The White House is unveiling new guidelines today aimed at rolling back states’ stay-at-home orders protecting against the spread of the coronavirus. President Trump’s call to wind down social distancing came as the United States recorded more than 2,400 deaths in just 24 hours — the highest one-day total for any nation since the start of the pandemic.
President Donald Trump: “The battle continues, but the data suggests that nationwide we have passed the peak on new cases.”
Across the U.S., there are over 644,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, though the true number is likely far higher due to a critical shortage of tests. More than 28,500 have died of the disease nationwide in just a matter of weeks. Despite that, President Trump said some states could begin relaxing social distancing restrictions before the end of April. The plan has drawn intense fire from medical professionals — and even corporate executives tapped by Trump to advise on reopening the economy. They said Wednesday far more testing needs to be in place before workers can return to factories, schools, stores and office spaces.
This week, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health warned that unless a vaccine becomes widely available, social distancing may have to extend until 2022 to prevent a surge of COVID-19 cases that could break the U.S. healthcare system.
The Labor Department reports more than 5.2 million U.S. workers filed unemployment claims in just the last seven days, bringing the number of unemployment claims over the past month to over 22 million.
On Wednesday, millions of U.S. taxpayers began receiving payments of $1,200, plus $500 per dependent child. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in late March the one-time payments would be enough to tide over Americans for months.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin: “I think the entire package provides economic relief overall for about 10 weeks.”
Some Democratic lawmakers are pushing for far more direct assistance to U.S. households during the crisis. The Emergency Money for the People Act would provide all but the highest-earning U.S. citizens age 16 and over $2,000 a month until unemployment falls to pre-coronavirus levels.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced a $125 million relief fund for undocumented immigrants left jobless by the pandemic.
Medical workers at hospitals around the United States held a national day of action Wednesday demanding an end to preventable healthcare worker deaths from COVID-19. At the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, where five medical workers have died and several others remain hospitalized, protesters stood at least six feet apart as they demanded more personal protective equipment. This is Arlene Meertens, a patient care technician at Kingsbrook.
Arlene Meertens: “Protect us! That’s all we are asking. Give us what we need so we can survive, to continuously help those who need us, and continuously keep people alive!”
Workers are also demanding better safety training, better staffing levels, and temporary housing for workers who risk spreading disease to their family members.
In Mexico, a massive campaign to recruit more medical staff has been launched as the country faces an alarming shortage of healthcare workers. However, reports emerged of hundreds of applicants being rejected after standing in line for hours to apply for jobs.
Elsewhere in Mexico, dozens of workers from an assembly factory in Ciudad Juárez owned by the U.S.-based company Regal held a protest Wednesday demanding the factory’s shutdown over safety concerns. The protest followed the death of an employee who presented COVID-19 symptoms. This is factory worker Isabel Flores.
Isabel Flores: “We are scared for our health and the health of our children, because we all have families, all of us here, and they just look at us as a business. They don’t care if we die.”
The French Navy has evacuated its flagship nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, where nearly 700 sailors have tested positive for coronavirus. On Wednesday, France sharply revised its COVID-19 death toll upward to more than 17,000, as nursing homes reported hundreds of additional deaths over Easter weekend. But for the first time since the start of the pandemic, French hospitals saw the total number of patients decrease.
Sweden saw a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases Wednesday. Swedish authorities have refused calls to close restaurants, retail stores and classes for primary and junior high school students, even as coronavirus deaths far outpace those in other Scandinavian countries with strict lockdowns.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has extended a nationwide lockdown until May 3 but will ease some restrictions, citing a “fragile, partial success” in fighting the coronavirus. Unlike the United States, Germany began testing early and often for the disease and has a much lower death rate.
In the United States, the privately owned Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego has become the U.S. immigration jail with the largest coronavirus outbreak as at least 17 immigrant prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to documents obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
In Tacoma, Washington, immigrants imprisoned at the Northwest Detention Center have launched another hunger strike — the third in just three weeks. Prisoners held a protest Wednesday in the facility’s yard, forming the letters ”SOS” with their bodies, as they continue to demand their release.
Meanwhile, a federal magistrate judge in Miami has ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to disclose how many of its third-party contractors have tested positive for COVID-19. ICE reportedly hid this information, as the agency claimed third-party contractors were not considered staff.
COVID-19 cases continue to multiply at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, with individuals held in the jail’s medical unit especially vulnerable to contagion. In newly published phone interviews recorded by the South Side Weekly newspaper, six prisoners described worsening health and sanitary conditions and a loss of access to their routine medical care.
“Mike”: “It’s hard to stay away from each other, because we’re in a dorm and there’s 39 people. And, you know, there’s a lot of guys coughing and got a fever. And it’s like you’ve got to be damn near dying for them to give medical attention.”
In Pennsylvania, 67-year-old prisoner Rudolph Sutton died of COVID-19 on Saturday, just three days before Philadelphia prosecutors were set to review his claims he was wrongfully imprisoned for a 1988 murder. Sutton’s case was backed by the Innocence Project, which concluded after a five-year investigation that Sutton was likely innocent. Sutton had been serving a life sentence at the SCI Phoenix jail.
Rumors have circulated online that internationally renowned political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, held at the SCI Mahanoy prison in Pennsylvania, was hospitalized with a headache and trouble breathing. But supporters with the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home reached him Wednesday, and he said the rumors are not true.
Mumia Abu-Jamal: “You heard that I was hospitalized. It is not true. In fact, I haven’t been up medical for about a month. I usually go up three times a week. As I said in a recent commentary, everybody’s locked down. And you get 23 hours in the cell, and then, that last 24th hour, 45 minutes out of the cell. You can do — you can take a shower. You can get a bucket and swab your decks and mop your cell. Or you can call people on the phone, or you can plug up your tablet to the kiosk. But you’re not leaving the block. And they only started yard about a week ago, and that’s one 45-minute period every three days. So everybody in the state is locked down, just like everybody in the United States is locked down.”
That was prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, well-known journalist, speaking with professor Johanna Fernández, denying claims that he was in hospital with COVID-19.
In South Dakota, a Smithfield Foods meatpacker has died of COVID-19 amid the largest single coronavirus hot spot in the U.S. Sixty-four-year-old Agustín Rodriguez passed away Tuesday morning after spending two weeks on a ventilator. He was one of 640 workers at the Sioux Falls Smithfield pork factory who have tested positive for COVID-19. Most of them are refugees and immigrants from around the world.
Smithfield said this week it will also close plants in Wisconsin and Missouri, after workers there tested positive. Other major slaughterhouses have closed due to the virus, including a Tyson pork plant in Iowa and a JBS beef plant in Colorado.
In New Jersey, Rutgers University researchers on Wednesday began administering the first saliva-based test for the novel coronavirus. For patients, taking the test is as simple as spitting into a test tube; for healthcare workers, it’s far safer to administer, since it no longer requires close contact with patients during nose-and-mouth swabs.
Massachusetts senator and former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has endorsed Joe Biden for president. Senator Warren made the announcement in a video posted online Wednesday morning. In the evening, she spoke with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
Rachel Maddow: “If he asked you to be his running mate, would you say yes?
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “Yes.”
In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in’s left-leaning governing party won over half of seats in the country’s parliamentary elections Wednesday, which saw the highest voter turnout in a parliamentary election in nearly 30 years. South Korea is the first country to hold nationwide elections since the coronavirus pandemic began.
In climate news, a new study confirms a record amount of Greenland’s ice sheet melted in the summer of 2019. The study says the dramatic loss of ice was due to atmospheric circulation patterns that hadn’t been taken into account by previous climate models and that may be significantly underestimating future melting.
A U.S. judge has revoked a crucial permit needed to complete the disputed Keystone XL oil pipeline, citing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ failure to adequately consider the effects on endangered species inhabiting rivers in the pipeline’s path, and ignoring guidelines of the Endangered Species Act. The ruling, however, doesn’t shut down the pipeline’s construction currently underway at the U.S.-Canada border in Montana.
In Baltimore, a transgender woman has been violently killed in what is believed to be the sixth murder of a transgender or gender nonconforming person this year in the U.S. Johanna Metzger was reportedly stabbed while visiting Baltimore from Pennsylvania this weekend. A virtual memorial was held in her honor Monday.
In related news, the American Civil Liberties Union and Legal Voice filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging a new anti-trans law in Idaho that bans transgender women from competing in women’s sports. The groups say the law violates Title IX, the historic statute that bans sex discrimination in education.