the coronavirus crisis
1:15 a.m.

The coronavirus can spread like wildfire through nursing homes, and Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County's public health director, said on Tuesday if families are able, it would be "perfectly appropriate" for them to pull their elderly relatives out of such facilities.

The COVID-19 coronavirus is able to cause devastation at nursing homes because many of the elderly residents have underlying health conditions; one of the country's first outbreaks was at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, where two-thirds of residents and 47 workers became infected, and 35 people died. As of Tuesday, 173 people have died of COVID-19 in L.A. County, and 36 were residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Ferrer said.

Ferrer suggested that people who are now working from home might be able to care for their relatives, but acknowledged that for those whose loved ones have dementia or serious illnesses, taking them out of the nursing home might not be an option.

Dr. Michael Wasserman is president of the California Association of Long Term Care Medicine, which represents doctors, nurses, and other nursing home employees, and he told the Los Angeles Times if his mother or grandmother lived in a nursing home right now, and he had the "capability and the wherewithal to bring her home, I would." It doesn't matter how good a facility is, most nursing homes in the United States "are going to be challenged by this," Wasserman said. "Some will do better than others, but sooner or later, the virus will find its way in." Catherine Garcia

April 7, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday said he will "strongly consider" ending U.S. funding to the World Health Organization.

The agency "called it wrong" on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Trump said during an evening news conference, and he hinted that WHO officials may have downplayed how bad the outbreak was in its early days. "They should have known and they probably did know," he said.

WHO declared the coronavirus a public health emergency on Jan. 30 and a global pandemic on March 11. Trump, who told reporters on February 28 that coronavirus would "disappear" like a "miracle," declared a national emergency on March 13.

Trump was also asked about memos written in January and February by senior White House adviser Peter Navarro, warning that the "risk of a worst-case pandemic scenario should not be overlooked." Trump said he didn't see the memos, which were made public on Monday, but even if he did, there was no reason to scare people prematurely. "I don't want to create havoc and shock and everything else," Trump said. "I'm not going to go out and start screaming, 'This could happen, this could happen.' I'm a cheerleader for this country." Catherine Garcia

April 7, 2020

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has officially declared a state of emergency in seven prefectures over the coronavirus crisis amid a surge in new cases.

Abe on Tuesday declared a state of emergency that will last until May 6 in prefectures including Tokyo, where residents had already been urged to avoid nonessential travel and which recently went from reporting fewer than 20 new cases a day on March 25 to reporting nearly 150 new cases on Sunday, per NPR.

Residents are being requested to stay home but not actually ordered to, and those who don't do so won't be penalized, The Associated Press reports. "Civil liberties protections in Japan don't allow authorities to issue jail terms or fines for non-compliance, so a heavy dose of peer pressure and the weight of the emergency declaration are being deployed instead as a cudgel," CBS News writes. The state of emergency "hands powers to local governments to try to contain the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, including by urging residents to stay at home," Bloomberg notes.

During a news conference on Monday, Abe said, "We need your cooperation to prevent an explosive surge."

But some fear this is "too little, too late," arguing the Japanese government "has dithered in the face of an explosion in infections in the capital, and is still reluctant to impose the sort of extreme measures necessary to contain the virus — largely over concerns about the economic impact," The Washington Post writes.

Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Population Health at King's College, London, told the Post, "It's too late. Tokyo has already entered an explosive phase, and the only way to stop the collapse in health care was to lock down the city as early as possible." Abe told parliament this week the government "will not lock cities down as has been done overseas." Brendan Morrow

April 7, 2020

States and local governments have a patchwork of social distancing rules to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but all of them include supermarkets and grocery stores in the list of essential services exempt from closure. Now, "major supermarket chains are beginning to report their first coronavirus-related employee deaths, leading to store closures and increasing anxiety among grocery workers as the pandemic intensifies across the country," The Washington Post reports.

Grocery stores are looking to hire thousands of temporary workers to meet the sharp rise in demand from homebound customers, and even with the promise of hardship pay, gloves, make, and hand sanitizer, the deaths will likely give pause to potential hires. "One of the biggest mistakes supermarkets made early on was not allowing employees to wear masks and gloves the way they wanted to," supermarket analyst Phil Lempert told the Post. "We're going to start seeing people say, 'I'll just stay unemployed instead of risking my life for a temporary job.'"

The Post confirmed four deaths as of Monday: A Trader Joe's employee in Scarsdale, New York; two Walmart workers at the same store in Evergreen Park, Illinois, outside Chicago, in late March; and a 27-year-old greeter at a Giant supermarket in Largo, Maryland, who died last week. The Giant greeter, Leilani Jordan, "said, 'Mommy, I'm going to work because no one else is going to help the senior citizens get their groceries,'" her mother, Zenobia Shepherd, told the Post. "She only stopped going to work when she could no longer breathe."

In theory, a pandemic that forces people to stay home and threatens grocery store workers who have to interact with hundreds of customers is "the perfect moment for online grocery services," The Associated Press reports. "In practice, they've been struggling to keep up with a surge in orders, highlighting their limited ability to respond to an unprecedented onslaught of demand." Peter Weber

April 6, 2020

Tesla is offering a look at the ventilators it's making out of car parts amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Tesla engineers in a YouTube video uploaded Sunday explained they're "trying to make some ventilators out of some car parts so that we can help out the medical industry without taking away from their supply," showing a prototype for a ventilator that's "heavily based on Tesla car parts" and makes use of the Model 3's infotainment system.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who last month claimed that "coronavirus panic is dumb," pledged that the company would make ventilators "if there's a shortage," prompting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to urge them to do so. "New York City is buying," de Blasio wrote. New York has been facing a ventilator shortage, and de Blasio said Sunday that "we believe now we can get to Tuesday or Wednesday with the supplies we have."

Musk recently donated ventilators to New York that reportedly aren't the kind hospitals most need. The Verge notes that Tesla "has been criticized for attempting to invent a new ventilator rather than utilizing an existing design." In the video, the Tesla engineers say they wanted to use parts "that we know really well," that "we know the reliability of," and that are "available in volume."

Asked on Sunday about Tesla's efforts, though, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said, "Nobody can make you a ventilator right now in two weeks. That's General Motors, that's Ford, that's Elon Musk. ... their time frame, frankly, doesn't work for our immediate apex because whether we're talking two days or 10 days, you're not going to make ventilators at that time." Brendan Morrow

April 6, 2020

U.S. officials and intelligence agencies started warning the White House in mid-January that the coronavirus outbreak in China could spread through the U.S. and around the world, but "the Trump administration squandered nearly two months that could have been used to bolster the federal stockpile of critically needed medical supplies and equipment," The Associated Press reported Sunday night. "A review of federal purchasing contracts by The Associated Press shows federal agencies largely waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators, and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers."

By mid-March, U.S. hospitals in hard-hit areas were treating a rising number of COVID-19 patients without adequate equipment, states were bidding against each other for masks and ventilators on the open market, and Trump was telling states the role of the U.S. stockpile was supplier of last resort. "The notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile," Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser in charge of coronavirus supply chains, said Thursday. "It's not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use."

An AP reporter asked Trump about the federal supply shortfall at Sunday night's briefing, Trump dismissed the question and ended the briefing.

The federal emergency stockpile was created in 1999 to prepare for the Y2K issue, then was expanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and stocked up with pandemic response supplies in 2006. Greg Burel, director of the federal stockpile from 2007 until his retirement in January, told AP that based on budget allocations, it was intended only as a "bridge stock."

"States do not have the purchasing power of the federal government," said former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who also served as governor of Kansas. "They do not have the ability to run a deficit like the federal government. They do not have the logistical power of the federal government." Now, she added, "we basically wasted two months." Read more at The Associated Press. Peter Weber

April 5, 2020

Public health experts and government officials agree that the U.S. government's coronavirus death toll almost certainly understates how many Americans have actually died from the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only counts deaths where the presence of the coronavirus is confirmed in a lab test, The Washington Post reports, and "we know that it is an underestimation," CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said.

There are many reasons why the numbers are underreported. Strict criteria in the beginning of the outbreak kept many people from getting tested for coronavirus, and it's still difficult to get tested in some areas, for example. There's also the matter of false negatives, and not all medical examiners have tests or believe they should conduct postmortem testing, even on people who died at home or in nursing homes where there were outbreaks. Experts also believe some February and early March deaths that were attributed to influenza or pneumonia were likely due to coronavirus.

The official death count is based on reports sent by states, and as of Sunday night, the CDC reports 304,826 confirmed U.S. cases and 7,616 deaths. The Post, other media outlets, and university researchers update their numbers more frequently, with the Post reporting on Sunday night that 9,633 people have died from coronavirus in the U.S., and at least 337,000 cases have been confirmed. Catherine Garcia

April 5, 2020

Nadia, a 4-year-old Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York, has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

She is the first of her kind to test positive for the virus, CNN reports. In a statement, the Bronx Zoo on Sunday said Nadia, her sister Azul, two Amur tigers, and three African lions recently developed dry coughs, but no other animals are showing symptoms of COVID-19. Nadia was tested "out of an abundance of caution," and the zoo said it "will ensure any knowledge we gain about COVID-19 will contribute to the world's continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus."

The cats have all "experienced some decrease in appetite," but otherwise are "doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers." All are expected to make full recoveries. The zoo also said the cats were "infected by a person caring for them who was asymptomatically infected with the virus or before that person developed symptoms," and there are now "appropriate preventative measures" in place for staffers taking care of the animals. Catherine Garcia

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