The business week closed with mounting signs of the devastating economic toll social distancing efforts are having on the economy: J.C. Penney filed for bankruptcy; a quarter of restaurants won’t re-open after pandemic, an industry executive warned; and U.S. retail sales tumbled by a record 16.4% from March to April.
This as President Donald Trump announced Friday “Operation Warp Speed,” an effort to develop, produce and distribute a vaccine for the new coronavirus by the end of the year. While Trump said he hopes for a vaccine soon, he said, “It’s very important, vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back,” referring to states lifting stay-at-home orders.
Meanwhile, parts of New York, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., were allowed to reopen Friday, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned residents to remain cautious. “We’re starting to turn the activity valve; watch what happens to the testing rate, infection rate, hospitalization rate,” Cuomo said. “We expect to see an increase but that increase has to be monitored and has to be controlled.”
The U.S. has the largest coronavirus outbreak in the world by far. There are more than 87,000 deaths and 1.4 million confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. Worldwide, the virus has killed more than 307,000 people and has infected more than 4.5 million.
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Here are some of the most significant recent developments:
- Congressional lawmakers have made an unprecedented change to voting rules, temporarily allowing members to cast votes from home. The Democratic-led House passed the measure Friday. It lets members unable to come to Capitol Hill due to the coronavirus pandemic to designate another member as their “proxy” to cast floor votes on their behalf.
- Wisconsinites are trying to understand what daily life is supposed to look like now that the state Supreme Court has eliminated the governor’s stay-at-home order. Some cities and counties that scrambled to get health guards in place now are tossing them out of concern they are not legal.
- Ivanka Trump, daughter and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, says she wears a mask at the White House — which is one reason the president does not.
Some good news: Sylvia Goldsholl is 108 and she lived through Spanish flu. She may be the nation’s oldest COVID-19 survivor, too.
What we’re talking about Friday: Looks like graduation ceremonies have become the latest political battleground. While some believe they can have a ceremony safely, others are accusing high-schoolers and their parents of being selfish during a global pandemic. Read about it here.
Lessons for those leading during the coronavirus from our editor-in-chief: Don’t sugarcoat news. Tell the truth. Don’t over-reassure.
Some local Wisconsin officials are tossing coronavirus orders
Leaders of cities and counties who raced this week to implement restrictions in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling against Gov. Tony Evers are now tossing those orders, many citing uncertainty over whether they are legal.
The local governments are backing off their health orders just as Republican lawmakers insist it should be up to local officials rather than state leaders to determine whether people should stay at home and businesses should close.
The decisions by local officials mean an increasing number of communities in Wisconsin won’t have any restrictions in place to curb infections as the coronavirus slows but doesn’t stop. GOP lawmakers this week made clear there won’t be a statewide game plan to navigate the coronavirus outbreak anytime soon — if ever.
– Molly Beck and Patrick Marley
‘Largest volleyball event in the world’ postponed
The Amateur Athletic Union announced Friday that it has postponed its junior volleyball championships — which it has touted as the “largest volleyball event in the world” — to mid-July, citing “the safety and welfare of all our members.”
The event, which had previously been scheduled to begin June 16, was set to attract as many as 15,000 people from 34 states to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, over parts of 12 days. The AAU had, until Friday, maintained that the massive event would go on as scheduled, with new safeguards in place to protect participants.
However, multiple public health and infectious disease experts had warned USA TODAY Sports this week that staging the event in June could pose significant risks because of the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
The AAU, in a joint statement with the convention center, said it is now scheduled to begin July 14.
– Tom Schad
College Board investigating tech problems with online AP exams
Submission hiccups, registration problems, outdated computer browsers and plain old human error have dampened the roll-out of online Advanced Placement exams this week, which hundreds of thousands of students are taking at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The College Board said that out of 1.6 million tests taken since testing began Monday, more than 99% have been submitted without a hitch. But hundreds of parents and students have complained on the College Board’s Facebook page that they were unfairly shut out of exams by faulty technology or other technical errors.
More than 9,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org to urge the College Board to let students who encountered technical difficulties resubmit their work rather than retake the tests.
Many students encountered problems uploading photos of their work during the exams’ 45-minute time frame. The College Board says it’s looking into students’ “unique circumstances” and that anyone who encountered an issue will be able to take the test again in June.
– Erin Richards, Samantha West and Lily Altavena
Trump announces ‘Operation Warp Speed’ to develop vaccine
President Donald Trump said Friday the effort to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus is “unlike anything our country has seen since the Manhattan project.” Trump said he hoped for a vaccine before or by the end of the year and that the initiative, dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” would facilitate that by creating numerous vaccine candidates at scale so that once one is approve for use, it can be distributed widely across the United States and shared with other countries.
The nation’s leading infectious disease experts have cautioned since the outbreak of the virus that a vaccine may not be ready until 12 to 18 months, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
At the press briefing, Trump’s top health advisers – Fauci and Deborah Birx – wore protective masks, though the president continued to spurn any kind of face covering. “We’ve all been tested,” Trump said when asked about his decision to go without a mask. “I’ve been tested.”
Meanwhile, truckers honked during Trump’s remarks in the Rose Garden, in protest of shipping rates. Trump said the honks were a ”sign of love.”
Cuomo: New York beaches open for Memorial Day weekend
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed Friday that the state’s beaches would open on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Cuomo’s announcement comes a day after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said his state’s beaches would open May 22. Officials in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware have said they would coordinate when to open beaches in order to prevent one state from opening before the others and having residents in the region flock to that state.
Cuomo said that concessions at state beaches would not open and that anyone going to a beach must still socially distance. Beaches will operate at 50% capacity, picnic areas will be closed and group activities like playing volleyball won’t be allowed, he said.
On Friday, half of New York’s 10 regions reopened a wide range of businesses, from construction and manufacturing to tennis courts and drive-in theaters. New York City is not among areas ready to reopen, and the state’s stay-at-home order will remain in effect at least through June 13 as remaining regions work to meet the reopening criteria.
More coronavirus news and information from USA TODAY
No stimulus check yet? Your taxes may be the issue
More than 130 million people have received stimulus checks totaling more than $200 billion since the government started distributing the payments under the CARES Act, a new federal law designed to reinvigorate the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, the IRS said last week.
However, some people who have tax returns that are under audit or review say they haven’t gotten their stimulus check. People who are eligible for a stimulus check are supposed to receive the money even if they owe back taxes. The IRS says stimulus payments won’t be reduced or offset because the recipient owes federal or state debts, except in cases involving past-due child support. The IRS website doesn’t say, however, whether stimulus checks will be delayed until issues with a recipient’s taxes have been resolved.
It’s possible the stimulus payments could be held up because the IRS discovered an anomaly, such as a Social Security number that didn’t match its records or discrepancies in a child-tax credit claim, when it was processing an individual’s tax returns, said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Tax Policy Center.
– Michael Collins
Retail sales tumble by record 16% in April
Retail sales in the United States plunged by a record 16.4% from March to April as business shutdowns caused by the coronavirus kept shoppers away, threatened stores across the country and weighed down a sinking economy.
The Commerce Department’s report Friday on retail purchases showed a sector that has collapsed so quickly that sales over the past 12 months are down a crippling 21.6%. The sharpest drops from March to April were at clothiers, electronics stores, furniture stores and restaurants. However, online purchases ticked up as that segment posted a 8.4% monthly gain.
Mitch McConnell: I was ‘wrong’ to say Obama left no pandemic plan
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has issued a rare mea culpa, saying he mistakenly accused the Obama administration of not leaving a plan for President Donald Trump on how to deal with a pandemic. “I was wrong,” McConnell told Fox News on Thursday. “They did leave behind a plan. So, I clearly made a mistake in that regard.”
McConnell was referring to remarks he made Monday to Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, during a reelection campaign livestream. Referring to the coronavirus crisis, he told Lara Trump that the Obama administration “did not leave any kind of game plan for something like this.”
– Ledyard King
Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to reopen partially Saturday
President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club will reopen Saturday almost two months after it closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But there will be some changes: It’s BYOT – Bring Your Own Towel – as there will be no towel service. Germ-y noodles, floats and any other pool toys will be banned. Also, the main house, tennis courts, spa, gym, and locker rooms will remain closed.
– Shannon Donnelly
Ivanka Trump wears a mask inside the White House and ‘everyone is instructed to do so as well’
Ivanka Trump, daughter and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, says she wears a mask at the White House, and that’s one reason the president doesn’t have to. “There are different procedures as it relates to interacting with the president,” Ivanka Trump told USA TODAY on Thursday when asked about criticism her father has received for declining to wear a mask in public.
The president “is tested on a daily basis – all those who come into contact with him are tested on a daily basis,” she said in an interview. “No one is in close proximity to him that isn’t wearing a mask. I always wear a mask when I am with the president, and everyone is instructed to do so as well.”
Last week, the White House implemented new safety measures after two aides tested positive for the coronavirus and three members of the coronavirus task force entered quarantine after attending meetings with one of the staff members diagnosed with the virus.
– David Jackson and Courtney Subramanian