As all 50 states ease their lockdowns against the coronavirus, public health officials in some states are being accused of bungling infection statistics or even deliberately using a little sleight of hand to make things look better than they are.
The result is that politicians, business owners and ordinary Americans who are making decisions about reopenings and other day-to-day matters risk being left with the impression that the virus is under more control than it actually is.
Meanwhile, Democrats on a Senate Banking Committee hearing accused the Trump administration of pushing to reopen the economy simply to boost financial markets, while not doing enough to protect the lives of lower-income workers — by, for example, ramping up viral testing.
Guidelines from the Trump administration say that before states begin reopening, they should see a 14-day downward trend in infections. However, some states have reopened when infections were still climbing or had plateaued. States have also been instructed to expand testing and contact tracing.
The U.S. has confirmed 1.5 million cases and more than 93,000 deaths from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:
Protesters Give Free Haircuts Outside Michigan Capital to Protest Barber, Salon Closures
A group protesting against Michigan's barber and salon closures due to the coronavirus pandemic gave free haircuts to people lining up outside the state's Capitol.
Barbershops, salons and spas stand at the forefront of small businesses that want to open again despite the risks of their services, which require employees to be in close contact with customers — similar to medical or dental care.
The coronavirus has contributed to more than 5,000 confirmed deaths in Michigan, the fourth-highest toll in the country. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s closure of nonessential businesses is among the nation’s toughest and is in effect at least through May 28.
Over the course of the day around 300 people turned out for "Operation Haircut," which was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition – the same organization that led a car-based rally against Whitmer’s orders in April. Seven barbers or hairdressers were cited at Wednesday's demonstration for disorderly conduct — engaging in an illegal occupation or business — after being warned by state police. The cases were referred to the state attorney general. The penalty is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both.
Survey Shows Effect of Virus on Food Scarcity, Rent Payments
More than 10% of U.S. households in a survey last week said they could not get enough of the food they needed some of the time or often, and almost a quarter of respondents said they will have difficulty paying their rent or mortgage or will defer payments, according to survey results released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Household Pulse Survey showed that around 40% of respondents said last week they had delayed seeking medical care as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and a little under half of the households surveyed last week had some loss of job-related income.
Almost 100% of respondents with kids in school had education plans disrupted by school closures, transitions to online learning or having parents teach at home. Adults with kids in schools spent 13 hours on average on teaching activities during the last seven days, according to the survey.
Wednesday's release was the first for the experimental Household Pulse Survey, which is an effort by the Census Bureau and five other federal agencies to capture the effect of the pandemic on households in almost real time. It will be updated weekly through the summer.
When it came to food scarcity, Mississippi led the nation with almost 20% of respondents reporting they had trouble getting the food they wanted or needed. North Dakota had the lowest rate at 5.4%.
More than half of respondents in Oregon reported delaying getting medical care, the highest in the nation, while only 36% of respondents in Oklahoma said they had delayed medical care, the lowest in the nation.
Invitations to participate in last week's online survey were sent out to 1,048,950 households, and 41,996 respondents answered the questionnaire between May 7 and May 12 for what was actually the second survey. The first survey was conducted between April 23 and May 5, and those results also were released Wednesday.
The other agencies involved are the National Center for Health Statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Services and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Workers Cheered as They Enter South Dakota Pork Plant
Employees at a Smithfield pork processing plant in South Dakota where a coronavirus outbreak infected over 800 people saw something new as they showed up to work.
They were greeted Wednesday by nearly a dozen Sioux Falls residents with thank you signs, cheers and waves. The event was organized by a group of friends who wanted to give meatpacking workers a show of support similar to what health care workers have received during the pandemic.
Smithfield has instructed many workers to return to work this week as it looks to scale up operations by the end of the month.
The Smithfield plant, which produces roughly 5% of the nation's pork supply, gave an early warning of how quickly the virus can spread in meatpacking plants that are key to the nation's food supply. Two employees at the plant have died from COVID-19, along with more than 20 meat and poultry workers nationwide.
Smithfield shut the plant down for three weeks and has installed plexiglass barriers between work stations to prevent infections from spreading. The company is also spreading employees at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart when possible.
NY Joins Growing Number of States Ordering Universal Testing at Nursing Homes
New York City will offer free coronavirus tests at the city's 169 nursing homes and will provide staff to replace nursing home employees who test positive for the virus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
The announcement comes after some 3,000 residents of nursing homes in the city have died of COVID-19.
De Blasio noted that the state is in charge of regulating nursing homes, but said the city would start a “two-week blitz” to provide up to 3,000 tests a day to residents and employees at the facilities.
He said the city already has sent 240 fill-in staff members to replace nursing home employees who tested positive for the virus and must stay home for two weeks. The city will fulfill additional staffing requests by the end of next week, he said.
New York joins a growing number of states mandating universal testing of all nursing home residents and staffers, including Texas, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona and Pennsylvania, among others.
The initiative comes after the White House strongly recommended to governors last week that all residents and staff at such facilities be tested for the coronavirus as part of any reopening plan. The administration stopped short of ordering testing at the nation’s more than 15,000 nursing homes.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said his state was ramping up testing but cast doubt on the feasibility of doing that for everyone in every home.
“I don’t know that that’s going to get done,” said DeWine, whose state has reported nearly 500 deaths in long-term care facilities in three weeks. He added, “There’s frankly a lot of people in the medical field who would argue that the testing of everybody in that nursing home might not be the best protocol.”
An ongoing count by The Associated Press has found that outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities have killed more than 30,000 people, more than one-third of all coronavirus deaths in the country.
Bus Lines Seek Federal Help as Coronavirus Cripples Industry
The nation's 3,000 or so private bus lines — and the millions of people who rely on them for cheap, basic travel — fret that they'll go under without the same kind of federal help trains and planes are enjoying as a pandemic-immobilized America tries to get back to work and play.
Buses, integral to the transit network, serve a multitude of purposes as they shuttle around 600 million people annually, nearly twice the U.S. population. They take college students home for the weekend, business people and tourists to airports and gamblers and sports fans to casinos and stadiums.
With more than 95% of the nation’s private fleet shut down, bus lines are now calling on the government to provide $15 billion in grants and loans to help it weather stay-at-home orders that have idled their buses for two months in some regions.
If help doesn’t arrive soon, the industry fears many companies will go under, creating a transportation vacuum that would be hard to fill and depriving the public of a cheap travel option.
“I think there’s going to be several companies, if not dozens or even hundreds, that six months from now are going to run out of money and are not going to have any other options to weather the storm,” said Jeff Greteman, chief executive officer of Windstar Lines, which operates in the Midwest and Florida.
CDC Releases Detailed Guidelines for Reopening US
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly released detailed guidance for reopening schools, mass transit and non-essential businesses that had been shut down in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, CNBC reports.
The 60-page document, posted on the website without a formal announcement, comes weeks after some states announced that they would lift stay-at-home orders and begin reopening parts of their economies. It also comes as the CDC has remained largely quiet on the pandemic. Agency officials haven’t held a coronavirus-related briefing in more than two months.
The plan by the CDC outlines a “three-phased approach” for reducing social distancing measures and proposes the use of six “gating” indicators to assess when to move through another phase. The gating indicators include decreases in newly reported Covid-19 cases and emergency room visits as well as a “robust” testing program.
Read the full story here.
Some Have Tested Positive for COVID-19 After Recovering. What Does That Mean?
At least 14 sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt who had recovered from COVID-19 have tested positive for a second time, raising questions about immunity and whether people can catch the coronavirus shortly after getting better.
But according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, detection of viral RNA, or genetic code, "does not necessarily mean that infectious virus is present." In other words, the test may be picking up a piece of the viral RNA that's been left behind, rather than a fully intact, infectious virus particle.
A second positive test after a negative result may mean the virus is simply taking its time leaving the body, doctors said, and is no longer able to infect others.
A study from South Korea bolsters that idea. Scientists from the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied 285 COVID-19 survivors who tested positive for the coronavirus after having appeared to recover, as indicated by a previous negative test result. Researchers were unable to find evidence that the patients remained infectious and virus samples collected from them couldn’t be grown in lab studies, indicating the patients were shedding non-infectious or dead virus particles.
Ruling That Would Expand Texas Mail-In Voting Put on Hold
A federal appeals court Wednesday quickly put on a hold a ruling that paved the way in Texas for a dramatic expansion of mail-in voting due to fears of the coronavirus.
The move by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans came less than 24 hours after a federal judge in San Antonio ruled that Texas must give all 16 million registered voters in the state the option of voting by mail during the pandemic.
A three-judge panel stopped that decision from taking effect for now while the case is reviewed. Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton cheered the decision, saying that allowing everyone to vote by mail “would only lead to greater fraud and disenfrachise lawful voters." U.S. District Judge Fred Biery said in his ruling Tuesday that there was scant evidence to support those claims, and states that already allow all-mail votes have not reported significant fraud.
Voting by mail in Texas is generally limited to those 65 or older or those with a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents voting in person. Paxton has asserted that fear of getting the virus doesn’t qualify as a disability under the law.
The fight in Texas is one of several nationwide over expanding access to mail-in ballots amid the pandemic. Primary runoff elections in Texas are set for July 14.
Justice Department Warns California About Restrictions on Churches
The Justice Department on Tuesday sent a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom expressing concerns about how soon churches will be allowed to resume in-person services and raising Constitutional issues.
The letter takes issue with state plans to allow the resumption of in-person religious services, which is scheduled to start after manufacturing and officework are allowed to resume.
It also cites a past statement from U.S. Attorney Bill Barr that says, "government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity."
Tuesday's letter also says that the state's stay-at-home order "does not appear to treat religious activities and comparable nonreligious activities the same."
Read the full story on NBCNews.com
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