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A third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression, the most definitive and alarming sign yet of the psychological toll exacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The troubling statistics, which suggest a huge jump from before the pandemic, were released last week in a tranche of data from the Census Bureau. The agency launched an emergency weekly survey of U.S. households at the end of April to measure the pandemic’s effects on employment, housing, finances, education and health.

Here are some significant developments:

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May 26, 2020 at 11:49 PM EDT

California allows barber shops, hair salons to reopen in most counties

California took another step Tuesday to loosen sweeping statewide lockdown measures, allowing barber shops and hair salons in most counties to reopen for business for the first time in nearly 10 weeks.

The announcement by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) came a day after he allowed church services and retail shopping to resume with strict social distancing measures in place.

California “is flattening the curve. Expanding testing. And carefully reopening businesses,” Newsom wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “But we MUST continue to take this seriously.”

The vast majority of the state’s 53 counties have qualified to reopen barber shops and hair salons under a complex formula set out by health officials. But they will remain closed in six of the hardest-hit jurisdictions, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

And a statewide ban remains in place for all nail salons, gyms, bars and entertainment venues, tattoo shops, community centers and public pools.

Newsom had issued far-reaching business closures March 19, as the pandemic began to spread nationwide. Under relaxed measures, religious services must not include more than 25 percent of a building’s capacity, while retail shops must limit the number of customers inside the store.

Last week, the Trump administration said Newsom’s administration was engaging in discrimination by allowing film studios and other businesses to continue working while houses of worship were still shuttered.

By Teo Armus
May 26, 2020 at 11:17 PM EDT

Americans try to leave Brazil ahead of coronavirus travel ban

Americans made plans to leave Brazil on Tuesday, hours before a U.S. ban on arrivals from the country was due to take effect.

U.S. citizens and green-card holders are exempt from the prohibition, intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus from Latin America’s hardest-hit country. But foreigners in Brazil have struggled to leave the country in recent weeks. The State Department on Tuesday advised all Americans who wished to leave to do so immediately.

Jennifer Ribachonek was scheduled to return to the United States on Friday to care for her parents. Both are scheduled to undergo surgery next month. But her LATAM flight was canceled shortly after the White House announced the travel ban on Sunday.

Read more here.

By Marina Lopes
May 26, 2020 at 10:49 PM EDT

NHL ends regular season, will open with 24-team playoff at an undetermined date

The National Hockey League unveiled the format under which it intends to return to play from the suspension caused by the novel coronavirus, ending its regular season and expanding its playoffs to 24 teams, but does not know when its plan will be implemented.

The plans, which also included scheduling the league’s draft lottery for June 26, were announced Tuesday by Commissioner Gary Bettman during a televised news conference.

Instead of playing the regular-season games that had been scheduled to take place after the season was suspended March 12, 24 teams will compete in a modified and expanded playoffs that will take place in two hub cities that have not been determined. No official dates were announced, though training camps will not be held earlier than the first half of July.

Read more here.

By Samantha Pell
May 26, 2020 at 10:29 PM EDT

Taxpayers paid to develop remdesivir, but Gilead will set the price

To make progress on remdesivir, a possible coronavirus treatment, Gilead needed help from U.S. taxpayers. Lots of help. Three federal health agencies were deeply involved in remdesivir’s development every step of the way, providing tens of millions of dollars of government research support. Now that big government role has set up a political showdown over pricing and access.

Despite the heavy subsidies, federal agencies have not asserted patent rights to Gilead’s drug, potentially a blockbuster therapy worth billions of dollars. That means Gilead will have few constraints other than political pressure when it sets a price in coming weeks. Critics are urging the Trump administration to take a more aggressive approach.

“Without direct public investment and tax subsidies, this drug would apparently have remained in the scrapheap of unsuccessful drugs,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.), chairman of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, said earlier this month. Doggett and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) have asked Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar for a detailed financial accounting of federal support for remdesivir’s discovery and development.

Read more here.

By Christopher Rowland
May 26, 2020 at 10:18 PM EDT

Nevada Governor cancels in-person news conference because of possible exposure to the coronavirus

On the verge of progressing toward his state’s second stage of reopening, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) announced he would not attend his Tuesday night news conference after learning he might have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

Sisolak will undergo testing Wednesday, following a visit late last week to a workplace in which an employee was confirmed to have the coronavirus. The infected employee was not in attendance during Sisolak’s visit.

According to Sisolak’s statement, his office learned of the positive result on Tuesday.

The decision to cancel the briefing — in which Sisolak intended to share an update about the second phase of reopening the state — came “out of an abundance of caution” and Sisolak’s office has taken “immediate” action to limit his contact with others.

Sisolak, who had been active in making official trips around the state, did not specify the name of the office in which he potentially came into contact with the virus.

On Memorial Day, Sisolak and his wife, Kathy Ong, visited the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City. In photos, Sisolak is seen wearing a mask while standing between two masked veterans. Also, Sisolak checked in on a Las Vegas hospital, a high school and police department, where he sat down at a desk of an employee at the call center. In every photo, Sisolak is wearing a face mask.

By Candace Buckner
May 26, 2020 at 9:40 PM EDT

Biden calls Trump a ‘fool’ for mocking the use of face masks

President Trump dismissed a mask-wearing reporter as being “politically correct” on Tuesday while the presumptive Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, called him a “fool” for mocking their use.

The president’s refusal to wear a mask in public, defying recommendations from public health experts, has become a symbol for his supporters resisting stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus crisis. To wear one, then, is seen by some as being anti-Trump.

Trump denied that he had been criticizing Biden’s decision to wear a face covering for a public Memorial Day wreath-laying, even though he retweeted a Fox News commentator mocking Biden’s look of a black mask and dark aviator sunglasses mostly obscuring his face. But he said he found it “unusual.”

In response, Biden said: “He’s a fool, an absolute fool to talk that way."

Read more here.

By Colby Itkowitz
May 26, 2020 at 9:25 PM EDT

Man who hanged Kentucky governor in effigy is fired from his job

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) pledged Tuesday “not to back down” following weekend protests at his residence that included the hanging of an effigy of him. The man who hanged the effigy has since been fired from his job.

Beshear released a statement firing back at a “right-wing militia group” that demonstrated outside the governor’s mansion on Sunday. Protesters taunted for Beshear to come out of the mansion while a dummy with his image on the face hung from a tree. Beshear, whose young children were not at the residence at the time, condemned the acts as an attempt to intimidate him.

“I will not be afraid. I will not be bullied. And I will not back down,” Beshear said in a tweet. “Not to them, and not to anybody else.”

On Tuesday, a car dealership based in Frankfort, Ky., released a statement through its human resources manager announcing the termination of its former employee who is accused of hanging Beshear in effigy. The company did not identify the man.

“The Neil Huffman Auto Group does not condone threats of violence in any form, whether they be a call to action or an implied threat,” the statement read.

On Sunday, the acts of the armed protesters drew denunciations from liberals and conservatives alike.

Videos and pictures showed several dozen people participating in the Freedom Rally, which was organized by several conservative groups. Few appeared to be wearing masks. Speakers included Wesley Morgan, a former state representative who is running against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican primary.

Beshear has received high marks for his handling of the pandemic. A few weeks ago, a poll showed him at 81 percent approval.

By Candace Buckner, Steven Goff and Hannah Knowles
May 26, 2020 at 8:57 PM EDT

Kansas governor vetoes bill designed to shield businesses and health-care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) announced Tuesday that she will veto a bill designed to limit her authority to deal with the coronavirus crisis and shield businesses and health-care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

The bill, which Republicans pushed through the GOP-controlled legislature on May 22, passed 27-11 in the Senate and 76-34 in the House.

In her veto decision, Kelly wrote that “House Bill 2054 undermines a thoughtful compromise originally reached on liability protections to protect both individuals and responsible business owners.”

Meanwhile, the state relaxed its quarantine guidelines so meatpacking workers potentially exposed to the coronavirus could stay on the job, according to text messages and emails obtained by the Kansas City Star and the Wichita Eagle.

The discussion of shielding businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits has been going on across the country. In Arizona, the House voted to make it harder for individuals to sue businesses and others over coronavirus claims last week. The Senate had yet to vote on the measure as of Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said earlier this month that he believed companies needed to be protected from coronavirus-related lawsuits, according to NPR.

By Samantha Pell
May 26, 2020 at 8:40 PM EDT

House GOP to sue over Democrats’ remote-voting plans

House Republican leaders are planning to file a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging a Democratic plan to allow remote voting by proxy in the chamber for the first time, aides familiar with the plan said.

The announcement came less than 24 hours before the House is set to take its first proxy votes — wherein a lawmaker can designate a colleague to cast votes on his or her behalf on the House floor.

The change was authorized in a House vote earlier this month that temporarily altered multiple House procedures to allow for remote work during the coronavirus pandemic.

Filing the suit, a GOP aide said, will be House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and 20 other Republican lawmakers, along with four of their constituents.

“While the Constitution allows Congress to write its own rules, those rules cannot violate the Constitution itself — namely, the requirement of actual assembly,” McCarthy said in a statement. “Rapid and robust legal relief is necessary.”

The lawsuit, the aide said, names House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Clerk Cheryl L. Johnson and House Sergeant at Arms Paul D. Irving as defendants.

In response, Pelosi said in a statement: “House Republicans’ sad stunt shows that their only focus is to delay and obstruct urgently-needed action to meet the needs of American workers and families during the coronavirus crisis.”

Litigating the lawsuit on behalf of the House Republicans, a second aide said, are Charles J. Cooper, among the most prominent GOP appellate attorneys in Washington, and partner Joel Alicea.

Republicans are set to claim in court that the proxy voting system violates the constitutional requirement that the House establish a quorum for voting, arguing that members must be physically present in Washington to establish that quorum. Faced with earlier constitutional concerns, Democratic leaders have insisted that the House is free to adopt any rules it wishes for establishing a quorum.

Despite the lawsuit, at least one Republican plans to take advantage of the proxy voting system: Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) will vote by proxy on Wednesday, spokesman Chris Berardi said. Rooney, who last cast a House vote on Feb. 13, lent support last week to the rules change, writing on Twitter that the country was “still in the midst of a serious, global pandemic” and that Congress “should utilize all options for conducting business.”

By Mike DeBonis
May 26, 2020 at 7:57 PM EDT

D.C. likely to reopen Friday after thresholds were changed

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is expected Wednesday to announce the gradual reopening of the capital, saying the city has been meeting key thresholds to contain new coronavirus infections.

Hospitals have been running below their maximum capacity, testing is on the rise, and the city is in the process of hiring enough contact tracers to identify and quarantine residents exposed to the novel coronavirus.

But the city has been moving the goal posts for measuring its trajectory. District officials have changed their approach to calculating the spread of the virus — no longer mentioning other reopening metrics they laid out last month, including a declining rate in people testing positive and a decrease in flu-like illnesses among residents who might not have been tested.

Read more here.

By Fenit Nirappil and Julie Zauzmer
May 26, 2020 at 7:33 PM EDT

Twitter labels Trump’s tweets with a fact-check for the first time

Twitter on Tuesday slapped a fact-check label on President Trump’s tweets for the first time, a response to long-standing criticism that the company is too hands-off when it comes to policing misinformation and falsehoods from world leaders.

The move, which escalates tensions between Washington and Silicon Valley in an election year, was made in response to two Trump tweets over the past 24 hours. The tweets falsely claimed that mail-in ballots are fraudulent. Twitter’s label says, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and redirects users to news articles about Trump’s unsubstantiated claim.

The tweets, said Twitter spokesperson Katie Rosborough, “contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots.”

Read more here.

By Elizabeth Dwoskin
May 26, 2020 at 7:14 PM EDT

Schools reopen in South Korea with prevention measures, including plastic barriers to separate students

South Korea began reopening schools recently after closing them several months ago to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus during a worldwide pandemic — and it is employing new social distancing and prevention measures in an attempt to continue to keep the country’s death rate from covid-19 low.

In late February, South Korea had more diagnosed covid-19 patients than any country other than China. A swift and tough program of contact tracing, isolation and other measures contained the virus. South Korea reports that fewer than 300 people have died of covid-19.

The country has been slowly reopening schools in the past week. Some of the prevention measures include putting up plastic barriers on tables during lunch, having desk dividers in classrooms, placing stickers on the ground six feet apart to remind those of social distancing guidelines and using temperature checks on all students before they enter schools.

By Valerie Strauss
May 26, 2020 at 6:56 PM EDT

A third of Americans show signs of clinical anxiety or depression amid pandemic, Census Bureau finds

A third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression, Census Bureau data shows, the most definitive and alarming sign yet of the psychological toll exacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

When asked questions normally used to screen patients for mental health problems, 24 percent showed clinically significant symptoms of major depressive disorder and 30 percent showed symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

The findings suggest a huge jump from before the pandemic. For example, on one question about depressed mood, the percentage reporting such symptoms was double that found in a 2014 national survey.

The troubling statistics were released last week in a tranche of data from the Census Bureau. The agency launched an emergency weekly survey of U.S. households at the end of April to measure the pandemic’s effects on employment, housing, finances, education and health.

Buried within that 20-minute survey, U.S. officials included four questions taken nearly word-for-word from a form used by doctors to screen patients for depression and anxiety. Those answers are providing a real-time window into the country’s collective mental health after three months of fear, isolation, soaring unemployment and continuing uncertainty.

Read more here.

By Alyssa Fowers and William Wan
May 26, 2020 at 6:28 PM EDT

Army reservist is third service member to die of covid-19

An Army reservist became the third U.S. service member to die of complications of a coronavirus infection, the Army said Tuesday, as the number of cases among U.S. troops passed 6,100 worldwide.

It was not immediately clear where the soldier died or whether the soldier had been mobilized as part of the Pentagon’s effort to combat the pandemic. An Army Reserve spokesman did not immediately provide more information.

It has been six weeks since the last service member died of coronavirus complications.

Navy Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., a sailor assigned to the virus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt, died in a naval hospital in Guam in April. Capt. Douglas Hickok, an officer in the New Jersey Army National Guard, died in a civilian hospital in March before his unit was mobilized to assist with the pandemic response.

Read more here.

By Alex Horton
May 26, 2020 at 6:14 PM EDT

Amtrak says it needs an additional bailout of nearly $1.5 billion to stay afloat

Amtrak says it needs nearly $1.5 billion in supplemental funding from the federal government to maintain “minimum service levels,” anticipating that ridership will not recover to pre-pandemic levels in fiscal 2021.

Amtrak chief executive William J. Flynn wrote in a letter to Congress that the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has become “clearer” and that the company needs a larger subsidy to offset revenue losses, prevent interruptions to capital investments and support Amtrak’s state-funded routes.

The railroad company has reported a 95 percent drop in ridership since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The disruptions set the railroad back after a year of growth on its number of routes and derailed projections that 2020 would yield positive earnings for the first time in the company’s 50-year history. Amtrak projects that ridership will remain low next year, around half of pre-pandemic levels.

Read more here.

By Luz Lazo
May 26, 2020 at 5:50 PM EDT

Two men face federal charges in personal protective equipment price gouging cases

In the early stages of the novel coronavirus outbreak, as essential front line workers clamored for personal protective equipment, two men attempted to sell N95 masks and respirators at exorbitant markups, law enforcement authorities say. On Tuesday, both were charged with federal crimes.

Federal prosecutors announced the arrests of Ronald Romano, a used-car salesman based in New Jersey, and Richard Schirripa, a licensed pharmacist in New York who prosecutors say was better known in the covid-19 pandemic as “the Mask Man.” In separate cases, authorities say Romano, 58, and Schirripa, 66, hoarded personal protective equipment in an attempt to exploit demand during the crisis and hiked up the cost to as much as 500 percent more than the original manufacturer’s prices.

“At a time when the pandemic was ravaging New York City, this defendant greedily preyed on the city’s desperate need for protective equipment to stop the spread of the virus,” New York City Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett said specifically about Romano.

In March, prosecutors say, Romano drafted a false authorization letter that claimed his company was approved to sell millions of pieces of personal protective equipment. Prosecutors allege that brokers representing Romano approached New York City to supply 7 million N95 respirators — which had been deemed scarce products under the Defense Production Act. Romano also offered three-ply N99 masks to the Florida Division of Emergency Management at a more than 500 percent mark up, according to the news release from the United States Department of Justice.

Schirripa, who prosecutors say was called “the Mask Man,” spent more than $200,000 to secure N95 masks, then inflated the resale prices. During a transaction with an undercover agent, prosecutors allege, Schirripa said: “I feel like a drug dealer.”

Both men face a plethora of charges that include one count of violating the Defense Production Act.

As the hardest-hit region in the United States, New York faced a shortage of equipment and had to pay high prices to vendors.

As the pandemic continues, federal officials have targeted price gougers, according to several reports. In April, Amardeep Singh was arrested for allegedly selling masks to senior citizen foundation for 1,300 percent more than the original price. Also, Baruch Feldheim was charged with lying to federal agents after trying to sell equipment to a doctor at a 700 percent increase.

By Candace Buckner
May 26, 2020 at 5:24 PM EDT

Dow surges more than 500 points as NYSE reopens trading floor

Investors celebrated the reopening of the New York Stock Exchange by sending stocks soaring Tuesday as the nationwide shutdown continues to unwind and more drug companies chase coronavirus cures.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed the day up 530 points, about 2.2 percent. The Dow broke through the 25,000 psychological threshold during a 700-point surge Tuesday afternoon before giving back some of those gains in the final minutes of the session. The blue chips closed at 24,995.11.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index jumped 1.2 percent after cracking the 3,000 threshold for the first time since March. The tech-heavy Nasdaq added about 0.2 percent. All three indexes are coming off strong finishes last week and are positive for May.

The New York Stock Exchange reopened its floor Tuesday for the first time since March 23. Most traders will continue to work remotely, and those who return will come back to a “new normal,” according to NYSE president Stacey Cunningham.

“We’re essential workers. We took a pause voluntarily because we wanted to learn more about the virus and about how to protect ourselves from it,” Cunningham said Tuesday on NBC. “What’s really critical is that reopen does not mean go back to business as usual.”

Read more here.

By Thomas Heath and Taylor Telford
May 26, 2020 at 5:19 PM EDT

House Democrat discusses recovery from pneumonia, to cast proxy vote this week

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) will be one of more than three dozen lawmakers who cast historic votes Wednesday by proxy voting, officially designating different House members to cast colleagues’ votes on their behalf.

Most of those lawmakers, expected to be Democrats, are using the new proxy rule because the coronavirus pandemic has made them fearful of traveling from afar to Washington, a pandemic hot spot, or because traveling from their remote home to the Capitol has become very difficult because airlines have cut back on flight options.

Not DeSaulnier.

His use of the new rule comes from having just overcome a life-or-death battle with pneumonia that began after the 68-year-old veteran marathoner fell while running on the Mall. DeSaulnier broke some ribs and hurt his spleen, but his age and a weakened immune system from battles with cancer and pneumonia made his situation perilous.

He spent five weeks in an intensive care unit, including four on a ventilator, and at one point was given a 10 percent chance of survival as he battled some covid-19-like symptoms that have led to nearly 100,000 deaths in the United States. He wasn’t suffering from the virus, but it was just as devastating, and one morning his family expected to get the worst call possible.

“The next day, my sons, expecting a phone call from the hospital saying I had passed away in the night, instead get a phone call that I was a little bit better,” DeSaulnier said on Facebook, which was then reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. “Every day I got better. There were lots of challenges, (but) eventually my eyes opened.”

This week marks his first one back at work, taking up work on committee assignments — all of which will be done over video conferencing, also part of the new rules change.

Under the proxy rules, DeSaulnier is one of at least 15 Californians who will vote through another lawmaker. As of Tuesday afternoon, 39 Democrats had submitted letters to congressional officials explaining their absence and who will vote on their behalf. DeSaulnier will direct Rep. Doris O. Matsui (D-Calif.) how he would vote on legislation this week, and she will cast that vote on his behalf.

“I am so grateful every day for every breath, every day,” he said.

Correction: This post has been updated to correct the spelling of DeSaulnier’s last name in some places, and to note that he made his comments in a Facebook video.

By Paul Kane
May 26, 2020 at 5:01 PM EDT

To keep social distancing, this mosque held holiday prayers in an Ikea parking lot

The pandemic has wrought deep pain and isolation — alongside moments of harmony. Kadir Terzi had one of the latter last week when he approached an Ikea store near his home outside Frankfurt, Germany, with a seemingly strange request: He wondered whether his congregation could pray in its parking lot to keep social distancing while celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

He expected a no, he told the BBC. “But the store manager didn’t hesitate for a second and said, ‘Yes, you can pray’. I was surprised and happy at the same time,” Terzi said.

So on Sunday, around 800 mask-wearing members of Terzi’s mosque and another one in the city of Wetzlar gathered in an empty Ikea parking lot and filled the open space with their prayers.

Germany allowed places of worship to reopen earlier this month, but they must follow social distancing measures. The new rules include that young children cannot attend and worshipers must maintain distance from one another.

By Miriam Berger
May 26, 2020 at 4:41 PM EDT

‘A failed attempt at humor’: Michigan governor addresses backlash over reports her husband name-dropped at boat dock company

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) is facing growing backlash after reports that her husband asked for special treatment from a boat dock company near their vacation home last week, a time when the governor was still discouraging residents from visiting their own.

In a now-deleted Facebook post, Tad Dowker, owner of a company that installs docks for residents with summer homes in northern Michigan, said that his employees told him that a man had called “wanting his boat in the water by the weekend,” according to the Detroit News. But the company was backed up.

Then, the employee told Dowker, the man said: “I am the husband to the governor, will this make a difference?"

Whitmer said in a news conference Tuesday that her husband, Marc Mallory, was joking when he made the request. But neither she nor her Republican critics were laughing.

“My husband made a failed attempt at humor last week,” Whitmer said. “He regrets it. I wish it wouldn’t have happened.”

The governor has imposed some of the nation’s strictest stay-at-home orders as she confronted the coronavirus outbreak in her state, which has killed more than 5,200 people. The state has the fourth-highest death toll in the nation, with most of the cases clustered in southeast Michigan, in and around Detroit.

Whitmer lifted restrictions in the northern part of the state — where she and thousands of other Michigan families own vacation homes — but urged people to think twice before rushing to the region over Memorial Day weekend. Her approach to the pandemic has frustrated Republican state lawmakers, who sued to stop her orders.

In a Facebook post, state Sen. Tom Barrett (R) shared his frustration over what Whitmer’s husband had purportedly done.

“Real leaders don’t cut in line and not follow their own demands placed on the rest of us,” Barrett wrote on his Facebook page.

By Moriah Balingit
May 26, 2020 at 4:09 PM EDT

Canadian military releases ‘extremely troubling’ report on nursing homes

TORONTO — Cockroach-infested facilities. Personal protective gear locked away from overworked employees. Residents experiencing “skin breakdown” after being left in soiled diapers. Forceful feeding causing choking. Abuse of residents.

These are some of the conditions Canadian soldiers have observed while deployed at five long-term-care homes in Ontario, according to a report made public Tuesday. The report states that its purpose is “to ensure that these observations do not go unnoticed by our chain of command” and provincial authorities.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa that the report is “extremely troubling.”

“I was sad. I was shocked. I was disappointed. I was angry,” he said. “I believe we are talking about a situation that clearly is a reality associated with covid-19 but has also existed for quite some time.”

Theresa Tam, Canada’s top public health officer, said this month that at least 81 percent of the country’s coronavirus deaths are linked to long-term-care homes. Those in Ontario and Quebec have been hit hardest. Some receive military assistance.

The crisis has prompted calls for public inquiries and debate about whether long-term care should be brought under the Canada Health Act, the federal legislation for publicly funded health-care insurance.

At one home, the report said, there was a “general culture of fear to use supplies because they cost money.” It said that soldiers witnessed “abusive/inappropriate” behavior and that some residents are being sedated with narcotics when they are “likely just sad or depressed in a context when there isn’t the staffing to support the level of care and companionship they need.”

At another home, the report said, the equipment was rarely disinfected, and there was “significant gross fecal contamination” in many rooms. It said that residents’ cries for assistance would sometimes go unanswered for more than two hours and that one resident’s feeding tube had not been changed in so long that its contents were “foul and coagulated.”

One death had been referred to the chief coroner for investigation, the news release said.

A Washington Post investigation this month of the Camilla Care Community, a 236-bed home in Ontario that is not receiving military assistance, found health aides were told to reuse personal protective gear and families struggled to get basic information about their loved ones. A total of 82 people, including 51 residents, are infected with the novel coronavirus at the facility.

By Amanda Coletta
May 26, 2020 at 3:34 PM EDT

More than 15,000 Rohingya refugees quarantined amid efforts to contain virus in Bangladeshi camps

It is a race against an invisible enemy in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Earlier this month, the United Nations refugee agency confirmed the first case of coronavirus among an estimated 1 million desperate people living in multiple densely packed makeshift camps around Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.

By Monday, there were 29 confirmed cases and more than 15,000 people quarantined, officials told AFP.

“We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated,” Mahbubur Rahman, Cox’s Bazar’s chief health official, told AFP. “We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun.”

A senior health official told AFP that none of the confirmed cases so far were critical.

“Still, we have brought them in isolation centers and quarantined their families,” said Toha Bhuiyan." We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts,” Bhuiyan added.

Authorities have also closed off roads to three areas where most of the cases were detected.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority, have faced decades of persecution back home in Myanmar, which neighbors Bangladesh.

Hundreds of thousands fled across the border to Cox’s Bazar after a violent campaign launched by Myanmar’s security forces in August 2017. Myanmar forces are accused of rape, indiscriminate killing and arson, among other violence.

The virus has also disrupted the distribution of food and medical aid, which is vital to keep impoverished and traumatized people in the squalid camps healthy but which can also provide an entry for the coronavirus.

By Miriam Berger
May 26, 2020 at 3:01 PM EDT

New-home sales eke out surprise gain in April

New-home sales grew unexpectedly in April, eking out a slight gain instead of the steep decline that had been forecast, the U.S. Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

Sales of new, single-family homes rose 0.6 percent in April — a modest but significant advance given the nearly 40 million job losses the nation has endured since the coronavirus took hold roughly 10 weeks ago. The unemployment rate jumped to 14.7 last month. Still, new-home sales are down 6.2 percent compared with a year ago.

“Home prices are still relatively stable and are not showing any sign of a housing bubble bust like that which occurred in the Great Recession over a decade ago,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, wrote in commentary Tuesday. “At least consumers are not underwater in this recession where their home is worth less than their mortgages."

Meanwhile, U.S. home values rose 4.4 percent in March, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index released Tuesday. The index has a two-month lag, meaning the data does not reflect the full economic impact of the pandemic. Phoenix led the pack with an 8.2 percent surge, followed by Seattle (6.9 percent) and Charlotte (5.8 percent). Seventeen of the 19 cities — Detroit was excluded in March — reported higher prices.

“As states are cautiously reopening business activity and people are looking at summer plans in a new light, the reality of 25 million unemployed Americans is casting looming clouds over the horizon,” George Raitu, senior economist at Realtor.com, said in comments emailed to The Post. “For home buyers, low availability coupled with still-rising prices are overshadowing the benefit of historically-low mortgage rates.”

By Taylor Telford
May 26, 2020 at 2:51 PM EDT

Amnesty International found security flaw in Qatar’s mandatory contact tracing app

Qatar’s new contact tracing app — which the Persian Gulf state made mandatory Friday — had “serious security vulnerabilities” that could have exposed the personal information of over 1 million users, an investigation by Amnesty International found.

“Now fixed, the vulnerability would have allowed cyber attackers to access highly sensitive personal information, including the name, national ID, health status and location data of more than one million users,” the Britain-based human rights group said in a statement Tuesday. It called the case “a wake-up call for governments rolling-out COVID-19 apps to ensure privacy safeguards are central to the technology."

The app, called Ehteraz, or precaution, was rolled out in April but made compulsory last week, as the oil and natural gas rich country’s coronavirus counts have continued to climb. Failing to download the app can land someone in jail for up to three years — the same punishment for not wearing a face mask in public, according to Agence France-Presse. The new rule prompted people to head to stores to buy “burner phones” for downloading the app on to protect the privacy of their main cellphone, AFP reported.

The app relies on Bluetooth radio signals to track and alert a user if they have been near an infected person. But Ehteraz also requires a user to provide permission to access the phone’s pictures and videos, and to make calls. This prompted alarm among privacy advocates, particularly given Qatar’s track record of civilian surveillance and suppressing freedom of speech, including criticism of the government.

Amnesty said that it alerted Qatari officials about the security flaw shortly after finding it Thursday. By the end of Friday, they said, authorities had fixed it.

Over 45 countries have developed or are developing a contact tracing app, according to Amnesty. As The Washington Post has reported, since the start of 2020, tens of millions of people across dozens of countries have suddenly become subject to pandemic-related surveillance via their phones, raising a host of new privacy concerns alongside efforts to curb the coronavirus.

By Miriam Berger
May 26, 2020 at 2:13 PM EDT

Florida would be happy to host the Republican National convention, its governor says

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Tuesday expressed eagerness to host the Republican National Convention in his state if it gets taken away from North Carolina, ticking off several municipalities that he said would be well suited to do so.

“We obviously have a number of areas in our state that could do it,” DeSantis said in response to a question at a news conference called to announce two nominations to the Florida Supreme Court.

His comments came a day after Trump threatened to move the convention out of North Carolina, accusing the state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, of being in a “shutdown mood” and demanding that he guarantee that “we will be allowed full attendance in the Arena” in Charlotte by the late-August convention.

“Florida would love to have the RNC,” DeSantis said at his news conference, adding that he would even be happy to host the Democratic National Convention because of the economic impact on the state.

He was not the only governor to jockey Tuesday for a chance to play host.

“With world-class facilities, restaurants, hotels, and workforce, Georgia would be honored to safely host the Republican National Convention,” Gov. Brian Kemp (R) said in a tweet. “We hope you will consider the Peach State, @realdonaldtrump!”

During an appearance earlier Tuesday on Fox News, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said “there’s lots of states that are calling the president right now” but said that his first choice remains North Carolina.

“We want to have it in North Carolina,” she said. “The president loves North Carolina. It’s just the governor — and he’s got to work with us. You know, every state we talk to is saying we want to nominate the president here. They’re so excited to have that. But this governor is up for reelection. He hasn’t given us the assurances we need. We need to be able to move forward in a concrete way.”

A Cooper spokesman said Monday that state health officials are working with Republicans on their plans and that the state is “relying on data and science to protect our state’s public health and safety.”

By John Wagner
May 26, 2020 at 1:54 PM EDT

Air travel spiked over Memorial Day weekend, but remained a small percentage of last year’s traffic

More than 1.5 million people passed through U.S. airports during Memorial Day weekend in a significant increase from recent weeks, but which still comprised less than 13 percent of air travel during the same period last year.

The most popular day to fly was Friday, when the Transportation Security Administration reported that it screened 348,673 passengers — about 12 percent of the roughly 2.8 million travelers that it screened on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend in 2019.

The number of travelers Thursday and Monday also topped 300,000. The last time before last weekend that the TSA screened more than 300,000 people was March 23.

Air travel has picked up in May after plummeting in March and remaining low in April. People have been moving about more freely as states have loosened social-distancing restrictions.

By Marisa Iati
May 26, 2020 at 1:24 PM EDT

Meet the accidental quarantine family: Two Airbnb hosts, two parents, two dogs and two babies

The coronavirus pandemic is leaving people in all kinds of limbo: Grandparents who have yet to meet new grandchildren. Students who are putting off life on campus. Long-distance couples who don’t know the next time they’ll embrace.

In this extended state of in-between, new bonds of circumstance are being formed. Neighbors who rarely socialized with one another are holding happy hours on adjacent porches and driveways. Craigslist roommates are becoming genuine friends.

And, in a suburban Salt Lake City house, a simple Airbnb reservation led to the creation of this unexpected temporary family: an American couple, their two dogs, a Chinese couple and their set of newborn twins.

Read more here.

By Lisa Bonos
May 26, 2020 at 1:17 PM EDT

House to return Wednesday for scaled-down legislative agenda, first-ever use of proxy voting

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) has scaled back the legislative agenda for the next few weeks to allow time for committees to delve deeper into their telework to produce more than a dozen key bills for the full House to consider later this summer.

“I’m focused very, very, very much on committee action,” Hoyer said Tuesday on his weekly conference call with the media. The House returns Wednesday and Thursday to vote on reauthorizing anti-terrorism surveillance laws and restructuring a loan-and-grant program for small businesses decimated by the economic shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, along with a few other bills.

Those will also serve as the first-ever use of proxy voting in the House, after a rule change this month allowed some lawmakers to stay home and have another lawmaker present cast their vote for them.

That rule change also allowed committees to start holding hearings and legislative markups through video conferencing, something that had left those panels essentially inoperable amid the pandemic and left bare the cupboard for bills to get put on the House floor.

“As a result, we need product,” Hoyer said.

Committees will focus on advancing 12 appropriation bills that fund the federal agencies, along with a water infrastructure reauthorization and at least an extension of the federal highway program. Hoyer expects that little floor action the next few weeks and said the House is likely to be called back into session once committees have processed those bills for the entire chamber to vote on them.

Hoyer also rejected criticism from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who accused House Democratic leaders last week of “ballot harvesting” with their proxy voting system and violating constitutional requirements that lawmakers be physically present in the Capitol to vote.

“They use proxy voting in the Senate all the time,” Hoyer said, calling McConnell’s accusation “ludicrous” and noting that every week the upper chamber passes legislation through unanimous consent or a voice vote, often with just two senators on hand. “What that means is, two people vote for the 100,” he said, noting that the Cares Act, worth more than $2 trillion, passed on a voice vote with about a handful of senators on hand.

By Paul Kane
May 26, 2020 at 12:53 PM EDT

Pence’s press secretary returns to work

Katie Miller, Vice President Pence’s press secretary, said Tuesday that she has returned to work after three negative tests for the coronavirus.

Miller was notified May 8 that she had tested positive — a revelation that heightened concerns about exposure within the White House.

The day before news broke of Miller’s case, the White House acknowledged the positive test result of a member of the U.S. military who worked on the White House campus and served as one of President Trump’s personal valets.

Before her absence, Miller had been a fixture around Pence and attended the coronavirus task force meetings that he leads.

“Back at work today after three NEGATIVE COVID tests,” Miller tweeted Tuesday. “Thank you to all my amazing doctors and everyone who reached out with support. I couldn’t have done it without my amazing husband who took great care of his pregnant wife.”

Miller is married to White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.

By John Wagner
May 26, 2020 at 12:27 PM EDT

HHS watchdog defends report that found shortages of equipment at hospitals during pandemic

Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, on Tuesday defended a report released by her office detailing a shortage of personal protective equipment and other supplies at hospitals in late March as medical providers were experiencing a surge in patients due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Grimm, a career investigator and auditor, said her office surveyed about 400 hospitals throughout the country from March 23 to March 27. About 85 percent of those hospitals responded, Grimm said.

“We did find shortages of protective equipment — masks, gowns and reported expected shortages of ventilators,” Grimm told the House Oversight and Reform Committee during a virtual hearing. She defended the report as “a snapshot in time” and said her office continues to study the U.S. response.

“It is just the beginning of the work we are doing looking at the coronavirus response. … This was the first of many ongoing planned audits and evaluations focused on protecting people during the pandemic,” she said.

President Trump and other Republicans have sharply criticized the report’s findings, and the president has since named a permanent successor to Grimm.

By Felicia Sonmez
May 26, 2020 at 12:13 PM EDT

Six Flags to reopen with temperature checks, mask requirements

Six Flags has planned its first theme park reopening for June 5, and visitors can expect an altered experience brought on by the coronavirus.

The Frontier City park in Oklahoma City will reopen with limited capacity.

Six Flags Entertainment Corp. announced Tuesday that the park will use an online reservation system to manage attendance, employ thermal imaging for temperature checks and screen bags using touchless technology. Employees will wear masks and park guests older than 2 will be required to wear nose and mouth coverings during their visits.

The park will ramp up cleaning of high-touch areas; social distancing markers will be placed throughout; and guests will be able to order food on their mobile devices.

Frontier City will operate in a “preview mode” for park members and season pass holders before cautiously increasing attendance levels over the rest of the month.

Mike Spanos, the company’s president and CEO, said the park and other Six Flags locations pose a lower risk of covid-19 infection because they are outdoors and spread out.

“Because our parks cover dozens or even hundreds of acres, we can easily manage guest throughput to achieve proper social distancing,” he said about his company’s extensive reopening plan.

“This ’new normal’ will be very different, but we believe these additional measures are appropriate in the current environment.”

Oklahoma started its three-phased reopening on April 24.

By Lateshia Beachum
May 26, 2020 at 11:54 AM EDT

Partisan accusations traded as briefing on hospital preparedness gets underway

Partisanship and finger-pointing over the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic were on display Tuesday as the House Oversight and Reform Committee opened a video briefing featuring a government watchdog who drew President Trump’s ire for producing a report last month on shortages in testing and personal protective gear at hospitals.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the panel’s chairwoman, praised the work of Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, and lamented that she had come under attack by Trump for her work after revealing “the gravity of challenges” faced by hospitals.

“Unfortunately President Trump personally attacked Ms. Grimm and for no valid reason,” Maloney said. “His criticisms were baseless, and it seems clear that he just wanted everyone to pretend that there were no challenges in our health-care system. Of course, we all know that was wrong. Ms. Grimm should not have had to endure these senseless attacks just for doing her job.”

Following the release of the report, Trump nominated a permanent replacement to take over leadership of Grimm’s office. She has been serving in an acting capacity.

Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the top Republican on the Oversight panel, pushed back against Democratic claims that Trump sought to retaliate against Grimm due to her office’s report.

“Any allegation that Christi Grimm was fired or removed for simply issuing a report is incorrect,” Jordan said. He took aim at the report’s findings, arguing that Grimm’s office used “flawed methodology” to produce the report.

Jordan also called on Democrats to “stop playing these partisan games” and bring lawmakers back to Washington so that they can hold “real hearings” on China’s role in the pandemic.

By John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez
May 26, 2020 at 11:37 AM EDT

White House economic adviser takes heat for calling workforce ‘human capital stock’

As states restart their economies and nearly 40 million people file for unemployment benefits, senior White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett drew criticism on social media for referring to the country’s workforce on Sunday as “human capital stock.”

Hassett said he knows a Harvard University professor who predicts the U.S. economy will rebound relatively quickly because the situation is similar to those of countries whose post-World War II recoveries were hastened by their access to capital.

“Our capital stock hasn’t been destroyed; our human capital stock is ready to get back to work,” Hassett said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And so there are lots of reasons to believe that we can get going way faster than we have in previous crises.”

Hassett’s phrasing was met with disdain from some people, who said it reflected a lack of empathy on the part of the Trump administration or inherent to capitalism.

“Trump’s White House said the quiet part out loud by calling workers #HumanCapitalStock, but make no mistake this is how the entire ruling class feels too,” Ryan Knight, a Democratic Socialist and activist, said on Twitter. “I just don’t know what else it’s going to take for people to realize it’s time for a more just & sustainable economic system.”

Justin Wolfers, an economics professor at the University of Michigan, said thinking of the workforce as “human capital stock” can negatively affect a person’s economic calculus.

“When you don’t think of them as ‘people,’ you’re probably also doing the economics wrong,” he wrote on Twitter.

By Marisa Iati
May 26, 2020 at 11:17 AM EDT

Frustrated and struggling, New Yorkers contemplate abandoning the city they love

NEW YORK — Welcome to the Great Reassessment.

New York City is a shadow of its pre-pandemic normal. Many residents are out of work, out of money, out of patience and out of sorts. Reassessments of quality of life are happening throughout the country, but nowhere else are they as sharply focused as here, in the nation’s most populated, most dense, most diverse metropolis — where more than 21,000 have died. Even with all the chaos, filth and struggle, nostalgics have long mourned every change in what they called the “vanishing” city. But calls to the city’s mental health hotlines have surged. Whether they have left, or whether they have no option to leave, New Yorkers are having to ask themselves whether the city they love is really still livable.

“The ’rona sat every New Yorker down and legit asked that question everyone knows from tired job interviews: Where do you see yourself in five years?” said Sandy José Nuñez, 31, a bartender hoping to pivot toward opening a jujitsu gym. “You have plenty of time now to step up to a solid answer.”

But there is no universal answer.

Read more here.

By Richard Morgan and Jada Yuan
May 26, 2020 at 10:26 AM EDT

A maskless Trump shares tweet criticizing Biden for wearing one

Hours after President Trump was spotted Monday partaking in public Memorial Day remembrances without a face mask, he hopped on Twitter to retweet a Fox News commentator criticizing former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, for wearing one.

“This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public,” Brit Hume, Fox News’s senior political analyst, tweeted Monday evening, sharing a picture of Biden at a Delaware veterans memorial earlier that day. In the photo, which documents Biden’s first public appearance since mid-March, most of the 77-year-old’s face is obscured by a black mask and a pair of Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses.

Hume’s tweet sparked instant backlash from a number of critics on the left. By early Tuesday, Hume was still trending on Twitter as detractors questioned whether he valued Biden looking “cool” more than encouraging efforts to slow the spread of the potentially deadly novel coronavirus that has now killed more than 97,000 Americans.

Read more here.

By Allyson Chiu
May 26, 2020 at 10:13 AM EDT

Dow soars nearly 600 points as New York Stock Exchange reopens floor

Stocks roared Tuesday coming off the holiday weekend, as the national shutdown continues to unwind, more drug companies chase coronavirus vaccines and the New York Stock Exchange reopens its floor to traders for the first time in two months. The Dow Jones industrial average shot up nearly 600 points, about 2.3 percent.

The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index also traded higher. All three indexes are coming off strong gains last week and are positive for May.

“With more signs of the worst of the virus being behind us investors are beginning to focus on more countries reopening and the lifting of travel bans around the world,” Torsten Slok, chief economist for Deutsche Bank Securities, said in an email. “More signs of reopening and more signs of travel bans being lifted creates more clarity for markets.”

Read more here.

By Thomas Heath and Taylor Telford
May 26, 2020 at 10:10 AM EDT

Trump decries mail-in voting in California following GOP lawsuit

President Trump on Tuesday asserted without evidence that the general election would be “rigged” in California if the state is allowed to follow through with the plan of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to send mail-in ballots to all voters in his state.

“Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed,” Trump claimed, adding that “professionals” would follow up people who received ballots telling them “how, and for whom, to vote.”

“This will be a Rigged Election. No way!” Trump said. His comments follow a Republican lawsuit filed Sunday seeking to block Newsom’s plan.

In the filing, the Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee and California Republican Party argue the move is unconstitutional and invites voter fraud.

Newsom signed an executive order on May 8 stating every voter would be sent a mail-in ballot due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

By John Wagner
May 26, 2020 at 9:45 AM EDT

In the Philippines, no school until there’s a vaccine, president says

Students will not resume classes in the Philippines until there is a viable vaccine to protect them from the coronavirus, President Rodrigo Duterte announced Monday, in a move that runs counter to decisions by many other countries as they scramble to reopen schools as soon as possible.

“Unless I am sure that they are really safe, it’s useless to be talking about opening of classes,” Duterte said in a national address.

“For me, vaccine first. If the vaccine is already there, then it’s okay,” he said. “If no one graduates, then so be it.” Schools closed across the Philippines in March and were set to reopen in August, but Duterte’s comments Monday suggest that he is willing to postpone the upcoming academic year indefinitely.

Elsewhere, schools have already launched in-person classes with increased sanitization measures.

In Denmark, some students went back to school in April. New Zealand reopened schools earlier in May after a strict lockdown dramatically slowed the spread of the virus. In Germany, some older students returned at the end of April to take final exams.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is trying to reopen elementary schools as early as next week but is facing pushback from parents and teachers who say it’s too soon to send children back. In the United States, some schools that moved to online classes are ending the academic year earlier than usual and launching a prolonged summer vacation as officials weigh options for the fall semester.

By Siobhán O'Grady
May 26, 2020 at 9:12 AM EDT

Even experts struggle with coronavirus unknowns

In this pandemic, we’re swimming in statistics, trends, models, projections, infection rates, death tolls. University of Virginia professor Brian Nosek has professional expertise in interpreting data, but even he is struggling to make sense of the numbers.

“What’s crazy is, we’re three months in, and we’re still not able to calibrate our risk management. It’s a mess,” said Nosek, who runs the Center for Open Science, which advocates for transparency in research. “Tell me what to do! Please!”

Scientists are still trying to understand the virus they call SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease covid-19. Basic questions are not fully answered: How deadly is this virus? How contagious? Are there different strains with different clinical outcomes? Why does SARS-CoV-2 create a devastating disease in some people while leaving others without symptoms or even knowledge that they were infected?

With stay-at-home orders expiring and businesses reopening, all the scientific data is being scrutinized anew. But the numbers are often ambiguous, with large margins of error. Because this is still an early phase of the pandemic, scientific findings have to be couched in tentative, provisional, sometimes squishy language that is festooned with caveats and admitted limitations.

Read more here.

By Joel Achenbach
May 26, 2020 at 9:10 AM EDT

Ex-FDA commissioner cites reopening as likely cause of uptick in hospitalizations

Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the small increase of hospitalizations because of the novel coronavirus is probably due to reopening measures.

“We now see a trend in an uptick in hospitalizations. It’s a small uptick, but it is an uptick, and it is unmistakable, and it is probably a result of reopening,” he said Tuesday morning in an interview on CNBC. “We expected cases to go up and hospitalizations to bump up when we reopened.”

States such as Florida, Georgia and Virginia have registered increased hospitalization numbers, he said. “We’re going to have to watch it,” he said. “The hope is that there’s a seasonal effect. … That seasonal effect will hopefully offset the increased social interaction, which is going to cause cases to go up.”

Social interaction should be approached with some level of caution, he added, referring to the crowds of people celebrating in the Ozarks over the holiday weekend.

“I’m concerned that there are people who think that this is the all-clear,” he said. “I think what we really need to be doing is defining a new normal. We’re going to need to live differently until we get to a vaccine.”

By Lateshia Beachum
May 26, 2020 at 9:06 AM EDT

Officials stunned by raucous Memorial Day festivities

A pandemic couldn’t cancel America’s most crowded parties Memorial Day weekend, even as the novel coronavirus took at least 2,000 more lives in the United States.

At a flashy club in Houston, dozens splashed around the pool and sipped drinks on the patio. In rural North Carolina, thousands packed the stands shoulder to shoulder at Ace Speedway on its opening night, where face masks were the exception. In Daytona Beach, Fla., even though an event called “Orlando Invades Daytona” was canceled, hundreds still danced in the street and on top of cars near the boardwalk.

“It looks like there are two people out the sunroof throwing money,” the seemingly perplexed pilot of a police helicopter said over his radio, flying over the wild scene near the beach to get a closer look. “They’re clearly throwing cash at the crowd.” The raucous events across the country over the holiday weekend led some local officials to sound the alarm Monday, warning that consequences could be dire if such behavior continued unchecked. In St. Louis, county officials even issued a travel advisory after viral images emerged of pool parties at yacht clubs and waterfront bars in Lake of the Ozarks.

Read more here.

By Meagan Flynn
May 26, 2020 at 8:52 AM EDT

Two black men died of covid-19 five days apart. This is what was lost.

George Valentine and Kenneth Moore were role models to the young people around them. Yet they were also black men living during the coronavirus pandemic, and in the calculus that decides who is likely to survive or die, that fact alone made them exceptionally vulnerable.

Although mortality statistics that cross-reference race and gender are unavailable, a recent study showed men are more than twice as likely as women to die of the virus. As the U.S. toll from the pandemic nears 100,000, African Americans are much more apt to die than whites, with predominantly black counties accounting for 60 percent of all U.S. coronavirus deaths.

The virus has been especially lethal to people of color in the nation’s capital. More than three-quarters of D.C.’s 440 covid-19 victims have been black. It has robbed the community of pastors and professionals, fathers and mentors in a city where black men are already imperiled, dying 15 years earlier than white men on average.

Read more here.

By Sydney Trent
May 26, 2020 at 8:48 AM EDT

WHO warns countries they could face new peak of cases before ‘second wave’

The World Health Organization has warned that countries could face a second peak of coronavirus cases even before they enter a second wave of infections, echoing concerns expressed by opponents of rapid reopening in countries around the world.

During a briefing on Monday, WHO emergencies program head Mike Ryan suggested that the presumption that a second surge in countries with dropping infection rates can only occur later this year, in fall or winter, may be misleading.

“When we speak about a second wave classically, what we often mean is that there will be a first wave, the disease by itself effectively goes to a very low level and then recurs a couple of months later,” Ryan said. “But we need to be also cognizant of the fact that the disease can jump up at any time. We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now that it’s going to keep going down.”

Similar patterns have played out during other pandemics in the past, he said.

The WHO warned North America, Southeast Asia, Europe and other regions against scaling back coronavirus restrictions and public health measures too quickly, which could result in a rapid acceleration in the emergence of new case clusters, Ryan said.

While the United States and European Union countries have pushed ahead with reopening measures in recent weeks, efforts to tie eased restrictions to virus conditions have varied widely.

In Germany, for instance, the reopening of regions is tied to a maximum threshold of new coronavirus cases, meaning that the easing of restrictions could automatically be put on hold if there are signs of a second surge. Meanwhile, in the United States, President Trump said last week that “we are not closing our country” in case a second wave emerges.

By Rick Noack
May 26, 2020 at 8:40 AM EDT

WHO pauses trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns

For months, President Trump has promoted hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for covid-19, calling the anti-malarial drug a “game changer,” asking patients, “What do you have to lose?” — and even announcing that he was taking the drug in an attempt to ward off the novel coronavirus.

On Monday, however, the World Health Organization announced that it had temporarily halted its global trial of the drug, citing a new study that found a significantly higher risk of death among those taking hydroxychloroquine or the closely related drug chloroquine.

“The Executive Group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity Trial while the safety data is reviewed by the Data Safety Monitoring Board,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, said in a briefing.

Read more here.

By Tim Elfrink
May 26, 2020 at 8:04 AM EDT

Merck joins global race to develop a coronavirus vaccine

Pharmaceutical giant Merck jumped into the fight against the coronavirus, announcing two separate efforts to develop a vaccine and a business partnership to create a promising antiviral drug that can be taken as a pill.

Merck, a leading vaccine company, joins a crowded field of established drugmakers, biotechnology companies and governments racing toward a vaccine to prevent covid-19 — and competing for funding to help support the development of products that can’t arrive soon enough.

Merck announced it would acquire Themis, a biotech company with a vaccine technology that uses a modified measles virus to deliver molecules that trigger an immune response against other pathogens. Merck is also partnering with IAVI, a nonprofit scientific research organization, to develop another vaccine that would have the same backbone as its Ebola vaccine. That joint effort is supported by the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), and human tests are expected to begin later this year.

Ken Frazier, chief executive of Merck, said in an interview that the company was pursuing two vaccines in parallel because of the need to provide the world billions of doses. “This is a global pandemic. None of us are going to be safe until we make everybody protected,” Frazier said.

Both technologies, he said, would require a single shot instead of two doses, as many of the experimental candidates do.

Last week, BARDA announced it would provide up to $1.2 billion in a partnership with AstraZeneca to make 300 million doses of a vaccine invented by scientists at the University of Oxford available as soon as October 2020.

Merck also announced Monday that it would partner with a Florida-based company, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, to further develop a promising antiviral drug invented by a nonprofit biotechnology company owned by Emory University.

That experimental drug, EIDD-2801, works in a similar way to remdesivir, the therapy that was given an emergency use authorization to be used for patients with covid-19. But remdesivir must be given as an injection, while the Ridgeback drug is a pill.

By Carolyn Y. Johnson
May 26, 2020 at 7:28 AM EDT

With summer holidays only weeks away, calls for an E.U. effort to lift border restrictions are mounting

BERLIN — With only weeks to go until summer holiday season, calls for an effort to reopen the European Union’s internal borders are mounting, although key details remain in flux.

In the latest indication that pressure is building, Germany’s DPA news agency reported Tuesday that the country may be set to ease a global travel warning. The move would make it easier for travelers to spend their holidays in one of the 27 E.U. member states, plus several associated countries such as Switzerland and Iceland, starting in mid-June.

According to DPA, the German government is expected to call on the E.U. to develop common rules for what constitutes a “safe” country.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya on Tuesday also called for a concerted effort to reopen borders across the Schengen area, where controls were not commonly enforced before the pandemic.

“We have to start working with our European partners to retake the freedom of movement in European territories,” González Laya told Cadena SER radio on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Southern European nations such as Italy, Spain and Greece hope that a quick resumption of travel could boost the crucial tourism sector and speed up their countries’ economic recovery.

Spanish officials said Monday that they would no longer require international tourists to self-quarantine, starting July 1, following similar decisions by Italy and Greece.

Many countries that managed to keep the number of coronavirus cases relatively low, however, have remained more cautious about allowing their citizens to head abroad freely this summer, arguing that “travel bubbles” between less affected countries could be an alternative.

Several European airlines have nevertheless announced the gradual resumption of flight connections during the next weeks.

One of the first such resumed flights from the German city of Düsseldorf to the Italian island of Sardinia ended in a debacle over the weekend, when the plane and its two passengers had to turn around after its destination airport turned out to still be closed.

By Rick Noack
May 26, 2020 at 6:45 AM EDT

House Democrats to hear from HHS watchdog who drew Trump’s ire

House Democrats on Tuesday are summoning a government watchdog who drew President Trump’s ire for producing a report last month on the shortages in testing and personal protective gear at hospitals during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.

Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, is scheduled to appear in a video briefing for members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on the report she produced.

Trump laced into Grimm at a news conference and on Twitter after her staff report found “severe shortages” of testing kits, delays in getting coronavirus results and “widespread shortages” of masks and other equipment at U.S. hospitals. Trump insisted the report was “wrong” and accused Grimm, a career investigator and auditor, of political bias.

Grimm has been serving as acting director of her office, a post she had held since January. Trump has since nominated a permanent successor, Jason Weida, an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston.

Besides last month’s report, committee members are preparing to seek Grimm’s thoughts on other aspects of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, including testing and the maintenance of the national stockpile of emergency equipment.

By John Wagner and Lisa Rein
May 26, 2020 at 6:26 AM EDT

Dutch prime minister says he could not see his dying mother in her final weeks due to coronavirus restrictions

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday confirmed the death of his 96-year-old mother, with his office adding he was not able to see her in her final weeks due to the country’s current restrictions on visits to nursing homes.

“The prime minister has complied with all directives,” a spokesman for Rutte told the Agence France-Presse news agency on Monday. The prime minister’s mother died almost two weeks ago, according to the news agency, more than two months after restrictions on nursing home visits were imposed by Rutte’s government.

According to Dutch media outlets, Rutte’s mother did not die of covid-19.

Nursing homes are set to be gradually reopen to visitors again.

In the Netherlands, Rutte’s experience was recognized Monday as a painful example for the many sacrifices the coronavirus restrictions have demanded. Abroad, Rutte was widely noted as a role model in comparison to other top European officials, who have been accused of flouting their governments’ own rules in recent days.

In Austria, President Alexander Van der Bellen apologized Sunday after authorities found him at a restaurant more than one hour after the mandatory closing time.

A day later, the office of Irish leader Leo Varadkar said a recent picnic he attended in a park was not a violation of the country’s rules — even though officials had previously urged the public to refrain from picnics specifically.

Meanwhile, outrage in Britain mounted Tuesday over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior aide, Dominic Cummings, who in late March drove 260 miles from London to Durham with his wife while she had symptoms of covid-19 to drop his child off with relatives.

In a news conference Monday, Cummings defended his actions and defied calls for his resignation, which have mounted even within Johnson’s own Conservative party.

By Rick Noack
May 26, 2020 at 6:07 AM EDT

Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity reopens to masked visitors

Palestinian officials in the West Bank reopened one of Christianity’s most sacred sites, Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, to visitors Tuesday, after it closed almost two months ago.

The church, which is traditionally regarded as the birthplace of Jesus, was closed to the public on March 5, about a month before Easter. Tens of thousands of worshipers normally flock to the church for the holiday.

“The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ gave hope to people more than 2,000 years ago, and opening the church today will, I think, give hope to the whole world that hopefully this pandemic will end,” Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maayah told Reuters.

Under ongoing coronavirus restrictions, only 50 people will be allowed inside the church at one time, and visitors must wear masks, Reuters reported.

The reopening followed Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s Monday announcement that mosques, churches and businesses could partially resume activity Tuesday, with restrictions on how many people can be inside at one time.

As coronavirus restrictions took effect around the world, houses of worship became a flash point over restrictions limiting large gatherings. Concerns over freedom of religion clashed with public health advice that traced multiple coronavirus clusters back to church services and gatherings at mosques.

On Friday, President Trump urged states to resume in-person worship and threatened to “override” governors who refused to lift restrictions on religious services. Three days later, California’s governor released new guidelines allowing churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious establishments to host in-person services for 100 people or 25 percent capacity, whichever is smaller.

By Katie Shepherd
May 26, 2020 at 5:48 AM EDT

Junior minister in Britain resigns over Cummings’s coronavirus road trip

LONDON — Scottish Conservative Party lawmaker Douglas Ross resigned Tuesday over the Dominic Cummings scandal that has stirred outrage and divided Britain’s ruling party.

Ross, a junior minister in the Scotland Office, is considered a rising star on the political landscape, Sky News reported Tuesday, as other lawmakers expressed dismay over his resignation. Scottish lawmaker Ruth Davidson said she was “sorry” to see him leave and called him a “talented minister,” while Scottish Conservative Party leader Jackson Carlaw called his resignation “a great loss.”

In his tweet Tuesday that included the resignation letter, Ross said he was not satisfied with Dominic Cummings’s explanation for a 260-mile family road trip that the chief adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson took to northern England while both Cummings and his wife were infected with the coronavirus in violation of government-imposed restrictions.

“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together,” he said. “I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”

On Monday evening, Cummings took questions about his Durham trip, saying he had no regrets and had done nothing wrong.

So far, Johnson has stood by his adviser — fueling further backlash against the government during what is already a particularly tense period in Britain.

On Tuesday, Cabinet member Michael Gove said it was “time to move on” from the firestorm, but Ross’s resignation and calls from fellow conservatives for Cummings to step down suggest the scandal has not yet run its course.

Tory lawmaker Simon Jupp wrote Tuesday on Facebook that he “felt a mixture of anger, disappointment and frustration” over the scandal and said if he had been in the same situation as Cummings, he would not have made the same decisions.

By Jennifer Hassan
May 26, 2020 at 5:25 AM EDT

Crowded housing, essential jobs compound health risks for Latinos

Inside crowded courtyard buildings, where blue-collar Latino families share apartments meant for one, the sick are multiplying.

Isabela Rivera was the first in her home to test positive for the novel coronavirus. Unable to fully isolate in the three-bedroom apartment that she and her husband, Danilo Rivera, share with two other Northern Virginia families, the Riveras sent their 7-year-old son to live with a family friend. Danilo sleeps on the couch, unsure whether he is infected. The other families have taken cover in their rooms, hoping a closed door will protect them from the deadly and highly contagious virus.

But their apartment complex in Herndon has become a coronavirus magnet. Soon, others were coughing and wheezing.

Latinos, who make up about 10 percent of the population in the District, Maryland and Virginia, account for about a third of the coronavirus cases in the region, according to a Washington Post analysis of jurisdictions that track the race and ethnicity of patients with covid-19, the disease the virus causes.

Read more here.

By Antonio Olivo, Marissa Lang and John D. Harden
May 26, 2020 at 4:55 AM EDT

More than 200 workers test positive for coronavirus at Guatemalan textile plant

More than 200 coronavirus infections have been reported at a textile plant in Guatemala after the company failed to institute measures to safeguard workers’ health, officials said Monday.

The outbreak, which could be one of the country’s largest, began earlier this month at the K.P. Textil plant in San Miguel Petapa, according to the Associated Press. In early May, officials began receiving reports that sick workers were continuing to work at the factory and that the company was not taking steps to protect uninfected employees.

Zulma Calderon, the health prosecutor in Guatemala’s Human Rights prosecutor’s office, said Monday that health officials were asked to test each of the nearly 900 workers at the plant. As of May 12, six workers had tested positive for covid-19, but the plant’s management reportedly refused to cooperate.

Francisco Reyes, the plant’s manager, told the AP he independently decided to close the plant for two weeks, beginning May 12, and was reorganizing the cafeteria to comply with social distancing requirements. He denied health officials had told him about the outbreak before he shut down the plant.

Like many textile factories in the region, the K.P. Textil plant produces goods that are exported overseas, a crucial driver for the local economy. The city’s mayor, Mynor Morales, is considering launching a legal inquiry that would determine whether the factory’s owners acted negligently, the AP reports.

Guatemala has reported 3,760 coronavirus cases and 59 deaths to date.

By Antonia Farzan
May 26, 2020 at 4:34 AM EDT

Nonessential shops to reopen in England as Boris Johnson continues to lift restrictions

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new steps to bring England out of its lockdown on Monday evening, confirming nonessential shops and car showrooms would be the next to open — providing they follow government guidance to do so safely.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street conference, Johnson added plans were “conditional” and the road map was “contingent upon progress” in the fight to combat the spread of the coronavirus, an outbreak that has claimed at least 36,996 lives in Britain.

Noting that transmission of the virus carries a seemingly lower risk outdoors, Johnson announced that as of June 1, outdoor markets will open along with car showrooms. From June 15, department stores and independent shops are allowed to reopen as long as covid-19 measures to protect staff and customers are in place.

Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the other nations making up the United Kingdom, continue to chart their own paths out of the crisis.

Since the lockdown was implemented on March 23, Britain has slipped into what economists say is its deepest recession in 300 years. Gross domestic product slumped by a record 5.8 percent in March due to the collapse of key service industries such as food and retail.

Some on social media welcomed news of the planned reopenings, while others voiced concerns they were still confused over when it would be possible to reunite properly with their loved ones.

Johnson’s latest remarks come as parents across the country debate whether to send their children back to school in June — something the prime minister has been pushing for recently, although he has admitted the challenge will be “tough.”

Many teachers argue the move is too soon, saying it is almost impossible to expect young children to adhere to social distancing rules, while scientific advisers have offered conflicting advice over whether it is safe to do so.

By Jennifer Hassan
May 26, 2020 at 4:05 AM EDT

Indonesia deploys military to enforce mask and social distancing protocols

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police officers will be deployed across Indonesia to ensure people are practicing social distancing and wearing masks, a top military official said Tuesday.

The number of coronavirus infections has been rising in the Southeast Asian nation, which has reported close to 23,000 cases and 1,391 deaths to date. Health officials have blamed the surge on a general unwillingness to comply with social distancing and other public health guidelines.

“We will monitor people to ensure people are wearing masks and are also maintaining a safe distance from others,” Indonesian military chief Hadi Tjahjanto said Tuesday, according to Reuters. About 340,000 police officers and soldiers will be deployed on streets, in malls and in other public settings to enforce the rules.

The move comes after photos of a packed Jakarta airport terminal circulated on social media and the end of Ramadan prompted large numbers of people to flock to shops and markets.

By Antonia Farzan
May 26, 2020 at 3:47 AM EDT

Irish prime minister says he ‘broke no laws’ after public picnic sparks uproar

The prime minister of Ireland denied violating his own government’s coronavirus restrictions after he attended a picnic with friends at a park near his home on Sunday.

A spokesman for Leo Varadkar said Monday that he “broke no laws, breached no regulations and observed public health guidance” by attending the picnic with his partner and two friends in a park less than three miles from his home, the Belfast Telegraph reported.

He added that the picnic was permitted under the phase one policy because people are allowed to go outside near their homes as long as they maintain social distancing.

“There are no specific government guidelines on eating outdoors or picnics,” he said.

While there was no written policy on picnics, Irish public health officials had previously urged people not to have them during the first phase of the nation’s reopening rollout.

“If you’re visiting a public amenity, try not to stay too long at the site or have picnics,” assistant secretary at the Department of the Taoiseach Liz Canavan said last week. “Please do your exercise and then go home.”

The Irish leader is hardly the only public official to receive criticism for appearing to flout coronavirus restrictions.

Officials in Britain, Scotland, New Zealand, Canada and the United States have drawn ire for failing to follow social distancing guidelines. Some of those leaders apologized for their missteps, while others defended their actions.

In Britain, Dominic Cummings, a chief adviser to the British prime minister, allegedly traveled in violation of the coronavirus restrictions he helped write. After reports that he and his wife had traveled extensively after developing covid-19 symptoms, some critics called for his dismissal.

Cummings has said he will not resign, and his boss, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has so far defended him.

By Katie Shepherd
May 26, 2020 at 3:37 AM EDT

Dubai to reopen cinemas, health clubs and gyms

DUBAI — Dubai announced a large-scale reopening of commercial establishments amid deep concerns over the economic impact of weeks of lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement by Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed late on Monday comes after Saudi Arabia and Kuwait also announced an easing of restrictions following the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

The moves come, however, as the tide of new cases across the gulf region shows little sign of slackening with the United Arab Emirates alone recording more than 800 new cases a day for a total of over 30,000.

In his statement Mohammed said the decision, which includes moving the curfew start from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., followed “a comprehensive analysis of health and socioeconomic factors of the situation.”

Unlike the oil-dependent economies of neighboring emirate Abu Dhabi and countries around the region, Dubai has a diversified economy that relies heavily on tourism, real estate and the service sector — all of which have been devastated by lockdown measures that have closed restaurants, hotels, malls and stopped all international visitors.

In a survey published by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, 70 percent of business executives interviewed expected their companies to go bankrupt within the next six months.

The Dubai Media Center, a government information office, later pushed back against the survey noting it was only a small sample of the 250,000 companies registered in the city and occurred in April during the period of harshest restrictions, including a three-week, 24-hour lockdown. The report was then declared confidential and removed from the website.

The opening set for Wednesday is wider than anything else in the region with cinemas, gyms, and health clubs all allowed to operate once more.

Entertainment venues like the Dubai Mall Ice Rink and the Dolphinarium will also allowed to reopen, though the standing rule that children under 12 will not be allowed into shopping centers or other facilities, will remain in place.

Currently only Emirati citizens are allowed to enter the country, though the government has said eventually residents stranded abroad will be allowed to return.

By Paul Schemm
May 26, 2020 at 3:09 AM EDT

Brazil travel ban will be enforced ahead of schedule as daily death rate outpaces U.S.

The Trump administration will begin enforcing restrictions on travel from Brazil two days ahead of schedule, as the South American nation outpaces the United States’s daily death toll from the coronavirus.

The White House announced Sunday that foreigners who have visited Brazil in the past 14 days would be barred from entering the U.S., beginning Friday at midnight. On Monday, officials adjusted that timeline to allow the ban to go into place at midnight on Wednesday.

The change comes as Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak has worsened, with the country’s Health Ministry reporting 807 new deaths over the past 24 hours on Monday. The U.S. recorded 620 deaths during that same period, marking the first time that Brazil has reported a higher death toll.

While the U.S. numbers may be artificially low because of the long holiday weekend, Brazil’s death counts are also thought to be unreliable because the country tests for covid-19 at a rate far lower than other nations, including the United States.

The World Health Organization’s executive director, Michael Ryan, warned Monday that Brazil should keep stay-at-home measures in place and refrain from reopening its economy until widespread testing is introduced.

By Antonia Farzan
May 26, 2020 at 2:47 AM EDT

Colorado restaurant that opened for Mother’s Day sues governor, state officials over shutdown orders

A Colorado restaurant that lost its license after defying a statewide shutdown order by packing its dining room with customers over Mother’s Day weekend struck back at state officials with a lawsuit filed on Friday.

The owners of C&C Coffee & Kitchen in Castle Rock sued Gov. Jared Polis, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and its director, and the local tri-county health department in Douglas County District Court. They are represented by Randy Corporon, a Denver attorney who also hosts a conservative talk radio show.

The lawsuit alleges that coronavirus-related restrictions deprived restaurant owners Jesse and April Arellano “of their livelihood and ability to operate their business after they simply allowed customers onto their premises to serve food and beverages.” The lawsuit also claims that the governor’s statewide restrictions have been based on “fluctuating, often inaccurate projections” of the toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

Video captured May 10 showed the Castle Rock restaurant filled with customers sitting shoulder-to-shoulder without masks and standing in a line that wrapped around the dining room.

After the Mother’s Day incident, the state and county health department suspended the restaurant’s license. Polis said at a news conference that the business posed an "immediate health hazard” and would likely be closed for at least 30 days. The lawsuit claims the Arellanos “have suffered devastating and possibly insurmountable financial hardship” because of the state’s actions.

Polis on Monday announced that Colorado restaurants would be able to reopen dining rooms beginning May 27, but only at half capacity or a maximum of 50 customers at a time.

The Arellanos opened their second location in Colorado Springs for dine-in service Sunday, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page. That cafe is in El Paso County, where state and local public health officials allowed restaurants to open dining rooms this weekend ahead of the statewide reopening. The Castle Rock location is still closed because of its license suspension, the owners said on Facebook.

By Katie Shepherd
May 26, 2020 at 2:24 AM EDT

Ban on large protests makes pandemic a ‘great time’ to build a pipeline, Alberta’s energy minister says

Alberta’s energy minister said the coronavirus pandemic is an opportune moment for building pipelines because large group protests are banned, the Canadian Press first reported.

Sonya Savage made the remark during a Friday taping of a podcast hosted by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, where she was asked about the status of an ongoing pipeline project.

“Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can’t have protests of more than 15 people,” Savage said, prompting her interviewer to laugh. She went on to say the ongoing economic crisis meant “people are not going to have tolerance and patience for protests that get in the way of people working.”

Alberta recently eased restrictions on outdoor gatherings to allow groups of up to 50 people. A spokesman for Savage told the Canadian Press the energy minister respects the right to hold “lawful protests,” but did not indicate whether her remark should be taken as a joke.

“Wait, she said the true part out loud,” the environmentalist writer Bill McKibben tweeted on Monday. “They’re literally using covid as a cover to build pipelines because they know protest is impossible.”

By Antonia Farzan
May 26, 2020 at 2:05 AM EDT

LATAM Airlines files for bankruptcy protection in the U.S.

Chile-based LATAM Airlines Group announced early Tuesday that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States amid a decrease in air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The company said it will resize its operations, but will continue to fly “as conditions permit.”

As we have adapted to new realities in the past, we are confident that LATAM will be able to succeed in the post-COVID-19 context and continue to serve Latin America, connecting the region with the world,” Ignacio Cueto, chairman of LATAM’s board of directors said in a statement Tuesday morning.

The company’s shareholders, including Qatar Airways and the Cueto and Amaro families, have promised to provide $900 million in debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing. At the time of filing, the company had about $1.3 billion in cash on hand, the statement said.

The company said it is also reviewing its options in Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Peru to secure financing to protect jobs and minimize further disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Its affiliates in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay are not included in the filing.

Customers should expect existing and future tickets to be honored as the airline continues to offer cargo and passenger flights, the statement said.

By Katie Shepherd
May 26, 2020 at 2:00 AM EDT

Africa is the continent least-affected by covid-19 so far, says WHO chief

Several months into the global coronavirus pandemic, Africa remains the least-affected continent in the world, said the head of the World Health Organization on Monday.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, noted the continent had just 1.5 percent of the world’s reported cases and just 0.1 percent of its deaths.

He noted the low numbers could be in part due to lower testing capacity in Africa — though 51 countries there can test compared with just 40 some 10 weeks earlier — and many cases may have been missed.

“But even so, Africa appears to have so far been spared the scale of outbreaks we have seen in other regions,” he said, adding that some countries’ experience fighting diseases like polio, measles, Ebola and yellow fever may have helped.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been dire predictions that Africa, with crowded cities and often poor health infrastructure, would be hard hit by the disease, but that does not yet seem to have materialized.

While many cases maybe going undetected, the continent has not seen a huge increase in unexplained deaths, suggesting even if people are getting covid-19, it is not as fatal as in Europe and the United States.

Africa’s lesser exposure to world travel and trade could also be insulating it for now from the spread of the disease and it has been pointed out other infectious pandemics eventually spread through the continent, just a year later than in Europe and Asia.

The various efforts to combat the disease across Africa, including travel bans and lockdowns, however, have endangered food supply chains and disrupted essential health services, including vaccination campaigns for other diseases, warned Tedros.

By Paul Schemm
May 26, 2020 at 1:51 AM EDT

Denmark faces outcry after asking long-distance couples to present photos or love letters

Denmark is allowing couples separated by international borders during the coronavirus pandemic to reunite — but figuring out a way to prove a relationship is legitimate is proving to be a point of contention.

The Scandinavian nation’s borders remain closed to most foreigners. But as of Monday, officials will make an exception for people from Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Germany if they meet certain criteria, like owning a summer home in Denmark. People whose romantic partners live in Denmark qualify if they can prove that they are engaged or have been in a relationship for at least six months.

“They can bring along a photo or a love letter,” deputy police chief Allan Dalager Clausen said, according to Reuters. “I realize these are very intimate things, but the decision to let in the partner ultimately rests on the judgment of the individual police officer.”

Some Danish lawmakers objected, saying couples had a right to privacy. On Monday, the government hastily retooled its policy to say that only a written declaration would be necessary.

“If you say you are in a relationship and put it in writing, that is enough,” Justice Minister Nick Haekkerup told reporters, according to Reuters.

That change won’t go into effect for a few days, however. In the meantime, long-distance couples will have to provide private photos, text messages or personal information about their partners before they can reunite.

By Antonia Farzan
May 26, 2020 at 1:20 AM EDT

By July, D.C. region will have testing and tracing capacity to contain virus, officials say

The Washington region is just weeks from having enough testing equipment, laboratory capacity and contact tracers to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, assuming the public cooperates, officials said.

Despite having one of the highest rates in the country of people testing positive for the infection, the region is expected to achieve its desired capacity to conduct testing and tracing in June or early July, according to public health officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

That would fulfill a key requirement for continuing to reopen the economy. For months, the limits on testing and contact tracing have been a principal barrier to resuming business, social and cultural activities.

Three potential obstacles remain, officials said, and all depend on the public’s behavior.

By Robert McCartney
May 26, 2020 at 12:50 AM EDT

Car break-ins spike as coronavirus keeps drivers at home

As the coronavirus pandemic keeps people at home, crime has dropped dramatically in cities across the United States. But there’s one major exception: Unused cars are increasingly becoming a target for thieves.

According to the Associated Press, vehicle larcenies in New York were up by 63 percent from January to mid-May, compared to the same time period last year. Los Angeles saw an increase of nearly 17 percent. Many other police departments across the United States have reported an uptick in car thefts and break-ins.

Drivers freed of their daily commutes are checking their cars less often, according to Austin Police Sgt. Chris Vetrano, whose department saw a 50 percent spike in auto thefts in April. And criminals are looking for a new way to make some easy money.

The one notable exception seems to be in Baltimore, which has historically had a high rate of break-ins. The city saw thefts from cars fall 24 percent from January to May, while the number of stolen vehicles fell by 19 percent, according to the AP. Local law enforcement officials said that the pandemic is allowing residents to spend more time at home and keep an eye on their neighborhoods, while declining call volume means that police have been freed up to patrol the street.

By Antonia Farzan
May 26, 2020 at 12:24 AM EDT

Trump threatens to pull Republican convention out of North Carolina

President Trump threatened on Monday to move the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina — while denying that he wants to hold the convention at his namesake resort in Florida even as some state officials started clamoring for the president’s adopted home state to be the venue.

Accusing North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, of being in a “shutdown mood,” Trump — in a string of early-morning Memorial Day tweets — pressured Cooper to guarantee that “we will be allowed full attendance in the Arena” in Charlotte by the late-August convention.

“Plans are being made by many thousands of enthusiastic Republicans, and others, to head to beautiful North Carolina in August,” Trump wrote. “They must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied.”

Read more here.

By Seung Min Kim and Sean Sullivan
May 26, 2020 at 12:22 AM EDT

On a day of virtual memorials, some were compelled to pay their respects in person

Kellan Kurfis crouched down and laid an American flag pin at the base of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, below the name of the man who taught his grandfather to be a soldier.

The 9-year-old wore a black mask stretched over his mouth and nose; it was only the family’s second outing this spring, and they were all being careful. But he wanted to come, because his grandfather couldn’t be there this year.

Many Memorial Day commemorations were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic or altered to comply with public health guidelines. Arlington National Cemetery was closed to all but family members. As the U.S. death toll from covid-19 neared 100,000 Monday, the cemetery live-streamed President Trump, Vice President Pence and other leaders participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The National World War II Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., streamed its bell-tolling ceremony and other events online. There were prayers delivered on Facebook and video tributes to the fallen shared on Twitter.

Read more here.

By Susan Svrluga
May 26, 2020 at 12:19 AM EDT

The meat industry is trying to get back to normal. But workers are still getting sick — and shortages may get worse.

Tyson Foods, the largest meat processor in the United States, has transformed its facilities across the country since legions of its workers started getting sick from the novel coronavirus. It has set up on-site medical clinics, screened employees for fevers at the beginning of their shifts, required the use of face coverings, installed plastic dividers between stations and taken a host of other steps to slow the spread.

Despite those efforts, the number of Tyson employees with the coronavirus has exploded from less than 1,600 a month ago to more than 7,000 today, according to a Washington Post analysis of news reports and public records.

Read more here.

By Taylor Telford