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Trump says he'll act to increase swab production for coronavirus testing

Here is a look at some of the latest news on COVID-19 from the U.S. and around the world on Sunday.

WASHINGTON — This article contains ongoing U.S. and international updates on the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. Here are some key updates for Sunday, April 19, 2020. You can find more details by scrolling through the story.

  • President Trump says he will use the Defense Production Act to increase manufacturing of swabs used to test for coronavirus.
  • European Center for Disease Control finds more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases.
  • Coronavirus deaths are down in New York, but officials urge vigilance.
  • Democrats are close to reaching a deal with the GOP on another coronavirus response bill.
  • Vice President Pence says 150,000 coronavirus tests are now being conducted daily, but suggested governors, not the federal government, are to blame for numbers not being higher.
  • About half the sailors aboard France's flagship aircraft carrier contracted the new coronavirus.
  • Two dozen crew members of a Taiwanese naval ship have tested positive for the virus.
  • Japan's health ministry said cases surpassed 10,000. This excludes the 720 cases from the cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo.
  • South Korea has reported eight more cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours.

There were more than 758,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States on Sunday around 11 p.m. EDT, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been over 40,000 deaths in the U.S., with 18,000 in New York State alone, as well as 70,000 recoveries. More than 3.8 million tests have been conducted nationwide.

Worldwide, there have been nearly 2.4 million cases and nearly 165,000 deaths.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

Trump to use DPA to increase swab production

President Donald Trump says he will use the Defense Production Act to increase manufacturing of swabs used to test for the coronavirus.

Many governors have for weeks urged the White House to further evoke federal powers to increase private industry’s production of medical supplies as health officials work to slow the spread of the virus. Trump has generally been reluctant to do so.

But the president said during a briefing Sunday evening that he would use the measure to increase production of swabs and that he would soon announce that production reaching 10 million per month.

To emphasize the point, Trump waved a swab in front of reporters. Trump also said Vice President Mike Pence would hold a call with governors on Monday to discuss testing and send a list of lab facilities in their states.

Trump administration announces new guidelines for nursing homes

The Trump administration has announced new guidelines requiring nursing homes nationwide to report to patients, their families and the federal government when they have cases of coronavirus.

Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said during a Sunday evening White House press briefing that the new rules will mandate that nursing homes report cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said the moves are aimed at increasing transparency about the spread of the virus at facilities where populations can be especially vulnerable to its effects.

There have been 7,121 deaths at long-term care facilities nationwide, according to an Associated Press tally.

Verma also discussed plans to allow elective surgeries to resume after being placed on hold during the pandemic.

That move is coming as part of larger Trump administration guidelines to reopen the economy and Verma said lifting restrictions would be gradual — not like flipping on a light switch, but “more like a sunrise.”

More than 1 million European cases

The European Center for Disease Control says the continent now has more than 1 million confirmed cases and almost 100,000 deaths from the new coronavirus.

According to a tally posted on the ECDC website Sunday, Spain had the most cases in the region with 191,726, followed by Italy, Germany, Britain and France.

It listed Italy as having the most deaths in Europe, with 23,227, followed by Spain, France, Britain and Belgium.

According to the tally, Europe accounts for almost half the global caseload and more than half the total deaths.

Credit: AP
President Donald Trump holds a swab that could be used in coronavirus testing as he speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Sunday, April 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

New York deaths from virus drop, but the fight is still on

The coronavirus death toll in New York dropped again, a sign that Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday means the state is “on the other side of the plateau” and that ongoing social distancing practices are working to stem the spread of the virus.

Cuomo said 507 people died on Saturday, down 43 from the previous day. Hospitalizations and other medical indicators are trending downward.

But Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio maintained their warnings that people in New York City and the rest of the state need to stay vigilant.

De Blasio blasted President Donald Trump, saying Sunday that the president is betraying his fellow New Yorkers by failing to push for billions of dollars in additional federal aid needed to help the city deal with the coronavirus economic crisis.

De Blasio referenced an infamous tabloid headline — “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD” — from 1975 when then-President Gerald Ford denied assistance to spare New York from bankruptcy.

“Are you going to save New York City,” the mayor said, “or are you saying to New York City 'drop dead?’”

Democrats close to reaching deal with GOP on coronavirus response bill

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday his party is close to coming to an agreement with Republicans regarding a new coronavirus response bill.

Schumer said Sunday on CNN that the Democrats have made "very good progress," and the Senate leader said that he is hopeful they can "come to an agreement tonight or early tomorrow morning.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday the GOP is close to reaching a deal with the Democrats. The bill would expand on the Small Business Administration’s loan program.

Pence: 150,000 coronavirus tests are being conducted per day

Vice President Mike Pence says 150,000 coronavirus tests are now being conducted daily in the U.S. but suggested that governors and not the federal government were to blame for numbers not being higher.

Pence tells NBC’s “Meet the Press” that, “if states around the country will activate all of the laboratories that are available in their states, we could more than double that overnight.”

He said the nation has “sufficient testing today” for states to begin reopening their economies as part of the initial phases of guidelines the White House released this week.

Meanwhile on Fox News Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the testing, “we’re way late on it, and that is the failure. The president gets an 'F,' a failure on the testing.” 

Governors from both parties have said that while they do have more labs that could increase testing in many areas, they often are unable to do so because of federal delays.

Pence was also asked about President Donald Trump tweeting that Democratic governors in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia should “liberate” their states — even though officials there are following many of the Trump administration’s own guidelines about slowing the spread of coronavirus.

Pence sidestepped those, saying, “This president wants to reopen the American economy as soon as we can safely and responsibly do it.”

Over a thousand virus cases on French ship

Figures from France's military leadership show more than half the sailors aboard the country's flagship aircraft carrier contracted the new virus as the ship traveled through the Mediterranean Sea, the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

A navy official says 1,046 of the 1,760 people aboard the Charles de Gaulle tested positive for the virus.

Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Christophe Prazuck attributed the quick spread to the “great population density aboard the ship.”

Speaking Saturday evening to Europe-1 radio, Prazuck said virus protection measures weren’t followed properly, which “did not allow us to detect the beginning of the epidemic, and therefore to contain it.”

The ship is undergoing a lengthy disinfection process since returning to its home base in Toulon last week.

24 more Taiwanese crew members from naval ship have virus

Two dozen crew members of a Taiwanese naval ship have tested positive for the new coronavirus after returning from a nearly two-month training mission that took them to the Pacific island nation of Palau.

Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control said Sunday that 21 more cases had been identified from a refueling ship, on top of three reported Saturday. More than 700 officers and sailors from the refueling ship and the two warships that took part in the mission are in quarantine for 14 days.

The CDC said that a Taiwanese student returning from the United States had also tested positive. That brought the total for Sunday to 22, an upward spike for the self-governing island. New cases had fallen to single digits in the past week, including three days in which none were reported.

Japan passes 10,000 cases of COVID-19

Japanese health ministry said Sunday that 568 new cases of the coronavirus were reported the day before, bringing a domestic total to 10,361. A combined total including 712 others from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo earlier this year came to 11,073, with 174 deaths.

The number of cases is still relatively small compared to the U.S. and Europe, but that’s only as many as Japan’s limited testing has detected and actual infections are believed to be far more widespread.

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Japan has finally started setting up additional testing centers in Tokyo and elsewhere, allowing primary care doctors to send suspected patients directly to testing stations rather than having them go through public health centers to screen eligibility, an earlier requirement that had prevented and delayed testing and treatment of many people.

South Korea reports 8 more cases over 24 hours

South Korea has reported eight more cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, the first time for a daily jump in the country to drop to a single digit in about two months.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the additional figures released Sunday took the country’s total to 10,661 with 234 deaths.

It says 8,042 of the total have been recovered and released from quarantine and that 12,243 others were under tests to determine whether they contracted the virus.

South Korea’s caseload has been waning in recent weeks since it recorded hundreds of new cases every day between late February and early March, mostly in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby areas.

Despite the recent downward trend, South Korean officials have warned about the possibility of a broader “quiet spread” with people easing up on social distancing.

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Credit: AP
A medical staffer gestures after performing swabs for coronavirus in the Santa Cecilia nursing home in Civitavecchia, near Rome, Saturday, April 17, 2020. A scandal over coronavirus infections and deaths in Italy’s nursing homes took on broader dimensions Friday, with the National Institutes of Health conservatively estimating that at least 6,773 residents had died since Feb. 1, 40% of them either infected with the virus or with COVID-19 symptoms. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)

McDonald's closes Singapore restaurants

Fast food giant McDonald’s says it will suspend all operations in Singapore from Sunday for two weeks after seven of its employees tested positive for the coronavirus. 

McDonald’s said in a Facebook post it decided to follow the Health Ministry’s advise to shut down until May 4 when Singapore’s partial lockdown ends. It said in would continue to pay the salaries of 10,000 employees working in more than 135 outlets across the city-state. 

Singapore on Saturday reported a record daily jump of 942 new infections, the highest one-day spike in Southeast Asia, for a total to 5,992. The government has made it mandatory for people to wear masks outside their homes and imposed strict social distancing measures.