The latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

President Trump and Vice President Pence are showcasing emerging laboratory evidence that suggests the spread of the novel coronavirus may ebb during the upcoming summer months, owing to how the virus interacts with ultraviolet light as well as heat and humidity.

At the daily press briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Wednesday, the acting undersecretary for science and technology at the Homeland Security Department, William Bryan, detailed recent lab studies carried out by the agency at the U.S. Army’s high biosecurity laboratory at Ft. Detrick, Maryland.

The results, which have not been peer reviewed but were briefed to the press and on live television via slides, largely match other laboratory studies and the suspicions of some researchers by showing that the novel coronavirus, like many other viruses, does not survive as long on certain surfaces when exposed to high amounts of 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.

“It would be irresponsible for us to say summer will kill the virus,” Bryan said, but he called summer conditions “another tool in toolbox” to use against the virus.

Read the full story on the laboratory evidence here.

WHO reports five-fold increase in cyberattacks, including fake charity fund

GENEVA — The World Health Organization is reporting a five-fold increase in cyberattacks against it compared to a year earlier. It cites a rise in scams aiming to draw donations into a fake fund that is wrongly billed as a way to help the COVID-19 response.

The U.N. health agency also cited a “dramatic increase” in cyberattacks against its staff, saying 450 active WHO e-mail accounts and passwords were leaked online this week.

WHO says the leaked credentials did not jeopardize its computer systems because the data was not recent, though the incident did affect an older system.

The agency says it’s working to establish stronger internal systems and improve security, and urged the public to be on the lookout against fraudulent e-mails.

Tyson plant in Washington state to close, test workers

WALLULA, Washington — A Tyson beef plant in eastern Washington state is temporarily shutting down to test workers for the coronavirus.

Tyson says health officials in surrounding counties will test the plant’s more than 1,400 employees. The plant is located in Wallula, near the city of Pasco.

As the number of COVID-19-infected workers at the plant climbed to over 100 this week, family and friends of employees joined together to urge the plant to shut down. Tyson says workers will be paid during the closure.

Somber Congress delivers nearly $500 billion more in virus aid

WASHINGTON — Congress delivered a nearly $500 billion infusion of coronavirus spending Thursday, rushing new relief to employers and hospitals buckling under the strain of a pandemic that has claimed almost 50,000 American lives and one in six U.S. jobs.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California speaks Thursday on the floor of the House of Representatives. House Television via Associated Press

The measure passed almost unanimously, but the lopsided tally belies a potentially bumpier path ahead as battle lines are being formed for much more ambitious future legislation that may prove far more difficult to maneuver through Congress.

The bipartisan measure neared passage as lawmakers gathered in Washington as a group for the first time since March 27, adopting stricter social distancing rules while seeking to prove they can do their work despite the COVID-19 crisis.

Lawmakers’ face masks and bandannas added an somber tone to their effort to aid a nation staggered by the health crisis and devastating economic costs of the pandemic.

“Millions of people out of work,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “This is really a very, very, very sad day. We come to the floor with nearly 50,000 deaths, a huge number of people impacted, and the uncertainty of it all. We hope to soon get to a recovery phase. But right now we’re still in mitigation.”

Anchoring the bill is the Trump administration’s $250 billion funding request to replenish a fund to help small- and medium-size businesses with payroll, rent and other expenses. The payroll program provides forgivable loans so businesses can continue paying workers while forced to stay closed for social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

It also contains $100 billion demanded by Democrats for hospitals and a nationwide testing program, along with a $60 billion set-aside for small banks and an alternative network of community development banks that focus on development in urban neighborhoods and rural areas ignored by many lenders. There’s also $60 billion for small-business loans and grants delivered through the Small Business Administration’s existing disaster aid program.

Read the full story about the new coronavirus spending here.

Louisiana governor: Call for states to seek bankruptcy is ‘grossly irresponsible’

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says it was “grossly irresponsible” for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to suggest states hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak should be allowed to seek bankruptcy protections rather than be given federal aid.

The Democratic governor says he favors Senate legislation co-sponsored by Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, a Republican, that would let states share in part of a $500 billion aid package.

“I’m heartened to say that publicly the president has agreed that in the next phase of coronavirus relief coming out of Congress, states should be included,” Edwards said. “I’m hopeful that the president’s view wins out and that Senator McConnell has a change of heart on this.”

Las Vegas Strip hotel-casino makes plans to reopen in mid-May

LAS VEGAS — A major hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip is making plans to reopen in three weeks if the governor lifts his closure order because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Treasure Island says it will accept reservations for arrivals starting May 15. It has nearly 3,000 rooms.

The hotel’s announcement on its website comes as a record wave of Nevada residents filed new claims for jobless benefits for a fifth straight week, bringing to more than 343,000 the total since casinos and other businesses were closed in mid-March.

Gov. Steve Sisolak says Nevada will take a gradual approach to easing business closures and stay-at-home rules, but he didn’t give any date for how soon that might occur.

New House panel poised to track aid dollars, virus response

WASHINGTON — The House is voting Thursday to create a new subcommittee that will track more than $2 trillion in coronavirus aid, adding another layer of oversight as President Trump’s administration carries out the largest economic rescue in U.S. history.

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Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., sits in the chair and leads the House on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Thursday. House Television via Associated Press

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the new House Oversight and Reform subcommittee is necessary to root out fraud and abuse and to examine the government’s overall response. It will supplement the work of other watchdogs tasked with tracking the dollars, including a committee of inspectors general, a congressional panel of experts and a special Treasury Department official.

The new 12-member panel, with a 7-5 Democratic majority, will also have the power to subpoena Trump administration officials and conduct depositions.

Republicans spoke out against it ahead of the vote, saying it duplicates the work of other committees and will be politicized by Democrats.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the top Republican on the House Rules Committee, said the panel will “simply turn into yet another partisan witch hunt aimed at damaging the president.” Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., said Democrats are creating the panel “because they hate the president of the United States.” And Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., compared it to previous investigations into Russian election interference and last year’s impeachment proceedings and said Democrats were “like a bird dog pointing to a quail. You can’t help yourselves.”

House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said the committee needs to be formed because the president is already undercutting oversight of the economic rescue law. Trump has said his administration will not comply with some of independent oversight requests, and he ousted the official who had been appointed to lead the committee of inspectors general, called the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

Read the full story about the House actions here.

U.S. nursing homes, ravaged by 10,000 deaths, plead for more testing

NEW YORK — After two months and more than 10,000 deaths that have made the nation’s nursing homes some of the most terrifying places to be during the coronavirus crisis, most of them still don’t have access to enough tests to help control outbreaks among their frail, elderly residents.

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Dr. Gabrielle Beger, left, prepares to take a nose-swab sample from Lawrence McGee, as she works with a team of University of Washington medical providers conducting testing for the new coronavirus at Queen Anne Healthcare, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle on April 17. Sending “drop teams” from University of Washington Medicine to conduct universal testing at skilled nursing facilities in collaboration with public health officials is one aspect of the region’s approach to controlling the spread of the coronavirus. Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Neither the federal government nor the leader in nursing home deaths, New York, has mandated testing for all residents and staff. An industry group says only about a third of the 15,000 nursing homes in the U.S. have ready access to tests that can help isolate the sick and stop the spread. And homes that do manage to get a hold of tests often rely on luck and contacts.

“It just shows that the longer that states lapse in universal testing of all residents and staff, we’re going to see these kinds of stories for a very long time,” said Brian Lee of the advocacy group Families for Better Care. “Once it’s in, there’s no stopping it and by the time you’re aware with testing, too many people have it. And bodies keep piling up.”

That became clear in some of the nation’s biggest nursing home outbreaks. After a home in Brooklyn reported 55 coronavirus deaths last week, its CEO acknowledged it was based entirely on symptoms and educated guesses the dead had COVID-19 because they were unable to actually test any of the residents or staff.

At a nursing home in suburban Richmond, Virginia, that has so far seen 49 deaths, the medical director said testing of all residents was delayed nearly two weeks because of a shortage of testing supplies and bureaucratic requirements. By the time they did, the spread was out of control, with 92 residents positive.

Mark Parkinson, CEO of the American Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities, says “only a very small percentage” of residents and staff have been tested because the federal and state governments have not made nursing homes the top priority.

Read the full story about nursing homes here.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s oldest brother dies of COVID-19

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Thursday that her oldest brother died of COVID-19 in Oklahoma.

“My oldest brother, Don Reed, died from coronavirus on Tuesday evening,” Warren said in a tweet, in which she also shared a Boston Globe story about her brother’s death. “He joined the Air Force at 19 and spent his career in the military, including five and a half years off and on in combat in Vietnam. He was charming and funny, a natural leader.”

Donald Reed Herring was 86 and died of COVID-19 three weeks after testing positive for the disease, according to the Globe.

Warren, who ended her presidential campaign last month, frequently talked about her three older brothers on the campaign trail.

Trump’s plan to reopen national parks sparks worry about coronavirus spread

President Trump said his administration is preparing to reopen national parks that were closed to help stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re starting to open our country again,” Trump said Wednesday.

Yet Trump was not clear about which parks would reopen, or when, sparking fears that a rushed return to normal operations could lead to more infections among park workers, visitors and residents in neighboring communities.

Theresa Pierno, head of the National Parks Conservation Association, said her organization has heard from park staff who feel that they do not have the proper personal protective equipment to work while there’s still a threat from the coronavirus pandemic — and do not know when they will get it.

“At many of our national parks, social distancing has already proven to be nearly impossible,” she said. “It’s critical that until it’s safe, parks already closed should remain so.”

The president’s team said any reopening would happen “gradually” and in coordination with the states.

France, soon to lift isolation rules, aims to test 700,000 a week

PARIS — French health authorities said France aims at being able to test 700,000 people for the virus each week when the country will start easing confinement restrictions on May 11.

The head of France’s national health agency, Jerome Salomon told French lawmakers Thursday that France is now able to do about 200,000 tests a week.

A woman enjoys the sun on her balcony with the Eiffel Tower in the background during the France’s nationwide confinement in Saint-Cloud, west of Paris on Wednesday. Associated Press

He said the lockdown exit strategy will include testing all people presenting COVID-19 symptoms. Mobile teams will trace those people with whom they may have recently been in contact. People infected with the virus will be put into quarantine at home or in specific facilities like hotels.

Measures such as social distancing and working at home when possible will be maintained “for several months,” he said.

Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said he hopes that most businesses will be able to reopen on May 11, except for restaurants and cafes. France, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries, is under lockdown since March 17.

 

USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) leads a formation of ships in the South China Sea on March 15. U.S. Navy/MC3 Brandon Richardson

The virus-stricken carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt may help coronavirus researchers

When the coronavirus roared through the claustrophobic bowels of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, it crippled the aircraft carrier, sickened hundreds of its 4,800 sailors and ultimately ended the tenure of the Navy secretary. But the ship’s odyssey is far from over — and the military’s biggest covid-19 crisis could yield an epidemiological gold mine as researchers worldwide race to answer questions about the virus.

At least 777 Roosevelt sailors have been infected, and the rate of asymptomatic infection is about 50 percent, the Navy said Wednesday. In contrast, the general population rate is about half that — as high as 25 percent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

Now, as experts and governors struggle to understand the role of asymptomatic transmission to hone guidance and economic recovery options, the ship infections could reveal clues about how the virus percolates through communities, according to epidemiologists.

Read How the military’s biggest virus crisis could benefit coronavirus research

4.4 million Americans sought jobless benefits last week, as economic pain spreads

More than 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labor Department, a signal that the tidal wave of job losses continues to grow.

It’s the fifth-straight week that job losses were measured in the millions. From March 15 to April 18, 26.5 million have likely been laid off or furloughed. Jobless figures on this scale haven’t been seen since the Great Depression.

The new total comes on top of 22 million Americans who had sought benefits in previous weeks, overwhelming state processing systems. There is no precedent for the velocity of job losses since March. Economists estimate the national unemployment rate sits somewhere between 15 and 20 percent, much higher than during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009. The unemployment rate at the peak of the Great Depression was around 25 percent.

Read the full story on the latest unemployment figures.

In New York’s largest hospital system, 88% of patients on ventilators died

Throughout March, as the pandemic gained momentum in the United States, much of the preparations focused on the breathing machines that were supposed to save everyone’s lives.

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump sparred over how many ventilators the state was short. DIYers brainstormed modifications to treat more patients. And ethicists agonized over how to allocate them fairly if we run out.

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A respiratory specialist operates a ventilator for a patient with COVID-19 St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y. Associated Press/John Minchillo

Now five weeks into crisis, a paper published in the journal JAMA about New York State’s largest health system suggests a reality that confounds early expectations like so much else about the novel coronavirus.

Researchers found that 20 percent of all those hospitalized died – a finding that’s similar to the percentage who perish in normal times among those who are admitted for respiratory distress.

But the numbers diverge more for the critically ill put on ventilators. Eighty-eight percent of the 320 covid-19 patients on ventilators who were tracked in the study died. That compares with the roughly 80 percent of patients who died on ventilators before the pandemic, according to previous studies – and with the roughly 50 percent death rate some critical care doctors had optimistically hoped when the first cases were diagnosed.

“For those who have a severe enough course to require hospitalization through the emergency department it is a sad number,” said Karina Davidson, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell.

The analysis is the largest and most comprehensive look at outcomes in the United States to be published so far. Researchers looked at the electronic medical records of 5,700 patients infected with covid-19 between Mar. 1 and Apr. 4 who were treated at Northwell Health’s 12 hospitals located in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County – all epicenters of the outbreak. Sixty percent were male, 40 percent female and the average age was 63.

Half of Europe’s virus deaths have been in nursing homes

LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office said up to half of coronavirus deaths across the region have been in nursing homes, calling it an “unimaginable tragedy.”

In a press briefing on Thursday, WHO Europe director Dr. Hans Kluge said a “deeply concerning picture” was emerging of the impact of COVID-19 on long-term homes for the elderly, where care has “often been notoriously neglected.” Kluge said health workers in such facilities were often overworked and underpaid and called for them to be given more protective gear and support, describing them as the “unsung heroes” of the pandemic.

Kluge said that while the coronavirus outbreaks in some European countries appear to be stabilizing or decreasing, the pandemic was far from over.

Kluge also noted that about half of the global burden of COVID-19 cases and deaths are in Europe and that in the last week, numbers have increased in the east, citing Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. He said WHO was soon sending teams to Belarus, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan to boost their control efforts.

North Korea claims it doesn’t have a single coronavirus case

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has told the World Health Organization it tested 740 people for the new coronavirus as of April 17 but that all came out negative.

The North also said it so far released 25,139 people from quarantine since Dec. 31, according to Edwin Salvador, WHO’s representative to North Korea, in an email to the Associated Press on Thursday.

Salvador said North Korea’s health ministry has been sharing weekly updates with the WHO on its anti-virus efforts. He says the WHO is engaging with North Korea’s government to bring in the anti-virus supplies, including protective gear and laboratory reagents, from the Chinese border town of Dandong.

He says North Korea is currently bringing in all outside supplies, including COVID-19 related, by ship through Nampo port as all borders remain closed. Goods received are disinfected and quarantined in the port for 10 days. They are additionally disinfected and quarantined for another four days if headed for capital Pyongyang.

The North has said there hasn’t been a single virus case on its territory, but the claim is questioned by many outside experts.

Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” the North has banned foreign tourists, shut down nearly all cross-border traffic with China, intensified screening at entry points and mobilized health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms.


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