Here’s a summary of the latest events:
- Trump touts hydroxychloroquine as a cure for Covid-19 during his daily briefing. The anti-malaria drug could be ‘one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine’, Trump claimed, but there is no magic cure.
- The president accuses states of asking for unneeded supplies and media of spreading fake news. Trump used his briefing to further his assertions that media outlets were spreading false information about shortages of ventilators and protective equipment.
- Cruise ship docks in Florida with two dead and 12 testing positive for coronavirus. The Coral Princess pulls into Miami with 1,000 passengers and 878 crew, after being refused permission to dock in Fort Lauderdale.
- Adam Schiff said Trump was ‘decapitating’ intelligence leadership amid coronavirus crisis. The chair of the House intelligence committee made the comments to MSNBC after the president fired the inspector general of the US intelligence community late on Friday night.
- Andrew Cuomo thanks China for ventilators as New York prepares for coronavirus peak. The New York governor announced the state obtained 1,000 ventilators from billionaires Joseph and Clara Tsai and Alibaba founder Jack Ma. He also said Oregon would be lending 140 more.
- US has 278,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, there are have now been nearly 278,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US, and more than 7,000 deaths. That toll will no doubt rise today.
President Trump has approved Arizona governor Doug Ducey’s request for a major disaster declaration.
“This continued collaboration will be crucial as we utilize all tools to combat this virus,” Ducey said.
A release from Ducey’s office said the declaration will ensure federal resources will be supplied to Arizona to help provide access to mental health care, unemployment assistance, legal services, hazard mitigation, nutritional aid and crisis counseling.
As of Saturday morning, Arizona had reported 2,019 coronavirus cases and 52 deaths.
Here’s our colleague Oliver Milman’s story on Trump’s bold hydroxychloroquine claim during today’s briefing:
Faced with a global coronavirus pandemic that is increasingly centered upon the US, Donald Trump has touted several drugs that he claims can help tackle the outbreak.
The US president last week used a press conference to promote the use of hydroxychloroquine, a common anti-malaria drug, to treat Covid-19, saying: “I sure as hell think we ought to give it a try.”
He followed this with a tweet that claimed the use of the drug in combination with azithromycin, an antibiotic, could be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine”.
Trump was immediately contradicted by public health experts including his own top infectious diseases adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, who warned that there was only “anecdotal evidence” that the drugs could be helpful.
Confronted with this disparity Trump, who has repeatedly made false and misleading assertions throughout the coronavirus crisis and indeed his entire presidency, responded by telling reporters that “I’m a smart guy” and “I’ve been right a lot.” The Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity seem to be satisfied by this assurance and have been promoting hydroxychloroquine on their shows.
But with some Americans turning to unconventional, and potentially deadly, treatments for coronavirus, medical experts have called for considered, accurate information to avoid exacerbating the pandemic.
With New Orleans having emerged as one of the national hotspots in the coronavirus outbreak, Louisiana state medical officials are preparing for Monday’s re-opening of the Ernest N Morial Convention Center as a makeshift, 1,000-bed medical support facility to ease the strain on local hospitals.
Dr Joseph Kanter, the assistant state health officer, said the field hospital could double its capacity to 2,000 beds by the end of the month if necessary, saying: “This isn’t even halfway over – it is not time to let up.
Standing in a convention hall housing a football field’s worth of white tents, nurses’ stations and portable handwashing basins, Kanter cast a quick glance around and said, “How great would it be if we didn’t need half this?”
The number of state residents stricken with Covid-19 jumped Saturday to 12,946, an increase of about 2,200 from the previous day. The New Orleans area continues to be the epicenter of the outbreak in Louisiana, with 3,966 known cases and 154 deaths reported out of Orleans Parish.
Neighboring Jefferson Parish has another 3,008 known cases, 95 of them fatal.
To what extent Saturday’s hike resulted from an increased testing rate is unclear. A total of 4,853 new test results came in. That was higher than the average the state was registering earlier in the week, but exactly how many of those were older results wasn’t clear.
The number of new deaths reported Saturday was lower than on Friday – 39 as opposed to 60 – but higher than Thursday’s toll of 37.
On the contrary, the number of Covid-19 patients in the hospital and on life-saving ventilator machines was higher than Friday: 1,726 and 571, respectively. Those will not alleviate the state’s concerns about a looming shortage in hospital bed space and ventilators, though officials announced Saturday that Louisiana would receive an additional 200 ventilators from the national stockpile.
Keeping bed space in New Orleans area hospitals as ample as possible is where the makeshift hospital at the convention center comes in.
The pop up facility – which is costing more than $90 million to build, equip and staff, largely through a contractor – is meant to treat COVID-19 patients who no longer need acute treatment at a hospital but still require care they can’t get at home, said Dr. Meghan Maslanka, the site’s medical operations manager.
Such patients – who need a hospital referral to be admitted – will be treated and observed in tent rooms that are about the size of backyard sheds.
In concluding the daily briefing, Trump says we are approaching a “horrendous” time in the outbreak across the United States.
“We are getting to that time where the numbers are going to peak and it is not going to be a good-looking situation,” the president says. “I really believe we’ve probably have never seen anything like these kind of numbers. Maybe during the war, during a world war, a world war one or two or something. But this is a war, all into itself, and it’s a terrible thing.”
Trump continues to lobby for hydroxychloroquine as a preventative for coronavirus.
“I just hope that hydroxychloroquine wins, coupled with perhaps the Z-Pak as we call it, depending totally on your doctors and the doctors there,” he says. “There is a possibility – a possibility – and I say it: what do you have to lose? I’ll say it again: what do you have to lose? Take it. I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice and it’s their doctor’s choice, or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine. Try it, if you like.”
Birx says the counties in and around New York, Detroit and New Orleans are on the upsides of their curves and will all hit together in the next seven days.
“They’re all on the upside of their curve of mortality, so you know when you get to the peak you come down the other side,” Birx says. “By the predictions that are in that healthdata.org, they’re predicting those three hotspots all of them hitting together in the next six to seven days.”
Trump steps in as Fauci is underscoring the efficacy of social distancing, circling back on his central theme of the day: the need to reopen the country as soon as possible.
“Mitigation does work but again, we’re not going to destroy our country,” the president says. “At a certain point you’ll lose more people this way through all of the problems caused. We have a big decision to make at a certain point. OK?”
Trump says he considered moving to relax stay-at-home orders nationwide so parishioners could celebrate Easter Sunday next week.
“Palm Sunday, tomorrow,” Trump says. “Think of it. We’re not going to churches on Palm Sunday. But think of next Sunday: Easter. And I brought it up before, I said, maybe we could allow a special for churches. Maybe we could talk about it. Maybe we could allow them with great separation outside on Easter Sunday. I don’t know, it’s something we should talk about. But somebody did say, ‘Well, then you’re sort of opening it up to … do we want to take a chance on doing that when we’ve been doing so well?’
“But Easter Sunday! Palm Sunday, I’m going to be watching tomorrow live from Riverside, California – great church – but I’m going to be watching on a computer. On a laptop. I think on Easter maybe I’ll be watching on a laptop. How sad is it that we have Easter, Palm and Easter Sunday and people are watching on laptops and computers? It’s sad. But the job that this whole country has done is amazing.”
Trump, who says he’s tested negative for Covid-19 on two occasions, says he may start to take hydroxychloroquine, adding that it may be a “game changer” for treating the virus.
“If it were me, in fact, I might do it anyway,” Trump said about the drug, which has yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. “I may take it. OK? I may take it. And I’ll have to ask my doctors about that but I may take it.”
Hydroxychloroquine has long been used to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Some very preliminary studies suggested it might help prevent coronavirus from entering cells, but experts have warned of its major potential side effects, especially for the heart.
Trump points out yesterday’s news that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign supports the president’s decision to ban foreign nationals who had been in China within the previous 14 days from entering the United States.
“Breaking news last night, you know that you saw that, where I think the probable presidential candidate for the Democrats will be Joe Biden, and he agreed that I was correct when I stopped people from China very early from coming into our country,” Trump says.
Shortly after, a reporter asks the president to comment on Biden’s tweet from roughly an hour ago, where the former vice-president said Trump “is not responsible for the coronavirus, but he is responsible for failing to prepare our nation to respond to it”.
Says Trump: “He didn’t write that. That was done by a Democrat operative. He doesn’t write. He’s probably not even watching right now. And if he is, he doesn’t understand what he’s watching.”
He adds: “They released [the tweet] at a strange time. Sort of strange time to release something like that, but he admitted I was right.”
“I thought he did a terrible job,” Trump says of Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the US intelligence community who was fired on Friday night. He says Atkinson was a “total disgrace” and should have looked at the transcript of his “perfect call” with the Ukrainian president before taking any action.
Trump says he called the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, today: “I said I’d appreciate if they would release the amounts that we ordered” of hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug the president believes could be helpful as a therapeutic.
Dr Stephen Hahn, the FDA commissioner, follows Trump’s prepared remarks, saying “we are prioritizing this drug to come in for clinical trials and use if doctors think it’s appropriate”.
Trump says his administration is using the Defense Production Act “very powerfully”, saying Fema and HHS have ordered 180m N95 masks.
“We need the masks,” he says. “We don’t want other people getting them. That’s why we’re instuting a lot of Defense Production Act. You could call it retaliations because that’s what it is, it’s a retaliation. If people don’t give us what we need for our people, we’re going to be very tough.”