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COVID-19 was infecting Americans weeks earlier than was officially recorded, according to new California data showing that two deaths in mid-February were associated with the disease. Meanwhile, federal vaccine expert Dr. Rick Bright says he was forced out of his Department of Health and Human Services job because he wouldn’t promote unproven treatments for COVID-19. Lisa Desjardins reports.
The beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is coming more clearly into focus tonight, as we learn it started weeks before anyone knew.
That revelation comes as deaths in the U.S. have now passed 46,000, and as a top federal expert on vaccines says he was forced out of his job.
Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.
New information indicates the San Jose, California, area may have been where COVID-19 initially appeared in this country.
Health officials in Santa Clara County have now linked at least two deaths from early to mid-February to the virus. That's well before what had been the earliest confirmed deaths in Washington state on February 29.
What these deaths tell us is that we had community transmission, probably to a significant degree, far earlier than we had known.
Amid questions about the origins of the pandemic, governors in a handful of other states are preparing to reopen.
By the end of this week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has ordered some businesses can reopen, including hair and nail salons and massage parlors.
But, on NBC's today program, Atlanta's mayor criticized that move.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms:
To lift these restrictions when our numbers are still rising just seems illogical to me.
U.S. health officials stress, testing is key for determining when the time is right to restart parts of the economy.
Governor Andrew Cuomo:
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said today his state is partnering with neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey for a massive testing and tracing operation.
We have to put together a tracing army. But it all has to be coordinated. There is no tracing that can work within one jurisdiction.
And back in California, Governor Gavin Newsom laid out his state's plans to do the same.
Governor Gavin Newsom:
We are significantly increasing the sites of availability. At the same time, we are increasing capacity within the existing system. There are hundreds and hundreds of testing sites in the state of California, well in excess of 600.
In Washington, at an Earth Day event, President Trump said closed national parks would begin to reopen as states are ready. He also moved ahead today with an immigration executive order he says protects American workers.
The measure pauses issuance of green cards for 60 days. Thus, it affects only those seeking permanent residency, not temporary workers — this as the Trump administration faced a new charge. The doctor who formerly led the COVID vaccine effort at the Department of Health Human Services today said he was pushed out of that job for political reasons.
Dr. Rick Bright says he was sidelined because he wouldn't widely promote treatments touted by President Trump, because there wasn't enough evidence they work.
On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives is starting to return, with party leaders like Republican Kevin McCarthy preparing for a vote tomorrow on the more recovery funding for small businesses and others.
At the State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renewed the administration's criticism of how China and the World Health Organization have handled the pandemic.
Secretary Mike Pompeo:
We strongly believe that the Chinese Communist Party didn't report the outbreak of the new coronavirus in a timely fashion to the World Health Organization. The World Health Organization's regulatory arm clearly failed during this pandemic.
In Geneva, Switzerland, officials at the WHO defended the timing of its initial emergency declaration. Its director-general also said new infections are now increasing in Eastern Europe and Africa.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:
Make no mistake, we have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time.
That warning comes as restrictions in more of Western Europe are easing. In Berlin, Germany, today, some shops reopened, while taking steps for safety.
Petra Hoffman (through translator):
Now there is life here again. The city, especially the center, needs life.
One sign of hope in hard-hit Spain, a makeshift morgue at an ice rink in Madrid has now closed, as deaths have plateaued.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.
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Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
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