The United States has surpassed 15,000 deaths from the coronavirus as cases continue to increase, while more than 24,000 people have recovered nationwide.
Confirmed cases in the U.S. exceeded 450,000 Thursday. The death toll was nearing 6,000 one week ago, but in the last two days there have been nearly 2,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard.
In other news, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is out of intensive care, U.S. stocks surged higher despite mind-numbing jobless numbers and some Americans could begin receiving stimulus checks Thursday.
Some of President Donald Trump's Cabinet signaled frustration with lockdowns and stay-at-home orders: Attorney General William Barr called restrictions in many states "draconian;" Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said parts of the economy could reopen by May.
And a significant encouraging sign: A University of Washington health research center dropped its estimated U.S. death total from the coronavirus, placing the likely toll by August at about 60,000.
Worldwide, there are nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases and more than 90,000 deaths.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson out of ICU
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved out of an intensive care unit where he was being treated for coronavirus to a regular hospital ward, his office said in a statement Thursday, as the condition of Britain's leader continues to improve.
The statement from Downing Street said Johnson, 55, is receiving "close monitoring during the early phase of his recovery." Earlier, the prime minister's spokesman said Johnson had a "good night" in the hospital and was in stable condition and "improving."
Johnson is being cared for in St Thomas' Hospital in central London. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26 and still had a cough and fever 10 days later. He was admitted to the hospital Sunday and to its ICU on Monday.
Johnson's wife, Carrie Symonds, is pregnant and also suffered symptoms consistent with the virus. Earlier this week, Symonds tweeted that she was feeling stronger and "on the mend."
– Kim Hjelmgaard
Deaths could fall short of projections; summer vacations 'in the cards'
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday he’s cautiously optimistic the steady rise in U.S. deaths could soon “turn around and that curve not only flatten, but (start) coming down.” Last week Fauci and the White House task force estimated U.S. deaths from the virus at 100,000 to 240,000.
“I believe we are going to see a downturn in that, and it looks more like the 60,000," Fauci said on the "Today" show. That number matches an updated estimate published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington. The total would also match U.S. deaths from a severe influenza season two winters ago.
Fauci, asked on CBS This Morning whether Americans would be taking summer vacations, going to baseball games and holding family get-togethers, replied: "It can be in the cards."
Mnuchin: US could be back in business next month
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that parts of the economy could reopen by May. Asked by CNBC host Jim Cramer if he thought the economy could be "open for business" in May, Mnuchin replied, "I do ... as soon as the president feels comfortable with the medical issues, we are making everything necessary that American companies and American workers can be open for business."
Guidelines issued by President Donald Trump, effective through April 30, recommend that people not gather in groups of 10 or more, not go to restaurants or bars and limit their activities outside the home.
– Nicholas Wu
Unemployment claims near record as layoffs continue to surge
More than 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment benefit claims for the first time last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, reflecting another surge in layoffs and an economy that has continued to shut down to minimize further contagion from the coronavirus. The previous week’s record 6.65 million jobless claims total was revised up by 219,000 to a new all-time high of 6.86 million. Economists had estimated that 5.5 million workers filed initial claims last week, according to a Bloomberg survey. The seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 5.1% for the week ending March 28.
“There are reasons to think this is only the beginning,” says economist Jesse Edgerton of JPMorgan Chase.
– Paul Davidson
Dems block $250B for small businesses, cite needs of hospitals
An effort by Senate Republicans to replenish an emergency fund for small businesses hurt by the coronavirus crisis was blocked by Democrats, who called it a "political stunt" that failed to consider hospitals and other pressing needs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had proposed legislation boosting the popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) by another $250 billion on top of the $349 billion Congress approved last month as part of the $2.2 trillion pandemic response known as the CARES act.
But when it came up Thursday on a voice vote, Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen objected, effectively blocking it. The bill "was not negotiated so it won’t get done," Cardin said.
– Christal Hayes and Ledyard King
US stocks continue surge
U.S. stocks were on the rise again Thursday, one day after the Dow Jones industrial Average raced 779.71 points higher to close at 23,433.57. The Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 3.4% Wednesday to end at 2,749.98, driven by gains in beaten down energy, real estate and utility shares. The broad index has jumped nearly 23% since it hit a low two and a half weeks ago.
Shares were mixed in Asia on Thursday after a 3.4% gain on Wall Street as investors chose a positive focus for data about the coronavirus outbreak’s trajectory.
Struggling college students to get billions in aid
The Education Department is dispersing roughly $6.3 billion in emergency aid to colleges, meant to help students struggling financially due to the coronavirus outbreak, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday.
The money comes through the CARES Act that passed Congress last month, which is meant to prop up the floundering economy through the virus’ disruptions.
It’s unclear when students will receive the funds, and it will be up to colleges to distribute the money to students as they see fit. The money can be used for course materials, food, housing, health care and similar expenses, the department said.
The federal government has also suspended federal student loan payments and set the interest rate on these loans to zero through September.
– Chris Quintana
New York has another deadliest day, but hospitalizations continue decline
New York state hit a daily high with 799 deaths Wednesday, bringing the state death toll to more than 7,000, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. But Cuomo added that hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions continue to slide, indicating that the outbreak's curve is flattening in his state. Almost half the U.S. deaths have occurred in New York. And as he does at all his daily news conferences, he urged residents to remain vigilant.
"It's only been 18 days since we closed down New York," he said. "It seems like a lifetime."
Attorney General Barr calls lockdowns 'draconian'
Attorney General William Barr called the restrictions in effect in many states to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus "draconian," and said Wednesday they should be revisited next month. Asked by Fox News host Laura Ingraham about the balance between religious freedoms and the need to protect people, Barr said the federal government would be "keeping a careful eye" on states' use of broad powers to regulate the lives of their citizens.
Officials, Barr said, should be "very careful to make sure ... that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified and there are not alternative ways of protecting people."
– Nicholas Wu
Studies suggest virus spread in New York came from Europe
The coronavirus began spreading in New York in February and came to the area via travelers from Europe, new research suggests. Two separate teams of scientists studying the genetics of the virus came to similar conclusions: People were spreading the virus weeks before the first confirmed case in New York.
"We know with certainty that these were coming from European strains," Adriana Heguy, director of the Genome Technology Center at NYU Langone Health, told USA TODAY.
The first case of the new coronavirus confirmed in New York came on March 1. On Jan. 31, President Donald Trump said he would restrict entry to the United States from those traveling from China. On March 11, Trump said he was restricting travel from Europe.
– Ryan W. Miller
Dozens of American flight crew members test positive
The unions that represent commercial pilots and flight attendants say dozens of them who work for American Airlines have tested positive for the coronavirus, and they need better protection.
One hundred of the airline's flight attendants had COVID-19 as of Saturday, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants said. In a statement, Julie Hendrick, AFPA's new president, said the union has been pushing American since January for protective measures for front-line workers.
On Thursday, Capt. Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the union that represents American Airlines pilots, told USA TODAY that 41 of them have tested positive for the virus.
Because flight crews could be vectors for the virus, Tajer said they should "receive 'first responder' status and priority for protective equipment.''
– Rasha Ali and Jayme Deerwester
Virus could be ticket to freedom for some elderly inmates
The coronavirus pandemic has forced prison officials to confront difficult questions about who gets to spend the rest of their days outside prison walls. Attorney General William Barr has ordered the Bureau of Prisons to move vulnerable inmates to home confinement. The elderly – most at risk of getting sick and dying of the virus – have been the fastest-growing population in federal and state prison systems, in part because of lengthy mandatory sentences. Now worried families and advocates want them released.
“People change. People age out of crime, especially violent crime. That’s a young man’s game,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
– Kristine Phillips
Another potential coronavirus vaccine, this time without the deep injection
Another trial is underway to test the safety of a possible vaccine for the coronavirus, and those who fear needles may be in luck: It uses a skin-deep shot that would feel like a small pinch instead of a deep jab. The trial aims to give 40 healthy volunteers in Philadelphia and Kansas City, Missouri, two doses of the potential vaccine, INO-4800, four weeks apart.
Similar to another clinical trial that began testing for safety in Seattle last month, the potential vaccine does not rely on using the virus itself. Inovio Pharmaceuticals' trial, instead, injects a piece of synthetic DNA with a section of the virus' genetic code. The Seattle trial relies on messenger RNA. After the shot, volunteers are given a brief electrical pulse that allows the synthetic DNA to more easily enter the body.
Dozens of other potential vaccines are being developed around the world, but it could be more than a year to 18 months before a vaccine is widely available, public health officials have said.
– Ryan W. Miller
Italian PM: COVID-19 could break EU; Italy may soon ease lockdown
The European Union could collapse if it fails to come together over financial challenges presented by the coronavirus, Italy's prime minister said. Giuseppe Conte and some other EU leaders are pressing more frugal members of the bloc to issue so-called "corona bonds" – sharing debt that all EU nations would help to pay off. The Netherlands is among nations that have opposed the plan.
"If we do not seize the opportunity to put new life into the European project, the risk of failure is real," Conte told the BBC.
Conte also said Italy may start to gradually ease the world's most restrictive national lockdown. The number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have started to decline across the country in recent days. Italy has reported more than 17,000 deaths, the most of any nation, and almost 140,000 confirmed cases.
Americans could start receiving stimulus payments Thursday
Much-awaited stimulus cash will begin flooding into millions of bank accounts next week in the first wave of payouts to shore up the nation's wallets. Millions of taxpayers will begin receiving the extra money to pay rent, groceries and other bills next week, or possibly as early as Thursday or Friday. The first group – estimated to cover 50 million to 60 million Americans – would include people who have already given their bank account information to the Internal Revenue Service.
The first group also would include Social Security beneficiaries who filed federal tax returns that included direct deposit information, according to an alert put out by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. Dingell's announcement said the expectation is that the first direct deposits would hit in mid-April, likely the week beginning April 13.
– Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press
Feds loosen virus rules to let essential workers return
In a first, small step toward reopening the country, the Trump administration issued new guidelines to make it easier for essential workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 to get back to work if they do not have symptoms of the disease.
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said essential employees such as health care and food supply workers who have been within 6 feet of a confirmed or suspected case of the virus can return to work under certain circumstances if they are not experiencing symptoms.
Among some of the new protocols: taking your temperature before work, wearing a face mask at all times, not sharing headsets or objects used near the face, not congregating in break rooms.
– Associated Press