President Donald Trump said his administration is considering requiring travelers on certain incoming international flights to undergo temperature and virus checks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
"We're looking at doing it on the international flights coming out of areas that are heavily infected," Trump said Tuesday at the White House. "We will be looking into that in the very near future."
Trump said it has not been determined yet whether the federal government or the airlines would conduct the testing. "Maybe it's a combination of both," he said.
Trump's comments came during an event showcasing a loan program designed to help small businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program. He said the Small Business Administration has processed more loans in 14 days than it has in the previous 14 years.
Earlier, the president defended his administration's handling of the pandemic as he met with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and promised to help states safely begin reopening their economies.
Trump, seated next to DeSantis in the Oval Office, insisted that the United States was doing enough testing to protect Americans reentering the workforce. The administration has been sharply criticized for not overseeing widespread testing, but Trump said no amount would ever be good enough for critics in the media.
The president dismissed suggestions that the administration was slow to respond to the threat of COVID-19, including reports that it was mentioned in his daily intelligence briefing in January and February. He stressed his decision to restrict flights from China — though more than 40,000 travelers from China still made it to the U.S. afterward — and said of the decision: "Whether it was luck, talent or something else, we saved many thousands of lives."
Florida, with a high population of older Americans vulnerable to the disease, has long been a source of concern, and DeSantis was slower to impose social distancing guidelines than other governors were. But DeSantis, a fellow Republican and close Trump ally, promoted his state's ability to test its residents.
He also raised the idea of testing airline passengers on international flights from areas where the virus is spreading. When Trump suggested DeSantis might be "cutting off Brazil," which is experiencing a major outbreak, the governor replied, "Not necessarily."
Gary Kelly, chairman and CEO of Southwest, was asked about airport screening during an earnings call with analysts and reporters and said: "We are talking with the administration and members of Congress about what the protocols should be."
He added that an industry trade group was "leading the effort to advocate for some kind of health screening at the security checkpoint ... some kind of screening makes sense, and I think to get people flying again, they need to be comfortable, and I think that's one way to provide additional comfort."
Florida health authorities have attributed many of the state's cases to people who arrived from other hot spots, including Europe, Latin America and the New York region. DeSantis hasn't yet given a start date for a reopening but has said it would be "methodical, slow and data-driven." He also has been collecting information from a task force representing industry groups and medical professionals.
Asked why he closed his state later than others did, DeSantis contrasted Florida's "tailored" and "measured" approach with "draconian" measures in other states.
"Everyone in the media was saying Florida was going to be like New York or Italy, and that has not happened," DeSantis said.
Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Tuesday backed former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party's current presumptive presidential nominee.
"This is a moment where we need a leader, a president, like Joe Biden," Clinton said during a virtual town hall.
"I want to add my voice to the many who have endorsed you to be our president," the former secretary of state said, describing Biden as a "friend" and a figure who has been "preparing for this moment his entire life."
Biden called Clinton a "friend" and thanked her for the "wonderful personal endorsement."
One day earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also endorsed Biden, calling him a "voice of reason and resilience" amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden already has the formal support of former President Barack Obama, progressive leaders Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the party's two previous presidential nominees John Kerry and Al Gore.
The coronavirus cases in the US has exceeded 1 million with the death toll exceeding 57,000 on Tuesday, showed the latest data.
The country's number of COVID-19 cases topped 1 million Tuesday afternoon, reaching 1,002,498 as of 1:55 p.m. (1755 GMT), with a total of 57,266 deaths, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.
New York remains the hardest-hit state, with 291,996 cases and 22,668 deaths, followed by New Jersey where 111,188 cases and 6,442 deaths have been reported. Other states with over 40,000 cases include Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Pennsylvania, according to the CSSE.
TRUE NUMBER LIKELY "MUCH HIGHER"
The true number of U.S. infections is believed to be "much higher."
"The 1 million figure does not include untold thousands of Americans who contracted the coronavirus but were not tested, either because they did not show symptoms or because of a persistent national testing shortage," according to a report by The New York Times on Tuesday.
"Some disease researchers have estimated that the true number of infections may be somewhere around 10 times the known number, and preliminary testing of how many people have antibodies to the virus seems to support that view," the report said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday that nearly one-quarter of New York City residents tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, suggesting that COVID-19 spread farther than previously believed.
A sampling of 7,500 residents throughout the state were tested for the COVID-19 antibodies and results suggested 24.7 percent of New York City residents and 14.9 percent of state residents had been infected with the virus, Cuomo said.
Fifty-one percent of New Yorkers personally know someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus, and 32 percent know someone who died as a result of the virus, according to a new Siena College poll.
The deadly virus was likely to be spreading in multiple U.S. cities "far earlier" than Americans knew, reported The New York Times last week citing a new research.
In the five major U.S. cities -- New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle, there were only 23 confirmed cases as of March 1. However, according to a model of the spread of the disease by researchers at Northeastern University, there could have actually been about 28,000 infections in those cities by then.
Also, the virus spread on the West Coast weeks earlier than initially believed, according to new information released by California's Santa Clara County.
In Santa Clara County, a 57-year-old woman died at home on Feb. 6, and a 69-year-old man died on Feb. 17.
"These patients apparently contracted the illness from community spread. This suggests that the virus was circulating in the Bay Area in January at least, probably earlier," Santa Clara County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith told Xinhua.
FAILURE TO ACT TIMELY
To many, the staggering numbers of the COVID-19 cases and deaths came as a shock as the country arguably leads in medical and biological fields and boasts a well-equipped and accomplished public health system.
Experts attributed the crisis partly to the Trump administration's failure to "act in a timely way" even as "the alarm bells were ringing from late December onward."
"Unlike these Asian countries, Trump failed to prepare for the pandemic even after the alarm bells went off. He ignored urgent warning signs. He continued to make light of the high risks, saying repeatedly that everything was under control," wrote Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Center for Sustainable Development, in an opinion piece posted on CNN.com earlier this month.
"He ignores the rudiments of basic public health and seems to view the epidemic in political and electoral rather than public health terms. As usual, he blames others for his own disastrous failings," said Sachs in the article titled "Why the US has the world's highest number of COVID-19 deaths."
"We are still far from any coherent national plan... We would be doing, in short, what the Asian countries have been doing to control the epidemic," said Sachs.
An investigative report recently published by The Washington Post listed four major mistakes the White House made over the first 70 days of the coronavirus crisis that now stands as "critical time that was squandered."
First, the White House and its public health officials mistakenly placed their trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for being able to develop a diagnostic test on its own.
On Feb. 6, when the World Health Organization shipped 250,000 test kits to labs around the world, "the CDC began distributing 90 kits to a smattering of state-run health labs." The scarcity of effective tests left top officials largely blind to the true dimensions of the outbreak, the report wrote.
Second, decision-makers made an erroneous assessment of the outbreak and on most occasions lagged weeks behind the curve.
Over a month into the coronavirus crisis, President Donald Trump held 10 campaign rallies across the nation and visited his golf courses six times. At times, Trump talked far more about stock market than the spread of the virus, the report pointed out.
The third mistake is that the protracted argument between the White House and public health agencies over funding let the narrow window of a timely response slip away; and the fourth one is that infighting, turf wars and abrupt leadership changes "hobbled the work of the coronavirus task force."
"Beyond the suffering in store for thousands of victims and their families, the outcome has altered the international standing of the United States, damaging and diminishing its reputation as a global leader in times of extraordinary adversity," concluded The Washington Post.
President Donald Trump says states should "seriously consider" reopening their public schools before the end of the academic year, even though dozens already have said it would be unsafe for students to return until the summer or fall.
Trump made the comments Monday in a call with governors discussing how to reopen their economies, among other topics.
"Some of you might start thinking about school openings, because a lot of people are wanting to have the school openings. It's not a big subject, young children have done very well in this disaster that we've all gone through," he said. While addressing Vice President Mike Pence, Trump added that it's something "they can seriously consider, and maybe get going on."
None of the governors on the call responded to the suggestion, according to a recording obtained by The Associated Press.
Trump made the comments as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked to finalize guidelines for reopening the economy. For schools, that included putting students' desks 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart, serving meals in the classroom instead of the cafeteria and closing playgrounds.
Reopening schools is considered key to getting the economy moving again. Without a safe place for kids, many parents would have difficulty returning to work.
But some education officials say opening schools quickly would bring major risk and little reward, especially since the end of the school year is approaching.
"Are they going to reopen for two weeks? Three weeks?" said Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, "It's not the right thing to do. Particularly when we're involving the safety and welfare of our students."
At a White House news conference Monday, Trump acknowledged that there's little time left in the school year, even as he said many states are thinking about getting kids back into the classroom.
"I think you'll see a lot of schools open up even if it's for a very short period of time," he said. "In terms of what this vicious virus goes after, young people seem to do very well. Young people seem to do very well so I know that there are some governors that aren't necessarily ready to open up states, but they may be ready to open up the school systems."
Schools across the nation have closed during the coronavirus pandemic, and dozens of states have ordered their schools to remain closed through the rest of this academic year. Only a few have publicly discussed earlier openings, including Montana, which says school districts can resume classroom instruction on May 7.
In many districts, officials have said it's still unclear whether students will be able to return to the classroom by next fall. And even if they do, many are planning for social distancing measures that could make school look radically different from the past.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said on CNN that it's "way too early" to reopen his city's schools, adding that "you don't get a lot of credit for moving too quickly to reopen."
Responding to Trump's comments, one of the nation's largest teachers unions said there's still much work to be done before schools can open safely. The American Federation of Teachers said there needs to be better testing and tracking for the virus, and schools must have access to personal protective equipment.
"It's good the president understands that reopening society and the economy hinges on successfully and safely reopening schools," said Randi Weingarten, the union's president. "But the question should not be whether we open schools, but how we do it safely. COVID-19 is a terrible virus that has already taken too many lives, and, in the absence of a vaccine, there is no magic wand or magic elixir as the president would have us believe."
If schools reopen too quickly and end up spreading the coronavirus, schools could find be held legally liable, said Francisco Negrón, chief legal officer for the National School Boards Association. And while coronavirus cases have been mild among U.S. children, many schools have students with medical conditions that could make them vulnerable, he said.
"The foremost concern for schools is going to be safety of their students and safety of their employees," Negrón said.
In the CDC's draft guidelines for schools, the agency suggested a three-phase reopening process for schools in communities with "low levels of COVID-19 spread and those with confidence that the incidence of infection is genuinely low."
The guidance encourages schools to create isolation areas for students who develop symptoms. And if anyone with COVID-19 is found to have been in the building, it advises schools to shut down for one or two days to clean and disinfect.
Domenech, of the school administrators association, said the guidelines pose significant logistical hurdles. Trying to keep younger students 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart could prove to be impossible, he said, and many schools have so many students they would violate suggested limits on large gatherings.
Still, schools are looking for ways to limit student interaction as they reopen, including plans to bring only a portion of the students in at once. Schools might bring half the students in for the morning, for example, and rotate in the other half for the afternoon. While they're at home, students could keep taking classes online, Domenech said.
"Everybody wants to have the kids back," he said. "We understand the impact that this has on the economy. You have working parents and they need their kids to be safe and in a school environment so they can go back to work. Sooner or later schools will have to reopen. The question is how."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state will restart its economy in a multi-phase manner after the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.
The strategy is to first reopen the construction and manufacturing sectors, and the second phase will be evaluating businesses on a case-by-case basis, depending on how essential they are, said Cuomo at his daily briefing.
There will be two weeks in between each phase to monitor the effects of the reopening and ensure hospitalization and infection rates are not increasing.
"One caveat is you can't do anything in any region that would increase the number of visitors to that region," the governor said.
Cuomo did not give a specific date for the implementation of the strategy, but he said part of the state could begin reopening as soon as May 15 -- the current deadline for the statewide shutdown.
The regions that would be more likely able to open sooner would be the upstate New York, where COVID-19 infections have been relatively low in the state, said Cuomo.
The reopening of the downstate region, which includes the hardest-hit New York City, Nassau County and Westchester, will be more complicated and requires regional coordination, he noted.
"Multi-state coordination is vital there because the New Jersey, Connecticut, New York City area is basically very intermixed," said Cuomo. "People are going and coming, they live in one place, work in another, so that coordination is important."
New York state continued to see a declining trend of total hospitalizations and net intubations, and the daily fatalities dropped to 367 on Saturday, according to the governor.
He also said the infection rate decreased to 0.8 in the state, referring to the situation where "10 positive people infect about eight others."
"We must keep the rate below 1 to keep slowing the spread," said Cuomo.
The state reported over 299,000 COVID-19 cases as the national total rose to nearly 962,000 by Sunday afternoon. Over 22,000 people statewide have died of the disease, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.