Overnight Health Care: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next relief deal | Fauci says death toll could be around 60,000
Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care. There are more than 454,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., including 16,267 deaths.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), though, is cautiously optimistic the outbreak is slowing in his state. The Trump administration, meanwhile, is beginning a push to open up parts of the economy as early as May. In the Senate, Democrats blocked a GOP plan to give more money to the small business loan program. Democrats tried to counter with a separate plan; that was also rejected.
We’ll start off tonight from the White House…
Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening
The dates on this have been shifting around, but the new administration’s target for reopening the country might be May.
President Trump and top government officials in recent days have talked about seeing “glimmers of hope” and a “light at the end of the tunnel” while publicly discussing ideas for how to revive the economy.
The president has floated reopening businesses in parts of the country that do not have outbreaks. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday unveiled guidelines meant to encourage those in critical sectors who have been exposed to the coronavirus but aren’t showing symptoms to continue working.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Thursday that he believes companies could reopen in May as long as Trump “feels comfortable with the medical issues.”
Caveat: The actual decisions are more up to governors, who could decide to maintain stay at home orders even if the White House eases up on its messaging.
Here’s more on that Mnuchin interview: Mnuchin says he thinks US businesses could reopen in May
Trump downplays need for widespread testing before reopening economy
President Trump on Thursday shrugged off the need to significantly expand nationwide coronavirus testing capabilities in order to be able to restart the U.S. economy and then keep it open. Trump told reporters a White House briefing that ramping up testing to levels recommended by health experts to quickly identify new clusters would be a goal, but is not a necessity to send people back to work
“We want to have it and we’re going to see if we have it. Do you need it? No. Is it a nice thing to do? Yes,” Trump said. “We’re talking about 325 million people. And that’s not going to happen, as you can imagine, and it would never happen with anyone else either.”
But it isn’t just Mnuchin and Trump talking up May…
Barr says ‘draconian’ lockdown measures should be reexamined by May
Attorney General William Barr late Wednesday suggested that the federal government in May should begin relaxing some of the “draconian” social distancing restrictions imposed throughout the U.S.
Barr said in an interview with Fox News that the U.S. had to be “very careful” to ensure some of the measures being “adopted are fully justified, and there are not alternative ways of protecting people” amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Religious restrictions: During the interview, Barr said he was concerned about states putting restrictions on religious institutions to try to prevent the virus from spreading. “A free society depends on a vibrant religious life by the people. So any time that’s encroached upon by the government, I’m very, very concerned.”
Florida, Texas, Kansas and other states have exempted religious institutions from stay-at-home orders. We’re not sure if Barr has spoken to Vice President Pence, who said he will attend virtual Easter services from home
Fauci: US death toll ‘looks more like 60,000’ than 100-200K estimate
Anthony Fauci, a leading member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, said Thursday he thinks the U.S. death toll from the virus could be much lower than the 100,000 to 200,000 first estimated by the White House.
Officials have been hammering the point that social distancing measures seem to be working– but only if we keep them up.
Fauci said on NBC’s “Today” show that given widespread mitigation efforts, the death toll will likely be closer to 60,000 as the U.S. now has more data about the growth and spread of the virus throughout the country.
What he didn’t say: That enough time will have passed for parts of the country to end their isolation by May.
More from the White House:
Meanwhile in the states…
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is projecting cautious optimism that the outbreak is slowing in his state but is still urging people to continue social distancing
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) warned Thursday the state cannot handle the “worst-case scenario” of coronavirus infections and urged people to continue social distancing measures to slow the spread of the outbreak.
While officials are seeing positive signs in New York that indicate the outbreak may be slowing, including falling rates of hospitalizations and intensive care admissions, Cuomo stressed that now is not the time to become complacent.
“We have done great things and we have saved lives because we have followed these policies,” Cuomo said during his daily press briefing.
“The moment you stop following the policies, you will go right back and see that number shoot through the roof, and we are not prepared to handle the highest numbers in those projection models.”
Why it matters: New York has 53,000 hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients. Worst-case scenario models project a need for between 110,000 and 136,000 beds. Pulling back on social distancing now would lead to a scenario New York cannot handle, Cuomo warned.
Rural areas with vacation homes more susceptible to coronavirus outbreaks
Despite efforts to keep urbanites away from vulnerable rural areas, a new study found rural communities with vacation homes are experiencing outbreaks of the coronavirus at a faster pace than rural areas without seasonal housing, according to a new study, suggesting residents of big cities who flee to the countryside are bringing the virus with them.
The survey found that in rural counties where more than 25 percent of the housing units are inhabited only part time, the average number of COVID-19 cases per capita is more than twice as high as the number of cases in counties where a greater percentage of the population lives there year-round.
Key point: Rural communities with high levels of vacation homes even have higher rates of infection than urban counties.
Why is that a problem? Rural areas, even if they are a vacation destination, are not likely to have the same type of medical support system as a city. The more people flee to their vacation homes, the more likely it is they will get sick and potentially overwhelm the local hospitals.
Coronavirus watch: Southern, Midwest states see spike in cases
More states in the South and Midwest are starting to report their biggest one-day increases for coronavirus cases, at a time when parts of the Northeast are beginning to show progress.
Illinois added more than 1,500 cases Thursday, an 11 percent jump from the previous day and record one-day increase for the state. It also reported 80 new deaths on Thursday, another record high. As of Thursday afternoon, Illinois had a total of 15,078 cases and 462 deaths.
For the third consecutive day, Michigan added more than 100 deaths. By Thursday afternoon, the state had surpassed 1,000 total deaths, more than other states with a similar population. As of Thursday afternoon, Michigan had 21,504 cases and 1,076 deaths.
Kansas reported its first one-day increase of more than 150 cases, nearly three times the previous day’s jump. The state also reported eight new deaths, marking the first time more than five people died of the virus in the state on a single day. As of Thursday afternoon, Kansas has 1,106 cases and 42 deaths.
West Virginia had its worst day so far, adding 71 new cases on Thursday. As of Thursday afternoon, the state had reported 485 cases and five deaths.
Other state news:
Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next COVID-19 relief deal
Republicans and Democrats blocked each other’s relief proposals on the Senate floor Thursday, but that doesn’t mean all hope of a deal is gone.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has told colleagues he’s optimistic about reaching a deal with Mnuchin in the near future.
Mnuchin is negotiating as well with Sens. Ben Cardin (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Small Business Committee, and Ron Wyden (Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, who were central to working out a deal last month on the coronavirus relief package.
“I’ve talked to Schumer about a dozen times in the last 12 hours and I think he is optimistic that we can reach some degree of comity,” Cardin said.
More from Congress
More on the outbreak…
Coronavirus mystery: Disease infects more women but kills more men
Epidemiologists and virologists are scrambling to understand why the coronavirus that has infected hundreds of thousands of Americans appears to be so much more deadly for men than for women.
In most states across the country, data show that most of those who have tested positive for the virus are women. From the Deep South to New England states and the Midwest, most states have confirmed hundreds if not thousands more cases in women than in men, with a few notable exceptions.
But in states that report the genders of those who have died from the COVID-19 disease, every one has reported more deaths among men than among women, usually by a substantial margin — and scientists don’t know why.
While restaurants and bars are struggling to stay afloat, one company has found the coronavirus pandemic is just the ticket…
Coronavirus business booms for alcohol app Drizly
Drizly, an alcohol delivery company, is booming during the coronavirus pandemic as orders from Americans stuck at home surge and states temporarily relax their liquor laws to help companies meet that demand.
The company saw nearly 1,600 percent growth in year-over-year new customers at the end of March, and CEO Cory Rellas told The Hill he doesn’t believe that growth will slow down over the next two months. It’s only the start for a company that is looking to build on its recent success to ensure that the eased restrictions on alcohol sales become a permanent fixture.
Drizly, founded in Boston in 2012, has relationships with neighborhood liquor stores. The number of liquor stores on the platform has grown by 300 percent this year to about 2,500 stores.
What we’re drinking: Drizly has seen sales of hard alcohol like gin and mezcal, as well as liqueurs, cordials and schnapps up, as people experiment with cocktail recipes. Champagne and sparkling wine are down, likely due to fewer office parties. IPA sales have gone up a whopping 738 percent, while absinthe is up 737 percent.
More from The Hill:
What we’re reading
It’s difficult to grasp the projected deaths from Covid-19. Here’s how they compare to other causes of death (Stat News)
At the center of a storm: the search for a proven coronavirus treatment (New York Times)
How private-equity firms squeeze hospital patients for profits (The New Yorker)
Even with new federal coronavirus bill, most workers get no additional sick leave (KQED)
In scramble for coronavirus supplies, rich countries push poor aside (New York Times)
State by state
A city under siege: 24 hours in the fight to save New York (Associated Press)
The state’s ban isn’t stopping Texans from getting abortions (Texas Monthly)
NYC first responders describe ‘devastating’ coronavirus cases as cardiac arrest calls surge (NBC News)
Op-eds from The Hill