The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. 

WASHINGTON — Americans remain overwhelmingly in favor of stay-at-home orders and other efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a new survey finds, even as small pockets of attention-grabbing protests demanding the lifting of such restrictions emerge nationwide.

A pedestrian walks across a deserted street in Milwaukee. A new survey shows most Americans support measures that keep people in their homes to control the coronavirus. Associated Press

The survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also finds that a majority of Americans say it won’t be safe to lift social distancing guidelines anytime soon, running counter to the choice of a handful of governors who have announced plans to ease within days the public health efforts that have upended daily life and roiled the global economy.

More than a month after schoolyards fell silent, restaurant tables and bar stools emptied, and waves from a safe distance replaced hugs and handshakes, the country largely believes restrictions on social interaction to curb the spread of the virus are appropriate.

Only 12 percent of Americans say the measures where they live go too far. About twice as many people, 26 percent, believe the limits don’t go far enough. The majority of Americans – 61 percent – feel the steps taken by government officials to prevent infections of COVID-19 in their area are about right.

About 8 in 10 Americans say they support measures that include requiring Americans to stay in their homes and limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer – numbers that have largely held steady over the past few weeks.

Read the full story on the survey here.

Trump administration offers plan to cover COVID care for the uninsured

WASHINGTON  — The Trump administration announced a plan Wednesday to start paying hospitals and doctors who care for uninsured patients with COVID-19, but Democratic lawmakers and health industry groups are likely to press for more.

Under the approach detailed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, hospitals and doctors would submit their bills directly to the government and they would get paid at Medicare rates.

Uninsured people would not be liable for costs, and health care providers would not have to ask any questions about a patient’s immigration status, an issue that’s been cited as a barrier to care in communities with many foreign-born residents.

The money would come from a pot of $100 billion that Congress has approved to provide relief for the health care system, which is trying to cope with the high cost of coronavirus care while facing a cash crunch because elective surgeries and procedures have been put on hold. For COVID-19 patients who are covered by health insurance, hospitals and doctors accepting money from the relief fund would have to agree to not to send “surprise” bills for out-of-network services.

COVID-19 treatment for the uninsured could cost from $14 billion to $48 billion, according to a recent estimate from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Read the full story on the administration’s plan here.

Two cats in New York become first U.S. pets to test positive for coronavirus

NEW YORK — Two pet cats in New York state have tested positive for the coronavirus, marking the first confirmed cases in companion animals in the United States, federal officials said Wednesday.

The cats, which had mild respiratory illnesses and are expected to recover, are thought to have contracted the virus from people in their households or neighborhoods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The finding, which comes after positive tests in some tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo, adds to a small number of confirmed cases of the virus in animals worldwide. U.S. authorities say that while it appears some animals can get the virus from people, there’s no indication pets are transmitting it to human beings.

“We don’t want people to panic. We don’t want people to be afraid of pets” or to rush to test them en masse, said Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh, a CDC official who works on human-animal health connections. “There’s no evidence that pets are playing a role in spreading this disease to people.”

Still, the CDC is recommending that people prevent their pets from interacting with people or animals outside their homes – by keeping cats indoors and dogs out of dog parks, for instance.

Coronavirus testing for pets isn’t recommended unless an animal has been exposed to a person with COVID-19 and the animal has symptoms of the disease – and tests have ruled out more common possible causes, said Dr. Jane Rooney of the USDA. Veterinarians who think testing is warranted are supposed to contact state officials to decide.

Barton Behravesh said the animal tests are done at veterinary labs and use different chemicals than human tests, which have been in short supply during the crisis.

Read the full story on the pets in New York here.

Tyson Foods idles its largest pork plant after Iowa outbreak 

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Tyson Foods suspended operations Wednesday at an Iowa plant that is critical to the nation’s pork supply but was blamed for fueling a coronavirus outbreak in the community.

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The Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Waterloo, Iowa, was temporarily shut down on Wednesday and testing of its 2,800 workers is expected to start on Friday. Jeff Reinitz/The Courier via Associated Press

The Arkansas-based company said the closure of the plant in Waterloo would deny a vital market to hog farmers and further disrupt U.S. meat supply. Tyson had kept the facility, its largest pork plant, open in recent days over the objections of alarmed local officials.

The plant can process 19,500 hogs per day, accounting for 3.9% of U.S. pork processing capacity, according to the National Pork Board.

More than 180 infections have been linked to the plant and officials expect that number to dramatically rise. Testing of its 2,800 workers is expected to begin Friday. Cases and hospitalizations in Black Hawk County have skyrocketed in recent days and local officials say the plant is the largest source of infections.

In addition to those who have tested positive for the virus, hundreds of workers were staying home out of fear, and the plant had been running at reduced production levels.

Employers have struggled to contain the virus in meatpacking plants, where workers toil side by side on production lines and often share crowded locker rooms, cafeterias and rides to work. While plants have added safety measures, public health experts say social distancing is virtually impossible.

Several facilities have temporarily closed due to virus outbreaks, including a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minnesota. Others have stayed open or resumed production after pauses for worker testing and cleaning.

Tyson Fresh Meats president Steve Stouffer said the closure in Iowa was driven by “the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concerns.” He warned of “significant ramifications” for the farmers, distributors and grocers in the supply chain.

Tyson said workers would be compensated during the shutdown and that the timing of reopening would depend on several factors, including testing.

The Black Hawk County Board of Health requested Tuesday that Tyson or Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds temporarily close the plant. The board warned that its continued operation would exacerbate the spread of the virus in the county.

Read the full story about Tyson Foods here.

First virus case recorded in refugee camp in Lebanon

BEIRUT — A Palestinian woman from Syria has become the first refugee living in a camp in Lebanon to test positive for the coronavirus, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said Wednesday. It triggered a spate of testing to determine whether other residents have been infected.

Syrian refugee children play outside their family tents at a Syrian refugee camp in the eastern city of Baalbek, Lebanon, in 2017. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said Wednesday that a Palestinian woman from Syria living in a refugee camp in Lebanon has become the first refugee there to test positive for the coronavirus. Bilal Hussein/Associated Press file

The agency, UNRWA, said the woman resided in the only Palestinian camp in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa region. It said all necessary measures had been taken and the patient was transferred to the government-run Rafik Hariri Hospital in Beirut.

Lebanon, a country of 5 million, hosts tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, most of them living in squalid camps that resemble jungles of concrete. They have no access to public services, limited employment opportunities and no rights to ownership. The country is also home to more than 1 million Syrian refugees and other Syrians who are residents.

The tiny country has recorded 22 deaths from among 682 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. They include one Palestinian who lives outside a camp and three Syrian residents who have tested positive.

Wednesday’s announcement was the first involving a refugee living inside one of the camps.

“There is always concern of an outbreak in a crowded place like the camps … but we hope that the measures we are taking with the ministry and others concerned will help us avoid an outbreak,” said Huda Samra, communications advisor for UNRWA in Lebanon. Up to 3,000 people live in the Wavel camp in the city of Baalbek, known locally as the Jalil, or Galilee camp.

Samra said a team comprising UNRWA members and Rafik Hariri hospital staff tested 146 people at the camp Wednesday, including all those who had contacts with the woman in recent days. She said the agency would pay all testing and hospital expenses.

Lack of testing has stoked fears among millions of displaced people around the world packed into refugee camps and informal settlements. Wednesday’s announcement sparked concern in Lebanon, where human rights groups have long decried discriminatory measures against refugees.

U.S. stocks rebound as oil prices stabilize

U.S. stocks rebounded Wednesday after a two-day sell-off as oil prices stabilized.

The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 419 points, or 1.8%, at the open. The blue-chip index had erased nearly 1,000 points over the past two days. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the tech-heavy Nasdaq both surged 2.1%.

West Texas intermediate crude oil, which sold for less than $0 a barrel earlier in the week, hovered near $11 on Wednesday morning on its June contract. Brent crude, which hit an 18-year low on Tuesday, was up 5.3%, to $20.32 a barrel on Wednesday. The improvement remains a fraction of the $50 or so needed for a producer to make money.

“The pendulum is swinging from the opposite extreme of the peak oil craze about 10 years ago,” said David Trainer, chief executive of investment research firm New Constructs. “This price slump is definitely a reaction to the fact that the world is running out of places to store the excess supply of oil. But, it is still a knee jerk reaction — as soon as the economy gets going again, oil demand will bring prices closer to normal.”

The oil crash comes amid a sharp decline in demand as the coronavirus pandemic has slashed business and social activity around the globe. That’s created a glut that’s straining storage capacity.

Read the full story here.

Britain’s death toll more than 18,000 from virus

LONDON — The British government says 759 more people with the coronavirus have died in U.K. hospitals, taking the total to 18,100.

The daily increase reported was lower than the 823 in the previous 24-hour period.

The U.K.’s death toll is the fourth highest in Europe, behind Italy, Spain and France, all of whom have reported more than 20,000 deaths.

However, there has been increasing scrutiny of the U.K. figures in recent days for understating the actual number of people having died of COVID-19. The numbers don’t include those who have died in care homes or elsewhere in the community.

Earlier, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the country was at the “peak” but that it was too early to start considering a relaxation of the lockdown measures in place since March 23.

First U.S. virus deaths earlier than previously thought

At least two people who died in early and mid-February had contracted the novel coronavirus, health officials in California said Tuesday, signaling that the virus may have spread — and claimed lives — in the United States weeks earlier than previously thought.

Tissue samples taken during autopsies of two individuals who died at home in Santa Clara County, Calif., tested positive for the virus, local health officials said in a statement. The victims died on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17, respectively.

Initially, the nation’s earliest coronavirus fatality was believed to have occurred on Feb. 29, in Kirkland, Wash., a suburb of Seattle that rapidly became a hotspot. In March, health officials there linked two Feb. 26 deaths to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus.

The Santa Clara County fatalities push the earliest coronavirus-related fatality back by weeks, with the new findings potentially altering the timeline of the U.S. outbreak.

“The fact that there were deaths related to COVID back in early February is very significant because it means the virus was around for a lot longer than was initially realized,” Jeff Smith, a physician and the county executive in Santa Clara, told The Washington Post. “It’s been around for a while and it’s probably been spreading in the community for quite some time.”

It is not yet known exactly how the two people became infected, but Sara Cody, the county’s public health officer, told The Washington Post that the cases are believed to be community transmissions.

Read the full story.

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin sue to stop its stay-at-home order
Wisconsin’s top Republican lawmakers filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to block a statewide stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Tony Evers (D), escalating political tensions in the state over how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, Evers and his administration extended restrictions through May 26 and closed schools through the end of the year, warning that reopening too early could result in a spike of cases.

A pedestrian walks across State Street in Milwaukee. The street are quiet because of the coronavirus pandemic. Associated Press

But Robin Vos, speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, and state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader, said in a statement Tuesday that the governor’s orders went beyond the bounds of the law and have created “immense frustration.”

“The governor has denied the people a voice through this unprecedented administrative overreach,” they said. “Wisconsinites deserve certainty, transparency and a plan to end the constant stream of executive orders that are eroding both the economy and their liberty.”

Their lawsuit seeks to deny Andrea Palm, the state’s top health official, the ability to make unilateral decisions during public health emergencies and require her to gain legislative approval first. Their suit accused her of laying claim “to a suite of czar-like powers.”

Evers said the lawsuit could cost lives by lifting rules in place to ensure public health, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Political power should not trump life.”

The lawsuit bypasses lower courts and instead goes straight to the state Supreme Court, which is controlled by conservatives.

Earlier this month, that court ordered the state to proceed with primary elections on April 7, after Wisconsin’s Republican legislators had insisted on opening polls.

The move left hundreds of masked voters standing in line for hours, including several in Milwaukee who have tested positive since then, the city’s health officials said Tuesday.

Vietnam to loosen travel restrictions

HANOI — Vietnam will loosen travel restrictions as the country lifts a nationwide shutdown after no new COVID-19 cases were reported the past week.

The government announced the confinement order will be lifted starting Thursday in most cities and provinces except in the capital Hanoi, which has nearly half of the country’s 268 infections. Vietnam is among a few countries with no reported deaths from the virus.

The government requests people carry on social distancing and bans public gathering of more than 20 people, in-dining restaurants and other nonessential business will remain closed. In several provinces where no infection was reported, schools will be reopened. Students will be scanned for temperature before entering the premises.

“We have basically contained the situation, but we must stay alert and take very careful steps when reopening the country,” deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said.

Vietnam shut down its border with China in January, stopped international arrivals in mid-March and vigorously carried out contact tracing down to commune level.

COVID-19 vaccine trials on humans slated to begin in Europe this week

European governments have approved potential COVID-19 vaccines for live human testing, and some trials are slated to begin as early as this week.

Experts disagree on the likelihood of finding a successful vaccine anytime soon for the disease caused by the coronavirus, with many pointing to early signs of what may be only a short-lived immunity from the virus for those who have already caught it.

But individual governments are still racing to find an effective treatment for a disease that has caused a global pandemic and a subsequent economic shutdown. They are also racing to be the first.

According to British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, work on a potential vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Oxford will begin as early as Thursday.

Hancock announced that the British government will provide nearly $25 million to the Oxford team and an additional $28 million to another team working on a separate vaccine at Imperial College London.

“In normal times, reaching this stage would take years, and I’m very proud of the work taken place so far,” Hancock said Tuesday at the government’s daily coronavirus briefing.

“After all, the upside to being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it,” he said.

On Wednesday, the German government’s vaccine regulator gave the green light to the testing of a potential vaccine developed by the German biotech company BioNTech in conjunction with the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

That vaccine will be initially administered on a sample of 200 healthy people between ages 18 and 55, and it will then be tested on those more at risk for COVID-19.

Missouri sues China over pandemic, China calls lawsuit ‘absurd’

BEIJING — China has slammed a lawsuit brought against it by the U.S. state of Missouri over the global pandemic as “very absurd.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday the legal action had “no factual and legal basis at all,” and repeated defenses of China’s response to the outbreak that has largely subsided in the country where it was first detected.

The ministry and other Chinese government departments have strenuously denied accusations that officials delayed reporting on the extent of the outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, even as reports pile up that worries over political stability were placed above public health concerns.

Missouri’s top state prosecutor on Tuesday announced the lawsuit that alleges Chinese officials are to blame for the pandemic that has sickened around 2.5 million worldwide, thrown tens of millions out of work and devastated local economies, including in China.

The state’s action will likely end up being largely symbolic, however, since lawsuits against other countries typically don’t go anywhere because U.S. law generally prohibits them. Independent reports say Missouri has reported 215 deaths from the virus.

Spain says children will be allowed out later this month

MADRID — Spain saw its death total reach 21,717 cases as its government weathers criticism about how it will let children out of a six-week lockdown.

Spain’s health authorities said Wednesday that 435 more people have died in the last 24 hours. Authorities also reported 4,211 new confirmed infections, taking the total to 208,389 cases since the start of the pandemic.

Yielding to pressure from some parents, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced Sunday that children would be allowed out as of April 27, without specifying the exact rules for the outings.

Sánchez is appearing before Spain’s Parliament Wednesday to ask for a third two-week extension of the state of emergency that has given his government extraordinary powers to confine the country. The main opposition party has conditioned its support on a proper explanation of what children can do next week.

In another sign that the health crisis is becoming manageable, a large makeshift morgue in a Madrid ice rink is closing as the daily toll drops under 500 deaths from a high of 950 three weeks ago.

Only the United States and Italy have more deaths than Spain from the virus, and only the U.S. has more infections.


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