The latest on the coronavirus pandemic around the U.S. and the world. 

Confirmed coronavirus infections around the world surged past 2 million on Wednesday, with nearly a third of those in the United States, where more than 28,000 people have died in recent weeks.

But even on a day that brought more than 2,400 American deaths, the highest one-day total so far, leaders in Washington and around the country continued to grapple with how and when the country might begin to emerge from a lockdown that has crippled the economy and harmed millions of workers.

President Trump said he plans to have a conference call Thursday with the nation’s governors, who he insisted are “champing at the bit” to reopen their economies. He again argued that some states with low numbers of COVID-19 cases might be able to begin restarting some activities before the end of April.

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, urged Americans to continue with social distancing in the days ahead. But she said some states with smaller outbreaks, including Maine, might be able to open up more quickly. She said nine states have fewer than 1,000 confirmed cases, and fewer than 30 new cases per day: Arkansas, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Read the full story about the pandemic’s toll here.

Trains to sound horns in honor of transportation employees, other key workers

ORLANDO, Fla. — U.S. train horns can deliver an ear-splitting jolt to drivers sitting in traffic or people drifting off to sleep at home, but they’ll be put to another use Thursday.

At 3 p.m. EDT, led by Amtrak, trains across the U.S. will sound their horns to honor the transportation employees who are considered essential workers during the new coronavirus crisis.

Amtrak trains, along with regional partner trains across the U.S., plan to give two blasts of their horns in a salute to transportation workers, as well as health care workers, first-responders, child care workers, grocery store employees and other workers providing essential services during the pandemic.

China reports 46 new cases but no additional deaths

BEIJING — China reported 46 new virus cases on Thursday, 34 of them brought from outside the country, but no new deaths from the outbreak.

Of the domestic cases, three were recorded in the capital, Beijing, which has been enforcing strict quarantine and social distancing measures. Four others were reported in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, where authorities have been rushing to stem a new flare-up among Chinese citizens crossing the border from Russia.

China has now reported a total of 3,342 deaths from the virus among 82,341 cases. Around 3,000 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19 or under isolation and monitoring for showing signs of the illness or testing positive but not displaying symptoms.

Most protesting Michigan’s social distance order stay in their cars

LANSING, Mich. — Thousands of flag-waving, honking protesters drove past the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday to show their displeasure with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders to keep people at home and businesses locked during the coronavirus outbreak.

As snow fell, others got out of their vehicles and raised signs, one of which read, “Gov. Whitmer We Are Not Prisoners.” Another said, “Michigander Against Gretchens Abuses.”

Hours later, Whitmer shot back, telling reporters that the rally put health at risk.

The “Operation Gridlock” protest was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition. The ripples were widely felt: Traffic was barely moving for miles in some areas of Lansing.

“This arbitrary blanket spread of shutting down businesses, about putting all of these workers out of business, is just a disaster. It’s an economic disaster for Michigan,” coalition member Meshawn Maddock said. “And people are sick and tired of it.”

Whitmer, a Democrat, extended a stay-home order through April 30 and has shut down schools and businesses deemed nonessential. The governor acknowledged the pain but said the restrictions were necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness that has killed more than 1,900 Michigan residents and overwhelmed hospitals in the Detroit area.

Whitmer said she was “really disappointed” to see protesters close together without masks.

Read the full story about the Michigan protest here.

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In this March 30 photo provided by Chief Nurse Anesthetist Nicole Hubbard, nurses Mindy Brock and Ben Cayer, wearing protective equipment, hold each other and look into each other’s eyes, in Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Fla. “Everybody’s talking about the photo,” says Cayer, 46. It strikes a chord “because we’re all going through the same thing right now and it’s a symbol of hope and love.” Brock, 38, adds: “What’s important is that we stick together, we work together, and we always support each other. And not just Ben and I, but the human race right now.” Nicole Hubbard via Associated Press

Photo of Florida nurse couple becomes symbol of hope and love

Between surgeries one stressful morning, Ben Cayer and Mindy Brock — husband and wife, and fellow nurse anesthetists — peered through layers of protective gear, and locked eyes.

It was a lovers’ gaze in the most unlikely situation. A co-worker was there to snap a picture.

Now the image, shared on social media, is inspiring people around the globe.

“Everybody’s talking about the photo,” says Cayer, 46. It strikes a chord “because we’re all going through the same thing right now and it’s a symbol of hope and love.”

Brock, 38, adds: “What’s important is that we stick together, we work together, and we always support each other. And not just Ben and I, but the human race right now.”

The Florida pair share a home, a profession and, now, a mission — shouldering the high-risk duty of placing breathing tubes in surgery patients, any of whom may have COVID-19.

They didn’t think twice about volunteering for Tampa General Hospital’s new “airway team,” Cayer says.

Read the full story about the nurse couple here.

Banks brace for flood of loan defaults by U.S., global customers

NEW YORK — The major banks in the U.S. are anticipating a flood of loan defaults as households and business customers take a big financial hit from the coronavirus pandemic.

JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs raised the funds set aside for bad loans by nearly $20 billion combined in the first quarter, earnings reports released over the past two days show. And Wall Street expects that figure may go even higher next quarter, a possibility bank executives acknowledged on earnings conference calls.

Bank of America and Citigroup said Wednesday that their profits sank more than 40 percent in the first quarter as both set aside billions for potentially bad loans. A day earlier, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo reported even steeper drops in profit as those banks also set aside large sums to cover loan losses.

Even the investment banks were not immune to the pandemic. Goldman Sachs’ first-quarter profit dropped by 46 percent from a year earlier, due to significant losses on its own investments as well as a buildup in reserves for potential loan defaults.

The coronavirus outbreak has bought the U.S. economy to a virtual standstill in just weeks. Most economists — and bank CEOs — expect the U.S. to go through a depression. The only question is how severe: Second-quarter gross domestic product is expected to drop from 30 percent to 40 percent and the unemployment rate is seen rising as high as 25 percent.

On Tuesday, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said the bank was preparing for a “severe recession.” Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf said, “We all know we haven’t seen anything like this before.”

One signal on how quickly consumers are pulling back came in the latest retail sales data from the government. Retail sales fell by 8.7 percent in March, the worst monthly drop in that datapoint on record. Consumers spending accounts for roughly 70 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, so that drop is particularly troublesome.

Bank of America’s own data showed the consumer pulling back dramatically. Until the beginning of March, spending on BofA’s credit and debit cards was running at a steady 7.5 percent growth rate. That’s a fairly standard figure for the industry. By early April, that figure had dropped to roughly 2 percent.

Many of the loans now at risk were fine only weeks ago, but the pandemic has caused companies to shutter and millions to be put out of work.

Read more about what banks expect here.

College Board cancels June SAT and floats ‘unlikely’ scenario of at-home testing

The spring wave of SAT cancellations continued Wednesday as the College Board announced it will scrap a national session of the college admission test on June 6 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now comes what the testing organization calls an “unlikely” scenario: The prospect that the high-stakes SAT could be administered online, and at home, in the fall.

The public health crisis that shuttered schools from coast to coast in March has taken an extraordinary toll on the education system, including admission testing for 11th-grade students who are thinking about college.

Without venues for students to gather en mass under the eyes of testing proctors, the College Board in the spring has canceled SAT sessions for an estimated 1 million high school juniors who would have been taking it for the first time.

Feds under pressure to publicly track nursing home outbreaks

NEW YORK  — Federal health officials are coming under increasing pressure to start publicly tracking coronavirus infections and deaths in nursing homes amid criticism they have not been transparent enough in responding to an explosion of outbreaks that has already claimed thousands of lives.

Public health experts say the lack of transparency has been a major blindspot, and that publicizing outbreaks as they happen could not only alert nearby communities and anguished relatives but also help officials see where to focus testing and other safety measures.

“This is basic public health — you track this, you study it, and you learn from it,” said David Grabowski, who specializes in health care policy at Harvard Medical School. He said it’s difficult to have confidence in officials’ ability to contain the virus if they aren’t tracking where it has struck and why.

Such an action by the agencies that oversee the nation’s 15,000 nursing homes is seen as long overdue, coming more than a month after a nursing home in Washington state became the first COVID-19 hot spot in the U.S. with an outbreak that ultimately killed 43 people and a near-daily drumbeat of new cases that in some cases has forced entire homes to be evacuated.

Because the federal government has not been releasing a count of its own, The Associated Press has been keeping its own running tally based on media reports and state health departments. The AP’s latest count of at least 4,412 deaths is up from about 450 just two weeks ago.

Many individual states have added to the lack of transparency by releasing only totals of infections and deaths and not details about specific outbreaks. Foremost among them is the nation’s leader, New York, which accounts for more than 2,200 nursing home deaths — 20% of the state’s entire death total — but has so far refused to detail specific outbreaks, citing privacy concerns.

Trump resort temporarily lays off 560 workers

The Trump golf resort in South Florida where President Trump initially wanted to host this year’s Group of Seven summit has temporarily laid off 560 workers.

A notice that the Trump National Doral Miami filed with the state of Florida at the end of last month said it had been forced to halt its business because of the spreading new coronavirus.

The resort in metro Miami has been closed since mid-March and it’s unknown when it will resume regular operations, Al Linares, the resort’s director of human resources, wrote to state and city officials.

The laid-off workers are mostly food and beverage workers, golf attendants, housekeepers and bellhops. None of the workers are unionized.

Trudeau says Canada’s lockdown will last ‘many more weeks’

TORONTO  — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that Canada’s lockdown will last “many more weeks” and warned Canadians if the economy is reopened too soon, all the sacrifices they are making now might be for nothing as the country could see another peak in coronavirus cases.

Trudeau urged Canadians to be patient and said for the reopening to occur, there has be rapid testing on a wide-scale basis as well as extensive contact tracing for those who test positive.

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Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking during his daily press conference on April 5. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via Associated Press

“We are still a number, a number of weeks away from that,” Trudeau said.

His remarks are his strongest yet against loosening economic restrictions too soon. Canada has more than 27,557 confirmed cases, including 954 deaths.

“We need to continue doing what we are doing now for many more weeks,” Trudeau said.

About 6 million of the country’s 37 million people have applied for government help since mid-March when businesses were ordered closed and workers told to stay at home as a public health precaution.

Preliminary data from Statistics Canada on Wednesday showed economic activity collapsed in March, suggesting the drop could be a record 9%.

“We cannot be in a rush to get things going again because if we move too quickly to loosen all these controls everything we are doing now might have been nothing,” Trudeau said. “We’ll find ourselves in another peak just as bad as this one or worse.”

He said there has been too much talk in recent days of reopening.

“It’s not happening yet,” he said. “Once the experts are telling us we can reopen the economy a little bit, we will take very careful steps and do that.”

Coronavirus has infected 2 million people around the world

The new coronavirus has infected 2 million people around the world, a grim milestone exposing the difficulty of trying to contain the deadly pathogen.

What began as a mysterious pneumonia-like illness in Wuhan, China, late last year has morphed into a global health crisis that has threatened health systems and economies alike.

It took about four months for the virus to infect 1 million people and only 12 days for that number to double. The total case count today is likely even higher than 2 million, with countries including the U.S. testing only a fraction of their populations.

The virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, can in some cases spread easily and quietly. People can pass it onto others before they even know they’re sick — or without ever developing a cough or fever, the disease’s hallmarks.

Cases in the U.S., now more than 600,000, have dwarfed other nations. Outbreaks in major metropolitan areas like New York City, Seattle and Detroit have killed thousands and shut down American life in many regions.

Read It took 4 months for coronavirus to infect 1 million. It took just 12 days to double that.

Fauci, NYC mayor don’t expect baseball to return for months

President Trump may be “tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old,” as he said Tuesday, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and coronavirus task force member Anthony S. Fauci don’t see the season starting any time soon.

“I think it’s going to be awhile. I think we all are missing sports. Everyone who is a fan is missing it deeply,” de Blasio told CNN. “But . . . if we move too quickly, if we put 50,000 people in Yankee Stadium and that’s part of why you see a resurgence of the disease, that would be the worst of all worlds. So I think that’s one of the things later in the trajectory. We have to first prove we can contain this disease.”

Police tape blocks an entrance to Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team in March. Associated Press/Matt Slocum

Trump made his remarks during his Tuesday news conference and named sports executives to a panel that will discuss restarting the economy. Among them are pro sports commissioners Adam Silver, Rob Manfred and Roger Goodell and owners Robert Kraft, Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban.

Competition across sports began to cease March 11, when Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Now, at least one sport is considering a June return. The PGA, according to Golf Digest, plans to hold the Charles Schwab Challenge June 11-14 in Fort Worth, probably with no fans present.

The Fourth of July might be a good date for baseball to begin, Fauci told “Good Luck America.”

“People say, ‘Well, you can’t play without spectators.’ Well, I think you’d probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game,” he said.

The key, he said, is testing.

“Keep them very well surveilled. . . . Have them tested, like every week. By a gazillion tests,” Fauci said. “And make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family. And just let them play the season out. I mean, that’s a really artificial way to do it, but when you think about it, it might be better than nothing.”

U.S. retail sales fell by record 8.7% in March

WASHINGTON  — U.S. retail sales plummeted 8.7% in March, a record drop as the viral outbreak closed down thousands of stores and shoppers stayed home.

Sales fell sharply across many categories: Auto sales dropped 25.6%, while clothing store sales collapsed, sliding 50.5%.

U.S. consumer confidence has plunged and the vast majority of Americans are hunkered down at home under shelter in place orders.

Grocery store sales, however, jumped by nearly 26% as Americans stocked up on food and consumer goods to ride out the pandemic. A category that includes mostly online sales rose 3.1%.

Read the full story about the latest retail sales figures.

Protesters organizing ‘anti-quarantine’ rallies in Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio

Some of them are planning to crowd the roads. Others will use their car horns. And a few are protesting in person — and safe to say, there is no social distancing involved.

Amid growing uneasiness about stay-at-home orders, conservative groups around the country are organizing in-person or drive-by protests at statehouses to call on their governors to reopen the economy.

About 75 people wearing masks and carrying signs protest outside the Ohio Statehouse on Thursday, April 9 in Columbus, Ohio. The protesters criticized the state’s shutdown of the economy, called on Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to re-open businesses. Associated Press/Andrew Welsh-Huggins

At noon on Wednesday, a line of cars organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and Michigan Freedom Fund are set to crowd roads in Lansing in what they have dubbed “Operation Gridlock.”

Protesters have been instructed to make noise and cause disruption while driving by, the Lansing State Journal reported, in objection to what they say are “erratic, unilateral orders that threaten Michiganders’ economic existence.”

Rosanne Ponkowski, the coalition’s president, said the stay-at-home order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) — whom she called a “radical leftist” — would end up forcing small businesses to close permanently. Whitmer’s directive has been scrutinized for some inconsistencies and was extended earlier this week.

In North Carolina, another group has planned recurring demonstrations to “ReopenNC” by May. On Tuesdays through the end of the month, they plan to honk every 15 minutes for a period four hours near the state’s legislative building.

People “have the right to decide their own comfort level with any and all pathogens and viruses,” co-founder Ashley Smith told the News & Observer, “just like we have done for every other illness that has come through our state and nation.”

Demonstrators in Ohio, meanwhile, are taking their messaging even more directly.

On Monday, a crowd of about 100 people gathered outside the statehouse in Columbus — in some cases, pressing their heads against the glass, with no face-masks on — as Gov. Mike DeWine (R) gave his daily press briefing, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Italian hospital says Fauci would be welcomed with open arms

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus at the White House on April 13. Associated Press/Alex Brandon

ROME — The scientific director of Italy’s leading infectious disease hospital has written to the Italian president formally suggesting that Dr. Anthony Fauci be invited to work here if U.S. President Donald Trump removes him from the White House conronavirus task force.

In the letter released Wednesday, Dr. Giuseppe Ippolito of Rome’s Lazzaro Spallanzani hospital says removing Fauci from the task force “would be disastrous news not only for the United States, but for the whole international community.”

Ippolito praised Fauci’s expertise, experience, leadership and “generous and selfless help” to Spallanzani and other hospitals around the world.

Speculation about Fauci’s fate swirled over the weekend after Fauci told CNN the U.S. would have “obviously” saved lives if virus mitigation efforts had begun earlier. Trump responded by reposting a tweet that included the line, “Time to #FireFauci.” But on Monday, Trump insisted Fauci’s job was safe.

Rapid blood tests administered to Emirates Air passengers

DUBAI — Emirates Air says it tested the blood of passengers for the virus on a flight to Tunisia before departing from Dubai, becoming the first airline to conduct on-site rapid tests for passengers.

The blood test was conducted by Dubai’s health authority with results available within 10 minutes, according to the airline. Passengers were tested upon check-in at the gate in Dubai’s international airport.

Passengers are required to wear their own masks when at the airport in Dubai. The emirate has imposed a 24-hour curfew on residents for at least two weeks to contain the virus.

There are multiple drive-through testing centers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where people are encouraged to get tested even if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms.

Amazon temporarily halts activity in France

Amazon said Wednesday it will “temporarily” suspend all activity in France, one day after a French court ruled it wasn’t doing enough to protect its workers in the country amid the pandemic.

The online giant, which has six warehouses in France, said in a statement that “this week, we are requesting employees of our distribution centers to stay at home. (In) the longer term, we will evaluate the impact of that (court) decision for them and our French logistic network.”

Kenyan police will arrest those without masks

NAIROBI, Kenya — The Inspector General says police will arrest those found not wearing masks in public places, vehicles and private cars.

Kenya’s government had published the law last week which slaps a fine of $200 for anyone found not wearing a mask in public as a preventative measure against the spread of the coronavirus.

Hillary Mutyambai says the grace period for people to acquire and get used to wearing masks is over and police will take action. He was speaking to journalists Wednesday.


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