Capital News Service

WASHINGTON — The United States logged over 206,200 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and more than 4,500 deaths Wednesday afternoon, according to John Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering data dashboard, as the pandemic continued intensifying despite increased restrictions on people leaving home and traveling.

President Donald Trump said a “very, very painful two weeks” are on the horizon at a daily White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing Tuesday evening.

Even if the country follows social distancing orders — which Trump extended on Sunday through the end of April — projections show that between 100,000 and 240,000 could die from the virus.

WASHINGTON – A view of the White House from the South Lawn. (Heather Kim/Capital News Service)

“We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks,” the president told reporters. “And then, hopefully, as the experts are predicting, I think a lot of us are predicting, after having studied it so hard, you’re going to start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel.”

White House, CDC considering widespread use of masks

The White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are actively discussing a recommendation of broad face-mask use during the coronavirus pandemic, according to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“The idea of getting a much more broad, communitywide use of masks outside of the health care setting is under very active discussion at the Task Force,” Fauci said in an interview with CNN. “The CDC group is looking at that very carefully.”

Surgeon General Jerome Adams, in a “Good Morning America” interview, said his office asked the CDC to reexamine the general public’s need to wear masks.

The CDC, the World Health Organization and the surgeon general’s office originally recommended against widespread wearing of face masks, but Adams said in a tweet Wednesday that the directive is being reconsidered based on the asymptomatic spread of the virus.

Fauci told CNN that a decision hasn’t been reached yet because the current stock of masks nationwide falls short of the countrywide need.

“We don’t take away the supply of masks from the health care workers who need them,” he said. “But when we get in a situation where we have enough masks, I believe there will be some very serious consideration about broadening this
recommendation of using masks. We’re not there yet, but I think we’re close to coming to some determination.”

Mask-producers like 3M and Honeywell are ramping up their efforts to make more available, while car manufacturers like General Motors and fashion brands such as Chanel are pitching in, too.

Senate Democrats push for increased federal coronavirus relief for the District

Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Tom Carper of Delaware, joined by 20 colleagues, urged Senate leadership Wednesday to provide full coronavirus relief funding for the District.

While the District usually gets classified as a state for budgetary purposes, the third phase of coronavirus packages treated it as a territory instead — preventing it from receiving about $700 million in funding.

“The District of Columbia is not simply the site of the federal government. It is home to 700,000 Americans, with a higher population than two states. Its residents pay federal income tax and follow federal laws,” the senators wrote in their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

“In fact, they contribute more tax revenue than 22 states,” they continued. “Currently, 495 residents of the District have been diagnosed with COVID-19, more than 19 states.”

This funding change comes amid the District’s continued campaign for statehood. The House Oversight and Reform Committee voted to advance legislation to make the District the 51st state in February. But the senators stressed that their request shouldn’t be assessed based on the leaders’ views on D.C. statehood.

“The District of Columbia does not have representation in the Senate, but it does have support,” the senators wrote.

Vice President Mike Pence tours Walmart distribution center

Vice President Mike Pence toured a Walmart distribution center in Virginia on Wednesday. The Gordonsville warehouse, almost two hours outside of Washington, is still operating despite the state’s stay-at-home order. Walmart is considered an essential business and will remain open.

During the 90-minute tour, the vice president thanked workers for their service and coming to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The fact that you’re showing up everyday — rolling your sleeves up and doing the work… you’re making a difference for America,” Pence told workers over an intercom, after it was wiped off.

Pence also gave thumbs up and spoke to employees during his time at the center. The vice president, who heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, acknowledged that these workers are the ones “keeping food on the table,” a message that he tweeted after the tour.

“We know you’re on the frontlines,” Pence told workers at the center. “You’re the people making a difference on the ground.”

Although millions of Americans have lost their jobs within the last few weeks due to businesses closing because of the virus, Walmart employs over 2 million people, according to its website.

“The president wanted me to be here today…to pay a debt of gratitude,” Pence said to the employees.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillion accompanied Pence on the tour.

Museums give thanks to health workers via Twitter hashtag campaign

Museum staff across the country took to Twitter on Wednesday to honor workers on the front lines of coronavirus response by using the hashtag #MuseumsThankHealthHeroes. The campaign asked that participating museums share images from their collections depicting health care workers in action.

Participating museums included the U.S. National Archives, Virginia Association of Museums (VAM), Baltimore Museum of Art, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

“Today, we’re joining in as #MuseumsThankHealthHeroes. We wanted to take a moment as a community to send our thanks to the doctors, nurses & all healthcare workers,” reads a tweet from Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington near Alexandria, Virginia.

Some participating museums also have donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to health workers in need.

“VAM was proud to donate supplies from our museum Emergency Response Kits to help the tireless staff working on the front lines of the COVID19 health crisis,” VAM said in a post. “Get creative & say thank you!”

Interested museums and organizations can donate via

Cruise ships remain at sea in face of pandemic

Cruise ship line Carnival Corp. said more than 6,000 cruise ship passengers are still at sea as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, according to CNN. More than a dozen ships from various cruise lines, some carrying these passengers and some not, remain on the water following Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)’s decision to suspend operation for 30 days starting March 13 in response to the pandemic.

CLIA told CNN that 3.6% of their 277 ships were still at sea as of March 31.

“Flight restrictions and port closures have led to some challenges bringing ships in, however our members are working around the clock to address these road blocks,” said a representative for CLIA to CNN Travel.

“CLIA is asking ports and governments around the world to allow these ships to come into port so that those onboard can make their way home safely and as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson added.

Holland America’s Zaandam, currently headed from Chile to Fort Lauderdale, has been hit particularly hard, with four passenger deaths, eight confirmed cases of the virus and 117 crew members and 76 guests reporting flu-like symptoms, according to CNN Travel.

“I fear other lives are at risk,” said Holland America Line’s President Orlando Ashford.

According to CNN Travel, 37 passengers who disembarked from Phoenix Reisen’s Artania in Fremantle, Australia and one passenger aboard the Costa Victoria who disembarked in Greece have tested positive for COVID.

A variety of other stranded cruise ships, including Princess Cruises’s Coral Princess (on which many passengers have tested positive for regular influenza), Costa Cruises’s Costa Diadema, Costa Favolosa and Costa Magica and Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, are carrying passengers who have exhibited symptoms of illness.

The Miami Herald reported it had accessed leaked information saying that 14 crewmembers aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas had tested positive for COVID, which the line neither confirmed nor denied.

The cruising ban has been extended into May by Carnival, P&O, Royal Caribbean, Cunard and Holland America, CNN Travel reports.

Maryland senators fight for coronavirus relief efforts

Van Hollen and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, are calling on the Treasury Department and Social Security administration to guarantee that Social Security beneficiaries will receive direct assistance in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, without having to file tax returns.

The act, signed into law last week, ensures that the Treasury Department will send cash assistance to the people who qualify and to Social Security recipients, regardless of whether they have filed their taxes. But the Internal Revenue Service announced this week that recipients would need to file their taxes before receiving any money.

“This filing requirement would place a significant burden on retired seniors and individuals who experience disabilities” the senators wrote in a letter Wednesday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Most people who receive Social Security benefits do not file taxes, the senators pointed out.

Along with the two Maryland Democrats, 41 of their fellow senators have also expressed their concerns about the situation.

Senate Democrats also are urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to contribute $500 million to United Nations coronavirus efforts.