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Amid economic gloom, a sign of potential progress toward treatment

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has now surpassed 60,000, but there are some signs of hope. An international study run by the National Institutes of Health found encouraging results in a trial of the experimental drug remdesivir among hospitalized patients. Meanwhile, U.S. GDP shrank during the first quarter of the year, but experts warn the second will be “much worse.” Stephanie Sy reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A medicine to treat COVID-19 and speed recovery from it is making headlines tonight.

    That development comes as U.S. deaths from COVID-19 have reached 60,000, exceeding the 58,000 killed in the Vietnam War. And economic growth in this country has suffered its sharpest collapse in a dozen years.

    Stephanie Sy has our lead report.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    A glimmer of hopeful news today in the battle to contain COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health reported positive results from an international study on the experimental drug remdesivir, made by the biotech firm Gilead.

    The NIH's Dr. Anthony Fauci voiced hope at the White House.

  • Anthony Fauci:

    The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant positive effect in diminishing the time to recover.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The study, among high hospitalized patients, showed those who took the drug had a 31 percent faster recovery time. The Food and Drug administration said it is moving to make remdesivir available to patients as soon as possible.

    But on the economic front, hope was harder to find. The pandemic has now officially stopped the U.S. economy's longest expansion record. The nation's output of goods and services shrank at an annual rate of 4.8 percent in the first quarter.

    And as White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow acknowledged, that's just the beginning.

  • Larry Kudlow:

    The next quarter is going to be much worse. You close the economy down for two months-plus, and we have done everything we can to provide liquidity and cash assistance and protect workers.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    A new "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll finds that 50 percent of Americans have been laid off or have a household member who has either lost a job or had their hours cut. Just today, Boeing announced it will cut 10 percent of its work force.

    In another bid to shore things up, the Federal Reserve announced it will keep a key interest rate near zero for the foreseeable future. Chairman Jerome Powell:

  • Jerome Powell:

    What we're trying to assure, really, is that the market is working. The market is assessing the risks. Lenders are lending, borrowers are borrowing.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The nation's food supply chain is also under new scrutiny. President Trump last night signed an executive order telling meatpacking plants to remain open. At least 17 plants have suspended operations in recent weeks due to coronavirus outbreaks among workers.

    Unions quickly criticized the president's order. But in the Oval Office today, President Trump pushed back, saying workers will be kept safe.

  • President Donald Trump:

    They are going to be very careful — they are — as to who's going into the plant. And the quarantine is going to be very strong. And we're going to make people better when they have a problem.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    More states are starting to loosen lockdowns, allowing retailers and restaurants to open, as they try to reassure returning customers.

  • George Mickelis:

    So, you should feel comfortable to come into the Cleburne and sit down and enjoy your meal like you did in the old days.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    This Houston restaurant is providing hand sanitizer and taking customers' temperatures.

    But in areas that were hot spots, officials like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo again counseled caution.

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo:

    Make the decisions on the facts. Make the decisions on the numbers. You can reopen if you don't increase hospitalizations and if you don't increase the infection rate.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    In Europe, COVID-19's spread across the continent has led to a slow start to a usually busy tourism season. In hard-hit Italy, a beachfront near Naples is deserted, as hotels and beaches remain closed.

    And Greece's Corfu Island is bracing for the worst.

  • Charalambos Voulgaris:

    We don't know if our hotels would open, when would they open, so we are right now in the brink of very hard times.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    In Germany today, officials extended a travel warning until mid-June, despite protests from industry groups.

    And, in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that the already-postponed Tokyo Summer Olympics may not be held next year either, unless there is a COVID-19 vaccine by then.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wall Street surged today on hopes for a major medical advance in the pandemic. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 532 points to close at 24663. The Nasdaq rose 307 points, 3.5 percent, and the S&P 500 was up 76.

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