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U.S. facing 2-front war amid medical crisis and economic collapse

The coronavirus pandemic has infected at least 1 million people and killed over 50,000 worldwide. In the U.S., President Trump is taking new action to bolster medical supplies, and unemployment is surging. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy relieved the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt amid conflict over his response to COVID-19. John Yang reports, and Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yet another momentous day in the relentless march of this pandemic.

    As of tonight, COVID-19 has infected more than one million people around the world, and already left well over 50,000 dead. The U.S. count alone is nearing 6,000 dead, and President Trump has now ordered steps to make more ventilators available.

    White House officials say that he may also call for wearing face masks in hot spots.

    Meanwhile, there is fresh evidence that the U.S. work force is suffering. We begin with this report from John Yang.

  • John Yang:

    It's a two-front war.

    On the economic side, more than 6.6 million Americans filed their first claims for unemployment benefits last week, as businesses nationwide closed their doors. The record numbers come as nearly 300 million Americans in 38 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, are under stay-at-home orders.

    On the medical front, doctors and nurses are pleading for more equipment, like ventilators and protective gear, known as PPEs, like face masks.

    Emmanuel Bangan is a nurse at a hospital in San Jose, California.

  • Emmanuel Bangan:

    We don't want to be spreading it ourselves, so we just want to have the right PPEs.

  • John Yang:

    This afternoon, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to try to ramp up U.S. manufacture of ventilators.

    But, earlier, the president questioned some requests for more equipment, tweeting: "Massive amounts of medical supplies, even hospitals and medical centers, are being delivered directly to states and hospitals by the federal government." He added: "Some have insatiable appetites and are never satisfied."

    Other officials say the need is real. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state is down to a six-day supply of ventilators.

    New Jersey Senator Cory Booker urged more action.

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    We are continuing to demand that this president step up and use his power and authority to help people in New Jersey and across this nation.

  • John Yang:

    In Fort Lauderdale, two cruise ships carrying more than 200 ailing guests and crew finally docked after weeks in limbo, during which four people died. Officials said the healthy could go home and the sick would be treated on board.

    And late today, the Navy dismissed the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, saying he went outside the chain of command when he raised alarm about an outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier.

    With hospitals reporting blood shortages, as collection drives have been canceled amid social distancing, the FDA today relaxed donation restrictions for gay and bisexual men, those with recent tattoos or piercings, and recent visitors to areas where malaria is regularly found.

    Also today, the Democrats delayed their presidential nominating convention in Milwaukee by a month to August 17. In a statement, the DNC said the delay gives convention planners more time to determine the most appropriate structure.

    The World Health Organization reported that more than 95 percent of Europeans who have died from coronavirus have been older than 60, but young people have still suffered severe cases. France, Italy and Spain have been most affected in the outbreak.

    In Barcelona, empty coffins filled a parking garage-turned-warehouse today. Spain reported its one-day record of 950 deaths on Wednesday. but officials said the rate of infections there is slowing down.

  • Fernando Simon (through translator):

    The objective is to end this as quickly as possible, so the rates don't continue to rise. It appears things are stabilizing. The deaths will stabilize later than the cases of new symptoms.

    But it is true that Spain has a bigger number of deaths that we would like to reduce as quickly as possible.

  • John Yang:

    Next door in Portugal, barren streets on a sunny day in central Lisbon. Nearby, the Portuguese Parliament voted to extend the country's state of emergency.

  • Prime Minister Antonio Costa (through translator):

    It is still necessary, and I would add even more necessary, not because the number of new cases is not slowing down, but because, as time passes, the risk is increasing.

  • John Yang:

    And Russian President Vladimir Putin lengthened his country's non-working period until the end of April, that as cases have risen to 3,500 Moscow is in its fourth day of lockdown. Workers took advantage of the vast emptiness today, spraying disinfectant in usually bustling areas.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to the surprise firing you just heard about of the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. That's the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier that has been stricken by the pandemic.

    Nick Schifrin joins me now.

    So, Nick, tell us what's happened.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Judy, this was a real extraordinary memo that the captain of the Theodore Roosevelt sent, Brett Crozier. We saw that over the weekend.

    He said more than 100 sailors on the Theodore Roosevelt were sick with COVID-19 and he couldn't keep them safe because of the conditions on board. They just simply work too closely together. And so he wanted 90 percent of the crew off immediately. He warned, sailors could die.

    So, today, we hear from Thomas Modly, the acting Navy secretary, he took offense to two aspects of the memo, one, who it was sent to. He accused the captain of sending the memo to 20 or 30 people outside of the chain of command, and also the content of the letter.

    He said the captain's letter created panic on the ship, created panic among the families, because the first time they heard about this was when the memo was leaked to the media, and also misrepresented the moves the Navy was already taking in order to get some of those sailors off that ship.

    So let's listen to Thomas Modly, the acting Navy secretary, now.

  • Thomas Modly:

    I could reach no other conclusion that Captain Crozier had allowed the complexity of his challenge with the COVID breakout on the ship to overwhelm his ability to act professionally, when acting professionally was what was needed most at the time.

    We do and we should expect more from the commanding officer of our aircraft carriers.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And the acting secretary, Judy, it's important to say, didn't accuse the captain of leaking the memo, only said that he sent it to so many people, it could have been leaked.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Nick, we know that you and your team have been in touch with the families of the sailors on that aircraft carrier. What are they saying?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, it really did create a panic among the families, because, as I said, they heard about it for the first time from the media.

    And our producer Ali Rogin spoke to Debbie, whose daughter is still on board. Let's take a listen.

  • Debbie:

    We deserve to have a government that is honest and truthful with us about where our enlisted folks are, where are the people who are protecting our country, and that they're protected, and that they're safe, and that they are out of harm's way.

    And the fact that we are not being communicated to in a transparent and forthright way is a problem.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And we spoke to Debbie before the announcement just in the last hour, Judy.

    But it really goes to show how angry the families were. They didn't feel like the Navy was communicating to them. And the acting Navy secretary admitted that he lost control of the narrative, could not communicate with the families or the sailors directly.

    Instead, everyone read that memo in the media. And, in part, that's why the captain of the Theodore Roosevelt has been fired.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One more rough development in this very fast-moving story.

    Nick Schifrin, thank you very much.

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