The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. 

Virus_Outbreak_New_Jersey_73453

A cyclist rides past closed businesses on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J., on Tuesday. Associated Press/Matt Rourke

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy began 2020 riding the crest of a record-long expansion with every expectation that its 11th year of growth would not be its last.

Then the economy screeched to a sudden halt. And now it’s in free-fall.

On Wednesday, the government will offer a glimpse of how dark the picture has grown and how much worse it could get as the coronavirus pandemic inflicts ruinous damage. The Commerce Department is expected to estimate that the gross domestic product, the broadest gauge of the economy, shrank at an annual rate of 5% or more in the January-March quarter.

That would be the sharpest quarterly drop in GDP since the Great Recession, which ended in 2009. And it would be the first quarterly contraction in six years.

And yet forecasters say that will be only a precursor of a far grimmer GDP report to come for the current April-June quarter, when business shutdowns and layoffs have struck with devastating force. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that GDP will plunge in the current quarter by a 40% annual rate. That would be, by a breathtaking margin, the bleakest quarter since such records were first compiled in 1947.

In just a few weeks, businesses across the country have shut down and laid off tens of millions of workers. Factories and stores are shuttered. Home sales are falling. Households are slashing spending. Consumer confidence is sinking.

Read the full story on Wednesday’s economic report here.

Trump says U.S. closer to testing international air travelers

WASHINGTON — President Trump said Tuesday that his administration is considering requiring travelers on certain incoming international flights to undergo temperature and virus checks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Virus_Outbreak_Trump_30380

President Trump hosts a meeting with Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., in the Oval Office on Tuesday. Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Trump said it has not been determined yet whether the federal government or the airlines would conduct the testing. “Maybe it’s a combination of both,” he said.

He also raised the idea of testing passengers on international flights from areas where the virus is spreading.

Gary Kelly, chairman and CEO of Southwest, was asked about airport screening during an earnings call with analysts and reporters and said: “We are talking with the administration and members of Congress about what the protocols should be.”

Florida health authorities have attributed many of the state’s cases to people who arrived from other hot spots, including Europe, Latin America and the New York region. Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn’t yet given a start date for a reopening but has said it would be “methodical, slow and data-driven.” He also has been collecting information from a task force representing industry groups and medical professionals.

Read the full story on testing of air travelers here.

Nearly 70 dead in ‘horrific’ outbreak at Massachusetts veterans home

Nearly 70 residents sickened with the coronavirus have died at a Massachusetts home for aging veterans, as state and federal officials try to figure out what went wrong in the deadliest known outbreak at a long-term care facility in the U.S.

Virus_Outbreak_Soldiers_Home_80598

Cleaners unwrap their protective gear as they leave the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Mass., on March 31. Nearly 70 residents have died from the coronavirus at the central Massachusetts home for aging veterans, as state and federal officials try to figure out what went wrong. Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Associated Press

While the death toll at the state-run Holyoke Soldiers’ Home continues to climb, federal officials are investigating whether residents were denied proper medical care and the state’s top prosecutor is deciding whether to bring legal action.

“It’s horrific,” said Edward Lapointe, whose father-in-law lives at the home and had a mild case of the virus. “These guys never had a chance.”

Sixty-eight veteran residents who tested positive for the virus have died, officials said Tuesday, and it’s not known whether another person who died had COVID-19. Another 82 residents and 81 employees have tested positive.

The home’s superintendent, who’s been placed on administrative leave, has defended his response and accused state officials of falsely claiming they were unaware of the scope of the problem there.

The superintendent, Bennett Walsh, said earlier this month state officials knew that the home was in “crisis mode” when it came to staffing shortages and were notified early and often about the contagion at the facility.

Staffing problems that plagued the home for years contributed to the virus spreading like wildfire, said Joan Miller, a nurse at the home.

Because staffing was so tight, workers from one unit were constantly moving to other units to help out — and bringing their germs with them, she said. At one point, a unit was shut down because there wasn’t enough staff to operate it, and those veterans were moved into close quarters in other parts of the building, she said.

Read the full story about the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home here.

Tribes urge Treasury to disburse coronavirus relief funding after judge’s ruling

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Tribes urged the federal government to quickly disburse coronavirus relief funding after a judge handed them an early victory in a case centered on who is eligible for a share of the $8 billion allocated to tribes.

Tribes_Coronavirus_Relief_Funding_26820

A woman walks before dawn in Toksook Bay, Alaska, a mostly Yup’ik village on the edge of the Bering Sea. A judge has ruled in favor of tribal nations in their bid to keep Alaska Native corporations from getting a share of $8 billion in coronavirus relief funding – at least for now. Gregory Bull/Associated Press

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington ruled in favor of the tribes late Monday in their bid to keep Alaska Native corporations from getting any of the money — at least for now. The decision clears the U.S. Treasury Department to send payments to 574 federally recognized tribes to response to the coronavirus.

At least 18 tribes, including the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in Maine, sued the Treasury Department, alleging that Congress intended the funding to go only to tribal governments. They said the corporations that own most of the Native land in Alaska don’t fit within the definition of “Indian Tribe” in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act signed into law last month.

Mehta said the tribes easily showed they would suffer irreparable harm unless he limited the funding temporarily to tribal governments while he awaited more argument on the question of eligibility of Alaska Native corporations.

“These are monies that Congress appropriated on an emergency basis to assist tribal governments in providing core public services to battle a pandemic that is ravaging the nation, including in Indian Country,” Mehta said.

The U.S. Justice Department, which represented Treasury, declined comment Tuesday. The Treasury Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Read more about the tribes and coronavirus funding here.

Trump signs order to keep meat processing plants open 

WASHINGTON — President Trump took executive action Tuesday to order meat processing plants to stay open amid concerns over growing coronavirus cases and the impact on the nation’s food supply.

The order uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves. Unions fired back, saying the White House is jeopardizing lives and prioritizing cold cuts over workers’ health.

More than 20 meatpacking plants have closed temporarily under pressure from local authorities and their own workers because of the virus, including two of the nation’s largest, one in Iowa and one in South Dakota. Others have slowed production as workers have fallen ill or stayed home to avoid getting sick.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers, said Tuesday that 20 food-processing and meatpacking union workers in the U.S. have died of the virus. An estimated 6,500 are sick or have been exposed while working near someone who tested positive, the union says.

As a result, industry leaders have warned that consumers could see meat shortages in a matter of days. Tyson Foods Inc., one of the world’s largest food companies, ran a full-page advertisement in The New York Times and other newspapers Sunday warning, “The food supply chain is breaking.”

Read more about plans to keep the meat processing plants open here.

In rural U.S., fears of virus seem far away as stores reopen

ROUNDUP, Mont. — Traffic got a little busier along Main Street, but otherwise, it was hard to tell that coronavirus restrictions were ending in the tiny Montana town of Roundup.

Virus_Outbreak-Rural_Reopening_26340

Nicole Snider opens the Northern Treasure thrift store on Monday in Roundup, Mont. The store had been closed for a month under a coronavirus directive from the state’s governor. Matthew Brown/Associated Press

That’s because it’s largely business as usual in the town of 1,800 people. Nonessential stores could reopen as a statewide shutdown ended this week, but most shops in Roundup — the pharmacy, the hardware store, two small grocers — were essential and never closed.

A florist and a thrift shop reopened Monday, apparently two of the only stores that had to shut down at all. Bars and restaurants remain shuttered and getting takeout is still the only option until May 4, when they can open with restrictions.

Parts of the U.S. are starting to lift closures, and some of the quickest to do so have been rural states like Montana, Vermont and Alaska. The effects of the pandemic in small towns can seem a world away from cities grappling with overwhelmed hospitals, packed morgues and economies pushed to the brink.

The consequences of easing restrictions in rural communities won’t be fully known for some time, and health officials said they will be watching for a resurgence of infections.

The coronavirus is largely a distant threat that so far has touched few people in Roundup directly. Face masks are a novelty, and greetings often still come with a handshake.

Despite some grumbling that the lockdown was too harsh, most people cooperated, county commissioner Adam Carlson said.

By contrast, in some rural parts of states where stay-at-home orders remain in place, local leaders have pledged defiance. The mayor of Grants, New Mexico, population 9,000, led a rally Monday where dozens urged nonessential businesses to reopen.

Only a fraction of people in the state have been infected by COVID-19, and it doesn’t make sense to keep small businesses closed, Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks said. New Mexico has more than 2,800 confirmed cases of the virus and 104 deaths.

Read the full story about rural reopenings here.

Trump tells states to consider opening schools before summer

President Trump says states should “seriously consider” reopening their public schools before the end of the academic year, even though dozens already have said it would be unsafe for students to return until the summer or fall.

Trump made the comments Monday in a call with governors discussing how to reopen their economies, among other topics.

“Some of you might start thinking about school openings, because a lot of people are wanting to have the school openings. It’s not a big subject, young children have done very well in this disaster that we’ve all gone through,” he said. While addressing Vice President Mike Pence, Trump added that it’s something “they can seriously consider, and maybe get going on.”

None of the governors on the call responded to the suggestion, according to a recording obtained by The Associated Press.

Trump made the comments as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked to finalize guidelines for reopening the economy. For schools, that included putting students’ desks 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart, serving meals in the classroom instead of the cafeteria and closing playgrounds.

Reopening schools is considered key to getting the economy moving again. Without a safe place for kids, many parents would have difficulty returning to work.

Read the full story here.

Patients with certain cancers nearly 3 times more likely to die of virus, study says

Cancer patients – especially those with blood or lung malignancies, or tumors that have spread throughout the body – have a higher risk of death or other severe complications from covid-19 compared with those without cancer, according to a study published Tuesday.

The study, which involved 14 hospitals in Hubei province in central China, where the pandemic emerged, included 105 cancer patients and 536 non-cancer patients of the same age – all of whom had covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The co-authors, from China, Singapore and the United States, found that cancer patients who developed covid-19 had nearly a threefold higher death rate from the virus than the 2 to 3% rate estimated for the general population. Cancer patients also were more likely to experience “severe events,” such as being admitted to intensive care units and needing mechanical ventilation, than people without cancer. Risk factors included not just age, but also the kind of cancer, the stage and the treatment.

“These findings suggest that patients with cancer are a much more vulnerable population in the current covid-19 outbreak,” the authors concluded.

The study was released at the American Association for Cancer Research’s virtual annual meeting and published in the organization’s peer-reviewed journal, Cancer Discovery. The only previous study of cancer patients and covid-19 included just 18 patients.

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, which was not involved in the study, called it “important,” adding that it “reflects what we had heard previously – that cancer patients are more susceptible to the virus, and that the course of the infection is worse and the outcomes are worse.” He said that the study was still relatively small and that thousands more patients need to be scrutinized.

Read the full story here.

Ukraine to ease lockdown restrictions

KYIV, Ukraine — Authorities in Ukraine have started to ease lockdown restrictions enacted since March 12 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Government officials in Chernivtsy, a city 500 kilometers (300 miles) west of Kyiv, allowed food markets to reopen Tuesday while requiring customers to wear masks and observe social distancing.

In Kyiv, authorities plan to lift some of the restrictions on May 12 to allow beauty parlors, shops and parks to reopen if there isn’t a spike of new infections. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal says similar gradual measures may be taken throughout the country.

Ukraine has reported 9,410 coronavirus cases and 239 deaths.

German government has software company developing tracing app

BERLIN — The German government is counting on Deutsche Telekom and software giant SAP to develop its coronavirus infection tracing app.

Germany’s Health Ministry says the main feature of the app will be swiftly informing users about contact they had with people who tested positive for the new virus, allowing them to self-isolate and thereby interrupt the chain of transmission.

Officials say the app will use Bluetooth technology to detect other devices in the vicinity. Anyone who tests positive can voluntarily inform contacts via the app that they might have been exposed to the virus, without revealing their identity.

German officials have warned that privacy concerns among users might hamper uptake of the app.

Chinese say it’s ‘irresponsible” to label test kits faulty

NEW DELHI — The Chinese embassy in India says it was “unfair and irresponsible” to “label” Chinese testing kits procured by India as “faulty.”

On Monday, India canceled orders to procure rapid antibody testing kits from two Chinese companies after quality issues and controversies over its price.

Chinese Embassy spokesperson Ji Rong said, “The quality of medical products exported from China is prioritized. It is unfair and irresponsible for certain individuals to label Chinese products as ‘faulty’ and look at issues with preemptive prejudice.”

The order was canceled after a New Delhi Court revealed that India had been asked to pay more than twice of what it would cost to import them. The government maintains it had not made any payment yet.

But Ji Rong says the two companies had “stressed” their kits met quality standards in China and had been “validated and approved” by Indian authorities.

Chinese exporters are required to show that they are approved for sale in their destination market, under rules imposed on March 30 after complaints from several countries about faulty and sub-standard goods. On April 10, China said that it would inspect each shipment to confirm medical supplies met quality standards.

Death rates in Britain are nearly double

LONDON — Official figures show the number of deaths recorded in England and Wales in the week to April 17 was around double the usual amount.

The Office for National Statistics says a total of 22,351 of people in England and Wales died in the week, the highest since comparable records began in 1993. The total was 11,854 more than the rolling five-year average.

In its analysis of death certificates, which take longer to compile than deaths recorded in hospitals, the statistics agency said the coronavirus was mentioned as one of the causes of death in 8,758 cases, nearly 40% of the total.

It says 4,316 deaths involving COVID-19 had been registered up to April 17 outside of hospitals, with 3,096 in care homes. The equivalent figure for hospital deaths over the period is 14,796.

The daily figures presented by the government only show the number of people dying in U.K. hospitals, including those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. As of Monday, 21,092 deaths were reported in U.K. hospitals.

Malaysian businesses urge end to lockdown

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian businesses have urged the government to end a weekslong virus lockdown following a sharp decline in infections.

Daily cases have dropped to double-digits in the past two weeks with 31 new infections reported Tuesday, the lowest since a partial lockdown began March 18. Malaysia now has 5,851 cases with 100 fatalities.

The Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the lockdown, which has been extended until May 12, should be lifted immediately to revive the economy and save jobs. Its president Tan Cheng Kiat said in a statement that a decision to end the lockdown must be based “not on fear but on facts.”

Tan said the lockdown was intended to flatten the curve, not eradicate the disease. He said vigilance can continue after the lockdown with strict border controls, sealing up areas with viral clusters, social distancing and good health practice.

Health officials conceded that the country has entered a recovery phase but were reluctant to end the restrictions too early until the virus can be fully curbed.

Spain records 301 new virus deaths

MADRID — Spain has recorded 301 new deaths of patients infected with the new coronavirus to a total of 23,822, official data released on Tuesday showed.

The figure was down from the day before, when 331 new fatalities were recorded. The country has 210,773 infections for COVID-19 that have been confirmed by the most reliable lab tests, but the real number is believed to be much higher because many patients don’t show signs of the illness or are not being tested.

Spain’s Cabinet is outlining on Tuesday how to allow people to come out of their homes for exercise from Friday and further easing of a 7-week lockdown, one of the world’s strictest during the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement comes in the heels of a new order that is allowing children to take supervised strolls around their house for one hour per day. Officials have made a public call to be responsible and avoid crowds after people were seen in promenades and beach fronts closer than experts recommend to avoid contagion.

Discussions are under way as well on how to reactivate the economy.

Afghanistan sees high positive test rates

KABUL, Afghanistan — War-ravaged Afghanistan has conducted barely 9,000 tests for COVID-19 and has recorded more than 1,800 positive cases, meaning one in nine Afghans tested were positive.

The government ordered a lockdown in several cities earlier this month. However, Afghanistan’s feuding political leaders have come under sharp criticism from the United States for bitter infighting that has raged for months. The U.S. has urged President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who also declared himself president, to set aside their differences to fight against the pandemic.

The U.S. has also urged the Taliban to reduce violence, also to battle the spread of the disease. It is feared an explosion in the number of COVID-19 cases could overwhelm a health care system that is woefully inadequate and largely destroyed by four decades of war.

The inadequate testing is particularly troubling because more than 200,000 Afghan refugees have returned in recent months from Iran, which is reeling from the pandemic. Iran is the hardest hit country in the region recording 91,472 positive cases and more than 5,800 deaths since it first surfaced earlier this year.

Pope urges citizens to follow protocols

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is calling for “prudence and obedience” to government protocols dictating the easing of coronavirus shutdowns to prevent infections from surging again.

Francis made the appeal Tuesday after Italian bishops bitterly complained that the Italian government’s reopening schedule contained no provisions for Masses to be resumed.

At the start of his morning Mass Tuesday, Francis said: “As we are beginning to have protocols to get out of quarantine, let us pray that the Lord gives his people, all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience to the protocols so that the pandemic doesn’t return.”

The government announced Sunday that funerals could resume starting May 4, but there was no information on when the faithful could attend Mass. In a statement, Italian bishops said they “cannot accept that the exercise of the freedom of worship is compromised.”

The office of Premier Giuseppe Conte’s hastily responded that it was working on protocols to allow the resumption of Masses as soon as possible but “in conditions of maximum security.”

The clash was an unusual public display of tensions between church and state over the virus-imposed curbing of public religious observance, which has been blamed for helping to spread the infection in some parts of the world.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: