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U.S.-China blame game over COVID-19 heats up and Congress looks into antibody testing

The Trump administration has asked intelligence agencies to find out whether China, WHO hid info on coronavirus.
Image: Vice President Mike Pence tours Mayo Clinic facilities supporting coronavirus disease research and treatment in Rochester, Minnesota
Vice President Mike Pence has come under fire for flouting the Mayo Clinic's policy by not wearing a face mask during a visit on Tuesday. Nicholas Pfosi / Reuters

Good morning, NBC News readers.

The United States and China’s blame game over who is responsible for the coronavirus pandemic is heating up as officials from both countries trade barbs and accusations.

Here's what we're watching this Wednesday morning.

Exclusive: Trump admin asks intel agencies to find out whether China, WHO hid info on coronavirus

The White House has ordered intelligence agencies to comb through communications intercepts, human source reporting, satellite imagery and other data to establish whether China and the World Health Organization initially hid what they knew about the emerging coronavirus pandemic, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The move coincides with a public effort by the White House,Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump's political allies to focus attention on China's inability to contain the virus shortly after it emerged.

Blaming China for America's economic struggles has proven effective for Trump with his political base, and his allies believe it's a message that could resonate in November with voters in the Midwest.

"The president is now running against China as much as anyone," said a person close to Trump.

But Beijing is not taking the attacks lying down.

A senior Chinese government official challengedTrump's handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., accusing him of wasting weeks after the threat posed by the virus first became apparent.

"Unfortunately, some political figures are politicizing this COVID-19. They’re using this virus to stigmatize China. This is not something we are willing to see," Executive Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told NBC News on Tuesday.

The diplomatic tit-for-tat comes as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has surpassed 58,000 — more than the number of Americans killed during the nearly two-decade Vietnam War.

More than 17,000 people have died in New York City, the hardest hit place in the country so far.

The United States now has more than 1 million confirmed cases of the virus — far more than anywhere else in the world.

Still the president claimed the "worst of the pandemic is behind us" on Tuesday.

And while a handful of states begin to ease stay-at-home restrictions, no state that has opted to reopen has come close to the federally recommended 14 consecutive days of declining cases.

Here are some other developments:

  • Trump signed an executive order compelling meat plants to stay open, even though many have seen outbreaks of COVID-19 that have sickened workers.
  • Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the coronavirus task force, has been criticized for ignoring the Mayo Clinic's policy and touring the hospital without a mask on Tuesday.
  • Check out our live blog for the latest updates.
  • See maps of where the virus has spread in the U.S.and worldwide.
  • Watch Nightly News Kids Edition. Lester Holt and a team of experts answer your kids questions about the pandemic.

Coronavirus exposes major flaws in 'broken' U.S. medical system, experts say

As the coronavirus pandemic continues its rampage across the United States medical professionals and experts say the strain on the health care system has exposed major flaws and taught hard lessons.

Health care experts are calling for major changes to the financial structure of hospitals and a more national and global approach to public health.

"The big fixes that are out there can't be done at the hospital level. They have to be done either with regulatory reform or through payment reform," said Dr. Brendan Carr, chair of emergency medicine for the Mount Sinai Health System in New York.

Meantime, the psychological toll many doctors face on the front lines of the coronavirus fight came into sharp — and tragic — focus Sunday when New York City emergency room doctor Lorna Breen died by suicide.

Her father, Dr. Philip Breen, called her another "casualty" of the pandemic and said she had no history of mental health.

A telephone hotline staffed by psychiatrists is trying to help doctors deal with the stress of combating the coronavirus crisis.

"All of a sudden, we are being called heroes and being put on a pedestal, and we are having this deep fear that we are not heroes," said Dr. Mona Masood, one of the psychiatrists launched the hotline last month. "Some doctors are feeling that vulnerability and have no place to express that."

Image: A nurse attends to a COVID-19 patient at the Stamford Hospital ICU in Connecticut on April 24, 2020.
A nurse attends to a COVID-19 patient at the Stamford Hospital ICU in Connecticut on Friday.John Moore / Getty Images

Exclusive: Congress sounds alarm over inaccurate antibody tests

Can you trust the results of a coronavirus antibody test? For the vast majority of tests on the market, the government can't say.

Now Congress is sounding the alarm after early data from researchers in California who "tested the tests" showed troublingly high rates of false results. One in 3 antibody tests they analyzed produced false positives more than 10 percent of the time.

The antibody tests, a pillar of reopening the economy, were rushed to the U.S. market without review by the Food and Drug Administration.

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One fun thing

The Navy and the Air Force banded together for "Operation America Strong," a coordinated flyover New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia on Tuesday.

The flyover was a salute to healthcare workers and first responders on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Be safe and stay healthy, Petra Cahill