COVID-19 Daily Update: May 1, 2020

President Donald Trump speaks about protecting seniors, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon).

WHO chief responds to Trump, says virus did not originate in lab

The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization reiterated that the group believes the novel coronavirus is “natural in origin.”

Dr. Michael Ryan responded Friday to to comments by President Donald Trump, who said he has seen information that the virus may have emerged from a virology institute in China.

Ryan said WHO teams have listened “again and again” to many scientists who have looked at the gene sequences and the virus, “and we are assured that this virus is natural in origin.”

Ryan said it was important to establish the natural host of the virus, which could help pave the way for a better understanding of it and ways to prevent and respond to future outbreaks.

On Thursday, Trump suggested he was confident that China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology was at the origin of the coronavirus, before again criticizing WHO’s early response to the outbreak. Most scientists believe the virus emerged at a market in the Chinese city, linked to an animal that has not yet been identified.

Trump speculates that China released virus in lab ‘mistake’

President Donald Trump is speculating that China could have unleashed the coronavirus on the world due to some kind of horrible “mistake.” And his intelligence agencies say they are still examining a notion put forward by the president and aides that the pandemic may have resulted from an accident at a Chinese lab. Scientists suggest the virus spread from an animal to a human. The intel agencies did debunk one conspiracy theory, saying they have concluded the new virus was “not manmade or genetically modified.” China said speculation such as Trump’s is unfounded and “purely fabricated out of nothing.”

Pelosi: States, cities seek $1T to avoid layoffs from virus

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says state and local governments are seeking up to $1 trillion for coronavirus costs. It’s an eye-popping sum for the next relief package that’s certain to run into opposition from Senate Republicans. Pelosi said Thursday the money for “heroes” would help prevent layoffs of nurses, bus drivers and other front-line workers as governors and mayors stare down red ink in their budgets. The new marker comes after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shifted tone and said he’s “open” to additional funding for the states. But McConnell says any new bill must include liability protections from an “avalanche” of lawsuits against businesses that reopen.

GOP lawmakers reject Michigan’s virus order; Whitmer unfazed

The Republican-led Michigan Legislature has refused to extend the state’s coronavirus emergency declaration. It also voted Thursday to authorize a lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s authority and actions to combat the pandemic. The unfazed governor issued new orders declaring states of emergency and disaster. The emergency is the basis for Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, which she says has saved lives. The Legislature’s steps came as hundreds of conservative activists returned to the Capitol to denounce Whitmer’s stay-home measure.

Georgia Governor pleased with efforts to reopen so far  

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp will allow his statewide shelter-in-place order to expire at midnight Thursday but is extending his emergency powers to June 12 and telling the elderly and medically fragile to stay at home until then. Social distancing requirements and bans on large gatherings remain in place.

Kemp told The Associated Press in a Thursday interview that he’s been pleased with how his effort to reopen some businesses – among the most aggressive in the nation – has gone in the face of a continuing COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened 26,000 people in the state and killed more than 1,100.

Connecticut to start reopening on May 20th

The first step in a gradual, multi-stage process of lifting restrictions on businesses and activities in Connecticut, including allowing outdoor dining at restaurants, is expected to begin on May 20, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday.

Remaining retail establishments, hair and nail services, outdoor exhibits at zoos and museums, outdoor recreation such as camping and mountain biking, and university research programs will also be allowed to open on that date with certain restrictions, barring any major flareups of COVID-19 or major issues with testing and contact tracing.

Employees at offices will still be encouraged to continue working from home where possible.  Meanwhile, older people and those with pre-existing conditions are still encouraged to remain at home as of May 20.

Lamont said an announcement will be made next week about when schools might reopen and restrictions on social gatherings might be lifted.

British PM says the U.K. is “past the peak”  

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the U.K. is “past the peak” and “on a downward slope” in its coronavirus outbreak.

In his first news conference in more than a month following his hospitalization with COVID-19 and subsequent recuperation, Johnson said he would be presenting a “comprehensive plan” next week about how and when the U.K. will ease lockdown restrictions, which are due to last at least until May 7.

Though he said it would provide a “road map,” Johnson is widely expected to extend the current lockdown further.

Southwest Airlines announces new safety measures due to COVID 19

Fewer people on board and no free snacks are just a couple of the changes Southwest airlines is making. Starting May 11th, passengers will be required to wear a mask. Airline staff is already wearing a mask and gloves.  In addition, there will be no in-flight food/drink service.  “We recommend eating before you travel”, the airline said in an online statement. Travelers will be allowed to bring their own food on board.

Also, the airline says it’s going to have customers board in groups of 10, and when possible the middle seat will be left empty. Families traveling will be allowed to use it if needed.

Southwest has also added “multiple layers of stringent cleaning and disinfecting”  including “An electrostatic disinfectant and anti-microbial spray is applied on every surface of the aircraft that kills viruses on contact and forms a protective shield for 30 days.”

NASA plea: Stay home for 1st home astronaut launch in years

NASA and SpaceX on Friday urged everyone to stay home for the first home launch of astronauts in nearly a decade because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Top officials warned the public against traveling to Florida for the May 27 launch of two NASA astronauts aboard a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station.

It will be the first launch of astronauts from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in nine years — ever since the last space shuttle flight in 2011. It also will be the first attempt by a private company to fly astronauts to orbit.

For space space shuttle launches, hundreds of thousands of people would descend on Kennedy Space Center and nearby beaches, said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“The challenge that we’re up against right now is we want to keep everybody safe,” he said. “And so we’re asking people not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center, and I will tell you that makes me sad to even say it. Boy, I wish we could make this into something really spectacular.”

Bridenstine urged the public to watch the launch online or on TV from home.

“We don’t want an outbreak,” of COVID-19, he told reporters.

AP: DEA agent accused of stealing PPE from agency warehouse

A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent and a telecommunications specialist are accused of stealing personal protective equipment, toilet paper and other supplies from an agency warehouse in Florida amid shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.

The officials, who were not authorized to discuss the case and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity, say it was not clear exactly how much of the supplies the men took or what they intended to do with them but the matter was serious enough that both were suspended and the agent was asked to hand over his gun pending an internal review.

Special Agent Javier Hernandez and the telecommunications specialist whose name was not disclosed are just the latest employees of the DEA’s high-profile Miami field division to be accused of misconduct.

Hernandez is suspected of swiping an array of items including PPE, toilet paper and batteries from storage in the early weeks of the pandemic, the officials said, and the telecommunications specialist also took materials from the warehouse but returned them after a supervisor confronted him about a missing supply of toilet paper. It’s not clear whether the men are accused of acting together.

The incident raises questions about security measures at the DEA facility in Weston, about 20 miles west of Fort Lauderdale, and how the case was handled. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said it had no record of the allegations, which federal authorities instead referred to the DEA’s Office of Professional Responsibility for an internal investigation.

New York schools staying closed through spring, Cuomo says

New York’s schools and colleges will remain shut through the end of the academic year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday.

The order, which applies to 4.2 million students statewide, continues a shutdown that had been set to expire May 15. The Democratic governor said it is simply too risky to reopen when the virus is still sending nearly 1,000 people into the hospital every day.

“We don’t think it’s possible to do that in a way that would keep our children and students and educators safe, so we’re going to have the schools remain closed for the rest of the year, we’re going to continue the distance learning programs,” Cuomo said.

Healthy pigs being killed as meatpacking backlog hits farms

More than 60,000 farmers normally send about 115 million pigs a year to slaughter in the U.S. A little less than a quarter of those hogs are raised in Iowa, by far the biggest pork-producing state.

Officials estimate that about 700,000 pigs across the nation can’t be processed each week and must be euthanized. Most of the hogs are being killed at farms, but up to 13,000 a day also may be euthanized at the JBS pork plant in Worthington, Minnesota.

It all means that meat can’t be delivered to grocery stores, restaurants that now are beginning to reopen or food banks that are seeing record demand from people suddenly out of work. Some of that demand is being met by high levels of meat in cold storage, but analysts say that supply will quickly dwindle, likely causing people to soon see higher prices and less selection.

To help farmers, the USDA already has set up a center that can supply the tools needed to euthanize hogs. That includes captive bolt guns and cartridges that can be shot into the heads of larger animals as well as chutes, trailers and personal protective equipment.

The USDA has a program designed to connect farmers with local meat lockers and small processors that can slaughter some hogs and donate the meat to food banks. However, that effort has been hindered by the fact that small processors already were overwhelmed with customers who have turned away from mass-produced meat and instead bought a hog or cow to be processed locally.

The place Chinese travelers want to visit in 2020 is… Wuhan

This might be one of the most unexpected turn of events during the novel coronavirus outbreak — Wuhan has been named the no.1 destination Chinese citizens want to visit after the crisis is over.

The study on travel needs and trends during the Covid-19 outbreak was jointly conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Tourism Research Center and Tencent Culture and Tourism Industry Research Center.

The results, released on April 28, are based on 15,163 questionnaires, big data from more than 20 million posts on social media accounts and forums as well as a dozen in-depth one-on-one interviews.

Wuhan overtook Beijing as the top domestic city on Chinese travelers’ wish list after the lockdown.

The city, closely associated with the outbreak of the virus, ranked only eighth according to the data collected between December 2019 and mid-January 2020. The second place was originally taken by Chongqing.

The hashtag “武汉成为疫情后网民最想去旅游的城市” (which roughly translates as “Wuhan becomes the top city netizens want to visit after the epidemic”) has become one of the hottest trending topics on Weibo, with 25,000 discussions and 270 million views on the topic.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants baseball and football to get on the field, and he says big league opening day could take place around the start of July.

“I think there will be a college football season. They may have nobody in the stands or reduced attendance, but my understanding is, particularly in the ACC, which I follow, that they’re anticipating having a season,” the Kentucky Republican said during an interview Thursday on Louisville radio station WLCL.

“More immediately, I called the commissioner of baseball a couple of weeks ago and I said, `America needs baseball. It’s the sign of getting back to normal. Any chance?’ And you may have heard, there is discussion about having an abbreviated season beginning around the Fourth of July, where the teams would either play at their spring training sites in Arizona or Florida or play at home to largely empty stadiums.”

Big league opening day had been scheduled for March 26. The start has been pushed back indefinitely due the new coronavirus pandemic.

“But I think the country needs sports. We’ve all missed that during the pandemic, and the sooner we can get at least some of our sports, and I think the one eligible to begin first would be baseball. It would be a great morale booster for the country and an indication that we’re going to begin to get back to normal.”

What You Can Do to Keep Yourself and Your Family Healthy

  • Take everyday preventive actions to stay healthy
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.

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