Key updates for Friday, April 10, 2020:

  • The number of U.S. cases reached more than 500,000. New York state alone has more cases than Spain, the next country on the worldwide list.
  • Pharmaceutical giant Sanofi says it is donating 100 million doses of the drug that has been touted by President Trump.
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's father says his son likely won't be back to work immediately.
  • Singapore suspends online Zoom classes after hackers show obscene images.
  • South Korea has reported 27 new cases Friday, the ninth straight day below 100.
  • UFC 249 has been canceled.
  • From Thursday, April 9 blog: White House says no surprise bills for COVID-19 patients

The confirmed number of coronavirus cases in the United States was more than 500,000 on Friday, after it was at 465,750 midnight EDT, according to the count by Johns Hopkins University. There have been over 18,000 deaths in the U.S. and 28,000 recoveries.

The state of New York alone has over 174,000 confirmed cases. That's more than Spain, the country with the second-most cases in the world behind the U.S. As of Friday, the New York metropolitan area accounted for more than half the nation's deaths, with other hot spots in places such as Detroit, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.

Worldwide, there are 1.6 million confirmed cases with more than 102,000 deaths and 376,000 recoveries.

Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force said at Friday’s press briefing that Americans’ efforts to isolate and social distance have made a “huge" impact, but “as encouraged as we are, we have not reached the peak.”

Fellow-White House task force official Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC's TODAY show Thursday that he believes the U.S. death toll will be around 60,000, not the 100,000 - 240,000 predicted a few weeks ago. He cites social distancing and changes to people's behavior.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, and the vast majority survive. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause pneumonia or death.

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California papers ask for financial help

California newspapers are asking the state to help rescue their industry, as the economic crisis from the coronavirus slashes print advertising revenues, causing layoffs in an already battered industry, even as reporters are deemed essential workers during the pandemic.

In a dire request this week from the California News Publishers Association to the governor and state lawmakers, the newspapers asked for tailored grants and loans, sales tax exemptions for local papers and tax deductions for subscribers and advertisers.

It comes after 33 daily newspapers reported losing an average of $1 million in print ads in March. That has forced several papers to cut printing schedules and staff. Nationwide, readers have been turning to local news sites for information about coronavirus in their communities. But hundreds of journalists have already been laid off or furloughed.

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Colorado beef plant under investigation after dozens of employees test positive 

Health officials are investigating working conditions at a beef plant in northern Colorado where dozens of employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Weld County’s health department said Thursday that concerns at the JBS USA facility include the proximity of workers to each other and employees working while they are sick. If the plant does not comply with the county’s public health order, it could be closed, but compliance is the “preferred solution,” the statement said.

Telephone and email messages to a company spokesman were not immediately returned Friday. JBS USA is a subsidiary of Brazil-based JBS S.A., one of the world’s largest meat processors, and holds a majority interest in Pilgrim’s Pride, the United States’ second largest poultry company.

The first known plant employee to die from the virus, Saul Sanchez, died Tuesday night, according to his daughter, Beatriz Rangel. The company denied that Sanchez was at work while he was sick or that he contracted the virus while at work.

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Streets rushed, long shopping lines moments after Turkey announces curfew

People rushed into the streets in parts of Turkey, forming long lines outside grocery stores minutes after the government announced a two-day curfew in 31 cities to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Just hours before the curfew came into effect, people were seen queuing outside stores in panic, many ignoring social distancing rules, the private DHA news agency reported.

Fighting erupted in at least one district in Istanbul, the Halk TV television station reported. The government later announced that bakeries, pharmacies and other stores selling basic goods would remain open despite the curfew. The curfew was announced amid concerns that with fine weather predicted over the weekend, many would ignore a government advice to stay at home.

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International Monetary Fund helping Albania with $190.5 million to cope with impact

The International Monetary Fund says it is helping Albania with $190.5 million (174 million Euro) to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

A statement on Friday said the money would address its urgent balance of payments resulting from the ongoing global outbreak of the COVID-19 causing “significant losses and disruptions to Albania’s economy.”

Last November Albania also had a strong earthquake that killed 51 people and destroyed tens of thousands of buildings.

The IMF said that “Due to two consecutive shocks ... activity in Albania may be significantly contracted in 2020 ... the outlook is subject to large uncertainty and serious downside risks.”

Virginia governor proposes releasing almost 2,000 inmates

Nearly 2,000 prisoners with a year or less remaining on their sentences could be eligible for early release under a proposal from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Northam says he is adding an amendment to the state budget that would give the Department of Corrections authority to release inmates with one year or less remaining on their sentences. Northam says only inmates who exhibited good behavior and do not pose a threat to the public would be released.

The plan would not go into effect unless the General Assembly approved the amendment at its upcoming April 22 session.

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Louisiana task force to research health gaps, racial disparities

Louisiana will try to combat the racial disparities in coronavirus deaths with a task force aimed at educating at-risk minority communities and conducting long-term research about how to address underlying health gaps between blacks and whites in the state, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced.

Data released by the state health department this week showed the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus has disproportionately hit black residents in the state. While African Americans account for one-third of Louisiana’s population, they represent more than 70% of the state’s deaths from COVID-19.

Edwards attributed the disproportionate rate of deaths in the black community to the state’s existing health gap between African Americans and white residents. He’s also noted that Louisiana’s earliest virus hot spots, particularly the New Orleans area, have a disproportionate number of blacks living there compared with other parts of the state.

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Trump says 'horrible' number of Americans have died, but points to hope

President Donald Trump is bemoaning the “horrible” number of Americans who have died due to the coronavirus, while pointing to signs of hope.

Trump says “in the midst of grief and pain” the country is seeing “clear signs that our aggressive strategy” is working. That includes a decrease in hospital admissions in some places.

His comments come on the same day as Johns Hopkins University’s worldwide death toll hit 100,000.

Trump, who is now weighing when to re-open the country’s economy, is pointing to models that are now forecasting U.S. death rates far lower than originally estimated. He says, “We’re saving so many lives compared to what it could have been.”

But experts warn that re-opening the country too soon could cause a devastating new spike in infections.

"I only hope to God that it's the right decision," Trump said at Friday's White House coronavirus task force press conference about reopening the country. "I would say without question it's the biggest decision I've ever had to make."

Surgeon General discusses burden of COVID-19 on people of color

Surgeon General Jerome Adams says the United States is taking steps to protect people of color from COVID-19. At a White House task force meeting, he said he had met with African American leaders to discuss the impact of the virus on people of color. 

He said Hispanics in New York City were the majority of deaths. In Milwaukee county, African Americans make up 75% of COVID-19 deaths and 50% of cases despite only being 25% of the population. 

Adams said the statistics were "alarming, but not surprising." He listed both medical and social ills as reasons the virus hits communities of color particularly hard. According to Adams, only one in five African Americans and one in 6 Hispanics have a job that will allow them to work from home. As the CDC has said, teleworking and social distancing have been critical in mitigating the virus. 

"We do not think people of color are more biologically or genetically predisposed to COVID-19," Adams emphasized. "There is nothing wrong with you." 

Adams said the US was taking steps to "reach, protect and strengthen all communities," including "data collection, targeted outreach and increased financial, employment, education, housing, social and health supports" for communities of color.

Worldwide deaths surpass 100,000

The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus has hit 100,000, according to the running tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. The sad milestone comes as Christians around the globe mark a Good Friday unlike any other — in front of computer screens instead of in church pews. Meanwhile, some countries are tiptoeing toward reopening segments of their battered economies. Public health officials are warning people against violating the social distancing rules over Easter and allowing the virus to flare up again. Authorities are using roadblocks and other means to discourage travel.  

Tokyo Olympic CEO hints games could be in doubt even in 2021

The chief executive of the Tokyo Games says he can’t guarantee the postponed Olympics will be staged next year because the coronavirus continues to spread in Japan. The country issued an emergency declaration this week to battle the virus. The Olympics were postponed last month with a new opening set for July 2021. Organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto says “I don’t think anyone would be able to say if it is going to be possible to get it under control by next July or not. We certainly are not in a position to give you a clear answer."

Dr. Fauci says antibody tests expected next week in US

Dr. Anthony Fauci says at the last White House coronavirus task force meeting, the people responsible for developing, validating and disseminating the tests were saying “a rather large number of tests” will be available within a week.

Fauci told CNN on Friday he’s ”certain that that’s going to happen.”

An antibody test could show whether a person was recently exposed to the coronavirus. Fauci says the test would say “that you were infected and if you’re feeling well you very likely recovered.”

Fauci says medical experts could then try to determine how deeply the virus “has penetrated the society” and whether previously infected people would be vulnerable to reinfection, which is particularly “important for health care workers.”

Fauci says testing for an antibody doesn’t mean medical experts are shifting away from testing for the virus to see who’s infected. He says, “those things are done in parallel.”

Boris Johnson won't be back to work soon, father says

Boris Johnson’s father says the British prime minister needs time to recover from the new coronavirus and is unlikely to be back at work imminently.

The U.K. leader spent three nights in the intensive care unit at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London after his COVID-19 symptoms worsened. He was moved back to a regular ward on Thursday evening, and his office says he is in “the early phase of his recovery.”

His father Stanley Johnson said the prime minister needed to “rest up.”

Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 two weeks ago, the first world leader confirmed to have the illness. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is standing in for Johnson while he is in hospital.

Malaria drug maker donating 100 million doses

Pharmaceutical giant Sanofi says it is donating 100 million doses of a malaria drug being tested for use as a treatment against the new coronavirus.

In a statement Friday, the company said the hydroxychloroquine doses will be given to 50 countries. The company said it also is ramping up production, aiming to quadruple is capacity to manufacture the drug.

Sanofi said it “will continue to donate the medicine to governments and hospital institutions if ongoing clinical studies demonstrate its efficacy and safety in COVID-19 patients.”

But the company also cautioned that hydroxychloroquine has “several serious known side effects” and tests are so far inconclusive over its safety and efficacy in treating COVID-19.

President Donald Trump has been among the drug’s proponents, tweeting that hydroxychloroquine plus an antibiotic could be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” and should “be put in use immediately.” 

Russia to use coronavirus treatments on pneumonia patients

Russian doctors will start treating all patients with pneumonia for the new coronavirus without waiting for test results to confirm the diagnosis, the country’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said.

“We’re seeing that the disease progresses fast, and it has specific clinical presentation, (allowing) to diagnose (it) without confirming in the lab based on the clinical presentation,” Murashko said in a TV interview that aired on Thursday night.

Murashko’s statement echoes earlier comments from Moscow doctors involved in treating coronavirus patients, saying that the vast majority of pneumonia cases in Russia are most likely caused by the new virus and should be treated as such.

Singapore suspends online classes after hackers strike

Singapore has suspended the use of Zoom for online education after hackers hijacked a lesson and showed obscene images to students.

In what is known as “Zoombombing,” two hackers interrupted a geography lesson a day after Singapore closed schools on Wednesday in partial lockdown measures to help curb local transmissions of the coronavirus.

Lessons have moved online, with some teachers using video conferencing tools like Zoom.

Singapore’s Ministry of Education said it was investigating the “serious incidents” and may file police reports.

As virus kills, NYC shortens deadline for claiming dead

As New York City deals with a mounting coronavirus death toll, the city has shortened the amount of time it will hold unclaimed remains. The medical examiner’s office says it will now keep bodies in storage for just 14 days before they’re buried in the city’s potter’s field on Hart Island. Normally, about 25 bodies a week are interred on the island, mostly for people who go unclaimed by relatives or whose families can’t afford a funeral. City officials say that in recent days, burial operations on the island have increased to five days a week, with around 24 burials each day.

South Korea reports 27 new cases

South Korea has reported 27 new cases of the coronavirus, marking its ninth consecutive day below 100, as infections continue to wane in the worst-hit city of Daegu.

Figures released by South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought nationwide totals to 10,450 cases and 208 virus-related deaths.

While the country’s caseload has slowed from early March, when it was reporting around 500 new cases per day, KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong has raised the possibility of a broader “quiet spread,” pointing to recent transmissions at bars and other leisure facilities that could indicate eased attitudes toward social distancing.

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UFC 249 canceled

UFC 249 was canceled Thursday after ESPN and parent company Disney stopped UFC President Dana White’s plan to keep fighting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

After defiantly vowing for weeks to maintain a regular schedule of fights while the rest of the sports world halted, White confirmed the decision to cease competition in a text to The Associated Press.

UFC 249 was scheduled for April 18 on ESPN Plus pay-per-view, and White planned to follow it with regular fight cards from Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino on tribal land in California’s Central Valley.

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