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White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx on Sunday said social distancing will continue through the summer, as confirmed cases in the United States approach one million.

Meanwhile, the task force briefing will return on Monday, according to the White House schedule. President Trump cast the briefings’ future into doubt with weekend tweets calling them a waste of time. The schedule does not say whether Trump would be present for the 5 p.m. event.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Trump pushed back on reports that White House officials are discussing whether to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Frustrations have grown over Azar’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, but Trump tweeted Sunday that such reports are “fake news.”
  • The World Health Organization clarified that people who have recovered from covid-19 will probably have an antibody response protecting them from a second coronavirus infection, backing off an earlier statement that there was “no evidence” recovered patients gained immunity.
  • Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Sunday night that Italy would ease the West’s longest lockdown on May 4, gradually reopening parts of the economy.
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to return to work on Monday after more than three weeks battling a coronavirus infection.
  • Chinese health officials claimed that Wuhan no longer has any coronavirus patients in hospitals, a significant step toward combating the virus in the city that was once its epicenter.
April 26, 2020 at 11:09 PM EDT

Crowds fill southern California beaches on hot weekend

By Teo Armus

A heat wave drove thousands of people to crowd southern California beaches over the weekend, even under a statewide stay-at-home order meant to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

As temperatures passed 90 degrees in the region on Saturday, hordes of people in hats, sunglasses and umbrellas descended on the sunny strips of sand still open in Ventura and Orange counties.

“It’s a beautiful day,” one beachgoer, Frank Feerini, told KABC on Saturday. “How can you keep anybody in?”

Few protective face masks could be seen, but authorities told the Los Angeles Times that beachgoers had been observing social distancing. Despite a constant law enforcement presence, no one was cited for violating social distancing guidelines in Huntington Beach.

Up the coast in Los Angeles County, the beaches remained completely empty. Under that region’s stay-home order, all beaches — as well as parking lots, public amenities and a 22-mile coastal bike path — will remain closed through May 15.

Beaches were also closed over the weekend in San Diego County, though officials there said they would allow access to the water beginning Monday for swimming and other water sports, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

April 26, 2020 at 10:35 PM EDT

In the South Bronx, coronavirus life now is waiting, for anything and everything

By Stephanie McCrummen

The sun had barely risen over East 149th Street in the South Bronx when Edward Halls, 70, got in line. He had seen how long the line was the day before and realized that life now required a plan.

“I passed by and said, ‘I’m not going to drink any water. I’ll bring the chair. I’ll leave early. I was going to leave at 7:30 but my sister said, ‘No, you better leave at 7.’ ”

Now it was two hours later, and a line of 32 people stretched out from the front door of the bank where the computers were still down and Halls was still sitting in his folding chair, watching his neighborhood come to life.

Across the street, a line was forming at the pharmacy. A few doors down, the line was growing at the credit union. Around the corner, people were lining up for the bus, for the lottery, for the check-cashers and the two hawkers at folding tables spread with $5 masks, $10 Advil and $20 cough syrup. Two months into the coronavirus pandemic, this is what life was becoming in one of the poorest and hardest-hit neighborhoods in America. A life of lines.

April 26, 2020 at 10:19 PM EDT

As Colorado’s stay-at-home order expires, a cheese plant shuts down over ‘high number’ of worker infections

By Steven Goff and Hannah Knowles

As Colorado’s stay-at-home order expired Sunday, a cheese plant in the state shut down over what it called a “high number” of coronavirus infections among its workers, according to the Denver Post. Large food-processing plants around the country have emerged as covid-19 hot spots and spurred concerns about employee safety.

Defending his decision to ease coronavirus-driven restrictions Sunday, Gov. Jared Polis — a Democrat among a largely conservative group of governors moving to swiftly reopen — acknowledged that cases again could surge. With businesses beginning to reopen in Colorado and other states, mostly in the South, officials say they are keeping a close eye out for concentrations of infections causing fresh problems.

One may have developed at Leprino Foods, a cheese plant in Fort Morgan, Colo., that says an unspecified number of employees, including some without symptoms, have tested positive for the virus, the Denver Post reported. The plant, which employs 350 workers, will remain closed for at least five days, the newspaper said.

Leprino Foods did not immediately respond to an inquiry Sunday, but a spokeswoman told the Denver Post the company is screening employees for symptoms, trying to keep sick workers home and requiring that all plant staff wear protective equipment and practice social distancing.

Two weeks ago, a beef production plant in Greeley, Colo., was temporarily closed amid an outbreak in which more than 100 employees tested positive and four died. A Smithfield pork operation in Sioux Falls, S.D., has become an especially large hot spot.

Colorado has reported 13,441 coronavirus cases and 679 deaths, the third-highest total fatalities west of the Mississippi, behind California and Washington state.

Statewide modeling, Polis said last week, showed that extending the stay-at-home order would delay a peak in demand on health care resources but would not have a notable effect on the total number of covid-19 patients.

April 26, 2020 at 10:08 PM EDT

Thin Mints, anyone? Girl Scouts try make up lost revenue — and get a PPP loan in Alaska

By Steven Goff

The coronavirus pandemic has created a glut of Thin Mints, Samoas and Do-si-dos all over the country — and in southern Alaska, it has left a major revenue shortfall for 3,500 Girl Scouts, local media reports.

With their selling season cut in half by the health emergency, the Anchorage Daily News reported, Girl Scouts of Alaska sought — and received — a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, federal assistance designed to help small businesses, nonprofit organizations and others suffering from economic upheaval. The money will help pay wages of 20 full-time employees and cover the cost of camps, scholarships and regular activities, according to the newspaper, which did not state the amount of the loan.

“Once the economy gets up and going,” chief executive Leslie Ridle told the Anchorage Daily News, “our girls can get back to selling.”

Companies such as energy firm ConocoPhillips and First National Bank Alaska have helped relieve the Girl Scouts of Alaska’s inventory by making large purchases.

The annual sale of cookies all over has been stymied by stay-at-home orders.

In Indiana, troops reportedly donated cookies to food pantries, health-care workers and first responders. Girl Scouts of the USA has set up a digital platform, Cookie Care, to help generate funds through online sales as door-to-door selling and cookie booths are suspended.

April 26, 2020 at 9:33 PM EDT

Federal government issues new guidelines for meatpacking workers and employers, as concerns mount

By Samantha Pell

The Labor Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance for meatpacking and meat-processing workers and employers, as plants turn into infection hot spots amid the coronavirus pandemic and spark concerns that workers are not being protected.

The guidance issued Sunday states that employers should configure work environments so that employees are spaced at least six feet apart in all directions “if possible.” Additionally, the CDC says companies should “consider” screening employees for coronavirus symptoms before they enter the workplace — for example, through temperature checks — and says workers should wear cloth face coverings in addition to practicing social distancing.

“As essential workers, those in the meatpacking and processing industries need to be protected from coronavirus for their own safety and health,” Loren Sweatt, the principal deputy assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said in a statement. “OSHA’s newest guidance document outlines steps employers can take to provide a safe and healthy workplace for workers in the meatpacking and processing industries.”

A recent Washington Post investigation found that three of the nation’s largest meat processors did not provide protective gear to all workers and reported on employees who said they were told to continue working in plants while sick. Tyson Foods, JBS USA and Smithfield Foods all continued these actions even after federal guidelines on social distancing and personal protective equipment were published in early March, according to The Post’s investigation.

Coronavirus outbreaks in more than 30 plants run by Tyson, JBS, Smithfield and others have sickened at least 3,300 workers and killed at least 17, according to The Post’s investigation. With 15 plants closing between Tyson, JBS and Smithfield over recent weeks, the pandemic is threatening the nation’s supply of beef and pork. Industry analysts told The Post that production is already down by at least 25 percent.

April 26, 2020 at 9:02 PM EDT

D.C. numbers suggest children face hospitalization risk from coronavirus

By Kyle Swenson

An analysis by doctors at Children’s National Hospital in Washington calls into question the commonly held — and comforting — assumption that children seem to escape the novel coronavirus’s more serious effects.

“We have been ready, but frankly, surprised,” Roberta DeBiasi, the hospital’s infectious-disease division chief, said Friday. “We are actually having a significant number of admissions and critical-care admissions.”

Although from a small sample size, the data from Children’s National suggests that some kids may not be as immune to the virus as once assumed. Between March 15 and April 22, Children’s National saw 105 children who were sick with the coronavirus. Twenty-eight required hospitalization, or about 27 percent, DeBiasi said. The hospital has yet to see a fatality related to the virus.

Read more here.

April 26, 2020 at 8:19 PM EDT

White House says there will be a coronavirus task force briefing Monday, after Trump calls them a waste of time

By Colby Itkowitz and Hannah Knowles

The coronavirus task force briefing will make a return Monday, according to the White House schedule, after President Trump cast the briefings’ future into doubt with weekend tweets calling them a waste of time.

The schedule does not say whether Trump will be present for the 5 p.m. event.

A day after leaving Friday’s news conference without taking reporters’ questions, and amid criticism of comments he made at a briefing earlier in the week, Trump questioned the purpose of the gatherings Saturday and blamed reporters for “hostile questions.”

“What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the Lamestream Media asks nothing but hostile questions, & then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately,” Trump tweeted. “They get record ratings, & the American people get nothing but Fake News. Not worth the time & effort!”

Trump’s last back and forth with reporters came at Thursday’s briefing, when he wondered aloud whether ultraviolet light and disinfectant could be used internally to kill the coronavirus — prompting ridicule and alarm from medical experts and officials nationwide, some of whom warned the public against ingesting or injecting cleaning products.

Trump later said that his comments were meant as sarcasm.

April 26, 2020 at 8:09 PM EDT

DeSantis and Fla. doctors urge non-covid-19 patients to go to hospital, as people with serious conditions delay care

By Samantha Pell

Florida leaders and doctors are trying to convey that hospitals are safe for non-covid-19 patients to enter, as Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) this weekend said he will soon announce an end to the state’s ban on elective surgeries.

Health officials said Sunday that hospitalization rates have decreased in recent days and that parts of the state are now “on the other side” of the coronavirus pandemic, and DeSantis said he would look further into how to reopen the state. DeSantis joins other governors moving to bring back elective medical procedures after pausing them with a March 20 executive order.

“Elective procedures, I think when people hear that, they think it’s like, ‘Oh, you know, I’m going to get, like, some type of cosmetic surgery or something.’ These elective procedures really do affect patients’ health,” DeSantis said Saturday during a news briefing at Cleveland Clinic Florida. “You’re talking about screenings, you’re talking about things that are really important. … I think we do need to move in that direction.”

DeSantis said he will announce the move “shortly” but that he wants to review task force findings and consult with other experts.

He and doctors noted a decline in the number of patients arriving with cardiac problems and other serious health issues, a nationwide phenomenon as some people say they are afraid to go to hospitals. Wael Barsoum, the president and chief executive of Cleveland Clinic Florida, pointed Saturday to a study by colleagues that found a 38 percent decrease in patients presenting to the hospital with symptoms of stroke or heart attack.

“That is a problem, and we need to make sure people understand hospitals are as safe as they can be,” Barsoum said.

April 26, 2020 at 7:33 PM EDT

Steve Dalkowski, hard-throwing pitcher and baseball’s greatest what-if story, dies at 80 of coronavirus

By Matt Schudel

Steve Dalkowski, who entered baseball lore as the hardest-throwing pitcher in history with a fastball that was as uncontrollable as it was unhittable and who was considered perhaps the game’s greatest unharnessed talent, died April 19 at a hospital in New Britain, Conn. He was 80.

His family announced his death in an obituary in the Hartford Courant, which reported that he had covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Dalkowski pitched nine years in the minor leagues in the 1950s and ’60s, mostly in the Baltimore Orioles organization, without reaching the major leagues. Yet in that time, he amazed — and terrified — countless hitters with a blazing fastball of astonishing speed.

Read more here.

April 26, 2020 at 7:05 PM EDT

Portugal to move some asylum seekers into empty apartments after outbreak in shared hostel

By Siobhán O'Grady

Portugal will move some asylum seekers into apartments typically used by tourists, authorities announced Sunday, as the government looks for ways to keep the coronavirus from spreading in populations living in close quarters.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs said it plans to “take advantage of the reduced pressure on the housing market in the capital” by moving some asylum seekers away from facilities where they share rooms and cannot distance themselves from one another, Reuters reported.

This month, 138 of 175 people living in one such hostel tested positive for the virus, prompting the government to find alternative housing and deep-clean the facility.

Early in the outbreak, Portugal announced that all asylum seekers would have access to the country’s health-care system through June. Advocacy groups have warned that globally, people living in cramped conditions such as refugee camps and migrant transit centers are at grave risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Governments across Europe are facing pressure to protect migrants and refugees from the virus. Greek officials quarantined a camp housing asylum seekers this month after 20 people living there tested positive for the virus. The Greek government also promised to move thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers out of island camps to limit their potential exposure.

In the United States, some communities have resisted efforts to move homeless populations to empty hotels to slow the spread of the virus.

April 26, 2020 at 6:26 PM EDT

Trump praises HHS secretary, pushes back on reporting that White House officials are discussing replacing him

By Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey and Hannah Knowles

President Trump said Sunday that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is “doing an excellent job,” as White House officials discuss whether to replace him.

Frustrations have grown over Azar’s handling of the coronavirus crisis earlier this year, as well as of his removal last week of a top vaccine official in his agency, a move that created an uproar. Several top White House aides are discussing Azar’s removal and have talked about possible replacements, but Trump has not weighed in, said five people familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

But Trump publicly pushed back at reporting about those discussions.

“Reports that H.H.S. Secretary @AlexAzar is going to be ‘fired’ by me are Fake News,” Trump tweeted Sunday evening, attacking the news media and praising Azar’s performance.

April 26, 2020 at 5:43 PM EDT

‘It’s more than stupid; it’s dangerous,’ Pelosi says of Trump’s efforts to sideline the WHO

By Samantha Pell

President Trump’s efforts to sideline the World Health Organization on several fronts, including withholding funding from the global health agency, are “dangerous,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday.

“It’s stupid — it’s more than stupid; it’s dangerous,” Pelosi told NPR.

The speaker referenced Washington Post reporting on the topic that cited U.S. and foreign officials. Last week, Trump announced a 60-day hold on U.S. money to the WHO while criticizing the organization’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Post discovered other steps by top administration officials that go beyond a temporary funding freeze, raising concerns about the permanent weakening of the WHO amid a rapidly spreading crisis.

At the State Department, officials are stripping references to the WHO from coronavirus fact sheets, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo instructed employees to “cut out the middle man” when it comes to public health initiatives that the United States previously supported through the WHO.

“Worse than [the funding] — if you can believe it — worse than that is that [Trump] and the secretary of state have been deleting any reference to the World Health Organization in any of our strategies on how we can deal with the pandemic,” Pelosi told NPR. “That may be more harmful than just the money.”

Pelosi also said that while Trump can temporarily withhold funding from the WHO — though “that is questionable in terms of his legality,” she argued — he could not make it a policy.

April 26, 2020 at 5:16 PM EDT

Worshipers in Indonesia attend Ramadan prayers despite fears about crowds

By Ruby Mellen

Across Indonesia, worshipers attended Ramadan prayers at mosques over the weekend, defying government and religious recommendations to pray at home to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

Footage from Voice of America shows thousands of worshipers in the conservative province of Aceh attending evening prayers on Thursday, while the Jakarta Post reported that prayers were held in Lampung and West Java provinces this weekend, as well.

Citing the virus and the start of Ramadan, the Indonesian government on Friday moved to temporarily ban all holiday travel until May 31. Experts had warned that the virus’s spread could be exacerbated by the migration period, known as mudik, at the end of Ramadan, when millions of Indonesians typically leave the country’s big cities to be with their families. The government and religious organizations also called on people to pray at home and avoid mosques.

Indonesia, a country with more than 260 million people and the world’s largest Muslim population, has more than 8,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 700 deaths, making it the country in Asia with the most recorded deaths except for China.

The pandemic has pushed members of organized religions around the world to adapt the ways they partake in age-old traditions. Earlier this month, Jews and Christians tuned in to Passover and Easter ceremonies on the radio or through live streams, as places of worship were closed, while Thai monks have begun to receive alms from behind protective glass.

April 26, 2020 at 4:48 PM EDT

Death tolls slow in some European hotspots as governments weigh easing of lockdowns

By Siobhán O'Grady

Several of Europe’s hardest-hit hotspots reported declines in their death tolls Sunday, as governments weigh whether to extend or loosen lockdowns intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Although lower death tolls could indeed signal progress, tallies often drop on weekends and spike again early in the week.

British health authorities confirmed an additional 413 deaths in the past 24 hours, marking the lowest daily increase in several weeks. That toll accounts for deaths that occurred only at hospitals, not in nursing facilities or at home.

France also registered a drop in confirmed deaths, recording 242 deaths in the past day compared with 369 the day before. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe tweeted Sunday that he will present a plan to lawmakers Tuesday afternoon on how France should gradually ease out of the lockdown.

Spain recorded 288 deaths on Sunday, as children younger than 14 were allowed outside to exercise for the first time in six weeks. If the spread of the virus continues to slow in Spain, adults will be allowed to exercise outdoors starting in early May, officials have said.

Italy reported 260 deaths on Sunday, its lowest daily death toll since March 14, as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte outlined plans to reopen the country in a public address.

On Friday, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the infection curve has “dropped” but warned Italy must proceed with caution.

“The virus is still circulating,” he said. “We mustn’t think that the battle has been won.”