The Past 24 Hours or So

Coronavirus/COVID-19 Updates

  • Karen Pence says her husband Mike didn’t know about the hospital regulation of wearing a mask during his tour. “It was actually after he left Mayo that he found out they had a policy of asking everyone to wear a mask.”

NOTE: Pence and his staff were told by the hospital it was mandatory.

  • Just two days after facing criticism for not wearing a face mask during a visit at the Mayo Clinic, which has a facility policy requiring face coverings, Vice President Pence chose to wear a face mask at a tour of a General Motors plant in Indiana, which has a policy that requires all workers to wear medical-grade protective masks during their shifts.
  • President Trump said that he has seen evidence linking the novel coronavirus to a lab in Wuhan, China, without providing further details.

“Yes, I have,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked directly whether he had seen evidence that gives him confidence the virus was tied to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“And I think that the World Health Organization should be ashamed of themselves because they’re like the public relations agency for China,” Trump added.

  • The top U.S. spy agency in a rare public statement Thursday said it agreed with “the widespread scientific consensus” that the COVID-19 virus was “not man made or genetically modified,” but also said it was investigating whether it emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

“The entire Intelligence Community has been consistently providing critical support to U.S. policymakers and those responding to the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China. The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man made or genetically modified,” the statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reads.

  • Senior Trump administration officials have pushed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that a government laboratory in Wuhan, China, was the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, according to current and former American officials. The effort comes as President Trump escalates a public campaign to blame China for the pandemic.

Most intelligence agencies remain skeptical that conclusive evidence of a link to a lab can be found, and scientists who have studied the genetics of the coronavirus say that the overwhelming probability is that it leapt from animal to human in a non-laboratory setting, as was the case with H.I.V., Ebola and SARS.

  • Senior U.S. officials are beginning to explore proposals for punishing or demanding financial compensation from China for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to four senior administration officials with knowledge of internal planning.

Trump and aides have discussed stripping China of its “sovereign immunity,” aiming to enable the U.S. government or victims to sue China for damages. Some administration officials have also discussed having the United States cancel part of its debt obligations to China.

  • Maryland governor, Larry Hogan, was concerned that the federal government would seize the tests the state procured from South Korea. He made sure the plane with tests landed at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport instead of Dulles, with a large presence of Maryland National Guard and Maryland State police because the tests were valuable and Massachusetts Gov. Baker said his plane load of masks was basically confiscated by the feds. He says the tests are being guarded by the National Guard at an undisclosed location
  • The U.S. Federal Reserve widened a key program to nurse the “Main Street” economy through the coronavirus pandemic, agreeing to lend to firms with up to 15,000 workers, taking on more risk in participation with banks, and hinting at some form of dedicated help for nonprofits.
  • The Trump administration has tightened restrictions on the use of ethanol in hand sanitizer, citing safety concerns and forcing some suppliers to halt sales at a time of soaring demand, according to sources and documents seen by Reuters.

The restrictions have dealt a blow to fuel ethanol producers. The industry has invested millions of dollars since last month to ramp up the output of corn-based alcohol sanitizer to offset slumping fuel demand.

  • The Food and Drug Administration’s lax rules on coronavirus blood tests has opened the  U.S. market to dubious vendors. 

Under the FDA’s new rules, a vendor must only notify the FDA it is selling a test, affirm the product is valid and label it as unapproved. On its website as of April 29, the FDA listed 164 tests that it had been informed would be offered on the market, more than half of them manufactured in China.

The agency has said it is working with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to validate tests, including tests already on the market. It is unclear how many antibody test kits have been distributed for sale in the United States.

  • U.S. President Donald Trump will leave the White House on Friday for the first time in a month when he travels to the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

Trump will make the 70-mile trip to Camp David on Friday evening, according to a schedule released by the White House on Thursday night. The schedule did not indicate how long Trump would stay at Camp David.

  • U.S. President Donald Trump said he believes China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is proof that Beijing “China will do anything they can to have me lose this race,” Trump said.
  • U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia defended his department’s handling of workplace safety during the coronavirus pandemic, saying “the cop is on the beat” in response to union criticism about a lack of directives to protect workers.

Workers have protested safety conditions at fast-food restaurants, hospitals and warehouses, while businesses have lobbied Congress for legal shields to protect them against lawsuits from employees and customers.

  • Fewer than 20 companies are considering applying for $17 billion worth of loans earmarked as relief funds for Pentagon suppliers hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The challenge is that this $17 billion dollars worth of loans comes with some fairly invasive, kind of, riders on it,” Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, said in a news conference at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The U.S. Treasury Department will ask for an equity stake in publicly traded national security contractors, including defense firms, that seek part of the $17 billion.

  • The Trump administration placed orders for more than 100,000 new body bags for coronavirus victims in April, according to documents and public records obtained by NBC News.

The largest order of body bags was placed via purchase order the day after Trump said that the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus might not exceed 50,000 or 60,000 people.

  • President Trump outlined a handful of new initiatives intended to aid and protect nursing homes as the coronavirus pandemic takes a heavy toll on older Americans.

Trump announced the creation of a commission focused on safety in nursing homes composed of industry experts, patient advocates and state and local officials. The group will meet in May and issue recommendations for steps to protect seniors.

The administration will allocate $81 million in congressional funding toward increased inspections of nursing homes to ensure they are complying with infectious disease protocols

  • President Trump defended his decision to support social distancing measures and states that have implemented stay-at-home orders, pointing to coronavirus deaths in Sweden, which has largely allowed businesses to remain open during the pandemic.

In a tweet Thursday morning, the president noted: “Despite reports to the contrary, Sweden is paying heavily for its decision not to lockdown. As of today, 2462 people have died there, a much higher number than the neighboring countries of Norway (207), Finland (206) or Denmark (443). The United States made the correct decision!” 

  • The Pentagon moved to increase the production of coronavirus testing swabs by announcing it will invest $75.5 million in the Defense Production Act.

The millions of dollars in funding to Puritan Medical Products will boost swab production by 20 million per month beginning in May, Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Mike Andrews said.

  • The IRS released guidance stating that expenses related to forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program won’t be tax-deductible.

Under the PPP, a small business loan program created as part of the third, $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, small businesses wouldn’t have to repay the low-interest loan they received as long as the loan went to essential expenses such as maintaining payroll.

Usually, wages are deductible expenses and forgiven debt counts as taxable income.

Other Administration News 

  • A U.S. appeals court on Thursday ruled against a Trump administration attempt to withhold millions of dollars from so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.

The decision, by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, upheld a pair of lower court rulings that blocked the administration from placing immigration-related conditions on law enforcement grants.

  • President Trump on Thursday said he believes former Vice President Joe Biden should respond to sexual assault allegations from a former Senate aide.

“I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know exactly. I think he should respond,” Trump told reporters at an East Room event on protecting seniors from the coronavirus.

“It could be false accusations. I know all about false accusations. I’ve been falsely charged numerous times,” added Trump, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen women.

  • The Secret Service was charged $33,000 to guard Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin while he lived in a luxury suite at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., for 137 days, according to billing records obtained by The Washington Post. 

Mnuchin, an investment banker from New York, paid to live in the hotel in Washington himself for several months before he moved into a house. During his stay, the Secret Service rented a room next to Mnuchin for his protection.

  • Army leaders on Thursday defended their decision to bring nearly 1,000 West Point cadets back to campus for a commencement ceremony featuring a speech from President Trump, saying the graduates would have had to come back to campus anyway despite the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Antarctica and Greenland lost thousands of gigatons of ice in the last 16 years, according to results from a new NASA mission published Thursday.

Scientists reported that the two land masses have lost 5,000 gigatons of ice in that time period, which is enough to fill Lake Michigan. A gigaton is equal to a billion metric tons.

  • The vast majority of money claimed through a clean air tax credit over the past decade were done by companies that had not been properly complying with its requirement, according to an internal government watchdog.
  • NASA awarded contracts to three companies to design and develop the human landing systems to land the first woman and next man on the moon, the agency announced Thursday. 

The contracts were awarded to Blue Origin, a Washington state-based company owned by Jeff Bezos; Dynetics, an Alabama-based company; and SpaceX, a California-based company founded by Elon Musk. 

The total combined value for all awarded contracts is $967 million for a 10-month base period.

Sources:  ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News,The Hill, NBC News, NY Times, Politico, Reuters, Vanity Fair, Washington Post

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