April 13 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Amy Woodyatt, Adam Renton, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 9:11 p.m. ET, April 13, 2020
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5:28 p.m. ET, April 13, 2020

Nearly 1,000 prisoners in Washington state may be released early

From CNN's Andy Rose

A 2016 file photo of Monroe Correction Complex in Monroe, Washington. Seven inmates at the complex have tested positive for Covid-19.
A 2016 file photo of Monroe Correction Complex in Monroe, Washington. Seven inmates at the complex have tested positive for Covid-19. Elaine Thompson/AP

Washington state’s Department of Corrections says they are likely to release “approximately 600-950 incarcerated individuals beginning in the coming days” in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus. 

"The goal in releasing individuals from state correctional facilities is to provide more physical distancing within the state’s correctional facilities," the Department of Corrections said in a statement.

The new details come in a report ordered by the state Supreme Court after five inmates filed a lawsuit which said being in close quarters with other prisoners was endangering their health.

Seven minimum security inmates at the Monroe Correction Complex tested positive for Covid-19, sparking a brief cellblock riot last week.

In a 153-page response filed today, the state says they will focus on furloughing non-violent inmates who are on work release or already due to be released within 75 days, as well as certain medically vulnerable prisoners who are scheduled to get out within the next eight months. 

In some cases, the furloughed inmates may be required to submit to home monitoring for the remainder of their sentences.

The statement said the Department has developed and had been implementing new protocols and directives specifically aimed at combatting the coronavirus pandemic since the beginning of March — including supplying face coverings to all inmates and quarantining those with coronavirus symptoms, but the high court said those actions alone were not sufficient.

5:24 p.m. ET, April 13, 2020

Connecticut governor: Trump administration won't "try and mandate a one size fits all" on reopening states

From CNN's Rebekah Riess

Gov. Ned Lamont addresses the media last month at medical equipment manufacturer Bio-Med Devices in Guilford, Connecticut.
Gov. Ned Lamont addresses the media last month at medical equipment manufacturer Bio-Med Devices in Guilford, Connecticut. Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media/AP

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters Monday President Trump and his team are “always asking the governors, what their priorities are and how we’re thinking about getting things reopened.”

“So I don't really think they're going to try and mandate a one size fits all, as it was referred to previously, for all 50 states," he said. "We’re in very different situations and we're all going to address the slow reopening of our states in a thoughtful way, each state being a little bit different."

Lamont said a "Reopen Connecticut Advisory Board" will be created, which will include Dr. Albert Ko, Yale’s leading epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist, along with other experts from business and science, with a focus on health outcomes, analytics, clinical lab work, and mobile technology.

5:13 p.m. ET, April 13, 2020

US to receive 750,000 coronavirus tests from South Korea

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez and Katelyn Polantz

The United States is turning to South Korea — a country with an aggressive testing regime that the President Trump previously downplayed — to bring approximately 750,000 more coronavirus tests to the US, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, awarded contracts to manufacturers in South Korea last week to provide approximately 750,000 tests, according to a FEMA spokesperson and federal records. Over the weekend, the first shipment of 150,000 tests were delivered to the US by SolGent. The next shipment of 600,000 tests will arrive on April 15. They are being provided by two South Korea-based companies, SD Biosensor and Osang Healthcare.  

The intent, the FEMA spokesperson said, is to move the tests to a cold storage facility in Louisville, Kentucky, for distribution. Urgent needs will be given priority, according to a FEMA advisory obtained by CNN.

The Trump administration has waffled on its praise of South Korea’s testing capabilities. Trump acknowledged on Twitter in late March that South Korea has been very successful regarding testing. By April, Trump claimed that US tests are faster and more accurate than South Korea's. But facing a testing shortage and governors desperate to bolster their testing capability, the US has had to look abroad. 

5:19 p.m. ET, April 13, 2020

Feds uncover massive N95 mask scam aimed at defrauding US hospitals

From CNN's Josh Campbell

Justin Chin/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Justin Chin/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Federal law enforcement has disrupted a foreign criminal scheme to fraudulently sell 39 million N95 respirator masks to US health care workers, a Justice Department official said in an interview with CNN.

Scott Brady, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, tells CNN that the Justice Department has launched an investigation into two foreign entities suspected of trying to defraud US health care companies out of millions of dollars as they work to respond to the growing number of coronavirus patients.

In the past month, one group of scammers attempted to bilk US health care companies by offering the sale of N95 masks and demanding upfront payment of 40% of the total bulk purchase price of $3.50 per mask.

Part of the ruse involved convincing buyers that some of the masks were already located in the United States and ready for immediate delivery, however, officials believe these representations were fraudulent and no masks actually existed. Brady said the fraud was disrupted before any funds were transferred.

The federal investigation was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. 

The scam was discovered after the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU), a union representing California health care workers on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic, publicly announced last month it had located 39 million critically-need N95 masks from a supplier, and would be connecting local governments and hospital officials seeking to purchase masks for their employees. 

Brady told CNN the supplier was identified as a man in Pennsylvania, who claimed he was merely a middleman working with two foreign companies — a broker in Australia and a supplier in Kuwait — which are now both under federal investigation. The Pennsylvania supplier is cooperating with law enforcement and is not believed to have been knowingly involved in criminal activity. Brady noted SEIU and 3M — the maker of N95 masks — have also assisted authorities. 

N95 masks are currently among the most sought-after and scarce pieces of personal protective equipment for health care workers treating the thousands of US victims of coronavirus. 

“The health care systems and first responders are so desperate they’re willing to pay whatever it takes to keep their personnel safe,” Brady noted. 

For those contemplating profiting from scams during the pandemic, Brady offered a stark warning. 

“The Department of Justice has a long memory,” he said. “If you have victimized and defrauded people, especially in the time of a national crisis, be sure that at some point in the near future, someone will be knocking on your door.” 

5:10 p.m. ET, April 13, 2020

NBA player Karl-Anthony Towns' mother dies of coronavirus complications

Jacqueline Towns, the mother of NBA player Karl-Anthony Towns, died Monday due to complications as a result of Covid-19, according to a statement from a family spokesperson released by Towns' team, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Towns made his mother's struggle with Covid-19 public via an emotional social media video on March 25 in which he said his mother had been put on a ventilator in a medically induced coma.

Prior to that public announcement, Karl-Anthony Towns made a $100,000 donation to the Mayo Clinic to assist in its effort fo combat coronavirus.

5:02 p.m. ET, April 13, 2020

US lab company says it has eliminated coronavirus testing backlog

From CNN’s Arman Azad

A healthcare worker holds a Quest Diagnostics bag containing a coronavirus swab at a drive-through testing center in Washington, DC.
A healthcare worker holds a Quest Diagnostics bag containing a coronavirus swab at a drive-through testing center in Washington, DC. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest laboratory companies in the US, announced on Monday that it had eliminated its coronavirus testing backlog.

The company said it can now perform 45,000 coronavirus tests a day, providing results in less than two days, on average.

For priority patients — such as people who are hospitalized — Quest said it usually provides results in less than a day.

Those turnaround times, according to the company, are from specimen pickup to the reporting of results — and include transportation.

As of Monday, Quest said it had performed and reported results of about 800,000 coronavirus tests in the United States. 

4:46 p.m. ET, April 13, 2020

Results of large hydroxychloroquine study to be released next week

From CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen

A packet of hydroxychloroquine pills.
A packet of hydroxychloroquine pills. Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images

Researchers in New York will announce new week the preliminary results of a study on hydroxychloroquine, a drug often touted by President Trump as a “game-changer” for coronavirus patients.

The announcement could offer one of the first scientific hints as to whether the drugs are helpful against the virus. 

Since hydroxychloroquine is already on the market for malaria, lupus and other diseases, doctors are free to prescribe it “off label” to patients with coronavirus. Doctors can also prescribe chloroquine, a similar drug, and azithromycin, an antibiotic that’s sometimes paired with the two drugs. 

The New York study will review hundreds of medical records from hospital patients across New York state with coronavirus to see if the drugs are helping them or hurting them.

“We wanted to get an immediate sense of this,” said David Holtgrave, dean of the University at Albany School of Public Health, who is running the study. “Time is so much of the essence here.” 

A recent chloroquine study in Brazil was halted because study subjects who were taking a high dose of the drug had a higher risk of potentially deadly heart problems.

Because of those cardiac concerns, a Swedish government agency has issued a warning that that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine should not be used outside of clinical trials for Covid-19.

The Albany researchers will review hospital charts to see if patients who are taking the drugs have different outcomes compared with those who are not. They’ll be comparing mortality rates, and rates of admission to the intensive care unit as well as any side effects of the drugs.

The researchers hope to study 1,600 patients divided equally into four groups: those taking hydroxychloroquine; those taking hydroxychloroquine along with azithromycin; those taking chloroquine; and those taking none of the drugs, as a comparison group.

Holtgrave said he hopes to have final results at the end of the month. He said doctors shouldn’t make prescribing decisions based on the results of his study alone. Rather, he said doctors should look at his results together with the results of clinical trials, which are considered more rigorous.

In clinical trials, which are considered the gold standard in medicine, doctors give the drugs to a group of patients and then give placebo pills to another group of patients, and compare how the two groups fare. There are more than a dozen clinical trials underway in the US right now but results for most of them won’t be published for months.

The Albany medical records study is being conducted in partnership with the New York Department of Health, which is funding the study.

4:27 p.m. ET, April 13, 2020

NY Federal Reserve scaling back emergency intervention into financial markets

From CNN’s Matt Egan

The New York Federal Reserve is scaling back its emergency intervention into jittery financial markets.

The NY Fed said Monday it will reduce the frequency of its repo operations "in light of more stable" market conditions.

The Fed began pumping in vast amounts of money into the overnight lending markets last fall as borrowing rates spiked.

That rescue was accelerated last month as chaos erupted on Wall Street. The NY Fed offered to pump in up to $500 billion in the morning and another $500 billion in the afternoon.

But starting May 4, the NY Fed said it "intends" to scrap that afternoon repo operation, leaving just the morning one.

Likewise, the NY Fed said it will reduce the frequency of three-month repo operations to once every two weeks instead of once a week.

Of course, this plan could change should market conditions deteriorate again.

The NY Fed promised to adjust repo operations "as appropriate" to "support the smooth functioning" of funding markets.

4:28 p.m. ET, April 13, 2020

Treasury says 80 million people will receive stimulus payments this week

From CNN’s Katie Lobosco

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Treasury Department said Monday that 80 million people will receive their stimulus payments via direct deposit this week.

The payments are being made first to eligible people who have already filed their 2019 or 2018 tax returns, and authorized a direct deposit.

Other people — including those who haven't filed returns, authorized direct deposits, or receive Social Security – will have to wait longer for their payments. 

Treasury said Monday that it expects a “large majority of eligible Americans” will receive their payments within the next two weeks.

The timeline keeps the first payments on the schedule promised by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who said April 2 that the payments would begin going out within two weeks. He had earlier pushed for distributions, part of the $2.2 trillion economic relief package passed by Congress in March, to start as early as April 6.

For those low-income people who are not normally required to file their returns, the Treasury has set up a new online tool to make it easier for them to input basic information in order to receive their payment. 

Treasury is also expected to roll out a separate tool this week that will allow people who have filed their returns, but not authorized a direct deposit, to upload their bank account information so that they can receive their payment faster than waiting for a paper check to be mailed.