April 17 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Rob Picheta and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 10:40 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020
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8:02 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Birx says it's unclear US has coronavirus testing capability for phase two reopening

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks about the coronavirus at the White House, Friday, April 17, in Washington.
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks about the coronavirus at the White House, Friday, April 17, in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP

Dr. Deborah Birx said during Friday’s briefing that it’s unclear whether the US currently has enough coronavirus testing capacity for phase two of the administration’s guidelines for opening states.

“What we will be doing is monitoring how much we have to use in phase one to really help inform phase two,” Birx said. “The really unknown in this, to be completely transparent, is asymptomatic and symptomatic spread.”

Vice President Mike Pence said the administration is going to continue to scale testing as needed, calling on states to manage testing.

7:48 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Pence claims there are enough tests for phase one reopening

From CNN's Betsy Klein, Arman Azad and Curt Devine 

Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in the White House on Friday, April 17, in Washington.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in the White House on Friday, April 17, in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP

 

Vice President Mike Pence claimed Friday that there are enough tests for states looking to reopen under phase one guidelines. 

“Our best scientists and health experts assess that states today have enough tests to implement the criteria of phase one if they choose to do so,” Pence said.

He reiterated, “Let me say that again: Given the guidance in the President’s new guidelines for opening up America again, states that meet the criteria for going into phase one and then are preparing the testing that is contemplated by going to phase one – our best scientists and health experts assess that today, we have a sufficient amount of testing to meet the requirements of phase one reopening if state governors choose to do that.”

Earlier CNN reported that while some labs say testing capacity is not an issue, others are still reporting shortages. 

While delays in testing – and shortages of testing supplies – have been reported across the country, it’s also possible that a slowdown in the pandemic is responsible for the reported decline in tests.

Currently in the United States, testing is primarily done on those who are symptomatic. While the US is still seeing an increasing number of cases, social distancing measures do seem to be working, limiting transmission of the virus.

Assuming there are enough tests available, that slowdown could explain why fewer people are needing tests at hospitals, doctors’ offices and other sites. Or, doctors may just be ordering fewer tests, perhaps reserving them for only the sickest patients.

If there isn’t widespread availability of testing, though, then the reported decline in cases may be misleading.

In a statement on Wednesday, the American Clinical Laboratory Association – which represents commercial labs such as LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics – said that testing capacity was not an issue.

“ACLA members have now eliminated testing backlogs, and have considerable capacity that is not being used,” the group said. 

“We stand ready to perform more testing and are in close communication with public health partners about ways we can support additional needs.”

Other groups, though, have reported problems. In a Monday letter to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the Association of American Medical Colleges said labs are facing critical shortages.

“Widespread but uneven shortages in one or more of the essential components for testing have resulted in a situation where few labs are able to maximize the testing capacity of any one machine, platform, or test,” the group said.

It added that “laboratories across the country are working day and night to expand testing capacity but are severely hampered by shortages of needed reagents, swabs for testing, PPE, and specialized equipment designed by companies to be used with their own machines.”

7:42 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Hawaii closes all state beaches

From CNN's Andy Rose

A surfer walks out of the ocean on Oahu's North Shore near Haleiwa, Hawaii, on Tuesday, March 31.
A surfer walks out of the ocean on Oahu's North Shore near Haleiwa, Hawaii, on Tuesday, March 31. Caleb Jones/AP

Hawaii Gov. David Ige ordered all state-owned beaches closed Friday as part of the effort to combat coronavirus. 

Residents will still be allowed to swim and surf with social distancing, but cannot sunbathe, picnic, or play games on the sand.

Ige’s order also said recreational boating is limited to two people per boat, and that watercraft should maintain a distance of at least 20 feet. Hiking and fishing trips also are limited to two people at a time, except for relatives who live together.

The new rules are in effect until April 30.

7:55 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Minnesota governor says he called Trump to ask about his tweets

From CNN's Janine Mack

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz provides an update on the state's response to the coronavirus at JBS Pork processing plant during a news conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. on Friday, April 17.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz provides an update on the state's response to the coronavirus at JBS Pork processing plant during a news conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. on Friday, April 17. Christine T. Nguyen/Minnesota Public Radio via AP, Pool

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he tried to speak with President Trump after the President tweeted “LIBERATE MINNESOTA" on Friday but he didn't get a call in return.

Speaking at a news conference Friday, Walz said he called to ask, "What are we doing differently about moving towards getting as many people back into the workforce without compromising the health of Minnesotans or the providers?

He added that it "will probably take longer than a two-word tweet."

Protesters have gathered in front of the governor's residence for two days in a row to demonstrate against his statewide stay-at-home. Walz urged protesters to follow social distancing guidelines.

On Friday, Trump tweeted "LIBERATE MINNESOTA," one day after saying he was leaving the reopening decisions up to the governors.

7:19 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Pence describes federal efforts to work with states to respond to coronavirus

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and Betsy Klein 

Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in the White House on Friday, April 17, in Washington.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in the White House on Friday, April 17, in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP

Vice President Mike Pence on Friday described how the federal government is working with states to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pence said that a recent disaster declaration for American Samoa marked the first time in American history that all states and territories had been under a disaster declaration.

“We’re continuing to bring, at the President’s direction, full resources of the federal government to bear. Today, the President approved a major disaster declaration for American Samoa, and now all 50 states and all territories are under major disaster declarations for the first time in American history,” Pence said.

Pence also said there would be an additional call with governors on Monday on the topic of supplies.

“Today we issued a letter to our nation’s governors summarizing all the medical equipment and supplies that have been distributed to their state from FEMA between the first of this month and April 14 through Project Airbridge and through the commercial supply network,” Pence said. 

He continued: “We’ll be speaking with our nation’s governors on Monday and detailing that information at that time.”

Pence said the group will also discuss testing capacity and lab activation “very specifically” during the Monday call.

Watch:

6:54 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Trump says 5.5 million testing swabs will be sent to states

From CNN's Betsy Klein

US President Donald Trump speaks at the coronavirus briefing at the White House on Friday, April 17, in Washington.
US President Donald Trump speaks at the coronavirus briefing at the White House on Friday, April 17, in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP

President Trump laid out the administration’s swab testing efforts during Friday’s briefing. 

In the next few weeks, he said, the federal government will “be sending out 5.5 million testing swabs to the states.”

The swabs, he said, “can be done easily by the governors themselves. Mostly it’s cotton. It’s not a big deal, you can get cotton easily, but if they can’t get it, we will take care of it.”

People might soon be able to perform their own test swabs for Covid-19 at home with a newly designed, Q-tip-style swab, the FDA said Thursday.

CNN reported the FDA said it had worked with US Cotton to design the swabs, which are shorter than the swabs used by technicians, doctors or nurses to collect samples to test people for Covid-19 infection. The FDA also said US Cotton plans to manufacture large quantities of these swabs.

6:46 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Trump announces multi-billion dollar coronavirus food assistance program

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez 

US President Donald Trump listens to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speak at the coronavirus briefing at the White House on Friday, April 17, in Washington.
US President Donald Trump listens to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speak at the coronavirus briefing at the White House on Friday, April 17, in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP

President Trump announced Friday that the Department of Agriculture will be implementing a new multi-billion dollar relief program to deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Today I’m also announcing that … the Department of Agriculture will be implementing a $19 billion relief program for our great farmers and ranchers as they cope with the fallout of the global pandemic,” Trump said during Friday’s White House press briefing. 

The coronavirus food assistance program will have two main missions: to issue direct payments to farmers and to purchase food to be distributed to food banks and community and faith-based organizations.

“The program will include direct payments to farmers as well as mass purchases of dairy, meat and agricultural produce to get that food to the people in need. The USDA will receive another $14 billion in July,” Trump said. 

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “American agriculture has been hard hit like most of America with the coronavirus and President Trump is standing with our farmers and all Americans to make sure we all get through this national emergency.”

6:33 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Montana governor says state is not prepared to reopen yet

From CNN's Andy Rose

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announces the formation of a coronavirus task force Tuesday, March 3 in Helena.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announces the formation of a coronavirus task force Tuesday, March 3 in Helena. Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said there is no way his state could meet the standards set to reopen.

"Even the gating criteria (of two straight weeks with new cases slowing down) that the President put out yesterday — we haven't met those criteria,” Bullock said at a news conference Friday.

During the news conference, Bullock focused on the phased-in plan released by the President’s task force.

“The President told us that we governors will call the shots in our own states,” Bullock said. “First I want to say thank you, Mr. President, for recognizing that every state is different.”

Montana’s statewide stay-at-home order is in effect until April 24.

“After April 24, we will move forward with a phased reopening,” he said.

6:21 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020

There are more than 690,000 coronavirus cases in the US

There are at least 692,169 cases of coronavirus in the US and at least 36,721 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally of cases.

On Friday, Johns Hopkins reported 21,018 new cases and 3,453 reported deaths. 

The totals include cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories, as well as all repatriated cases.