Deaths from COVID-19 in the United States surged to another record high Thursday, nearly doubling to surpass the previous record set just a day before. Four thousand five hundred ninety-one U.S. residents died over a single 24-hour period, with another 31,000 newly confirmed coronavirus cases across the U.S. Worldwide, over 145,000 people have died of COVID-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At the White House, President Trump on Thursday outlined federal guidelines for states to reopen their economies, saying it was up to individual governors to decide when and how to relax social distancing measures.
President Donald Trump: “Some states are not in the kind of trouble that others are in. Now that we have passed the peak in new cases, we’re starting our life again. We’re starting rejuvenation of our economy again in a safe and structured and very responsible fashion.”
Trump told governors in a conference call Thursday, “You’re gonna call your own shots” — reversing his claim last Monday he has “total” authority to tell states when and how to reopen. Medical professionals say it’s far too early to reopen schools, businesses and large gatherings without spawning a new surge in COVID-19 cases. They say a massive increase in testing and contact tracing capacity is needed before social distancing measures can be relaxed.
Here in New York, health officials reported another 606 COVID-19 deaths Thursday, bringing the statewide death toll to more than 12,000. But the number of hospitalizations continues to fall, suggesting New York has passed its peak of coronavirus infections. As of 8 p.m. this evening, New Yorkers are required to carry facial coverings whenever they leave their homes and to wear masks when social distancing is not possible.
In South Dakota, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating one of the largest pork processing plants in the world, where cases of COVID-19 related to the factory have surged to at least 730. The Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls is now the biggest single coronavirus hot spot in the United States. The mayor of Sioux Falls has ordered residents to shelter in place, after Republican Governor Kristi Noem refused to issue a statewide remain-at-home order.
In California, Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica has suspended 10 nurses who refused orders to treat COVID-19 patients without N95 masks and other personal protective equipment. In Michigan, where protesters on Wednesday defied a ban on gatherings to protest at the state Capitol, Republicans have introduced bills to strip Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer of her power to order residents to maintain social distance. Whitmer has promised to veto the legislation. In Washington state, Boeing says it will begin bringing 27,000 employees back to factories to resume production of airplanes. It’s the first large-scale attempt by a U.S. manufacturer to resume operations.
The Small Business Administration said Thursday it has exhausted a $349 billion emergency loan fund. The Paycheck Protection Program will no longer accept new applications unless Congress approves additional funding. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is seeking an additional $250 billion for the program; Democrats want to expand any new relief measure to include $100 billion for healthcare providers and $150 billion for state, local and tribal governments.
Banking giant USAA, which serves former military members and their families, said Thursday it will no longer seize the stimulus checks of people with negative account balances. USAA’s reversal came after The American Prospect reported on a disabled veteran whose family had $3,400 in CARES Act payments rerouted by the bank to pay an outstanding debt.
ProPublica reports landlords in Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida have flouted a ban on evictions passed by Congress last month as part of the coronavirus relief bill. Investigative reporters found scores of incidents where landlords removed tenants from federally backed rental units without consequence. ProPublica says the true number of evictions is likely far higher because there’s no nationwide database of eviction filings.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo refused Thursday to commit to providing emergency relief to millions of undocumented immigrants living in New York, after California announced one-time payments of up to $1,000 per immigrant household.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “When you are broke, it would be irresponsible to do these things. I do hope and believe the federal government should have a more inclusive policy. All right, let’s do one” —
Josefa Velásquez: “For example, that undocumented immigrants, that there’s no shot” —
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “Well, we’re looking at it, but we have real financial problems right now.”
Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said Thursday the United States needs to take dramatic action to prevent tens of millions of middle-class Americans from falling into poverty. He added, “Low-income and poor people face far higher risks from the coronavirus due to chronic neglect and discrimination, and a muddled, corporate-driven, federal response has failed them.”
A report by two grassroots workers’ rights organizations suggests coronavirus cases in U.S. Amazon warehouses will likely “exponentially increase” in the coming days as the corporation refuses to shut down some of its facilities — even when workers test positive for COVID-19. More than half of Amazon’s 110 warehouse facilities in the country have reported cases of coronavirus. Meanwhile, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has told shareholders he now wants to test all employees for COVID-19. Despite the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic, Amazon’s stock continues to climb, lifting Bezos’s personal fortune to nearly $140 billion. In related news, Amazon has shut down all of its warehouses in France after a court ruled Tuesday the company needs to reassess the safety of its workers during the pandemic.
China has revised the death toll from COVID-19 in Wuhan upward by 50%, saying nearly 3,900 people have died since the novel coronavirus first emerged in the city of 11 million people late last year. The revised death toll came as China reported its economy shrank 6.8% in the first three months of 2020 — ending nearly 50 years of uninterrupted economic growth.
In Guatemala, Al Jazeera reports rural and indigenous communities are increasingly afraid of the potentially devastating impacts coronavirus could have on their people as they question whether the country’s already troubled and fragile health system is able to adequately respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
In South America, hundreds of Venezuelan migrants attempting to return home after losing their jobs in neighboring countries say they are being housed in squalid and crowded quarantine facilities, where they’re afraid coronavirus could rapidly spread.
In Chile, as the country remains in a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, anti-government and anti-austerity protesters are continuing the movement from inside their homes, using social media. Each Friday night, quarantined Chileans stand in their gardens or balconies banging pots, demanding the release of people arrested during recent mass protests.
The United Nations warns the coronavirus pandemic could prove catastrophic for children around the world, with 1.5 billion affected by countrywide school closures; millions losing access to school meal programs; and widespread disruptions to maternal and newborn care. This is U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “Reduced household income will force poor families to cut back on essential health and food expenditures, particularly affecting children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. Polio vaccination campaigns have been suspended. Measles immunization campaigns have stopped in at least 23 countries. And as health services become overwhelmed, sick children are less able to access care. With the global recession gathering pace, there could be hundreds of thousands additional child deaths in 2020.”
Lila Fenwick, who in 1956 became the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Law School, has died from COVID-19. She became a student at Harvard in 1954, following the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, joining the cohort as part of only a handful of women and the only black woman. Fenwick was 87 years old. Renowned Chilean author Luis Sepúlveda, who in the 1980s fled the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, has died from COVID-19. Sepúlveda is celebrated for his literary work depicting life in South America. He was 70 years old.
Vice News reports Michigan’s former Republican Governor Rick Snyder knew about toxic levels of lead in Flint’s water supply as early as 2014 — some 16 months before he claimed to have learned of the contamination during sworn testimony to Congress. Vice also found Snyder was warned about the dangers of using the Flint River as a water source a year before the water switch even occurred. The water corroded Flint’s aging pipes, causing poisonous levels of lead to leach into the drinking water. Michigan has admitted the switch claimed 12 lives, but a PBS investigation found the true toll might be far higher.