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Several governors have taken steps to gradually reopen their states, with Texas, Minnesota, Vermont and Montana on Friday announcing dates for easing certain restrictions. President Trump unveiled broad guidelines Thursday but left specific plans up to governors.

Meanwhile, President Trump seemingly took the side of protesters in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia who are defying social distancing orders to rally against the states’ safety measures intended to stop the coronavirus spread. In back-to-back tweets, Trump wrote: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA” and then, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and then, “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

Here are some significant developments:

  • Hundreds of nursing homes in areas with outbreaks have repeatedly violated infection control rules, a Washington Post analysis found. Of about 650 homes with publicly reported coronavirus cases, 40 percent have been cited more than once for violations related to infection control.
  • As officials weigh reopening the economy, experts still do not know how deadly covid-19 is. Without widespread testing, it remains nearly impossible to determine precisely the lethality of the virus.
  • The federal government will spend $19 billion on a financial relief program to aid U.S. farmers and ranchers struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump announced at Friday’s White House briefing.
  • Stocks gained for a second straight week on investor optimism over governments taking baby steps toward opening their economies and on early signs that science may be gaining on the coronavirus.
  • China’s gross domestic product shrank for the first time in decades as the coronavirus pandemic delivered a devastating blow to the world’s second-largest economy — a glimpse of what may be to come around the world.
  • The death toll in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in China, was revised upward by 50 percent on Friday. The change followed widespread criticism of China’s data, although officials offered several reasons for the revision, including at-home deaths that were not included in earlier statistics.

Sign up for our coronavirus newsletter | Mapping the spread of the coronavirus: Across the U.S. | Worldwide | What you need to know about the virus | Has someone close to you died of covid-19? Share your story with The Washington Post.

3:34 a.m.
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Stimulus checks and other coronavirus relief hindered by dated technology and rocky government rollout

The national effort to get coronavirus relief money to Americans is at risk of being overwhelmed by the worst economic downturn in 80 years, as understaffed and underfunded agencies struggle to deliver funds.

Three weeks after Congress passed a $2 trillion package to lessen the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of households and small businesses are still waiting to receive all the help promised under the legislation, according to government data and firsthand accounts.

The bulk of the challenges have occurred with three initiatives designed to get cash to struggling Americans: $1,200 per adult relief payments that launched this week, $349 billion in Small Business Administration loans, and $260 billion in unemployment benefits for the more than 22 million people — and growing — out of work.

Read more here.

3:17 a.m.
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Top Nigerian official dies of covid-19

Abba Kyari, the Nigerian president’s chief of staff, died Friday after a nearly month-long battle with covid-19, according to a government spokesman, becoming one of the highest-ranking officials on the continent to die in the pandemic.

Kyari, who was in his 70s, was one of the most powerful figures in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, 77. He was infected with the novel coronavirus in late March and suffered from a range of health problems, including diabetes, as Reuters reported.

“The Presidency regrets to announce the passage of the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari,” a Buhari spokesman, Geraba Shehu, tweeted.

Nigeria has reported nearly 500 confirmed coronavirus cases and 17 deaths.

2:56 a.m.
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Imprisoned child sex trafficking victim Alexis Martin to be freed due to coronavirus spread

Alexis Martin, a nationally-known child sex trafficking victim imprisoned in Ohio, will soon go free. Gov. Mike DeWine commuted her sentence Friday as a part of the state’s efforts to reduce the spread of covid-19 in prisons.

Martin, now 22, was arrested at age 15 for her alleged involvement in the death of a man who was selling her for sex. In 2013, her alleged trafficker, 36-year-old Angelo Kerney, was killed during an attempted robbery. Martin was in another room at the time, but prosecutors argued she participated in the planning of the robbery.

Although Ohio has a “safe harbor” law, which is intended to route minor victims of trafficking into diversionary programs, Martin was tried as an adult. At age 17, she was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 21 years.

Attorneys and advocates have been working to free her ever since, appealing her case all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court. Judges acknowledged that there is a “clear history of human trafficking,” but declined to free Martin.

As the #MeToo movement increased awareness of child sex trafficking, Martin’s case gained more attention across the country. Earlier this month, she was featured in the documentary, “Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project,” in which Kardashian visited Martin in prison.

On Friday, DeWine called Martin a “survivor.” "She will be sent to an appropriate group home and she will be under supervision for an extensive period of time,” he said. “The facts of her case are particularly, particularly unique.”

In recent weeks, DeWine has been praised for his early and aggressive response to the spread of covid-19. On Friday, Kardashian joined the chorus:

“Thank you Governor DeWine!!!!” she tweeted, along with a photo of Martin in prison, smiling.

2:26 a.m.
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Hundreds of nursing homes with coronavirus have violated infection-control rules in recent years

Forty percent of more than 650 nursing homes nationwide with publicly reported cases of the coronavirus have been cited more than once by inspectors in recent years for violating federal standards meant to control the spread of infections, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Since 2016, the nursing homes accrued hundreds of deficiencies for unsafe conditions that can trigger the spread of flu, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin diseases. Dozens were flagged by inspectors only months before the coronavirus pandemic struck the United States.

Read more here.

1:59 a.m.
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Leading model projects some states could reopen by May 4. Not so fast, say other modelers.

A leading coronavirus forecasting model — used by the White House — predicted Friday that some states may be able to ease social distancing restrictions and reopen as early as May 4.

But on the same day those projections were issued by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington — giving recommended dates for reopening all 50 states — a consortium of experts in Texas released a competing model that points out what they call flaws in the IHME model.

The clashing data and projections highlight the uncertainty U.S. leaders will face in coming months as they grapple with how to reopen the country and its economy without risking a resurgence of viral infections, overwhelmed hospitals and deaths.

Read more here.

1:39 a.m.
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Roger Stone, facing prison, calls the coronavirus outbreak ‘essentially a death sentence’

Trump friend Roger Stone, who is facing a 40-month prison term for lying to Congress and witness tampering, called the novel coronavirus outbreak “essentially a death sentence” Friday in his first public comments since his September conviction, one day after a federal judge denied his motion for a new trial and lifted a gag order.

Interviewed by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Stone said, “The judge has ordered me to surrender in two weeks, and at 67 years [of age], with some underlying health problems, including a history of asthma, I believe the coronavirus is essentially a death sentence.”

Stone could ask an appeals court to reconsider the ruling and to stay his sentence. The longtime GOP media provocateur and Trump adviser demurred when Carlson asked him if he was “bitter” that he had not been pardoned by the president, answering, “At this juncture, I am praying for justice, I am praying for mercy. But I’ve got to be honest with you, it’s in God’s hands.”

Stone misstated his surrender date. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington ordered that he may voluntarily surrender once notified that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has designated his facility, which she said could occur no sooner than in two weeks, to allow time for an appeal.

1:25 a.m.
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Cellphone data shows coronavirus kept churchgoers at home in every state on Easter

Cellphone data tracking Americans’ behavior shows that the vast majority of people who might normally be in church stayed away on Easter, the day churches often pull in their highest attendance of the year.

Americans’ attendance at Sunday religious services began dropping dramatically in early March, according to a Washington Post analysis of mobile location data provided by SafeGraph, a company that aggregates location data from tens of millions of devices and compares it with building footprints of all types, including grocery stores, schools and religious organizations.

Read more here.

12:58 a.m.
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Trump’s tweets encouraging protesters draw worry from governors

The president’s tweets seemingly encouraging protesters defying social distancing mandates drew frustration Friday from governors of the states he mentioned, as leaders under growing pressure to “reopen” their communities plead with the public to abide by stay-at-home orders.

Each states’ restrictions aimed at combating the coronavirus are in line with the White House task force’s recommendations issued last month. But with a flurry of Friday morning tweets, Trump seemed to express support for protests against three states’ rules, first tweeting “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” then “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and finally “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) worried at a news conference that the tweets could energize the protests as officials continue to warn that gatherings risk dangerous spread of the virus. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said the president’s words encouraged “illegal and dangerous acts.”

In Minnesota, where people unhappy with the stay-at-home order gathered Friday outside the governor’s residence, Gov. Tim Walz (D) said he had yet to hear from the president and vice president after reaching out to them.

“I just have to lead,” he said. “If they’re not going to do it, we’re going to do it, and I don’t mean that critically.”

In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said he was stretched too thin to engage in an online fight.

“As the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia I, along with my staff, are fighting a biological war,” Northam said. “I do not have time to involve myself in Twitter wars. I will continue to do everything that I can to keep Virginia safe and to save lives.”

Asked about his tweets at Friday’s coronavirus task force briefing — and the seeming dissonance between them and his guidance for slowly reopening the country a day earlier — Trump said he feels “very comfortable” with what he said.

Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, was asked if he’s concerned to see people congregated — and to see that behavior encouraged. He said he can understand protesters’ frustration.

“But my main role in the task force is to make recommendations to protect the health . . . of the American people, and I would hope that people understand that,” he said.

Gregory Schneider contributed to this report.

12:54 a.m.
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Pence says states have testing capabilities for first phase of reopening; Birx unclear if there’s enough for phase two

Vice President Pence on Friday said that states have enough testing to reopen under phase one of the White House’s guidelines, which advises continued social distancing, stay-at-home orders and telework.

“Our best scientists and health experts assess that today we have a sufficient amount of testing to meet the requirements of phase-one reopening, if state governors should choose to do that,” Pence said at the daily White House briefing.

When asked whether there is enough testing capabilities to open under phase two, Deborah Birx, a leader on the White House task force, was less certain.

“What we will be doing is monitoring how much we have to use in phase one to really help inform phase two,” Birx said, explaining that the real unknown is asymptomatic spread. “And so if we find that there is a lot of asymptomatic individuals that we find . . . then we will have to have increased testing to cover all of those sites.”

Phase two of the White House guidelines would lift most of the restrictions but still recommend that vulnerable populations stay at home. It does advise physical distancing when in public places while raising the cap on gatherings from 10 to 50, among other measures.

“As we’ve made clear to the governors and other health officials, we’re going to continue to scale testing,” Pence stepped in to say after Birx was finished. “We’ve given criteria, we’ve given guidance for how we think that would best operate. But we’re looking for the states, we’re looking for the governors to manage it.”

12:50 a.m.
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Fauci rejects suggestion that novel coronavirus was man-made

Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of President Trump’s pandemic task force, on Friday rejected suggestions the novel coronavirus was man-made.

During the White House daily briefing, Fauci said, “The mutations that it took to get to the point where it is now is totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.”

Fauci cited evolutionary virologists who studied “the sequences there and the sequences in bats as they evolve.”

Speculation and conspiracy theories center on a virology institute in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began this winter. One theory suggested the crisis was the result of biological weapons research.

In interviews with The Washington Post in January, several experts said the virus was not man-made. “Based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus,” said Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University.

12:21 a.m.
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Pelosi, McConnell, McCarthy select commissioners to oversee stimulus law

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) selected Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) to serve on the five-member Congressional Oversight Commission, a group created to serve as a watchdog over the economic relief provisions in the $2 trillion stimulus law in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"Congresswoman Donna Shalala is a deeply respected and highly accomplished leader in the Congress and country, who has for decades led the fight to defend the health and economic security of the American people at the highest levels of government,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also chose Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) picked Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) on Friday to serve on the panel.

Toomey is a former Wall Street trader who left finance and opened a sports bar in Allentown, Pa., before running for Congress. He led the fiscally conservative Club for Growth before he was elected to the Senate.

“Senator Toomey is one of the sharpest members of the Senate,” McConnell said. “He is a leader on economics and finance and a key member of the Finance, Banking and Budget committees. The commission will benefit greatly from his expertise.”

Hill, a former Treasury Department official and private banker, founded and managed a community bank in Little Rock until it was sold for $66 million in 2014. He serves on the House Financial Services Committee.

In a statement, McCarthy said Hill’s background would “guide his advocacy of immediate and effective solutions for the American people struggling from the despair during this crisis.”

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) appointed Bharat Ramamurti, a former aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), to the commission.

Under the law, the top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate each get to appoint one member. In addition to getting their own appointments, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and McConnell are tasked with jointly naming the fifth member, who will serve as chair.

12:05 a.m.
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Trump offers to send ventilators to Mexico as coronavirus cases climb

MEXICO CITY — President Trump has agreed to provide 1,000 ventilators to Mexico to help the country deal with its rising number of coronavirus cases, officials said Friday.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador tweeted that he had spoken to Trump about the recent Mexican request to purchase ventilators.

“He guaranteed that at the end of this month we would have 1,000,” the Mexican leader wrote. “And we can buy others, because our country has no restrictions on buying equipment from the United States.”

Trump confirmed in his evening news conference that he had spoken to López Obrador — a “great gentleman” — about the ventilators. Trump said that the U.S. government would “be helping some other countries, too.”

American governors had been desperately searching for the lifesaving ventilators as the coronavirus spread across the United States. Trump said U.S. firms were now producing enough for domestic demand.

On Wednesday, Trump offered to send ventilators to Russia.

Trump and López Obrador have formed one of the Western Hemisphere’s most unexpected political partnerships. Before taking office in December 2018, the leftist Mexican leader had been a fierce critic of the U.S. president. But López Obrador has acceded to Trump’s requests to crack down on the flow of Central American migrants crossing the country. Trump, in turn, is giving Mexico a hand on meeting cutbacks in oil output to comply with a new agreement by the world’s major petroleum producers aimed at boosting prices.

11:59 p.m.
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Trump sides with protesters lashing out at Democratic governors over stay-at-home orders

Trump seemingly took the side of protesters in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia who are defying social distancing orders to rally against the states’ safety measures intended to stop the coronavirus spread.

In back-to-back tweets, Trump wrote: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” then, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and finally, “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

The tweets drew some sharp criticism, including from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who has publicly clashed with the president before over Trump’s handling of the public health crisis.

“The president’s statements this morning encourage illegal and dangerous acts. He is putting millions of people in danger of contracting COVID-19,” Inslee said in a statement. “His unhinged rantings and calls for people to ‘liberate’ states could also lead to violence.”

Asked specifically during the evening White House briefing about Inslee’s criticism, Trump said some states are “too tough.”

“I think elements of what they’ve done is too much and it’s just too much,” Trump said without expanding on what orders he thinks have gone too far.

A group calling itself “Liberate Minnesota” protested outside the residence of Gov. Tim Walz (D) Friday in opposition to his stay-at-home order.

A rowdy protest outside the Michigan Capitol crowded the streets with people wearing MAGA hats and chanting “Lock her up,” referring to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).

Asked whether he was concerned about people spreading the virus at these protests, Trump said, These are people expressing their views. … They seem to be very responsible people to me. But it’s, you know, they’ve been treated a little bit rough lately.”

Also Thursday, a smaller group protested in Virginia by holding a picnic on the Capitol grounds without social distancing or wearing masks. In California, video showed protesters gathered in Huntington Beach, carrying signs including “open Cali now.” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) on Friday said he’s not ready to say when the stay-at-home order will be lifted.

“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” Newsom said. “We’re going to do this thoughtfully.”

Protesters in Lansing, Mich., on April 15, 2020, caused a traffic jam near the capitol building to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order. (The Washington Post)
11:56 p.m.
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Conservative group asks AG Barr to review restrictive orders by ‘petty, would-be dictators’

A conservative group is asking Attorney General William P. Barr to review stay-at-home orders and other restrictions issued by state and local governments to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In a letter Friday, the Conservative Action Project criticized “rampant abuses of constitutional rights and civil liberties through the myriad orders” by governors and other local leaders.

“Petty, would-be dictators are attempting [to] use the crisis as an opportunity to flex their perceived new muscles at the expense of the Constitution,” reads the letter written as protests of states’ measures against the coronavirus pop up around the country.

“We are reviewing the letter,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told The Post.

Last week, Barr said some of the restrictions were “draconian” and suggested they should be eased next month. He also said the Justice Department would be “keeping a careful eye on” the situation to ensure the rulings are justified.

This week, the department intervened in a case brought by a Mississippi church over a city’s efforts to shut down drive-in religious services. It stressed the state’s right to impose restrictions during an emergency but urged a judge to carefully consider whether the city’s actions were legal.

The Conservative Action Project was founded in 2008. Its members include former attorney general Edwin Meese III, former senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp.