Coronavirus update: New outbreaks reported in states that plan to reopen soon, while Trump suggests testing is ‘overrated’

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 rose above 86,000 on Friday, as new outbreaks were reported in states where stay-at-home orders are set to expire and others that never imposed them.

Minnesota is due to lift lockdown measures in mid-May even as cases continue to climb. Iowa, which did not implement restrictions on movement, recorded another 386 cases on Thursday, and its infection curve is not flattening, according to a New York Times tracker. Nebraska has seen cases more than double since April 30, while major cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago are still suffering from high death tolls.

For more, read:States reopen after coronavirus lockdowns: Some New York counties open Friday; New Jersey, Delaware beaches to reopen for holiday weekend

Health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, continue to caution that moving too quickly to reopen plants, offices and shops could cause unnecessary deaths and suffering — and also disrupt any economic recovery. Fauci and others have consistently warned that reopening should be conducted using testing and contact tracing to avoid a second wave of infections that is worse than the first.

President Donald Trump said late Thursday that testing is “overrated.”


More than 30 countries rank higher than the U.S. in terms of per capita testing.

“We have more cases than anybody in the world, but why? Because we do more testing,” Trump said in comments to workers at an Owens & Minor Inc.
OMI,
-2.14%

medical-supply plant in Allentown, Pa. “When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases. They [the media] don’t want to write that. It’s common sense. We test much more.”

Critics on social media noted a flaw in the president’s logic:

Others observed that the U.S. has lagged in testing when measured on a per capita basis, and is far behind such countries as South Korea and Germany that have successfully contained their infection rates. More than 30 countries rank higher than the U.S. in terms of per capita testing, according to Worldometers.info.

“The [Trump administration] is obsessed with magic bullets — vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear,” medical journal the Lancet wrote on Friday. “But only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles, like test, trace, and isolate, will see the emergency brought to an end, and this requires an effective national public health agency,” it said in an article on how the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control has been sidelined and had its reputation battered during the pandemic.

The CDC’s initial batch of tests were faulty and had to be replaced, delaying the initial effort. Since then, the agency has been at odds with federal government advisers, including Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the U.S. COVID-19 task force, who was reported by the Washington Post recently to have said: “There is nothing from the CDC that I can trust.”

That is an “unhelpful statement,” according to the Lancet, “but also a shocking indictment of an agency that was once regarded as the gold standard for global disease detection and control. How did an agency that was the first point of contact for many national health authorities facing a public health threat become so ill-prepared to protect the public’s health?”

There was more bad news from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which said late Thursday that it is investigating preliminary data suggesting Abbot Laboratories
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-2.05%

15-minute test can miss COVID-19 cases, falsely clearing patients of infection, as the Associated Press reported. The test is used daily at the White House to test President Donald Trump and key members of his staff, including the coronavirus task force.

It is also used at thousands of hospitals, clinics and testing sites across the U.S.

Abbott Labs said Friday that it stands by the test.

Latest tallies

There are now 4.50 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and 304,835 people have died from it, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. At least 1.6 million people have recovered.

The U.S. has the highest case toll at 1.43 million and the highest death toll at 86,744.

Russia has the second highest case tally at 262,843, after another 10,000 were counted overnight. Russia’s death toll stands at just 2,418, according to official government reporting.

The U.K. has 238,003 cases and 34,077 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe and second highest in the world after the U.S.

Spain has 230,183 cases and 27,459 deaths, while Italy has 223,885 cases and 31,610 deaths.

Brazil saw another spike in cases overnight and now has 208,031 cases and 14,267 deaths. France has 178,994 cases and 27,428 deaths, while Germany has 175,233 cases and 7,897 deaths. Slovenia became the first European country to call a formal end to its coronavirus outbreak, reopening to European Union citizens entering from neighboring Italy, Hungary and Austria.

Turkey has 146,457 cases and 4,055 deaths, and Iran has 116,635 cases and 6,902 deaths. India has moved ahead of China, where the disease was first reported late last year, by case count.

India has 85,760 cases and 2,753, while China has 84,031 cases and 4,637 deaths.

New York is still the U.S. epicenter with 348,192 cases and 27,617 deaths, according to the New York Times data. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a gradual reopening of the state that starts with five regions where the rate of infection can be managed, according to a checklist of metrics that the state has asked regions to monitor daily.

The state’s pause order is in place through May 28, as the Buffalo News and others have reported.

What’s the latest medical news?

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) launched a clinical trial testing hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin in 2,000 patients with mild and moderate cases of COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis; azithromycin is a commonly prescribed antibiotic.

The trial was announced Thursday during Dr. Rick Bright’s testimony before a House of Representatives committee. Bright has filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that his reluctance to promote hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, as Trump had publicly advocated on multiple occasions, led to his demotion within the National Institutes of Health.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
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+2.18%

donated the hydroxychloroquine for the trial, which is evaluating whether the drug combination can prevent hospitalization and death.

“Although there is anecdotal evidence that hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin may benefit people with COVID-19, we need solid data from a large randomized, controlled clinical trial to determine whether this experimental treatment is safe and can improve clinical outcomes,” NIAID director Fauci said in a statement.

The FDA in March granted an emergency-use authorization to hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as COVID-19 treatments. More recently, the regulator authorized Gilead Sciences Inc.’s
GILD,
-1.25%

remdesivir as a COVID-19 treatment; however, there are no proven, FDA-approved therapies that treat the disease.

Don’t miss:These 23 companies are working on coronavirus treatments or vaccines — here’s where things stand

The American Medical Association said antibody tests should not be used to determine immunity against future infections with the novel coronavirus or make the case for less stringent social distancing rules. The serologic tests, which test for past infections with COVID-19, can be used to help determine the prevalence of the disease in the U.S. population, but the prevalence of false positives and cross-reactivity (when a test identifies antibodies for other coronaviruses, such as the one that causes the common cold) are of concern.

The AMA, which is the largest lobbying organization for physicians in the U.S., also said antibody tests should not be used to form the basis of “immunity certificates,” a concept that would allow people who test positive for COVID-19 antibodies to move more freely in their communities. It also warned doctors to pay attention to whether a serologic test has been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, which recently cracked down on how it is regulating the makers of antibody tests.

Hologic Inc.
HOLX,
+1.01%

received its second emergency-use authorization, or EUA, for a COVID-19 test from the FDA on Friday. Hologic expects to produce an average of a million tests a week. Funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority was used to develop the test. The company previously received an EUA for a molecular COVID-19 test in mid-March.

What’s the economy saying?

Retail sales fell a record 16.4% in April after the pandemic locked down much of the economy, cost millions of jobs and spawned an unprecedented slump in consumer spending, as MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

Retail sales tumbled in every category except online shopping, the government said Friday. Sales also sank by a revised 8.3% in March, easily marking the worst back-to-back declines in modern American history. Economists polled by MarketWatch expected a 12.5% plunge

“With states either already starting to reopen their economies, albeit at differing speeds, or at the least planning for such a move, retail sales should begin to stabilize and rebound in the months ahead,” said senior economist Andrew Grantham of CIBC Capital Markets. Yet he cautioned that the rebound will be much slower than the slump in spending.

The New York Fed’s Empire State business conditions index rose 29.7 points to -48.5 in May, the regional Fed bank said Friday. This was the second lowest reading on record. Economists had expected a reading of -65, according to a survey by Econoday. Any reading below zero indicates deteriorating conditions.

For more, read:Empire State index shows activity continued to decline sharply in May

Consumer sentiment improved slightly in early May after a two-month free fall, as some states began to reopen economies and stimulus checks began to arrive. The preliminary reading of the consumer-sentiment survey in May edged up to 73.7 from 71.8 in April, the University of Michigan said Friday. Economists had forecast a small decline.

See now:Almost half of workers who lost their job due to COVID-19 are ‘finding it difficult to get by,’Fed survey says

What are companies saying?

J.C. Penney
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+21.24%

said Friday that it made a $17 million interest payment on May 14 to avoid a default event and is continuing to evaluate its strategic options. The news cheered investors who were expecting the troubled department-store chain to file for bankruptcy, following Neiman Marcus’s and J. Crew’s filings last week.

Elsewhere, companies continued to offer updates on the reopening of their businesses, to cut costs and withdraw guidance and fret about the uncertain outlook for a recovery.

Here are the latest things companies have said about COVID-19:

• Applied Materials Inc.
AMAT,
-4.39%

reported mixed second-fiscal-quarter revenue results that fell short of Wall Street estimates. Applied Materials reported net income of $755 million, or 82 cents a share, compared with net income of $666 million, or 70 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter. Revenue climbed 12% to $3.96 billion from $3.54 billion a year ago. Analysts surveyed by FactSet had expected net income of 93 cents a share on sales of $4.09 billion.

• Boeing Co.
BA,
-2.05%

named Mike Delaney the head of the company’s “confident travel initiative to develop “new solutions to help minimize air travel health risks amid the COVID-19 pandemic and drive awareness of health safeguards already in place.” Delaney currently serves as vice president of digital transformation at Boeing’s commercial airplanes unit. The team will work with operators to advise on existing, approved disinfectants compatible with flight decks and cabins as well as and testing other sanitizers.

• Conagra Brands Inc.
CAG,
+1.00%

provided a sales update for its fiscal fourth quarter to date through May 3, with the processed and packaged foods seller saying total retail sales rose 37.2% from a year ago. For the 10-week period ended May 3, frozen retail sales grew 29.7%, with frozen meals sales, which includes single- and multi-serve meals, increasing 27.1%. Snacks retail sales rose 20.4% and staples brands sales, which includes brands within grocery and refrigerated businesses, jumped 53.5%. The sales update is in conjunction with Conagra’s investor meeting scheduled Friday.

• Denny’s Corp.
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+4.56%

reported first-quarter earnings that beat Wall Street estimates, although revenue tumbled 36%. During the crunch of the pandemic, the restaurant chain has gone to streamlined menus, “Dine-Thru” curbside service programs, and shareable family meal packs.

• Dillard’s Inc.
DDS,
+12.00%

reported a smaller fiscal first-quarter loss than expected, as well as the reopening of stores. The retailer says it plans to reopen 116 stores and five clearance centers next week. Once they are open, the company will have 241 stores and 29 clearance centers in service. “COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of our business. The mall business in general and department stores, specifically, have been particularly hard hit,” Dillard’s Chief Executive William T. Dillard II said in a statement.

• Online-gambling and fantasy-sports company DraftKings Inc.
DKNG,
+15.48%

posted a wider-than-expected loss for the first quarter and sales that lagged estimates as live sporting events were canceled due to the pandemic. The company, which went public in April via a blank-check company merger with a $6 billion valuation, said revenue jumped 30% despite the effects of COVID-19. The company has continued to make progress on priorities, including entering new states, and investing in product and technology to create more live betting for American-based sports. The company has created products that allow customers to engage in fantasy sports and betting on eNASCAR, Counter Strike, and Rocket League, as well as pop culture events such as TV shows “Survivor,” “The Last Dance” and “Top Chef.” The company does not anticipate an impact to FY2021 or long-term plans due to COVID-19,” it said in a statement.

• Farfetch Ltd.
FTCH,
-11.26%

reported a narrower-than-expected quarterly loss and sales that beat views. The company is “well capitalized” to continue on the path to adjusted profits for full-year 2021. Investments it made to build its global platform, such as global logistics and a diversified supply network, have been paying off during the pandemic. That enabled “the continuity of our operations and delivery of our strong first quarter 2020 results. While the pandemic had no “material impact” on first-quarter performance, uncertainty from the evolving crisis prevents the company from providing guidance.

• U.S. cannabis company Green Thumb Industries Inc.
GTII,
+15.27%

GTBIF,
+15.23%

more than tripled revenue in the first quarter as it continued to pare down its losses.. The company said it has $71.5 million in cash and equivalents as of the end of March and total debt amounted to $92.9 million.

• Kroger Co.
KR,
-0.82%

has hired 100,000 people over the past eight weeks, adding to the 460,000 workers the grocer had before the COVID-19 outbreak. Kroger has spent $700 million in associate pay and safeguards against the spread of coronavirus since March. Hiring began quickly, with the company bringing on 30,000 by April 1. Part of that investment has been in a “hero bonus,” a $2-per-hour pay bump for workers that will end mid-May. “In the coming months, we know that our associates’ needs will continue to evolve and change as our country recovers,” the company said in a statement. “We continuously evaluate employee compensation and benefits packages. Our average hourly wage is $15 and with benefits factored in, like health care, the hourly wage is over $20.”

• The New York Stock Exchange will reopen its trading floor to “a subset” of floor brokers on May 26, with new safety measures, Stacey Cunningham, the exchange’s president, said in a guest column in the Wall Street Journal. The NYSE, owned by Intercontinental Exchange
ICE,
+0.23%
,
has been limited to electronic trading since closing the trading floor in response to the pandemic on March 23. “We opted to close our floor temporarily in the early days of the pandemic to help slow the spread of disease. Two months later, we’ve learned a lot and are in a position to reopen the floor with vital new safety measures, as we begin working together to restart the U.S. economy,” Cunningham wrote.

• Nike Inc.
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+0.50%

said strong online sales are picking up the slack for sluggish or non-existent store sales. More than 95% of its stores in China and South Korea are open, with some still operating with reduced hours. Foot traffic remains below past years, but that has been offset by higher conversion rates and online sales. Outside China and South Korea, most Nike stores are closed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. That has resulted in “significantly lower” wholesale revenue and higher inventory, Nike said. Some stores in countries such as Brazil, France, Germany, and the United States have reopened, with some also operating with reduced hours. In preparation for more reopenings, Nike has implemented social-distancing and traffic-control measures, provided extra product and facility cleanliness, and given face coverings to its retail employees.

• Vans and North Face parent VF Corp.
VFC,
-6.27%

posted fourth-fiscal-quarter earnings that missed expectations, as the pandemic reduced consumer demand. Outdoor revenue, which includes North Face, fell 15% to $848.3 million, below the FactSet consensus of $919.9 million, and active revenue, which includes Vans, declined 9% to $1.03 billion to miss expectations of $1.07 billion. VF said it could not provide financial guidance given the uncertainties associated with COVID-19. Separately, the company declared a regular dividend of 48 cents a share, payable June 22 to shareholders of record on June 10.

Big Tech & Small Business Vs. Covid-19

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