WASHINGTON — Key updates:
- The United States now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases.
- President Donald Trump said he will visit Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday to see off the USNS Comfort, the 1,000-bed hospital ship heading to New York.
- Trump says that federal officials are developing guidelines to rate counties by risk of virus spread.
- The House will vote Friday on the $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic relief bill.
- The Senate unanimously passed the largest relief bill in U.S. history late Wednesday night. It includes sending checks of $1,200 to most Americans, as well as expanding unemployment benefits.
- The U.S. death toll from coronavirus passed 1,000 Wednesday night, according to Johns Hopkins University. Approximately 25% of those are in New York City.
- A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier is being diverted to Guam so that all 5,000 aboard can be tested for coronavirus.
- Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — almost five times the previous record set in the 1980s.
- G20 leaders held a virtual summit Thursday in an effort to coordinate a response to the pandemic.
Citing virus, EPA has stopped enforcing environmental laws
The Trump administration says it will forgo a sweeping range of public health and environmental enforcement during the coronavirus outbreak.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced the move Thursday, saying the pandemic could make it difficult for companies to comply with public health and environment laws.
The EPA says it won't fine businesses for failing to monitor or report hazardous pollutants if they can show the coronavirus played a role. EPA chief Andrew Wheeler calls it a temporary measure for “extraordinary conditions." Environmental groups and former EPA officials call it unprecedented and a license to pollute.
Texas requires New York, New Orleans travelers to quarantine
Texas joined other states Thursday in imposing quarantines on travelers from the New York area, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., and put similar restrictions on people arriving from nearby New Orleans as the number of cases there surges dramatically.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the moves as Texas surpassed 1,400 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and 18 related deaths. Concerns over the virus also forced the Houston school district, the biggest in Texas, to indefinitely suspend meals for low-income families after a worker went into self-isolation over a possible exposure.
By requiring anyone arriving by plane from New Orleans and the New York area — including New Jersey and Connecticut — to quarantine for 14 days, Texas became the latest state to race to isolate travelers coming from places where the coronavirus crisis is most severe. Governors in Florida and Maryland announced similar restrictions this week pertaining to New York.
NFL keeping its draft in April as scheduled
Commissioner Roger Goodell told NFL teams the draft will go on as originally scheduled for next month. The draft will still take place on April 23-25.
Goodell said in a memo obtained by The Associated Press that public health conditions are highly uncertain and there was no guarantee of significant improvement by moving it to a later date as reasons for not moving the date of the draft. It was originally scheduled for a big outdoor production in Las Vegas, but those plans were scrapped because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Feds concerned about virus spikes in 2 counties
The White House coronavirus response coordinator says the task force is concerned about certain counties in the Midwest that appear to be seeing a rapid increase in cases.
Dr. Deborah Birx listed two counties: Wayne County in Michigan and Cook County in Illinois.
She said at Thursday's White House briefing that the task force is not only looking at where the cases are today, but where they will be in the future so the Federal Emergency Management Agency can be alerted to where the next hotspots will be.
Birx says the two counties both are in urban areas or in communities that serve an urban area. Chicago is the seat of Cook County, which is one of the most populous counties in the United States. Wayne County is outside Detroit.
Johns Hopkins: US positive COVID-19 cases surpass China, Italy
The United States now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases.
According to a running count by Johns Hopkins University, the number of people infected in the U.S. topped 82,000 on Thursday. That's just ahead of the 81,000 cases in China and 80,000 in Italy.
Italy has the most confirmed deaths of any country with more than 8,000. More than 1,000 people have died in the U.S.
President Trump, Coronavirus Task Force to give White House briefing
President Trump tweeted Thursday morning that he will be giving a live news conference from the White House at 5 p.m. ET to discuss the "meeting of the G20 Leaders."
During the briefing, President Donald Trump said he will travel to Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday to see off a 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship that will relieve the pressure on New York hospitals dealing with coronavirus patients.
Trump says he told New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo the ship will arrive in New York Harbor on Monday.
Trump said in a White House press conference that he’ll “kiss it goodbye” and that the ship is “loaded up to the top” with medical supplies.
The announcement of the USNS Comfort’s planned deployment comes as New York City-area hospitals are clearing out beds, setting up new spaces to triage patients and urging people with mild symptoms to consult health professionals by phone or video chat instead of overrunning emergency rooms.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York had climbed to 3,800 this week, including close to 900 in intensive care, with the peak of the outbreak weeks away.
The critical question remains whether the severe “social distancing” restrictions recently enacted by New York will help the state avoid a worst-case scenario of overwhelmed hospitals.
Fauci, Curry talk on Instagram, as Obama watches
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors held a half-hour talk on Instagram to discuss all things related to the coronavirus with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
More than 50,000 viewers were logged in for much of the talk — among them, former President Barack Obama, a very big basketball fan.
Curry asked Fauci when it might be time to start thinking about sports again. Fauci told Curry “when the country as a whole has turned that corner,” and the curve that shows how the virus is still spreading nationally starts coming down.
That, Fauci said, is when “we can start thinking about getting back to some degree of normality.”
Obama added his thoughts by posting in the comment section during the talk, saying “Listen to the science. Do your part and take care of each other. Thank you, Steph and Dr. Fauci.”
Stage, movie and TV character actor Mark Blum, who had roles in the films “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “Crocodile Dundee,” has died from complications from the coronavirus. He was 69.
“Those of us lucky enough to have known him will treasure our memories of a gifted actor, a master teacher, a loyal friend, and a beautiful human,” Rebecca Damon, SAG-AFTRA executive vice president and New York president, wrote in a tribute.
Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Honda, Toyota seek to restart factories
Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Honda and Toyota took steps Thursday to restart North American factories that have been closed to protect workers from the coronavirus. The plants would reopen in early or mid-April, restoring the largest source of cash for automakers that generally book revenue when they ship vehicles to dealerships.
Auto companies, like other businesses, are trying to manage their way through the coronavirus crisis, which has forced factories to close amid employee concerns that they could catch the virus while working close to others at factory work stations.
Army sending 2 field hospitals to New York City
U.S. Army leaders said Thursday that two field hospitals are on their way to New York City and will be able to begin treating patients at the Javits Center on Monday.
The Army combat units from Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, will include as many as 700 personnel and almost 300 beds. Those medical personnel will also be able to help staff additional beds and medical equipment that are being brought in by state and local authorities.
Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, said they will begin setting up the units this weekend at the center. Officials expect there will be a couple thousand beds in the center to treat patients that do not have the virus.
An Army combat hospital from Fort Carson, Colorado, will be heading to Seattle. McConville said advance staff are already there and are working with local officials to review several potential locations to set up the unit.
Indianapolis 500 postponed until August because of COVID-19
The Indianapolis 500 scheduled for May 24 has been postponed until August because of the coronavirus pandemic and won't run on Memorial Day weekend for the first time since 1946.
The race will instead be held Aug. 23. IndyCar initially said it would resume racing May 9 on the road course at Indianapolis. That race will now be run on July 4, a day before NASCAR races at The Brickyard.
Trump say feds developing new guidelines to rate counties for virus risk
President Donald Trump says that federal officials are developing guidelines to rate counties by risk of virus spread.
Trump wants to begin easing nationwide guidelines meant to stem the coronavirus outbreak. In a letter Thursday to the nation's governors, Trump says the new guidelines are meant to enable state and local leaders to make “decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other measures they have put in place.”
Trump has been seeking for days to determine how to contain the economic fallout of the guidelines issued by his administration as well as local leaders to slow the tide of infections. States would still have the authority to set restrictions.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security extends REAL ID deadline
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Thursday that the new REAL ID deadline will be October 1, 2021, instead of October 1, 2020.
"I have determined that states require a twelve-month delay and that the new deadline for REAL ID enforcement is October 1, 2021. DHS will publish a notice of the new deadline in the Federal Register in the coming days," Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said.
U.S. aircraft carrier has 'dozens' sick with coronavirus
The Navy says an outbreak of COVID-19 infections aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific has forced it to divert to Guam so that all 5,000 aboard will undergo testing.
The acting secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, told reporters that the carrier remains “operationally capable.” Even so, other officials said the number of infected sailors has risen sharply, from three reported initially to “dozens” as of Thursday.
Modly said the carrier, which is the first U.S. Navy ship to have a reported outbreak while at sea, had about 800 COVID-19 test kits aboard and more were being delivered. He said the initially reported cases were sailors with relatively mild symptoms.
The Navy said earlier this week that the Theodore Roosevelt’s most recent port call was in Vietnam.
Pelosi: House will vote on stimulus plan on Friday
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she expects the $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic relief bill will pass the House on Friday with "strong bipartisan support.
Pelosi said the plan “takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people."
The measure is set for House passage on Friday and President Donald Trump's immediate signature. The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history.
Number of infections surpasses 500,000 worldwide
The number of coronavirus infections has surpassed a half-million worldwide Thursday, with both Italy and the U.S. on track to surpass China.
Health care systems in Europe and New York buckled under the strain, with Spain's death toll climbing to more than 4,000.
At least 2.8 billion people, or more than one-third of the Earth's population, are under severe travel restrictions
China bars most foreigners
China is temporarily barring all foreign nationals from entry as it seeks to curb the number of imported COVID-19 cases.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that foreign nationals with residence permits will be prevented from entering the country starting on Saturday. All visa-free transit policies also will be temporarily suspended.
Diplomatic workers will be exempt, while foreign nationals coming to China for “necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs” can still apply for visas, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
U.S. sailor in southern Spain tests positive
Officials say a U.S. Navy sailor stationed at a naval base in southern Spain has tested positive for the coronavirus.
A statement from Naval Station Rota says an investigation is under way to track who had contact with the sailor.
The base supports U.S. and NATO vessels.
NBCUniversal CEO tests positive for COVID-19
Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, announced Thursday in an email to employees that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Shell was named CEO in January.
According to NBC News, Shell stressed the importance of working from home in his email. "Although the virus has been tough to cope with, I have managed to work remotely in LA and am improving every day," he said.
WNBA draft will be virtual event this season due to pandemic
The WNBA has announced its draft will be a virtual event this season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The draft will be held on April 17 as originally scheduled but will be broadcast without players, fans or media in attendance. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert says the league is still looking at different scenarios for the start of the regular season, but notes it could begin before the NBA resumes play.
One option for the WNBA could be to move its schedule back with the postponement of the 2020 Olympics. The league was scheduled to go on a month-long break starting July 10 during the Tokyo Games.
US jobless claims hit 3.3 million, quadruple previous record
A record-high number of people applied for unemployment benefits last week as layoffs engulfed the United States in the face of a near-total economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.
The surge in weekly applications for benefits far exceeded the previous record set in 1982. Layoffs are sure to accelerate as the U.S. economy sinks into what most economists expect to be deep and painful recession.
Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have close factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they're forced to cut jobs to save money.
World leaders meeting virtually to coordinate virus response
Leaders of the world's most powerful economies are convening virtually to coordinate a response to the fast-spreading new coronavirus.
The virus has shuttered businesses and forced well over a quarter of the world's population into home isolation. Thursday's meeting for the Group of 20 nations is being chaired by Saudi Arabia's King Salman. The kingdom, which is presiding over the G20 this year, says it organized the meeting to advance global efforts to tackle the pandemic and its economic implications.
People worldwide are losing their incomes amid closures, curfews and lockdowns, and the meeting comes amid criticism that the world's wealthiest countries have not taken cohesive action against the virus or its economic impact.
Steph Curry hosts Dr. Fauci Q&A
NBA star Stephen Curry will host a live Q&A with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It starts at 1 p.m. EDT and you can see it by following @stephencurry30 on Instagram.
McDonald's suspends all-day breakfast
McDonald's is temporarily halting its all-day breakfast menu to simplify its operations, according to USA TODAY.
The fast-food company says the move was made to make things simpler for its crews during the pandemic.
McDonald's has closed all its seating and play areas in its company-owned U.S. restaurants.
Britain orders 10,000 ventilators
Britain’s government has ordered 10,000 ventilators to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis.
Billionaire inventor James Dyson told his staff in an email that a team of engineers had been working on a design for the last 10 days since receiving a request for help from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Dyson says the device draws on technology used in the company's air purifier ranges and is powered by a digital motor.
The device was created in partnership with Cambridge-based science engineering firm TTP and still must face regulatory approval.
Britain wants to increase the availability of ventilators from 8,000 to 30,000.
G20 leaders to meet in virtual coronavirus summit
Leaders of the world's most powerful economies will convene virtually on Thursday to try and coordinate a response to the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has shuttered businesses and forced well over 1.5 billion people into home isolation.
The meeting for the Group of 20 nations will be chaired by Saudi Arabia's King Salman. The kingdom, which is presiding over the G20 this year, said it organized the extraordinary meeting to advance global efforts to tackle the pandemic and its economic implications as people lose their incomes amid closures, curfews and lockdowns.
The meeting comes amid criticism that the world's wealthiest countries have not taken cohesive action to combat the virus or its economic impact on people around the world.
Russia halts all international flights
Russian government officials announced the halting of all international flights starting from Friday.
An exception will be made for flights bringing Russians home from abroad, according to a statement published Thursday on the cabinet’s website.
Earlier this month, Russian authorities limited its air traffic to regular flights to world capitals and charter flights.
The new measure comes as the number of coronavirus cases in Russia rapidly grows. On Wednesday, the government reported a total of 658 cases, with 163 new cases registered since the previous day. That is a significantly bigger daily increase than in previous weeks, when the number of cases was growing by several dozens a day.
Malaysian king and queen in quarantine
Malaysia's king and queen are under quarantine after seven palace staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
The palace said Thursday that seven staff were hospitalized Tuesday and health authorities were trying to identify the source of the transmission. It said King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and his wife Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah were tested for the virus, but both were negative. It said the royal couple decided to observe a 14-day self-quarantine from Wednesday, with deep cleansing to be carried out in the palace.
Malaysia, which has 21 deaths and the highest total of cases in Southeast Asia at 1,796, has extended its lockdown by another two weeks to April 14.
Senate passes rescue bill
The Senate has passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 883-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. The unanimous vote comes despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough.
The bill would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year, and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.
A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients grew during the talks to an estimated $130 billion. Another $45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.
US death toll passes 1,000
New York authorities mobilized to head off a public health disaster with the city's emergence as the nation's biggest coronavirus hot spot a warning flare — and perhaps a cautionary tale for the country.
U.S. deaths from the pandemic topped 1,000 Wednesday night, according to Johns Hopkins University. Approximately 25% of those were in New York City.
Health officials in New York hunted down beds and equipment and put out a call for more doctors and nurses for fear the number of sick will overwhelm hospitals, as has happened in Italy and Spain.
Drugmaker backpedals on specialty status for COVID-19 drug
Facing public criticism, the maker of a promising coronavirus drug said Wednesday it will waive a special regulatory designation that could have allowed it to block competition and boost profits for its treatment.
Gilead Sciences said it will ask U.S. regulators to revoke the so-called “orphan drug” status it received for its experimental drug remdesivir. The status would have entitled the company to financial incentives and exclusive marketing intended for rare disease treatments.
The Food and Drug Administration granted the company's request for the designation on Monday, noting that COVID-19 qualified as a rare disease under U.S. rules, since fewer than 200,000 Americans are infected.
But experts and public advocates blasted Gilead for seeking the status.