The Latest COVID-19 Updates (March 27)

Staff Writer

9 p.m. -- WASHINGTON — The U.S. federal government is turning to public/private partnerships to keep feeding students in need after the global pandemic forced nationwide school closures. At a White House press briefing Friday, officials highlighted a pair of private sector-led initiatives aimed at feeding impoverished students who depend on their daily school meals. McLane Global Logistics Chairman Denton McLane announced that his company, working with Baylor University, Pepsico, UPS and the Post Office, would be delivering pre-packaged meals that last two weeks directly to students’ homes. He called the initiative “a real game-changer for rural families.” Panera Bread CEO Niren Chaudhary said his company is launching a partnership with the USDA and Children’s Hunger Alliance to deliver boxed lunches to students across Ohio. He says the goal is to expand the program to other states later. Districts across the U.S. have been looking for ways to continue feeding students during closures. Some are delivering breakfast and lunch by school bus, while others are asking families to pick up meals at district sites.

8 p.m. -- WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared a new rapid test from Abbott Laboratories, which the company says can detect the coronavirus in about 5 minutes. Medical device maker Abbott announced the emergency clearance of its cartridge-based test in a release Friday night. The company says that its test delivers a negative result in 13 minutes when the virus is not detected. The U.S. has been trying for weeks to ramp up coronavirus testing after a series of problems with the initial government-designed test. The nation’s daily testing capacity has been increasing as more diagnostic makers and large laboratories have developed tests. Abbott’s testing cartridge fits into the company’s portable ID NOW device, which is used at hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices. The company said it would launch the test next week to select health care facilities that deliver urgent care. The Abbott approval follows two other rapid tests cleared by regulators in the past week. Older laboratory-developed tests can take between 4 to 8 hours to deliver results. Health experts say the U.S. should be testing 100,000 to 150,000 people per day to track and contain the virus. There are no official nationwide testing metrics, but private and public health labs currently report testing about 80,000 to 90,000 patients per day.

5:45 p.m WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump signed an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package into law Friday, after swift and near-unanimous action by Congress to support businesses, rush resources to overburdened health care providers and help struggling families during the deepening coronavirus epidemic. Acting with unity and resolve unseen since the 9/11 attacks, Washington moved urgently to stem an economic free fall caused by widespread restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus that have shuttered schools, closed businesses and brought American life in many places to a virtual standstill. “This will deliver urgently needed relief," Trump said as he signed the bill in the Oval Office, flanked only by Republican lawmakers. He thanked members of both parties for putting Americans “first.”

3:30 p.m. NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Troubling new outbreaks bubbled in the United States on Friday and deaths surged in Italy and Spain as the world warily trudged through the pandemic that has sickened more than a half-million people.
Punctuating the fact that no one is immune to the new coronavirus, it pierced even the highest echelons of global power, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson becoming the first leader of a major country to test positive.
While New York remained the worst hit, in the U.S., Americans braced for worsening conditions elsewhere, with worrisome infection numbers being reported in cities including New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit.
“We are not through this. We’re not even half-way through this,” said Joseph Kanter of the Louisiana Department of Health, which has recorded more than 2,700 cases, more than five times what it had a week ago.
New Orleans’ sprawling Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, along the Mississippi River, was being converted into a massive hospital as officials prepared for thousands more patients than they could accommodate. The preparations immediately conjured images of another disaster, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the convention center became a squalid shelter of last resort in a city that has braved a string of storm hits, not to mention great fires and a yellow fever epidemic in centuries past.
As the new health crisis loomed, economic catastrophe had already arrived in the city, where many already live in poverty and the tourism industry has screeched to a halt.

1:30 p.m. WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting with exceptional resolve in an extraordinary time, the House rushed President Donald Trump a $2.2 trillion rescue package Friday, tossing a life preserver to a U.S. economy and health care system left flailing by the coronavirus pandemic.
The House approved the sweeping measure by a voice vote, as strong majorities of both parties lined up behind the most colossal economic relief bill in the nation's history. It will ship payments of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans, bolster unemployment benefits, offer loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses large and small and flush billions more to states, local governments and the nation's all but overwhelmed health care system.

12:30 p.m. LONDON (AP) — Italy has become the second country to overtake China in coronavirus infections, reaching 86,498 cases on the same day it recorded its single biggest leap in coronavirus deaths, with 969 more victims.
The gruesome milestones nevertheless came on the day that Italian health officials said they were seeing a slight slowing down in new positive cases, two weeks into a nationwide lockdown.
Italy has recorded more virus-related deaths than any other country in the world, and on Friday reported a further 9,134.

9 a.m. WASHINGTON (AP) — House leaders' plan for swift action on a $2.2 trillion package to ease the coronavirus pandemic 's devastating toll on the U.S. economy and health care system ran into complications Friday as a maverick conservative threatened to delay passage until most lawmakers return to Washington for a vote.
That left many angry lawmakers scrambling to return to the nation's capital amid a pandemic in which Americans have been urged to self-quarantine or keep their distance from one another.
As the House gaveled into session Friday morning, there was no doubt that, one way or the other, the chamber would eventually give final congressional approval to the largest economic relief package in U.S. history.
But Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who's opposed to the massive bill, set the House on edge by threatening to try to force a roll call vote. Party leaders had hoped to pass the measure by voice vote without lawmakers having to take the risk of traveling to Washington.
Massie took to Twitter to suggest he'd require a quorum of lawmakers — some 216 lawmakers — to be present and voting. Massie didn't respond to a reporter's requests for comment.
Numerous high-ranking Republicans have called Massie in an attempt to persuade him to let the voice vote proceed, according to a top House GOP aide. They included House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., whom President Donald Trump has chosen as his new chief of staff.
If those efforts fail and a roll call is needed, Republicans believe they will have more than 100 of their members back at the Capitol, according to the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.
Democratic leaders urged lawmakers who are “willing and able” to come to the Capitol to do so.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, asked on CBS if he's pleased with the federal government's response to the virus.
“Pleased is, I don't think, a fair word, because, gosh, there are people dying," Adams said. "My colleagues out there are suffering. I'm not pleased with the entirety of the response because it takes state and federal and local people coming together."
Is he satisfied?
“I'm not going to be satisfied until we get to the end of this and we see cooperation at every level and we see health care workers getting what they need,” he said.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Johnson's office says he was tested after showing mild symptoms,
Downing St. says Johnson is self-isolating and continuing to lead the country's response to COVID-19.
MOSCOW — The Kremlin says an official in Russia’s presidential administration has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov says the official didn't have contact with President Vladimir Putin. He told reporters that all precautions were being taken to protect Putin.
Peskov confirmed Russian media reports that he was at a party attended by 78-year-old Lev Leshchenko, who later tested positive for the coronavirus. The presidential spokesman says during a conference call with reporters that he didn’t meet Leshchenko there.
The Russian government registered 196 new infections in the past day, bringing the country's total to 1,036, with three deaths. In a bid to stem the outbreak, Putin declared the next week to be non-working for all Russian except those working in essential sectors.
MADRID — Spain is reporting a record number of daily deaths at 769.
Spain’s coronavirus cases increased by 7,800 Friday to total 64,059 cases. There’s a total of 4,858 deaths
The director of Spain’s health emergency coordination center, Fernando Simón, says the day-on-day increase of infections is slightly lower for the first time since a rapid rise in early March. The country has the second-worse tally in Europe and fourth in the world.
From Wednesday to Thursday, the positives had increased in more than 8,500 cases, some 700 more than Thursday to Friday. The daily increase was 14% Friday, lower than in previous days.
Spain’s Health Ministry says more than 9,000 people have recovered from the COVID-19 illness.
CAIRO — The World Health Organization representative in the East Mediterranean warned Friday of the repercussions of a potential spread of the novel coronavirus in the region's war-torn countries.
"The emergence of the virus in much more vulnerable countries with fragile health systems in the Region, including Syria and Libya, is of special concern," said WHO East Mediterranean Office Director Ahmed Al Mandhari.
On Wednesday, the count of infectious cases in Syria rose to five. A day earlier, Libya recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case.
"A country like Syria, ravaged by conflict and displacement, and with a health system already pushed to its limits, will clearly be overburdened by an outbreak of COVID-19, and the impact could be catastrophic," he added in a statement issued Friday.
Libya's ongoing civil war coupled with its poor health system weakens the country's ability to respond to the new pandemic, added Mandhari.
PARIS — A 16-year-old French schoolgirl from the Essonne region has become the youngest person in the country to die from COVID-19.
The girl, called Julie and whose surname has not been revealed, was hospitalized Monday and died Tuesday evening at the Necker children’s hospital in Paris.
Her older sister, Manon, spoke to the French press to warn that “we must stop believing that this only affects the elderly. No one is invincible against this mutant virus.”
Manon said that Julie had no pre-existing illness before contracting coronavirus.
She recounted that Julie had a “slight cough” last week and when it worsened this weekend, they saw a doctor — from when the virus accelerated at a “violent” pace.
Even though the death rate from the virus among young people is low, France’s public health body has said that 35% of intensive care patients are under 60.
A 21-year-old woman died of the virus in Britain on Tuesday.
BEIJING — Chinese leader Xi Jinping has told President Donald Trump that China "understands the United States' current predicament over the COVID-19 outbreak and stands ready to provide support within its capacity."
The official Xinhua News Agency said Xi delivered the message in a call to Trump on Friday, in which he also urged the U.S. to "take substantive action in improving bilateral relations."
Even before the virus outbreak, the U.S. and China were in the midst of a trade war and in sharpening conflicts over intellectual property, human rights, Taiwan and Beijing's policies in Hong Kong and the South China Sea.
In the phone call, Xi "suggested that the two sides work together to boost cooperation in epidemic control and other fields, and develop a relationship of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The virus outbreak was first reported in China in December and now appears to have peaked in the country, even while the government remains on guard against imported cases.
Beijing has been particularly annoyed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's repeated references to the outbreak as the "Wuhan Flu," after the Chinese city where it was first detected, saying that politicizes the issue and promotes bias against China and Chinese Americans.