NYC schools, US to pass Italy in deaths, Easter
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NYC schools, US to pass Italy in deaths, Easter

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There is a lot of misinformation out there about coronavirus. We sort the facts from falsehoods.

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The U.S. is close to surpassing Italy for the most fatalities worldwide, New York City public schools won’t reopen this year, and some local authorities are taking extra measures to prevent large Easter celebrations. 

Saturday, coronavirus deaths in the U.S. neared 19,000 after a record-high death count Friday of 2,000 fatalities. But the U.S. has not yet “reached the peak” of the pandemic, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said Friday. 

Meanwhile in hard-hit New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Saturday that public schools will be closed for the remainder of the year for its 1.1 million students.

And in an effort to keep the virus from spreading further, some states are taking extra measures to prevent large Easter celebrations. 

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that any individual who goes to a mass gathering may have their license plates recorded, allowing local health departments to deliver orders of self-quarantine. And a federal judge in California denied a San Diego church’s request to hold an Easter service, even with social distancing measures including possibly requiring members to wear hazmat suits. 

Our live blog is being updated throughout the day. Refresh for the latest news, and get updates in your inbox with The Daily BriefingMore headlines:

US poised to pass Italy in most  coronavirus deaths in the world

The United States was close to surpassing Italy on Saturday to become the country with the most coronavirus deaths, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University dashboard.

The U.S. death toll early Saturday stood at 18,777, while Italy had 18,849 and Spain had 16,353. While close to taking the lead in number of fatalities, virus deaths in relation to the total population remains at about one-sixth of those in hard-hit Italy or Spain. 

Worldwide, the death count stood at more than 104,000 out of more than 1.7 million cases.

New York City public schools will remain closed for the rest of the term

All public schools in New York City — the largest school district in the country — will remain closed for the rest of the school year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Saturday. 

“We’re still dealing with the great unknown,” the mayor said. “For us to be effective at educating kids in person … we first have to see what happens with the fight against this disease.” 

He said all students will move to remote learning and the city will provide internet-enabled devices to all students who need them. The mayor added that his biggest priority is making sure that seniors graduate on time.

The New York City school district serves 1.1 million students at more than 1,866 schools. The number of coronavirus deaths in New York state is over 7,800 and the number of positive cases exceeds 170,000. Of those cases, 74% are in New York City. 

– Georgie Silvarole

Trump announces second task force to focus on ‘opening our country’

President Donald Trump said Friday he is creating a second task force to focus solely on how to “reopen” the country. 

The president, whose senior aides have sent conflicting signals about whether or how federal guidelines should be changed when they expire at the end of April, said the second task force would be made up of “very great doctors” as well as business people and potentially members of Congress and state governors. 

“This is beyond economic,” Trump said at the White House on Friday as he explained the group’s focus. “I call it the ‘opening our country task force’ or ‘opening our country council,’ so we don’t get it confused with” the primary White House task force. 

Trump has acknowledged an eagerness to ease social distancing guidelines that has at times run counter to the advice of public health officials. The makeup of the second group, which Trump said he would announce Tuesday, could signal which direction he is heading. 

– John Fritze

More stores closing for Easter

More retailers will be closed for Easter than in past years because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to the long list of companies that have temporarily shuttered stores due to COVID-19, some grocery stores that have traditionally kept their doors open on the holiday will be closed to give employees a day off.

Many stores also have reduced hours to give staff time to restock shelves and clean in addition to special hours for seniors and those most vulnerable to the virus.

Trader Joe’s, Sprouts Farmers Market, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Southeastern Grocers  (BI-LO, Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie) are among the retailers who have announced they will be closed April 12, a change from last year. Not all companies have announced 2020 plans.

– Kelly Tyko

Poll: More Americans think the economy is getting worse

A majority of Americans (65%) believe the economy is getting worse, a 40 percentage point jump from four weeks earlier, according to the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project with USA TODAY.

In the four weeks between surveys, the economy ground to a near-halt as much of the country was put under stay-at-home orders and nonessential businesses were forced to close. Since then, millions of people have been laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that about 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment benefit claims for the first time last week, bringing the three-week total to more than 17 million.

– Rebecca Morin

Rural police will be hard hit as pandemic spreads to small towns

While the coronavirus pandemic strains big city police departments, it can cripple their rural counterparts, where even a handful of positive cases could wallop an entire police force.

Losing an entire police department would force community members to self-police and not follow the guidelines of county health departments, said Dwight Henninger, the police chief of Vail, Colorado, one of several rural counties that lead the nation in per capita rates of confirmed cases outside New York state and Louisiana.

“It would cripple us completely,” says Sheriff Troy Wellman of Moody County, South Dakota. 

For example in Marfa, Texas, a desert town of less than 2,000 not far from the U.S.-Mexico border, police officers have stopped pulling people over for minor traffic stops.

Rural police have also been struggling to find protective gear and disinfectants for their officers – a problem that can be exacerbated when departments don’t have the money and flexibility to find extra staffing.

In Manistee, in western Michigan, the police department has only one N95 mask for each officer, so they make do with surgical masks while in Moody County, one dispatcher has made hand sanitizer at home using alcohol and aloe.

– Kristine Phillips

Trump cracks down on nations hesitant to accept US deportees due to COVID-19

President Donald Trump signed an order late Friday threatening to impose sanctions on countries that attempt to bar the repatriation of U.S. deportees because those people have spent time in the world’s worst hot spot for coronavirus.

Underscoring the extent of the coronavirus in the U.S., some countries and immigrant advocates have called for a pause in U.S. deportations for fear that the international movement of immigrants could spread the virus to countries less equipped to handle it.

Guatemala briefly stopped accepting its own deported nationals from the U.S. last month because of the virus. While the country resumed accepting its own citizens, it is continuing to block Honduran and Salvadoran migrants deported from the U.S.   

Trump’s order instructs consular officials to stop processing U.S. visas for countries in which the Department of Homeland Security finds is no longer accepting deportees.    

– John Fritze

Hotspots brace for deaths with refrigerated trucks

Medical examiners and funeral homes across the U.S. are scrambling to secure temperature-controlled trailers in anticipation of overwhelmed facilities

The use of refrigerated trailers, known as reefers, is a common contingency plan in the event of natural disasters or mass fatality events like Hurricane Katrina or 9/11. But rarely, if ever, have they been deployed on such a massive scale to so many places at once — and in such a public way. 

Images of people in protective suits loading bodies into trucks have appeared in numerous media outlets in the past few weeks. And they have prompted questions about respect for the dead and — when the makeshift morgues are no longer needed — what happens to the trailers. 

Typically, the bodies of those who die in hospitals go straight to funeral homes, where they are prepared for memorial services. But as COVID-19 deaths mount and hospital morgues fill up, medical examiners are seeking additional capacity.

– Suzanne Hirt and Jessica Priest

More coronavirus news and information from USA TODAY

Antibody tests crucial to determining who can safely go back to work

As officials discuss when to lift stay-at-home orders, companies are rushing to develop coronavirus antibody tests that could help them make those decisions without risking a second wave of infections.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday on CNN that antibody testing can show who has developed immunity to the coronavirus and can safely go back to work without getting reinfected.

“It’s very important to appreciate and understand how much this virus is penetrating this society,” he said.

On the “Today” show, Fauci said a large number of antibody tests should be available in a matter of days or weeks, according to the companies developing them.

The test can tell if someone was previously infected and recovered, while the molecular test shows whether tat person was infected with the virus at the time the test was taken. 

The two tests can determine if a person is immune and can transmit the disease, which is crucial in deciding who can go back to work.

If a person has antibodies in his blood, that means he has immune cells available to fight the virus, which lowers the risk of re-infection. Widespread testing can determine how many people carry the antibodies, which has an impact on whether to life social distancing restrictions.

– Adrianna Rodriguez

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