States struggle with contact tracing, Pence isn't taking hydroxychloroquine

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COVID-19 Testing Begins in Historic Black Neighborhoods in Altamonte Springs, US
Health workers test people in cars for COVID-19 at a mobile testing site at the Apostolic Church of Christ in Altamonte Springs, Fla. on April 21, 2020.Paul Hennessy / Barcroft Media via Getty Images file

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States across the country are reopening their economies, but they’re struggling with what public health officials have called a key component aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus — contact tracing.

President Donald Trump might be taking hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic against COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean his vice president is.

"My physician hasn’t recommended that, but I wouldn’t hesitate to take the counsel of my doctor," Mike Pence told Fox News on Tuesday.

Walter Barton, 64, was put to death in Missouri on Tuesday. His was the first execution in the United States since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.

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Kroger employees won't have to return extra money

Kroger said Tuesday that it will not require grocery employees who were overpaid to return the extra money.

“We’ve instructed our payroll department to directly inform the small number of associates affected by the overpayments of Emergency Leave of Absence pay that we will not seek repayment,” the grocer said in a statement to NBC News.

It was not immediately clear what Kroger was referring to by “Emergency Leave of Absence pay.”

Kroger on March 29 issued what it called hazard “hero” pay, an extra $2 an hour, for its employees in retail stores and warehouses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The corporation announced it would end the hazard pay in mid-May. On May 15, the grocer announced it would give a bonus of $400 for full-time and $200 for part-time associates after Kroger’s union, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, spoke out against the end of hazard pay.

An undated letter shared Monday on social media appeared to be a request from Kroger asking an employee to return hazard pay amounting to about $462.

NBC was unable to verify the authenticity of the notice, but in its statement Tuesday, Kroger said that it would not ask associates to repay any overpayments.

Fact check: Are front-line workers taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19?

Medical professionals say they do not have any evidence to back up President Donald Trump’s repeated claim that “many” and “thousands” of front-line workers are taking hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic for COVID-19.

The American Medical Association, the country’s largest medical association, told NBC News Tuesday that the organization "does not know of any tracking or surveys examining HCQ use among health care workers.”

The following day, the American Nurses Association strongly pushed back on Trump’s assertion, telling NBC News in a statement that the group "has not received reports from nurses or other frontline healthcare workers utilizing Hydroxychloroquine as a preventative treatment for COVID-19," and adding that "to date, research has not shown clear evidence that Hydrocychloroquine has a preventative effect for COVID-19."

While hydroxychloroquine was widely used in March in New York City hospitals on Covid-19 patients, but doctors immediately stopped prescribing it as soon as warnings about its potential side effects — some of them fatal — came to light. An ICU doctor at a New York hospital who did not want to be identified as speaking without authorization told NBC News that hydroxychloroquine was “absolutely not“ used by front-line workers as a prophylaxis at his hospital at any time, but said he thinks the drug might have killed some patients during the time it was given as standard care.

Anesthesiologist AJ Rai, who came to New York City from California to treat Covid-19 patients, said doctors initially might have taken it as a prophylaxis but the “data debunked [the use of the drug] weeks ago. 

“There is zero evidence for it as prophylaxis [and] questionable evidence for taking it very very early in the course of an infection, but that’s a stretch now based on what we’ve learned,” Rai said.

When asked what the president was referencing, the White House pointed to the 12 known trials that have been reported on, including one by Henry Ford Health System, which will lead a study of 3,000 first responders of hydroxychloroquine as a preventative medication.

(this post has been updated)

Masks required, fewer games, buffet closed: Idaho casino offers glimpse of gambling's future

The video gaming machines were whirring, buzzing and chiming at the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel on a recent afternoon — familiar sounds amid an otherwise stark new reality.

Since the Worley, Idaho, casino reopened April 27, after being closed for more than a month because of the COVID-19 pandemic, its operations have looked very different.

Rather than waiting in line for all-you-can-eat crab and prime rib at the casino’s buffet — which is closed indefinitely — guests queued up at the main entrance, standing 6 feet apart, to have their temperature taken before coming inside.

Read the full story here. 

L.A. County eyes July 4 to reopen economy

Los Angeles officials set their eyes on a new target for reopening the country's most populace county —  July 4.

“We have to do a lot of things right so we can actually get to that date,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “I think the reality is that we are going to really aim together to get there as quickly as possible, but we’re going to pay attention to the data and science.”

Acknowledging that residents are growing impatient with California's safer-at-home restrictions, officials said they hope to reopen the economy sooner than later. It will only be possible, however, if residents continue to follow health guidelines, such as practicing social distancing and wearing masks in public.

"Everyone is fatigued and I think we all feel like enough is enough," Ferrer said. "I wish the virus said enough is enough, also."

L.A. County announced 1,183 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the county's total to 39,573. California has more than 82,000 cases across the state, according to NBC News counts.

Military will make swabs for COVID-19 tests at Navy shipyard in Maine

The arm of the U.S. military that develops medical products to protect service members has joined with the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, to produce nasal swabs needed for coronavirus testing.

The U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity (USAMMDA) and the Navy shipyard have agreed to produce the swabs via 3-D printing. The shipyard has the capacity to print up to 10,000 swabs per day.

The swabs are intended to be used by the Defense Department for nasopharyngeal diagnostic testing for COVID-19.

The shipyard has already used 3-D printing to make face shields for protection from the coronavirus.


New Jersey gym opens for second day in defiance of state order

A police officer issues Atilis Gym co-owners Ian Smith, left, and Frank Trumbetti summons outside their gym in Bellmawr, N.J., on May 19, 2020.Matt Rourke / AP

A gym in New Jersey opened for a second day Tuesday in defiance of the governor's stay-at-home order.

A crowd of supporters erupted into chants of "U.S.A." at Atilis Gym in Bellmawr when it first reopened shortly after 8 a.m. Monday, two months after Gov. Phil Murphy announced an order closing fitness centers, casinos, concert venues and movie theaters to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The police department in Bellmawr, about 10 miles southeast of Philadelphia in Camden County, said in a statement that gym owners Frank Trumbetti and Ian Smith were both charged on a summons with a disorderly person's offense, the statement said.

But despite the charges, the business opened again Tuesday.

Read the full story here.

Trump says he's not sure whether he'll wear face mask on factory tour despite company policy

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he is not sure whether he will wear a face mask Thursday when he visits a Ford factory in Michigan, appearing to go against Ford's safety protocols.

"I don’t know, I haven’t even thought of it," Trump said during a cabinet meeting at the White House when asked by reporters if he planned to wear a mask. "It depends, I mean, you know, certain areas I would and certain areas I don’t, but I will certainly look at it."

Ford said that their policy "is that everyone wears PPE to prevent the spread of COVID-19."

“We have shared our policies and recommendations. The White House has its own safety and testing policies in place and will make its own determination," Ford added. 

Trump said he would determine whether to wear a mask depending on the place he was visiting.

"Is something a hospital? Is it a ward? Is it, what is it exactly? I’m going to a plant, so we’ll see. Where it’s appropriate I would do it, certainly," he said. 

Trump has been criticized for not wearing a face mask to factory tours in Arizona and Pennsylvania. In private, Trump has worried that wearing a mask would send the wrong message and make him look ridiculous

Belmont Stakes will be held, with no one in grandstands, on June 20

Justify with jockey Mike Smith crosses the finish line to win the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race in Elmont, N.Y., on June 9, 2018.Julie Jacobson / AP file

The Belmont Stakes, traditionally the third jewel of thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown, will run on June 20 — in front of empty grandstands and as the leadoff of the annual series, officials said Tuesday.

The Belmont had originally been set for June 6 just outside of New York City, before the coronavirus pandemic brought virtually all pro sports in North America to an abrupt halt.

The New York Racing Association pushed back its most famous event, but by only two weeks, in stark contrast to the Triple Crown's other two races, the Kentucky Derby in Louisville and Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

Read the full story here. 

Fact check: Trump falsely claims just 1 study found hydroxychloroquine harmful or ineffective


President Donald Trump claimed Tuesday that just one study counters his belief that hydroxychloroquine can help prevent or treat COVID-19, and that was because the patients who were given the drug were already very ill.

“If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old, almost dead,” Trump said, referring to a study of veterans taking the drug that linked it to a higher risk of death.

This is not true. There have been several studies into the effect of hydroxychloroquine on patients sick with the disease caused by coronavirus that have found the drug to be ineffective or harmful to patients fighting coronavirus.

A study out of China found that patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 who were given hydroxychloroquine and standard care for COVID-19 fared worse than those given standard care, while French researchers in another study found that treatment with hydroxychloroquine didn’t stop the progression of the disease. A study in New York that was funded by the National Institutes of Health found no adverse or beneficial effects of the administration of hydroxychloroquine on coronavirus patients. Another study in Brazil was stopped early after patients developed fatal, irregular heartbeats.

NYU still plans to have in-person courses in the fall

New York University announced Tuesday that it still plans to hold in-person classes for the fall semester, even as some universities are opting for virtual-only courses to prevent a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

Those plans could change depending on guidelines issued by local and federal authorities, according to a message from NYU Provost Katherine Fleming. 

"We’ll be living with safety measures and will have to be highly flexible so we can respond to a changing landscape," Fleming's email said. "I can promise you, however, that our goal is to enable you to stay on track academically in a way that works best for you in the current context and that maximizes flexibility." 

The California State University System, which runs 23 campuses, took the opposite approach last week and announced it would hold most of its courses online in the fall. CSU is among one of the largest four-year-public university systems in the country, educating about 480,000 students a year.

Many universities have yet to announce a formal decision on a fall semester as health officials warn there could be new spikes in cases as states reopen.

Harvey Weinstein's transfer to Los Angeles delayed due to coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has delayed extradition for convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein, who still faces sex crimes charges from three separate incidents that allegedly occurred in Los Angeles.

"The virus has delayed the processing of the extradition paperwork,” Greg Risling from the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office said Tuesday. “There is no time estimate on when he will appear in a Los Angeles courtroom."

Weinstein has been in custody in New York since he was found guilty of third-degree rape and first degree criminal sexual act in a landmark #MeToo case in March. The disgraced movie mogul was transferred from Rikers Island to Wende Correctional Facility, a maximum-security state prison east of Buffalo, where he tested positive for COVID-19.

Read the full story here.