own administration — warning the public of potentially lethal dangers.

Read more here.

By Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Lena H. Sun
April 24, 2020 at 8:17 PM EDT

‘Shoulder to shoulder’: Employees at Smithfield meat plant allege in lawsuit that working conditions violate CDC guidelines

A lawsuit filed Thursday against Smithfield Foods on behalf of meatpacking plant employees in Milan, Mo., alleges that working conditions at the facility could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus and are in “direct contravention of CDC guidelines.”

The lawsuit, filed in Missouri by an anonymous Smithfield worker and the Rural Community Workers Alliance, which advocates for meatpacking workers, comes as the coronavirus continues to ravage the meat processing industry — sickening workers and forcing shutdowns of plants around the United States.

Earlier this month, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods announced that a pork processing facility in Sioux Falls, S.D., would close indefinitely because of coronavirus concerns. The shutdowns are estimated to have reduced meat production by as much as 25 percent, The Washington Post reported this month.

Hundreds of workers have tested positive for the coronavirus at that Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, making it a hot spot.

The lawsuit against Smithfield Foods alleges that the company provides workers with insufficient personal protective equipment, “forces workers to work shoulder to shoulder and schedules their work time breaks in a manner that forces workers to be crowded into cramped hallways and restrooms,” among myriad other concerns.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Smithfield Foods Executive Vice President Keira Lombardo denied the claims in the suit and said: “the health and safety of our employees is our top priority at all times.”

“The allegations contained in the complaint are without factual or legal merit and include claims previously made against the company that have been investigated and determined to be unfounded,” Lombardo said. "We look forward to aggressively defending the company in court.”

The lawsuit also says Smithfield has failed to implement a plan for testing and contract-tracing workers who were exposed to the virus. The plaintiffs in the case do not seek monetary damages but are asking for the company to change its practices to align with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the lawsuit said.

“In the last month, America has seen how an employer’s failure to protect its workforce can result in disaster,” the lawsuit reads. “Workers at Smithfield are all too familiar with this phenomenon.”

By Michael Brice-Saddler
April 24, 2020 at 7:55 PM EDT

Las Vegas mayor embraces sunshine as a way to move forward with reopening

Carolyn Goodman, the independent Las Vegas mayor whose confounding plan to reopen the city’s casinos and hotels caused her to go viral this week, pleaded with her constituents in a statement Friday, writing that Las Vegas won’t survive unless it’s at the “forefront of America’s ‘reopening.’ ”

“It behooves me to explain to Americans from the other forty-nine states just how perilous and unique our situation is if our hospitality industry doesn’t open soon,” the mayor wrote.

In her statement, Goodman appeared to latch onto suggestions by President Trump and Vice President Pence that the spread of the novel coronavirus may ebb during the summer months because of how the virus interacts with ultraviolet light, as well as heat and humidity.

“Although it has not been clearly determined as to the effect that extreme warmth will have on the virus, it is assumed that it shall deter its ferocity,” Goodman wrote. “We certainly are looking forward to having our desert heat provide that required substantiation.”

Laboratory experiments, including evidence the Homeland Security Department presented to the coronavirus task force Thursday, show that sunlight and high temperatures can impede the spread of the virus, along with the combination of heat and humidity. Experts caution against thinking the virus will simply disappear during summer months, however.

In addition, casinos and hotels in Las Vegas have controlled climates with air conditioning to keep the dry desert heat at bay, which would still offer opportunities for the virus to spread more readily.

“Las Vegans are smart and courageous,” Goodman wrote. “We need to act first … and we will."

By Michael Brice-Saddler and Andrew Freedman
April 24, 2020 at 7:32 PM EDT

Louisiana’s senior GOP senator offers bipartisan backup to the Democratic governor’s go-slow approach to reopening

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) cautioned against calls to reopen the Louisiana economy on May 1, emphasizing that any decision needs to be “driven by data.”

“I’m a doctor first, before being a senator, and I just know in public health you’ve got to have data,” Cassidy said in a bipartisan united front at Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’s media briefing Friday afternoon. “We should monitor the degree to which others are getting infected, and if it is at an appropriate level, you allow that economy to continue to open. If it goes up, you pull back the reins.”

Edwards has been making a similar case for a cautious, phased reopening as he prepares to announce as soon as Monday what will be permitted once his stay-at-home order expires April 30.

Meanwhile, in a sign that bipartisan sentiment is not universal in this state that President Trump carried by about 20 points, U.S. Rep Clay Higgins (R-La.) on Wednesday demanded in a Facebook post that any restrictions on the economy be lifted at the beginning of May.

“If you’ve been a part of this betrayal of our Constitutional freedoms, if you’re an oppressor, hear ye this,” he wrote. “We, the People, have TOLERATED your actions. We haven’t bowed to it. We’re not trapped in here with you. You’re trapped in here with us.”

Cassidy also addressed concerns from restaurant owners — an important pillar of the economy in New Orleans — about the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. The program gives businesses loans that are forgivable if they use at least 75 percent of money on payroll. Cassidy said he has heard from restaurant owners who say their employees, who are not working, could make more money through unemployment.

“We are advancing that before the treasury, speaking of the special circumstances of restaurants in particular,” Cassidy said.

By Richard A. Webster
April 24, 2020 at 7:14 PM EDT

Supreme Court denies request to revisit case regarding immigrants and Medicaid

The Supreme Court on Friday denied a request to revisit its decision from January allowing the Trump administration to implement regulations that make it harder on immigrants to seek residency in the United States if they’ve used public assistance benefits.

Citing extenuating circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic, leaders in four states had asked the court to suspend the program because, they said, it was making even those legally entitled to benefits such as Medicaid wary of accessing them.

Read more here.

By Robert Barnes
April 24, 2020 at 6:47 PM EDT

Trump left task force briefing without taking questions amid backlash over disinfectant suggestion

After a bruising day of backlash to President Trump’s comments about using heat, light or disinfectants inside the body to cure the coronavirus, the president made the rare move of leaving the coronavirus briefing Friday without taking questions from reporters.

Trump made brief introductory remarks, ceding most of the talking to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and Vice President Pence. He then abruptly exited without a word as reporters yelled questions at his back.

For weeks, the daily coronavirus briefing has been the Trump show — an often two-hour affair in which he would spar with reporters, tout his achievements and dominate prime-time news.

But Thursday evening, Trump’s musing that scientists ought to test whether disinfectants, like bleach, would be effective treatments if used internally created a firestorm as medical professionals, chemical companies and public officials quickly warned Americans against ingesting such products.

He walked the comment back Friday, claiming that he meant it sarcastically. By leaving the briefing without taking questions, he avoided engaging on it further.

For several days, Trump has also declined to answer questions about studies that have shown poor outcomes for hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for covid-19. On Friday the FDA warned against using the drug outside a hospital or clinical trial, citing risk of heart rhythm problems.

By Colby Itkowitz
April 24, 2020 at 6:10 PM EDT

Officials pushed to warn residents about dangers of ingesting disinfectant; Maryland gets 100-plus hotline calls

In response to a remark made by President Trump, officials across the country are having to warn people against ingesting cleaning products. On Friday, after receiving more than 100 calls to its hotline seeking more information about the president’s claim, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency advised residents against using disinfectant products to treat the coronavirus.

“This is a reminder that under no circumstances should any disinfectant product be administered into the body through injection, ingestion or any other route,” the agency tweeted.

The onslaught represented the most calls the state received on any single topic since the coronavirus pandemic began, said Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

During a Thursday briefing, the president speculated about whether disinfectants could be used to fight the virus, not just on surfaces and in the air, but in the human body.

“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” Trump said. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

Though on Friday the president said he was being sarcastic when he made those comments, the retraction did not assuage the concerns of health officials and disinfectant companies.

After Trump’s remarks, the manufacturer of Lysol issued a statement emphasizing that “under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body.”

The Twitter account for the Washington state Military Department and Emergency Management division cautioned: “Please don’t eat tide pods or inject yourself with any kind of disinfectant.”

The Milwaukee Health Commissioner announced that the city will have data on poisonings tied to disinfectant ingestions next week, according to several media reports.

By Ovetta Wiggins, Erin Cox and Candace Buckner