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US Coronavirus Updates: Federal Stockpile Nearly Depleted; CDC Issues Guidance for Essential Workers

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Across the U.S., the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic neared 15,000 Wednesday, with about 425,000 confirmed infections.

New York and New Jersey hit record deaths for a second day in a row. New York City’s death toll from the coronavirus surpassed 6,000 on Wednesday, one day after the count officially eclipsed the number of those killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Encouraging signs Cuomo cited earlier in the week -- declining daily hospital admissions and fewer new patients needing ventilators -- continued into Wednesday.

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

Federal Stockpile of Protective Equipment Nearly Depleted

The Strategic National Stockpile is nearly out of the N95 respirators, surgical masks, face, shields, gowns and other medical supplies desperately needed to protect front-line medical workers treating coronavirus patients.

The Department of Health and Human Services told the Associated Press Wednesday that the federal stockpile was in the process of deploying all remaining personal protective equipment in its inventory. A small percentage will be kept in reserve to support federal response efforts, the department said.

The HHS statement confirms federal documents released Wednesday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee showing that about 90% of the personal protective equipment in the stockpile has been distributed to state and local governments.

CDC Issues New Guidance for Essential Workers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has new guidance for essential workers as it takes a small step toward reopening the country.

The guidance applies to essential workers, such as those in the health care and food supply industry, who have been within 6 feet of a person who has a confirmed or suspected case of the new coronavirus.

CDC Director Robert Redfield says the employee can return to work as long as they take their temperature before they go to work, wear a face mask at all times and practice social distancing while they are at work.

Redfield said the employees should continue to stay home if they are sick.

He also said employers in those critical industries should take the temperatures of a worker before allowing them to come back to work.

Redfield announced the new guidance during the daily White House briefing on the U.S. efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

The new guidelines will be posted on cdc.gov.

Philadelphia Emerging as Possible Coronavirus Hot Spot

Vice President Mike Pence says Philadelphia is emerging as a potential hot spot for the coronavirus and urged its residents to heed social distancing guidelines.

Pence says he spoke to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, and he says Pittsburgh is also being monitored for a possible rise in cases.

African Americans 'Disproportionately Affected' by Coronavirus: CDC Report

Severe cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, are disproportionately affecting African American communities, according to a report published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The analysis includes data from 1,482 coronavirus patients hospitalized in 14 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah.

Among the 580 patients for whom race or ethnicity information was available, 45 percent were white and 33 percent were black, NBC News reports.

When researchers factored in the racial breakdowns of people living in those 14 states, disparities became apparent.

Despite accounting for more than a third of the cases, African Americans make up just 18 percent of those states’ populations.

In contrast, the white population in those states is 59 percent, yet accounts for only 45 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 cases in the CDC report.

Read the full story at NBCNews.com.

NY Lowering All Flags to Half-Staff

Despite the encouraging signs – declining daily hospital admissions and a reduction in the number of patients receiving breathing tubes – cited on Wednesday by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, now is no time to relax social distancing or become complacent, he said.

"We are flattening the curve by what we are doing," Cuomo said Wednesday. "If we stop what we are doing you will see that curve change. We have to be disciplined going forward."

After recording more than 500 deaths a day since late last week, New York state recorded its biggest one-day jump yet on Tuesday (731) and smashed that number again Wednesday (779), for a statewide toll of more than 6,000, Gov. Cuomo said. The personal tragedy is relentless, each story unique and heartbreaking.

“They are more than just a statistic. Every number is a face. Every number is a family,” Cuomo said, ordering all state flags to be lowered to half-staff as New Jersey did last week. "We mourn these New Yorkers deeply."

Cuomo on Wednesday also announced that all voters in his state will be able to cast absentee ballots in the June 23 Democratic primary election.

California to Buy 200 Million Masks a Month During Outbreak

California will spend nearly $1 billion to purchase up to 200 million masks a month to boost the state's stockpile of protective equipment during the COVID-19 outbreak and could act as a supplier to other Western states, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

“We've been competing against other states, against other nations, against our own federal government'' for personal protective equipment, Newsom said Tuesday night on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show. “We decided enough is enough.”

He said the state has signed multiple contracts with an unidentified consortium of nonprofits and a California-based manufacturer to obtain the masks, which will be made overseas. The order will include about 150 million N95 masks, which are tight-fitting and designed to protect against particles in the air. The other 50 million masks will be surgical masks, which are loose-fitting and protect against fluids.

WHO on Defensive After Trump Slams UN Agency's COVID-19 Guidance

The World Health Organization was put on the defensive after U.S. President Donald Trump blasted the U.N. health agency over its recommendations on the coronavirus and threatened to strip it of hundreds of millions of dollars. In response, the agency’s Europe chief insisted a worldwide pandemic was no time to reduce the budget of the body that is coordinating an international response.

According to the WHO’s website, the U.S. contributed nearly $900 million to the agency's 2018-2019 budget, which was one-fifth of the total budget for those years.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus responded by saying the crisis should not be politicized by leaders, CNBC reported.

"If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it,” he said.

CDC Considers Loosening Self-Isolation Guidelines for Some Exposed to Virus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering changing its guidelines for self-isolation to make it easier for those who have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus to return to work if they are without symptoms.

Under the proposed guidance, people who are exposed to someone infected would be allowed back on the job if they have no symptoms, test their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask, said a person familiar with the proposal under consideration. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss the draft because it had not been finalized and described the proposal on the condition of anonymity. The new policy would be aimed in particular at workers in critical jobs.

The CDC, in conjunction with the White House coronavirus task force, is considering making the announcement as soon as Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Wednesday that even as death rates rise, the administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the country amid "glimmers of hope” that social distancing is working to stop the virus' spread.

“If, in fact, we are successful, it makes sense to at least plan what a reentry into normality would look like," he said on Fox News Channel.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to do it right now,” he added. "But it means we need to be prepared to ease into that. And there’s a lot of activity going on.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader on the White House's coronavirus task force, called the upcoming CDC guidance "a very important piece.”

Pentagon: Military Coronavirus Cases Surge to Nearly 2,000

The Pentagon says the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the military has surged to nearly 2,000.

Last weekend the number topped 1,000, and one week ago it stood at 771.

Among the services, the active duty Navy has the most cases, with more than 500. The Army has 470.

Amid Sudden Overwhelming Demand, Food Banks Face Dwindling Supplies

The long lines forming outside America’s food banks in recent weeks point to the toll the coronavirus pandemic is taking on the economy. Last week, Feeding America polled its 200 food banks and found a 60 percent increase in need – and a significant drop in donations.

New Jersey Postpones Primary; Gov. Doesn't Want to Repeat Wisconsin's Mistakes

New Jersey, among the worst-hit states in the coronavirus outbreak, is rescheduling its primary to July 7 from June 2 due to ongoing public health concerns, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday.

Murphy said that he doesn’t want to repeat what happened in Wisconsin's primary on Tuesday, with people having to choose between their right to vote and practicing measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

New Jersey, which has had lockdown restrictions in place for weeks, has counted more than 1,500 coronavirus-related deaths and is expected to approach the peak of the curve sometime this month or next, Murphy said earlier this week.

Puerto Rico Wants Flight Ban From US Hot Spots

Puerto Rico’s governor is asking federal officials to ban all flights from U.S. cities with a high number of coronavirus cases to help prevent the spread in the U.S. territory.

The petition by Gov. Wanda Vázquez to the Federal Aviation Administration comes as officials have accused some visitors of taking medicine to lower their fevers to avoid being placed in quarantine. National Guard members screen people at the island’s main international airport.

The National Guard has said at least two passengers from New York who lowered their fever with medication are now hospitalized on the island with COVID-19.

Dr. Birx 'Proud of American People' for Signs Coronavirus Curve Is Flattening, Addresses Impact on African Americans

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, praised what she called signs the curve of virus cases in some parts of the country appeared to be flattening, even as she warned Americans not to contribute to a second wave of cases.

An updated model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which the White House and New York's governor have cited, now predicts tens of thousands of fewer deaths by August than earlier forecast. The model now says a national peak in deaths could come April 12, four days earlier than forecast, The Washington Post reported. In New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., the model projects deaths to peak Thursday, with about 13,300 total lives potentially lost by early May, NBC New York reported. That's down from more than 16,000 a week ago.

Still, the Gates Foundation-funded IHME model has conflicted with other models that don't show the same decline, according to the Post.

Birx stressed on NBC's TODAY show Wednesday that people shouldn't see signs of improvement as cause to ease up on social distancing efforts.

"What's really important is that people don't turn these early signs of hope into releasing from the 30 days to stop the spread," she said. "If people start going out again, and socially interacting, we could see a very acute second wave very early."

Birx pointed to strong public health measures by California and Washington in particular for slowing the spread of COVID-19, and said the federal government was "trying to learn from them." But she largely sidestepped a question on whether the 30 days of federally recommended social distancing nationally would be enough to curb the pandemic.

Birx was also asked about the high toll the pandemic was taking on the African-American community.

In Chicago, black residents accounted for 72% of deaths from COVID-19 complications and 52% of positive tests for the coronavirus, despite making up only 30% of the city's population. Similar conditions mark other large cities with large black populations that are considered hot spots for the coronavirus, including New York, Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans. Figures released Monday by Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services showed African Americans, who make up 14% of the state population, make up about 33% of cases statewide and 41% of deaths.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has demanded more transparency on race and ethnicity among the COVID-19 testing results, cases and patient outcomes reported by federal health authorities and state health agencies.

Birx said "we've been very concerned where we saw where the virus was going" given that high-risk groups for the virus are those with diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma.

“We don’t think African Americans are more susceptible,” she said, but instead pointed to high rates of those underlying conditions among blacks.

On Tuesday night, the nation's top expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the task force is "very concerned" about the "disproportionate" impact of the pandemic on the African American community.

"It's very sad," he said. "There's nothing we can do about it right now except to try to give them best possible care to avoid those complications."

More Than 1,100 Reports of Racist Attacks Against Asian-Americans Since Pandemic

More than 1,100 reports of hate incidents against Asian-Americans since the coronavirus outbreak began have been tracked by an advocacy group.

The Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council and Chinese for Affirmative Action's effort is aimed at raising awareness of the attacks Asian Americans are experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic. The FBI said it predicts that as the number of infections grow, so too will the attacks.

According to the report, women are three times more likely to report harassment than men. With shelter-in-place policies, Asian Americans are more likely to face coronavirus discrimination in businesses, especially stores, rather than at schools and public transit as previously observed.
The most common type of discrimination reported was verbal harassment, followed by shunning and physical assault.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that diseases can make anyone sick regardless of their race or ethnicity and that stigma "hurts everyone by creating fear or anger towards other people."

LA Mayor Orders Face Coverings at Essential Businesses, Customers Can Be Refused Service

No shoes, no shirt, no mask -- no service.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday that businesses can refuse service to customers who aren't wearing face coverings.

Garcetti also mandated that workers in essential businesses wear face coverings. Employers must provide or reimburse their workers for the cost of non-medical face coverings, NBCLA reported.

"These businesses that we are singling out … must also make sure that their employees have access to a clean and sanitary restroom along with proper cleansing products like soap and sanitizer and allow their employees to wash their hands every 30 minutes," Garcetti said.

The new rules -- under penalty of civil citations -- also include a mandate that companies enforce social distancing between workers and customers.

Garcetti first recommended that Angelinos wear face coverings last week, a day before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the same for all Americans, NBC News reported.

There have been at least 6,910 coronavirus cases and 169 deaths in LA County so far.

US Virus Cases Surpass 400,000

The total number of coronavirus cases in the U.S., now home to the largest outbreak in the world, reached 400,000 early Wednesday morning, NBC News reports. Spain has the second-most cases with nearly 142,000.

The death toll in the U.S. is around 12,000, which is still below Spain's 14,000 and Italy's 17,000.

1 in 4 Americans Unable to Pay Full Housing Bill, Survey Finds

Nearly one in four Americans responsible for rent or mortgage payments was unable to cover the full April bill for housing, a new analysis says. It cites a new, frozen "quarantine economy," NBC News reports.

Listings site Apartment List surveyed 4,129 renters and homeowners; the margin of error was +/-2 percent. It said 13 percent of renters paid a portion of April rent; 12 percent paid none of it. Eleven percent of homeowners with mortgages made partial payments; 12 percent made none.

The analysis compared that to a 3.9 percent rate for underpayment of rent in 2017 and said, "typical delinquency rates among mortgaged homeowners are even lower."

"In April 2020, we saw this delinquency rate skyrocket 550 percent, as over one-quarter of renters failed to pay their entire rent on time," the analysis said.

The news came after President Donald Trump vowed to suspend evictions and foreclosures for 60 days as part of a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package he signed March 27.

The Associated Press/NBC
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