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US Coronavirus Updates: Trump Claims ‘Total' Authority on Reopening; Stimulus Deposits by Wednesday

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The coronavirus death toll in the United States has surpassed 23,000 with the total number of cases reaching nearly 580,000 Monday evening, according to a tally from John's Hopkins University.

More than 1.9 million coronavirus infections have been reported and over 118,000 people have died worldwide.

The figures understate the true size and toll of the pandemic, due to limited testing, uneven counting of the dead and deliberate under-counting by some governments.

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

Trump Claims 'Total' Authority, Over Governors, to Reopen Economy

President Donald Trump claimed the “total” authority Monday to decide how and when to reopen the economy after weeks of tough social distancing guidelines aimed at fighting the new coronavirus. But governors from both parties were quick to push back, noting they have primary responsibility for ensuring public safety in their states and would decide when it's safe to begin a return to normal operations.

Trump would not offer specifics about the source of his asserted power, which he claimed, despite constitutional limitations, was absolute.

“When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump said at the White House. “The governors know that.”

The comments came not long after Democratic leaders in the Northeast and along the West Coast announced separate state compacts to coordinate their efforts to scale back stay-at-home orders or reopen businesses on their own timetables.

Anxious to put the crisis behind him, Trump has been discussing with senior aides how to roll back federal social distancing recommendations that expire at the end of the month.

During the coronavirus task force press conference on Monday, President Donald Trump told reporters that “when somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total.” A reporter repeatedly asked Trump to elaborate on the comment. He ultimately shut down follow-up questions on the subject by stating “Enough.”

US Stimulus Deposits to Be Received by Wednesday

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he expects that more than 80 million Americans should have tax rebates directly deposited into the bank accounts by Wednesday.

Many Americans qualify for tax credits approved as part of legislation designed to boost the economy as the country responds to the new coronavirus.

Under the program, single filers received $1,200 and joint filers $2,400, though it phases out for higher incomes.

For those who don’t get their money by Wednesday, Mnuchin said the IRS will have a website available that would allow people to plug in information and allow for their direct deposit to take place quickly.

Mnuchin said Social Security beneficiaries don’t have to do anything. The money will be directly deposited in their bank account.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on Monday that payments for the coronavirus stimulus package should be delivered to 80 million Americans by Wednesday.

Governors of Most-Affected States Working Together on Plan to Reopen

New York, New Jersey and four other states will work together to reopen their economies once the coronavirus outbreak begins to subside, governors of those states said Monday.

They held a conference call to announce that they will share information and form a task force to help guide the reopening of the states’ economies when it’s time.

“The house is still on fire. We still have to put the fire out, but we do have to begin putting in the pieces of the puzzle that we know we’re going to need ... to make sure this doesn’t re-ignite,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said.

The West Coast states of Washington, Oregon and California also announced they would work together to reopen the economies.

White House Asks Governors for Help in Testing

The White House is asking governors for help in getting high-tech lab machines up and running to process coronavirus tests.

In a conference call with governors Monday, Vice President Mike Pence asked governors for “whatever you can do” to help get testing machines found in hospitals, research laboratories and other places running at full capacity. The Associated Press obtained audio of the call.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said on the call that she’s working with labs around the country to make sure the machines are running at full capacity.

The machines “have a need for a lot of technical support” and require trained operators to run them, Birx said.

“In the last three weeks, we could have run 3 million tests. We’ve run 200,000,” she said.

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

New York State COVID-19 Death Toll Tops 10,000

New York’s death toll from coronavirus topped 10,000, with hospitals still seeing 2,000 new patients a day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

The state tallied 671 new deaths on Sunday. It was the first time in a week daily toll dipped below 700.

"I think you can say the worst is over," Cuomo said during a state Capitol news briefing, noting the mitigation efforts in place has helped control the spread of the virus.

Still, the governor noted people are still dying at a “horrific level of pain and grief and sorrow.”

Cuomo said almost 2,000 people were newly hospitalized with the virus Sunday, though once discharges and deaths are accounted for, the number of people hospitalized has flattened to just under 19,000.

Meanwhile, New York City is in danger of running out of swabs for COVID-19 tests and is urging medical providers to continue testing only patients who are gravely ill, the city health department said in a memo to health care providers.

The warning came amid repeated pleas from New York City and state officials for the federal government to provide widespread testing in order to move to a containment phase in the coronavirus outbreak.

Asked when the governor thinks the economy will reopen, Cuomo said the process requires "a delicate balance" of easing social restrictions, increasing economic activity and a recalibration of which workers are considered essential, while also continuing to ramp up testing.

Cuomo said the economic "valve" needs to be opened slowly while monitoring infection rates. If those start ticking up, he said, "then you know you’ve opened the valve too fast."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo explains the coronavirus pandemic is not going to end quickly.

Food Banks Face Soaring Demand, Aerial Images Show Massive Lines of Cars

Food banks across the country are experiencing a massive surge from cash-strapped Americans thrown out of work by the coronavirus pandemic, with some people waiting for hours in lines of cars that stretch for miles at food distribution sites.

“We’re looking at an increase of 17.1 million people over the course of the next six months,” Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of the nation’s largest hunger relief effort Feeding America, told NBC News.

The organization’s network includes 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs.

Hundreds of cars lined up at a food drive in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as organizations try to help people through the coronavirus pandemic. In Oklahoma City, the lines of cars even caused traffic delays.

Babineaux-Fontenot cited a 98% increase in demand for free food and a “conservative” estimate that her organization will need about $1.4 billion to cover what’s needed. The projected shortfall comes as 64 percent of the group’s food banks said in a mid-March survey that food donations had declined, NBC News reported.

In Texas, about 10,000 cars idled recently at a site run by San Antonio Food Bank. The organization’s CEO Eric Cooper told NBC’s TODAY show Monday that they typically feed about 60,000 people a week. That’s now up to 120,000 people a week.

“We were so blown away and overwhelmed by the need,” he said.

With inventories dwindling and more volunteers needed at his site and others around the country, he said he would challenge TODAY viewers “to reach out to their local food bank, to volunteer, to make a monetary contribution.” 

Navy Sailor From Virus-Stricken Warship Dies of COVID-19

A sailor assigned to the virus-stricken aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt who was admitted April 9 to the intensive care unit in Guam died Monday of complications related to COVID-19, the U.S. Navy announced in a statement.

The sailor tested positive for COVID-19 on March 30 and was removed from the ship and placed in an isolation house on Naval Base Guam with four other USS Theodore Roosevelt sailors, the Navy said in a statement. The sailor's name is being withheld pending next-of-kin notification.

The news marks the first virus-related death among the crew of the Roosevelt, which was forced to dock in Guam last month after an outbreak onboard.

The Roosevelt has been in a coronavirus crisis that prompted acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly to fire the ship’s captain over a memo circulated to Navy leaders and obtained by news media in which he urged speedy action to evacuate the ship of nearly 5,000 sailors as the coronavirus began to escalate. 

Modly said Capt. Brett E. Crozier, “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” in the middle of a crisis, although Navy officials later announced they would offload 2,700 sailors in the coming days. He also criticized the crew for supporting Crozier. The comments sparked controversy and prompted Modly to resign days later.

As of Sunday, 585 members of the Roosevelt crew had tested positive for coronavirus. Nearly 4,000 crew members had been moved ashore.

The Commanding Officer of the San Diego-based USS Theodore Roosevelt is asking for permission to isolate the bulk of his roughly 5,000 crew members. NBC 7's military reporter Bridget Naso has more.

CDC Director: Virus Testing, Contact Tracing 'Central' to Reopening Economy

Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the rate of coronavirus infections is nearing the peak thanks to widespread, aggressive mitigation measures like the majority of states imposing strict stay-at-home orders and shutting down non-essential businesses. But he cautioned against a quick reopening of the U.S. economy, saying it will have to be a "step-by-step" gradual process.

Speaking on the TODAY show Monday, Redfield told co-anchor Savannah Gutherie that scaling back on some of the mitigation policies like social distancing will depend on access to widespread testing and "aggressive" contact tracing of those who do test positive for the coronavirus.

"Central to the success of [reopening the economy], so that we stay open, is to be able to do early case identification, isolation and contact tracing, and to basically prevent the opportunity for community transmission to come back into the system," Redfield said.

He said while antibody tests will "give us a good idea in a surveillance point of view to see how significant the outbreak was," and provide consumers with the confidence to return to the work force if they know they are already immune, the need to be able to test for active infections remains central to getting the country back to work.

The Trump administration has come under fire over a shortage of available coronavirus testing kits. The CDC struggled to develop its own test for the coronavirus in January, later discovering problems in its kits sent to state and county public health labs in early February.

It took the CDC more than two weeks to come up with a fix to the test kits, leading to delays in diagnoses through February, a critical month when the virus took root in the U.S. Not until Feb. 29 did the Food and Drug Administration decide to allow labs to develop and use their own coronavirus diagnostic tests before the agency reviews them, speeding up the supply. Previously, the FDA had only authorized use of a government test developed by the CDC.

In the meantime, the U.S. bypassed a test that the World Health Organization quickly made available internationally. President Donald Trump has said that test was flawed; it wasn't.

Testing problems continue. New York City's health department warned in a memo Saturday that the city could run out of swabs for COVID-19 tests and should only test hospitalized patients. The U.S. has tested about 2.8 million people, less than 1 percent of the population.

Doctors Say Critical Medicine Shortage Possible

Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women's hospital in Boston, believes hospitals could soon face a shortage of important medicines.

Faust said sedation and pain medications, which are critical when intubating patients and putting them on mechanical ventilators, are running low. He hopes that the problems will be addressed now instead of "trying to play catch-up."

"We should have been ahead of testing. We should have been ahead of PPE and ventilator capacity," Faust said on MSNBC's "Kasie DC" Sunday night. "But now is not the time to say, 'Let's do the same mistake again.' Let's get ahead of this."

President and CEO of New York Presbyterian Hospital Dr. Steve Corwin said his hospital faces a similar issue.

"We're short on fentanyl, on paralytic agents, because we have so many patients that are ventilated," he said. "We are running short of dialysate solutions, because so many people require dialysis who have this disease.

"This has got to be an all-hands-on-deck in terms of the drug supply as we move forward."

FDNY Emergency Medical Technician Who Helped With 9/11 Rescue Dies

An emergency medical technician for the New York City Fire Department who worked on the World Trade Center rescue and recovery effort after 9/11 has died, the department said early Monday

Gregory Hodge, 59, was a 24-year veteran of FDNY most recently working as a watch commander at the emergency management office, NBC News reports.

"EMT Hodge was a skilled first responder who provided outstanding emergency medical care to thousands of New Yorkers throughout his long and distinguished career of service," said Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. "This pandemic has impacted our Department at every level, especially our EMS members who are responding to more medical calls than ever before."

The Manhattan resident began his career assigned to a station in Harlem and later worked in the Bronx. He is survived by an adult son.

Hundreds of cars lined up at a food drive in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as organizations try to help people through the coronavirus pandemic. In Oklahoma City, the lines of cars even caused traffic delays.
The Associated Press/NBC
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