President Donald Trump is resisting calls to issue a national stay-at-home order to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. This is despite his administration's projections that tens of thousands of Americans are likely to be killed by the disease.
One by one, though, states are increasingly pushing shutdown orders of their own. On Wednesday alone, three more states — Florida, Nevada, and Pennsylvania — added or expanded their stay-at-home orders. The resistance to a more robust federal response comes even as Vice President Mike Pence says White House models for the coronavirus toll show the country on a trajectory akin to hard-hit Italy.
The U.S. now has more than 244,678 confirmed cases, well surpassing Italy's 115,242 cases and China's 82,432 infections. Deaths in the U.S. neared 6,000 as of Thursday evening.
Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:
16 Dead in Outbreak at Virginia Nursing Facility
A Virginia long-term care facility with one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks announced Thursday that its death toll had reached 16 as new testing confirmed roughly two-thirds of its residents have COVID-19.
The Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in suburban Richmond tested all its residents earlier this week after the virus began sweeping through the facility in mid-March, a time when limited supplies and strict policies on who could be tested meant such a response was not possible.
Ninety-two in-house or hospitalized residents have tested positive, the facility said in a statement, up from 41 positive tests earlier in the week. Only 35 tested negative, and 15 tests were still pending, meaning approximately two-thirds of the facility had become infected with the virus.
'Surreal': NY Funeral Homes Struggle as Virus Deaths Surge
Many funeral homes in New York and around the globe are in crisis as they try to meet surging demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Funeral directors are being squeezed on one side by inundated hospitals trying to offload bodies, and on the other by the fact that cemeteries and crematoriums are booked for a week at least. Pat Marmo’s company in Brooklyn is equipped to handle 40 to 60 cases at a time, no problem.
On Thursday morning, it was taking care of 185. He and others are desperate for help.
“Every person there, they’re not a body,” he said. “They’re a father, they’re a mother, they’re a grandmother. They’re not bodies. They’re people.”
He has about 20 embalmed bodies stored on gurneys and stacked on shelves in the basement and another dozen in his secondary chapel room, both chilled by air conditioners.
He estimated that more than 60% had died of the new coronavirus. For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and lead to death.
“It’s surreal,” he said.
Banks Warn of 'Utter Chaos' in New Small Business Lending Program
Millions of small businesses are anxiously awaiting their slices of a $350 billion relief program that forms part of the government's $2 trillion economic support package. However, with just hours to go before launch, it wasn't until Thursday night that banks received their 31 pages of guidance from Treasury on how to lend the money — and some haven't even decided whether they can participate on the opening day.
In a strongly-worded statement, one of the nation's biggest lenders said the much-touted relief program for small business owners wasn't ready for prime time.
"Financial institutions like ours are still awaiting guidance from the SBA and the U.S. Treasury," Chase Bank said in an email to business customers, referring to the Small Business Administration. "As a result, Chase will most likely not be able to start accepting applications on Friday, April 3rd, as we had hoped."
At a White House news briefing Thursday afternoon, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin maintained that the program is ready to go, and said he wasn't aware of the complaints. "We just put up the federal register with the new guidelines for lenders,” he said. “I've been assured that the banks will start lending tomorrow."
The application period for the Paycheck Protection Program administered by the SBA starts at midnight Thursday. The program promises relief for an estimated 30 million small businesses, providing eight weeks of cash flow and 100 percent federally guaranteed loans that could be completely forgiven if they use them to keep their workers employed. The money can also be used to pay rent, utilities and mortgage interest, with no collateral required.
Read the full story at NBC News.com.
Trump Admin. Moves Toward Promoting Broader Use of Face Masks
The Trump administration is formalizing new guidance to recommend that many, if not almost all, Americans wear face coverings when leaving home, in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
The recommendations, still being finalized Thursday, would apply at least to those who live in areas hard-hit by community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. A person familiar with the White House coronavirus task force's discussion said officials would suggest that non-medical masks, T-shirts or bandannas be used to cover the nose and mouth when outside the home — for instance, at the grocery store or pharmacy. Medical-grade masks, particularly short-in-supply N95 masks, would be reserved for those dealing directly with the sick.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the proposed guidance before its public release.
Navy Relieves Captain Who Raised Alarm About Coronavirus on Ship
The Navy has relieved the captain who sounded the alarm about an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, according to two U.S. officials.
Capt. Brett Crozier, who commands the Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier with a crew of nearly 5,000, will be relieved of his command, but keep his rank and remain in the Navy.
Crozier raised the alarm earlier this week that sailors on the ship need to be quarantined to stop the spread of the virus. His plea for assistance quickly made headlines.
Read the full story at NBC News.com.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
FDA Loosens Restrictions on Gay Blood Donors
Amid what it’s calling an “urgent need for blood,” the Food and Drug Administration revised its blood donor guidelines on Thursday, significantly easing the restrictions on men who have sex with men, NBC News reports.
The new guidelines reduce the donation deferral period for sexually active gay and bisexual men from 12 months to three, meaning these otherwise healthy men will now have to abstain from same-sex sexual activity for 90 days before they are eligible to donate blood.
Other 12-month deferral periods have also been shortened under the new guidelines, including those for people who have traveled to areas with certain endemic diseases, those who have engaged in injection drug use and people who have participated in commercial sex work.
Read the full story here.
Gov. Cuomo: NY Could Exhaust Ventilator Stockpile in Days
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned Thursday that the state's supply of breathing machines could be exhausted in six days if the number of people made critically ill by the coronavirus outbreak continues at its current rate.
The breathing machines have become the crucial piece of equipment sought by state and city officials as COVID-19-related hospitalizations spike.
The state is stockpiling ventilators and just released 400 to New York City and another 200 to the surrounding suburbs. But the governor foresaw a problem if the rate of demand keeps up.
“At the current burn rate, we have about six days of ventilators in our stockpile,” the governor said at a news briefing at the state Capitol.
If supplies run short, the state is ready to use anesthesia and BiPAP machines as well as using more than one patient on a single ventilator.
More than 92,000 state residents have tested positive for COVID-19. The true number of people sickened by the virus is likely much higher because officials have been rationing tests and encouraging all but the most seriously ill people not to seek treatment and instead ride it out at home.
The number of New Yorkers killed by the virus soared again, to 2,373. A majority of the fatalities have been in New York City, but an increasing number of deaths are happening in the suburbs and elsewhere in the state.
Democrats Move Milwaukee Convention From July to Mid-August
The 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has been pushed back to mid-August due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The party's presidential convention, originally scheduled for July 13-17, will instead be held the week of August 17.
“In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention,” said DNC Convention Committee CEO Joe Solmonese in a press release.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner in the 2020 race, said on MSNBC Tuesday that he wouldn’t be surprised if the convention were postponed because of the outbreak.
"It's hard to envision that," Biden told MSNBC's Brian Williams when asked whether he could see prominent Democrats from around the country gathering in an arena for the convention if it were still to be held in July.
Nearly 10 Million People Filed for Unemployment in Past 2 Weeks
More than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, far exceeding a record high of 3.3. million set just last week, a sign that layoffs are accelerating in the midst of the coronavirus.
The U.S. economy has suffered nearly 10 million layoffs in the wake of the pandemic as much of the country has been ordered to stay at home to help fight the spread of the coronavirus, forcing employers to slash payrolls to try to stay afloat because their revenue has collapsed.
The magnitude of the layoffs has led many economists to envision as many as 20 million lost jobs by the end of April. That would be more than double the 8.7 million jobs lost during the Great Recession. The unemployment rate could spike to as high as 15% this month, above the previous record of 10.8% set during a deep recession in 1982.
Patriots Plane Ferries N95 Masks From China to Boston
The New England Patriots private team plane is expected to return to Boston from China on Thursday carrying more than 1 million masks critical to health care providers fighting to control the spread of the coronavirus, NBC Boston reports.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker secured the N95 masks from Chinese manufacturers and team owner Robert Kraft stepped in to help get them to the U.S.
Baker thanked the Kraft family in a tweet that included a photo of workers loading boxes onto the plane.
“In today’s world, those of us who are fortunate to make a difference have a significant responsibility to do so with all the assets we have available to us,” Kraft told the Wall Street Journal.
FEMA Asks Pentagon for 100,000 Body Bags
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is requesting for 100,000 body bags from the Defense Department to "address mortuary contingencies on behalf of state health agencies," a spokesman for the Defense Department told NBC News.
The Pentagon already has 50,000 body bags in its stockpile that it will begin tapping to fulfill the request from FEMA, according to Bloomberg News, which first reported the story. Defense officials are trying to acquire an additional 50,000 new bags to meet FEMA’s request.
"The Department of Defense and the Defense Logistics Agency have a longstanding arrangement with FEMA to procure key commodities from DLA's industrial partners during crisis response operations," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews. "DLA is currently responding to FEMA's prudent planning efforts for 100,000 pouches to address mortuary contingencies on behalf of state health agencies."
Dr. Fauci on Alleged Security Threats: I 'Just Focus on the Job'
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top expert on infectious diseases and the face of the response to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., addressed reports that his security detail has been increased due to threats.
Fauci, 79, said on TODAY Thursday that he “feels safe” and chooses to focus on the job.
“I’ve chosen this life,” Fauci said. “I know what it is. There are things about it that sometimes are disturbing. But you just focus on the job you have to do and just put all that other stuff aside and try as best as possible not to pay attention to it and just forge ahead.”
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Fauci has received threats as well as unwelcome communication from admirers. He has also been a target for criticism from some far-right supporters of President Donald Trump.
Fauci warned Thursday that while New York City is now the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. it won’t stay that way.
“We’re going to be seeing this kind of thing in other large cities,” Fauci said.
He said it’s “just a reality” that the U.S. trajectory of cases most closely resembles Italy’s and that the situation is “going to get worse before it gets better, for sure.”
Since there is no vaccine ready yet, social distancing “is our only weapon” in the fight.
Asked whether the U.S. should institute a national lockdown, Fauci indicated that he agreed with the surgeon general who has said Wednesday the government’s 30-day guidelines to stay at home amount to a national stay-at-home order.
At issue with a national mandate are questions about whether it is constitutional for the federal government to force states into lockdown under the U.S. political system.
Fauci called instead for states to revisit certain exemptions that have been issued in some places for things like religious services and barbershops.
Utah Rep. Hospitalized for COVID-19 Advises Americans to 'Take This Seriously'
Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, one of five members of Congress confirmed to have the novel coronavirus, said Thursday he is feeling much better and finishing his recovery at home after spending eight days in the hospital.
"It was quite an ordeal," McAdams said in an interview on TODAY. "I'm not 100%."
McAdams said his symptoms progressed in phases, starting with feeling tired and under the weather to then having trouble breathing, a fever and severe exhaustion. He said he couldn't "get out of bed and walk across the room" without needed to rest and catch his breathe.
The 45-year-old, who said he has no underlying conditions, exercises daily and considers himself to be a "healthy" person, implored Americans to take the disease seriously because he said, "You don't know how it's going to get you, how it's going to affect you."
More Than 5,000 Dead in US
The death toll in the United States continues to climb, reaching 5,137 as of Thursday morning. Italy and Spain are the only two countries with higher death tolls at 13,155 and 9,387 respectively.
Within the U.S., New York City has the highest death toll at 1,374. New York state has had an additional 585 deaths outside of the city. Other hot spots include King, Washington, with 194 deaths, and Wayne, Michigan, with 146, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Hawaii Leaders Ask Trump to Stop Inbound Travel
A trio of Hawaiian mayors asked Trump on Wednesday to halt nonessential out-of-state travel to the islands, NBC News reports.
In a letter to the president, Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu, Derek Kawakami of Kauai and Mike Victorino of Maui argued the move would slow the spread of coronavirus, which has caused one death in a state with 258 cases. Caldwell said a majority of those cases were "travel-related."
On Tuesday, Gov. David Ige ordered those traveling between islands to self-quarantine for 14 days.
How Coronavirus Has Grown in Each State — in 1 Chart
New York has quickly become the epicenter of the American coronavirus outbreak. This chart shows the cumulative number of cases per state by number of days since the 10th case.
Source: Johns Hopkins University
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC