The latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

WASHINGTON — President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell huddled Thursday at the White House as Republicans staked out new plans to phase out coronavirus-related unemployment benefits to encourage Americans to go back to work.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate chamber after meeting with Vice President Pence and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Tuesday. Associated Press/Patrick Semansky

Revamping jobless aid is fast becoming the focus of debate over the next virus aid package. After the Senate decided to take a “pause” on new pandemic proposals, senators faced mounting pressure to act before leaving town for a weeklong Memorial Day break. The Senate also began efforts to fast-track an extension of a popular small business lending program.

“Republicans and the White House are reaching consensus on the need for redesigning the unemployment benefits so they are not a barrier to getting people back to work,” Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters on a conference call.

The flurry of activity comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed a new $3 trillion aid package through the House last week. The Senate, under McConnell, says there is no urgency to act, and senators are expected to reconsider more aid only in June.

With the nation’s death toll poised to hit 100,000 and layoffs surpassing 38 million, some lawmakers see a failure by Washington to act as untenable. Yet Congress has moved beyond the political consensus reached at the outset of the crisis and is now splitting along familiar party lines.

The difference in approach and priorities between Democrats and Republicans reflects the partisan split that is defining both parties before the 2020 election.

Read the full story on Republicans’ plan for unemployment aid here.

Michigan governor prevails over Republicans challenging her authority

DETROIT — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer prevailed Thursday in a high-stakes challenge from Republican lawmakers who sued over her authority to declare emergencies and order sweeping restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak.

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has prevailed in a court challenge by Republican lawmakers to her power to declare an emergency and order restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Michigan Office of the Governor via Associated Press

A 1945 law cited by Whitmer, a Democrat, is not limited to local and regional emergencies only and can have no end date, said Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Court of Claims.

The lawsuit by the House and Senate grew out of frustration with Whitmer’s one-size strategy to stop the spread of the coronavirus by keeping people at home statewide and shutting down businesses, even if some regions were not harmed much by the virus or COVID-19.

The Legislature did not extend Whitmer’s disaster emergency declaration in late April but she acted anyway, pointing to the ’45 law.

The Legislature preferred a 1976 statute that gives it a say in emergency declarations after 28 days. Indeed, the judge said the governor can’t use that law to extend emergencies without input from lawmakers.

The decision was a third time that a Court of Claims judge ruled in favor of Whitmer. The other lawsuits were brought by residents, a business owner and a new group that has organized protests at the Capitol.

Also, Whitmer has further relaxed stay-at-home restrictions, saying a ban on nonessential health procedures would be lifted next week and that groups of up to 10 people can gather immediately ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

Retailers can reopen by appointment only, starting Tuesday, as long as there are no more than 10 customers inside at a time. People also can make an appointment to visit an auto dealer showroom. Social distancing requirements remain in place.

She said Thursday that the stay-home order, which remains in effect through May 28, will likely be extended.

Trump to order American flag flown at half-staff as deaths approach 100,000

WASHINGTON — President Trump says he will order the American flag to be flown at half-staff over the next three days as the death toll from COVID-19 surpasses 95,000.

Trump tweeted Thursday: “I will be lowering the flags on all Federal Buildings and National Monuments to half-staff over the next three days in memory of the Americans we have lost to the CoronaVirus.”

He said the flags will continue to be flown at half-staff on Memorial Day in honor of those in the military who died serving their country.

The move follows a request from Democratic leaders to do so to recognize a “sad day of reckoning when we reach 100,000 deaths.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote to Trump that an order to fly the American flag at half-staff would “serve as a national expression of grief so needed by everyone in our country.”

Denver mail distribution center closed after several employees test positive

DENVER — Denver health officials have ordered the closure of a United States Postal Service distribution center that handles all mail for Colorado and Wyoming, saying the facility has several confirmed cases of the coronavirus among its employees.

KUSA-TV reports state health officials confirmed five workers have tested positive for the virus at a facility that employs about 1,800. The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment issued the order Thursday, the day after investigators said they were denied full access to the facility.

The USPS said in a statement the closure notice did not cite any adverse findings and could affect the delivery of stimulus checks, prescription medications, personal correspondence and other vital goods delivered to more than 6.5 million customers in Colorado and Wyoming.

Washington state has lost hundreds of millions of dollars to fraudulent jobless claims

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Impostors have used the stolen information of tens of thousands of people in Washington state to fraudulently receive hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits, the head of the Employment Security Department said Thursday.

Commissioner Suzi LeVine said that the state is currently working with federal law enforcement, financial institutions and the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the fraud and try to recover the money paid out during the coronavirus crisis.

LeVine said she can’t release specific numbers or details of the ongoing investigation. But she said that countermeasures taken by the state have “prevented hundreds of millions of additional dollars from going out to criminals and have prevented thousands of fraudulent claims being filed.”

Trump visits Michigan Ford plant, but skips the mask in public

YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Pandemic politics shadowed President Trump’s trip to Michigan on Thursday to highlight lifesaving medical devices, with the president and officials from the electoral battleground state clashing over federal aid, mail-in ballots and face masks.

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President Trump speaks as he tours Ford’s Rawsonville Components Plant that has been converted to making personal protection and medical equipment on Thursday in Ypsilanti, Mich. Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Trump visited Ypsilanti, outside Detroit, to tour a Ford Motor Co. factory that had been repurposed to manufacture ventilators, the medical breathing machines governors begged for during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But his arrival came amid a long-running feud with the state’s Democratic governor and a day after the president threatened to withhold federal funds over the state’s expanded vote-by-mail effort. And, again, the president did not wear a face covering despite a warning from the state’s top law enforcement officer that a refusal to do so might lead to a ban on Trump’s return.

All of the Ford executives giving Trump the tour were wearings masks, the president standing alone without one. At one point, he did did take a White House-branded mask from his pocket and claimed to reporters he had worn it elsewhere on the tour, out of public view.

“I did not to want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it,” Trump said.

For a moment, he also teasingly held up a clear shield in front of his face.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that mask wearing isn’t just Ford’s policy but it’s also the law in a state that’s among those hardest hit by the virus. Nessel said that if Trump refused to wear a mask Thursday, “he’s going to be asked not to return to any enclosed facilities inside our state.”

“If we know that he’s coming to our state and we know he’s not going to follow the law, I think we’re going to have to take action against any company or any facility that allows him inside those facilities and puts our workers at risk,” Nessel told CNN. “We just simply can’t afford it here in our state.”

Trump has refused to wear a face mask in public, telling aides he believes it makes him look weak, though it is a practice that federal health authorities say all Americans should adopt to help slow the spread of the virus.

Read the full story on Trump’s Michigan trip here.

Young adults are also affected by Kawasaki-like disease linked to coronavirus, doctors say

Recent public health warnings about a severe and puzzling inflammatory syndrome linked to COVID-19 have focused on children. But now, some doctors say they are seeing the illness, similar to Kawasaki disease, in a handful of young adults, too.

A 20-year-old is being treated at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego; a 25-year-old has been diagnosed at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center, and several patients in their early 20s are hospitalized with the syndrome at NYU Langone in New York City.

Jennifer Lighter, a pediatric infectious diseases doctor at NYU Langone, said younger children with the condition seem to have symptoms that look more like traditional Kawasaki, which is characterized by inflammation of the blood vessels. But teens and young adults have more of an “overwhelming” response involving the heart and multiple organs.

“The older ones have had a more severe course,” Lighter said.
Physician Jane Burns, who runs the Kawasaki disease Research Center at UC San Diego, worries the condition may be underdiagnosed in adults.

The challenge, she said, is that many doctors who treat adults have “never seen Kawasaki disease before because that’s a disease of children.” Moreover, it’s trickier to get a quick look at adults’ hearts because their chest walls are so thick and ultrasounds may be more difficult to interpret.

Trump will be asked not to return if he doesn’t wear a mask, Michigan attorney general says

If President Trump does not wear a face mask Thursday during his tour of a Ford manufacturing plant in Michigan, he will be asked not to return to similar facilities, the state’s attorney general said.

Appearing on CNN hours before Trump’s scheduled arrival, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) also warned that the state could take legal action against “enclosed facilities” that permit Trump to enter without wearing a mask.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel Associated Press

Nessel’s admonition came amid mounting tension over whether Trump, who has not previously donned a mask in public, would comply with an executive order from the state’s governor as he tours a facility in Ypsilanti that has been repurposed to manufacture ventilators for coronavirus patients.

“If we’ve learned nothing over the last several years of President Trump in the White House, it’s that he doesn’t have the same level of legal accountability as everybody else,” Nessel said. “Honestly, if he fails to wear a mask, he’s going to be asked not to return to any enclosed facilities inside our state.”

She added: “I think we’re going to take action against any company or any facility that allows him inside those facilities and puts our workers at risk. We simply can’t afford it here in our state.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who represents the district that includes the Ford plant, also urged Trump to wear a face covering.

“Leaders need to lead,” she said during a separate appearance on CNN. “I hope the president will follow the protocols because people will see the importance of wearing those masks. It matters.”

Asked why Trump might be reluctant, Dingell said, “Some people see wearing a mask as a sign of weakness.”

Fauci interviewed by actress Julia Roberts as part of new celebrity initiative

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who has been largely absent from television in recent weeks, appears in a new interview conducted by actress Julia Roberts in which he discloses he was getting so little sleep last month he felt like he was “falling apart.”

The interview is part of an initiative in which celebrities are turning over their social media channels to health experts and front-line health workers. According to the organizer, the global nonprofit ONE Campaign, other celebrities participating in the #PassTheMic initiative include Hugh Jackman, Millie Bobby Brown and Danai Gurira.

Roberts appears visibly gleeful as Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, slides into place in the remotely conducted interview, which was posted on YouTube on Wednesday.

Asked by Roberts how he’s doing, Fauci says, “Pretty good, I guess,” before recounting his sleep patterns in response to another query by Roberts.

Fauci, who refers to the actress as “Ms. Roberts,” says he is now getting a “reasonably good” 5½ hours a night.

“Last month, I was getting three, and three doesn’t work any more than two or three days in a row, and I started to really feel like I was falling apart,” Fauci says.

“I’m sorry, sir, but you are not allowed to fall apart,” Roberts says.

“I won’t, I promise,” he responds.

The discussion later turns to more substantive topics, including Fauci’s call to address “the extraordinary health disparities” among countries.

“Right now, if you take southern Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia, South America and even parts of the Caribbean as areas that don’t have the health-care system to be able to respond the way one can respond in New York or L.A. or New Orleans or Chicago, we have really a moral responsibility for people throughout the world,” Fauci says.

2.4 million Americans filed jobless claims last week, bringing nine-week total to 38.6 million

WASHINGTON — More than 2.4 million people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week in the latest wave of layoffs from the viral outbreak that triggered widespread business shutdowns two months ago and sent the economy into a deep recession.

Roughly 38.6 million people have now filed for jobless aid since the coronavirus forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their workforces, the Labor Department said Thursday.

An additional 2.2 million people sought aid under a new federal program for self-employed, contractor and gig workers, who are now eligible for jobless aid for the first time. These figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn’t include them in the overall number of applications

The continuing stream of heavy job cuts reflects an economy that is sinking into the worst recession since the Great Depression. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that the economy is shrinking at a 38% annual rate in the April-June quarter. That would be by far the worst quarterly contraction on record.

Nearly half of Americans say that either their incomes have declined or they live with another adult who has lost pay through a job loss or reduced hours, the Census Bureau said in survey data released Wednesday More than one-fifth of Americans said they had little or no confidence in their ability to pay the next month’s rent or mortgage on time, the survey found.

During April, U.S. employers shed 20 million jobs, eliminating a decade’s worth of job growth in a single month. The unemployment rate reached 14.7%, the highest since the Depression. Millions of other people who were out of work weren’t counted as unemployed because they didn’t look for a new job.

Since then, 10 million more laid-off workers have applied for jobless benefits. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in an interview Sunday that the unemployment rate could peak in May or June at 20% to 25%.

Read the full story.

Beaches seek to ban New York City dwellers over Memorial Day Weekend — which may not be legal

After New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that the city’s beaches would remain closed over Memorial Day Weekend, Long Island officials began to worry that their shores would be swarmed with out-of-town visitors.

So a number of communities are instituting a controversial locals-only policy, highlighting the downside of a piecemeal approach to reopening.

Nassau County officials on Wednesday passed a bill restricting access to popular Nickerson Beach, saying that banning nonresidents was the only way to avoid overcrowding. With a patchwork of similar measures already in place for other cities and towns along the coast, that means that only one public beach on Long Island’s South Shore will be open to New York City residents over the holiday weekend, Newsday reported.

Both de Blasio’s decision to keep beaches closed and Long Island’s crackdown on New Yorkers have met with contention. As Gothamist reports, beaches that have received federal funding are legally obligated to be accessible to all members of the public. Much of Long Island’s coastline meets that definition, having been rebuilt by the Army Corps of Engineers after Superstorm Sandy.

Nassau County acknowledged on Tuesday that banning city dwellers from a newly-reopened Nickerson Beach would be against the law, the outlet reported. Instead, a spokeswoman for the county said, nonresidents will be unable to park in the beach’s parking lot, forcing them to travel four miles from the nearest train station.

Other municipalities in Long Island have yet to address the legal complications of barring nonresidents, but say that their locals-only policies will come to an end as soon as New York City opens its own beaches for the season.

Hawaii isn’t messing around about tourist quarantines

Monday’s “wanted” post on the Maui Police Department Facebook page included all the information one would expect: a photo, physical description, phone number to call with information. And a description of the Colorado woman’s alleged offense: “violating the Rules and Orders for failure to quarantine.”

According to police, the 31-year-old tourist arrived on Maui on Friday, acknowledged the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine and said she would be at a hostel. Later, authorities learned she had canceled her reservation; when efforts to reach her failed, police took their search public.

The visitor dragnet is the latest example of how seriously Hawaii — a destination that attracted more than 10 million tourists last year — is treating the coronavirus threat posed by outsiders , as new cases in the state have dwindled. Between May 12 and Tuesday, just nine cases have been reported statewide.

Lebanon warns of major food crisis

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s prime minister is warning of a major food crisis in the Mediterranean country which is facing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post late Wednesday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab also warns of eventual “starvation” in the Middle East that he says may spark a new migration flow to Europe.

He urges the United States and the European Union to establish a dedicated emergency fund to help the conflict-prone region.

Lebanon, one of the most indebted nations in the world, defaulted for the first time in March on its sovereign debt. Anti-government protests that erupted in October over widespread corruption subsided during a nationwide lockdown since mid-March to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, but sporadic protests continue.

Diab’s government is seeking a rescue program from the International Monetary Fund while grappling to deal with the financial crisis that saw the local currency crash, people’s savings devastated and prices and inflation soar in the past few weeks.

In a stark warning, Diab says many Lebanese may soon find it difficult to afford even bread.

Spain cautious about reopening to foreign tourists

MADRID — The top official in charge of easing Spain’s lockdown says that the country will only reopen to foreign tourists in July, once safety for both locals and visitors can be guaranteed.

Wary of the competition from other Mediterranean countries already reopening borders, hoteliers and officials in tourist-magnet islands and coastal regions have been pressing Spanish central authorities to relax curbs in place to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

But Environment and Energy Minister Teresa Ribera has told EFE news agency that an early massive opening to visitors would be “irresponsible.”

“Our idea is to work on safe origins and destinations thinking on July rather on June,” Ribera told the state news agency.

She added that rebounds of the outbreak in China, South Korea and Singapore have been associated to imported infections.

Tourism contributes 12% of Spain’s 1.24 trillion-euro (1.4 trillion-dollar) gross domestic product. The country has recorded at least 27,800 deaths for the novel virus and over 232,000 confirmed infections.

Drug maker prepares to manufacture vaccine still in testing

LONDON — Drug maker AstraZeneca says it has secured the first agreements for 400 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that is now being tested.

The pharmaceutical company says in a statement Thursday that it plans to conclude further deals in order to expand capacity over the next few months.

The company says it has the capacity to manufacture 1 billion doses of the University of Oxford’s potential COVID-19 vaccine.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot says the company “will do everything in our power to make this vaccine quickly and widely available.’’

Wuhan bans the hunting, consumption of wild animals

BEIJING — The central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the global coronavirus pandemic is believed to have originated, has issued a total ban on the hunting, breeding and human consumption of wild animals.

The move is in an apparent response to research showing the virus most likely originated among bats and was transmitted to people via an intermediary wild species sold for food at a market in the city.

The regulation issued Wednesday seeks to carry out measures passed at the national level covering protected land animals as well as sea life, promising financial relief to help dealers move into other lines of business.

However, it contains numerous exceptions, including for animals used for traditional Chinese medicine, as long as they are not consumed as food for humans. That left it unclear whether the ban would cover pangolins, small mammals whose scales are used for traditional Chinese medicine but which are thought to have been the intermediary carrier of the virus.

The regulation will be enforced immediately and will be in effect for five years.

 


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