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Trump Didn’t Consult Every Coronavirus Task Force Member Before Announcing He May Relax Social Distancing, Says Acosta

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CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta said Thursday that some members of the coronavirus task force had not seen a letter President Donald Trump drafted to state governors about potentially relaxing the social distancing rules put forth by his administration.

In the letter, plans for ranking counties according to their risk profile—high, medium or low—of spreading coronavirus were mentioned.

“President Trump has told the nation’s governors in a letter that the administration is working on new guidelines that would help state and local leaders come up with new social distancing measures in the weeks ahead,” Acosta reported. “We are learning that not all coronavirus task force members had seen Mr. Trump’s letter to the governors before the letter was released.”

Newsweek reached out to the office of Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House coronavirus task force for comment.

CNN reporter Jim Acosta said Thursday that not all members of the White House coronavirus task force had been told of President Donald Trumps plans to relax social distancing guidelines.
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“My Administration is working to publish new guidelines for State and local policymakers to use in making decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures they have put in place,” Trump’s letter read.

“This is what we envision: Our expanded testing capabilities will quickly enable us to publish criteria, developed in close coordination with the Nation’s public health officials and scientists, to help classify counties with respect to continued risks posed by the virus,” the letter said. “This will incorporate robust surveillance testing, which allows us to monitor the spread of the virus throughout the country. Under these data-driven criteria, we will suggest guidelines categorizing counties as high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk.”

Some Trump critics believe that the potential relaxing of current coronavirus protocols, such as social distancing, may be key to his stated desire to reopen U.S. businesses, many of which have been closed by state-mandated stay-at-home orders.

On Thursday, data released by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the coronavirus pandemic had caused 3.3 million Americans to file for unemployment insurance within the span of one week. While the numbers represented the highest number of unemployment claims since the beginning of October 1982, Trump said the economy would rebound after the threat of the virus in the U.S. had ended.

“I know those numbers but I think you’ll see a very fast turnaround once we have a victory over the hidden enemy, as I say, it’s a hidden enemy,” Trump said. “We’ll see what happens, but they’re fully expected numbers, at least.”

Trump has pinpointed the April celebration of Easter Sunday as the potential target date for his reopening of the country. On Tuesday, Trump told Fox News that he would “love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”

In a Thursday interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Trump said he may reopen the country in sections.

“There’s a possibility I’ll do it in quadrants, in pieces,” Trump said. “You’ll take the Farm Belt. You’ll take certain states that aren’t badly impacted where they have almost none or just a little bit.”

“They all have a little bit,” Trump added, “but many of them have just a little bit and they have it under control.”

Recent data indicates 88,594 confirmed positive cases in the U.S. with 1,300 deaths attributable to the virus. 1,868 individuals have been classified as recovered.

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USNS Comfort Crew Member Tests Positive for Coronavirus

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On Monday, Mr. Trump agreed that the Comfort would begin taking in people who tested positive for the virus.

A Navy spokeswoman said the discovery of an infected crew member would not affect the Comfort’s mission in New York. “It does not affect the ability of the Comfort to receive patients at all,” Elizabeth Baker, the spokeswoman, said.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 44 patients on board, she said, meaning most of the Comfort’s beds still remained unused.

The infected crew member, who was not publicly identified, was not a medical worker and had no contact with patients, Ms. Baker said. She said she did not know how the crew member was infected.

All members of the crew tested negative for the virus before leaving the Comfort’s port in Norfolk, Va., she said, and have not left the ship since arriving in New York.

With its dazzling white hull emblazoned with red crosses, the Comfort appeared as a beacon of hope when it sailed into New York Harbor last week. But it has since become a stark symbol of the halting and at times ham-handed efforts to combat a novel contagion that continues to confound medical science.

The ship arrived with a list of restrictions on patients that some hospital officials complained were so onerous that only healthy people would be allowed on board. When only a handful of patients could be transferred to the ship, the Defense Department eased those restrictions.

All along, the goal was to prevent the virus from coming on board. In the end, it did anyway, in a testament to the virus’s perniciousness.

Five patients who were originally transferred to the Comfort after testing negative for the virus also eventually developed symptoms. Additional tests confirmed they had the disease.

Now, patients suffering most acutely from Covid-19, along with others in need of urgent care, are being transferred to the ship, while those less severely affected will remain at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, another spillover site operated by the Department of Defense in Manhattan. All patients must give consent before being transferred to the Defense Department run facilities.

After the reconfiguration to accept Covid patients, the ship will have 500 beds, plus an additional 100 intensive care unit beds equipped with ventilators, Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, the commander of U.S. Second Fleet, said at a briefing with reporters on Tuesday.

The Javits Center also has 42 ventilators and is expecting another 48 to come online in the coming days, said Maj. Gen. William A. Hall, who is overseeing operations there.

To mitigate the dangers onboard the Comfort, the ship has been divided into two zones, with the medical zone completely isolated from other areas of the ship. Medical workers, who had been confined to the Comfort, will now be bussed each day to and from a local hotel in the city to reduce the number of crew members in common areas of the ship.

“Taking on more patients as quickly as possible is critical to helping the City of New York during this pandemic crisis,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, the commander of U.S. Second Fleet, said in a statement. “We listened to the feedback from area health professionals and the community and believe this is the best way we can help our fellow Americans.”

The Defense Department announced also announced on Tuesday that it was rushing additional reinforcements to New York City to assist front-line medical workers. More than 300 military medical workers have been sent to the city’s 11 public hospitals, and additional overflow medical sites are being established in adjacent countries, said Jonathan Hoffman, a department spokesman.

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California sheriff warns he could arrest residents for not wearing face masks

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A California sheriff warned the residents of his county Monday that they could face fines or imprisonment for violating an order to cover their faces in public during the coronavirus crisis.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco made the announcement in a video posted to YouTube, just days after the department said it lost two deputies to fatal cases of COVID-19.

“Right now, you could be a carrier of this virus, spreading it to your family and friends,” Bianco said.

It’s unclear when deputies would issue fines or arrest people who violate the face mask order, but the county said local law enforcement agencies have the power to enforce the order “as they deem necessary.”

Bianco said his department would not set up roadside checkpoints to stop vehicles or people hiking, walking or running without masks.

“We will not be setting up any type of police state,” he said. “And this is not a declaration of martial law in Riverside County.”

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Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health officer, on Saturday banned all gatherings of “any number of people” other than relatives living together in the same home, according to a county press release. And he ordered “everyone” to wear a face covering outside their homes.

Acceptable face coverings include bandanas, scarves and “clothing that does not have visible holes.” However, the county is discouraging residents from buying N95 or surgical masks, arguing that they are in short supply and necessary for health care workers and first responders.

CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK AT CALIFORNIA NURSING HOME INFECTS MORE THAN 2 DOZEN

“Not everybody’s getting the message,” Kaiser said, according to the release. “It started with staying home, social distance and covering your face. But now we change that from saying that you should to saying that you must.”

The order runs through April 30.

Essential businesses such as grocery stores, gas stations and health care providers are exempt from the portion of the order prohibiting gatherings. Churches, temples, synagogues, mosques and other religious buildings are banned from hosting services — even at drive-in events.

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Still, Bianco asked residents not to distract first responders from emergency work over people who disobey the order.

“Do not call 9-1-1 to report potential violations,” he said. “Cover your faces. Stay at home unless absolutely necessary, and help out your neighbors as much as possible.”

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco addresses the media at a press conference, Friday, April 3, 2020, in Riverside, Calif. Bianco announced the passing of the second County Sheriff’s employee to die due to the coronavirus. (Dylan Stewart/Image of Sport via AP)

The U.S. has seen at least 379,965 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Tuesday afternoon, with 12,021 of them fatal. There were at least 16,429 cases in California and 397 deaths.

On Thursday, two deputies of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department died from COVID-19. They were Deputy Terrell Young, a married father of four who joined the department in 2005, and Deputy David Werksman, a married father of three who joined in 1998.

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Top public health official says number of dead could be lower as Americans practice social distancing

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Some administration officials are now saying the number could be lower than it originally warned — but it comes as there are continued questions about how the administration got to the high number.

The final number could end up being higher or lower than the dramatic estimates released one week ago in a briefing by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, according to federal health officials and researchers who are creating models to forecast the outbreak.

A source close to the task force said it’s possible the eventual death toll will be “way under” the 100,000-to-240,000 figure.

A key factor driving the large estimate was a crucial assumption, discussed internally by task force officials, that only 50% of Americans would observe the government’s stringent social distancing guidelines, the source said. That calculation was not shared widely. In reality, a much larger number — 90% — is observing the government’s guidelines, US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said in several interviews this week.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, discussed the 50% social distancing participation estimate in an interview with Tucson radio station KVOI on Monday.

“Those models that were done, they assumed that only about 50% of the American public would pay attention to the recommendations. In fact, it would seem, a large majority of the American public are taking the social distancing recommendations to heart — and I think that’s the direct consequence of why you’re seeing the numbers are going to be much, much, much, much lower than would’ve been predicted by the models,” Redfield said.

The source close to the task force confirmed Redfield was citing the 50% figure discussed within the coronavirus task force.

In the meantime, Katie Miller, a spokeswoman for the task force, said Redfield was referring to a revision from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Miller added that the presentation that produced the 100,000-240,000 figure from Dr. Deborah Birx was based on a “combination of models.”

Health officials on the coronavirus task force, led by Birx, based their estimates of 100,000-240,000 deaths on a number of models from a variety of well-respected public health units at top US universities, as well as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The White House has not released the modeling estimates they’ve received or how they analyzed them.

Birx has often focused on the model by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, whose projected death toll has never been above 100,000 in recent weeks. That model assumes full adherence to social distancing measures.

CNN has learned that another of the models, from Imperial College London, predicted a worst-case scenario of up to 2.2 million deaths.

At a White House press briefing on March 31, Birx said that with social distancing, good hand hygiene, and other steps, the death toll could go “down to 100,000 to 200,000 deaths, which is still way too much.”

Public health experts caution nobody has a crystal ball with the ability to pinpoint the precise number of people who will die in a pandemic. And they warn that despite the varying numbers, this is no time to relax social distancing measures.

Harvard scientists, who are modeling the pandemic, also advised the White House on what the expected death toll might be, said their estimates were similar to what Birx announced at the press briefing.

“Our numbers were within that range,” Mark Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard, said. “Ours were a little higher than the high end of their range because we used a higher R0,” referring to a measure of how contagious the virus is.

The White House also sought advice from Alessandr Vespignani, a professor at Northeastern University. He said his estimates were also “in the ballpark” with the numbers Birx mentioned at the briefing.

In response to the White House email request for the model, Lipsitch said: “We supplied what we were asked for as best we could, but I think any responsible modeler will tell you that our assumptions are wrong because we just don’t know the effectiveness of social distancing. It’s quite speculative.”

He added that none of the models lead to an optimistic conclusion of what this will all look like in the end.

“There are no good end games right now,” Lipsitch said.

Ever since President Donald Trump and top health officials announced the estimates, some members of the task force have cautioned that the models would have to change with incoming data, driven by the latest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths. For example, some initial optimism in New York state that the deadly outbreak in the New York City area may be plateauing is also fueling optimism that the number of dead may not reach 100,000 people.

“Data will always trump models,” task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a CNN town hall on April 2.

Even before the task force released its official estimates, Fauci said the models could be overestimating the number of Americans who may die from the virus, during an interview on CNN’s State of the Union on March 29.

“The model is only as good and as accurate as your assumptions,” Fauci said. “And whenever the modelers come in, they give a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario. Generally, the reality is somewhere in the middle. I’ve never seen a model of the diseases that I’ve dealt with where the worst-case scenario actually came out. They always overshoot.”

A source familiar with internal discussions about the modeling and estimates said the 100,000-240,000 figure was not selected in order to frighten the public.

“The number wasn’t picked for a political or public relations purpose,” the source said.

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