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Trump says he'll send off USNS Comfort from Virginia on Saturday

Kathryn Watson

President Trump said Thursday he'll head to the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia on Saturday to send off the USNS Comfort, which will serve as a floating hospital for New York City, which is desperate for hospital beds as more people are hospitalized for coronavirus infections. The president said he'll go "kiss it goodbye," before the ship sails to help address the quickly rising demands on hospitals in the metro New York City area.

On Thursday, the U.S. became the world leader in confirmed number of coronavirus cases, at 82,404 at 5:37 p.m., according to Johns Hopkins data. According to Vice President Mike Pence, 552,000 Americans have been tested so far.

Also today, jobless claims marked the highest one-week spike on record Thursday, climbing to roughly 3.3 million. The Senate passed a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package Wednesday night, and the House is expected to pass the bill Friday. Mr. Trump has said he will sign the bill "immediately."

"We will vanquish this virus," Mr. Trump said Thursday. 

The president is keen on restarting the economy as soon as possible. He's suggested an Easter target to begin reopening businesses, despite cautions from public health experts that could be far too soon. The president has lamented that the economy was very strong, until the virus struck. 

"Our people want to go back to work, I'm hearing it loud and clear from everybody," Mr. Trump said Thursday.

The president wrote to governors Thursday to say the administration is working on new guidelines on social distancing that are more flexible, that would offer advice on "maintaining, increasing or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures they have put in place." Dr. Deborah Birx, a leading member of the Coronavirus Task Force, said Thursday that counties will need to act responsibly, if guidelines are looser in one county, with open restaurants and businesses, and closed in a nearby county, as someone could travel from a high-risk county to a low-risk county.

Infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said in the task force briefing Wednesday that the timing on relaxing guidelines would be "flexible."

In an interview with NBA star Steph Curry on Instagram Live Thursday afternoon, Fauci said Americans can start returning to normal life "when the country as a whole has started turning that corner and started coming down."

Fauci also talked about vaccine development, as a potential vaccine now entered the first phase of testing.

"If we really push, we hope that we will know by the time we get into next winter whether or not we have something that works," Fauci said.

He also said there is a whole menu of therapies going into clinical trial, too. Over the next month, there will be different drugs undergoing randomized controlled trials to determine whether they're safe and effective, he told reporters. And Fauci expressed confidence that there would be some kind of therapy that would give at least partial protection from coronavirus.

But Fauci has also warned that the U.S. could face multiple cycles of the virus, and the nation needs to be prepared for that.

Sara Cook contributed to this report.

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