Coronavirus pandemic in the US

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6:38 p.m. ET, April 23, 2020

Trump suggests social distancing guidelines might be extended past May 1

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on April 23.
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on April 23. Alex Brandon/AP

President Trump said he may extend social distancing guidelines beyond May 1 if he doesn't feel the country is in a safe place.

"We may go beyond that," Trump said when asked whether he might need to re-up the guidelines when they expire at the end of the month. 

"People are gonna know just out of common sense," Trump said after saying he thought the worse would be over by early summer.

"But until we feel it's safe, we are going to be extending," he said.
6:33 p.m. ET, April 23, 2020

Restaurants and retail businesses in Tennessee can reopen next week, governor says

From CNN’s Raja Razek

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced in a news conference today that restaurants and retail outlets would be allowed to reopen.

"We want to have the majority of businesses open before May 1," Lee said. "We are working around the clock to get Tennesseans safely back to work in 89 of our counties with the majority of businesses in a position to begin opening their doors next week."

However, he said, "Not every industry will be in a position to open safely immediately." 

Restaurants will be allowed to open next week at 50% capacity on Monday. On Wednesday, retail outlets would also be allowed to open at 50% capacity, according to the governor. 

David Salyers, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, also announced most of the state parks would be open Friday morning.

6:27 p.m. ET, April 23, 2020

House approves $480 billion package to help small businesses and hospitals

From CNN's Clare Foran, Manu Raju and Haley Byrd

In this image from video, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas., recognizes Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, left, to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on April 23.
In this image from video, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas., recognizes Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, left, to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on April 23. House Television via AP

The House of Representatives voted today to approve a roughly $480 billion package to deliver aid to small businesses and hospitals and expand Covid-19 testing, the latest attempt by lawmakers to blunt the devastating impact of the pandemic.

The vote was 388-5 and passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Just four Republicans and one Democrat voted against it. Independent Justin Amash voted present.

The members who voted no were Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Reps. Andy Biggs, Ken Buck, Jody Hice and Thomas Massie.

The measure passed the Senate earlier this week and will now go to President Trump, who has expressed support for the legislation and indicated that he will sign it. 

Where the money is expected to go: The total price tag of the bill is approximately $484 billion.

It will add to the already historic levels of spending to deal with the pandemic by authorizing an additional $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was set up to help small businesses struggling from the economic deep freeze triggered by coronavirus.

Funding for the program ran dry earlier this month, prompting an outcry from the business community.

In addition, the legislation provides $75 billion for hospitals and health care providers to address coronavirus expenses and lost revenue and $25 billion to facilitate and expand Covid-19 testing.

The increased funding for testing comes at a time when there is widespread recognition that testing capacity must increase and improve as states consider when to reopen businesses and lift lockdowns.

Referred to as an "interim" measure by lawmakers, the legislation is the latest historic effort by Washington to prop up the economy on the heels of a more than $2 trillion rescue package along with other relief measures already approved by Congress.

6:24 p.m. ET, April 23, 2020

Pence says task force is encouraging states to resume elective surgeries where possible

From CNN's Betsy Klein

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on April 23.
US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on April 23. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence encouraged states to resume elective surgeries during the White House press briefing.

“The President and I will continue to urge states across the country, given the unique burden on hospitals, we are now encouraging states to restart elective surgeries wherever possible, either statewide or on a county by county basis," he said. "We recognize the role elective surgeries play in finances for local hospitals and we’ll be working with states to enable that."

Pence also said Friday's call with the governors is expected to cover progress on testing and best practices.

“Our task force will convene a conference call with all of the nation’s governors to talk about their progress that they are making on testing, and we’re going to hear from governors about the practices and methods that they are employing to significantly increase testing following our briefing on capacity and laboratories this past Monday,” he said.

6:11 p.m. ET, April 23, 2020

Trump thanks colleges and large businesses for returning or declining CARES Act-related funding

From CNN's Maegan Vasquez

President Trump thanked Harvard University, as well as other colleges and large businesses, for agreeing not to take federal funding provided to them through the CARES Act.

“Harvard and Stanford and Princeton, numerous other universities and colleges, also, large businesses have sent funds back to us and in some cases I stopped funds that I looked at and we are pleased to report that the funds have either not gone out or … we’ve renegotiated it and they’re not getting ‘em,” Trump said during Thursday's White House press briefing.

“In a couple of cases, they’re sending ‘em back,” he added.

Trump said Harvard acted “quickly and decisively.” 

“They agreed when they heard the facts that they should not be getting it,” the President said. 

CNN reported Wednesday that Harvard, which has a $40 billion endowment, would not accept the $9 million in federal funds allocated to it under the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. 

Larger businesses have been scrutinized for attaining multi-million dollar loans through the Paycheck Protection Program when smaller businesses couldn’t. The program received funding through the CARES Act.  

5:54 p.m. ET, April 23, 2020

House Democrat says she plans to probe the dismissal of director of key vaccine agency

From CNN's Manu Raju

Rep. Anna Eshoo
Rep. Anna Eshoo Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images/FILE

Rep. Anna Eshoo, the chairwoman of the House’s Health subcommittee, told CNN she plans to call in Dr. Rick Bright to testify before her panel as she reviews the circumstances of his removal from a key position after he raised concerns about the safety of a drug that President Trump touted as a potential vaccine to coronavirus.

“I think the American people deserve to hear Dr Bright’s story,” Eshoo told CNN. “He really has worked for the American people — they are the ones who have paid his salary. A thoroughbred professional — and to set him aside in one of the most key positions to develop vaccines in the midst of the pandemic? The story doesn’t make sense to me. So I think it deserves examination.”

Eshoo said she also wants to call Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Bob Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, to testify before her panel.

“I don’t know where this began, why, who where, when, why,” said Eshoo, whose subcommittee falls under the Energy and Commerce full committee. “But I think it deserves to be examined and the story told.”

Eshoo said she wants to have hearings as soon as it’s “feasible” and said she’s willing to return to Washington to probe the matter.

“I’m willing to come here, I think others will as well,” she said Thursday.

Eshoo appears to have backing from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Asked by CNN about the Bright situation, Pelosi directed an inquiry to Eshoo.

Some context: Bright had led BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, since 2016 until Tuesday, when he was reassigned to a narrower position.

"I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit," Bright said in a lengthy statement issued Wednesday. "I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way."

5:55 p.m. ET, April 23, 2020

Union says 13 meatpacking and food processing workers have died

From CNN’s Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union told reporters on a call that 10 meatpacking workers and three food processing workers have died as a result of coronavirus, according to its estimates.

The UCFW said it identified 13 plants that have closed at some point in the past two months, which impacted more than 24,500 workers and resulted in a 25% reduction in pork slaughter capacity and 10% reduction in beef slaughter capacity. 

In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, the UFCW asked the White House Coronavirus Task Force to "prioritize five safety actions targeted toward the meatpacking industry." 

Those actions included increased worker testing, priority access to personal protective equipment, halting speed line waivers, mandating social distancing and isolating workers with symptoms or positive tests.

5:32 p.m. ET, April 23, 2020

United will require flight attendants to wear face coverings

From CNN's Cristina Alesci

 Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images
 Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

United will require flight attendants to wear cloth face coverings or masks while they’re on duty starting April 24, according to an employee memo the airline shared with CNN.

United says it’s the first major US carrier to adopt the requirement.

The airline will not replenish the supply after every flight and rather, it will do so “as needed and as supplies permit,” the airline said in the memo.

Flight attendants also will have the option to wear their own face coverings or use the ones United provides. 

United noted that the requirement “is in line” with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations that people wear cloth face coverings in public when social distancing isn’t possible. 

The airline made the decision in partnership with the Association of Flight Attendants, according to the memo.

 

5:31 p.m. ET, April 23, 2020

Flight attendant union wants leisure travelers to stay grounded

From CNN's Greg Wallace

A major union of flight attendants wants federal officials to discourage or even prohibit leisure air travel due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA on Thursday urged the US departments of Transportation and Health and Human Services "to take further action to limit the spread of the virus by restricting air travel to only that necessary to continue essential services."  

The letter also asked the agencies to require all travelers in airports and on airplanes wear face masks to reduce the likelihood of transmitting coronavirus. 

The Department of Transportation and Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday afternoon. 

Union president Sara Nelson told CNN that she would like to see government and the aviation industry "sending the message that people should not be traveling for leisure purposes right now." 

She said 250 flight attendants have tested positive for coronavirus. More than 470 airport security screeners have also tested positive.