The latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government on Friday is poised to report the worst set of jobs numbers since record-keeping began in 1948, a snapshot of the devastating damage the coronavirus outbreak has inflicted on the economy.

APTOPIX_Virus_Outbreak_Pennsylvania_Unemployment_34960

A person wearing a face mask walks past closed businesses Thursday in Philadelphia. Nearly 3.2 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week. Matt Rourke/Associated Press

The unemployment rate for April could reach 16% or more, according to economists surveyed by the data provider FactSet. Twenty-one million jobs may have been lost. If so, it would mean that nearly all the job growth in the 11 years since the Great Recession ended had vanished in one month.

Even those numbers won’t fully capture the scope of the damage the coronavirus has inflicted on jobs and incomes. Many people who are still employed have had their hours reduced. Others have suffered pay cuts. Some who lost jobs in April and didn’t look for a new one in light of their bleak prospects won’t even be counted as unemployed. A broader measure — the proportion of adults with jobs — could hit a record low.

The scale of the job loss has been breathtakingly sudden.

During the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the nation lost 6.5% of its jobs over a two-year span. It was the worst loss in any recession since World War II. Yet in just April alone, the expected job loss of 21 million would amount to 14% of all jobs — more than twice as much.

The impact on individuals has been vast. One of the newly unemployed, Sara Barnard, 24, of St. Louis, has lost three jobs: A floor manager at a pub and restaurant, a bartender at a small downtown tavern and the occasional stand-up comedian. Her main job was at McGurk’s, an Irish pub and restaurant near downtown that closed days before St. Patrick’s Day. She had worked there continually since high school.

Read the full story on Friday’s jobs report here.

Data shows out-of-state visitors flocked to Georgia as restaurants, businesses reopened

One week after Georgia allowed dine-in restaurants, hair salons and other businesses to reopen, an additional 62,440 visitors arrived there daily, most from surrounding states where such businesses remained closed, according to an analysis of smartphone location data.

Virus_Outbreak_Georgia_Reopens_13361

A Waffle House employee gets to-go orders ready as a seated guest eats his meal on April 27 in Brookhaven, Ga. Restaurants around metro Atlanta began to reopen dining rooms as restrictions were lifted. John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Researchers at the University of Maryland say the data provides some of the first hard evidence that reopening some state economies before others could potentially worsen and prolong the spread of the novel coronavirus. Any impetus to travel, public health experts say, increases the number of people coming into contact with each other and raises the risk of transmission.

“It’s exactly the kind of effects we’ve been worried about,” said Meagan Fitzpatrick, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“This is not an unpredictable outcome with businesses opening in one location and people going to seek services there,” said Fitzpatrick, who has reviewed the findings by the university’s Maryland Transportation Institute.

In the week after Georgia businesses reopened April 24, a total daily average of 546,159 people went there from other states. That included 62,440 more trips daily than in the week before the reopenings – a 13 percent increase, said Lei Zhang, the lead researcher and institute’s director. The trips were measured using anonymized location data in smartphone apps.

The vast majority – 92 percent – came from four adjacent states: Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida.

Read the full story about Georgia’s reopening here.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park to reopen

WASHINGTON — When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park becomes one of the country’s first national parks to reopen Saturday, some of its most popular trails will remain off limits.

Major roadways, most trails and some restroom facilities will be accessible, but it’s unclear when the Laurel Falls, Chimney Tops and Alum Cave trails will reopen, park spokeswoman Dana Soehn says. She says safety will be stressed as officials seek to follow federal and state guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We think that access to the three most heavily used trails just simply wouldn’t be possible with CDC social distancing guidelines,” Soehn said.

The push to restore access to some of the country’s most treasured spaces comes six weeks after the park abruptly shut its gates after visitors weren’t following social distancing guidelines.

Located on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the Great Smoky Mountains is the nation’s most visited national park.

Nevada begins reopening Saturday

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada will begin allowing restaurants, salons and other non-essential businesses to open starting Saturday.

Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak says he’s still encouraging people to get takeout or food delivery, but restaurants may open if they limit capacity to 50% and keep customers seated 6 feet apart. Salons and barbershops cannot except walk-in appointments and must keep customers spaced apart, while stores may reopen but must limit customers to 50% of the building’s capacity.

Sisolak says casinos, nightclubs, spas and gyms must remain closed until further notice.

Japan approves remdesivir for coronavirus treatment

TOKYO — Japan has approved Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir for coronavirus treatment in a fast-track review just four days after the U.S. company submitted an application.

The drug is the first approved in Japan for the coronavirus. It was originally developed for Ebola and could block the coronavirus from replicating itself in the human body.

It will mainly be used for seriously ill patients. It was authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for coronavirus treatment last Friday.

Japan is also testing a Japanese-made influenza drug, favipiravir, that is also designed to inhibit viral replication but could cause birth defects. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for favipiravir and says he hopes to have it approved by the end of May for less serious patients.

NFL sets out ground rules for reopening teams’ facilities

The NFL outlined for teams in a memo Wednesday the protocols by which facilities can be reopened once any applicable local restrictions related to the novel coronavirus are lifted.

Commissioner Roger Goodell also told teams in the memo, sent on the eve of the league’s announcement of a full schedule for the 2020 regular season, to refrain from commenting publicly on contingencies for the season.

“The past few months have been among the most uncertain times that any of us has experienced,” Goodell wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “It is impossible to project what the next few months will bring. Uninformed commentary that speculates on how individual clubs or the league will address a range of hypothetical contingencies serves no constructive purpose and instead confuses our fans and business partners, complicates the operations of other clubs, and distracts from the careful planning that is needed right now.”

The protocols for reopening teams’ facilities include temperature checks of employees and visitors, social-distancing measures inside offices, the use of face coverings and the appointment of an infection control officer by each team. The league told teams that the protocols should be in place by May 15, after which teams will be advised when facilities can be reopened.

Teams initially will be allowed to have half of their employees – not including players – in a facility on a given day, up to a maximum of 75 people, unless local restrictions require a lower number.

Read the full story about the NFL here.

SBA slashes disaster-loan limit, shuts out nearly all new applicants

An emergency disaster lending program for small businesses has been so overwhelmed by demand that it has significantly limited the size of loans it issues, while blocking nearly all new applications from small businesses, according to people familiar with the situation.

The Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is a long-standing Small Business Administration program that’s separate from the new Paycheck Protection Program, which has challenges of its own.

Congress gave the disaster loan program more than $50 billion in new funding in recent relief bills to offer quick-turnaround loans to businesses slammed by the coronavirus pandemic. But by many accounts, it is failing spectacularly. After initially telling businesses that individual disaster loans could be as high as $2 million, SBA has now imposed a $150,000 limit without publicly announcing the change, said people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Additionally, the agency has faced a backlog of millions of applications for the disaster loan program for the past several weeks, several SBA officials have said.

The SBA has been so overwhelmed by demand that it is now allowing only agricultural interests to submit applications as it works through an enormous backlog. Key Republican senators had been pushing hard for farmers and agriculture companies to be able to tap the program, and they are now being prioritized over other prospective borrowers.

Agency officials have said the holdup is because of a lack of funding and an unprecedented crush of applications.

“At this time, only agricultural business applications will be accepted due to limitations in funding availability and the unprecedented submission of applications already received,” according to a statement on the SBA’s website.

Military member who works on White House campus tests positive for coronavirus

A U.S. military member who works on the White House campus has tested positive for the coronavirus, the White House said in a statement Thursday, adding that both Trump and Vice President Pence have since tested negative.

CNN identified the military member as one of Trump’s personal valets.

“We were recently notified by the White House Medical Unit that a member of the United States Military, who works on the White House campus, has tested positive for Coronavirus,” deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said in the statement. “The President and the Vice President have since tested negative for the virus and they remain in great health.”

CNN reported that the military member exhibited symptoms Wednesday morning, raising alarms given the proximity in which he works to Trump.

Rogue tourists arrested as Hawaii tries to curb virus spread

HONOLULU — Hawaii authorities are cracking down on rogue tourists who are visiting beaches, riding personal watercraft, shopping and generally flouting strict requirements that they quarantine for 14 days after arriving.

A newlywed California couple left their Waikiki hotel room repeatedly, despite being warned by hotel staff, and were arrested. Others have been arrested at a hotel pool, loading groceries into a vehicle outside a Costco and bringing take-out food back to a hotel room.

Virus_Outbreak-Hawaii-Tourism_46044

A couple sits on an empty section of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu in late March. Associated Press/Caleb Jones

The rules, the strictest in any U.S. state, have helped keep infections relatively low. As of Wednesday, Hawaii reported 626 coronavirus cases and 17 deaths.

Yet the shutdown has devastated the islands’ economy, which is hugely dependent on tourism. Since March 26, when Hawaii put the rules in place, about 5,000 visitors have arrived, compared to pre-pandemic times when about 30,000 came daily.

That’s left the state reeling — unemployment is estimated to be in the range of 25% to 35%. Tourism industry officials say the hotel occupancy rate was down about 34% compared to March last year. More than 100 hotels have suspended operations and workers laid off from their jobs wait in long lines at food distribution sites.

It makes those who ignore the rules especially offensive, said Honolulu City Councilmember Kym Pine, who wants travelers tracked via their cellphones or tested for the virus before boarding planes for Hawaii.

Stock, oil markets swing higher as investors shrug off grim jobless data

Wall Street shrugged off another harrowing jobs report Thursday, with the three major U.S. indexes posting opening bell bounces.

Investors kept their focus on states scaling back lockdown measures and signs of economic life. The Dow Jones industrial average jumped more than 250 points, or 1.1 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index each climbed 1.4 percent.

Oil extended its May resurgence. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, shot up more than 10 percent, to $26.18 a barrel. Brent crude, the global standard, jumped 6 percent, to more than $31 a barrel. The gains speak to investors’ expectations that demand is on the upswing as business and social activities resume.

Frontier Airlines abandons plan to sell $39 social distancing upgrade

Faced with widespread outrage from Democratic lawmakers, Frontier Airlines said late Wednesday it was abandoning its plan to sell passengers a $39 upgrade that would guarantee they could sit next to an empty middle seat while flying during the coronavirus outbreak.

Prominent Democrats on Capitol Hill had criticized the program, scheduled to start Friday, saying it was taking advantage of people’s fear during the pandemic.

Late Wednesday night, Frontier chief executive Barry Biffle outlined the reasons for the change of course in a letter to three Democratic lawmakers that the company also shared with The Washington Post.

“We recognize the concerns raised that we are profiting from safety and this was never our intent,” Biffle wrote. “We simply wanted to provide our customers with an option for more space. However, we will rescind the seat price increase associated with the More Room product and revert to our former seat assignment pricing.”

Airlines have been grappling with how to keep passengers and their employees safe during the pandemic. Many have taken steps to spread passengers out onboard, but Frontier stood out for offering guaranteed social distancing as a paid-for upgrade.

Nearly 3.2 million filed U.S. jobless claims last week

Nearly 3.2 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the business shutdowns caused by the viral outbreak deepened the worst U.S. economic catastrophe in decades.

Roughly 33.5 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the seven weeks since the coronavirus began forcing millions of companies to close their doors and slash their workforces. That is the equivalent of one in five Americans who had been employed back in February, when the unemployment rate had reached a 50-year low of just 3.5%.

On Friday, the government will issue the April jobs report, and it’s likely to be the worst since modern record-keeping began after World War II. The unemployment rate is forecast to reach at least 16%, the highest rate since the Great Depression, and economists estimate that 21 million jobs were lost last month. If so, it would mean that nearly all the job growth in the 11 years since the Great Recession ended has vanished in a single month.

Even those stunning figures won’t fully capture the magnitude of the damage the coronavirus has inflicted on the job market. Many people who are still employed have had their hours reduced. Others have suffered pay cuts. Some who lost jobs in April and didn’t look for a new one in light of their bleak prospects won’t even be counted as unemployed. A broader measure — the proportion of adults with jobs — could hit a record low.

The official figures for jobless claims may also be under-counting layoffs. Surveys by academic economists and think tanks suggest that as many as 12 million workers who were laid off by mid-April did not file for unemployment benefits by then, either because they couldn’t navigate their state’s overwhelmed systems or they felt too discouraged to try.

As the economy slides further into what looks like a severe recession, economists are projecting that the gross domestic product — the broadest gauge of economic growth — is contracting in the current April-June quarter by a shocking 40% annual rate. As it does, more layoffs appear to be spreading beyond front-line industries like restaurants, hotels and retail stores.

Read the full story.

Arizona halts partnership with experts who predict cases would keep rising

Hours after Doug Ducey, the Republican governor of Arizona, accelerated plans to reopen businesses, saying the state was “headed in the right direction,” his administration halted the work of a team of experts projecting it was on a different — and much grimmer — course.

On Monday night, the eve of President Trump’s visit to the state, Ducey’s health department shut down the work of academic experts predicting the peak of the state’s coronavirus outbreak was still about two weeks away.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey waiting to hear President Donald Trump in Phoenix on May 5. Associated Press/Evan Vucci

“We’ve been asked by Department leadership to ‘pause’ all current work on projections and modeling,” Steven Bailey, the bureau chief for public health statistics at the Arizona Department of Health Services, wrote to the modeling team, composed of professionals from Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, according to email correspondence reviewed by The Washington Post.

The move to sideline academic experts in the middle of the pandemic reflects growing friction between plans to resume economic activity and the analysis of epidemiologists that underscores the dangers of rolling back restrictions. Officials in Arizona said they would rely on “real-time” information, as well as modeling conducted by federal agencies, which is not released publicly.

During his visit to Arizona on Tuesday, Trump pressed states to pursue aggressive reopening strategies even as he acknowledged “some people will be affected badly.” Governors from Georgia to Iowa have stepped ahead of the recommendations of doctors and epidemiologists in their states, beginning phased reopenings before they met the administration’s nonbinding guidelines. Recent polling suggests they have done so against the wishes of most Americans, who support sweeping precautions to slow the spread of the virus.

Germany agrees to ’emergency brake’

BERLIN — Germany’s public health agency has cautiously welcomed the ‘emergency brake’ agreed to by federal and state authorities should coronavirus cases rebound, but warned that the pandemic is far from over.

Lars Schaade, deputy head of the Robert Koch Institute, said Thursday that setting a level of 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants for reimposing lockdown measures was a “pragmatic threshold that I believe in principle is sensible.”

But he noted that Germany remains “at the start of the pandemic,” adding that “it can last many months and it will probably continue into the next year.”

Germany has managed to sharply reduce the rate of new infections to about 1,000 nationwide per day, prompting calls for restrictions to be eased. On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and governors of the 16 states agreed to further loosen the rules, albeit with a fallback clause.

The Robert Koch Institute reported more than 166,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 by Thursday — about 26,000 of them still active — and more than 7,000 deaths. Germany has a population of about 83 million.

Schaade said that only about a third of Germany’s massive test capacity of almost 1 million a week is now being used, and only about 3.8% of the roughly 318,000 tests conducted last week was positive.

China rebuts Pompeo’s virus charges

BEIJING — China is firing back at U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim that there is “enormous evidence” that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory, accusing him of “making up lies and covering up a lie by fabricating more lies.”

The strong language from Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying at a Thursday briefing came as U.S. President Donald Trump and his allies have continued to express confidence in an unsubstantiated theory linking the origin of the outbreak to a possible accident at a Chinese virology laboratory.

U.S. officials say they are still exploring the subject and describe the evidence as purely circumstantial. But Trump, aides say, has embraced the notion to further highlight China’s lack of transparency.

Pompeo told ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that there is “enormous evidence” that the virus began in the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the city where the outbreak was first detected.

“Under the situation that no scientists and experts can even draw any conclusions, why did Secretary Pompeo want to rush to the conclusion to hold the Wuhan laboratory accountable? Where is his evidence?,” Hua told reporters, while defending the integrity of the Wuhan lab.

Belgium to reopen train travel, masks required

BRUSSELS — All passengers on high-speed Thalys trains will have to wear masks as of next week as the company prepares to start operating more trains.

In an email to customers, the French-Belgian operator also said the frequency of trains will be increased as of June 9, with five daily round trips between Brussels and Paris, except on Sundays, and more trains linking Amsterdam, Paris and Dortmund.

The number of Thalys trains has been strongly reduced during the coronavirus pandemic, with just one daily round trip between Brussels and Paris, and one round trip between Belgium’s capital city and Amsterdam currently operated.

Plasma from a COVID-19 survivor aids patient, one hospital says

WARSAW, Poland — A hospital director in southern Poland says that treatment with plasma from a COVID-19 survivor has led to a rapid improvement of a woman suffering from the disease and being in serious condition and on ventilator after emergency cesarean section.

Dr. Jacek Mazur of the Kedzierzyn-Kozle hospital said that 36 hours after receiving the plasma the 31-year-old woman was taken off the ventilator and began breathing on her own. After another 24 hours her condition allowed for her to be moved from intensive care to a regular ward, Mazur told TVN24.

“It was a spectacular improvement,” Mazur said.

Before the plasma was applied, the woman had spent a week in intensive care in serious and deteriorating condition, said Mazur who is the hospital’s director for medical matters.

The woman remains in hospital since April 23, currently in good condition. The baby girl born in the 30th week of pregnancy was not infected, but needed intensive care and was taken to another hospital. Her condition is also improving.

The number of Russian cases grows

MOSCOW — Russian health officials reported more than 11,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday — a new record daily spike which brought the country’s total over 177,000 confirmed cases.

Russia’s official caseload has thus surpassed that of Germany and France, becoming the 5th largest in the world. The actual number of cases is likely to be much higher as not everybody is getting tested and many people infected with the virus don’t show any symptoms.

Last week, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin suggested in his blog that as many as 2% of Moscow’s 12.7 million population — more than 200,000 people — may be infected with the coronavirus. Moscow has currently registered about 93,000 confirmed cases.

China touts virus aid

BEIJING — China is touting its assistance to countries struck by the coronavirus, saying it has provided direct government aid to 150 nations, including millions of testing kits.

“The virus knows no borders. Unity and cooperation is international society’s most powerful weapon to defeat the epidemic,” the foreign ministry said in a statement to The Associated Press.

It said China has been providing within its means, including, 3.3 million testing kits, 2.6 million gowns, 53 million masks and 729 ventilators, among other supplies.

Meanwhile, commercial contracts with 76 countries and regions and six international organizations have resulted in the export of 26.6 billion masks, including 1.5 billion of the N95 type used by health workers, 130 million gowns and 48,000 ventilators between March 1 and April 29, the ministry said citing customs figures.

China has in part promoted its assistance and role as a source of personal protective equipment as a way to deflect criticism that it delayed reporting information about the outbreak first detected in the central industrial city of Wuhan late last year. Beijing has angrily denied such accusations, saying it has been open and transparent throughout the crisis and that countries such as the U.S. squandered the opportunity China provided them to better prepare.

UN highlights funding need for poorest countries

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations is increasing its appeal to fight the coronavirus pandemic in fragile and vulnerable countries from $2 billion to $6.7 billion.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock reiterated that the peak of the pandemic is not expected to hit the world’s poorest countries for three to six months. But he said there is already evidence of incomes plummeting and jobs disappearing, food supplies falling and prices soaring, and children missing vaccinations and meals.

Since the original appeal on March 25, the U.N. said $1 billion has been raised to support efforts across 37 fragile countries to tackle COVID-19.

The updated appeal launched Thursday includes nine additional vulnerable countries: Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Lowcock said “in the poorest countries we can already see economies contracting as export earnings, remittances and tourism disappear.

“Unless we take action now, we should be prepared for a significant rise in conflict, hunger and poverty,” he warned. “The specter of multiple famines looms.”

South Korea to expand mask shipments as its number of cases wanes

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it’ll expand its humanitarian shipments of masks to other countries amid waning domestic cases of the coronavirus.

The country’s food and drug safety minister, Lee Eui-kyung, told reporters Thursday that a total of 70 countries had requested for mask shipments from South Korea.

Lee says South Korea will focus on assisting countries with bigger outbreaks which urgently need masks. She says diplomatic and security relations will also be considered before choosing which countries South Korea will support.

Lee says the South Korean government will purchase masks for free overseas provisions or allow domestic companies to export them. Since March, South Korea has largely banned the exports of masks.

Earlier Thursday, South Korea reported four more virus cases over the past 24 hours in a continued slowdown of news cases in the country.

 


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: