States reopen in US as coronavirus pandemic persists

Updated 9:57 p.m. ET, May 4, 2020
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4:18 p.m. ET, May 4, 2020

Trump administration limits coronavirus task force members from testifying at congressional hearings

From CNN's Jim Acosta

White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on April 28, in Washington.
White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on April 28, in Washington. Doug Mills/The New York Times/Pool/Getty Images

A senior administration official confirmed the White House is moving to further limit coronavirus task force members from testifying at congressional hearings.

Members of the task force have received instructions informing them of this new policy. The administration official said task force members need to focus on their work, not on preparing for delivering testimony.

“During the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, task force members were on the Hill 24/7. They’ve been working non-stop since the beginning, and the workload has not diminished," the official said.

"Given the continual press briefings and agency-led briefings with committees, I don’t think anyone can reasonably say we aren’t being transparent, but we need to make sure the task force members have the time they need to focus on the task at hand, not on preparing for four-hour hearings several times a week," the official added.

The White House confirmed Friday it was blocking Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, from testifying before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

4:08 p.m. ET, May 4, 2020

More coronavirus cases reported at Maine Tyson Foods plant

From CNN's Shawn Nottingham

Maine Health officials have received the first batch of test results from a Tyson Foods plant in Portland, Maine, after 12 people tested positive for coronavirus according to Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of the Maine Center of Disease Control and Prevention. 

Five new cases of coronavirus have now been reported from the initial group of 96 tests given to Tyson employees, for a total of 17 cases at the facility according to Shah.

There are plans to test more than 400 employees at the Tyson facility. Shah said there is a likelihood there could be more positive results from the facility.

4:06 p.m. ET, May 4, 2020

California plans to train 20,000 people to be contact tracers

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Tracking coronavirus for 40 million people is an undertaking that requires what California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom calls a "tracing army."

A training program led by the University of California, Los Angeles and University of California, San Francisco will teach people how to trace and track the disease through a virtual academy. Each recruit will go through 20 hours of training, with 12 hours online and eight hours in person.

Approximately 3,000 people have been identified as tracers and are set to begin their first training course, which goes online Wednesday, Newsom said. The first phase will train about 10,000 people, with a goal of reaching 20,000 tracers.

All 58 counties in California have the capacity for tracing and have done so in the past for illnesses like measles and sexually transmitted diseases.

“Every county does some form of tracing,” Newsom said, “but new work is being done to scale the effort for the Covid-19 pandemic."

Testing has increased significantly in California with about 768,000 tests conducted so far. Newsom said an average of 25,000 tests are performed each day.

4:02 p.m. ET, May 4, 2020

California governor allows some Orange County beaches to reopen

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

People walk past a closed off beach on May 3, in Laguna Beach, Calif.
People walk past a closed off beach on May 3, in Laguna Beach, Calif. Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

California beaches in the cities of Laguna Beach and San Clemente have been granted permission to reopen on a limited basis, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Newsom ordered a hard closure for all Orange County beaches last week, after significant crowds flocked the sand, and protesters responded quickly to express their displeasure.

Laguna Beach’s city beaches will reopen tomorrow and will remain open on weekday mornings only between the hours of 6 a.m. PT and 10 a.m. PT, according to a statement from the city. Active recreation — such as running, swimming, and surfing — is allowed, but lounging on the beach and picnicking will be prohibited.

“We appreciate the governor’s willingness to work with us to provide a responsible, gradual approach to reopening all beaches in Laguna Beach for active recreation,” Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen said. “This will allow people the opportunity to walk, jog, swim and surf and get some fresh air and exercise on a limited basis, but not congregate or gather in large groups.”

“We have the same collaborative spirit with our counties, overwhelmingly, with few exceptions, but I’m confident that we’ll bring them back into the fold,” Newsom said. 

3:53 p.m. ET, May 4, 2020

White House will oversee distribution of remdesivir, FEMA says

From CNN's Arman Azad

 

One vial of the drug Remdesivir lies during a press conference in Hamburg, Germany on April 8.
One vial of the drug Remdesivir lies during a press conference in Hamburg, Germany on April 8. Ulrich Perrey/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The investigational drug remdesivir will be distributed according to a plan approved by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

The maker of the drug, Gilead Sciences, had previously said the federal government would decide where to send the company’s existing supply – which is enough to treat between 100,000 and 200,000 patients.

“Remdesivir will be distributed directly to counties in the United States by the commercial provider – based on an allocation plan approved by the White House Task Force,” a FEMA spokesperson told CNN on Monday.

“FEMA and HHS are working on the longer term allocation strategy for this medical commodity,” the spokesperson added, referring to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

In early results from a trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, remdesivir was found to shorten the duration of illness in patients with severe Covid-19, but it had no statistically significant effect on whether patients died.

Gilead’s chairman and CEO, Daniel O'Day, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” this weekend that the federal government would begin shipping "tens of thousands" of courses of remdesivir early this week.

The US Food and Drug Administration authorized remdesivir for emergency use last week in patients with severe Covid-19. Gilead has long said it would donate its existing supply of 1.5 million vials – enough to treat up to 200,000 people, according to O’Day. 

"What we will do is provide that donation to the US government, and they will determine, based upon things like ICU beds, where the course of the epidemic is in the United States. They will begin shipping tens of thousands of treatment courses out early this week and be adjusting that as the epidemic shifts and evolves in different parts, in different cities here in the United States," O'Day said on Sunday.

His comments echo the FDA's emergency use authorization for the drug, which says: "Distribution of the authorized remdesivir will be controlled by the United States (U.S.) Government for use consistent with the terms and conditions of this EUA." 

Asked for clarification on whether all 1.5 million vials would be donated to the US government, as O'Day suggested, Gilead spokesperson Sonia Choi said on Sunday that the company plans to provide the drug globally.

"We intend to allocate our available supply based on guiding principles that aim to maximize access for appropriate patients in urgent need of treatment,” she said.

“We are working with regulatory authorities worldwide and bioethicists to help inform our global allocation approach.”

In a statement on Friday, Gilead said its goal is to produce at least 500,000 treatment courses by October and more than a million by December.

 

3:49 p.m. ET, May 4, 2020

McConnell: "The time has come" for the Senate to work in the Capitol

From CNN's Alex Rogers

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks with reporters on April 21, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks with reporters on April 21, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Patrick Semansky/AP

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell marked the return of the Senate on Monday afternoon, saying that after over a month working from home, senators needed to come to the Capitol to conduct their essential work.

“Now the time has come for us to continue conducting our nation's business in ways that are only possible with senators here in the Capitol,” the Kentucky Republican said. “And so for this work period, the Senate will shift out of the ranks of those Americans who are working remotely, and into the ranks of Americans working in essential sectors, who are listening to expert guidance and modifying their routines, and ultimately continue to man their posts to keep the country running.”

“If it's essential that brave health care workers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, and many other Americans continue to carefully show up for work, then it's essential that their US senators carefully show up ourselves and support them,” McConnell added. 

He said the Senate would work on “key nominations that relate directly to the safety of the American people, oversight of our coronavirus legislation and more.” 

3:38 p.m. ET, May 4, 2020

US Treasury expects to borrow nearly $3 trillion in debt this quarter

From CNN's Kate Trafecante

The US Treasury estimates it will issue a record amount of debt in the second financial quarter as government spending soars in response to the coronavirus.

The Treasury Department expects to borrow $2.999 trillion in marketable debt in April through June of this year. That is much higher than announced in February 2020, and assumes a cash balance of $800 billion by the end of the quarter.

Treasury issues securities like bills and bonds to raise cash to support government spending. The large jump this quarter is "primarily driven by the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, including expenditures from new legislation to assist individuals and businesses" as well as "changes to tax receipts," including the deferral of individual and business taxes until July.

3:46 p.m. ET, May 4, 2020

5 inmates from an Arkansas correctional facility die from coronavirus over weekend

From CNN's Jamiel Lynch

A motorist passes by the entrance to the Cummins Unit prison near Varner, Arkansas, on April 27, 2017.
A motorist passes by the entrance to the Cummins Unit prison near Varner, Arkansas, on April 27, 2017. Kelly P. Kissel/AP

Five inmates from the Cummins Unit Correctional Facility died from Covid-19 over the weekend, Arkansas Department of Health Director Dr. Nate Smith announced in a news conference.

There are 873 positive cases of coronavirus at the Cummins Unit, Smith said.

The Cummins Unit has approximately 1,900 inmates, Department of Corrections Director Dexter Payne said.

There are 172 positive cases at the Federal Correctional Institute in Forrest City, Smith said.

At least 3,458 cases of coronavirus and 81 deaths have been reported in the state.

3:57 p.m. ET, May 4, 2020

California governor says some businesses can reopen "as early as the end of this week"

People walk past closed shops in downtown Los Angeles, on April 30.
People walk past closed shops in downtown Los Angeles, on April 30. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said today that his modified stay-at-home order guidelines will come out on Thursday and include the next phase of his reopening plan for the state.

Newsom said this plan will include reopening "low risk" businesses, such as retailers.

He said that retailers who meet the criteria will be allowed to reopen "as early as the end of this week." He listed off several types of businesses including clothing stores, sporting goods stores, and florists.

“The data says it can happen,” Newsom said on reopening.