The novel coronavirus continues to ravage the United States, where the official death toll is rapidly approaching 50,000 — more than a quarter of the 191,000 deaths reported worldwide from COVID-19. A tally by Johns Hopkins researchers on Thursday found 3,176 people died of the disease in the U.S. in just 24 hours. And many funeral directors and medical examiners say thousands more U.S. deaths from COVID-19 remain uncounted.
The disease continues to batter the U.S. economy. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported another 4.4 million U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits over the last week, raising new jobless claims over the past five weeks to more than 26 million — a scale that hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression.
Most lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wore masks throughout Thursday’s historic proceedings, except when delivering speeches from the House floor. Pointedly, a group of at least a dozen House Republicans refused to cover their faces, over the objections of their colleagues and the medical advice of the House physician. At least 34 members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19, which has touched the families and friends of people across Capitol Hill. This is California Democratic Congressmember Maxine Waters.
Rep. Maxine Waters: “I’m going to take a moment to dedicate this legislation to my dear sister, who is dying in a hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, right now, infected by the coronavirus.”
Massachusetts senator and former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said Thursday her oldest brother died in an Oklahoma hospital this week, three weeks after he tested positive for the coronavirus. Donald Reed Herring was 86 years old. Senator Warren tweeted, “It’s hard to know that there was no family to hold his hand or to say 'I love you' one more time — and no funeral for those of us who loved him to hold each other close.”
At the White House, the top scientist at the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday outlined new research showing the novel coronavirus suffers from exposure to warm and humid conditions and from high levels of ultraviolet light. The findings, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, suggest the coronavirus may become less contagious during summer months. President Trump seized on the news at Thursday’s White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing.
President Donald Trump: “So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light. And I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do, either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you’re going to test that, too. Sounds interesting. And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?”
In response, the maker of Lysol disinfectants issued a stern warning that “under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route.)” Dr. Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York’s Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital, responded on Twitter, “Instead of being asked about how we improve our #COVID19 response in the coming months, doctors are being asked to comment on why people shouldn’t drink things like bleach or isopropyl alcohol. This has to stop.”
President Trump also said Thursday he disagreed with his top coronavirus task force scientist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, that the U.S. needs to significantly ramp up testing. Public health experts say a vast expansion of both diagnostic and serology tests is needed before any states can safely begin reopening their economies.
Outside the White House, dozens of drivers blared car horns Thursday as they drove along Pennsylvania Avenue, displaying protest signs reading “Trump Lies People Die” and “#GiveUsPPE!” A small group of protesters deposited effigies of body bags on the sidewalk outside the Trump International Hotel as the protest convoy surrounded the building.
Protester: “Every day, people are dying unnecessarily because we don’t have testing. We don’t have adequate PPE. We don’t have adequate planning. We don’t have adequate leadership. We need the president to resign.”
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom said Thursday his state had suffered its “deadliest day” of the pandemic, with 115 deaths in 24 hours. Newsom said it’s still much too soon to end social distancing policies.
Gov. Gavin Newsom: “I know there’s deep desire. People are making calls on an hourly basis saying it’s time to open back up. Consider the deadliest day in the state of California within the last 24 hours, 8.5% percent increase in the total number of deaths. We saw 5.6% increase in the total number of people tested positive in the state of California.”
Despite the grim numbers, California has suffered far fewer per capita deaths from COVID-19, after public health officials moved earlier than other states to order residents to remain at home while the virus began its spread.
In medical news, a draft manuscript of a report from a long-awaited clinical trial in China finds the antiviral drug remdesivir failed to lower the death rates or recovery times of COVID-19 patients. The findings have not yet passed peer review.
Preliminary results of a study by the New York state Department of Health showed the drug touted by President Trump as a curative for COVID-19 — hydroxychloroquine — had no effect on patients’ recoveries.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ new spokesperson repeatedly made racist comments about Chinese people and claimed Democrats wanted the coronavirus to kill thousands of people. Michael Caputo, a longtime Republican political operative and Trump ally, was appointed last week as assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS.
In since-deleted social media posts archived online, Caputo tweeted, “Millions of Chinese suck the blood out of rabid bats as an appetizer and eat the [bleep] out of anteaters.” In follow-up tweets, Caputo wrote, “Don’t you have a bat to eat?” and “You’re very convincing, Wang.”
In Mexico, hospital workers are speaking out against the recent abuse and discrimination they have received from strangers and authorities, who believe doctors and nurses are helping spread the coronavirus. Over 20 medical staff across Mexico reported being assaulted, thrown off buses, and some were banned from entering their own homes. One nurse described having bleach thrown at her as she walked home after a shift treating COVID-19 patients.
A new report warns Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele is taking authoritarian measures to deal with the coronavirus outbreak in El Salvador, as human rights leaders in the country say Bukele is using a pandemic to further his militaristic agenda. The report also sounds the alarm on the chronic shortage of water in El Salvador and urges the government to establish adequate protocols to ensure the protection of women, girls, LGBTQ people and others during the pandemic. In a statement, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, which authored the report, wrote, “This pandemic will be a death sentence for those who could otherwise be saved by a humane and comprehensive public health approach.”
In Puerto Rico, transgender rights advocates are demanding local authorities investigate the recent killing of two transgender women who were found burnt to death inside a vehicle on the eastern coast of the island. Serena Velázquez and Layla Pelaez are among at least four transgender people killed in Puerto Rico this year.