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Could COVID-19 Spread Unchecked in US Prisons?

The death of a U.S. prisoner in the state of Louisiana is amplifying concerns that COVID-19 could spread unchecked in America’s detention facilities that hold more than two million people nationwide. Health officials and local leaders warn the prison population is especially vulnerable to an outbreak, and that hospitals near prisons would be overwhelmed by any inmate epidemic. VOA’s Chris Simkins reports, some prisons are taking steps in hopes of lessening a looming crisis.

Millions of US Workers Losing Jobs as Coronavirus Spreads

Millions of U.S. workers are losing their jobs in a surge of layoffs as businesses large and small shut their operations amid the coronavirus pandemic.A week ago, nearly 3.3 million workers filed for unemployment benefits. The figure is expected to rise rapidly in the coming weeks, with 40 million people predicted to be unemployed by mid-April.Before the pandemic struck the United States, 5.8 million U.S. workers were unemployed — 3.5% of the workforce of 164.6 million. That figure had changed little in the past six months and was a linchpin of a robust economy.FILE – An empty restaurant is seen in Manhattan borough following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York City, March 15, 2020.Now, the world’s largest economy has been hurt by what President Donald Trump describes as the “horrible scourge” of the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, investment banker Goldman Sachs Group forecast a far steeper decline in the U.S. than it had previously, predicting that output of goods and services would plunge by an annualized 34% in the April-to-June period, compared to its earlier estimate of 24%.Goldman Sachs economists said the U.S. jobless rate would soar to 15% by mid-year, an estimate that would leave 25 million workers unemployed. Its earlier estimate was for a 9% jobless rate.James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (in the midwestern state of Missouri), predicted the unemployment rate may climb to 30% in the second quarter because of the business shutdowns, with a plunging 50% drop in the gross domestic product.  An estimated 190,000 stores have closed, making that about 50% of retail space. On Monday alone, major retailers Macy’s, Kohl’s and Gap announced that collectively, they are laying off 290,000 workers.  FILE – The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts overlooking the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. (Diaa Bekheet/VOA).In Washington, D.C., the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts furloughed the 96 musicians playing for the National Symphony Orchestra without pay, even though the U.S. Congress just last week approved a $25 million rescue fund for the cultural hub, where all performances have been canceled.Some employers initially said they would continue to pay their workers, but many of those decisions have quickly been scrapped because of uncertainty on how the coronavirus might spread or when the pandemic will end.  Global management consulting firm Mckinsey & Company says a quarter of U.S. households already live from paycheck to paycheck, with 40% of Americans unable to cover an unexpected expense of $400 without borrowing.The $2 trillion rescue package approved by Congress last week and signed into law by Trump calls for enhanced unemployment compensation for laid-off workers. States normally pay jobless workers a fraction of their normal pay, but the national assistance plan will add $600 a week in extra pay for the next four months if workers are unemployed for that length of time.Goldman Sachs economists say they expect a significant recovery in the July-to-September period, with the GDP expanding by 19%.“Our estimates imply that a bit more than half of the near-term output decline is made up by year-end,” they wrote.State governments across a wide swath of the U.S. have ordered millions of Americans to stay home in the coming weeks, except to buy groceries, purchase carry-out food, go to medical appointments or exercise by themselves or with family members.  Such orders have forced many businesses deemed not essential to close their doors, although the term, “essential,” has varied among the 50 states, leading to a patchwork of functioning commerce depending on where one lives. 
 

Inmate Death Underscores COVID-19 Risks for US Prison Population

The death of a U.S. prisoner in the state of Louisiana is amplifying concerns that COVID-19 could spread unchecked in America’s detention facilities that hold more than two million people nationwide. Health officials and local leaders warn the prison population is especially vulnerable to an outbreak, and that hospitals near prisons would be overwhelmed by any inmate epidemic. VOA’s Chris Simkins reports, some prisons are taking steps in hopes of lessening a looming crisis

US Outlines Plan for Venezuela Transition, Sanctions Relief

The Trump administration is prepared to lift sanctions on Venezuela in support of a new proposal to form a transitional government representing allies of both Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, U.S. officials said.
The plan, which will be presented Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, echoes a proposal made over the weekend by Guaidó that shows how growing concerns about the coronavirus, which threatens to overwhelm the South American country’s already collapsed health system and crippled economy, are reviving U.S. attempts to pull the military apart from Maduro.  
What’s being dubbed the “Democratic Framework for Venezuela” would require Maduro and Guaidó to step aside and hand power to a five-member council of state to govern the country until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held in late 2020, according to a written summary of the proposal seen by The Associated Press.  
Four of the members would be appointed by the opposition-controlled National Assembly that Guaidó heads. To draw buy-in from the ruling socialist party, a two-third majority would be required. The fifth member, who would serve as interim president until elections are held, would be named by the other council members. Neither Maduro nor Guaidó would be on the council.
“The hope is that this setup promotes the selection of people who are very broadly respected and known as people who can work with the other side,” U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told the AP in a preview of the plan. “Even people in the regime look at this and realize Maduro has to go, but the rest of us are being treated well and fairly.”
The plan also outlines for the first time U.S. requirements for lifting sanctions against Maduro officials and the oil industry — the source of nearly all of Venezuela’s foreign income.
While those accused of grave human rights abuses and drug trafficking are not eligible for sanctions relief, individuals who are blacklisted because of the position they hold inside the Maduro government — such as members of the supreme court, electoral council and the rubber-stamp constitutional assembly — would benefit.  
But for sanctions to vanish, Abrams said the council would need to be functioning and all foreign military forces — from Cuba or Russia — would need to leave the country.  
“What we’re hoping is that this really intensifies a discussion inside the army, Chavismo, the ruling socialist party and the regime on how to get out of the terrible crisis they’re in,” Abrams said.
For months, the U.S. has relied on economic and diplomatic pressure to try and break the military’s support for Maduro and last week U.S. prosecutors indicted Maduro and key stakeholders — including his defense minister and head of the supreme court — on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.  
Still, any power-sharing arrangement is unlikely to win Maduro’s support unless the thorny issue of his future is addressed and he’s protected from the U.S. justice system, said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. While Venezuelans are protected from extradition by Hugo Chavez’s 1999 constitution, the charter could be rewritten in a transition, he said.
“It’s a little hard to see how this is going to be convincing to the major players in the government,” said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. “They seem to think the military is going to step in, but that seems extremely unlikely.”
It also would require the support of Cuba, China or Russia, all of whom are key economic and political backers of Maduro. In a call Monday with Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump reiterated that the situation in Venezuela is dire and told the Russian leader we all have an interest in seeing a democratic transition to end the ongoing crisis, according to a White House readout of the call.  
A senior administration official said Monday that the U.S. is willing to negotiate with Maduro the terms of his exit even in the wake of the indictments, which complicate his legal standing.
But recalling the history of Gen. Manuel Noriega in Panama, who was removed in a U.S. invasion after being charged himself for drug trafficking, he cautioned that his options for a deal were running out.
“History shows that those who do not cooperate with U.S. law enforcement agencies do not fare well, ” the official said in a call with journalists on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. policy. “Maduro probably regrets not taking the offer six months ago. We urge Maduro not to regret not taking it now.”
Guaidó, who has been recognized by the U.S. and nearly 60 other countries as the lawful leader of the country following a widely viewed fraudulent re-election of Maduro, called on Saturday for the creation of a “national emergency government.”  
He said international financial institutions are prepared to support a power-sharing interim government with $1.2 billion in loans to fight the pandemic. Guaido said the loans would be used to directly assist Venezuelan families who are expected to be harmed not only by the spread of the disease but also the economic shock from a collapse in oil prices, virtually the country’s only source of hard currency.  
The spread of the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm Venezuela’s already collapsed health system while depriving its crippled economy of oil revenue on which it almost exclusively depends for hard currency.  
The United Nations said Venezuela could be one of the nations hit hardest by the spread of the coronavirus, designating it a country for priority attention because of a health system marked by widespread shortages of medical supplies and a lack of water and electricity.  
Last September, Guaidó proposed a similar transitional government in talks with Maduro officials sponsored by Norway, which never gained traction.  
But with the already bankrupt country running out of gasoline and seeing bouts of looting amid the coronavirus pandemic, calls have been growing for both the opposition and Maduro to set aside their bitter differences to head off a nightmare scenario.
“The regime is under greater pressure than it has ever before,” Abrams said.

WHO: Countries Must Take Steps to ‘Push Down’ Coronavirus

Despite vast improvements in countries such as China and South Korea, the World Health Organization said Tuesday the coronavirus outbreak is “far from over” in the region. “This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard. We need every country to keep responding according to their local situation,” WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr. Takeshi Kasai said at a briefing. China reported one new death and 48 new cases Tuesday, none of them locally transmitted, while South Korea reported 125 new cases. Kasai and experts at a separate WHO briefing stressed that governments need to be taking active measures and maintain pressure to halt the spread of the virus. WHO Emergencies Program Executive Director Michael Ryan said officials hope countries currently seeing the worst effects, including Italy and Spain, will soon see their situations stabilize. But he said the virus will not stop itself, requiring governments to act to “push down” the number of infections. Coronavirus Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove said those public efforts must include testing, isolation, finding contacts and quarantining those contacts.Relatives attend a burial ceremony of victims of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the southern town of Cisternino, Italy, March 30, 2020.Italy reported 812 more deaths Monday, bringing its total to 11,591, while Spain surpassed China in terms of overall cases.  Only the United States has more cases that Italy and Spain. Ryan also cited the shortage of protective masks for health care workers, and reiterated WHO advice that generally healthy people should not wear masks. “There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit. In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly,” he said. Although some medical researchers endorse face masks and say effective ones can be homemade, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they are ineffective in filtering small particles from the air and may not help if an infected person sneezes or coughs nearby. US states ask for help The iconic Empire State Building in New York City lit up Monday night in the form of a red and white siren to honor emergency workers “on the front line of the fight.” [1/2] We’ll never stop shining for you. Starting tonight through the COVID-19 battle, our signature white lights will be replaced by the heartbeat of America with a white and red siren in the mast for heroic emergency workers on the front line of the fight. pic.twitter.com/OYkblLTRHN— Empire State Building (@EmpireStateBldg) March 30, 2020New York is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with more than 900 deaths as hospitals struggle to cope with the influx of patients. New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo made a nationwide appeal Monday for more help, asking doctors and nurses in areas without an urgent coronavirus situation to travel to New York to help. On the other side of the country, California Governor Gavin Newsom turned to retired doctors and nurses, as well as medical students, to boost the health care response.  He announced Monday the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus infections had nearly tripled over the course of four days. Overall, the number of U.S. cases topped 164,000 with more than 3,100 deaths as of early Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

WHO: Don’t Wear Face Masks

Don’t wear face masks to fend off the coronavirus, the World Health Organization says. “There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit. In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly,” WHO executive director of health emergencies Mike Ryan said Monday. The WHO says the only people who need masks are those who are already sick and those who are caring for the sick. Ryan also cited the global shortage of medical supplies and the risk frontline workers are facing every day. “The thought of them not having masks is horrific,” Ryan said. Although some medical researchers endorse face masks and say effective ones can be homemade, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they are ineffective in filtering small particles from the air and may not help if an infected person sneezes or coughs nearby.  UN resolutions The U.N. Security Council voted remotely for the first time Monday and approved four resolutions, including one that continues a sanctions monitoring mission for North Korea and another extending the U.N. mission in Somalia.  Council members and staffers have been teleworking for almost three weeks. But some are decrying the new procedures as restrictive and cumbersome and no substitute for meetings and debates.  US death toll The U.S. coronavirus death toll reached a grim record Monday with 486 deaths reported – the biggest one-day number so far with the total number approaching 3,000. President Donald Trump says the number of tests for the virus across the country hit the 1 million mark, which he says is the most of any country. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says U.S. labs are carrying out 100,000 tests a day, which he also says is a global record.President Donald Trump speaks during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Washington.The Pentagon announced Monday that a U.S. National Guardsman, Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok, died Saturday, becoming the first U.S. military member to succumb to the coronavirus.  “This is a stinging loss for our military community, and our condolences go out to his family, friends, civilian co-workers and the entire National Guard community,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said. “The news of this loss strengthens our resolve to work ever more closely with our interagency partners to stop the spread of COVID-19,” he added. California prepares California Governor Gavin Newsom is calling on retired doctors to hang out their shingles again and is also recruiting medical and nursing students to help with an expected surge of coronavirus cases in that state, the nation’s most populous.  “California’s health care workers are the heroes of this moment, serving on the front lines in the fight against this disease. To treat the rising number of patients with COVID-19, our state needs more workers in the health care field to join the fight. If you have a background in health care, we need your help,” Newsom said Monday.  The state’s health agency is preparing stadiums and convention centers to serve as makeshift hospitals.  Pastor arrested Also Monday, a sheriff outside Tampa, Florida arrested a pastor who held services Sunday despite the governor’s orders against gatherings of more than 10 people.  “Shame on this pastor, their legal staff and the leaders of this staff for forcing us to do our job. That’s not what we wanted to do during a declared state of emergency,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said. “We are hopeful that this will be a wakeup call.” Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne said he sanitized his church before the service, calling it an “essential business” like police and firefighters. He also attacked the media for alleged “religious bigotry and hate.” 

Man, 72, Dies of Injuries 3 Months After Hanukkah Stabbings

A man who was among the five people stabbed during a Hanukkah celebration north of New York City has died three months after the attack, according to an Orthodox Jewish organization and community liaison with a local police department. Josef Neumann, 72, died Sunday night, the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council said in a tweet. The funeral for Neumann, a father of seven and great-grandfather, is being held Monday. No additional details were provided.  On Dec. 28, an attacker with a machete rushed into a rabbi’s home in an Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey, New York, an ambush Gov. Andrew Cuomo called an act of domestic terrorism fueled by intolerance and a “cancer” of growing hatred in America. Cuomo said in a statement on Monday that he was “deeply saddened” to learn about the death. FILE – David Neumann, center, wipes his eyes as he speaks to reporters in New City, N.Y., Jan. 2, 2020, about his father, Josef Neumann, who was stabbed in an attack on a Hanukkah celebration.”This repugnant attack shook us to our core, demonstrating that we are not immune to the hate-fueled violence that we shamefully see elsewhere in the country,” the governor said. Rabbi Yisroel Kahan, who is the community liaison for the Ramapo Police Department that serves Monsey and executive director of Oizrim Jewish Council, shared the news of Neumann’s passing on his Twitter account as well.  “We were hoping when he started to open his eyes,” Rabbi Yisroel Kahan told The Journal News on Sunday night. “We were hoping and praying he would then pull through. This is so very sad he was killed celebrating Hanukkah with friends just because he was a Jew.” Federal prosecutors said the man charged in the attack, Grafton Thomas, had handwritten journals containing anti-Semitic comments and a swastika and had researched Adolf Hitler’s hatred of Jews online. Thomas’ lawyer and relatives said he has struggled for years with mental illness; they said he was raised in a tolerant home and hadn’t previously shown any animosity toward Jewish people.Thomas was indicted on federal hate crime charges as well as state charges, including attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty. The Hanukkah attack came amid a string of violence that has alarmed Jews in the region. 

Grandma’s not Here: Coronavirus Keeps Kids From Older Family

A few weeks ago, Debbie Cameron saw her grandsons most days, playing the piano, making after-school snacks or singing nursery rhymes with the baby in her Chandler, Arizona, home.  Then the cornavirus crisis hit and the boys were suddenly gone. Cameron is 68 and has asthma, making her one of the people most at risk of getting seriously ill or dying. Now she sees her grandchildren from behind the glass of a window or a phone screen.  “Looking at them through the window and not being able hug them, it’s just a dang killer,” she said.  For grandparents all over the world, being protected from the pandemic has meant a piercing distance from their loved ones. While children don’t seem to be getting seriously ill as often, they can be infected and spread the virus. It’s been a jolting change for many.Cameron and her husband, both retired teachers, usually watch their older grandchildren, aged 8 and 11, after school and their 7-month-old baby grandson four times a week. One of their three daughters is due to have another child in July.But as the effects of coronavirus spread, the family decided that caring for the boys was too risky. While most people who catch the disease suffer from symptoms like fever and cough and recover in a few weeks, some get severely ill with things like pneumonia. COVID-19 can be fatal, and older people who have underlying conditions like Cameron are the most vulnerable.  So instead of chasing after little boys, she’s doing puzzles, listening to old radio shows or watching the Hallmark channel, trying to fill the hours in her much-quieter house. “I just go day by day, and when the dark thoughts come in I try and do something to take them away,” she said. “I cry. Sometimes I cry.”  Still, she feels lucky she doesn’t have to leave the house to work, and that she has close family ties. Sometimes she re-reads a letter her mother wrote her father while he was deployed to the Philippines during World War II, laying out her raw emotions about how much she missed him as she cared for their first child without him. “My mother is a really strong woman, and in this one she was struggling,” she said. “If my mom did that, I can do this.”  The sudden change has been challenging for kids’ parents too, many of whom are trying to work from home and balance childcare. Cameron’s daughter Julie Bufkin is at home with her 7-month old son Calvin, working from home as a project coordinator at Arizona State University while her husband goes into the office as an analytical chemist for Intel.  She’s been taking webcam calls and answering emails while breastfeeding the baby and trying to keep him entertained, even after coming down with a fever and headache, symptoms similar to the new coronavirus. In line with the advice of public-health officials, she stayed at home to recover and wasn’t tested for the virus, since she’s young and healthy and didn’t become seriously ill. She’s now on the mend, but it only deepened her mother’s feelings of helplessness.  “Imagine if your child is sick you can’t go help them,” Cameron said. “That’s the hardest part.”But for her daughter, it further confirmed that staying physically separate for now is the right decision.  “We want my mom to survive this,” Bufkin said.  And the grandparents can still step in remotely — Bufkin sets up a phone or a tablet in Calvin’s playpen, where they can sing songs, show him around the yard, look at the cat or play piano over FaceTime.  “Anything we can, even five to 10 minutes to give her a little rest. That makes my day,” Cameron said.  They’re only 5 miles (eight kilometers) away in suburban Phoenix, and for a time Bufkin was dropping off food weekly, then touching hands or exchanging kisses through the window. More often, they’re sharing their lives through a phone or tablet screen.The baby watches his grandparents on the screen, looking up from his own games to smile and laugh at his grandpa or focus on his grandmother playing the saxophone.Other grandparents are also looking for moments of brightness. They’re replacing chats on the porch with friends with Facebook conversations, or connecting with church congregations through video-messaging apps like Marco Polo.Others are turning the technological clock back. Margret Boes-Ingraham, 72, used to drive her 14-year-old granddaughter to choir practice a few times a week near Salt Lake City, then stay to listen to her sing. Without those rides spent listening to show tunes, she’s encouraging her granddaughter to keep a journal.  “I asked her if I could read, and she said no!” Boes-Ingraham said with a laugh.  For grandparents who live alone, hunkering down during the crisis can increase their isolation. Terry Catucci is a 69-year-old retired social worker and recovering alcoholic of 30 years in Maryland. She has seven grandchildren nearby in the Washington, D.C., area including a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old who she helps care for sometimes. She tries not to think about the little changes she’s missing during the years when children seem to grow every day.”When you’re in a time of crisis, you want to be with people you love, and we can’t,” she said. “I’ve run the whole gamut of the five stages of grief at any given day.”  But she’s getting by, talking with her family and checking in daily with her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. Every night, neighbors in her retirement community set up lawn chairs at the end of driveways to chat with friends walking by at a safe distance.”We’re all learning how to survive in this time,” she said, “to live a little bit the best we can.” 

Hope Sails into New York Harbor Amid COVID Crisis 

 The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort sailed into New York Harbor early Monday, bringing hope and relief to the city of 8.6 million, which has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. The mammoth white ship emblazoned with red crosses has 1,000 beds and 12 operating theaters. Its medical personnel will care for nonvirus patients in an effort to shift some of the burden from the city’s overwhelmed hospitals, which are focused on the outbreak.  “Feeling the presence of the United States military here just gave me a sense that things are going to be OK,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters at the pier where the ship docked. “This ship is so impressive. It’s just looming there in our harbor like a beacon of hope.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, speaks as he stands beside Rear Adm. John B. Mustin after the arrival of the USNS Comfort, March 30, 2020, at Pier 90 in New York.The Comfort sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, where it had to undergo some maintenance before deploying to New York. The city’s harbor also had to be dredged to allow the ship to moor. Officials said the ship is expected to begin receiving patients as soon as Tuesday.   “This was supposed to take two weeks to make it possible for this ship to dock — they did it in eight days,” a relieved de Blasio said. “That means help has arrived quicker, and we are going to be able to do the lifesaving work right now.” U.S. Navy Vice Commander of Fleet Forces Rear Adm. John Mustin said the Comfort normally is at the forefront of U.S. humanitarian missions overseas.   “This ship represents all that is good about the American people. All that is generous. All that is ready, responsive and resolute,” he said. New York City has more than 36,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. As of Monday, 790 city residents had succumbed to the virus.   The last time the USNS Comfort came to the aid of New Yorkers was in the bleak weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. First responders and federal workers were housed on the ship, and its doctors provided them with crisis counseling. The Comfort’s mission is even more critical this time. “At this point, we assume at least half of all New Yorkers will contract this disease,” de Blasio said, adding that it “could be substantially more.”   That would be more than 4 million people who could fall ill.  He emphasized that for 80% of people who contract it, it is in a fairly mild form.  “I’ve been honest, I think the weeks ahead will be tougher,” de Blasio said. “To date, I still fear that the worst is not going to be April but actually the beginning of May.” April is when experts have projected New York’s cases will hit their peak. De Blasio said he would continue appealing to the federal government to send more ventilators, personal protection equipment and trained medical personnel to help the city ramp up for the expected waves of cases.  

AP FACT CHECK: Trump Gets a Reality Check on Coronavirus

For weeks, President Donald Trump carved out a trail of groundless assurances about the coronavirus pandemic as health officials, governors and local officials sounded alarm about what was coming — and already here. That sunlit trail now has hit a wall.On Sunday, Trump appeared to be bracing the country for a grim death toll as he accepted the advice of public-health experts and gave up on letting federal social-distance guidelines lapse Monday as initially intended. In doing so, he acknowledged what his officials had told him — that 100,000 people or many more could die from COVID-19 in the U.S. before it’s over. And he recognized it won’t be over for some time.A look at some of his statements over the past week as a reality check caught up with him:NATIONAL SHUTDOWNTRUMP: “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” — Fox News virtual town hall Tuesday.TRUMP: “We have to open up our country, I’m sorry.” — conference call with governors Tuesday, audio of which was obtained by The Associated Press.THE FACTS: The public-health community, governors and many others knew when they heard Trump say this that a revival by Easter, April 12, was not going to happen. On Sunday, Trump extended the federal government’s restrictive distancing recommendations until April 30. That may not be enough, either.To be clear, the federal government did not close down the country and won’t be reopening it. Restrictions on public gatherings, workplaces, mobility, store operations, schools and more were ordered by states and communities, not Washington. The federal government has imposed border controls; otherwise its social-distancing actions are mostly recommendations, not mandates.On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health cautioned  that the virus outbreak could ultimately kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans with possibly millions infected as it continues to surge across the nation. Trump shifted his tone and backed off trying to rush the country back to work and to normalcy in a matter of a few weeks.TRUMP: “I mean, we have never closed the country before, and we have had some pretty bad flus, and we have had some pretty bad viruses.” — Fox News virtual town hall Tuesday.THE FACTS: He’s making a bad comparison.The new coronavirus is not the same as the annual flu because it’s a disease that hadn’t been seen before in humans. For that reason, human populations lack immunity to the virus. It can spread unchecked, except by measures such as social distancing.VIRUS TESTINGTRUMP: “Over an eight day span, the United States now does more testing than what South Korea (which has been a very successful tester) does over an eight week span. Great job!” — tweet Wednesday.THE FACTS: The comparison with South Korea isn’t very illuminating. The U.S. has more than six times the population of South Korea, about 330 million compared with about 50 million. Yet South Korea is testing about four times more people as a percentage of its population.The two countries are also at different stages in their outbreaks. Daily case counts are rapidly rising in the U.S., where the coronavirus took hold later on. In South Korea, the curve has been leveling off.  The U.S. count is going up fast in part because the virus is spreading and in part because of a test shortage that lasted weeks, as well as a backlog in laboratories reporting results. In that time, Trump falsely asserted that anyone who wanted or needed to get the test could.  South Korea’s coronavirus response has been marked by an emphasis on widespread testing that earned global praise. But even in that country the government is stressing social distancing measures because of worries the outbreak could pick up again. HOW DEADLY?TRUMP on the death rate from COVID-19: “I think it’s substantially below 1%, because the people don’t report.” — Fox News interview Thursday.Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Sunday, March 29, 2020, in Washington, as President Donald Trump listens.THE FACTS: No one knows the death rate. Fauci says it may end up being roughly 1%. If that turns out right, it would mean that the disease is 10 times deadlier than the average seasonal flu, with its death rate of about 0.1%. Fauci’s estimate includes people whose cases are not reported.TRAVEL RESTRICTIONSTRUMP: “In Canada we do have troops along the border.” — news briefing Thursday.THE FACTS: No, the U.S. has not sent troops to police the mutual closing of the Canada-U.S. border to nonessential, noncommercial traffic. The border is controlled on both sides by nonmilitary entry stations.”Canada and the United States have the longest unmilitarized border in the world and it is very much in both of our interests for it to remain that way,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.TRUMP: “We’re the ones that gave the great response, and we’re the ones that kept China out of here. … If I didn’t do that early call on China — and nobody wanted that to happen. Everybody thought it was just unnecessary to do it.” — news briefing Wednesday.TRUMP: “Everybody was against it. Almost everybody, I would say, was just absolutely against it. … I made a decision to close off to China that was weeks early. … And I must say, doctors — nobody wanted to make that decision at the time.” — Fox News virtual town hall Tuesday.TRUMP: “I’ll tell you how prepared I was, I called for a ban.” — news briefing on March 19.THE FACTS: His decision was far from solo, nor was it made over opposition from health experts, as the White House coronavirus task force makes clear. His decision followed a consensus by his public health advisers that the restrictions should take place.Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who was coordinator of the task force at the time and announced the travel restrictions, said Trump made the decision in late January after accepting the “uniform recommendation of the career public health officials here at HHS.”  While the World Health Organization did advise against the overuse of travel restrictions, Azar told reporters in February that his department’s career health officials had made a “considered recommendation, which I and the president adopted” in a bid to slow spread of the virus.FILE – An American Airlines aircraft is preparing to land at Reagan National airport near Washington, DC. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet)Most major airlines had already suspended flights to China prior to the announcement on Jan. 31, following the lead of several major international carriers that had stopped due to the coronavirus outbreak. Delta, American and United cited a sharp drop in demand for the flights, and an earlier State Department advisory told Americans not to travel to China because of the outbreak.TRUMP, on the early China travel restrictions: “And if we didn’t do that, thousands and thousands of people would have died.” — news briefing Wednesday.THE FACTS: The impact hasn’t been quantified. While Fauci has praised the travel restrictions on China for slowing the virus, it’s not known how big an impact they had or if “thousands and thousands” of lives were saved.There were plenty of gaps  in containment.Trump’s order did not fully “close” the U.S. off to China, as he asserts. It temporarily barred entry by foreign nationals who had traveled in China within the previous 14 days, with exceptions for the immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Americans returning from China were allowed back after enhanced screening at select ports of entry and for 14 days afterward. But U.S. scientists say screenings can miss people who don’t yet show symptoms of COVID-19; while symptoms often appear within five days or six days of exposure, the incubation period is 14 days.A recent study from the journal Science found China’s internal crackdown modestly delayed the spread of the virus. It cast doubt that travel restrictions elsewhere will do much compared with other preventive measures, citing in part the likelihood that a large number of people exposed to the virus had already been traveling internationally without being detected.For weeks after the first U.S. case of the coronavirus was confirmed in January, government missteps  caused a shortage of reliable laboratory tests for the coronavirus, leading to delays in diagnoses.  ECONOMYTRUMP on the economic hit: “I don’t think its going to end up being such a rough patch.” — briefing Wednesday.THE FACTS: His optimism is a stretch.Even in a best case — the pandemic subsides relatively quickly and economic growth and jobs come back without a long lag — some damage is done. The $2.2 trillion federal rescue package, equal to half the size of the entire federal budget, means record debt on top of the record debt that existed before the crisis.The Capitol Hill building is pictured in Washington. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet)Why is too much debt bad? A report this month by the Congressional Budget Office says that over time, the growth in the government’s debt can dampen economic output and progressively reduce the income of U.S. households, among other “significant risks to the nation’s fiscal and economic outlook.”That said, the global markets consider this a good time for the U.S. government to borrow. With interest on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note at 0.75%, investors are offering to loan money to the federal government at a loss after accounting for inflation.Meantime the longest economic expansion in U.S. history is surely over. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says: “We may well be in a recession.”DRUG TREATMENTSTRUMP, on the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine: “I want to thank the FDA because they approved it immediately, based on the fact that it was already out for a different purpose. They approved it immediately.” — news briefing Friday.TRUMP: “Clinical trials in New York will begin … for existing drugs that may prove effective against the virus. … The hydroxychloroquine and the Z-Pak, I think as a combination, probably, is looking very, very good. And it’s going to be distributed. … And I think a lot of people are going to be — hopefully — they’re going to be very happy with the results.” — news briefing on March 23.THE FACTS: For days Trump inflated the prospects for a quick treatment or cure for COVID-19. This is one example. No drugs have been approved as a treatment, cure, preventive medicine or vaccine for the disease, and public health officials say not to expect anything imminently.  Technically, doctors can already prescribe the malaria drug to patients with COVID-19, a practice known as off-label prescribing. But Trump falsely suggested to reporters that the FDA had just cleared the drug specifically for the viral pandemic spreading in communities across the U.S. That would mean that the drug had met the FDA’s standards for safety and effectiveness.Although research studies are beginning on using hydroxychloroquine specifically to treat the coronavirus, scientists urge caution about whether the drugs will live up to Trump’s promises.  Dr. Michelle Gong, a critical care chief at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center, told the Journal of the American Medical Association that it is imperative for doctors to do careful studies of drugs such as chloroquine to make sure they actually work, rather than just administering them to patients because they have nothing else to offer. Without that proof, “it is very easy for us to do more harm,” she said.So far there is very little data to go on, mostly anecdotal reports from some other countries. But test tube studies in laboratories suggest the drugs may interfere with the coronavirus being able to enter cells. U.S. cardiologists have been warned by colleagues in China to be alert for side effects in heart patients.In Arizona, an older couple experienced disastrous results when they took an additive used to clean fish tanks, chloroquine phosphate. The husband died and his wife was in critical condition. That prompted a major Phoenix health system to warn the public against self-medicating.Trump’s mention of a Z-Pak is a reference to azithromycin, an antibiotic. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses, but people severely ill with viral pneumonia sometimes develop secondary bacterial infections. When there are signs of that, hospitals already are using antibiotics. It’s part of standard supportive care for severe pneumonia.