WASHINGTON — Key coronavirus updates for Saturday, March 21:
- The U.S. FDA has approved first rapid coronavirus test.
- Flights were grounded temporarily and diverted from New York airspace because of "staffing issues."
- Vice President Mike Pence and his wife tested negative Saturday for coronavirus after a member of his office tested positive.
- USA Track and Field has called for Olympic postponement, along with USA Swimming.
- Spain has recorded almost 5,000 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours, climbing to third among the global ranking of infections behind China and Italy.
- South Korea’s prime minister has “strongly recommended” the country’s religious facilities, gyms and clubs close for 15 days.
- Overseas passengers flying to Beijing may have to quarantine in Inner Mongolia if they have the new coronavirus.
- Nissan says it will suspend vehicle production at its two Mexican assembly plants beginning next week.
- New Mexico election regulators are encouraging registered voters to request mail-in ballots ahead of the state's June 2 primary election.
- Colombia is joining a growing list of nations that have imposed mandatory lockdowns for citizens in an effort to contain the pandemic.
The coronavirus has infected more than 290,000 people and killed more than 12,500 worldwide. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. More than 88,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China. There are no vaccines or treatments yet, so staying clear of one another is key to flattening the pandemic's contagion curve.
Hawaii to quarantine all arrivals to the state for 14 days
Hawaii's governor has instituted a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine starting Thursday of all people traveling to the state as part of efforts to fight the spread of coronavirus.
The order applies to returning residents as well as visitors. It applies to all arrivals at Hawaii airports from the continental U.S. and international destinations and extends to other private and commercial aircraft.
“With the majority of Hawaiʻi’s COVID-19 cases linked to travel, it is critical that we further mitigate the spread of the virus by both residents and visitors who are coming from out-of-state,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement. “This plan was developed in collaboration with our county mayors and Hawaiʻi’s business, community and visitor industry leaders.”
Returning residents must quarantine themselves at home, the governor's office said. Visitors must quarantine themselves in their hotel room or rented lodging.
North Korea says Trump's letter offers anti-virus cooperation
North Korea says President Donald Trump has sent a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seeking to maintain good relations and offering cooperation in fighting the viral pandemic. Kim's sister, Kim Yo Jong, praised Trump for sending the letter at a time when “big difficulties and challenges lie ahead" in the way of developing ties. But she said it’s not a good idea to “make hasty conclusion or be optimistic about” the prospect for better ties. The latest correspondence comes as Kim observed the firing of tactical guided weapons over the weekend, drawing criticism from South Korea, as the nuclear talks remain deadlocked.
38 positive in NYC jails, including Rikers
The board that oversees New York City's jail system said at least 38 people have tested positive for coronavirus in city jails, including at the notorious Rikers Island jail complex. In a letter to criminal justice leaders, Board of Correction interim chairwoman Jacqueline Sherman wrote that at least 58 other people were currently being monitored in contagious disease and quarantine units. She said it's likely the individuals “have been in hundreds of housing areas and common areas over recent weeks and have been in close contact” with other people.
Brief New York, Philadelphia flight disruptions after FAA trainee tests positive
The Federal Aviation Administration briefly suspended flights to New York City-area airports on Saturday after a trainee at a regional air-traffic control hub on Long Island tested positive for the disease.
In an alert posted online, the FAA advised air traffic controllers to "stop all departures" to John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark and other airports in the region because of staffing issues at the Ronkonkoma facility, which the agency says primarily handles high-altitude, cross-country flights. The halt, which also affected Philadelphia's airport, was lifted after about 30 minutes. Controllers were initially warned it could last several hours.
The FAA tweeted Saturday that it's closing New York traffic control centers overnight for cleaning, but effects on traffic should be minimal.
McConnell: 'Very close' on rescue package topping $1T
Top-level talks between Congress and the White House are pushing toward agreement on a ballooning $1 trillion-plus economic rescue package to beat back the impact of the coronavirus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says negotiators are “very close” to a bipartisan deal.
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer says good progress is being made, but a spokesman for the Democratic leader says there is “not yet” an agreement. Top leaders including House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi will meet privately early Sunday. Officials put the price tag at nearly $1.4 trillion and say that with other measures from the Federal Reserve it could pump $2 trillion into the U.S. economy.
Vice President Pence, his wife test negative
Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, have tested negative for the coronavirus.
The vice president's press secretary, Katie Miller, tweeted the results of the tests Saturday night. Pence had announced earlier Saturday that, out of an abundance of caution, he and his wife would be tested for the virus. A member of the vice president's staff had tested positive for the virus.
The vice president had said the staffer, who did not have close contact with either the president or vice president, was doing well. Still, Pence stood just a few feet from President Donald Trump at the podium during their press conference.
Kay Jewelers temporarily closing stores
As government officials in California, New York and other states have told many businesses to close to help slow the spread of the virus, Kay Jewelers says it's temporarily closing stores.
The company says it's closing locations starting 6 p.m. Sunday. Kay President Jamie Singleton says they'll follow health officials' guidelines to determine when to reopen. Online stores and shipping will still be available.
1st federal prison case confirmed in New York inmate
An inmate at a federal jail in New York City has tested positive for the new coronavirus, marking the first confirmed case in the federal prison system.
The federal Bureau of Prisons says the man is housed at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and complained of chest pains on Thursday, a few days after he arrived at the facility.
Officials say he was taken to a hospital and tested for COVID-19. The inmate was discharged from the hospital on Friday and returned to the jail, where he was immediately placed in isolation. The Bureau of Prisons learned Saturday he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Britain steps up response
The British government is heightening its response to the new coronavirus, telling up to 1.5 million sick and vulnerable people to stay home and avoid contact with others for at least 12 weeks.
The government says people with certain health conditions — including recipients of organ transplants, people with cystic fibrosis, patients with blood or bone marrow cancer and some people on immune-suppressing drugs — should “shield themselves” from the spreading pandemic by living in isolation.
Special deliveries of groceries and medicine will be arranged by an alliance of public agencies, the military, food retailers and volunteers.
The move came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the spread of the virus was accelerating. He said Britain’s health system would be “completely overwhelmed” without a “heroic and collective national effort” of social isolation to slow it.
Britain has 5,018 confirmed cases of the virus, and 233 deaths, an increase of more than 50 deaths from a day earlier.
Trump signs legislation for GI Bill students to keep benefits despite online classes
President Donald Trump signed into law Saturday bipartisan legislation that will allow student veterans on the GI Bill to continue receiving full benefits, as many colleges and universities switch to online classes only to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The GI Bill determines student veterans’ benefits based on if they attend school in-person, opposed to an online program. The bill now ensures student veterans will still get full benefits even if their classes go all online.
The measure was co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. He says in a statement that schools made the right move to go online amid the coronavirus outbreak, but it had "resulted in an unintended consequence of student veterans potentially facing reduced GI Bill benefits.”
FDA OKs first rapid test, with results in less than hour
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first rapid coronavirus test, which produces results in about 45 minutes.
An FDA spokeswoman confirmed the approval after an announcement from Cepheid, a Silicon Valley molecular diagnostics company.
It can take at least a few days to get results from current coronavirus tests, which typically are sent in batches to reference labs, said Dr. David Persing, the company’s chief medical and technology officer.
“What’s really needed is a test that can rapidly determine status of infection on site when patients are being seen,” he said on a company video.
Cepheid said it will begin shipping its tests next week.
St. Jude employee in Memphis tests positive for COVID-19
A St. Jude employee has tested positive for the coronavirus. The test was conducted at the children's research hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
"We are working in partnership with the Shelby County Health Department to make sure appropriate follow-up measures are taken," St. Jude said in a statement.
FAA lifts brief suspension of flights to New York airports because of staffing issues
The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights Saturday to New York City-area airports because of coronavirus-related staffing issues at a regional air-traffic control center. The halt on flights was lifted shortly after.
In an alert posted online, the agency advised air traffic controllers to "stop all departures" to Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark and other airports in the region.
The directive also affects Philadelphia International Airport.
White House Coronavirus Task Force updates the public Saturday
Saturday President Trump addressed the nation from the White House saying the new coronavirus has now affected at least 148 countries. Trump said he's working closely with Gov. Cuomo of New York and working to respond to needs of state governments across the country.
After it was learned that a member of Vice President Mike Pence's office tested positive for the coronavirus, the vice president says he and his wife will be tested Saturday.
New travel travel rules have been put in place at the Canada and Mexico borders with the U.S. to suspend non-essential travel. Trump again used the controversial term "China virus" in his comments Saturday.
Negotiators from Congress and the White House are racing to strike a deal on a ballooning $1 trillion-plus economic rescue package. Top-level talks resumed Saturday.
Ben Carson announced that Trump has requested the immediate cessation of foreclosures and evictions as the country deals with the economic fallout of the virus pandemic.
The sweeping aid package of paychecks for suddenly jobless Americans, money for hospitals and aid to industry is all but certain to swell far beyond the initial $1 trillion price tag. Combined with other actions by the Federal Reserve, officials say it could be a $2 trillion pump to the economy.
The Senate was convening the rare weekend session with the aim of drafting the package Saturday, holding an initial vote Sunday and winning Senate passage on Monday.
USA Track and Field asks that Olympics be postponed until 2021
U.S. Olympic leaders face a growing rebellion after the USA Track and Field chief added to the call for a postponement of the Tokyo Games because of the mushrooming coronavirus crisis.
Nearly 5,000 new infections in a day in Spain
Spain has recorded almost 5,000 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours as it climbed into third place in the global ranking of infections behind China and Italy.
Health authorities said Saturday that virus infections have reached 24,926, up from 19,980 the day before. Total deaths were 1,326, up from 1,002 on Friday. Over 1,600 patients are in intensive care units that authorities admit are at their limits. Madrid is the hardest-hit region with almost 9,000 infections.
Spain is approaching one week of tight restrictions on free moment and the closure of most shops as hospitals and nursing homes buckle under the burden of the virus outbreak. But authorities admit that they expect infections to continue to rise before the measures can hopefully reverse the trend.
Iran announces more deaths as confirmed cases grow
Air raid sirens have echoed across Jordan's capital to mark the start of a three-day curfew. It's the latest mass lockdown in the Middle East aimed at containing the coronavirus, which has claimed another 123 lives in Iran, home to the region's worst outbreak.
The latest Health Ministry figures bring Iran's overall death toll to 1,556 amid 20,610 confirmed cases as of Saturday.
Iran has faced widespread criticism for its lagging response to the outbreak. In one of the strictest measures yet, Jordan has ordered all shops to close and all people to stay off the streets until at least Tuesday, when it plans to announce specific times for shopping.
Africa coronavirus infections top 1,000
The number of coronavirus cases in Africa has topped 1,000, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Angola reported its first cases, and Burkina Faso’s foreign minister announced he is infected. At least 40 of Africa’s 54 countries now have confirmed cases.
The Ivory Coast said it would close its borders starting Sunday, while Ethiopia’s electoral authorities were discussing the possible impact on a national election later this year.
South Korea's prime minister recommends churches, gyms close
South Korea’s prime minister has “strongly recommended” the country’s religious facilities, gyms and clubs to close for the next 15 days to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Chung Se-kyun during a nationally televised speech on Saturday said the government plans to use administrative orders to shut down the facilities that remain open but fail to enforce distance between people.
He says the government could also file damage claims against the churches and businesses if they become linked to infections after failing to employ preventive measures.
The Gyeonggi province surrounding capital Seoul has already taken similar steps, issuing administrative orders that required around 140 churches and 15,000 karaokes, computer gaming rooms and clubs to strengthen anti-virus measures.
Norwegians: Olympics must wait until virus 'under control'
The Norwegian Olympic Committee says it wants the Tokyo Games only to take place once the coronavirus outbreak “is under firm control” worldwide. The NIF laid out its position in a letter sent to IOC President Thomas Bach on Friday entitled “Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and COVID-19” and signed by its president and secretary general.
The body is urging the IOC to provide an “insight on the central milestones” in the process leading to the final decision on whether the games will be held. Calls are growing for the Tokyo Games to be postponed.
Beijing screening overseas flights for virus
Overseas passengers flying to Beijing may have to quarantine in Inner Mongolia if they have the new coronavirus or have been in close contact with anyone that does.
The Chinese capital is rerouting flights to three other cities as it tries to prevent fresh outbreaks started by infected people arriving from abroad. One is Hothot, the capital of China’s Inner Mongolia region. The city is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Beijing.
The state-owned China Daily said that passengers and crew will be screened on arrival. Confirmed cases will be sent to local hospitals, and close contacts to quarantine facilities in the cities, the English-language newspaper reported. Other passengers will then continue to Beijing.
The other cities are Tianjin and Taiyuan. Beijing has identified more than 80 imported cases in recent weeks.
Nissan suspending production at 2 Mexican plants
Nissan says it will suspend vehicle production at its two Mexican assembly plants beginning next week as a protective measure against the spread of the coronavirus.
The Japanese automaker says in a statement released Friday night that work will be suspended from Wednesday through April 14.
Nissan says there are no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus among its employees. Mexico’s government reported earlier Friday evening that the number of confirmed cases across the country had risen to 203, with two deaths.
Nissan has a small-car assembly plant in Aquascalientes in central Mexico, and it produces small cars and pickup trucks at a plant in Cuernavaca near Mexico City.
Nissan announced on Wednesday that it is temporarily suspending production of its manufacturing facilities in the U.S. starting March 20 through April 6.
New Mexico encourages mail-in balloting amid virus concerns
New Mexico election regulators are encouraging registered voters to request mail-in ballots ahead of the state's June 2 primary election in light of a public health emergency concerning the coronavirus.
Ohio delayed its presidential primary in the final hours before scheduled polling to prevent fueling the pandemic. In New Mexico, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver on Friday announced that absentee ballots can be requested through an online portal.
New Mexico has “no-fault” absentee balloting in which mail-in ballots can be requested for any reason.
Primary election absentee ballots are sent out to voters starting on May 5. The final day to request an absentee ballot is May 28.
Colombia imposes lockdowns starting Tuesday
Colombia is joining a growing list of nations that have imposed mandatory lockdowns for citizens in an effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
President Iván Duque announced Friday night that Colombians will be required to isolate in their homes beginning Tuesday and running through April 13.
Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela are among other Latin American countries that have already taken similar measures.
Colombia has confirmed 158 cases of coronavirus infections thus far, with no deaths, and officials are hoping that imposing drastic measures now will help reduce the number of cases in the weeks ahead.
Duque says the lockdown is a decision “for health and for life.”
Colombia’s capital city, Bogota, began its own lockdown Friday, leaving the city’s usually traffic-filled streets largely empty.
Shane Warne turns gin distillery over to hand sanitizer
Legendary Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne has turned his hand from making gin to making hand-sanitizer as shortages frustrate attempts to control the coronavirus outbreak. Warne, who retired from test cricket in 2007 with a record 708 wickets, is a part-owner of the award-winning SevenZeroEight gin distillery.
In a statement, Warne said the distillery was turning its production from gin to alcohol hand rubs which would be provided to two hospitals in West Australia.
Sri Lanka closing expressways for traffic
Sri Lankan authorities have closed all expressways for traffic after the government declared a 2 1/2-day curfew.
The island nation has stepped up its efforts to contain the spreading of coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases has risen to 70. The countrywide curfew, which began Friday night, will continue until Monday morning.