The Strategic National Stockpile is nearly out of the N95 respirators, surgical masks, face shields, gowns and other medical supplies desperately needed to protect the front-line medical workers treating coronavirus patients across the country, according to documents released by the House Oversight Committee.
The news comes as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread throughout the United States, with new hotspots emerging in Georgia, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, two groups of researchers have found that the strain of coronavirus that kicked off the outbreak in the New York area arrived earlier than previously thought and likely originated from Europe, not Asia.
Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai said the first cases likely arrived in mid-February and is "clearly European," according to the finding published Wednesday. That's well before the first confirmed case on March 1.
A separate research team at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine also reached a similar conclusion, according to The New York Times, which first reported on the findings. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an appearance Thursday on "Good Morning America" that the findings "are probably correct."
"We cut off the travel from China relatively early and we were seeded with a relatively few number of cases from China, but very quickly the epicenter switched to Europe, particularly northern Italy," said Fauci.
President Donald Trump first announced on Jan. 31 a travel ban for those who had visited China and moved to block those traveling from Europe on March 11.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. was nearing half a million on Thursday, with the death toll approaching 16,000 by mid-afternoon, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:
Fauci: 'What We Are Doing Is Working'
At Thursday's White House Coronavirus task force news briefing, Fauci said that although deaths this week are at record levels – in New York, for example – "we are seeing a rather significant decrease in the need for hospitalizations."
"That means that what we are doing is working; therefore we need to continue to do it," Fauci said. "I know I sound like a broken record – that's good. I want to sound like a broken record."
Birx Encouraged by Low Attack Rates in Some Hotspots
Dr. Deborah Birx, the Response Coordinator for the White House's coronavirus task force, said during Thursday's news briefing that she has been encouraged by the low attack rates of COVID-19 in emerging hotspots around the U.S. like Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
More Women Getting Tested, But Men Have Higher Rate of Positives: Birx
As far as getting tested for the coronavirus, in the U.S. more women are getting tested, but men have a higher rate of positives, according to Birx. She said the U.S. is now testing as many as 120,000 people per day for the virus, noting that the only people who can get tested, for now, are those displaying COVID-19-like symptoms.
Trump Teases Airline Bailout Plan
During the daily White House briefing on the coronavirus, Trump announced a preliminary bailout package – "a very acceptable package" – for the airline industry, hit heavily by COVID-19. He said more details would be available over the weekend.
The president also brushed off fears the economy won’t quickly rebound after the crisis, as he has predicted, saying he had a “strong feeling” that “the economy is going to do very well.”
“I think that what’s going to happen is we’re going to have a big bounce, rather than a small bounce,” he told reporters. “I think we’re going to open up strong.”
Air and vehicle traffic has dropped dramatically in the U.S. over the past several weeks as many people are now working from home, social distancing and halting their daily routines to slow the spread.
Air pollution has temporarily declined too, according to new satellite data from NASA. The northeastern U.S. has seen atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution drop by 30% in March compared to the same period last year. It’s the lowest monthly atmospheric nitrogen dioxide levels of any March during NASA’s satellite data record beginning in 2005.
However, scientists warn against celebrating any short-term benefits from the air pollution drop, since pollution levels likely will rebound once pandemic restrictions are lifted.
White House Tests Reporters for COVID-19 Before Task Force Briefing
All reporters planning to attend Thursday's coronavirus task force briefing are being tested for COVID-19 in light of news that a member of the press corps who was present at the White House on Tuesday is now experiencing symptoms, NBC News reported.
"Out of an abundance of caution, the White House Medical Unit is going to conduct a COVID-19 test on all members of the press who plan to participate in today’s task force briefing, including correspondents, photographers, and technicians," the White House said in a statement. "These test will be conducted with absolute privacy in a vacant office within lower press."
Officials from the White House Medical Unit were conducting a rapid form of the COVID-19 test, taking swabs from both nostrils of each press corps member.
According to White House Correspondents Association President Jon Karl, test results for the person experiencing symptoms are still pending.
Democrats Renew Vote-by-Mail Push as Virus Upends Elections
Democrats want to bolster mail-in voting and take other steps to make balloting easier this November, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday, as congressional leaders staked out ground for their next major attempt to revive the economy and battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Pelosi's proposals, which are still evolving, drew immediate condemnation from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, echoing President Donald Trump's opposition to federal attempts to prod states to relax their voting rules.
The discord underscored that a long-running partisan battle over voting procedure restrictions looms as a major conflict this election year, even amid worries that the virus' continued threat could make in-person balloting hazardous.
Steep Drop in Air Travel Reaches New Low
The steep drop in air travel hit a milestone this week: Fewer than 100,000 people went through airport checkpoints on both Tuesday and Wednesday, the lowest numbers since the Transportation Security Administration started keeping track.
That’s down 96% from a year ago, and could be the smallest number since the 1950s.
There was no commercial air travel in the U.S. for several days after the terror attacks in September 2001, but people gradually got back on planes over the following months. It could be a slower recovery this time, according to outfits that have surveyed people about when they’ll feel safe flying again.
US Expels Nearly 10,000 to Mexico Under New COVID-19 Border Rules
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday that nearly 10,000 Mexicans and Central Americans have been “expelled” to Mexico under new rules designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which took effect March 21. Mark Morgan, the agency’s acting commissioner, said the changes were “not about immigration.”
“What’s happening right now is a public health crisis driven by a global pandemic, which has resulted in a national emergency declared by this president to protect the health and safety of every American in this country,” he told reporters.
The Trump administration has offered little detail on the rules that have yet to be challenged in court. They got little attention when announced March 20, the same day Trump announced the southern border was closed to nonessential travel.
The administration tapped a law allowing the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ban foreigners if their entry would create “a serious danger” to the spread of communicable disease. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield issued a 30-day order but said he may extend the rules.
Pennsylvania Schools Closed for Rest of Academic Year
Pennsylvania schools will remain shuttered for the rest of the academic year, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday, joining a growing number of states that said they plan to keep campuses closed this school year.
Wolf's education secretary signed the closure order Thursday. The decision affects more than 1.7 million students in public and private K-12 schools. It means children will spend the rest of the academic year learning remotely.
On Wednesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also announced schools statewide would not reopen this academic year. Oregon joins Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia and Washington in ordering schools closed for the rest of this school year, according to Education Week.
California’s education chief said last week that the state’s school districts should plan to keep their campuses closed, but an official directive has not yet been ordered. Officials in Maine, Idaho and South Dakota have also recommended that schools statewide remain closed for the rest of the year.
NYC Mayor Predicts Social Distancing Restrictions Until June as Death Toll Climbs
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is months away from being able to relax social distancing measures, despite some hopeful signs -- two-thirds of New York's hospitalized patients have been discharged and hundreds of NYPD and FDNY members have been cleared to return to work, NBC New York reported.
"All 8.6 million of us have to earn our way out of this. We didn't deserve this. But we're in it," de Blasio said. "The last thing we can afford is to let down our guard. We are one team. We need to win our way to the next phase."
He said he wants the maximum number of people working from home "for a long time," until late May or June.
New York saw its daily death toll spike to a new record Thursday for the third straight day, while New York City's coronavirus toll surged well past 4,500 — more than the number killed on 9/11, NBC New York reports. New York recorded 799 deaths on Thursday, bringing the statewide total to more than 7,000.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned the death toll could very well continue to rise day over day, even as the state sees an encouraging plateau in hospitalization rates. In fact, on Thursday, Cuomo said the hospitalization number was the lowest yet. The death toll itself is a “lagging indicator,” reflecting people who had been hospitalized before this week, he said. The fatalities have overwhelmingly been the most vulnerable patients, the ones on ventilators.
The governor said the state will bring in additional funeral directors to help with the spike in deaths. He also warned New Yorkers to "stay prepared," recalling that the 1918 influenza pandemic came in three waves.
"We're on the first wave. Everybody is assuming, 'Well, once we get through this, we're done.' I wouldn't be so quick to assume that," he added.
Trump Planning 2nd Coronavirus Task Force for Economy
President Donald Trump is planning to form a second coronavirus task force focused on the administration’s response to the economy, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News.
The new task force will include a mix of private-sector and top administration officials, including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow, Trump's top economic advisor, according to NBC News.
The Washington Post, which first reported the news, said the new task force "will focus on how to reopen the country, as well as what businesses need to rebound amid catastrophic conditions."
The second task force is expected to be helmed by Meadows, a source with direct knowledge of the task force tells NBC News, although no final decision has been made.
Record 16.8 Million Have Applied for Unemployment Since Virus Outbreak
With a startling 6.6 million people seeking jobless benefits last week, the United States has reached a grim landmark: More than one in 10 workers have lost their jobs in just the past three weeks to the coronavirus outbreak.
The figures collectively constitute the largest and fastest string of job losses in records dating to 1948. By contrast, during the Great Recession it took 44 weeks — roughly 10 months — for unemployment claims to go as high as they now have in less than a month.
The job market is quickly unraveling as businesses have shut down across the country. All told, in the past three weeks, 16.8 million Americans have filed for unemployment aid. The surge of jobless claims has overwhelmed state unemployment offices around the country. And still more job cuts are expected.
More than 20 million people may lose jobs this month. The unemployment rate could hit 15% when the April employment report is released in early May.
Dr. Fauci: Virus Death Toll May Be ‘More Like 60,000 Than 100,00 to 200,000’
The government’s top infectious disease expert said Thursday he believes the number of U.S. deaths from the new coronavirus will end up being less than the original projection of 100,000 to 200,000.
Speaking to TODAY co-anchor Savannah Gutherie, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the American people have done a “terrific job” with buckling down and adhering to social distancing guidelines.
“The real data are telling us that it is highly likely that we’re having a definite positive effect by this mitigation,” said Fauci. “I believe we are going to see a downturn in that, and it looks more like the 60,000 than the 100,000 to 200,000.”
But Fauci cautioned that now is not the time to pull back from measures such as physical separation and the closing of businesses.
He also dismissed "conspiracy theories" that the number of coronavirus-related deaths is being inflated because some people are dying from other causes, and said it was more likely that there could be an undercounting.
Asked how close the U.S. is to having an antibody test widely available to determine "the penetrance of the virus," Fauci said we are "days to weeks" away. He said many more people could have been infected at some point in the last few weeks and months, and didn't know because they had no symptoms. Having these antibodies would help determine who has a "better chance of getting back into the normality of society."
"It is likely - though you'd need to prove it - that once you have been infected and have an antibody profile, that you are very likely protected against subsequent challenge from the same virus," Fauci said.
He also said he's "cautiously optimistic" that the country may be able to begin to reopen by summer.
More Than 100 Washington Inmates Demonstrate After 6 Test Positive
Inmates at a Washington state prison were involved in a destructive disturbance Wednesday night after six men at the facility tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said.
Authorities used pepper spray and "sting balls" to help quell the demonstration at the Monroe Correctional Complex that involved more than 100 inmates in a recreation yard around 6 p.m. Fire extinguishers were discharged within two housing units in the minimum-security unit, the state department of corrections said.
There were no injuries, and the situation is under control, the department said.
Philadelphia Emerging as Potential Hotspot, Pence Says
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, NBC News reports.
Pence says he spoke to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, and he says Pittsburgh is also being monitored for a possible rise in cases.
USNS Mercy Crew Member Tests Positive for Virus
A crew member onboard the USNS Mercy, the Navy hospital ship docked in the Port of Los Angeles, has tested positive for COVID-19, a representative for the United States Navy said Wednesday.
"One medical treatment facility crew member on board the USNS Mercy has test positive for COVID-19," Public Affairs Officer Lt. Joseph Pfaff said.
The crew member is currently in isolation onboard the ship and will soon be transferred off to an isolation facility, the Navy said.
The diagnosis will not alter the ship's ability to care for non-coronavirus patients, NBC Los Angeles reports.