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
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2:10 p.m. ET, May 21, 2020

New Jersey unemployment hits highest level since 1992, state official says

From CNN's Elizabeth Hartfield

Closed businesses stand along a street on May 20 in Linden, New Jersey.
Closed businesses stand along a street on May 20 in Linden, New Jersey. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Unemployment in New Jersey is now at 15.3% — a level not seen since February, 1992, the state Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo announced today.

About 757,000 jobs were lost in the state in the month of April, and it is estimated by mid-June, his department will be processing more than 1 million unemployment certifications per week. 

The department has paid out more than $3.4 billion to residents since March 20th, Asaro-Angelo said. 

2:02 p.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Georgia doctor: Virus spread through hospital for 10 days before we knew what it was 

From CNN’s Amanda Watts and Rebecca Grandahl

Coronavirus spread in a hospital in southwest Georgia for 10 days in March before staff were told what was filling their wards with desperately sick people, a doctor told Congress Thursday.

“We were shocked by its abrupt entrance into our lives, and the virus had been spreading quietly for 10 days, and very quickly,” Dr. Shanti Akers, a pulmonary critical care physician at Phoebe Putney Health Systems in Albany, Georgia, testified. “What started as one case spread like wildfire,” she added. “We filled ward after ward until we had at least five floors dedicated to the care of these patients.”

Albany was hit early by the virus. Akers described the scene at her hospital as it was overrun with coronavirus cases in March to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

“Those early days were scary and intense. We knew so little about it, and how it was spread or how to treat it,” she said.

“We had our first contact with Covid-19 during the last week of February, and the first week of March when we didn't even know it,” Akers added.

It wasn’t until March 10, that the hospital was informed they had treated a positive coronavirus case, she said.  

Staff didn’t have the equipment they needed to protect themselves, adding to the stress.

“What PPE we had stockpiled to last six months, lasted one week. We were - still are - forced to make that supply stretch. This time took a toll on all of us,” Akers said.  

“I spent many months not seeing my children awake because the hours this pandemic required. I minimized contact with my family in case my PPE had been inadequate,” Akers said.

“And I updated my will,” she said.

Staff struggled to keep patients alive, with no guidance about therapies that might be helpful.

There’s currently no cure for Covid-19 and experimental treatments are in the early stages of testing.

“Some patients died no matter what we did, and we could not change that outcome. It did not matter if they were young or old. This virus did not discriminate,” Akers said.

“We mourned the loss of our patients as some took their last breaths, knowing that their families could not be there and could not touch them. We cheered with them. We cheered with them when they took their first steps out of the hospital,” she said.  

3:29 p.m. ET, May 21, 2020

50% of Facebook's employees could work remotely within the decade

From CNN’s Brian Fung 

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

As many as 50% of Facebook employees could be working remotely within the next 5 to 10 years, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday. 

The projection — a guess, Zuckerberg said, not a target — marks a major pivot by the world’s biggest social media company to support working from home after the pandemic. 

Zuckerberg pitched the idea as both a matter of satisfying employee desires, but also as an effort to create “more broad-based economic prosperity.”

“When you limit hiring to people who live in a small number of big cities, or who are willing to move there, that cuts out a lot of people who live in different communities, have different backgrounds, have different perspectives,” Zuckerberg said on a livestream posted to his Facebook page. 

Zuckerberg said the company expects to dramatically increase its remote hiring over time and look into supporting permanent remote work for its existing employees. 

As the company looks to reopen its offices, Zuckerberg said, he expects only about 25% of Facebook employees to return to their desks initially.

Hear more:

1:38 p.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Frontline workers describe what it's like working through coronavirus pandemic

From CNN’s Amanda Watts

Nurses, bus drivers and EMTs across the country said they all fear going to work every day.

Several workers told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on today that they lack the personal protection equipment they need, suffer physical exhaustion and are worried about bringing the virus home to their families.

“We did not have enough nurses in the ICU before the pandemic hit and we certainly do not have enough now,” Talisa Hardin, a registered nurse at the University of Chicago Medical Center said at the hearing.

“The nurses in my unit have been terrified of bringing the coronavirus home to our families. I cannot adequately put into words the stress that this fear has caused us. For me, the lack of protections in my unit have forced me to send my daughter away to live with my mother for her protection," he added.

Eric Colts, a bus driver with the Detroit Department of Transportation, said he works his entire shift on a “40-foot incubator.”  

“The biggest fear for me while I'm driving, trying to pay attention to the road, is you'll have someone in the back either sneeze or cough,” Colts said. There is no way to properly socially distance on a bus, he added.

Diana Wilson, an emergency medical technician with the New York City Fire Department, said she’s had to send her sons to live with loved ones to keep them safe from coronavirus. 

Wilson, who became a widow in 2019, said she hasn’t seen her three kids in 10 weeks.  

“On a normal EMS shift, we respond to one or two cardiac arrests. Since Covid-19 has ravaged our state, we are now responding to calls by six to 10 cardiac arrests in an eight-hour tour,” Wilson said. “Despite our best efforts to save lives, we are finding patients dead in their homes, sometimes even in their cars.” 

Marcos Aranda, a custodian at Pacific Gas and Electric, said he wears latex gloves and dust masks to try to protect himself.

“My job has always been essential to protecting the public's health and safety, even before the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

“We now have to make sure we disinfect every frequently touched surface – from phones to elevators, to microwave handles. We do a detailed job to make sure that people coming into work in our buildings during this crisis stay safe," he added.

1:31 p.m. ET, May 21, 2020

New Jersey reports over 1,300 new cases of Covid-19

From CNN's Elizabeth Hartfield

New Jersey reported 1,304 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy said in his daily press conference, bringing the statewide total to 151,472. 

The numbers:

  • Of the total cases, 28,876 have been in long term care facilities. 
  • The state reported 98 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 10,843. 
  • Of the total deaths, 4,502 have been in long term care facilities

Gov. Murphy also announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs would be extending their assistance to the state’s long-term care facilities through the end of June and sending an additional 40 clinical staff members to help out at facilities across the state. 

Murphy noted that the trend lines for coronavirus in the state continued to move in the right direction - hospitalizations, patients in the ICU and ventilator use were all down in the state. The governor said, however, that the state still leads in some indicators that “we would rather not,” including new cases and new deaths.

1:29 p.m. ET, May 21, 2020

What it's like inside a restaurant that is planning for dining in the age of Covid

From CNN's Eric Weisbrod

The Brooklyn Chop House in New York City is preparing for “the new normal” for whenever they are able to reopen.

They are planning for temperature checks at the front door, plexiglass dividers between tables, plates and cups in saran wrap, QR codes to read menus on your phones and face shields for all servers and kitchen workers.

Restaurant co-founder Stratis Morfogen said that the goal is to “lower that anxiety,” and “create an environment that’s safer.”

“I think that this will be the norm, even post-vaccine,” he said on a live episode of Go There on Facebook Watch. “People aren’t going to say, let’s go for steak and Italian tonight, they’re going to say, where do I feel safest? And that’s really important.”

Take a look inside:

1:35 p.m. ET, May 21, 2020

West Virginia to deploy National Guard to part of state where cases continue to rise, governor says

From CNN's Carma Hassan

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced today he is deploying the National Guard to the eastern panhandle of the state where an “issue was brewing” as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Jefferson and Berkeley counties. 

“Those numbers are not good, that’s all there is to it,” Justice said, adding that there were 20 new cases in Berkeley County and 15 new cases in Jefferson County yesterday.

“We know with the exposure to Virginia, with the exposure to DC, right there at these counties, we have a gigantic population of people that can absolutely infect those people in those counties and cause a big time problem there,” the governor said.

He said he has directed the National Guard to report back to him with all of their findings. 

Justice urged West Virginians to wear face masks, saying he would not rule out the possibility of making them mandatory.

The governor also announced plans for swimming pools, spa and massage businesses, and indoor amusement places like pool halls and roller rinks to reopen Saturday, May 30.

1:22 p.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Montgomery mayor considering issuing a shelter-in-place order due to ICU bed shortage

From CNN’s Gregory Lemos


Montgomery, Alabama Mayor Steven Reed told CNN today he is considering tightening restrictions in his city and may issue a shelter-in-place order, even as his state continues to open up.  

"I would do it and I would ask for regional cooperation," Reed told CNN in a phone interview today. "I would certainly do it in the city if need be." 

At a news briefing Wednesday, Reed sounded alarms over an ICU bed shortage in Montgomery saying the health care system is "maxed" and if you need a bed, "you are in trouble." 

Reed told CNN his hope in using such stark terms was to get the attention of the public.  

"This is a serious matter and we have to maintain our practices even as many people are relaxing restrictions and the economy is opening back up,” Reed told CNN. "We need to take more individual responsibility in how we go about our daily lives. In this community we are not in a safe place given the numbers we are seeing." 

Reed said he was certain the shortage of ICU beds was directly related to the state loosening restrictions. 

"That's definitely apart of opening up to soon and not adhering to CDC guidelines," Reed said.  

He said when he looked at the numbers he saw a "consistent uptick." To change that trend, he said, people have to change their behaviors.  

"What's okay for some may not be okay for all," Reed told CNN. " I understand people want to get back to normal but if we aren't patient, we are going to prolong this and it is going to cost us lives. "  

1:26 p.m. ET, May 21, 2020

More than two-thirds of California set to reopen further

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images
Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

More than two-thirds of the counties in California are moving ahead with reopening further, including San Diego, Sacramento, and Santa Barbara counties.

More than five million people live in those three counties combined. 

Solano County, which saw one of the state’s first known cases of coronavirus, has also been granted permission to lift restrictions beyond the state’s current stay at home order.

Each of these counties filed attestation forms declaring the stability of infection rates and hospitalizations within their regions, ability to respond to a spike in cases, and increased testing capacity.

Here's what is reopening: The 40 counties that have been approved will move further into "expanded phase two" of reopening, which allows dining in restaurants and shopping in stores. There are 58 counties in California.

Restrictions will remain here: Among those areas maintaining current restrictions are Southern California’s highly populated counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino. Densely populated Bay Area counties like San Francisco, Alameda, and Santa Clara are also remaining as is.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that Los Angeles specifically "is likely weeks behind" the rest of the state when it comes to reopening.