April 18 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Brett McKeehan, Laura Smith-Spark, Fernando Alfonso III and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 8:59 p.m. ET, April 18, 2020
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8:59 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Trump defends tweets calling to "liberate" states

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez 

US President Donald Trump talks to the press in the White House on Friday.
US President Donald Trump talks to the press in the White House on Friday. Alex Brandon/AP

US President Donald Trump has addressed his recent tweets calling to “liberate” Virginia, Minnesota and Michigan — three political swing states that have Democratic governors. 

He said the governors who are implementing federal guidelines for stay-at-home orders to deal with the coronavirus are being “too tough.”

On Virginia, he said, "What they've done is very powerful. You know you could get the same result with doing a little bit less." 

He then went off on a tangent about the Second Amendment and claimed — without proof — that, "They want to take their guns away." Virginia has declared that gun stores are not essential businesses during the pandemic. 

“I think some things are too tough,” Trump said during Friday’s White House press briefing.

Asked whether those states should lift their stay-at-home orders, Trump said, “No, but I think elements of what they’ve done are too much. It’s just too much.”

The President said he wasn’t concerned about protesters spreading the coronavirus among participants attending demonstrations calling for states to reopen.  

“No, these are people expressing their views. I see the way they are and I see the way they’re working and they seem to be very responsible to me, but they’re been treated a little bit rough,” he said.
9:26 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

The US government's three-phase plan to reopen the country

The White House stands at dusk in Washington, D.C. on April 16.
The White House stands at dusk in Washington, D.C. on April 16. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

US President Donald Trump wants to open America back up in stages after the deadly coronavirus epidemic.

The plan isn't mandatory but rather a recommendation to state governors, who will be given the final responsibility for deciding when to end their widespread shelter-at-home orders.

Under the plan, states which meet specific criteria — such as a drop in cases over a 14-day period — will proceed to phase 1 reopening.

During phase one, only vulnerable individuals are recommended to shelter in place. Employees are recommended to return to work "in phases," with teleworking maintained where possible. Gyms and some public spaces like movie theaters can reopen, while bars and schools should stay closed.

If there is no evidence of a rebound in cases, under phase 2 reopening, non-essential travel can resume and schools can reopen, while bars are allowed to operate at reduced capacity.

Finally, if the positive trend continues, under phase 3 reopening, almost all activities return to normal — although vulnerable individuals are recommended to continue some social distancing. Visits to senior care facilities and hospitals can resume.

Read the full plan here.

8:59 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Birx says it's unclear if US has coronavirus testing capability for phase two reopening

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, addresses the press on Friday.
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, addresses the press on Friday. Alex Brandon/AP

Dr. Deborah Birx said during Friday’s briefing that it’s unclear whether the US has enough coronavirus testing capacity for phase two of the administration’s guidelines for opening states.

“What we will be doing is monitoring how much we have to use in phase one to really help inform phase two,” Birx said. “The really unknown in this, to be completely transparent, is asymptomatic and symptomatic spread.”

US Vice President Mike Pence said the administration is going to continue to scale testing as needed, calling on states to manage testing.

8:59 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Pence claims there are enough tests for phase one reopening

From CNN's Betsy Klein, Arman Azad and Curt Devine 

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in a press briefing Friday.
US Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in a press briefing Friday. Alex Brandon/AP

US Vice President Mike Pence said Friday that there are enough tests for states looking to reopen under phase one guidelines. 

“Our best scientists and health experts assess that states today have enough tests to implement the criteria of phase one if they choose to do so,” Pence said.

“Let me say that again: Given the guidance in the President’s new guidelines for opening up America again, states that meet the criteria for going into phase one and then are preparing the testing that is contemplated by going to phase one – our best scientists and health experts assess that today, we have a sufficient amount of testing to meet the requirements of phase one reopening if state governors choose to do that.”

Earlier, CNN reported that while some labs say testing capacity is not an issue, others are still reporting shortages. 

While delays in testing – and shortages of testing supplies – have been reported across the US, it’s also possible that a slowdown in the pandemic is responsible for the reported decline in tests.

In the US, testing is primarily done on those who are symptomatic. While the country is still experiencing an increasing number of cases, social distancing measures do seem to be working, limiting transmission of the virus.

Assuming there are enough tests available, that slowdown could explain why fewer people are needing tests at hospitals, doctors’ offices and other sites. Or, doctors may just be ordering fewer tests, perhaps reserving them for only the sickest patients.

If there isn’t widespread availability of testing, though, then the reported decline in cases may be misleading.

In a statement on Wednesday, the American Clinical Laboratory Association – which represents commercial labs such as LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics – said that testing capacity was not an issue.

“ACLA members have now eliminated testing backlogs, and have considerable capacity that is not being used,” the group said. 

“We stand ready to perform more testing and are in close communication with public health partners about ways we can support additional needs.”

Other groups, though, have reported problems. In a Monday letter to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the Association of American Medical Colleges said labs are facing critical shortages.

“Widespread but uneven shortages in one or more of the essential components for testing have resulted in a situation where few labs are able to maximize the testing capacity of any one machine, platform, or test,” the group said.

It added that “laboratories across the country are working day and night to expand testing capacity but are severely hampered by shortages of needed reagents, swabs for testing, PPE, and specialized equipment designed by companies to be used with their own machines.”

8:59 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Hawaii closes all state beaches

From CNN's Andy Rose

A surfer walks out of the ocean on Oahu's North Shore near Haleiwa, Hawaii, Tuesday, March 31.
A surfer walks out of the ocean on Oahu's North Shore near Haleiwa, Hawaii, Tuesday, March 31. Caleb Jones/AP

Hawaii Gov. David Ige ordered all state-owned beaches closed Friday as part of the effort to combat coronavirus. 

Residents will still be allowed to swim and surf with social distancing, but cannot sunbathe, picnic or play games on the sand.

Ige’s order also said recreational boating is limited to two people per boat, and that watercraft should maintain a distance of at least 20 feet (6 meters). Hiking and fishing trips also are limited to two people at a time, except for relatives who live together.

The new rules are in effect until April 30.

12:06 a.m. ET, April 18, 2020

Minnesota governor says he called Trump to ask about his tweets

From CNN's Janine Mack

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz at a news conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Friday.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz at a news conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Friday. Christine T. Nguyen/Minnesota Public Radio via AP, Pool

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he tried to speak with US President Donald Trump after the US leader tweeted “LIBERATE MINNESOTA" on Friday, but he didn't get a call in return.

Speaking at a news conference Friday, Walz said he called to ask, "What are we doing differently about moving towards getting as many people back into the workforce without compromising the health of Minnesotans or the providers?

He added that it "will probably take longer than a two-word tweet."

Protesters have gathered in front of the governor's residence for two days in a row to demonstrate against his statewide stay-at-home order. Walz urged protesters to follow social distancing guidelines.

On Friday, Trump tweeted "LIBERATE MINNESOTA" one day after saying he was leaving the reopening decisions up to the governors.

11:32 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Pence describes federal efforts to work with states to respond to coronavirus

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and Betsy Klein 

US Vice President Mike Pence at the White House on Friday.
US Vice President Mike Pence at the White House on Friday. Alex Brandon/AP

US Vice President Mike Pence on Friday described how the federal government is working with states to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pence said that a recent disaster declaration for American Samoa marked the first time in American history that all states and territories had been under a disaster declaration.

“We’re continuing to bring, at the President’s direction, full resources of the federal government to bear. Today, the President approved a major disaster declaration for American Samoa, and now all 50 states and all territories are under major disaster declarations for the first time in American history,” Pence said.

Pence also said there would be an additional call with governors on Mondan the topic of of supplies.

“Today we issued a letter to our nation’s governors summarizing all the medical equipment and supplies that have been distributed to their state from FEMA between the first of this month and April 14 through Project Airbridge and through the commercial supply network,” Pence said. 

He continued: “We’ll be speaking with our nation’s governors on Monday and detailing that information at that time.”

Pence said the group will also discuss testing capacity and lab activation “very specifically” during the Monday call.

9:04 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

5.5 million testing swabs will be sent to US states, Trump says

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Donald Trump briefs the press in the White House on Friday.
Donald Trump briefs the press in the White House on Friday. Alex Brandon/AP

US President Donald Trump laid out the administration’s swab testing efforts during Friday’s briefing. 

In the next few weeks, he said, the federal government will “be sending out 5.5 million testing swabs to the states.”

The swabs, he said, “can be done easily by the governors themselves. Mostly it’s cotton. It’s not a big deal, you can get cotton easily, but if they can’t get it, we will take care of it.”

People might soon be able to perform their own test swabs for Covid-19 at home with a newly designed, Q-tip-style swab, the FDA said Thursday.

CNN reported the FDA said it had worked with US Cotton to design the swabs, which are shorter than the swabs used by technicians, doctors or nurses to collect samples to test people for Covid-19 infection. The FDA also said US Cotton plans to manufacture large quantities of these swabs.