Coronavirus pandemic in the US

By Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Meg Wagner and Zamira Rahim, CNN

Updated 10:26 p.m. ET, May 21, 2020
15 Posts
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9:29 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Nearly 500 US flights per day are more than 70% full

From CNN's Greg Wallace

Passengers walk between terminals at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on May 15 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Passengers walk between terminals at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on May 15 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Some passengers will arrive at the airport and find their flight is too full to allow for the neighboring seat to remain empty, according to data from a US airline industry group.

However, the group, Airlines for America, maintains that the vast majority of flights continue to allow for many open seats, even as the average number of passengers on each plane is growing. 

 About 8.5% of flights are more than 70% full, according to the group Airlines for America.  

That means about 482 daily flights are above the 70% mark. The group said US carriers are currently conducting about 5,670 passenger flights daily — even after slashing thousands of flights from their schedules. 

Why this matters: The 70% mark is significant because on narrow body aircraft where most seats are in groups of 3, social distancing typically means using only two thirds of seats, or 67%. When factoring in other types of aircraft and different seating arrangements, the International Air Transport Association says social distancing would mean using a maximum of 62% of seats fleet-wide.  

There is no federal standard requiring airlines to leave empty seats and allow customers to socially distance, and the Department of Transportation recently instructed airlines that “if the passenger wishes to change or cancel due to concerns related to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” the customer is not entitled to a refund or voucher.

Here's how flight capacity breaks down:

  • 3% of flights flew 80-89% full
  • 5% of flights flew 70-79% full
  • 6% of flights flew 60-69% full  
  • 12% of flights flew 50-59% full  

In January and February, the average flight carried between 85 to 100 passengers. Now, the average flight carries about 39 passengers. That number has climbed significantly from as low as 10 passengers per flight in April and 23 passengers per flight in early May.  

9:35 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

If Trump doesn’t wear mask at Michigan auto plant, he'll be asked not to return, state official says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

President Trump speaks with the press in Washington on Tuesday.
President Trump speaks with the press in Washington on Tuesday. Michael Brochstein/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is calling on President Trump to wear a mask ahead of his visit to a Ford manufacturing plant in the state today. 

“If he fails to wear a mask, he's going to be asked not to return to any enclosed facility inside our state,” Nessel said. “…If we know he's coming to our state, and we know he's not going to follow the law, I think we're going to have to take action against any company or any facility that allows him inside those facilities and puts our workers at risk. We just simply can't afford it here in our state.” 

Some background: As auto plants reopened on Monday, there was an agreement between the United Auto Workers union and manufacturers that has become law. It specifies that there should be no outside visitors — which has been waived for the President, Nessel said — social distancing, temperature screening and wearing a face covering. 

“We are just asking that President Trump comply with the law of our state, just as we would make the same request of anyone else in those plants,” Nessel said. 

Ford on Tuesday said it had communicated its safety policies to the White House, including that everyone wear a mask. But a company spokesman said, "The White House has its own safety and testing policies in place and will make its own determination.” 

When the President was asked on Tuesday whether he would wear a mask to the Michigan plant, Trump said he hadn't thought about it yet.

"I don't know. I haven't even thought of it. It depends. In certain areas I would, in certain areas I don't. But I will certainly look at it," Trump said. 

8:57 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Another 2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment last week

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

At least 2.4 million people filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week, which ended with May 16. 

It was the ninth week of claims in the millions, but the seventh week in a row that the number declined from the week before.

Continued claims rose to 25.1 million for the week that ended May 9 –– a 2.5 million increase from the prior week.

9:08 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Democratic lawmakers request flags be flown at half staff when Covid-19 deaths reach 100,000

From CNN's Manu Raju

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer hold a press conference in April.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer hold a press conference in April. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images/File

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer have sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting that flags be flown half staff "on all public buildings in the country" when the Covid-19 death toll in the US reaches 100,000.

“Respectful of them and the loss to our country, we are writing to request that you order flags to be flown at half staff on all public buildings in our country on the sad day of reckoning when we reach 100,000 deaths. It would serve as a national expression of grief so needed by everyone in our country," the letter said.

You can read the full letter here.

The latest numbers: At least 93,439 people have died from coronavirus in the US, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

9:13 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

How to stay safe at a Memorial Day barbecue

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt


Erin Bromage, an epidemiology expert and biology professor, joined CNN’s "New Day" to discuss how to safely celebrate the Memorial Day holiday. 

Can people have a safe barbecue?

“We can do it safer, but never safely enough,” Bromage says. 

Some tips from him:

  • Everyone should bring their own food and plastic utensils (no shared bowl of chips!)
  • Hot dogs and hamburgers should go directly from the grill to a person’s plate, not to a big tray of food
  • Different households should sit together — separately 

Are masks needed at a backyard gathering?

“If you’ve got loud friends, yes,” Bromage says.

“Again, if you can maintain the distance while you're outside, you are fine without masks unless you're in an area that is a bit of a hotspot at the moment. Have them with you. … The more households you have, then you may want to think about having masks.”

Can guests go inside your house to use the bathroom?

“Indoors [is] the most risky environment we have for transmission of this virus. But … there's things that you can do to make it just a little bit safer," Bromage says.

He shared these tips:

  • Have all the doors going toward the bathroom open, so no one has to touch any other handles
  • Have guests use a piece of tissue to open and close the bathroom door
  • Make a note to close the toilet seat before flushing 

Can people go in the pool?

“Pool water that is properly maintained — and that is important, properly maintained — will be safe,” Bromage says, adding that social distance with people from other households should be maintained in the water too.

Alcohol complicates things

“When we drink a little, we get a little closer, we get a little more touchy … We just need to be careful with that,” Bromage says. He warns that there should be a plan for getting rid of bottles and other garbage quickly after a barbecue to minimize the risk of transmission. 


8:21 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

The pandemic could exacerbate deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide, new study warns

From CNN's Amanda Watts

A new report found that at least 151,964 Americans died due to alcohol, drugs or suicide in 2018 and it warns Covid-19 could exacerbate the so-called “deaths of despair.” 

The study by Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust showed deaths due to alcohol and suicide rose, while drug overdose deaths declined from the previous year.  

“While still disturbingly high, the 2018 data is the first time since 1999, when the current data collection began, that there has not been a sizable increase in the alcohol, drugs and suicide deaths per 100,000 rate,” according to a statement from Well Being Trust.  

In 2018, alcohol deaths rose 4% for the year and suicide deaths were up 2%. Death rates for opioids declined, but the death rates for synthetic opioids such as fentanyl increased, as did death rates for methamphetamine, ecstasy and prescription stimulants. 

The report said that drug-induced deaths among American Indians, Asians, blacks and Latinos all increased from 2017.

“The profound racial health disparities seen in these data show that many ethnic minority groups are being left behind in our response efforts,” said Dr. Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer with Well Being Trust. 

Remember: Well Being Trust, a national public health group, also sounded the alarm earlier this month saying as many as 75,000 American’s could die because of drug or alcohol misuse and suicide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Economic downturns, stress due to isolation and a global pandemic could significantly increase these types of deaths, it said.

8:24 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

TSA will make some screening changes (but no temperature checks yet)

From CNN's Greg Wallace

A Transportation Security Administration agent is pictured at Florida's Miami International Airport on May 21, 2019.
A Transportation Security Administration agent is pictured at Florida's Miami International Airport on May 21, 2019. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Transportation Security Administration said it is making some changes to its security screening procedures at airports, but did not include passenger temperature screening in its list — something a federal official has told CNN the agency is considering.

The changes include several ways to prevent officers from handling travelers' belongings and travelers from handling shared X-ray bins.

The agency said passengers should hang onto their boarding passes, rather than handing them to TSA officers, to prevent cross contamination. Instead, officers will visually review the boarding pass.

The TSA also said that when a bag does not pass X-ray screening, passengers may be responsible for unpacking the bag and sending it through the X-ray machine again, rather than an officer searching through it by hand.

The agency is encouraging travelers to pack food items in a clear plastic bag to make it easier for officers to check them. Food items sometimes require further inspection by TSA.

Read more here.

8:37 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

It's just past 8 a.m. in New York and 5 a.m. in San Francisco. Here's the latest on the pandemic

A member of myCovidMD performs a Covid-19 antibody test in Los Angeles on May 20.
A member of myCovidMD performs a Covid-19 antibody test in Los Angeles on May 20. Damian Dovarganes/AP

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 5 million people worldwide and killed at least 328,000. If you're just tuning in, here are the latest headlines:

  • Beijing and Washington clash: China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly criticized Mike Pompeo on Thursday, labeling the US Secretary of State an "extremely irresponsible politician."
  • US death toll rises: At least 93,439 people have died across the country, with 1,551,853��cases of the disease recorded.
  • Infectious disease experts criticize testing levels: Coronavirus testing in the United States is disorganized and needs coordination at the national level, a team from the University of Minnesota has said.
  • Covid-19 cases reach Supreme Court: An increasing number of pandemic-related disputes will reach courts across the US in the coming weeks, concerning prison conditions.
7:31 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Covid-19 cases concerning prisoners' rights set to reach Supreme Court

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

The Supreme Court in Washington is pictured on May 3.
The Supreme Court in Washington is pictured on May 3. Patrick Semansky/AP

The Supreme Court and courts across the country will see an increasing number of pandemic-related disputes in the coming weeks concerning prison conditions and whether prisons are violating the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to adequately protect them against the coronavirus.

Inmates are raising concerns about what they call the deliberate indifference of prison officials during a serious public health crisis and asking for home confinement or appropriate resources to improve hygiene and block the spread of Covid-19. For their part, state and federal officials are pushing back hard arguing that they are trying to respond to evolving risks while battling an unprecedented global pandemic.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor sent up a flare up this month after inmates argued that their prison conditions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

"It has long been said that a society's worth can be judged by taking stock of its prisons," Sotomayor wrote. 
"That is all the truer in this pandemic, where inmates everywhere have been rendered vulnerable and often powerless to protect themselves from harm."

The issue is further complicated by the fact that federal law that governs prison conditions requires an inmate to exhaust a grievance process set up by correctional officials before turning to litigation.

That system was put in place to keep frivolous litigation out of courts and give prisons the chance to remedy a problem before a lawsuit. But it never envisioned a pandemic like Covid-19 that is ripping through prisons filled with at-risk inmates.

Read more here.