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As 2.4 million file for unemployment, Trump insists economic recovery is near

As U.S. businesses prepare for gradual reopenings, the number of Americans filing for unemployment seems to be leveling off. Still, the Labor Department says more than 38 million people sought jobless benefits in the past nine weeks. But as he departed for Michigan to tour a Ford factory now making ventilators, President Trump insisted that economic recovery is imminent. Yamiche Alcindor reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The COVID-19 pandemic has reached yet another grim milestone, as the number of confirmed cases worldwide surpassed the five million mark.

    That comes as the U.S. Labor Department announced its own staggering statistic — 38.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past nine weeks.

    Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As businesses across the country prepare for gradual reopenings, the number of Americans filing for unemployment appears to be leveling off.

    The Labor Department said 2.4 million Americans filed claims this past week. That is a drastic drop from the surge seen late in March. But those numbers are still sky-high. And the toll COVID-19 is having on the economy overall remains vast. More than 38 million workers sought jobless benefits in the past nine weeks.

    Today, before he left for a trip to Michigan, President Trump said the country would soon be on the path to recovery.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The numbers are going to be very good into the future. We're going to be very good starting with our transition period, which will be probably June — June, July.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He was on the defensive after the release of a Columbia University model that estimated nearly 36,000 deaths could have been prevented had social distancing policies been enforced one week early.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I was way early. Columbia is an institution that's very liberal. It's a — I think it's just a political hit job, you want to know the truth.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Researchers at Columbia University said, if lockdowns had been imposed just two weeks earlier, 83 percent of the nation's deaths could have been avoided.

    But, at that time, a number of leaders, including those at the country's epicenter of the crisis, stood back.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Relax. We're doing great. It all will pass.

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio:

    We want people still to go on about their lives.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    As the virus quietly subsumed their cities. Today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he regrets not having more information on the virus.

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio:

    I wish we had known so much more in January, February, beginning of March. I wish we had the testing that would have told us what was going on.

    I mean, right now, we're not sure when this disease started to be present in the city. It — we thought it was March, and now more and more, it looks like it was February or even late January. And we just didn't have testing to be able to give us the full picture.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Dr. Ashish Jha is the director at the Harvard Global Health Institute. He said no model will be completely right, but there is no doubt delays and inaction had a significant impact.

  • Ashish Jha:

    This is the entire point of exponential growth in outbreaks like this. If you think of a doubling time of five days, it means that, by delaying by 10 days, you have four times the number of cases, four times the number of deaths.

    Or if we had closed 10 days earlier, we would have a quarter of the deaths that we ended up having.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, President Trump traveled to the city of Ypsilanti, some 40 miles outside Detroit. There, he met with African-American leaders from the area. Black people and people of color remain disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus.

  • President Donald Trump:

    African-American communities have been hit very hard, including in Detroit.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He also toured a Ford motor plant where workers are now producing ventilators in response to the virus.

    He wore a mask during a private viewing of some vehicles, but he later removed it during the remainder of the visit.

    Those containment efforts have entirely reshaped the country. Today, the Transportation Security Administration released new procedures for airport screenings.

    The agency is urging travelers to wear face masks and to scan their own boarding passes. People are also urged to keep carry-on food items in clear plastic bags to prevent agents from handling their belongings. Control measures like these are playing out across the globe, as the tally of infections surpass five million.

    And countries with fragile health systems are bearing the brunt. By the weekend, cases across the continent of Africa could top 100,000. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned, the continent needs to be testing about 10 times the number of people already tested.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.

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