Coronavirus pandemic in the US

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3:31 p.m. ET, May 5, 2020

Here's how US airlines are handling middle seats and social distancing

From CNN's Greg Wallace and Pete Muntean

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP/FILE
Lefteris Pitarakis/AP/FILE

Coronavirus has made it less likely that anyone still flying will be stuck in a middle seat as airlines attempt to help passengers maintain some level of social distance. 

Across the industry, flights are generally sparsely populated, giving the airlines and passengers opportunities to spread out. The average US domestic flight currently carries about 17 passengers, according to the latest numbers from air carrier group Airlines for America. 

Here's how US airlines are handling social distancing on flights:

  • Delta Air Lines on Tuesday said it would cap capacity at 50% in first class and 60% in other classes. That’s the furthest formal step of the largest US airlines. 
  • American Airlines is dialing back on the number of middle seats it makes available for customers to select. The airline has announced half of the middle seats are generally off-limits and it “will only use those middle seats when necessary.” It will also allow passengers to move to another seat in their class once all passengers are onboard.
  • United is also making some middle seats unavailable for customers to select. But the company is also not reducing capacity on flights, so a passenger could be given a middle or adjacent seat. When seats are in groups of two, the airline says it will place customers in alternating spots – for example, window in one row, aisle in the next row.  
  • Southwest Airlines, the only major carrier without assigned seats or different cabin classes, told CNN on Tuesday that as of this weekend, it is under-selling each flight by “roughly a third.” That allows each middle seat to potentially remain empty. But CEO Gary Kelly said the airline does not plan to mandate that all middle seats remain empty.
  • Frontier announced Tuesday it is taking a different approach. It will allow customers to buy out the middle seat in their row, guaranteeing some level of distancing. Prices start at $39 per flight.

6:09 p.m. ET, May 5, 2020

Almost half Arkansas' Covid-19 cases are in prisons and nursing homes

From CNN's Jamiel Lynch

Dr. Nate Smith, Director of the Arkansas Department of Health
Dr. Nate Smith, Director of the Arkansas Department of Health Arkansas Governor's office

More than 1,000 inmates in Arkansas prisons have tested positive for Covid-19, according to Dr. Nate Smith, Director of the Arkansas Department of Health.

Smith said that 876 inmates at the Cummins Correctional Facility have tested positive and another 264 inmates at the Federal Correctional Institute in Forrest City have also tested positive.

Additionally, a total of 261 nursing home residents and 148 staff members have tested positive for the virus. There have been 32 deaths connected to nursing homes in the state.

Dr. Smith said that the state is doing more test at the Cummins facility after previously negative inmates have now tested positive.

In total, at least 3,496 cases and 83 deaths have been reported in the state.

3:14 p.m. ET, May 5, 2020

37 coronavirus cases reported at a Tyson Foods processing plant in Maine

From CNN's Janine Mack

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine is reporting 20 additional positive coronavirus cases at a Tyson Foods plant in Portland.

That brings the total number positive cases there to 37, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, at a news conference on Tuesday.

The Tyson Foods processing plant has been closed since Friday. It will stay closed a few more days so that the Maine CDC can trace the contacts of infected workers, Shah said. 

Approximately 309 full-time employees at Tyson were offered a coronavirus test, according to Shah.

At least 1,226 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Maine and 61 people have died since the pandemic began, according to Shah.

3:05 p.m. ET, May 5, 2020

Texas grocery store chain limits meat sales in parts of the state

From CNN’s Pamela Kirkland

Some shoppers in Texas will be limited on how much meat products they will be able to buy.

"We urge customers to not overbuy meat products, this behavior alone would create a shortage…at this time we have implemented a purchase limit on meat," Texas-based grocery store chain H-E-B tweeted.

In another tweet the company said they have a "strong supply of meat."

The company implemented a five-package combined limit per customer for pork, chicken, and beef products on May 1. The limits vary by area.

Houston-area stores were limited to four packages of ground beef, four packages of chicken, and two packages of beef brisket.  

The company noted the limits were temporary and put in place to protect the supply chain in Texas.

Some background: Costco and Kroger have also announced similar limits on meat products in their stores.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union estimated last week that 20 meatpacking and food processing workers have died so far. The union said last week the closures have resulted in a 25% reduction in pork slaughter capacity and 10% reduction in beef slaughter capacity.

Tyson Foods warned Monday that it expects more meat plant closures this year. The company also said it will continue producing less meat than usual, as workers refrain from coming to work during the outbreak.

3:06 p.m. ET, May 5, 2020

More than $5 billion in small business loans paid out in South Carolina

From CNN's Kay Jones

More than $5 billion has been paid out from the Paycheck Protection Program in South Carolina, according to Gov. Henry McMaster.

Speaking to members of the accelerateSC committee on Tuesday afternoon, McMaster said that more than 400,000 residents in the state are unemployed. He said state leaders need to get people back to work and keep people safe and healthy.

"We've got to do a lot of balancing and a lot of thinking and a lot of innovating in order to get South Carolina back on top," he said. 

McMaster said that South Carolina needs to move as quickly and safely and they can in getting the state to reopen.

Note: This is the second full committee meeting for accelerateSC, the coordinated Covid-19 advisory team put together by the governor to consider and recommend economic revitalization plans for South Carolina.

3:14 p.m. ET, May 5, 2020

How Florida is preparing for the pandemic and hurricane season

From CNN’s Lindsay Benson

s hurricane season in Florida approaches, the state is working to figure out how to implement coronavirus safety with severe weather preparation.

During a news conference on today in Sarasota, Florida, Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said one thing they are doing is stockpiling personal protective equipment.

"In addition to making sure that we can serve the needs of today, we're making sure obviously that we're creating a stockpile for hurricane season. And so we are buying up PPE and putting it in reserve in our warehouse to make sure that we have 10 million masks on hand as we get into hurricane season," Moskowitz said.

"FEMA has been a real partner figuring out obviously how we're going to factor in Covid-19 into hurricane season," Moskowitz said. "We're going to do more non-congregate sheltering instead of mass-congregate sheltering."

Moskowitz said they're considering many options when it comes to evacuation and shelter plans. 

"If we have to do mass-congregate sheltering, what are the protocols that we're going to put in place? Are we going to have Covid only shelters? How are we going to do evacuations? How are we going to limit evacuations?" Moskowitz said.

"All of these options are on the table," she added.

3:09 p.m. ET, May 5, 2020

More than 13,700 people have died of coronavirus in New York City

An F.D.N.Y. tent and refrigerated trucks serving as make shift morgues are seen on Tuesday, May 5, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
An F.D.N.Y. tent and refrigerated trucks serving as make shift morgues are seen on Tuesday, May 5, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

New York City has at least 13,724 confirmed coronavirus deaths, as well as at least 5,383 probable coronavirus deaths, according to the city website.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus deaths and probable coronavirus deaths in New York City is 19,107.

What this means: The New York City Health Department defines probable deaths as people who did not have a positive Covid-19 laboratory test, but their death certificate lists as the cause of death “COVID-19” or an equivalent. 

The data is from the New York City Health Department and was updated on today at 1 p.m. ET, according to the website.

2:54 p.m. ET, May 5, 2020

New Jersey governor won't give a date when nonessential businesses can reopen 

From CNN's Elizabeth Hartfield

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he does not know when non-essential businesses will be able to reopen again.

Murphy told reporters Tuesday that he could not give a date yet, but stressed that it was something his administration was looking at “very carefully.”

“We are not out of the woods here,” Murphy said. 

“I think we have flattened the curve,” he added. “But we’re still not in the end zone.”

Long-term care facilities: New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli announced today that the state was planning to conduct coronavirus testing at 74 long term care facilities in the next two weeks, prioritizing facilities with fewer cases so that immediate action could be taken to increase infection control protocols and further prevent the spread of the disease.

Both Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the state’s investigation into long-term care facilities was in its first phase, and that for many facilities, the coronavirus pandemic was likely the “equivalent of a 500 year flood.” 

3:03 p.m. ET, May 5, 2020

Ohio governor announces $775 million in budget cuts over the next 2 months

From CNN's Rebekah Riess

The Ohio Channel
The Ohio Channel

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state will need to make $775 million in budget cuts over the next two months.

DeWine announced that the state’s fiscal revenues to date are below budgeted estimates by $776.9 million and the state is projecting that revenues will continue to be below budget moving forward through the Covid-19 pandemic.

The governor said the pandemic doesn’t exempt the state from balancing its budget.

“Making difficult budget cut decisions now will help us down the road and will help us while we continue our discussions for the next fiscal year," he said at a news conference Tuesday.

Ohio is opting not to draw down money from its rainy day fund, making cuts instead, according to DeWine, who said Ohio will need the rainy day fund next year and possibly the year after.

According to DeWine, here is where the state’s $775 million cuts will be made:

  • Medicaid: $210 million
  • K12 Foundation payment reduction: $300 million
  • Other education budget line items: $55 million 
  • Higher education: $110 million 
  • All other agencies: $100 million 

“I have asked each agency director to continue to identify savings in their budgets for the remainder of this fiscal year and next fiscal year. Moving forward, all state agencies will continue the hiring freeze as well as the freeze on pay increases and promotions,” DeWine added.