US coronavirus death toll surpasses 60,000; 100 bodies found in trucks outside NYC funeral home

By MORGAN WINSOR and EMILY SHAPIRO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 227,000 people worldwide.

More than 3.1 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding the scope of their nations’ outbreaks.

The United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than one million diagnosed cases and at least 60,966 deaths.

Here’s how the news developed Wednesday. All times Eastern:

12:14 a.m.: Michigan stay-at-home order doesn’t infringe on constitutional rights, court says

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer scored a legal victory Wednesday after the Michigan Court of Claims ruled that the state’s stay-at-home order does not infringe on the constitutional rights of residents.

The plaintiffs had claimed that the mandatory quarantine imposed by Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order violated their rights. The judge disagreed, saying the governor has the right to act in the interest of public health.

“Although the Court is painfully aware of the difficulties of living under the restrictions of these executive orders, those difficulties are temporary, while to those who contract the virus and cannot recover (and to their family members and friends), it is all too permanent,” Judge Christopher Murray wrote in his decision. “That is not to say that every new virus will require the action taken here, but given the authority of the Governor to do so in the face of these circumstances, the Court must conclude issuing injunctive relief would not serve the public interest, despite the temporary harm to plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”

Michigan has more than 40,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and at least 3,670 deaths.

“I am pleased with the court’s decision,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement Wednesday night. “The primary goal of the Stay Home, Stay Safe order has always been to protect human life.”

8:44 p.m.: Los Angeles offering free testing for all residents

Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that Los Angeles County, including the city of LA, is now the first to offer COVID-19 testing to all of its residents with or without symptoms, at no cost.

“Making testing available to anyone who wants it is essential,” the mayor said in making the announcement.

Los Angeles currently has 34 testing sites with the capacity to test 18,000 people per day, according to officials.

A new health department report shows that the city’s working class and poor neighborhoods have a disproportionate rate of infection, and a disproportionate rate of death, Garcetti said.

The COVID-19 fatality rate in some lower-income neighborhoods in Central Los Angeles is four times higher than the national average, the report says.

Los Angeles County has 22,485 coronavirus cases, up 1,541 from yesterday for an increase of 7%.

7:37 p.m.: 100 bodies found in trucks outside funeral home

One hundred bodies have been found in two unrefrigerated trucks outside of a Brooklyn, New York, funeral home after neighbors complained about a stench from bodies being stored in trailers.

“The Department has been notified of storage issues of decedents and alternate arrangements are being made by the funeral home,” the New York State Health Department said in a statement provided to ABC News.

Funeral directors are required to store decedents awaiting burial or other final disposition in appropriate conditions and follow their routine infection prevention and control precautions.

The funeral home director at Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Services on Utica Avenue in the Flatlands section told New York ABC station WABC they ran out of places to store the bodies.

The state health department will issue a summons for improper storage.

7:10 p.m.: Lyft to lay off nearly 1,000 employees

Ride-sharing service Lyft plans to lay off 982 employees — 17% of its company — due to the coronavirus pandemic, the company said in a regulatory filing Wednesday.

The company has also furloughed approximately 288 employees, according to the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Lyft will also reduce the base salary for executives and some other employees for 12 weeks starting in May, according to the filing.

The layoffs will cost $28 million to $36 million in severance payments and other benefits, the company said.

6:38 p.m.: Arizona extends stay-at-home order

Arizona’s stay-at-home order, set to expire on Thursday, will be extended until May 15, Gov. Doug Ducey announced Wednesday.

The modified order will phase in the reopening of some nonessential businesses starting May 4.

The state’s travel restriction order, which increased quarantine guidelines for out-of-state travelers from the coronavirus hotspots New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, also will be extended until May 15.

Arizona has had 7,202 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 304 deaths, according to the state’s Department of Health Services.

4:15 p.m.: US death toll climbs over 60,000

The U.S. reached another grim milestone Wednesday afternoon as the death toll climbed over 60,000.

President Donald Trump last week cited 60,000 as a high-end estimate of how many people would die from the coronavirus.

The president on Monday revised that estimate to 60,000 to 70,000, after the U.S. crossed a death toll of 55,000.

3:35 p.m.: 5th TSA employee dies from COVID-19

A fifth employee of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) died from COVID-19 on Tuesday, the agency said.

Mark Barisonek, a TSA employee for 16 years, worked at Newark Liberty International Airport.

Barsinoek leaves behind his wife, five children and three grandchildren.

At least 500 TSA employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

The vast majority of the TSA cases are at New York City airports: 105 John F. Kennedy International Airport workers tested positive, 56 are positive from Newark and another 32 positive cases are employees working at LaGuardia Airport.

TSA officials said they are providing N95 respirators and eye protection to workers. At JFK and a dozen other airports around the nation, the TSA is temporarily adding plexiglass protective screens at the travel document-checking podium.

3 p.m.: Michigan offers G.I. Bill for front-line workers

Michigan is offering a G.I. Bill for pandemic front-line workers, to provide a tuition-free pathway to a college degree.

The program extends beyond those who work in hospitals, and is accessible for people including nursing home employees, grocery store workers, those delivering supplies and trash collectors.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said this is “our way of saying ‘thank you’ to those who have risked their lives on the front lines of this crisis.”

“I want to assure all of our workers we will never forget those of you who stepped up and sacrificed their own health during this crisis. You’re the reason we’re going to get through this,” Whitmer said in a statement Wednesday.

2:30 p.m.: Man allegedly steals coronavirus stimulus checks from the mail

A 31-year-old man was arrested Tuesday for allegedly stealing nine coronavirus stimulus checks from the mail in New York City.

He was allegedly spotted rummaging through mailboxes at multiple locations, according to police and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.

Feng Chen was charged at the state level with possession of stolen property and criminal trespass. He was charged at the federal level with mail theft.

He has not yet entered a plea to the charges.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has issued a warning about the potential theft of stimulus checks and has asked law enforcement to “exercise increased vigilance.”

1:35 p.m.: Tom Hanks tweets photos of him donating his plasma

Tom Hanks, who was diagnosed with the coronavirus in March, tweeted photos Wednesday of his plasma donation.

“After the paperwork, it’s as easy as taking a nap,” Hanks tweeted.

 

Here’s last week’s bag of plasma. Such a bag! After the paperwork, it’s as easy as taking a nap. Thanks @arimoin and UCLA. Hanx pic.twitter.com/15WblGiVwe

— Tom Hanks (@tomhanks) April 29, 2020

1:20 p.m.: Fauci touts promise of remdesivir

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, touted the potential promise of the drug remdesivir to treat the coronavirus as he joined President Donald Trump and other officials in the Oval Office Wednesday.

This came as Fauci announced the findings of a National Institutes of Health study that showed the drug had a “clear cut, significant, positive effect” in reducing recovery time for COVID-19 patients.

“It’s highly significant,” Fauci said. “If you look at the time to recovery being shorter in the Remdesivir arm, it was 11 days compared to 15 days.”
Faces of the coronavirus pandemic: Remembering those who died

“The bottom line,” Fauci said, is that this is “opening the door” to the ability to better treat patients with the virus.

“What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,” he said.

Fauci said the trial was conducted on an international basis and included 1,090-plus individuals.

“It’s the first truly high-powered randomized placebo-controlled trial,” Fauci said.  

Explaining why the government is making this announcement early, Fauci said there is an ethical obligation to make this information available to those who have been in the placebo treatment group.

Fauci said normally they would have waited several more days, but said there won’t be significant changes in the data during that time.

12:50 p.m.: UK death toll jumps to over 26,000

The United Kingdom’s home secretary on Wednesday announced an adjustment to the total number of deaths in England to include people who died in senior citizen homes and those who died at home who weren’t included in previous counts.

This added an additional 3,811 fatalities to the total number of deaths in the U.K. The death toll now stands at 26,097, making the U.K. the second highest for fatalities in Europe, behind Italy.

12:30 p.m.: Cuomo calls for plan to disinfect subways

In New York state, 330 people died from the coronavirus on Tuesday, including 16 people who died in nursing homes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during his daily press briefing on Wednesday.

“We’re making progress,” the governor said, adding, “we are not out of the woods yet. And we’re proceeding with caution.”

Cuomo called attention to what he described as “the deterioration of the conditions in the subways.”

“The trains are filled with homeless people,” Cuomo said. “If you let homeless people stay on the trains in the middle of a global health pandemic with no masks, no protective equipment, you are not helping the homeless. Letting them endanger their own life and endanger the lives of others is not helping anyone.”

The governor said he spoke to MTA officials on Tuesday, and he’s expecting them to provide a plan on Thursday for how each train will be disinfected each night.

“Any essential worker who shows up and gets on a train should know that that train was disinfected the night before,” he said.

10:25 a.m.: NYC offers antibody tests to health care workers and first responders

In hard-hit New York City, antibody tests will be offered to over 150,000 health care workers and first responders, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

The aim is to begin testing by next week at hospitals, fire houses, police stations and correctional facilities. The goal is to test all health care workers and first responders within one month, the mayor said.

Antibody tests identify a likely past infection and provide confidence that the individual overcame the virus, the mayor said.

Meanwhile, for the first time New York City is making marriage licenses available online due to the coronavirus.

The city’s IT department has built technology to enable online licensing to begin next week.

“We need moments of joy now more than ever, and we won’t let a pandemic get in the way of true love,” de Blasio said in a statement.

10:05 a.m.: 500 TSA employees test positive for COVID-19

As of Wednesday morning, 500 employees from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have tested positive for COVID-19, including 208 workers who have recovered and four who have died.

The vast majority of the TSA cases are at New York City airports: 105 John F. Kennedy International Airport workers tested positive, 56 are positive from Newark Liberty International Airport and another 32 positive cases are employees working at LaGuardia Airport.

TSA officials said they are providing N95 respirators and eye protection to workers. At JFK and a dozen other airports around the nation, the TSA is temporarily adding plexiglass protective screens at the travel document-checking podium.

9:44 a.m.: Death toll among UK health and social care workers rises to 108

A growing number of front-line workers have given their lives to fighting the novel coronavirus in the United Kingdom.

So far, 85 National Health Service staff and 23 social care workers are known to have died after contracting the virus themselves, according to British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, who paid tribute to the victims while addressing Parliament on Wednesday.

The true death toll among U.K. front-line workers is suspected to be much higher.

“My very deepest sympathies are with their family and friends at what is an incredibly difficult time,” Raab said, “and we’ll continue to do whatever it takes to support them.”

9:07 a.m.: Coronavirus may have already been in northern Italy as early as Jan. 26

The novel coronavirus may have been present in northern Italy’s Lombardy region as early as Jan. 26, nearly a month before the country’s first locally transmitted case was confirmed, according to a report by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The newspaper reported that an analysis of the virus-hit Lombardy region, based on the appearance of symptoms, shows there may have already been 543 cases of COVID-19 there on Jan. 26, including 46 in Milan. By the time the first positive case was detected on Feb. 21 in the town of Codogno, approximately 1,200 people had already contracted the virus throughout Lombardy, according to the newspaper’s analysis.

Italy is one of the worst-affected countries in the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 201,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and over 27,000 deaths, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The European country has been under a nationwide lockdown since March 9 to help curb the spread of the virus, but the government has outlined plans to gradually relax restrictions starting next month.

8:15 a.m.: France to be divided into ‘red’ and ‘green’ zones for lockdown exit

France will be divided into “red” and “green” zones as the nationwide lockdown is progressively lifted from May 11, the prime minister said.

While presenting details of the lockdown exit plan to French parliament on Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said all departments within the administrative regions of France will be labeled either “red” or “green,” based on certain criteria such as the local infection rate and hospital capacity. Red departments will have to be more strict in easing their lockdowns than green departments, Philippe said.

France is one of the worst-affected countries in the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 169,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and over 23,000, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The European country has been on a strict lockdown since March 17.

8:05 a.m.: Sailors start returning to the virus-hit USS Theodore Roosevelt

Hundreds of U.S. Navy sailors began reboarding the USS Theodore Roosevelt on Wednesday after spending weeks in quarantine on Guam while the coronavirus-stricken ship was cleaned, officials said.

The aircraft carrier was forced to dock in Guam late last month due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Out of the ship’s nearly 5,000 crew members, 940 sailors had tested positive for the novel coronavirus and 29 had recovered as of Tuesday.

More than 4,000 sailors who tested negative have been quarantined in hotels and other facilities ashore. It will take several days to move all of them back on board the ship, according to a press release from the U.S. 7th Fleet.

All sailors must have completed their period of quarantine or isolation and tested negative twice before they are considered virus-free and can return to the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Sailors will move back to the ship in waves, starting with those responsible for critical services on board as the aircraft carrier prepares to return to sea. Meanwhile, the roughly 700 sailors who remained on board to deep clean the ship and run essential services will begin their isolation period, according to the press release.

“The stay behind crew successfully built a ‘bubble’ around the ship, that can now be turned over to the clean crew,” Cmdr. Zach Harry, chief engineer aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt, said in a statement Wednesday. “The crew will now create a boundary to keep the coronavirus out. This clean bubble must now be defended.”

6:05 a.m.: China to hold largest political gathering after two-month delay due to coronavirus

China has decided to hold its most important political gathering next month after postponing it for weeks because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The country’s official state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday that this year’s plenary session of the National People’s Congress would take place in Beijing on May 22, as decided by its standing committee.

The 3,000-member ceremonial legislature was originally scheduled to convene in March but was delayed as the country struggled to contain the deadly outbreak.

It was the first time in decades that the annual assembly had been postponed — since the Cultural Revolution.

China’s National Health Commission has reported at least 82,858 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,633 deaths on the mainland since the novel coronavirus emerged in the central city of Wuhan back in December.

5:12 a.m.: US federal inmate dies of COVID-19 after giving birth while on ventilator

A 30-year-old federal inmate died of COVID-19 on Tuesday, four weeks after giving birth while she was on a ventilator, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Andrea Circle Bear, who was serving a 26-month sentence for maintaining a drug-affiliated business, is believed to be the first female federal inmate in the United States to die of the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Circle Bear was transferred last month from a South Dakota jail to the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, which houses 1,625 female inmates. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, she was immediately placed on quarantine status at the facility, according to a statement from the Bureau of Prisons.

Circle Bear was taken to a local hospital on March 28 because of potential concerns regarding her pregnancy. She was discharged the same day and taken back to FMC Carswell. Three days later, she was seen by the prison’s health services staff for a fever, dry cough and other symptoms, and was subsequently transported to the local hospital where she was placed on a ventilator, the Bureau of Prisons said.

Circle Bear gave birth to her baby by cesarean section on April 1. The new mother tested positive for COVID-19 three days later. She was pronounced dead by hospital staff on Tuesday.

The Bureau of Prisons said Circle Bear had a pre-existing medical condition, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists as a risk factor for developing more severe illness when infected with the novel coronavirus.

Nationwide, more than 1,300 federal inmates and over 300 Bureau of Prisons staff have tested positive for COVID-19. At least 30 federal inmates have died from the disease.

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2:30 p.m.: Man allegedly steals coronavirus stimulus checks from the mail

A 31-year-old man was arrested Tuesday for allegedly stealing nine coronavirus stimulus checks from the mail in New York City.

He was allegedly spotted rummaging through mailboxes at multiple locations, according to police and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.

Feng Chen was charged at the state level with possession of stolen property and criminal trespass. He was charged at the federal level with mail theft.

He has not yet entered a plea to the charges.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has issued a warning about the potential theft of stimulus checks and has asked law enforcement to “exercise increased vigilance.”

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