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New U.S. virus figures reveal further fatalities, job losses and fiscal gloom

President Donald Trump looks at a display including

President Donald Trump looks at a display including a full protective suit on Thursday's tour of a Ford plant converted to make protective equipment and ventilators in Ypsilanti, Mich. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

Sad beyond spin

Hard official numbers issued Thursday help sum up the plague so far. More than 2.4 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing total filings to about 38.6 million since coronavirus shut businesses and shattered the economy. Another 1.2 million people sought aid under a new federal program for self-employed, contractor and gig workers.

The U.S. death count from COVID-19 approached 95,000. Congressional Democratic leaders called on President Donald Trump to order flags lowered to half-staff when the toll hits 100,000 as a unifying gesture of grief. Trump agreed, saying he'd do so over the next three days.

Larry Kudlow, director of Trump's National Economic Council, spoke of “small glimmers of hope" for the economy and voiced optimism about a sharp improvement this summer. But Kudlow added: "Look, it’s really hard to model a virus, a pandemic, the likes of which we have not seen for 100 years. The numbers coming in are not good."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed rage at another figure: 1,300. That's the number of coronavirus-positive patients in Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities receiving hydroxychloroquine, which is still unproved to treat COVID-19. Newsday's Robert Brodsky and David M. Schwartz describe the details.

Other gloomy new stats for New York State and Long Island emerged Thursday as officials grapple with virus-related expenditures. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Health Department told hospitals and nursing homes they'll get another cut in Medicaid funding as suggested before the pandemic, Newsday's Michael Gormley reports. Nassau County now reports facing a $384 million budget gap, up from the $261 million shortfall projected a month ago, Newsday's Scott Eidler reports.

Touring a Ford plant in Michigan on Thursday, Trump glossed over hard truths with happy talk reminiscent of his predicted April "miracle." "It's an artificial closure, and now we're gonna be able to open it up," he said of the economy. Asked about plans for more stimulus spending, he said: "This isn't like for long-term problems and it takes years and years to come back."

"We're gonna be back next year. Maybe even in the fourth quarter, in a few months, we're gonna be back. We closed it and now we open it." He talked of campaign events. "The demand has been incredible to get going with the rallies," Trump said. (Watch video of the visit here.)

Vanity fair? All about Trump

Trump refused to wear a mask in public during his visit to the Ford plant, which is producing ventilators and masks and other protective equipment for the pandemic. Never mind that the company courteously asked him to wear one, or that an executive order from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer requires people to wear one in public enclosed spaces, or that other elected officials sometimes lead by example.

Trump said he wore a mask earlier in another area of the plant, “where they preferred it,” but declined to wear one in view of the cameras. In case anyone doubted this was all about him, he said: “I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it." Strange as it sounds for an adult, the president also refuses to wear his glasses in public.

Stock storm grows

The husband of Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), sent a $1 million check to a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, just as the lawmaker faces questions over her family’s stock dealings. Spouse Jeff Sprecher, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, made the donation on April 29, Politico reports.

Loeffler let go of stocks shortly after a classified congressional briefing on coronavirus in January. She has submitted documents to the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee regarding the trading. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) stepped down as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman because he's under federal investigation into whether he was involved in virus-inspired insider trading.

Mail-in madness mounts

Trump's own campaign and the GOP have sent out mail to supporters encouraging mail-in balloting. This renders his latest claims that the practice promotes "total fraud" even wackier. But on he went Thursday, a day after issuing an apparently empty threat to somehow cut off Michigan and Nevada from federal funds over their mail-in preparations in view of coronavirus health concerns. Trump has sounded irrational about ballot systems before, even claiming without any facts that "voter fraud" robbed him of the popular-vote victory in the last election.

"We don't want any mail-in ballots," he said. “Now, if somebody has to mail it in because they’re sick, or by the way because they live in the White House and they have to vote in Florida and they won’t be in Florida, but there’s a reason for it, that’s OK.”

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

His kind of guy

The Senate's 49-44 confirmation on Thursday of Rep. John Ratcliffe as Trump's director of national intelligence stands out as unusual. For one thing, votes for nominees to that position are usually unanimous. For another, Ratcliffe was forced to withdraw when he was first nominated last year after his qualifications to head the U.S. intelligence community proved thin and he appeared to have inflated his resume.

But Ratcliffe (R-Texas) got a unique second chance. He demonstrated fierce partisan loyalty to Trump during the impeachment hearings, with hostile questioning of career diplomats who testified as witnesses to the president's Ukraine scandal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has since called Ratcliffe's nomination "a clear sign" of Trump's "disrespect and distrust” of the intelligence community.

'Open Skies,' open questions

The Trump administration confirmed Thursday its intent to withdraw from another treaty, for reasons that aren't quite clear. The bone of contention over the Open Skies Treaty involves where American and Russian aircraft are authorized to fly over. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "We may ... reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the Treaty." What "full compliance" means is a matter of guesswork.

The Russian mission to NATO tweeted: “If it does happen, it will be very regrettable. Unfortunately, it goes with the general policy of the current US administration to derail all arms control agreements. Treaty is crucial for ensuring mutual trust in Europe & on a larger scale.”

What else is happening:

  • A possible terrorist attack on U.S. soil was reported Thursday. One security force member was injured and the shooter killed at a Texas Navy base, authorities said.
  • The Small Business Administration has become a lightning rod for frustration, The Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Pompeo pushed State Department officials to find a way to justify the emergency declaration already implemented to fast-track an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, one of the moves reviewed by the department's ousted watchdog, CNN reports.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke to Fox News about incentivizing Americans to find jobs.
  • Nursing homes with a significant number of black and Latino residents have been twice as vulnerable to coronavirus as those where the population is overwhelmingly white, The New York Times reports.

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