Coronavirus updates: Unemployment could top 20%; health officials to quarantine; Obama says response a ‘disaster’ – USA TODAY

As a top economic adviser predicted Sunday that unemployment levels could exceed 20%, three senior health officials and members on the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force – including Dr. Anthony Fauci – said they will self-quarantine after exposure to a person with the virus.

That news came as former President Barack Obama criticized the federal response to the pandemic as a “chaotic disaster” in a call with supporters, according to published audio of the call.

There were more than 78,700 deaths and 1.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. on Sunday, according to the John Hopkins University data dashboard. Worldwide, the virus has killed almost 280,000 people and surpassed 4 million infections.

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Here are some of the most significant developments to know Sunday:

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White House adviser says unemployment rate may pass 20%

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett predicted Sunday that the unemployment rate could rise above 20% and the worst job losses would come in “May or June” because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

When asked what the “bottom” of the country’s unemployment pain would be, Hassett, who advises the Trump administration on economic policy and is the former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, told CBS’s “Face the Nation,” “to get unemployment rates like the ones that we’re about to see…which I think will climb up toward 20% by next month, you have to really go back to the Great Depression to see that.”

When asked about the “low point” in the unemployment rate, he said: “I’m looking for rates north of 20, sadly.”

The United States lost 20.5 million jobs in April, and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7%, both record-high numbers as the nation felt the economic effects of the coronavirus. Social distancing measures have forced the closures of businesses across the country, leading to employee layoffs and furloughs.

– Nicholas Wu

‘Our life is in danger’: Hawaii battles record unemployment

Hawaii is facing it’s highest unemployment rate ever as strict stay-at-home orders and a virtual shutdown of the state’s once mighty tourism industry have left residents reeling, leaning on their savings or unable to pay rent and feed their families. Since March, the state’s unemployment rate has soared from 3% to 34%, one of the highest in the nation.

The pain has been widespread. Charities are encountering unprecedented requests for food and assistance; small-business owners are grappling with plummeting profits. The state’s struggles to keep up with unemployment claims even prompted some residents to come out and threaten violence against state workers. 

Roughly 216,000 of the state’s 660,000 workers were employed in jobs supported by tourism in 2019. Airline arrivals to Hawaii have nosedived from more than 30,000 passengers per day to 756. Food service workers, who make up roughly 13% of all employees in the state and earn a median annual income of about $30,000, lost wages as restaurants closed and hotels shuttered.

“Our life is in danger because, of course, we don’t know what will happen,” Julie Gabot, a housekeeper at the Sheraton Waikiki, said. “There’s no real hope for good things in the future.”

Pandemic complicating LGBTQ census outreach

For decades, LGBTQ people have battled for a seat at the census table.

Then in 2020, there came a beacon of hope when same-sex couples living together were included in the 10-year survey for the first time, even though sexual orientation and gender identity questions were absent.

Advocates rallied the LGBTQ community, urging full participation.

Then in the midst of rollout this spring, a global health crisis erupted – upending lives and tangling census outreach efforts.

“Because of social distancing, people are not out there pushing the census,” said Glennda Testone, executive director of New York’s LGBT Community Center. “My fear is that the response numbers will go down.”

– Susan Miller

As new cases rise, S. Korea’s leader urges calm

After South Korea reported 34 new cases of the coronavirus Sunday, most of which were linked to club goers, President Moon Jae-in urged calm and said “there’s no reason to stand still out of fear.”

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 26 of the 34 new infections were locally transmitted; the others came from abroad. Sunday’s surge marked the first time that the daily rate increased by more than 30 in about a month.

On Saturday, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon ordered more than 2,100 nightclubs, hostess bars and discos to close. 

According to the John Hopkins University data dashboard, South Korea reported 10,874 confirmed cases and 256 deaths as of Sunday morning.

– The Associated Press

Top health officials to self-quarantine

Multiple top health officials and members on the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force will self-quarantine for two weeks after exposure to a person with the virus, according to official statements and media reports.

Among them is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who CNN says will begin a “modified quarantine” after a low-risk exposure. He has tested negative, is taking “appropriate precautions” for that risk and will be tested regularly and monitor his temperature and other health indicators, a NIAID spokesperson confirmed to USA TODAY. By virtue of his calm, Brooklyn-inflected White House briefings, Fauci has become a leading expert on the coronavirus.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be “teleworking for the next two weeks” after it was determined he had a “low-risk exposure” to a person at the White House who tested positive, the CDC said in a statement Saturday evening. The statement said he felt fine and has no symptoms.

And the Food and Drug Administration confirmed to USA TODAY on Saturday that commissioner Stephen Hahn will self-quarantine for two weeks after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Hahn has tested negative for the virus, according to FDA press officer Stephanie Caccomo. 

The coronavirus pandemic has been creeping closer to the inner circle of the White House in the past week, as two employees there have tested positive. Meanwhile, at least 11 U.S. Secret Service employees were reported to be infected and about 60 other staffers were in self-quarantine, USA TODAY has learned. 

– Joel Shannon

Obama: US coronavirus response a ‘chaotic disaster’

Former President Barack Obama called the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic an “absolute chaotic disaster” and promised to campaign “as hard as I can” for former Vice President Joe Biden in a Friday call with 3,000 people who served in his administration.

A recording of the call was obtained by Yahoo News. Katie Hill, Obama’s communications director, confirmed the call to CBS News.

In addressing the Trump administration’s response to the global coronavirus pandemic, Obama cited concerns about division and tribalism in the country and internationally. That has contributed to an “anemic and spotty” response to the health crisis, Obama said.

– Joel Shannon

More coronavirus news from USA TODAY

FDA authorizes new type of diagnostic test

The Food and Drug Administration issued its first emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 antigen test, a new type of diagnostic test that provides rapid results and is cheap to produce.

Antigen tests analyze samples collected with a nose or throat swab to search for proteins found on or within the virus. While positive results from antigen tests are highly accurate, there is a higher chance of false negatives, according to the FDA.

The test is different from the two existing types of FDA-authorized tests. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are diagnostic tests that detect genetic material from the virus to determine whether someone has an active infection. Serological tests detect antibodies to attempt to determine if someone has had the virus and built up an immune response to it.

The FDA issued the authorization late Friday to the California-based Quidel Corporation.

– Grace Hauck

Trump congratulates Dana White for putting on UFC 249 during pandemic

President Donald Trump was featured in a pre-taped video during Saturday’s UFC 249 preliminary broadcast on ESPN, congratulating UFC president Dana White and the UFC for resuming operations and hosting the card during the global coronavirus pandemic.

“They’re going to have a big match,” Trump said during the broadcast. “We love it. We think it’s important – get the sports leagues back. Let’s play. We do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do, but we need sports. We want our sports back, and congratulations to Dana White and the UFC.”

UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Jacksonville, Fla., was not only the first UFC card in the U.S. since the outbreak of coronavirus forced stay-at-home orders in most of the country but also the first major sporting event of any sort.

Although the UFC paired with the Florida State Boxing Commission and implemented several safety protocols to deal with COVID-19, there’s been plenty of criticism surrounding whether or not professional fighting should resume.

– Danny Segura 

More COVID-19 headlines from USA TODAY

US cuts funding to group studying bat coronaviruses in China

The head of a research group that studies bat-borne coronaviruses in China similar to the COVID-19 strain that’s ravaged the globe has warned that a U.S. government decision to cut funding to his organization imperils American public health. 

EcoHealth Alliance’s research grant was abruptly terminated last month by the National Institutes of Health, the primary agency of the U.S. government responsible for biomedical and public health research. EcoHealth Alliance’s research in China is focused on identifying and warning about coronaviruses dangerous to human health. 

“I’m really concerned about where this leaves us,” said Peter Daszak, director of the New York-based organization, in a USA TODAY interview.

The National Institutes of Health confirmed EcoHealth Alliance’s $3.4 million grant, distributed over six years, was canceled on April 24. But it would not discuss details about how the decision was made.

– Kim Hjelmgaard

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