Trumps coronavirus team to reveal sobering data that drove decision to extend restrictions

President Donald Trump and his coronavirus task force geared up on Tuesday to explain the sobering data that drove the decision to extend federal recommendations to blunt the spread of coronavirus until the end of April.

His health health experts advised him 100,000 to 200,000 people could die even if the restrictions remained in place.

At the same time, they said, models predicted that heavy death toll would still be significantly lower than the 2.2 million estimated without mitigation efforts.

Trump on Tuesday also alluded to possibly providing some changes to the federal guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, which he initially implemented for a 15-day period set to run out early this week.

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The president said Monday said the recommendations would remain “very much as they are” but that they “may be even toughened up a little bit.” Across the country, governors and local officials have enacted their own social distancing rules, often mandatory and enforceable, unlike the federal ones.

Trump said Sunday that, on Tuesday, he would explain the extension by sharing “all of the findings, all of the data, and the reasons we’re doing things the way we’re doing them.”

The White House has declined to elaborate on how the guidelines could be toughened as the president teased. Trump was expected to address reporters at a scheduled briefing by his coronavirus task force scheduled for 5 p.m.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters Monday that the White House conducted its own modeling — and consulted a dozen other models — to make its decision.

The White House “ended up at the same numbers” as did the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, Birx said. Assuming social distancing policies stay in place, that model predicts a nationwide peak on April 15, with a projected 84,000 deaths from the pandemic’s first wave.

She said that some models predicted that, without any mitigation, up to half of the United States population would become infected and up to 2.2 million would die.

“There’ll be a comprehensive piece presented on Tuesday that really talks about not only diagnosing individuals, but also increasing our surveillance now that we have more test kits so that we can really stop and contain new infections,” Birx said.

The update on the federal guidance comes as President Trump has publicly expressed openness to broadening out the federal government’s recommendations on the use of face masks and coverings by the general public.

“I could see something like that happening for a period of time. But I would hope it would be a very limited period of time,” Trump said Monday when about the idea that everyone should wear a mask in public but suggested the idea had not been discussed at length.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost expert on infectious diseases and a member of the president’s task force, confirmed Tuesday that the administration was actively discussing a recommendation for wide use of face masks or coverings.

“The idea of getting a much more broad, community-wide use of masks outside of the health care setting is under very active discussion at the task force,” Fauci said in an interview with CNN.

He then qualified: “We’re not there yet, but I think we’re close to coming to some determination.”

Both the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have repeatedly said only health care workers and infected people should wear face masks.

The administration has previously moved to actively discourage members of the general public from purchasing certain high-grade masks, such as N-95 respirators, in order to keep the limited supplies available for health care workers in desperate need of protective gear that has been running in short supply.

“Seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS!” the U.S. surgeon general, Jerome Adams, tweeted late last month. “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

Fauci on Tuesday acknowledged that making sure the mask supply chains remain secure to meet the demands of healthcare workers is a top priority as the administration weigh expanding guidance on face coverings for general use.

“When we get in a situation where we have enough masks, I believe there will be some very serious consideration about more broadening this recommendation of using masks,” Fauci said.

What to know about coronavirus:

  • How it started and how to protect yourself: coronavirus explained
  • What to do if you have symptoms: coronavirus symptoms
  • Tracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: coronavirus map
  • This is what China did to beat coronavirus. Experts say America couldnt handle it

    Kim Hjelmgaard, Eric J. Lyman and Deirdre Shesgreen

    In late February, as coronavirus infections mounted in Wuhan, China, local authorities went door-to-door for health checks – forcibly isolating every resident in makeshift hospitals and temporary quarantine shelters, even separating parents from young children who displayed symptoms of COVID-19, no matter how seemingly mild. 

    Caretakers at the city’s ubiquitous large apartment buildings were pressed into service as ad hoc security guards, monitoring the temperatures of all residents, deciding who could come in, and implementing inspections of delivered food and medicines. 

    Outside, drones hovered above streets, yelling at people to get inside and scolding them for not wearing face masks, while elsewhere in China facial-recognition software, linked to a mandatory phone app that color-coded people based on their contagion risk, decided who could enter shopping malls, subways, cafes and other public spaces. 

    “We couldn’t go outside under any circumstances. Not even if you have a pet,” said Wang Jingjun, 27, a graduate student who returned to Wuhan from the Chinese coastal province of Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong and Macau, in mid-January to live with her elderly mother and grandparents. “Those with dogs had to play with them inside and teach them to use the bathroom in a certain spot,” she said. 

    China’s zero contact: ‘It seems extreme. It works’

    As the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic has moved to the United States, Chinese officials and public health experts insist that even if President Donald Trump were to immediately adopt all the strict testing and lockdown measures that Western scientific advisers are advocating, these actions would still not be sufficient to stem the spread of a disease that is swiftly approaching a million worldwide cases

    Mike Pompeo: Americans abroad wanting to return home should ‘do so immediately’

    More draconian steps are needed in the U.S., these officials say, although they also cast doubt on whether Americans could do what the Chinese did, for a mixture of reasons: political will and deep-rooted cultural inclinations, among them. 

    To help quell its outbreak, Beijing embarked on one of the largest mass mobilization efforts in history, closing all schools, forcing millions of people inside, quickly building more than a dozen vast temporary hospitals, deploying thousands of extra medical staff to Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province, and meticulously testing and tracing anyone and everyone who may have encountered the virus.

    But it did a lot more than that. 

    “Lockdowns, bans on gatherings, basic quarantines, testing, hand-washing, this is not enough,” Huiyao Wang, a senior adviser to China’s government, told USA TODAY in a phone interview from Beijing. “You need to isolate people on an enormous scale, in stadiums, big exhibition halls, wherever you can. It seems extreme. It works,” he said.

    “‘No one left behind’ was the slogan in Wuhan,” he said. “No one.”

    In the U.S., Trump has urged Americans to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people and suggested the worst-affected states should shutter schools, bars and restaurants. 

    But overall, he has largely left it to individual states and cities to decide whether to close businesses or explicitly order people to stay at home, despite evidence from countries in Asia, such as China, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, that aggressively limiting public gatherings and social interactions can help stop transmission of COVID-19, when done in combination with extensive testing and tracing of the disease.

    Fact check:Can Trump use the Stafford Act to order a mandatory 2-week quarantine?

    Trump has said he expects to see U.S. cases peak “around Easter,” although his claims about how quickly the U.S. can overcome the outbreak and bounce back appear to contradict assessments from top health officials, such as Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

    Fact check:Study projects coronavirus peak, then moves the dates

    With New York City the new locus of the outbreak, Trump announced on March 29 an extension of federal guidance on social-distancing measures through April and issued a “strong travel advisory” urging residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to refrain from non-essential travel for 14 days to help limit the spread of the virus.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the new restrictions would help to slow the spread of the respiratory illness, which has now infected almost 190,000 Americans and killed more than 4,000. The daily death toll in the U.S. may not dip below 100 per day before June, according to a new study by the University of Washington.

    Africa’s paradox: It may be the worst and best place to ride out coronavirus

    China’s nationwide response vs. America’s patchwork

    Wang, the Chinese government adviser, said the example of Wuhan, where authorities have now started lifting some of their stringent anti-virus controls that kept tens of millions of people at home for two months, illustrates that the U.S. and West more generally need to start taking far more radical virus-dampening actions that many people outside China might find culturally, logistically and emotionally unpalatable. 

    “It was not just families being isolated together in Wuhan, but individuals being isolated away from their friends and families,” said Andy Mok, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, a public policy think tank based in Beijing.

    “China’s response to the outbreak was truly a nationwide response: systematic, comprehensive and coordinated,” he said. “This is why China was able to ‘flatten the curve’ so dramatically,” he added, referring to social isolation measures aimed at keeping the number of new coronavirus infections at a manageable level for hospitals and medical workers who would otherwise be overwhelmed with sick patients. 

    Poorest will suffer:Safety-net health clinics cut services amid coronavirus epidemic

    Mok said that even in Beijing, about 750 miles north of Wuhan, new coronavirus rules were established requiring residents to have a formal pass to get in and out of their apartment buildings and homes. At the outbreak’s height in Wuhan, nobody was allowed in or out of the city and access to food stores was limited to once every few days.

    He questioned whether Americans, raised on a diet of individualism and civil liberties that has informed every aspect of life from travel to economic institutions, would be willing to abide by invasive virus-detection and containment methods that require a strong commitment to “collectivism” and abridged freedoms.

    Global action:Great Recession showed nations can’t fight coronavirus crisis alone

    Europe has adopted some, but not all, of China’s most restrictive steps. In France, for example, residents must fill out of a signed attestation to justify leaving their homes or apartments. Police are handing out large fines for anyone who doesn’t follow the rules.

    “It’s a very clever form of social engineering for civic purposes: it forces you to think about and justify to yourself as well as to the world why you are leaving the house,” said Sarah Maza, a French history professor and U.S. citizen living in France for the year.

    Yang Junchao, a member of a Chinese delegation of COVID-19 doctors and medical experts assisting Italy’s efforts at halting its coronavirus infections – the worst in Europe – said its epidemic will be controlled “as long as the Italian public cooperates.” 

    Still, some American public health officials have acknowledged that in order to bring the virus under control – outside of a vaccine breakthrough – actions that overstep the bounds of what most Americans would be comfortable with, such as mass quarantines and other severe restrictions on movement, may be necessary. 

    “The approach we should be taking right now is one that most people would find to be too drastic because otherwise, it is not drastic enough,” said Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, in a recent USA TODAY interview.

    “It may be a country like China has a more top-down ability to insist on certain behavior changes. But we ought to be able to do it in our way, in a bottom-up fashion,” he said. 

    NIH chief Francis Collins on COVID-19:Q&A with top U.S. health official

    ‘Widespread discontent and dissatisfaction’ in China?

    While China’s official figures show that transmission of the coronavirus has all but ended in most of the country’s regions, unverified reports and online photos have begun to circulate suggesting that China’s death toll, most of them in Wuhan, could be far higher than the 3,312 figure published by China’s National Health Commission.

    The Beijing-based Caixin newspaper reported on March 27 significantly elevated official cremation rates in Wuhan, possibly indicating a more substantial death figure, though the report acknowledges the increases were inconclusive. It is also not clear how extensively China has been counting asymptomatic cases, though it is tracking them.

    Trump administration officials have repeatedly condemned China’s initial suppression of warnings about the outbreak and questioned the accuracy of Beijing’s infection figures.

    Trump:Impeachment ‘probably’ distracted him from fighting coronavirus

    China’s central government meanwhile has dismissed persistent allegations that it’s been trying to downplay the severity of infections, although it has not denied initially detaining whistleblowing doctors and citizen journalists in December who tried to speak out about a mysterious virus in Wuhan. China’s National Health Commission said Tuesday it will start including asymptomatic coronavirus carriers in its daily figures. 

    As of April 1, China recorded fewer than half – about 82,000 – the number of U.S. coronavirus cases. However, it appears to be bracing for a potential second-wave of infections and over the last few days China has had to re-close some public spaces and businesses, such as movie theaters, amid spiking clusters of cases, mostly imported.   

    “The Chinese are trying to paint the narrative that the model they have pursued has been a huge success and that we are failing,” because of our mode of governance, said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Affairs (CSIS), a Washington think tank, in a media briefing. 

    Morrison said that there’s significant evidence that the Chinese government’s handling of the crisis has sparked “widespread discontent and dissatisfaction,” pointing specifically to the case of Dr. Li Wenliang, who was detained when he first tried to alert other health care providers about the novel coronavirus. He later died from the virus.

    Chinese doctor censured: His crime? Warning about the novel coronavirus

    And Heather Conley, the director of the Europe program at CSIS, said that while the response in democratic countries like the U.S. may look chaotic, there’s strength in that approach. “You have neighbors helping neighbors, and you have states making decisions. Sometimes it’s the federal level having to catch up with those decisions, and that’s a much more dynamic, nimble and resilient response,” she said. 

    PPE:Types of personal protective equipment used to combat COVID-19

    Jan Renders, 29, a graduate student who was studying Chinese politics at Central China Normal University in Wuhan and airlifted out on Feb. 1 to his home in Belgium, said that the Chinese response was “too harsh” and lacked transparency. 

    “In Wuhan, when everything went into lockdown nobody could come or go and that included patients. The hospitals were overloaded and I’m sure people died because they couldn’t be transported to other hospitals, where there was room,” he said, noting that German hospitals have started taking coronavirus patients from overcrowded hospitals in Italy, where more than 12,400 people have died of COVID-19, the most anywhere. 

    COVID-19:These countries are doing the best and worst jobs fighting coronavirus

    Yet Edward Tse, the Hong Kong-based founder of the Gao Feng Advisory Company, a management consultancy with roots in mainland China, said that his perception is that, on the whole, most people in China supported the government’s tough measures, including systematically isolating and quarantining carriers of the virus, even if they were from the same family or had a very mild or only suspected coronavirus infection.

    “Isolation is the key,” he said. “It just depends on how you do it. The Chinese government decided to do it in a certain way. It turned out to be quite effective.”

    A British video blogger posted a video on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform last week that explained how China implemented the softer side of its policy of “ling jiechu,” which translates as “zero contact.” It allowed neighborhood committees to take charge of arrangements for shopping and deliveries. Highways were made toll-free, with no limits to the number of cars on a road, previously not the case. For those without a car, customized bus routes were set up, operated according to demand, and with tickets purchased on a smartphone app and capacity set at 50%. Many restaurants installed basic, but effective pulley systems to maintain employee-customer distance.

    Wang, the student who returned to Wuhan from Guangdong to live with her elderly relatives, said many people in China “have the idea, and maybe it’s a stereotype, that medical care” in the U.S. and Europe is more advanced than in China. 

    “I am worried about places like New York City and Milan,” she said. “I don’t know why the deaths are so much higher there. I hope they will be strong and keep calm.”

    Hjelmgaard reported from London, Lyman from Rome and Shesgreen from Washington

    Bill Gates lays out three-point plan for US on brink of Covid-19 catastrophe

    Yana Paskova/Getty Images
    • Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who urged world leaders to prepare for a pandemic in a 2015 TED talk, penned an op-ed for The Washington Post on how the US could emerge victorious in the first against the coronavirus pandemic.
    • Gates introduced a three-point plan based on expert consultations he had through his work with the Gates Foundation, which is funding research for a coronavirus treatment.
    • The first point in Gates’ plan is calling for a “consistent nationwide approach” to lockdowns that are being imposed to contain the spread of the disease in the country.
    • The Microsoft founder also called for the federal government to ramp up testing and establishing a clear prioritization on who will be tested first, with the highest priority going to medical workers followed by highly symptomatic and at-risk patients.
    • The final step, as Gates outlined, would be to take a “data-based approach to developing treatments and a vaccine,” urging leaders to help by “not stoking rumors or panic buying.”
    • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

    Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, who urged world leaders to prepare for a pandemic situation in 2015, laid out a three-point plan on how the US could make it through the coronavirus pandemic.

    Gates penned an op-ed for The Washington Post on Tuesday, making recommendations based on expert consultations he has had through his work with the Gates Foundation, which is funding research for a treatment for the virus, which causes a respiratory disease known as COVID-19.

    “There’s no question the United States missed the opportunity to get ahead of the novel coronavirus,” Gates wrote. “But the window for making important decisions hasn’t closed.”

    “The choices we and our leaders make now will have an enormous impact on how soon case numbers start to go down, how long the economy remains shut down and how many Americans will have to bury a loved one because of COVID-19,” he continued.

    As of March 31, the coronavirus has infected nearly 190,000 in the US, and the country-wide death toll has surpassed 4,000.

    Gates said the first point is calling for a “consistent nationwide approach” to lockdowns that are being imposed to contain the spread of the disease in the country. He called the fact that some states are not being shut down completely a “recipe for disaster.”

    “Because people can travel freely across state lines, so can the virus,” he wrote. “The country’s leaders need to be clear: Shutdown anywhere means shutdown everywhere. Until the case numbers start to go down across America – which could take 10 weeks or more – no one can continue business as usual or relax the shutdown.”

    “Any confusion about this point will only extend the economic pain, raise the odds that the virus will return, and cause more deaths,” he added.

    The Microsoft founder also called for the federal government to ramp up testing, and establishing a clear prioritization on who will be tested first, with the highest priority going to health care workers and first responders. Second would be “highly symptomatic people who are most at risk of becoming seriously ill and those who are likely to have been exposed,” Gates wrote.

    The final step, as Gates outlined, would be to take a “data-based approach to developing treatments and a vaccine,” urging leaders to help by “not stoking rumors or panic buying.”

    “As we’ve seen this year, we have a long way to go,” Gates concluded in the op-ed. “But I still believe that if we make the right decisions now, informed by science, data and the experience of medical professionals, we can save lives and get the country back to work.”

    Cuomo Is a Coronavirus Star, but Newsom Is Quietly Bending the Curve

    The governor of California standing in front of a podium with a big military ship besides him and flanked by federal and local officials.
    The governor of California standing in front of a podium with a big military ship besides him and flanked by federal and local officials.

    California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks in front of the hospital ship USNS Mercy after it arrived into the Port of Los Angeles on March 27, 2020.

    Carolyn Cole/Getty Images

    On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo used his daily coronavirus press briefing to chastise his younger brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo—who has now been diagnosed with a case of COVID-19—for having allowed their 88-year-old mother to visit his house. “My brother’s smart, he was acting out of love, luckily we caught it early enough,” Cuomo said. “But it’s my family, it’s your family, it’s all of our families. And this virus is that insidious and we have to keep that in mind.”

    The episode—vivid, personal, and making a specific point about the dangers of COVID-19—captured what has made Cuomo and his press conferences the most visible counterpoint to President Trump’s daily briefings. While the federal response led by President Donald Trump largely sought to keep the public in the dark about the extent of the crisis, Cuomo’s briefings are hailed as the most reliable source of public information in the country.

    But in recent days, it’s become clearer and clearer that Cuomo’s initial response to the crisis lagged behind that of some of his fellow Democratic governors—most notably Washington’s Jay Inslee and California’s Gavin Newsom. Newsom and Inslee both reacted more swiftly and forcefully to the crisis in ways that are saving lives on the West Coast, yet it’s Cuomo who is being hailed as a possible future president and strong national leader.

    Both Los Angeles and San Francisco had their first cases—and deaths—weeks before New York, but New York has quickly become the global center of the pandemic while the situation in California has remained comparatively calm for now. From the point of each state’s 10th death and 100th case (testing has been more sporadic in California, so it’s not fair to compare overall positive tests necessarily) New York’s case load and number of deaths have accelerated more steadily and rapidly. While the vastly greater density of New York City versus California’s major metropolitan areas partially explains this course, it is likely that California’s more aggressive and swifter social distancing actions helped as well.

    In an elementary demonstration of the additional seriousness with which Newsom has taken social distancing, his own daily briefings are done by teleconference rather than the in-person press conferences Cuomo has continued. Even with the disadvantage of the remote format, though, Newsom’s actions and style are less suited for successful political theater.

    During these much drier Newsom tele-press conferences, the California governor has played up a brand as a technocrat, focusing on partnerships with Silicon Valley businesses in coming up with ways for the state to prepare for its own looming coronavirus onslaught. On Monday, for instance, he boasted that community surveillance based upon user-shared data from Silicon Valley firms has helped guide the state’s decisions. “Working with Esri, working with Bluedot, working with Facebook, Apple, and others we have our modeling that is done on a daily basis based upon these patterns as well as patterns around the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” he said. Data assessment is the way out of the crisis, but it is not particularly dramatic.

    By contrast, Cuomo’s comfort playing on his famous last name, his family political dynasty, and his apparent touch for personal narrative often make the press conferences deeply entertaining.

    But Cuomo begins these press conferences with facts: slides showing the daily number of cases, hospitalizations, intensive care unit intakes, and deaths across the state of New York and broken down by locality. He then describes the on-the-ground situation with specific numbers of what protective personal equipment and life-saving ventilators exist on the ground in New York, what the state still needs, when the projected need will be highest, and what the state is doing and will need to do in order to prevent a worst-case scenario where New Yorkers see health care rationed for people who might die without aid.

    After flatly refusing on Tuesday to offer a “protocol” for rationing health care, Cuomo reassured New Yorkers that he was trying to do all that was necessary to meet an anticipated need of 20,000 to 40,000 ventilators in the coming seven days to three weeks despite an intense scarcity that has been exacerbated by the federal government’s lack of action.

    “We’re creative and we’re working and figuring it out and I still am hopeful that at the end of the day we will have what we need,” he said after listing several back-up plans for ventilator usage.

    Cuomo’s performance is succeeding with the people of his state—on Monday it was reported that his approval rating is up to 87 percent. Trump’s nationwide approval rating, which has spiked to 47 percent according to the Real Clear Politics rolling average, is paltry by comparison.

    Cuomo’s popularity has garnered attention from Trump, who has said he would be a stronger candidate that the current presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, but that Cuomo would still lose to him. Cuomo, though, has largely refused to take the president’s bait.

    Instead, Cuomo has focused on the positive. As he regularly does, Cuomo again on Tuesday thanked the federal government for its response, which has been deeply inadequate but has also included sending more than 4,000 ventilators from the national stockpile, helping the state transform New York City’s Javits Center into a field hospital, and sending the USNS Comfort hospital ship to Manhattan. Cuomo has even been making nice with Trump’s much-loathed son-in-law.

    “The federal government is a partner in this obviously. I spoke to the president again yesterday about this situation. I spoke to the vice president, I spoke to Jared Kushner,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. “The White House has been very helpful.”

    Cuomo portrays his cordiality as a requirement of national unity in the midst of a political crisis, rather than acting as a sycophant to an egomaniacal president.

    “Democrats want to criticize Republicans and Republicans want to criticize Democrats. Not now, not now,” he said. “The virus doesn’t attack and kill red Americans or blue Americans, it attacks and kills all Americans. And keep that in mind because there is a unifying wisdom in that.”

    While it would normally be fair to understand these sorts of smarmy clichés as efforts to distract from a refusal to speak truth to power, there appears to be a tactical purpose here. As Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley has noted, we are unfortunately in a situation where lives could depend on the ability of state leaders to stroke a tyrannical leader’s massive ego. Cuomo seems to get that.

    At the same time, he has confronted the federal response when absolutely necessary, saving his fire for when Trump makes circumstances most dire. For instance, Cuomo has chastised the federal government on a daily basis for its ad hoc approach to dealing with the ventilator shortage. And over the weekend, after Trump floated a quarantine of his state, Cuomo blasted that idea as “a declaration of war.” The president ultimately backed down.

    That tactical flexibility is more necessary, however, because New York is playing catch-up. Newsom and his state’s mayors clearly acted earlier than Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on social distancing measures. San Francisco was one of the first places to shut down all bars, restaurants, gyms, and it issued a stay at home order on March 16, the same day that de Blasio was defending his personal decision to go to the gym and one day after Cuomo, on 60 Minutes, played down the possibility of severe restrictions in New York comparable to Europe, saying “I think actually the more successful you are early on, the less dramatic efforts you have to take later on.”

    Los Angeles’ Mayor Eric Garcetti issued his own citywide shutdown order on March 19, with Newsom following with the nation’s first statewide order that same day. Two days before that, on March 17, Cuomo had resisted calls for a similar shelter-in-place order.

    “I don’t think shelter in place really works for one locality,” he told CNN. “As a matter of fact, I’m going so far that I don’t even think you can do a state-wide policy.”

    Cuomo ultimately issued his own such order one day after California, on March 20.

    Newsom and California’s early actions have allowed the state to focus on next-level mitigation actions. The state was the earliest to order an eviction freeze and has done incomparable work in finding housing for the state’s sizable and vulnerable homeless population, including public-private partnerships with hotel chains.

    Still, Newsom’s jargon-filled speech can sound like incomprehensible techno-babble compared to Cuomo’s family yarn-spinning and straightforward number sharing.

    “As it relates to the bending of the curve—we’re in the middle of this and I think it would be too easy for us to assert a belief at this moment about what has or has not worked, except to say this: We know what does work and that’s physical distancing,” Newsom said in one typical word salad on Monday, responding to a question about his state’s apparent success in mitigating the outbreak. “And we believe very strongly the stay at home order has helped advance our efforts in reducing the stress on the system that we believe would have already materialized in more acute ways had we not advanced those protocols when we did.”

    That’s not quite something you can put on a bumper sticker!

    One final thing that has helped Cuomo to become the national presence that Newsom has not may be the lower expectations of the New York governor among many progressives, who have battled with the moderate Democrat for years.

    As HBO’s John Oliver summarized that sentiment, “I never really liked Andrew Cuomo before this, but I will admit he’s doing admirably well and I can’t wait to get to the other side of this when I can go back to being irritated by him again.”

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    Coronavirus update: ‘We’re behind the 8-ball,’ Hogan says; DC stay-home order now in effect

    Stay-at-home orders in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. are in effect; the White House projects between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths. Here’s the latest on the coronavirus.

    A sign about the coronavirus is displayed over Route 50 in Davidsonville, Md., Monday, March 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

    The latest

    • The mayor of Ocean City, Maryland, has declared a restriction on short-term accommodations for hotels and rentals.
    • Sites have now been identified to establish field hospitals in Northern Virginia to accommodate an expected surge in hospitalizations due to COVID-19, according to a briefing Tuesday for the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.
    • From Tuesday’s federal briefing: The White House projects 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic if social distancing is maintained.
    • Maryland announced that three drive-through COVID-19 testing sites will open in vehicle emissions testing facilities, which have all been closed since the public health crisis began.
    • Police in D.C. and Maryland explained how they will enforce their stay-at-home orders.
    • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told CNN that his stay-at-home order was “one of the last tools in our arsenal” against the spread of COVID-19.
    • Stay-at-home orders in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. have gone into effect.
    • A spokesman for Hogan said the three COVID-19-related deaths in the state were two people in their 80s with underlying medical conditions in Howard and Carroll counties, and a Prince George’s County resident in his 40s with no such conditions.
    • Dorchester County, Maryland, announced its first case of COVID-19 on Tuesday, leaving Allegany County as the state’s only remaining jurisdiction without a confirmed case.
    • D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said police are driving around the District, breaking up large gatherings, including pickup basketball games. She added that information on positive coronavirus testing would begin to be broken down by age, sex and ward starting Wednesday morning.
    • The Maryland State Police clarified they aren’t pulling people over strictly to ask whether their travel is essential, but will ask in the course of their other duties, such as crash response and traffic stops. They added that documentation of the purpose of your travel is not required, but could help resolve questions from officers.
    • A lawsuit claims that D.C. is failing to take basic public health steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its jails.
    • Nearly 50 inmates in a Northern Virginia jail are being monitored after an inmate tested positive for the coronavirus.
    • A member of the Prince George’s County, Maryland, fire department has tested positive for the coronavirus and is self-quarantining. Seven other members of the department are in self-quarantine, a department spokeswoman said.
    • Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia and other D.C.-area schools are rolling out details of their distance learning plans. Find out what schools in the region are doing.
    • As of Tuesday, the area has had more than 3,400 cases of the coronavirus: Virginia has had 1,250 cases with 27 deaths; Maryland, 1,660 cases and 18 deaths; and D.C. 495 cases and nine deaths.

    White House projects 100K to 240K U.S. deaths from virus

    The White House on Tuesday projected 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

    President Donald Trump called on Americans to brace themselves for a “rough two-week period” but predicted the country would soon see a “light at the end of the tunnel” of the global catastrophe that has killed more than 3,500 Americans and infected 170,000 more.

    Read the full story from The Associated Press here.

    Ocean City restricts short-term hotel, rental accommodations

    Ocean City, Maryland, Mayor Rick Meehan ordered the restriction of short-term accommodations for hotels and rentals to essential lodgers only through April 30. This applies to, among others, hotels, motels, condo-hotels, rental properties, HOAs, Airbnb and VRBO style lodging and other overnight accommodations.

    “This is incredibly difficult time for everyone, but the only way we can stop the spread of this virus is to work together. Visitors should NOT visit Ocean City at this time, but are encouraged to reschedule or plan for future visits when this health crisis passes,” Meehan said in a statement.

    Under the declaration, these accommodations can only accept new reservations for essential lodgers, which include health care workers, first responders, law enforcement, National Guard members, journalists, and others responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Full-time residents of Ocean City unable to live in their primary home are also exempt.

    Field hospital sites identified in Northern Va.

    The latest forecasts project a potential peak of hospitalizations in Virginia over the next two months or so.

    Sites have now been identified to establish field hospitals in Northern Virginia to accommodate an expected surge in hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

    Though the first phases of the plans call for adding beds in existing hospitals or on hospital campuses, the third phase would establish new treatment facilities at the National Conference Center in Loudoun County, the Dulles Expo Center in Fairfax County, and at George Mason University in the City of Fairfax, according to a briefing Tuesday for the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

    The National Conference Center could hold some 1,000 beds, while the other two facilities would start with at least 500 beds.

    Though the facilities have been identified, they would still require significant staffing, supplies and administration efforts.

    Testing, personal protective equipment and ventilator supplies also remain an overall challenge nationwide.

    “We would have the same challenges in the alternate care facilities,” Prince William County Executive Christopher Martino said Tuesday afternoon.

    Read the full story here.

    More Coronavirus News

    Suit claims D.C. failing to prevent virus spread in jails; 50 inmates monitored in Virginia after one tests positive

    A lawsuit claims D.C. is failing to take basic public health steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its jails, despite five inmates testing positive for the coronavirus.

    The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia and D.C.’s Public Defender Service claim jailed residents are being instructed to use their own bar of soap and water to clean their cells to prevent the spread of the virus. Read more about the lawsuit here.

    In Northern Virginia, nearly 50 inmates are being monitored after an inmate tested positive for coronavirus.

    The Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office said that the patient is in his 20s tested positive for COVID-19 and is being isolated.

    A high-risk task force visited the jail and concluded after an investigation that four individuals who had been in close contact with the inmate should also be isolated. Another 44 inmates living in the same unit as the inmate who tested positive are being monitored for symptoms and fever.

    Read the story from The Associated Press here.

    Gov. Hogan: ‘We’re behind the 8-ball’

    In a trio of media appearances on Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said his stay-home order, and those of D.C. and Virginia, were going to save lives, but that the state was still facing critical shortages.

    “If we have this spike of demand in our hospitals, we’re not going to have enough” in terms of testing and protective equipment, Hogan said on NBC’s Meet the Press. He reiterated his view that Maryland was a couple of weeks behind New York, a national hot spot, in terms of predicted spikes in cases.

    On the BBC, Hogan said of the federal government’s response, “I think they’re making some attempts to catch up, but there’s been some mistakes that have been made.”

    The feds are reaching out to the governors, Hogan said, but “there’s no question we’re behind the 8-ball, and we’ve got some important work to get done. I don’t want to point fingers about what hasn’t been done or who made which mistakes, but we’ve got to work together somehow, because we’re all in this together, not just in America but around the world.”

    Tuesday morning on CNN, Hogan called the stay-at-home order he issued on Monday “one of the last tools in our arsenal” to try to stop the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

    Noting that the number of cases in the region has “more than quadrupled in just a couple of days,” Hogan said the order, which was followed later in the day by similar ones from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, was “necessary to further get people off the streets so we can continue to save thousands of lives.”

    The order prohibits Marylanders from leaving their homes, with exceptions, such as medical appointments, exercise and work for those who are in essential occupations. You can find out what’s banned and what’s allowed under the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. orders.

    The order carries a penalty of up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine. Hogan said state and local police have done about 5,000 compliance checks “to disperse crowds and make sure people are leaving and breaking up situations where they’re out endangering themselves and their fellow neighbors.”

    He said of the penalties, “a lot of it is just to ensure compliance,” adding that only two arrests have been made under his executive orders, “where people just refused to comply.”

    Speaking on “Meet the Press,” Hogan added that the order was statewide because the virus was statewide: “We’ve now got outbreaks in all but one county … it’s not just the counties surrounding Washington. This is not restricted just to our urban areas and suburban areas.”

    Hogan, a Republican, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, published an op-ed piece in The Washington Post in which they said, “The coronavirus doesn’t distinguish between red states and blue states, and neither can we.”

    They asked the federal government for several changes in their response, including more aggressive use of the Defense Production Act to produce and distribute supplies such as masks, gowns and gloves for health care workers, more flexibility for governors to spend coronavirus relief money, and other steps.

    The CNN host played a recording of Gov. Steve Bullock, of Montana, telling President Donald Trump on Monday that “we are one day away” from not being able to test for the virus. Trump responded, “We’ve tested more than any nation in the world … I haven’t heard about testing being a problem.”

    Asked to respond, Hogan said, “There’s no question that the federal government and all of the states believe that we need more testing, and this is something that we’re talking about on a daily basis with the administration and with all of our fellow governors.”

    He added, “There’s no question this is a pinch-point,” referring to testing and personal protective equipment. “Everybody knows we don’t have enough of these things. … Without tests, we really are flying blind” about hot spots and mortality rates, and equipment such as ventilators “are becoming … certainly as important as the testing.”

    Hogan said the federal government had an important role to play in coordinating the distribution of equipment, and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency “has started to really step up on coordination” and is distributing equipment to states.

    “It’s just not enough,” he added.

    “The president says the states are on their own,” Hogan said, “[that] they should go out and get these things, and we are trying to get them,” but the federal government and other states are also doing that.

    He hoped the feds will take the lead on “making sure we’re not competing against each other for these limited resources.”

    In the end, Hogan said, “It doesn’t matter who’s supposed to be doing these things; we’ve all got to get together and get them done. Because it’s going to save lives.”

    Asked about the projections by Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Debbie Birx, two members of the president’s coronavirus task force, that 200,000 American are likely to die from the virus, Hogan said the numbers were “just hard to fathom,” but that the two doctors “are the ones who are telling us the truth about the numbers.”

    Noting that the number is twice as many Americans as were killed in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined, Hogan said, “It’s just devastating, and that’s why we’re taking these seemingly unprecedented and seemingly drastic actions that are disrupting people’s lives — we’re trying to stop that from happening.”

    Watch the full interview on the governor’s YouTube page.

    Drive-through testing at 3 Md. DOT sites

    The Maryland Department of Health announced Tuesday that drive-through COVID-19 testing will be conducted starting Wednesday at three vehicle emissions testing sites.

    The three sites are in Glen Burnie, in Anne Arundel County; Waldorf, in Charles County, and Bel Air in Harford County. The Glen Burnie and Waldorf sites will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays; the Bel Air site will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

    Those getting tested need an order from their doctor and to make an appointment online. Only people who are symptomatic and in high-risk groups will be approved for testing.

    “We are focused on testing people who really need it and by using these sites, we can allow them to be tested away from busy emergency rooms, urgent care centers and physicians’ offices,” Deputy Secretary of Public Health Fran Phillips said in the statement. “People with no symptoms or who are mildly ill do not need testing. Most people who get this virus can recover at home with rest, fluids and over-the-counter fever reducers.”

    The Glen Burnie and Waldorf sites are run by the state Department of Health and will use an appointment process operated by CRISP, Maryland’s health information system. The Bel Air site is run by the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, and will use the existing scheduling process, under which the physician schedules appointments on a hotline.

    All vehicle emissions testing sites have been closed since the public health emergency began, and Hogan has supported the idea of holding testing at the sites, but has always said such a plan would have to wait until the state had enough testing kits and laboratory capacity to have a meaningful impact.

    “These sites are for residents who are symptomatic and in high-risk categories for developing serious illness,” Hogan said in the statement. “Like every other state in the nation, we simply do not have enough testing supplies. We need to use our resources wisely.”

    D.C. Mayor Bowser: ‘Stay at home’

    At a briefing on Tuesday morning, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said police would break up large gatherings of people in the District.

    She said that her stay-at-home order, which went into effect at midnight, demonstrated “no real difference” from the direction they’ve already given residents: “Stay home.”

    She played for reporters a recording of the script officers will be driving around D.C. reciting to large gatherings of people:

    “The point is not to arrest anybody,” Bowser said, “the point is to stay at home.”

    The mayor added that she is not aware of any nonessential businesses that have defied her order last week directing them to close, but said the city can revoke business licenses if necessary.

    On Monday, D.C. began what Bowser called “high volume” testing for first responders in D.C., including D.C. Fire and EMS, police officers and members of the Department of Corrections. Overall, about 80 first responders were tested.

    Tuesday’s test results identified five additional positive cases of COVID-19 among members of D.C. Fire and EMS, bringing the department’s total cases to 19; four more cases were identified among D.C. police who were tested, bringing the total to 13. Over 300 members of both departments are quarantined.

    In D.C.’s Department of Corrections, a staff member tested positive, while 103 are quarantined. Six DC Jail inmates tested positive, with 88 quarantined.

    Bowser added that she and other District officials will give a briefing later this week on when the “expected surge” in cases is likely to come, and how the District is preparing.

    Bowser said the District is building its own stockpile of personal protective equipment and medical supplies for local medical providers.

    “What the District is doing is, obviously, procuring for our needs, for our medical needs and for our first responders and front-line workers,” Bowser said. “We’re … creating a stockpile that we can support our medical providers, and we’re working at searching the entire globe to find those items.”

    Assistant City Administrator Jay Melder said about 70% of the District’s stockpile of medical supplies will be delivered to providers Tuesday and Wednesday. The supplies will go to primary care providers, long-term care facilities and home health aides, among others.

    Melder said the District is continuing to seek assistance from the federal government, including FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services, to access equipment from the national strategic stockpile.

    “We will continue to do everything we can to make sure that our health providers and our first responders, our central employees, are well equipped for the mission,” he said.

    Food assistance and donation information in Virginia

    Gov. Ralph Northam’s office released a list of food pantries in the state for people who need food assistance. He also said residents can call 211.

    Arlington County is looking for donations of unused and unopened containers of essential personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies and certain foods to help essential employees and nonprofit and community organizations responding to COVID-19 operations.

    The county will have a drive-through donation site on Friday, April 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Central Library parking lot on 10th Street North.

    Arlington County said the donation activity conforms to the stay-at-home order in place in Virginia. Donors who come by car will be asked to stay in their vehicles until they reach the loading zone. There will be a separate line for those who come on foot or by bike.

    Only the requested items below will be accepted:

    • Nitrile or vinyl examination gloves
    • N95 or KN95 masks
    • Surgical masks
    • Protective surgical gowns
    • Homemade masks 
    • Cleaning products and supplies
    • Nonperishable food items, especially heart-healthy items low in sodium or sugar

    Gov. Northam: No age group is immune 

    In announcing a stay-at-home order for Virginia on Monday, Northam said that he acted in part because “some of our beaches and other recreational areas were literally packed” over the weekend.

    “Everyone who is gathering in a crowd is putting themselves and others at risk,” Northam said.

    He also said that almost half of COVID-19 patients in Virginia are under 50.

    “No age group is immune to this virus,” he said.

    The governor added that, “We need to be patient with social distancing,” saying, “It will take time to show results.”

    “What we’re seeing now is the result of how people interacted two or three weeks ago,” Northam said. “What we will see a few weeks from now will be determined by how people behave today and in the following days.”

    WTOP’s Teta Alim, Max Smith, Michelle Basch Neal Augenstein, Jack Moore and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

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    Virginia Governor Orders State Residents to Stay at Home Until June 10 Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

    Virginia Governor Ralph Northam joined a growing number of states in issuing a stringent “stay at home” order on Monday, telling residents to remain in their homes except for essential purposes until June 10.

    Many states and municipalities across the country have already issued stay at home or “shelter in place” orders as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread rapidly. Announcing the executive order on Monday, Northam said: “I want to be clear: Do not go out unless you need to go out. This is very different than wanting to go out.”

    The executive order from Northam, a Democrat, is set to remain in place far longer than the stringent social distancing guidelines laid out by the federal government. President Donald Trump on Sunday extended the guidance through April 30, saying that the data the White House coronavirus taskforce had gathered suggested that the surge in infections and deaths would peak in the middle of April.

    Governor Ralph Northam delivers the State of the Commonwealth address at the Virginia State Capitol on January 8 in Richmond. On March 30, he issued a “stay at home” executive order in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
    Zach Gibson/Getty

    Other states have set shorter deadlines for their stay at home orders to expire, although they can always be extended at the governor’s discretion. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday extended his “New York at Pause” deadline until just April 15, although the state has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country by far.

    Northam’s stay at home order for Virginia requires all state residents to remain in their homes except for specific essential activities. These include obtaining food and beverages, seeking medical care, taking care of family or animals, visiting family members, exercising in compliance with social distancing guidelines and traveling to a place of worship, work or education.

    The executive order also bans any gatherings of more than 10 people, including parties and religious services. Additionally, all universities are required to suspend in-person classes, and all public beaches will be closed, except for fishing and exercise, so long as social distancing is maintained.

    “This is a communitywide effort, and I thank you for complying. This is a time of sacrifice. We need everyone to take this seriously and act responsibly,” Northam said.

    Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, issued a similar stay at home order on Monday.

    “This is a public health crisis. We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay at home. We are directing them to do so,” Hogan said.

    There have been more than 2,800 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., area, according to news station WTOP. The number has more than quadrupled in the past week.

    The U.S. is now the global leader in the number of confirmed cases, which reached more than 153,000 Monday afternoon. More than 2,800 people have died, and over 5,500 have recovered from the infection.

    California Coronavirus Update: Cases Pass 7,000, With Nearly 150 Deaths

    Coronavirus cases in California have surpassed 7,000, including nearly 150 deaths, as of Tuesday, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

    The virus, which was first reported in Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei province, has spread to more than 803,300 people across 178 countries and regions, with over 82,200 cases reported in China, while the U.S. has the most cases in the world, with more than 164,700 infections, as of Tuesday.

    More than 172,600 people have recovered from infection, including nearly 90 percent of China’s patients and nearly 6,000 in the U.S., while over 39,000 people have died. Beijing says the outbreak has been largely contained in China, with more cases reported outside the country than within.

    New York has been the worst-hit state in the country, with more than 66,400 cases to date, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo confirms. Thousands of infections have also been reported in a string of other states including California.

    California has reported 7,426 confirmed cases and 149 deaths across 47 of its 58 counties, The Los Angeles Times reported on Monday evening.

    The state has been under a “stay at home” order from earlier this month, which was issued by California Governor Gavin Newsom.

    The order, which went into effect on March 19, is “in place until further notice,” and requires residents to remain at home, while all non-essential businesses, including restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and other places of public gathering, remain closed.

    “The California Department of Public Health looks to establish consistency across the state in order to ensure that we mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Our goal is simple, we want to bend the curve, and disrupt the spread of the virus,” the order explains.

    Earlier this month, Newsom noted that if no mitigation efforts are taken, over 25 million people (around 56 percent of the state) could be infected in the next few weeks.

    California deaths by county

    • Los Angeles – 44
    • Santa Clara – 28
    • Riverside – 9
    • Sacramento – 7
    • Alameda – 7
    • San Diego – 7
    • San Francisco – 6
    • San Mateo – 6
    • San Joaquin – 6
    • Marin – 4
    • Orange – 4
    • Ventura – 4
    • Contra Costa – 3
    • San Bernardino – 3

    Top 10 California counties with most confirmed cases

    1. Los Angeles – 2474, according to the LA County Department of Public Health;
    2. Santa Clara – 848, according to the Santa Clara Department of Public Health;
    3. San Diego – 603, according to the San Diego County government website;
    4. Orange – 464, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency;
    5. San Francisco – 374, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health;
    6. San Mateo – 309, according to San Mateo County Health;
    7. Riverside – 291, according to the LA Times;
    8. Alameda – 264, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department;
    9. Sacramento – 224, according to the Sacramento County government website;
    10. Contra Costra – 187, according to the LA Times.

    The shuttered Palace Theatre in Los Angeles, California pictured on March 23, 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic continues in the U.S.
    Getty Images

    The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of COVID-19 across the U.S.

    This infographic shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases by state.

    Data on COVID-19 cases is from Johns Hopkins University unless otherwise stated.

    World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

    Hygiene advice

    • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
    • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
    • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
    • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

    Medical advice

    • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
    • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
    • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
    • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
    • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

    Mask and glove usage

    • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
    • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
    • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
    • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
    • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
    • Do not reuse single-use masks.
    • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
    • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.

    IRS Adds To Confusion About Whether Seniors Have To File Tax Returns To Get Stimulus Checks

    Each year, about 64 million people collect Social Security benefits: about one family in four receives some kind of Social Security benefits. Of those, nearly 45 million are retired workers who receive, on average, $1,471 per month; another 3 million individuals receive benefits as spouses or children of retired workers. 

    Social Security benefits represent about 33% of the income of the elderly. According to the Social Security Administration, among the elderly, half of married couples and 70% of unmarried persons receive 50% or more of their income from Social Security. Nearly 21% of married couples and about 45% of unmarried persons rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.

    Compare those numbers to just 25,972,101 taxpayers over the age of 65 who filed in 2018 (according to the most recent IRS data available). 

    That means more than 20 million taxpayers over the age of 65 do not file a federal income tax return each year – likely because their only source of income is Social Security benefits. 

    Initially, that wasn’t a barrier to getting stimulus checks. Congress provided Treasury with a mechanism in the CARES Act for relying on forms 1099-SSA (or RRB equivalent) to issue checks. That carve-out is in the same paragraph that gives taxpayers an alternative if they haven’t filed for the 2019 tax year (Treasury can refer to their 2018 tax return). I wrote about it – as did many others – and for days, the knowledge that they didn’t have to do anything further for benefits provided a sense of relief for seniors. Until Monday, March 30, 2020.

    On Monday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) posted a notice about the checks. The guidance included several sentences that seem contrary to the language in the law. Specifically, the guidance advised, “However, some seniors and others who typically do not file returns will need to submit a simple tax return to receive the stimulus payment.”

    Tax professionals like me expected that some non-filers would have to file returns to receive checks. Otherwise, how would the IRS know how to reach them, or that they existed at all?

    But seniors? Seniors for whom the Social Security Administration issues tax statements each year AND requires direct deposit for benefit checks? Why the need for more paperwork?

    So far, the IRS isn’t commenting. 

    But, according to Chye-Ching Huang, Senior Director for Economic Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this wasn’t supposed to be the result of the legislation. The Treasury, she notes, was given “clear and explicit authority” to issue checks based on information available from the Social Security Administration. 

    Here’s the language from the law (downloads as a PDF): “if the individual has not filed a tax return for such individual’s first taxable year beginning in 2018, use information with respect to such individual for calendar year 2019 provided in— (i) Form SSA–1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, or (ii) Form RRB–1099, Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement.”

    That language was, Huang says, pretty clearly intended to avoid the mistakes of the past. In 2008, nearly 20 million taxpayers who were traditionally non-filers were required to file tax returns to get rebate checks. That’s why it took almost three months for some taxpayers to receive their checks.

    At the time, then National Taxpayer Advocate, Nina Olson, criticized the move, testifying to Congress that it was unnecessary and burdensome for those in need (downloads as a PDF). Specifically, Olson noted in 2008 that there were “significant barriers that will result in substantially less than full participation by this target population.” Some challenges Olson noted were a lack of Internet access or discomfort obtaining tax information from the Internet; lack of mobility; including those who are incapacitated and under the care of guardians, conservators, or nursing homes and hospitals; fear of the IRS or losing benefits; and confusing messages. An estimated 3.5 million of those eligible never got their checks at all that year.

    Olson suggested that it may be better to utilize another federal agency for payment delivery, querying at the time, “The 20.5 million Social Security and Veterans Affairs beneficiaries all receive payments from those agencies, and many of those payments are directly deposited into bank accounts. Why not find a way to let those agencies make stimulus payments to individuals without a tax filing requirement instead of requiring them to file ESP-only returns and having the IRS then send them paper checks?”

    That was in 2008 when seniors weren’t been told to stay in their homes and tax offices were not shut down. Now, Huang notes, the current COVID-19 crisis has made it even harder for those people to file. Free tax centers for seniors, such as AARP Tax-Aide, are now closed. Tax professionals are staying home. And statistically, the elderly are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. So why design a system where they may not be able to get financial assistance without exposing themselves to danger?

    Throw in the potential for increased scams targeting the elderly, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

    For its part, the IRS seems to think that the workaround is simply to wait, advising, “For those concerned about visiting a tax professional or local community organization in person to get help with a tax return, these economic impact payments will be available throughout the rest of 2020.”

    For some seniors with bills to pay and food and medication to buy, that might be too late.

    Requests for comment made to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), other members of Congress, and the White House were not immediately returned.

    Related: Your Money And Coronavirus: A Financial Protection Guide


    Prisoners Across Country Will Be Confined For 14 Days To Cut Coronavirus Spread

    The Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal prison in New York City, seen in Nov. 2019.

    Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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    Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    The Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal prison in New York City, seen in Nov. 2019.

    Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    In an effort to tamp down the COVID-19 infection rate across the nation’s corrections system, the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced on Tuesday that starting Wednesday, inmates in all of its institutions across the country will be kept in their assigned cells or quarters, effectively putting them in lockdown.

    The order will hold for at least 14 days, but it may be extended to a later date.

    In addition, the BOP said, it is working with the U.S. Marshals Service to “significantly decrease incoming movement” to American prisons, though it did not specify how that would happen.

    The BOP added that “to the extent practicable,” inmates would still have access to programs and services, including mental health services, and that “limited group gathering” would give prisoners continued access to commissaries, laundry and showers, as well as to telephones and email.

    However, Tuesday’s announcement did not include any new measures regarding guards and other prison staff. Last week, the BOP said it had instituted “increased health screening” for inmates and staff as well as “increased sanitary measures.” New prisoners were also placed in a 14-day quarantine, and visitors were restricted.

    Current reports from around the country indicate that prisons and jails are in crisis. On Tuesday morning, the Washington Post reported that the chief doctor at Rikers Island, New York City’s largest jail, called current conditions a “public health disaster unfolding before our eyes.” (Last October, New York’s city council approved a plan to close Rikers by 2026, but there has been no movement as of yet.)

    On Tuesday afternoon, California announced that it is granting early release to 3,500 prisoners in hopes of stanching the tide of infections across the state’s 35 prisons.

    On Saturday, Reuters reported surging infection rates at jails and prisons across the country. As of 2017, the U.S. had the highest known incarceration rate in the world, with some 2.2 million people being held.

    Florida has not issued a statewide stay-at-home order amid coronavirus crisis. Some support Gov. Ron DeSantis approach. Others dont.

    JUPITER, Fla. ― Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused to issue a statewide “stay-at-home” order to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus because the disease has not hit many areas of the state, he said.

    At least 30 states have issued statewide stay-at-home orders so far. Florida, among eight states with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, is the only one without such an order.

    DeSantis’ approach in trying to manage the disease without doing undue harm to the economy mirrors comments from President Donald Trump who, on Monday reiterated his belief that a nationwide stay-at-home order is not needed.

    “There are some parts of the country that are in far deeper trouble than others,” he told reporters. “There are other parts that, frankly, are not in trouble at all.”

    Coronavirus in America:How all 50 states are responding to this public health emergency

    But as the outbreak marches across the country, public health officials stress that the lack of testing is masking the true picture of the epidemic, a situation that they argue is playing out in Florida.

    As of Tuesday night, 29 of Florida’s 67 counties had 10 or fewer cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. In 13 largely rural and poor counties — mostly in the northern part of the state between Gainesville and Tallahassee — no cases had been reported to the state health department.

    Yet many rural counties have tested fewer than 75 patients in the past two weeks, according to health department data.

    Coronavirus is serious. But, ‘the cows still have to be milked twice a day’

    Public health experts and emergency management officials disagree on whether a statewide stay-at-home order would make a difference in these rural counties.

    Several of Florida’s largest cities and counties — including all of South Florida, which has about 3,900 COVID-19 cases — have ordered people to stay at home. These orders generally make exceptions only for travel to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations or other essential errands. People are allowed outside their homes to walk or run but are not allowed to congregate in groups. They also exempt essential workers, including those in health care.

    “I would be doing a stay-at-home order” across the state, said Dr. Leslie Beitsch, chairman of the behavioral sciences and social medicine department at Florida State University’s College of Medicine. “It tells people this is serious, and we are doing something unprecedented.”

    Signs block the paths to the beach at the Okaloosa Island, Florida, Boardwalk, Saturday, March 21, 2020, as beach closure orders are in effect for Walton and Okaloosa Counties in the Northwest Florida panhandle.

    But in Okeechobee County, an agricultural community with about 40,000 people in the south-central part of the state, Emergency Management Director Mitch Smeykal said, an order would have little benefit.

    “The cows still have to be milked twice a day or they are not going to be able to produce any milk,” he said.

    He said residents already understand the seriousness of the outbreak having seen the run on food in area grocery stores and the early departure of thousands of part-time residents to return to their permanent homes.

    As of Tuesday night, just 55 people have been tested in the county and no COVID-19 cases had been confirmed.

    Smeykal said rural counties are likely not seeing anyone with the virus yet because people already live and work far apart from neighbors and crowds. But it’s only a matter of time until a positive test emerges, he said.

    “We probably do have a case in the county, but it hasn’t presented itself yet,” he said. “We are not going to be spared from this.”

    Without a stay-at-home order across Florida, ‘I worry people may not be as cautious’

    Florida has more than 6,700 cases of COVID-19 and has done about 65,000 tests — far fewer than the tallies in New York and other states. As of Tuesday night, at least 85 people had died and 850 had been hospitalized because of COVID-19 in Florida.

    According to the Florida health department, only people who have had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 and have a fever, cough and/or shortness of breath can be tested.

    On Monday, DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order for residents of South Florida until April 14, saying the action makes sense for the region because of the number of cases concentrated there.

    You’re asking coronavirus questions:We’re answering them.

    DeSantis has ordered restaurant dining rooms and bars to close and restricted gatherings of more than 10 people across the state. The state has also closed all public schools. DeSantis directed travelers arriving in the state from the New York metro area or Louisiana to self-isolate for 14 days.

    Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of public health and family medicine at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said the paucity of positive test results in many Florida counties gives a false sense of security.

    Visitors enjoy Clearwater Beach, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Clearwater Beach, Fla. Beach goers are keeping a safe distance from each other to help protect from the spread of the 
new coronavirus.

    “Until we do more widespread community testing, we won’t really know who has been exposed,” Levine said. From her standpoint, she said, the governor should set restrictions across the state. “From a public health standpoint, there is no question that the earlier you do it the better.”

    Florida’s large senior population, the age group hit hardest by COVID-19, is another reason to go to a statewide lockdown, Levine added. A stay-at-home order would signal to people, even in counties with few or no cases, that people need to change their normal behavior.

    “When you don’t have such an order in place, I worry people may not be as cautious or [not] go about their hand-washing and social distancing,” Levine said.

    In rural Hendry County, sugar cane harvest season is ‘full speed’ ahead 

    In Hendry County, which has four positive COVID-19 cases after administering 63 tests, residents are practicing the same precautions as in urban areas on lockdown, said R.D. Williams, CEO of Hendry Regional Medical Center. The rural community halfway between West Palm Beach and Fort Myers reported its first positive test on Sunday.

    Williams said he favors DeSantis’ approach because projections on the spread of the outbreak in the region don’t support the need for a shelter-in-place approach statewide.

    U.S. coronavirus map:Tracking the outbreak, state by state

    March and April mark the peak of the harvest season for sugar cane, so hundreds of migrant workers in Hendry County are still going to work.

    “Those operations are going full speed,” Williams said. Because those workers are outside, he added, it’s easier for them to practice social distancing than in a production facility.

    While rural Florida has not struggled with coronavirus, if cases escalate, these areas could be hard-pressed to handle an outbreak because of a lack of doctors and hospitals, said Jerne Shapiro, a lecturer in the department of epidemiology at the University of Florida. Many rural residents also lack insurance and may not have a strong understanding of the health system or how to seek help, she said.

    “This is going to exacerbate the problems we have in these rural counties where people now are struggling to get seen by a provider,” she noted. “The gap for this underserved population is only going to be magnified.”

    Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.