Coronavirus live updates: ‘Virus decides’ when to reopen US, Fauci says; no travel for Good Friday, Easter; deaths surpass 16,000

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday he would “want to see a clear indication” that the U.S. is “very clearly and strongly going in the right direction,” before reopening the country.

“The virus kind of decides whether or not it’s going to be appropriate to open,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on CNN. He warned the country could “prematurely” end social distancing measures and then “you’re right back in the same situation.” 

Fauci said that the curve of new cases appear to be flattening as hospitalizations and patients on ventilators in New York were down: “We’re going in the right direction, let’s keep in that direction.”

Elsewhere, travelers were being cautioned to stay home around the world to mark the traditions of Good Friday and the Easter weekend. Eagerly awaited stimulus checks should soon be hitting Americans’ bank accounts. And UK leader Boris Johnson, out of intensive care, has his father worried but filled with “relief.”

The U.S. death toll was at more than 16,600 early Friday, with more than 466,000 confirmed cases as of Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. About 26,000 Americans have recovered.

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When should the US ‘reopen’? Fauci, Trump and Pelosi weigh in

As the curve of new cases appears to flatten, President Donald Trump said he was hopeful the U.S. could “reopen” soon. 

“Hopefully we’re going to be opening up – you can call it ‘opening’ – very, very, very, very soon, I hope,” Trump said a Thursday press briefing.  “We’re at the top of the hill, pretty sure we’re at the top of the hill,” Trump added.

Top White House officials also suggested this week that parts of the country and the economy could reopen by May.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though, suggested that the House of Representatives would not return to Washington, D.C., at the end of April and cautioned Trump against moving too quickly. “I would hope that the scientific community would weigh in and say, ‘You can’t do this, it is only going to make matters worse if you go out too soon,'” Pelosi told Politico.

Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases,said Thursday  that there wasn’t any one medical factor for reopening and indicated it could occur at different times for different parts of the country.

“It’s not going to be one-size-fits-all,” Fauci said.

– Nicholas Wu and Ryan Miller

Fauci: Antibody testing coming within ‘a week or so’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that “a rather large number” of antibody tests could be available within “a week or so.”

Antibody tests for the new coronavirus could show who has already had the virus and recovered, which Fauci said is especially important for people who may have been asymptomatic and not known they had the virus. Fauci said that the tests will be important to develop a strategy on determining who is at risk for being reinfected.

“This would be important for health care workers, for first line fighters,” Fauci said on CNN Friday morning.

After the test is more widely available, it’s possible that Americans could be carrying “certificates of immunity,” Fauci said.

“It’s one of those things that we talk about when we want to make sure that we know who the vulnerable people are and not. This something that’s being discussed. I think it might actually have some merit under certain circumstances.”

Fauci warned, though, that other countries have been “burned’ by antibody tests and said they need to be validated, consistent and accurate. 

However, once the antibody testing is widely available, testing for who currently has the coronavirus will run in parallel, Fauci said.

Stimulus checks: When will we see them?

Americans have received conflicting information on when they will receive stimulus checks due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. But there’s good news: Checks will be hitting their bank accounts soon. 

The first wave of $1,200 stimulus payments is on track to be paid the week of April 13, according to Lisa Greene-Lewis, a certified public accountant at TurboTax. The government is prioritizing the first few waves of payments in the coming weeks toward low-income Americans and Social Security beneficiaries, Greene-Lewis says.

Some Americans were confused following conflicting reports from different corners of the government in recent weeks. The IRS said at the end of March stimulus payments would start being distributed within three weeks. 

Then Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on April 2 the first stimulus payments would arrive for some via direct deposit within two weeks. Larry Kudlow, senior economic adviser to President Donald Trump, then said this week that checks could go out this week or next. Others have said they could have come as early as April 9.

The IRS didn’t respond to requests for comment. 

– Jessica Menton

Good Friday, Easter weekend: Celebrate at home

People around the world began observing Good Friday from the safety of their homes as politicians and public health officials have warned that the hard-won gains against the pandemic must not be jeopardized by relaxing social distancing over the Easter holiday weekend. Across Europe, where Easter is one of the busiest travel times, authorities set up roadblocks and otherwise discouraged family gatherings.

Amid widespread restrictions on public gatherings, major religious denominations are holding virtual services where members can watch on TV or online. Others are arranging prayer at drive-in theaters, where people can stay in their cars.

Other churches plan to move ahead with services, especially in states like Texas, where the governor declared religious gatherings “essential services.” A Houston church has installed hand-washing stations and rearranged its 1,000-person sanctuary to hold about 100 people spaced 6 feet (2 meters) or more apart.

Pope Francis will celebrate Easter Mass in a nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica instead of the huge square outside. In England, the Archbishop of Canterbury will deliver his Easter sermon by video.

– Associated Press

With more cases than any country, New York state sees deadliest day

New York state alone has more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other country in the world, data from its health department and Johns Hopkins University suggest.

There were 159,937 known coronavirus cases in New York as of Friday. Spain had 157,022 confirmed cases and Italy had 143,626.

New York also reported a record-breaking number of deaths for a third straight day, at 799. More than 7,000 people have died in the state, accounting for almost half the U.S. death toll.

“That is so shocking and painful and breathtaking, I don’t even have the words for it,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.

But he added that there are hopeful signs, including slowdowns in the number of people being hospitalized, admitted to intensive care and placed on ventilators.

Boris Johnson’s dad says his son needs time to ‘rest up’ from the coronavirus

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson must be allowed to “rest up” before getting back to work after he was moved out of intensive care to a regular hospital ward, the British leader’s father said in an interview on Friday. 

Johnson’s 79-year-old father, Stanley, said he felt “tremendously grateful” for his son’s improving condition.

“Relief is the right word,” he said in a BBC radio interview. But he warned that his son needed a period of recuperation before returning to work. 

“He has to take time. I cannot believe you can walk away from this and get straight back to Downing Street and pick up the reins without a period of readjustment,” he said. 

Johnson is the first major world leader known to have contracted the coronavirus. In a series of video messages he published on social media before he was admitted to the hospital with the illness, Johnson appeared increasingly unwell as he carried on the work of government in isolation at his official residence and office at Downing Street. 

– Kim Hjelmgaard

Magic Johnson talks HIV, coronavirus misconceptions and impact on black community

“The reason I’m still living is early detection,” retired NBA player Magic Johnson said Thursday on CNN. “I had a test and I had a physical. It came up that I had HIV, and that saved my life.”

Johnson still drew parallels between HIV and COVID-19 because of the similarities regarding the misconceptions about the respective viruses, inadequate testing, lack of available drugs and how the pandemic has hurt the black community.

“African Americans are leading in terms of dying from the coronavirus and most of them in the hospital are African American,” Johnson said. “We have to do a better job as African Americans to follow social distancing, stay at home and make sure we educate our loved ones and our family members and do what we’re supposed to do to keep safe and healthy.

“Then when you add that up, we don’t have access to health care, quality health care. So many of us are uninsured. That also creates a problem, too. Just like it did with HIV and AIDS.” Read more here.

– Mark Medina

Utah tourism takes hit with closure of last of ‘Big Five’ national parks

The last of Utah’s “Big Five” national parks closed Thursday, effectively shutting down a tourism industry that pumped a record $9.75 billion into the state’s economy in 2018.

Gov. Gary Herbert announced Capitol Reef National Park’s closure, two days after Bryce Canyon National park closed and less than a week after the closure of Zion National Park. Arches and Canyonlands national parks closed March 27.

A report from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah last November showed a 6.5% increase in tourism spending over 2017, pushing revenues close to $10 billion, and record visitation of more than 10 million people at the national parks.

The decision to close national parks have been left up to individual parks, according to the National Park Service.

– Lexi Peery, The Spectrum & Daily News (St. George, Utah)

Democrats block $250B for small businesses, cite needs of hospitals

An effort by Senate Republicans to replenish an emergency fund for small businesses hurt by the coronavirus crisis was blocked by Democrats, who called it a “political stunt” that failed to consider hospitals and other pressing needs. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had proposed legislation boosting the popular Paycheck Protection Program by another $250 billion on top of the $349 billion Congress approved last month as part of the $2.2 trillion pandemic response known as the CARES act.

But when it came up Thursday on a voice vote, Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen objected, effectively blocking it. The bill “was not negotiated so it won’t get done,” Cardin said.

Studies suggest coronavirus spread in New York came from Europe

The coronavirus began spreading in New York in February and came to the area via travelers from Europe, new research suggests. Two separate teams of scientists studying the genetics of the virus came to similar conclusions: People were spreading the virus weeks before the first confirmed case in New York.

“We know with certainty that these were coming from European strains,” Adriana Heguy, director of the Genome Technology Center at NYU Langone Health, told USA TODAY.

The first case of the new coronavirus confirmed in New York came on March 1. On Jan. 31, President Donald Trump said he would restrict entry to the United States from those traveling from China. On March 11, Trump said he was restricting travel from Europe.

– Ryan W. Miller

More coronavirus news and information from USA TODAY

IMF chief warns of worst global recession since Depression

The head of the International Monetary Fund said Thursday the coronavirus pandemic will push the global economy into the deepest recession since the Great Depression, and the poorest countries will fare the worst. That marks a dramatic turnaround to what was on track to be a year of economic growth.

Three months ago, the IMF projected income growth per capita for 160 countries. Now the organization expects more than 170 nations will see per capita income diminish. Emerging markets and low-income nations across Africa, Latin America and much of Asia are at high risk, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said.

“With weak health systems to begin with, many face the dreadful challenge of fighting the virus in densely populated cities and poverty-stricken slums, where social distancing is hardly an option,” Georgieva said.

African countries have sounded the alarm about a lack of access to medical equipment that may leave them vulnerable to the virus.

Dozens of American Airlines flight crew members test positive for coronavirus

The unions that represent commercial pilots and flight attendants say dozens of them who work for American Airlines have tested positive for the coronavirus, and they need better protection.

One hundred of the airline’s flight attendants had COVID-19 as of Saturday, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants said. In a statement, Julie Hendrick, AFPA’s new president, said the union has been pushing American since January for protective measures for front-line workers.

On Thursday, Capt. Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the union that represents American Airlines pilots, told USA TODAY that 41 of them have tested positive for the virus.

Because flight crews could be vectors for the virus, Tajer said they should “receive ‘first responder’ status and priority for protective equipment.”

–  Rasha Ali and Jayme Deerwester

More coronavirus news from USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press

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