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President Trump leveled an extraordinary broadside at the Chinese government Friday and attacked the World Health Organization, saying the United States “will today be terminating our relationship” with the U.N. organization.

During remarks delivered in the Rose Garden, Trump said WHO was effectively controlled by Beijing and accused it of misleading the world about the coronavirus at the urging of the Chinese government. The president said the organization’s more than $400 million annual contribution from the United States would be diverted to other health groups.

Meanwhile, slowing rates of infection in some of the hardest-hit parts of the United States offered a glimmer of hope. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said New York City is on track to begin to reopen the week of June 8. The city is the only region in the state that remains under a complete stay-at-home-order. Other parts of the nation and the world, however, are bracing for the worst. Globally, the pandemic has shifted to Latin America and the Middle East, as the global death toll continues to rise.

Here are some significant developments:

  • The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defended the agency’s failure to spot early coronavirus spread in the United States, saying that even if widespread diagnostic testing had been in place, it would have been like “looking for a needle in a haystack.”
  • Twitter added fact-checking labels to several tweets by a Chinese government spokesman on the coronavirus, the same week the U.S. company deployed similar measures against Trump. “Twitter is doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China,” Trump tweeted Friday.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs has drastically scaled back the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat veterans with covid-19 after a major study raised questions about its efficacy and linked it to serious side effects, including higher risks of death.
  • Amid economic instability worsened by the pandemic, Spain approved a nationwide minimum income plan designed to reach 850,000 households.

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May 29, 2020 at 9:59 PM EDT

Europeans emerging from coronavirus lockdowns find a conspicuous absence of Americans

ROME — Dario Bartoli, a tour guide who works mostly with Americans, was leading his latest group outing one recent evening, walking along a pedestrian bridge lined with angel statues, on the way to St. Peter’s Square. Only this time, Bartoli was by himself. He held a selfie stick. His phone’s video was rolling as he walked. A half-dozen Americans joined by Zoom.

“Welcome to Rome,” said Bartoli, a guide for LivItaly Tours, looking into his phone. “A different Rome.”

The path from the United States to Europe has been among the world’s busiest cross-continental travel routes, with Americans arriving every summer and transforming capitals from Paris to Rome, waiting in lines at the museums and ruins, filling up heralded restaurants, and pumping money into local economies.

But this year, all that is conspicuously absent. The coronavirus and accompanying travel restrictions have forced a distance between Europe and the United States unseen since the dawn of commercial air travel.

Read more here.

By Chico Harlan, James McAuley and Stefano Pitrelli
May 29, 2020 at 9:42 PM EDT

As D.C. and Northern Virginia reopen, signs of normalcy are scarce

Beneath a gray-sky morning, the nearly 4 million people of Washington and its Northern Virginia suburbs woke up Friday in communities where, for the first time in 60 days, they were not ordered to stay home — though many did anyway.

In the nation’s capital, rush-hour roads were still empty and stores were still shuttered. Apologies still hung in windows, promising everyone would be back “soon.” The commercial strips in Woodley Park had the languid, semi-deserted feel of August. At the Commissary, a popular restaurant with outdoor seating in Logan Circle, a sign on the door indicated the business would not, in fact, open this week: “One of our kitchen staff has tested positive for Covid.”

The escalators at the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro station were barren at 7:30 a.m. Carlos Mejia, 23, was among the few people waiting to ride. A carpet cleaner and repair contractor, he was headed to a rare assignment. Most of his orders have dried up, and he understood why.

“It’s a bit too early to be lifting restrictions,” Mejia said. “I’m not going out or doing anything.”

Read more here.

By John Woodrow Cox, Peter Jamison, Perry Stein and Julie Zauzmer
May 29, 2020 at 9:21 PM EDT

CDC chief defends failure to spot early coronavirus spread in U.S.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday defended the agency’s failure to find early spread of the coronavirus in the United States, noting that surveillance systems “kept eyes” on the disease.

“We were never really blind when it came to surveillance” for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, CDC chief Robert R. Redfield said. Even if widespread diagnostic testing had been in place, it would have been like “looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.

Redfield was among three CDC officials who spoke with reporters Friday about a comprehensive analysis by the agency that found the coronavirus began spreading in the United States as early as the second half of January, eluding detection by public health surveillance systems that help monitor for early signs of novel contagions.

Read more here.

By Lena H. Sun and Joel Achenbach
May 29, 2020 at 9:02 PM EDT

White House continues standoff with Congress over administration testimony

The White House is demanding that leaders of congressional committees that seek testimony from administration officials over the federal government’s ongoing response to the coronavirus appear in person.

In a memo sent to committee staff directors on Thursday, the White House legislative affairs office criticized the House’s efforts to allow proxy voting for lawmakers and to hold remote hearings, accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats of demonstrating “they are not serious about doing the job that the American people sent them to Washington to do.”

“Nevertheless, the Administration is serious about and committed to its mission to lead and execute the laws. Therefore, federal officials will appear in person before a committee and we ask that each Chairman do the same,” said the memo, obtained by The Washington Post.

The memo continued: “The Administration is willing to make accommodations, but only when Congress is similarly willing to make accommodations, including agreeing to appear in person.”

The directive sent to Capitol Hill also continues guidance issued by the White House for the month of May that barred top officials such as Cabinet members, those on the White House coronavirus task force or other senior officials from testifying without explicit approval from White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

“The Administration must continue to maintain its highest operational status to stop the spread and to reopen our economy,” the White House told the Hill. “Every single agency continues to play a role in the response and this singular focus must continue.”

Nonetheless, several exceptions have been made for testimony from administration officials during May, even for hearings in the Democratic-led House. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie testified on Thursday before a House Appropriations subcommittee, with several lawmakers appearing via teleconference.

Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, and other administration officials appeared remotely at a high-profile Senate hearing earlier this month. Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell testified during an entirely remote Senate Banking Committee hearing.

By Seung Min Kim
May 29, 2020 at 8:34 PM EDT

Lake of the Ozarks partygoer tests positive for coronavirus

A person who attended some of the crowded pool parties at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri last weekend has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to health officials.

Videos and photos from the Lake of the Ozarks over Memorial Day weekend elicited a barrage of criticism from those angered by vacationers who openly disregarded social distancing guidelines. These images showed partygoers packing yacht clubs, outdoor bars and resort pools in the Missouri tourist hot spot.

The Camden County Health Department put out a news release Friday that stated a resident of Boone County tested positive on Sunday, one day after arriving at the lake area.

In order to “inform mass numbers of unknown people,” health officials publicly released the person’s timeline over the weekend. Health officials emphasized that anyone who visited the varying locations to monitor for symptoms.

The release specifically mentioned the individual was at Backwater Jack’s, the host of the “Zero Ducks Given” party, for an extended period of time on Saturday. The waterfront establishment hosted the pool party that featured DJs and live bands. A Facebook page described the event as a summer kickoff party and showed nearly 400 people had attended. On both Saturday and Sunday, the person was also at Shady Gators and Lazy Gators Pool. On Sunday, they were also at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Many businesses around the Lake of the Ozarks closed in the spring when the pandemic hit. But as the state moved to reopen, they allowed guests to rebook reservations.

By Samantha Pell
May 29, 2020 at 7:53 PM EDT

Free masks provided by the state of Tennessee treated with registered pesticide

Free masks provided from the state of Tennessee to its residents were treated with a registered pesticide, according to an investigation by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville.

The local station reported that these cloth face masks, meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus, were treated with a substance that is an antimicrobial designed to ward off odors called Silvadur. Silvadur is registered as a pesticide that is “harmful if inhaled,” but is also intended for use to keep fabrics fresh.

The state started distributing the masks in early May, after they ordered 5 million of these “sock masks” from the Renfro Corp., a North Carolina-based sock maker. It also has a Tennessee operations facility in Cleveland.

Warren Porter, a professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, told the news channel that she wouldn’t wear one.

"Nobody wants to breathe in covid, but I wouldn’t want to be breathing in something that I also knew could be poisoning my body in a relatively short period of time and might be having multi-year effects on my health,” she said.

The state spent $8.2 million on these sock masks. When the first shipments of the masks arrived and were being sent out, Democratic lawmakers criticized the quality of the masks, posting photos that showed flaws in the masks being distributed.

By Samantha Pell
May 29, 2020 at 7:35 PM EDT

Stormtroopers at Disney Springs playfully enforcing social distancing measures

A pair of Star Wars Stormtroopers have been playfully enforcing social distancing orders at Disney World’s shopping district Disney Springs in Orlando over the past few days.

As seen through a video taken by Attractions Magazine on Wednesday, a pair of First Order Stormtroopers were telling guests to wear masks and continue to practice social distancing measures. The pair were perched on a balcony, with Disney Parks telling its guests it is probably best to “snap a photo from afar and ‘move along’ as Stormtroopers may not appreciate you getting too close.”

In the video, the apparent prerecorded audio is played as the Stormtroopers were heard making comments like, “Stay in your sector!” when another Stormtrooper was getting too close, or commenting on the face coverings on the guests below. The Disney mall requires guests to wear face coverings at all times and requires temperature checks.

Disney Springs is in the midst of a phased reopening. It began to reopen May 20. The World of Disney store opened Wednesday.

Walt Disney Co. plans to reopen its four theme parks in Florida in July with masks, temperature checks, smaller crowds and social distancing — and without the parades, fireworks spectaculars or character meet-and-greets that are typical hallmarks of the experience.

By Samantha Pell
May 29, 2020 at 7:10 PM EDT

U.S. stocks post second straight month of gains after bumpy session

Investors breathed a sigh of relief Friday that President Trump’s blistering critique of China’s crackdown on Hong Kong dissidents did not include a threat to blow up U.S.-Chinese trade. The three major U.S. indexes went on to post modest gains on the day and finish their second consecutive month in the plus column.

The Dow Jones industrial average on Friday finished at 25,383.11, about even on the day, after plunging as much as 300 points on fears of a U.S.-China trade frost. Wall Street had feared Trump would impose new tariffs or cancel the phase one trade deal the two nations had signed earlier this year.

“The market does not want to see these trade tensions flare up,” said Scott Wren of Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “We’ve got enough to worry with the coronavirus, so the last thing the market wants is an economic cold war with China.”

Read more here.

By Thomas Heath
May 29, 2020 at 6:55 PM EDT

As states start to reopen, here’s where people are going

Every state and most counties have loosened stay-at-home restrictions at least a little, and U.S. residents appear to be venturing out with varying degrees of caution.

In and around the nation’s densest cities, people are spending almost as much time at home as they were at the height of the stay-home peak around April 7, according to a Washington Post analysis of data provided by SafeGraph, a company that aggregates cellphone location information.

Elsewhere, particularly in pockets of the Upper Midwest and the South, people are spending less time at home now than they did before the arrival of widespread restrictions (and, for many, before the arrival of spring weather). These also tend to be areas where officials were early to roll back stay-home restrictions.

Read more here.

By Bonnie Berkowitz and Kevin Schaul
May 29, 2020 at 6:19 PM EDT

Public health experts, groups criticize Trump’s decision after U.S. withdraws from WHO

President Trump is drawing heavy criticism after he announced Friday that he was ending the United States’ involvement with the World Health Organization.

Trump accused the WHO of misleading the world about the coronavirus at the urging of the Chinese government. He had paused aid to the WHO in April, and now said that the United States will redirect “those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs.”

Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden tweeted: “We helped create @WHO. We are part of it. It is part of the world. Turning our back on WHO makes us and the world less safe.”

Physicians for Human Rights tweeted that Trump made “yet another deadly decision with regard to the World Health Organization. At no other time in recent history have countries needed global coordination as we do now. This announcement defies logic and risks contributing to widespread death and suffering.”

Thomas M. File Jr., president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, put out a statement that said that the group is standing “strongly against President Trump’s decision.”

“This pandemic has demonstrated that neither national boundaries nor political positions can protect us from the spread of an infectious disease,” File said. “We will not succeed against this pandemic, or any future outbreak, unless we stand together, share information, and coordinate actions.”

Physician and public health researcher Atul Gawande tweeted that pulling out of the WHO is a “disaster for the lives and health of all people, including Americans.”

“I can’t imagine a worse thing to do in the midst of a pandemic and ongoing work to fight back TB, HIV, polio, and other health threats,” Gawande said. “America First does not work for global disease.”

By Samantha Pell
May 29, 2020 at 6:05 PM EDT

What happens if you get coronavirus at work? Experts say it might be hard to prove.

The novel coronavirus ushered in shelter-in-place orders across the country and uncertainty about when life will return to what it was before. As more states shift to gradually reopening their economies, the path toward normalcy also breeds new anxiety and questions.

Contracting coronavirus at work or from a business or restaurant isn’t easily resolved by filing lawsuits, experts say.

Some lawmakers have altered their workers’ compensation rules to make receiving workers’ compensation benefits less burdensome for those deemed essential, such as nurses, doctors and first responders, according to data collected by law firm Ogletree Deakins.

But those changes hardly mean much if you have a regular nine-to-five job.

Read more here.

By Lateshia Beachum
May 29, 2020 at 5:19 PM EDT

Five states see unprecedented spike in coronavirus cases

Five states on Friday eclipsed their previous records for new covid-19 cases. Mississippi, Utah, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Arizona all set new highs in the daily reporting of new positive cases of the virus.

Eighteen states and Puerto Rico also saw an increase in their seven-day rolling case averages from last Friday, according to a Washington Post analysis of the data.

Higher testing rates, data reporting lulls during weekends, as well as growing spread of the disease can all contribute to apparent surges in new cases. It is unclear what caused the latest upticks.

Public health experts have warned of likely surges in new cases as states across the country move to reopen businesses and relax social distancing guidelines.

Utah, Mississippi, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Arizona have ranked among the most aggressive states in reopening businesses and allowing large gatherings to resume, even as lock down orders have remained in place elsewhere.

Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) on May 1 allowed gyms, salons, restaurants and other “personal care” businesses to reopen and has also allowed gatherings of up to 20 people.

Mississippi, Arizona and South Carolina have allowed the gradual reopening of retail stores, restaurants, gyms, salons and other businesses over the past month, with some limitations on customer density. Mississippi and South Carolina have also allowed amusement parks to reopen, and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) says his “Safe Return” plan will allow all businesses to reopen Monday.

Wisconsin allowed businesses to reopen two weeks ago after the state’s Supreme Court sided with Republican lawmakers who sued to end the Democratic governor’s stay-at-home order.

But other states, like Georgia, that have moved aggressively to reopen businesses have not seen a surge in new cases.

By Jacqueline Dupree and Abigail Hauslohner
May 29, 2020 at 4:30 PM EDT

Supreme Court considers churches’ demands that states lift pandemic restrictions

The Supreme Court is considering emergency petitions from religious organizations in California and Illinois eager to reopen faster and with fewer pandemic-related restrictions, even though governors of those states have eased limitations on such gatherings and agreed to demands that in-person worship services be allowed Sunday, the Christian holy day of Pentecost.

The larger issue is how the responsibility of governments to control the spread of the coronavirus can be applied to churches, synagogues and mosques, and the constitutionally protected right to worship. Although all states are moving to ease restrictions, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty says 21 still impose some restrictions. It says that houses of worship are treated unequally in eight states.

But that is a moving target, as the litigation at the Supreme Court shows. Since South Bay Pentecostal Church near San Diego and Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries near Chicago filed their petitions, Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker (D) has removed the state’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said churches may hold services so long as they do not exceed 25 percent of the facility’s capacity or 100 people, whichever is smaller.

Lawyers for the churches said that did not resolve the issue.

Read more here.

By Robert Barnes
May 29, 2020 at 3:29 PM EDT

Trump terminates U.S. relationship with World Health Organization

President Trump on Friday announced he was ending the United States’ involvement with the World Health Organization, which he accused of misleading the world about the coronavirus at the urging of the Chinese government.

“The world is now suffering as a result of the malfeasance of the Chinese government. China’s cover up of the coronavirus allowed the disease to spread all over the world, instigating a global pandemic that has cost more than 100,000 American lives. And over a million lives worldwide,” Trump said in the Rose Garden.

Trump paused aid to the WHO in April and demanded specific changes, but the president says those reforms were not enacted. He said the United States is ending its relationship and “redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs.”

The president also demanded, as he has many times before, “transparency” from China about the spread of the coronavirus around the world.

The death and destruction caused by this is incalculable. We must have answers not only for us, but for the rest of the world,” he said.

Trump left the podium after his brief remarks, ignoring questions from reporters.

By Colby Itkowitz
May 29, 2020 at 2:50 PM EDT

Cherokee Nation announces plan to spend federal relief funds

The Cherokee Nation on Friday said it has developed a plan for spending $332 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.

Congress in March passed the $3 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (Cares) Act to provide assistance to individuals, state and local governments, and all sections of the economy to help address the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The package included $8 billion for Native American tribal governments.

The Cherokee Nation, located in northeastern Oklahoma, is the largest of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. The 517,000-member tribe, which operates hotels, casinos and other businesses, says it suffered a more than $100 million revenue shortfall as a result of the pandemic.

It said the relief funds will largely serve to keep the autonomous tribal government functioning.

“The Cherokee Nation’s COVID-19 Respond, Recover and Rebuild spending plan will largely offset unbudgeted expenses due to coronavirus, protect employees from layoffs, add important safety measures to infrastructure, increase services for citizens and invest in strengthening Cherokee communities to speed recovery,” the tribe said in a news release.

By Abigail Hauslohner
May 29, 2020 at 2:15 PM EDT

Obama decries the 'normal’ in events such as the death of George Floyd

Former president Barack Obama on Friday invoked Americans’ clamoring desire “to just get back to normal” to remind those — who might be unaware — “that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly ‘normal’ — whether it’s while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.”

Obama, who posted the statement on Twitter, was addressing the widespread anger about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this week. The viral video of Floyd, a black man, handcuffed, pleading and pinned by the neck under the knee of a white police officer — before being dragged away, unconscious — has set off a wave of protests and rioting in several cities across the country.

Floyd’s death — the latest episode in a vast history of police-involved killings of unarmed black men, most of which never yield criminal convictions for the police officers — comes after months of pandemic shutdowns and amid a growing public awareness of severe racial disparities in the pandemic’s death toll, which has struck African Americans disproportionately.

Such disparities across all aspects of life shouldn’t be “normal” in 2020 America, Obama wrote: “It can’t be ‘normal.’ If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.”

By Abigail Hauslohner
May 29, 2020 at 2:04 PM EDT

New York City to begin Phase 1 of reopening by June 8, Cuomo says

New York City is on track to begin to reopen the week of June 8, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said Friday during a news briefing. His comments echoed those of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), who earlier Friday said he expected the hard-hit city to meet criteria for curbing the virus and phasing down restrictions within the next two weeks.

New York City is the only region in New York state to remain under a complete stay-at-home order. Entering Phase 1 of the state’s reopening guidelines would enable about 400,000 employees to return to work, Cuomo said.

Cuomo said that even though strict social distancing will be difficult to adhere to on public transportation as more riders return, passengers will be required to wear masks and buses and trains will continue to be frequently cleaned. On Thursday, Cuomo issued an executive order allowing New York businesses to deny entry to anyone not wearing a mask.

“Remember that reopening does not mean we’re going back to the way things were,” Cuomo said. “Life is not about going back. Nobody goes back, we go forward.”

Cuomo also announced Friday that five regions of New York can now enter the state’s second phase and further ease restrictions.

North Country, Finger Lakes, Central New York, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier will be allowed to offer curbside pickup and reopen salons and barbershops with strict measures in place, among other changes. Large gatherings, fitness centers, and dining-in at restaurants, however, are among the activities and businesses that will remain closed or off-limits.

“Stating slowly has worked really well,” he concluded.

By Miriam Berger
May 29, 2020 at 2:02 PM EDT

140 clients of Missouri salon being tested after two stylists test positive

A Missouri county health department is testing 140 clients of a hair salon after two sick stylists possibly exposed customers to the coronavirus.

The first 42 test results were negative, Springfield-Greene County Health Department said Friday. It did not say when the remaining 100 tests were to be completed.

Last week, the local health department reported that a stylist at the Great Clips hair salon worked for eight days in mid-May despite having coronavirus symptoms. Another co-worker subsequently also developed symptoms. The two later tested positive for the coronavirus.

Missouri’s governor allowed salons to reopen May 5. Both the hairstylists and clients at Great Clips wore face masks. However, public health experts have warned that the close physical contact required at salons and barbershops presents a high risk of the virus spreading.

Great Clips’ owners told the Associated Press that they’ve closed down their Springfield stores after receiving two threatening messages.

By Miriam Berger
May 29, 2020 at 1:31 PM EDT

Sailor from USS Gerald R. Ford tests positive

A sailor tested positive on the USS Gerald R. Ford earlier this week and has been put in isolation, while fellow members of his squadron have been removed from the aircraft carrier and placed under “precautionary restriction of movement,” the Virginian-Pilot news outlet reported.

The sailor, part of a strike-fighter squadron called VFA-213 and known as the “Fighting Blacklions,” was confirmed to have the virus on Wednesday, Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg with Naval Air Force Atlantic told the Virginian-Pilot. Although the sailor was not aboard at the time of his test, he had contact with other members of his squadron, prompting the whole group to be removed and screened.

“All VFA-213 sailors were medically screened prior to embarking USS Gerald R. Ford, and none of them exhibited any influenza-like illness symptoms,” Cragg told the Pilot in an email. “Due to USS Gerald R. Ford’s strict COVID-19 mitigation measures, the risk of exposure or transmission to additional personnel is believed to be low.”

Nearly 2,400 members of the Navy have tested positive for the coronavirus, making it the military’s hardest-hit branch.

By Miriam Berger
May 29, 2020 at 1:10 PM EDT

Canada considering easing restrictions at U.S.-Canada border to allow family reunification

TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the Canadian government is considering “a slight modification” of the agreement limiting nonessential travel at the U.S.-Canada border to allow for the reunification of some families.

“We have been looking at ways of perhaps allowing close family members and children, spouses or parents of Canadian citizens or permanent residents to be able to reunite under strict conditions,” he told reporters outside Rideau Hall, an official residence in Ottawa.

The United States and Canada mutually agreed to ban all nonessential travel at the 5,500-mile border in March. They allowed trade and the essential travel of workers such as nurses to continue. The agreement has been extended twice and will expire on June 21.

The measures have divided families. Reports of fathers separated from their pregnant partners and parents separated from their children have heaped pressure on Trudeau to amend the agreement. He said he hoped to have news “in the coming days.”

But many Canadian premiers have supported the border restrictions, and some are already expressing concern about allowing families to reunite.

“That concerns me with our borders here with Maine,” Blaine Higgs, the premier of New Brunswick, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “If you think of us being six to seven hours from Boston and 10 hours from New York City … it’s just how widespread is this?”

Trudeau said “the safety of Canadians” will be at the forefront of any decision.

By Amanda Coletta
May 29, 2020 at 12:49 PM EDT

‘The next patient could be me’: For a family of Filipino doctors, pandemic is personal

MANILA — Scrubs. Shoe covers. Suit. Gloves. N95 mask. Goggles. Face cap. Face shield. Gown. Theodore Joseph Ablaza, 28, starts another grueling shift attending to young patients in a covid-19 ward in Manila. Although the public hospital is air-conditioned, all the gear makes conditions oppressive.

“I always joke to people that it feels like being an astronaut,” said Ablaza, a pediatric resident at the Philippine General Hospital who goes by TJ. “But in reality, it feels like being in a sauna.”

Medicine runs in TJ’s family, and their lives, like countless others’, have been transformed by the pandemic. There is no end in sight for it in the Philippines, which in mid-March instituted a lockdown that is now among the world’s longest. With more than 15,000 cases and 900 deaths, the country has suffered one of the most extensive outbreaks in Southeast Asia. Critics have said officials are not conducting enough tests, and a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday that authorities are expanding testing capacity.

Read more here.

By Regine Cabato
May 29, 2020 at 12:24 PM EDT

Amid coronavirus concerns, dentists face a fraught road to reopening

Zachary Kouri considers himself lucky.

Unlike some dentists, he will be able to reopen his practice in Des Moines after the novel coronavirus forced him to limit his work to emergency cases for two months. But reopening meant a week or so of 15-hour days, unplanned construction on his office, time spent hunting for affordable personal protective equipment and the painstaking work of rewriting office safety protocols.

As states begin allowing dentists to resume treating patients, they navigate a complicated logistical reality: In conducting their duties in and around patients’ mouths, they land especially close to the respiratory system.

But unlike doctors treating covid-19 patients, dentists are not considered front-line workers and until recent days had largely been left out of the nationwide triaging of personal protective equipment, according to interviews with leaders of several state dental associations.

Read more here.

By Chelsea Janes
May 29, 2020 at 12:23 PM EDT

Diplomatic row erupts between Italy and Sweden over handling of coronavirus crisis

A diplomatic row erupted this week between two of Europe’s most virus-stricken nations, Sweden and Italy, after a top Swedish health official suggested that Italy lacked the capacity to handle the pandemic.

Sweden itself has recorded one of the highest per capita death tolls linked to the virus on the continent. Unlike Italy, Spain, France and Britain, Sweden did not impose a lockdown.

Speaking to Sveriges Radio, a public broadcaster, over the weekend, Swedish state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell defended his approach, saying that Italy relied on “fewer resources” to fight the virus.

The remarks struck a nerve in Italy, where more than 33,000 people have died of covid-19. In Sweden, a country with a population about one-sixth the size of Italy’s, more than 4,200 people have died.

“Everyone outside of Italy should express only praise and solidarity to our country and our people,” the Italian ambassador to Sweden, Mario Cospito, wrote in a response Wednesday, referencing Italy’s high life expectancy and its high ranking in international health system comparisons.

Cospito added that Sweden and other countries had more time to prepare for the arrival of the pandemic, as Italy was the second major hotbed of the outbreak after China.

Sweden’s handling of the outbreak has been controversial. By refraining from imposing a lockdown, critics have argued, the country willingly accepted one of the world’s highest per capita death tolls, with nursing homes especially hard hit.

Swedish health officials have acknowledged the toll the virus has taken. “Our biggest failure has been for our elderly population,” Karin Ulrika Olofsdotter, Sweden’s ambassador to the United States, recently told The Washington Post. But officials have also noted what they see as successes, including citizens who acted responsibly without the government being forced to impose major restrictions.

Tegnell also referred to “a level of immunity in the population” in the capital, Stockholm, to defend the approach, suggesting that it might prepare the country better for a second wave of infections.

Later Friday, fellow Nordic countries Denmark and Norway both announced that they would be easing travel restrictions between their respective countries, but excluding Sweden because of its coronavirus count.

By Rick Noack
May 29, 2020 at 11:56 AM EDT

Churches are empty so they’re converting their sacred spaces into food pantries

The soaring sanctuary of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, in the District’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, bustles daily in normal times with parishioners — predominantly immigrants, many undocumented. But the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered communal worship for the church, as with most congregations across the country. It has also cut off many parishioners and neighborhood residents from work and unemployment benefits. And thus from food.

And that’s when prayer took another form at Sacred Heart.

The Catholic parish became one of the U.S. houses of worship that has transformed its sacred and communal spaces into a kind of food distribution center. With gloves and masks, in small teams, mostly in silence, congregants for the past few weeks have come to the sanctuary to pack some 560 baskets of food. Beans, oil, rice, carrots. One basket for each family who needs food. The packers do not know the names of the recipients, some of whom are fellow congregants, some of whom are not even Catholic.

Read more here.

By Michelle Boorstein
May 29, 2020 at 11:30 AM EDT

Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania reveals he tested positive for coronavirus antibodies

U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) learned this week that he tested positive for covid-19 antibodies, meaning he probably had contracted the virus at some point.

The senator shared that he’d had some mild symptoms, including a low-grade fever, in early spring and quarantined at home for two weeks. He was never tested for the coronavirus, and his symptoms went away on their own.

The Capitol’s attending physician, Brian Monahan, recommended last week that Casey take the antibodies test to determine whether he was a candidate to donate plasma.

“The results of this test revealed substantial levels of COVID-19 antibody in my blood, significantly more than the amount required to qualify me as a plasma donor,” Casey said in a statement. “In an effort to help others fighting this virus, I will be making my first donation today in Taylor, Pennsylvania.”

Casey’s disclosure follows that of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who revealed Thursday that he and his wife had tested positive for the antibodies as well. The only member of the U.S. Senate to have tested positive for the coronavirus was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as did seven members of the U.S. House.

By Colby Itkowitz
May 29, 2020 at 11:10 AM EDT

Monkeys who snatched coronavirus blood samples on the loose in India

It was almost straight out of a movie.

Earlier this week, a troop of monkeys attacked a medical official carrying blood samples from coronavirus-positive patients. The furry thieves then fled with their ill-gotten viral vials.

It is unclear what has happened to both the monkeys and the blood samples, officials said Friday when announcing the news, Reuters reported. Local media reported on videos being shared online that claimed to show one of the monkeys chewing on a sample.

The attack occurred at a medical college in Meerut in India’s Uttar Pradesh state. The victim was a laboratory technician and the monkeys attacked as the official was walking on campus.

“Monkeys grabbed and fled with the blood samples of four covid-19 patients who are undergoing treatment … we had to take their blood samples again,” S.K. Garg, a top official at the college, told Reuters.

“No evidence has been found that monkeys can contract the infection,” Garg added.

Nonetheless, residents in the area are now worried that the missing coronavirus samples could lead to new sources of contamination. The World Health Organization says that the novel coronavirus that causes the covid-19 disease jumped to humans from an animal source.

Indian media has reported that monkeys have grown increasingly brazen in their attacks on people, as more human settlements have encroached on their habitat.

By Miriam Berger
May 29, 2020 at 10:29 AM EDT

Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump news conference on China

Stocks opened mixed Friday ahead of President Trump’s news conference on China.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 60 points, or 0.3 percent, at Friday’s open. The blue chips are in the midst of a strong week as they continue to trend well above 25,000. This is despite a late-session sell-off Thursday after Trump announced the news conference, which could include severe measures against Beijing.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index opened flat but held above its key 3,000-point threshold as investors have rotated their money into unloved sectors such as banking, industrials and consumer cyclicals. All 11 S&P sectors are positive entering the last trading day of the month.

The Nasdaq composite, stacked with highflying technology stocks, added 0.6 percent. It is the strongest of the three indexes and the only one showing a gain for 2020 at 4.4 percent. Apple, a company that is vulnerable to a U.S.-China standoff, is within a hair’s breadth of setting an all-time high.

The three major indexes are on pace to close out May in positive territory, which would mark the second straight month of gains.

Grim yet hopeful economic data defined the month, with consumer spending plunging and unemployment stubbornly high, although the latter shows signs of bottoming out. Personal income and demand for new mortgages rose more than expected. Consumer spending, which is responsible for two-thirds of the U.S. economy, sank 13.6 percent in April because of coronavirus restrictions.

By Thomas Heath
May 29, 2020 at 10:05 AM EDT

COP26 global climate conference rescheduled for November 2021

The world’s biggest climate emergency summit is officially postponed until November 2021, United Nations organizers announced Friday.

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) was initially slated to be held this November in Glasgow, Scotland, and hosted by the United Kingdom. However, in early April, amid ongoing global restrictions and flight cancellations, organizers said they would postpone.

The announcement by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of the 2021 date underscores the long-term effects the coronavirus pandemic is expected to have on global travel. Organizers worried that rescheduling the conference too soon could complicate attendance of some of the 196 nations expected to participate. They also had to plan around new dates for other major international environment conferences similarly affected by the pandemic.

“While we rightly focus on fighting the immediate crisis of the coronavirus, we must not lose sight of the huge challenges of climate change,” Alok Sharma, COP26 president and the U.K.’s business secretary, said in a statement. “We are working with our international partners on an ambitious roadmap for global climate action between now and November 2021. Everyone will need to raise their ambitions to tackle climate change.”

COP26 is envisioned as the global follow up to the 2015 Paris agreement, a nonbinding accord that requires countries every five years to update plans for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

By Miriam Berger
May 29, 2020 at 9:07 AM EDT

National Book Festival shifts to online-only format this year

One of Washington’s most cherished events has been felled by the novel coronavirus. The National Book Festival, set to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, will not be held as planned, the Library of Congress announced Thursday.

The literary extravaganza, which in recent years has drawn an estimated 200,000 people annually, was scheduled for Aug. 29. But due to the ongoing pandemic, the presentations by scores of best-selling and award-winning authors will be moved to the weekend of Sept. 25-27 and presented online only.

With authors unable to travel amid social distancing restrictions, most major literary festivals this year have been canceled or shifted online.

Read more here.

By Ron Charles
May 29, 2020 at 8:40 AM EDT

Spain approves nationwide minimum income amid pandemic

Spain approved a 3 billion euro ($3.34 billion) nationwide minimum income plan Friday to help its poorest citizens with poverty relief, designed to reach 850,000 households.

“Today is a historic day for our democracy and a new social right is born,” said Second Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias, who noted that Spain suffered Europe’s third highest poverty rate before the pandemic. “The pandemic made the situation worse. The situation pushed us to accelerate the income. Thousands of Spanish families can’t wait any more.”

The plan sets a minimum monthly income between 462 euro and 1,015 euro ($515-$1,130), depending on household circumstances, including number of children. The government will then supplement existing income for Spaniards and legal residents, aged 23 to 65, to reach that threshold.

In an effort to encourage job-seeking, the support can complement work income and other aid given by regional governments.

“It’s the most powerful tool to redistribute income with a focus on eradicating extreme poverty,” Iglesias said in a news conference. “This is not just another subsidy. With time, it will mark a before and after in public policy in Spain.”

The latest European Union data shows 21.6 percent of Spain’s population at risk of poverty, compared to the E.U. average of 16.9 percent.

By Pamela Rolfe
May 29, 2020 at 7:57 AM EDT

Pence making another visit to Georgia, among the most aggressive states in reopening

Vice President Pence is scheduled to visit Georgia on Friday, his second trip in as many weeks to a state that has been among the most aggressive in reopening its economy amid the coronavirus outbreak.

During a trip last week, Pence shared lunch at an Atlanta cafe with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and praised his state as “an example to the nation.”

Kemp was among the first governors to ease economic restrictions, offering a plan that quickly reopened gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors, among other establishments. Those moves brought a public rebuke from President Trump — who told reporters he “wasn’t happy with Brian Kemp” — even though the White House had earlier given a green light to Georgia’s plans.

The administration has since adopted a different posture. Pence’s itinerary for Friday’s visit includes a “roundtable discussion with small business owners on reopening America.”

He is also scheduled to attend a memorial service for Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias.

By John Wagner
May 29, 2020 at 7:46 AM EDT

Twitter adds fact-checking labels to several coronavirus-related tweets by Chinese government spokesman

Twitter added fact-checking labels to several tweets by a Chinese government spokesman on the novel coronavirus, the same week the U.S. company deployed similar measures against President Trump.

In his tweets, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian referenced unsubstantiated claims that the pandemic began in the United States.

Twitter confirmed to The Washington Post on Friday that the tweets by Zhao were found to “contain potentially misleading content about COVID-19 and have been labeled to provide additional context to the public.”

The added fact-checking labels, a Twitter spokesperson went on to say in an email, “are in line with the approach we shared earlier this month.”

Twitter updated its policy in March to combat the spread of misinformation around the coronavirus and has also added labels to other tweets it deems to contain manipulated media.

The Twitter spokesperson did not respond to an emailed question about a report by the New York Post, which claimed that Twitter added the labels to Zhao’s tweets only after the paper pointed out what it called “an apparent double standard in its lack of fact-check warnings on tweets by a Chinese government spokesman versus the hardline it took with President Trump this week.”

The social media platform labeled two of Trump’s tweets with fact-checking notes earlier this week. Trump subsequently followed through on earlier threats against platforms and signed an executive order Thursday that could open the door for tech companies to be sued over their approaches to content moderation.

Twitter flagged another Trump tweet — in which he called demonstrators in Minneapolis “THUGS” and suggested military intervention — for “glorifying violence” early Friday.

After the Twitter note was added, Trump doubled down on his prior threats on Friday morning and wrote: “Twitter is doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party. They have targeted Republicans, Conservatives & the President of the United States.”

By Rick Noack
May 29, 2020 at 7:26 AM EDT

RNC proposes ‘clean health checks’ and other precautions for August convention

The Republication National Committee is proposing “clean health checks” of all attendees and widespread use of antibacterial gel, among other precautions, if its nominating convention in Charlotte proceeds as scheduled in August.

The proposals are outlined in a letter from RNC officials to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D), who has drawn President Trump’s ire. Last week, Trump threatened to move the convention to another state if Cooper did not quickly commit to letting it proceed.

In the letter, dated Thursday, the RNC said it would conduct “pre-travel health surveys” of attendees and “daily health questionnaires” over an app.

The RNC is also proposing “thermal scans of all mandatory attendees prior to boarding sanitized, pre-arranged transportation.” And, according to the letter, it would require all attendees “to pass a clean health check prior to entering the dedicated chute” leading to the Spectrum Center, the main convention site.

The letter, signed by RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and convention president Marcia Lee Kelly, presses Cooper to move forward with adopting safety guidelines.

“We still do not have solid guidelines from the State and cannot in good faith, ask thousands of visitors to begin paying deposits and making travel plans without knowing the full commitment of the Governor, elected officials and other stakeholders in supporting the Convention,” the letter said.

By John Wagner
May 29, 2020 at 7:00 AM EDT

With 40 million Americans unemployed, Congress mulls a ‘return-to-work’ bonus

Congress and the White House are debating a “return-to-work bonus” this summer, aimed at more than 40 million workers who have lost jobs and filed for unemployment during the deadly pandemic, as an incentive for those who go back to work.

President Trump likes the idea, according to a senior administration official, but talks remain fluid about how big the bonus should be and how long it should last, according to eight lawmakers and staffers familiar with the discussions. Directly giving workers a government bonus for several weeks would be largely unprecedented in the United States, although it has been done in other countries.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has proposed that the federal government give people who stop collecting unemployment and go back to work $450 a week for several weeks. Others, including White House officials and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), have discussed allowing workers to get up to $1,200 if they find a job, according to three people familiar with White House discussions and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Read more here.

By Heather Long, Jeff Stein and Josh Dawsey
May 29, 2020 at 5:50 AM EDT

How one French town made going to the beach safe again

For weeks, France’s 3,500 miles of beaches lay empty, closed off to limit the spread of the coronavirus in a country that has suffered more than 28,000 deaths. On May 16, a few of these beaches reopened to the public, but only for exercise — reclining on a blanket for hours is not allowed.

One resort, though, is experimenting with social distancing-compliant sunbathing. La Grande-Motte, a resort town near Montpellier renowned for its homogeneous architecture, has divided its expanse of sand into 75 squares, marked off by stakes and ropes.

Read more here.

By Olivier Laurent and Sandra Mehl
May 29, 2020 at 5:27 AM EDT

Doctors sue for mail access to abortion pill during pandemic

A group of doctors is suing the federal government over a rule that requires patients to visit medical facilities to receive abortion pills, a stipulation they say poses a serious health risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, the physicians, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that patients should be able to fill their prescriptions for mifepristone by mail — contrary to a Food and Drug Administration rule.

“Of the more than 20,000 drugs regulated by the FDA, mifepristone is the only one that patients must receive in person at a hospital, clinic, or medical office,” the lawsuit said, “yet may self-administer, unsupervised, at a location of their choosing.”

To end an early pregnancy or miscarriage, the drug can be taken in combination with another medication, misoprostol. That combination accounted for nearly 40 percent of all abortions in 2017, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit marks another fight in the drawn-out battle over abortion access during the pandemic. The doctors argue that requiring a medical visit places an unfair and unsafe burden on groups of people who have already been infected and died at disproportionately high rates.

“During the covid-19 pandemic and associated unemployment crisis, low-income patients are particularly likely to struggle to pay for and arrange travel,” said the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland.

A separate ACLU lawsuit filed in 2017 has challenged FDA limits on where the pill can be obtained.

By Teo Armus
May 29, 2020 at 5:18 AM EDT

Prince William warns that language used to describe ‘hero’ health-care staff could be damaging

LONDON — For months, Britain’s health-care workers have been branded “heroes” amid the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed at least 37,919 lives in Britain. That label, Prince William says, could have a negative impact on medical professionals’ mental health.

Speaking on the BBC’s “One Show,” the prince, formally known as the Duke of Cambridge, said he was concerned that the rise to hero status could be somewhat damaging to doctors and nurses on the front lines.

“We made the NHS front-line staff rightly heroes but in doing so we once again give them the burden that we gave our soldiers fighting the war,” he said, referring to the National Health Service. He added that while it was correct to honor their hard work and resilience in the face of disaster, the legendary label might deter them from seeking help for mental health issues they may be experiencing.

“Once they have this hero tag, they can no longer shake that and ask for support,” he warned. He said it was vital for staff to seek support and look after themselves to avoid a “broken” NHS system.

In Britain, residents have taken to their gardens, windows and doorsteps for the last 10 weeks every Thursday to clap and cheer the work of health-care workers. For many, it is an act of respect, a nationwide thank you to those risking their lives to save others — although some have refused to take part in the clap-for-carers event, calling for better funding and personal protective equipment for health workers instead.

Last month, both the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said in a BBC interview that the stay-at-home instruction was “stressful.” They said there was an “ever-increasing need” for people to know how to gain support for their mental health, especially during the lockdown period that was implemented in Britain on March 23. “We’re not superhuman, any of us,” the prince said.

By Jennifer Hassan
May 29, 2020 at 5:16 AM EDT

Gatherings as states reopen could spell return of another dark American phenomenon: Mass shootings

Martín Quezada was on a Zoom call with constituents when he heard loud bangs echoing across the open-air mall below, and the Arizona state senator rushed to his third-floor apartment window. He saw people fleeing and a man carrying a long object about 50 yards away, walking toward his building.

The shooting last week happened in a popular shopping and entertainment district that was just beginning to open up after coronavirus restrictions were lifted.

And it was a jarring reminder that although much of the United States is transitioning from some degree of quarantine, a return to normalcy probably will be accompanied by the return of something that has become an all-too-regular part of American culture: the mass shooting.

Read more here.

By Robert Klemko
May 29, 2020 at 5:04 AM EDT

Brazil’s biggest city takes steps to reopen, as cases across Latin America continue to rise

It is the city with the most coronavirus infections in a country now considered the pandemic’s most volatile hotbed — and it’s reopening.

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, said Thursday it will allow stores and shopping malls to resume business following two months of inconsistently enforced quarantine orders.

As cases reach record levels in the metropolis, Mayor Bruno Covas said his city has met all government benchmarks necessary to loosen some restrictions. With ICU beds at more than 90 percent of capacity, officials will expand capacity by more than 1,550, he said.

Brazil recorded daily death totals this week that outpace those in United States, Bloomberg News reported, and the country’s total count of coronavirus fatalities appears likely to surpass those of Spain and France in the coming days. Officially, more than 430,000 people in Brazil have contracted the illness so far — a figure second only to the U.S. total — although that number is widely thought to be an undercount.

The spiraling infections point to increasing fears about the virus’s toll in Latin America. Although several countries were early to institute shutdowns, the region’s large informal economy meant that many poorer people continued to shop in outdoor markets or waited in line for government aid.

Although the virus was first brought in by the Latin American economic elite, it is low-income people across Latin America — who often live in dense urban areas, sometimes without clean water — who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic.

Peru, Chile and Mexico have each reported more than 10,000 new cases in the past five days, according to Bloomberg News, and Colombia has set daily records, too.

In Brazil, political instability and lax social distancing policies appear to have made things worse. Jair Bolsonaro, the country’s far-right leader, has fought with governors over coronavirus restrictions. So far, two health ministers have left the post, which is currently vacant.

By Teo Armus
May 29, 2020 at 4:59 AM EDT

Philippines to ease one of world’s strictest lockdowns

The Philippines plans to ease one of the world’s longest and most stringent lockdowns from Monday.

Some businesses and public transportation can partially resume operations, President Rodrigo Duterte said late Thursday, at least until June 15. Local flights in areas under general quarantine will also be allowed, the Transport Department said.

Most of the Philippines has been under lockdown since March 17. The country reported a record 539 new cases on Thursday, with the total count exceeding 15,000, with more than 900 deaths.

Critics of the Duterte administration worry that relaxed rules will result in more covid-19 cases. Many have decried how officials have struggled to meet targets for testing, although officials have maintained that they are continuing to expand their capabilities.

“We expect the numbers to continue to rise over the coming days as we continue catching up with the backlog in validation and as we conduct more tests nationwide,” the Health Department said in a statement on Thursday.

Duterte also previously said that he does not want schools to resume classes until a vaccine is available. The school year typically begins in June.

Relaxed quarantine restrictions may also allow some sectors to return to work, after the shutdown left millions jobless. A Social Weather Stations survey conducted in early May found that 4.2 million families experienced hunger in the past three months.

By Regine Cabato
May 29, 2020 at 4:55 AM EDT

With no official spelling bee, competitors launched their own on Zoom

There was no stage, no audience, and no trophy. Jacques Bailly, the pronouncer at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, was nowhere to be found.

But 14-year-old Navneeth Murali managed to win anyway. Sort of.

By correctly spelling out “karoshthi” on Thursday, the eighth-grader from Edison, N.J., became the first champion of the SpellPundit Online National Spelling Bee: a video-chat alternative to the official competition, organized by spellers themselves.

Among the many marquee events this year forced to cancel by the coronavirus was the Scripps bee, which proves so dramatic that its finals at Maryland’s National Harbor are televised annually on ESPN. After the pandemic made large gatherings impossible, Scripps canceled this year’s edition — for the first time since 1945.

The event is strictly limited to elementary and middle school students, so eighth-grade contestants, including Navneeth, will be ineligible next year as they enter high school. Scripps has said it will not extend eligibility, the Associated Press reported.

Having poured hours a day into mastering their craft, many finalists in their last year of middle school were not ready to call it quits just yet.

Enter SpellPundit.

The company, founded by former spellers Shourav and Shobha Dasari, crafted a word list and hosted the video tournament. SpellPundit helps young contestants prepare for the Scripps bee, and they ran an efficient and challenging alternative over Zoom, including multiple nights of video-chats, according to the AP.

After Navneeth accurately spelled his word — an ancient, cursive script used in India and central Asia, with Aramaic origins — the Dasari siblings displayed pixelated confetti and fake crowd noise from their computer screen.

“I knew all the words in the bee,” Navneeth told the AP. “I just didn’t want to be overconfident, because you never know what can happen in a spelling bee because no one knows the dictionary completely.”

By Teo Armus
May 29, 2020 at 4:53 AM EDT

Coronavirus may be far deadlier for cancer patients, study says

The novel coronavirus may be far deadlier for cancer patients, according to a new study published in the Lancet on Thursday.

Researchers found that 13 percent of the current and former cancer patients died within 30 days of testing positive for the coronavirus, a far higher mortality rate than has been observed in the general population. While the coronavirus has been fatal in about 5 percent of documented cases, experts believe the true fatality rate may be lower than 1 percent but is inflated because people can carry the virus without showing symptoms and not get tested.

The study proposes that cancer and cancer treatment can suppress the immune system and impact the body’s response to the coronavirus infection, which may account for the increased percentage of deaths researchers observed among cancer patients.

The survey of patient outcomes began after doctors began chatting about the lack of research guiding decisions about suspending or postponing cancer treatment amid the coronavirus pandemic. Community practices and academic medical centers in the United States, Canada and Spain contributed data on 928 current and former cancer patients diagnosed with covid-19.

The study’s authors warned that the data could be skewed toward disproportionately representing serious covid-19 cases, because patients with more serious symptoms would seek out medical care, while those with minor infections might not. The cancer patients were also more likely to be older, with a median age of 66, and many had other conditions that have been identified as risk factors that can make covid-19 worse.

The study’s authors call for further research, but suggest particular caution should be used when deciding how to treat people with cancer diagnoses during the pandemic.

“Patients with cancer appear to be at increased risk of mortality and severe illness due to SARS-CoV-2 infection, regardless of whether they have active cancer, are on anticancer treatment, or both,” the study said.

Jeremy Warner, a Vanderbilt University data scientist who co-authored the study, told NBC News that doctors who delayed cancer treatments until covid-19 cases had subsided probably made the right call to prevent their cancer patients from catching the virus.

“If they don’t have covid-19, they want to do anything they can to avoid getting it,” he told NBC.

By Katie Shepherd
May 29, 2020 at 4:07 AM EDT

Wearable tech can spot coronavirus symptoms before you realize you’re sick

Data from a wearable device can reveal coronavirus symptoms days before you even realize you’re sick, researchers have found in preliminary studies.

That means fitness trackers could be on their way to becoming sickness trackers.

The initial findings from two academic studies are a small step in the fight against the coronavirus, and a giant leap for wearable tech. If Fitbits, Apple Watches and Oura smart rings prove to be an effective early-warning system, they could help reopen communities and workplaces — and evolve from consumer tech novelties into health essentials.

Read more here.

By Geoffrey Fowler
May 29, 2020 at 3:43 AM EDT

Children with perplexing syndrome linked to covid-19 may be experiencing deadly ‘cytokine storm’

The four children showed up at the Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital in late April and early May, almost exactly one month after the peak of New York City’s novel coronavirus surge. All had fevers, rashes and strange blood readings that did not look like any illness doctors had seen before — but the cases looked remarkably similar to one another.

A study about the patients, ages 13, 12, 10, and 5, published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, provides the first detailed look at the rapid progression of a mysterious syndrome linked to covid-19 that has alarmed public health officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month issued an alert warning doctors to be on the lookout for what they are calling multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, which is now believed to have impacted approximately 300 U.S. children. It appears to have some characteristics in common with Kawasaki disease, a rare illness that typically impacts children under the age of 5 and whose cause is unknown.

Read more here.

By Ariana Eunjung Cha
May 29, 2020 at 2:57 AM EDT

Republicans pressure N.C. officials to confirm August convention by Wednesday

The Republican National Committee set a June 3 deadline for North Carolina officials to approve their planned in-person political convention in August, despite continuing uncertainty over the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has upended the presidential campaign.

In a letter sent Thursday evening to Gov. Roy Cooper (D), the RNC outlined a number of safety protocols it said it would invoke during the convention in Charlotte, an apparent response to the Democratic governor’s request for a safety plan.

The letter did not address some basic safety concerns, omitting, for example, whether attendees would be required to wear masks or take a coronavirus test before entering the arena where the convention would be held.

Read more here.

By Josh Dawsey and Annie Linskey
May 29, 2020 at 2:25 AM EDT

People are mistaking stimulus payments for junk mail or a scam

The IRS has to explain, yet again, a glitch in issuing stimulus payments.

To help speed the delivery of up to $1,200 in economic impact payments to individuals made available under the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (Cares) Act, the Treasury Department last week began mailing prepaid debit cards to 4 million Americans.

Like so many other glitches that have plagued the distribution of the stimulus payments, communication has been confusing and conflicting. The debit card is arriving in a plain envelope that doesn’t indicate it’s coming from the federal government.

Read more here.

By Michelle Singletary
May 29, 2020 at 1:59 AM EDT

Outbreaks at meatpacking factories spark protests, another plant closure

Tyson Foods temporarily shut down its Storm Lake, Iowa, pork processing plant on Thursday, after a coronavirus outbreak there raised concerns about worker and community safety.

In a statement, the company said the closure was “due in part to a delay in covid-19 testing results and team member absences related to quarantine and other factors.” The Des Moines Register reported that 555 of the plant’s 2,517 employees had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The company said the plant will halt operations for two days while it is deep-cleaned and sanitized. Tyson hopes to reopen the facility next week, the statement said.

The nation’s largest meat processing companies have been harshly criticized for failing to protect workers. In response, companies like Tyson have resorted to temporary closures, implemented employee screenings and mandated masks inside meatpacking facilities.

The Storm Lake closure comes about a month after President Trump signed an executive order urging meat processors to remain open to avoid shortages and disruptions to the supply chain. Several plants have closed because of coronavirus outbreaks. Tyson said in early May that hog processing capacity had fallen by as much as 50 percent in the United States because of the closures.

Meanwhile, a union that represents workers at a Smithfield-owned Farmer John plant near Los Angeles staged a drive-by protest to urge the company to shut down its plant. More than 10 percent of employees have tested positive for the virus, the president of the local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers union told Reuters.

“It’s dangerous and the problem with this is that it’s invisible, insidious and deadly,” John Grant, the union president, told Reuters. “And so what you do is when a shark is in the water, you pull everyone out of the water and you make an assessment of what is going on.”

By Katie Shepherd
May 29, 2020 at 1:19 AM EDT

Schools, parks, museums close again in South Korea as cases rebound

More than 250 schools in South Korea shuttered their doors again Friday just days after reopening, as the country grapples with a resurgence in coronavirus cases that threatens to counteract some of its relative success in fighting the pandemic.

About 50 new infections were reported in the past 24 hours, according to the semiofficial Yonhap news agency, with many cases linked to a retail warehouse in the city of Bucheon that was not strictly abiding by control measures. Workers at the facility were found to have traces of the virus on their shoes and clothes, the BBC reported.

Friday’s daily case totals marked a decline from a two-month high in infections on Thursday. But officials worry the outbreak is too close to densely populated areas, including Seoul, and have reimposed some restrictions.

Officials have focused on tracking and testing thousands of employees at the Bucheon distribution center, which is run by South Korea’s largest e-retailer, Coupang. Authorities said they will be checking other facilities in the coming weeks.

But efforts go well beyond warehouses: Some schools shut their doors and others delay their planned reopening dates, and government officials have called for tighter social distancing over the next two weeks.

Residents of Seoul and surrounding cities are being instructed to avoid mass gatherings as their employers are urged to allow people to return to working from home. Parks and museums in the region will be closed, too.

South Korea never fully locked down, instead relying on aggressive testing and contact tracing measures to stamp out the virus. Its voluntary approach has been heralded as one of the more successful containment strategies globally.

An outbreak earlier this month was linked to a nightlife district in Seoul, just as officials declared the start of “a new everyday life with the coronavirus,” in an attempt to return to normal.

By Teo Armus
May 29, 2020 at 12:50 AM EDT

Yellowstone National Park reopens Montana entrances, resuming daytime access to trails

Yellowstone National Park announced Thursday that it will reopen its three Montana entrances on Monday, as the state’s governor lifts restrictions on out-of-state travel.

The park has been in Phase One of a three-part plan to reopen for about two weeks, after reopening its Wyoming entrances on May 18. During phase one, visitors have access to roads, trails, public restrooms, gas stations, medical clinics, approved tours and entrance stations. On Monday, the park will resume access to boating, fishing and takeout food services, park officials said.

Access to campgrounds, backcountry permits and other services will remain restricted until later phases, officials said.

In the first week after the park partially reopened, visitors flocked to popular sites like Old Faithful. Park officials said some people wore masks and maintained social distancing in the park, but others did not.

“If you are not comfortable being in places where other visitors are not wearing masks, I suggest one of two things: 1) plan your visit for another time and don’t come to the park now; or 2) don’t put yourselves in situations where you’re around visitors who are not following health recommendations,” park superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement last week.

Meanwhile, the National Park Service has increased efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus within Yellowstone park. Officials have encouraged, but not required, visitors to wear masks while in proximity to other guests. Park facilities are being cleaned more frequently and officials have put up signs educating visitors on the steps they can take to limit exposure to the virus.

The park is also participating in a “covid-19 surveillance testing pilot project,” officials said. The program, which will administer 50 tests to front-line employees this week, aims to detect coronavirus infections early and prevent outbreaks from starting in the park.

By Katie Shepherd
May 29, 2020 at 12:28 AM EDT

White House and CDC remove coronavirus warnings about choirs in faith guidance

The Trump administration with no advance notice removed warnings contained in guidance for the reopening of houses of worship that singing in choirs can spread the coronavirus.

Last Friday, the administration released pandemic guidance for faith communities after weeks of debate flared between the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those guidelines posted on the CDC website included recommendations that religious communities “consider suspending or at least decreasing use of choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition.”

By Saturday, that version was replaced by updated guidance that no longer includes any reference to choirs or congregant singing and the risk for spreading virus. The altered guidance also deleted a reference to “shared cups” among items, including hymnals and worship rugs, that should not be shared. The updated guidelines also added language that said the guidance “is not intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment.”

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By Lena H. Sun and Josh Dawsey
May 29, 2020 at 12:28 AM EDT

With bank sanctions and delistings, U.S. is poised to take financial fight to China

Through three years of economic conflict, the United States and China have erected tariffs that squeezed trade. They have clashed over the telecommunications firm Huawei and the flow of strategic semiconductor technology.

Now, as tensions between the two powers flare over the coronavirus pandemic and the fate of Hong Kong, prospects are rising that the trade and technology war could expand into a volatile new front: finance.

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By Gerry Shih
May 29, 2020 at 12:27 AM EDT

Without sports, one former coach struggles to maintain connection with at-risk kids

For the past seven years, Donald Curtis has been gathering at-risk young people — mostly African American boys who live in public housing and play sports — for a once-a-week group chat with SOUL, his community outreach program in Washington, D.C. Sometimes attendees discuss basketball, Curtis’s first love, but often the former coach steers the conversation toward education, business, or the concept of success.

The point, mostly, is that they’re talking — and that week after week, the kids know someone is there to listen.

Curtis’s experience is emblematic of coaches and mentors across the country who commit their lives to building connections with kids who are looking for stability and to avoid trouble. Since March, however, with schools and in-person gatherings shut down because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, adolescents have been sent home, often to navigate an anxious future alone. It has left adults such as Curtis searching for ways to extend a hand at a time when they have to remain physically distant, and when at-risk kids are without the structure that sports and after-school activities provide.

By mid-April, Curtis began hearing alarming whispers. Some of the kids who depended on him were skipping workouts, sleeping in, wandering down dark alleys. So he sent an invitation for a virtual “Men’s Group,” and on this Friday afternoon, he had hoped at least a dozen young men would log on and check in.

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By Kent Babb