The Latest COVID-19 Updates (May 5)

Staff Writer

4 p.m. WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s choice to oversee a significant chunk of the $2 trillion economic rescue law is pledging to conduct audits and investigations "with fairness and impartiality.''
Brian Miller, a lawyer in the White House counsel’s office, told the Senate Banking Committee during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that “independence is vital" for the special inspector general for pandemic recovery. The post would place him in charge of overseeing a roughly $500 billion Treasury fund for industry created as part of the economic rescue law approved in late March.
In written testimony, Miller pledged to be vigilant in protecting the integrity and independence of his office and vowed "to seek the truth in all matters that come before me and to use my authority and resources to uncover fraud, waste and abuse.''
Miller has worked at the Justice Department and was inspector general for nearly a decade at the General Services Administration, which oversees thousands of federal contracts. While he is respected in the oversight community, Miller’s role in the White House counsel’s office — which led Trump’s defense during impeachment — is troubling, Democrats and watchdog groups said.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, top Democrat on the banking panel, questioned whether Miller will be able to hold the Trump administration accountable for how it administers the business program and "guarantee that corporations getting taxpayer money put their workers first.″
In the last 20 years, Brown said his staff found only one inspector general candidate who was nominated while serving in the White House counsel’s office and another who served in the legal office of an earlier administration. Both nominees resigned, “one for politicizing the office and the other for a lack of independence,'' Brown said. "Not a great track record."

3 p.m. WASHINGTON (AP) — A government scientist says he was ousted from his position after raising concerns that the Trump administration wanted to “flood” coronavirus hot spots like New York and New Jersey with a malaria drug that President Donald Trump was pushing despite scant scientific evidence it helped.
Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, filed the complaint Tuesday with the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency responsible for whistleblower complaints. He alleges he was reassigned to a lesser role because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug favored by Trump.
Bright also said the Trump administration rejected his warnings on COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Bright said he “acted with urgency” to address the growing spread of COVID-19 after the World Health Organization issued a warning in January.
He said he “encountered resistance from HHS leadership, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who appeared intent on downplaying this catastrophic event.”
Bright alleges in the complaint that political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services had tried to promote hydroxychloroquine “as a panacea.” The officials also “demanded that New York and New Jersey be ‘flooded’ with these drugs, which were imported from factories in Pakistan and India that had not been inspected by the FDA,” the complaint says.
But Bright opposed broad use of the drug, arguing the scientific evidence wasn’t there to back up its use in coronavirus patients. He felt an urgent need to tell the public that there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to support using the drugs for COVID-19 patients, the complaint states.
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned doctors against prescribing the drug except in hospitals and research studies. In an alert, regulators flagged reports of sometimes fatal heart side effects among coronavirus patients taking hydroxychloroquine or the related drug chloroquine.
The decades-old drugs, also prescribed for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause a number of side effects, including heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.

2:30 p.m. WASHINGTON — Two U.S. senators are proposing to amend federal legislation to temporarily assume that first responders who contracted the coronavirus within 45 days of their last shift were infected during work and are eligible for death benefits.
The federal Public Safety Officers Benefits Program provides death benefits to the survivors who die in the line of duty or as a result of a work-related incident. The program now requires evidence that shows the death was caused by an infectious disease related to work — a difficult determination with the coronavirus amid a pandemic.
The legislation was proposed by senators Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, and Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey.
Federal death benefits include a one-time payment of $359,316 and/or education assistance of $1,224 a month to survivors.
DOVER, Del. — Democratic Gov. John Carney says he will allow small businesses in Delaware to resume limited operations starting Friday.
The announcement is aimed at gradually lifting restrictions that Carney imposed on individuals and businesses more than seven weeks ago in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Retailers such as department stores, tobacco shops, book stores and thrift stores will be allowed to do business using curbside pickup as long as social distancing can be maintained. Jewelry stores will be allowed to conduct business by appointment only.
LONDON — Britain’s foreign secretary has warned about “hostile states” and criminal gangs exploiting the coronavirus crisis for fraud and espionage, saying there is evidence they are targeting organizations trying to tackle the pandemic.
Dominic Raab says officials have “identified campaigns targeting health care bodies, pharmaceutical companies, research organizations and various different arms of local government.”
Most of the attacks aim to steal personal data and intellectual property, he added.
He says Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have issued a joint warning over the concerns.
CHARLESTON, W. Va. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told West Virginia officials that respirator masks distributed to 50,000 first responders might be counterfeit, but officials decided to leave them in use, according to a report.
After the warning, the state’s top public safety official issued a report to first responders that said the masks are “authentic,” the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico has received a shipment of 211 medical ventilators from the United States as part of aid that U.S. President Donald Trump promised his Mexican counterpart.
“We want to very fully thank the government of the United States, especially President Trump,” said Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard. “As the saying goes, when there are hard times is when you know who your friends are.”
Mexican President Andés Manuel López Obrador said last month that Trump had promised aid when he called and asked for help in obtaining 1,000 ventilators and other equipment for intensive care units.
Ebrard said the shipment includes equipment made by Swiss-based Hamilton Medical at prices ranging from $16,000 to $24,000.
He said they would be sent to government hospitals.
As of midday Tuesday, Mexico had reported 24,905 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2.271 deaths, though officials acknowledge that actual infections are a multiple of the tested figure.

2 p.m. WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressed ahead Tuesday with the next coronavirus aid, a sweeping $800 billion-plus package that is expected to be unveiled soon even as the House stays closed while the Senate reopens in the pandemic.
Key to any plan to reopen the economy, Democrats say, is robust testing. They are also expected to propose another round of direct cash aid for anxious Americans, funds for states to prevent layoffs and more money to shore up businesses in the stay-home economy.
“We still don't have a national testing strategy that is adequate," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday. He called it embarrassing. "It's life and death."
The contours of the next package are taking shape despite Republican resistance to more outlays and a deepening debate over how best to confront the deadly pandemic and its economic devastation.

12 p.m. HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s daily statistical update showed Jefferson County holding steady at six cases on Tuesday. The surrounding counties stood as follows: Clearfield, 21 cases; Indiana, 70 cases, four deaths; Armstrong, 52 cases, two deaths; Clarion, 23 cases, one death; Forest, seven cases; and Elk, four cases.

11 a.m. BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Many African Americans watching protests calling for easing restrictions meant to slow the spread of the new coronavirus see them as one more example of how their health, their safety and their rights just don’t seem to matter.
To many, it seems that the people protesting — who have been predominantly white — are agitating for reopening because they won’t be the ones to suffer the consequences. So far, the facts are proving them right: The consequences of keeping some businesses open have been falling disproportionately on the shoulders of black people and other marginalized groups.
“There has always been a small, white ruling class that has been OK with seeing certain populations as disposable," said LaTosha Brown, founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, a power-building organization based in the South.
The pandemic has highlighted — and often deepened — gaping inequalities in the United States and around the world.
Black people are dying in disproportionate numbers from COVID-19 in the United States; people of color are especially exposed because they are more likely to hold many of the jobs that were deemed essential; and, as the reopening starts, they are likely to be among those whose workplaces open first. For instance, in New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, black people make up just under 25 percent of the population, but more than 40 percent of public transit workers.

9 a.m. THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch riot police have arrested some demonstrators who gathered in The Hague to call for an end to the partial coronavirus lockdown.
Authorities in the city allowed the unannounced demonstration by a few hundred people near the city’s central railway station on condition that the protesters maintained social distancing.
However, the mayor withdrew permission when demonstrators refused to follow police instructions and officers, supported by police on horseback, began detaining people. Police didn’t immediately say how many people were arrested.
The Netherlands has been in what Prime Minister Mark Rutte calls an “intelligent lockdown” since mid-March. Schools, bars, restaurants and museums are closed and people are urged to work from home and practice social distancing outside.
The first gradual easing came last week when young children resumed sports training. Elementary schools are due to reopen next week.
ROME — Italian experts are warning a second wave of coronavirus infections will most certainly accompany Italy’s gradual reopening from Europe’s first lockdown.
They are calling for intensified efforts to identify possible new victims, monitor their symptoms and trace their contacts
Dr. Silvio Brusaferro, president of the Superior Institute of Health, briefed a Senate committee on Tuesday about the next phase of Italy’s coronavirus pandemic. He joined experts a day after 4.4 million Italians went back to work and restrictions on personal movement were eased for the first time in two months.
Brusaferro says the key to keeping the outbreak under control lies in the early isolation of people with suspected infection, more tests and the quarantine of their close contacts. He says it will require “a huge investment” of resources for training medical personnel to monitor possible new cases. He adds any phone app that can help trace contacts, while useful, doesn’t substitute for the actions of people.
The head of the institute’s infectious disease department, Dr. Giovanni Rezza, told La Repubblica the coming weeks were essentially an “experiment” to see how the infection curve reacts to the easing of the lockdown and production shutdown.
“We are not out of the epidemic. We are still in it. I don’t want people to think there’s no more risk and we go back to normal,” Rezza told La Repubblica.
In Italy’s hard-hit northern Lombardy, tens of thousands of sick overwhelmed the health care system. Scientists say a second wave of infection would particularly hit the south, which didn’t have many infections.
LONDON — The British government’s chief scientific adviser has acknowledged that the country should have been testing more people for the new coronavirus early in the country’s outbreak.
Patrick Vallance told Parliament’s health committee that “if we’d managed to ramp up testing capacity quicker it would have been beneficial, and for all sorts of reasons that didn’t happen.”
Critics say Britain’s Conservative government responded too slowly when COVID-19 began to spread, and failed to contain the outbreak by widely testing people with symptoms, then tracing and isolating the contacts of infected people.
Countries that did that, including South Korea and Germany, have recorded lower death rates than those that did not.
The U.K. has recently expanded its testing capacity and is setting up a “test, track and trace” program as it looks to relax a nationwide lockdown.
Britain is one of the world’s hardest-hit countries in the pandemic, and looks likely to overtake Italy for the largest number of COVID-19 deaths in Europe.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency says the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, has spoken over the phone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Tuesday’s report says the two discussed bilateral cooperation on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, and during the phone call, Rouhani thanked the Japanese government for its humanitarian assistance to Iran on combating the virus.
Rouhani was quoted as saying that with the “escalation of the United States’ cruel and inhumane sanctions against Iran,” the country faces “many problems today, even in the field of medical equipment and food supply.”
Iran, which has been the hardest-hit country in the Middle East in the pandemic, says its death toll rose to over 6,300 after 63 more people died on Monday. The Health Ministry’s spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, says Iran has so far confirmed nearly 100,000 cases.
STOCKHOLM — A Swedish newspaper says a technology institute in Sweden has found large concentrations of the coronavirus in Stockholm’s sewage system.
The analysis by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology was made in the purification plant in Bromma, west of the capital. The institute told Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden’s largest newspapers, that the test that can predict a second virus wave.
Since the beginning of April samples have been taken from two treatment plants in Stockholm with the purpose of monitoring how the amount of virus residues develop over time, the newspaper reported.
Initial results showed the highest virus concentration at the Bromma waste water treatment plant, which handles wastewater from northern Stockholm suburbs. At another treatment plant, an increase in the content between the first and second samples was seen.
The institute told Dagens Nyheter that the survey had quickly grown into an international research project involving six countries. No one at the institute was immediately available for comments.
There are no known cases of infection spreading through wastewater or drinking water.
LONDON (AP) — Britain on Tuesday became the first country in Europe to confirm more than 30,000 coronavirus deaths, and infections rose sharply again in Russia, even as other nations made great strides in containing the scourge. China marked its third week with no new reported deaths, while South Korea restarted its baseball season.
In the U.S., some states took continued steps to lift the lockdown restrictions that have thrown millions out of work, even as the country recorded thousands of new infections and deaths every day.
Britain appeared set to surpass Italy as Europe’s hardest-hit nation. The government said about 28,700 people with COVID-19 had died in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings, while Italy reported close to 29,100 fatalities. Both figures are almost certainly underestimates because they include only people who tested positive, and testing was not widespread in Italian and British nursing homes until recently.
Yet official British statistics released Tuesday on people who died with suspected COVID-19 put the country's toll at more than 30,000 as of April 24, or one-third higher than the government count at the time. A comparable figure for Italy was not available.
In Russia, the number of infections rose sharply again, with Moscow reporting more than 10,000 new cases for three days in a row.