US Coronavirus Updates: CDC Recommends Covering Faces With Cloth, Basic Masks; Cruise Ship Passengers Disembark

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Coronavirus deaths mounted with alarming speed in New York, the most lethal hot spot in the United States, while the outbreak has thrown 10 million Americans out of work in just two weeks and by Friday had sickened more than a million people around the globe.

The public health crisis deepened in New York City, where one funeral home in a hard-hit neighborhood had 185 bodies stacked up — more than triple normal capacity. The state of New York has seen at least 2,935 virus deaths, with New York City accounting for more than 1,500 of them.

The U.S. now has more than 275,000 confirmed cases, well surpassing Italy's 117,000 cases and Spain's 119,000 infections. Deaths in the U.S. passed 7,000 as of Friday evening.

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:

CDC Recommends Covering Faces With Cloth, Basic Masks

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday announced new guidelines recommending the use of cloth materials and basic masks to cover faces.

President Donald Trump made the announcement on Friday during a White House coronavirus task force briefing.

Trump suggested that if people wanted to voluntarily cover their faces with cloth materials or basic masks, that they do so with items that could be home-made, washed and reused.

The recommendation does not extend to medical-grade face masks, including surgical masks and N95 masks, Trump said, adding that those should be reserved for medical professionals.

Trump has repeatedly suggested people use scarves to cover their faces. Trump said he would not be participating in the CDC's voluntary suggestion.

The U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the reason the guidance on face coverings changed after evidence showed increased transmissions from people who are presymptomatic (people who have not yet shown symptoms) and asymptomatic (people who carry the virus but do not show symptoms).

Adams also stressed that surgical masks and N95 masks should be saved for health care workers. He added that social distancing is still the most important aspect of slowing the spread.

"This is not a substitute for social distancing," Adams said.

Dr. Deborah Birx, a U.S. State Department official working as a coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, told reporters on Thursday that social distancing is the best protection.

#SomethingGood: Stories of Comfort, Generosity, Solidarity Amid Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown daily life across the U.S. into chaos. Families suddenly losing loved ones cannot come together to mourn. Health care professionals are putting their lives at risk to treat the untreatable. And the leaders to whom we turn in times of crisis don’t have all the answers.

One bit of good news is there is still good news: Self-isolating Americans are rising to this unprecedented challenge to bring relief, comfort, moments of joy and glimpses of normalcy to a locked-down world.

From merciful landlords to "shopping angels" and teddy bear hunts to a cul-de-sac troubadour, check out these heartwarming stories on this week's edition of #SomethingGood here.

Cruise Ship Passengers Finally Disembark in Florida

Passengers from an ill-fated cruise were carefully freed from their cabins and allowed to touch dry land on Friday for the first time in weeks, following the removal of 14 critically ill people who were wheeled off to Florida hospitals bracing for an onslaught of coronavirus patients, NBC Miami reports.

The exodus from the Zaandaam and its sister ship the Rotterdam could extend into Saturday, officials said. Floridians disembarked first, followed by other passengers. Buses were taking passengers who were showing no symptoms after being screened and cleared by third-party paramedics directly to the airport, escorted by deputies on motorcycles.

As for those needing medical care, Broward Health officials said in a statement some of the 10 patients taken to its hospital were in fair condition, without specifying the number. Three others were taken to another local hospital.

Before disembarking, passengers received instructions to wear face masks at all times when traveling and go immediately into 14 days of self quarantine when they arrived home.

The U.S. State Department is warning U.S. citizens against traveling by cruise ship due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Grupo Modelo to Halt Production of Corona, Modelo, Pacifica Beers

Grupo Modelo announced Thursday it would temporarily stop production of Corona, Modelo and Pacifica beers after the Mexican government deemed its breweries "non-essential" businesses.

The company said in a statement posted to its official Twitter account that the suspension would take place on Sunday. It pledged "total commitment" to slowing the spread of the coronavirus and said it was already scaling down production to a level at which it could resume once the suspension is lifted.

"If the federal government considers it appropriate to issue some clarification confirming beer as an agro-industrial product, at Grupo Modelo we are ready to execute a plan with more than 75% of our staff working from home and at the same time guaranteeing the supply of beer," the statement said.

As of Friday, 50 people had died in Mexico of Covid-19 and more than 1,500 had tested positive for coronavirus.

Grupo Modelo, which is part of the brewing group Anheuser-Busch InBev, operates 11 breweries in Mexico. The company exports its beers to 180 countries.

U.S.-based breweries have become an unexpected casualty of the federal government shutdown. The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, in charge of approving labels and license for any new beer, wine and spirits, has been impacted by the shutdown, and some breweries are now waiting for their new products to be approved.

Coronavirus Could Be Spread by Breathing and Talking, Experts Warn

New research suggests the coronavirus can spread through talking and even breathing, according to a committee convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to advise the White House.

In a letter to the White House Science Adviser Kelvin Droegemeier Wednesday, Dr. Harvey Fineberg, chairman of the Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats, wrote the new coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, that causes the illness COVID-19 might be spread simply through exhaled breath.

"Currently available research supports the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 could be spread via bioaerosols generated directly by patients’ exhalation,” Fineberg wrote.

Fineberg acknowledges that the studies cited have not yet been peer reviewed because scientists are still trying to determine the "viral activity in the collected samples." But scientists can’t rule out that infected people, including those who are asymptomatic, sometimes exhale COVID-19 virus particles, rather than just when coughing or sneezing.

"You may generate the droplets that are invisible, they are so tiny you can't see them, but they are certainly big enough to carry a virus, if you happen to have it in you if you are talking," Fineberg said in an interview on TODAY.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly added "talking" to the list of ways respiratory droplets can spread from person to person, which could explain in part how transmission takes place among people without symptoms like coughing and sneezing.

The findings add fuel to the debate of whether people should wear masks or other face covering when out in public.  The Trump administration is formalizing new guidance to recommend that Americans who live in areas hard hit by community transmission wear face coverings in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Coronavirus Pandemic Deals End to US Hiring

A record-long streak of U.S. job growth ended suddenly in March after nearly a decade as employers cut 701,000 jobs because of the viral outbreak that’s all but shut down the U.S. economy.  

The unemployment rate jumped to 4.4% from a 50-year low of 3.5%. Last month’s actual job loss was likely even larger because the government surveyed employers before the heaviest layoffs hit in the past two weeks.

Nearly 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks of March, far exceeding the figure for any corresponding period on record.

For the April jobs report that will be released in early May, economists expect at least a record 20 million losses and an unemployment rate of around 15%, the highest since the 1930s.

The extraordinary scale of the job cuts is inflicting far-reaching damage on the economies in the United States and abroad, which are widely believed to be sinking into severe recessions. As rising numbers of people lose jobs — or fear they will — consumer spending shrinks. That pullback in spending, which is the primary driver of the economy, intensifies pressure on any businesses that are still operating.

6.6 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week shattering the previous record of 3.3 million from the week before.

NYC Mayor Urges National Enlistment Program for Doctors

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called Friday for a national enlistment program for doctors and nurses to handle an expected surge in coronavirus cases in New York and other places around the country where virus cases are straining existing health care systems.

“Next week in New York City is going to be very tough — next week in New York City and Detroit and New Orleans and a lot of other places,” de Blasio said on MSNBC's “Morning Joe.” “And unless the military is fully mobilized and we create something we’ve never had before, which is some kind of national enlistment of medical personnel moved to the most urgent needs in the country constantly, if we don’t have that we’re going to see hospitals simply unable to handle so many people who could be saved."

De Blasio said that the country should be on a wartime footing to meet the coronavirus threat. “We’re fighting a war against an invisible enemy that is increasingly taking the lives of Americans in vast numbers,” he said.

Federal Gov. to Make New Recommendations on Wearing Face Masks

The White House is expected to recommend that Americans who live in areas hard-hit by community transmissions wear cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The recommendations, still being finalized, 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.

Vice President Mike Pence addressed the potential for a mask advisory, based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance at Thursday's daily press briefing on the pandemic.

He said the new guidance, based on "consultation and advice from the CDC and top health experts," would come "in the days ahead."

President Donald Trump, who was tested again for coronavirus Thursday using a new rapid test, indicated he would support such a recommendation. "If people wanted to wear them, they can," he said.

Dr. Deborah Birx, a U.S. State Department official working as a coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, told reporters on Thursday that social distancing is the best protection.

US Death Toll Climbs Past 6,000

The United States has reached yet another grim milestone Friday morning with 6,057 confirmed COVID-19 deaths across the nation.

Of the total deaths, New York state has about a third, with 2,468. The state also has a large amount of the total U.S. cases with 92,743, according to Johns Hopkins University.

6.6 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week shattering the previous record of 3.3 million from the week before.

The Associated Press/NBC
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