TOP OF THE HOUR:
— South Korea reports 18 new cases of coronavirus, partly connected to clubgoers
— Kim sends Putin letter on WWII anniversary and for virus fight
— Hawaii reports no new virus cases for the first time in nearly two months
— Louisiana to hire at least 250 contact tracers.
— U.S.-China dispute disrupts U.N. resolution on pandemic.
— New York governor warns about potentially fatal condition in children.
MANAUS, Brazil — A funeral home business leader for Brazil’s state that covers much of the Amazon region says emergency coffin shipments have started to arrive for people who have died of COVID-19.
Manuel Viana is president of the Amazonas Union of Funeral Companies and said Friday that more than 500 coffins were delivered by ship to Manaus, the largest city in Amazonas state.
He says hundreds more are on the way and will be distributed in Manaus and other cities in the region.
Manaus is one of the hardest hit Brazilian cities for coronavirus deaths and Viana says there are predictions that the city of more than 2 million could have more than 4,300 deaths in May.
A Johns Hopkins University count says there have been more than 10,000 COVID-19 deaths so far in Latin America’s largest and most populous country.
A Brazil funeral home association last week requested an airlift of coffins to Manaus.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 18 fresh cases of the new coronavirus in the past 24 hours, including 12 in the capital of Seoul, as health workers scramble to trace contacts after detecting a slew of transmissions linked to clubgoers.
Figures released by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday brought national totals to 10,840 cases and 256 deaths.
While the KCDC didn’t immediately release specific details, most of the new cases were likely linked to the nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon leisure district, which was brought to a sudden standstill Friday night following reports of the transmissions.
Officials on Friday said they detected at least 15 infections linked to a 29-year-old man who visited three Itaewon clubs on Saturday before testing positive on Wednesday.
The infections raised concern about a broader spread of the virus in the Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun in a virus meeting on Saturday said the government will employ “all available resources” to find and isolate virus carriers. Officials have also issued a month-long administrative order advising nightclubs, hostess bars and other similar facilities nationwide to close.
Fewer cases in previous weeks had allowed officials to relax social distancing guidelines and schedule a phased reopening of schools, starting with high school seniors returning next Wednesday.
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea says leader Kim Jong Un sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on the 75th anniversary of the allied victory in World War II and wishing Russia success in fighting its coronavirus outbreak.
The report by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency on Saturday came a day after it reported Kim sent a personal message to Chinese President Xi Jinping to praise what he described as China’s success in getting its COVID-19 epidemic under control.
Some experts say the North could intensify its diplomatic outreach to neighbors, particularly China, as it seeks economic help after closing its border for months to fend off the virus.
KCNA says Kim’s message “sincerely wished the president and people of Russia sure victory in their struggle to build a powerful Russia by carrying forward the tradition of the great victory in the war and to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infection.”
HONOLULU — Hawaii is reporting no new cases of the coronavirus for the first time in nearly two months.
The state Department of Health said the number of positive cases remained at 629. The last time there was no new case was on March 13. At that point, Hawaii had a total of just two cases.
Hawaii has been under a statewide stay-at-home order since the last week of March to slow the spread of the virus. Gov. David Ige has begun relaxing some restrictions.
Hawaii also requires those arriving in the state and traveling between the islands to observe 14 days of quarantine.
ASHLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a major tourist draw in southern Oregon, is cancelling its fall season due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a statement the festival noted Oregon Gov . Kate Brown recently said that large gatherings wouldn’t happen in the state until at least late September. The company’s season was to begin Sept. 8. The festival urged 2020 ticketholders to donate tickets or consider a voucher for use in 2021.
The Tony Award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival is among the oldest and largest professional nonprofit theaters in the nation. It prides itself on offering outdoor showings of Shakespeare’s plays performed in a venue similar to what his contemporary audiences would have experienced, but it also offers other types of theater in indoor performance halls.
LAS VEGAS — Hair salon and barber shop owners, an events company, a physician and a man who wants to treat his COVID-19 with malaria drugs touted by President Donald Trump are suing the governor of Nevada over orders he issued in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Aides to Gov. Steve Sisolak and state Attorney General Aaron Ford did not immediately respond Friday to emails about the civil lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.
It seeks a court order to lift closure orders. It accuses the governor, a Democrat, of abusing administrative power and violating U.S. and state constitutional rights to worship and commerce with his emergency declaration in March and subsequent orders closing places where people congregate, including businesses deemed “non-essential” and casinos.
State unemployment programs were overwhelmed, the lawsuit says, because the governor “grossly neglected to ensure that Nevadans have financial benefits to sustain the arbitrary and capricious closures of Nevada businesses, leaving them financially devastated and hungry, and robbing them of their dignity.”
NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana’s governor says the state will have 250 workers in place by the end of next week to contact people infected with the new coronavirus and track down people they have been in close contact with.
Such “contact tracing” is a key factor in whether the state will be able to start easing restrictions and closures of businesses.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is under increasing pressure from Republican officials to restart Louisiana’s economy. Increased testing is also a factor, and Edwards said the state plans to complete a total of 200,000 tests for the month of May.
Edwards said the state has signed contracts with two companies that will establish the contact tracing system. That will bolster the 70 contact tracers currently working. The state expects to eventually hire as many as 700 contract tracers if needed.
Edwards’ current emergency order, banning gatherings of more than 10 people and closing many nonessential businesses, expires May 15. He plans to announce Monday whether the restrictions will be extended or if a phased reopening of businesses can begin on May 16.
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Data from COVID-19 projection models show that the rate of infection is increasing in Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday.
Washington was one of the first U.S. states to be hit hard by the coronavirus, with outbreaks in Seattle-area nursing homes.
The Democratic governor urged people to follow his measured approach to slowly reopening the state the from his stay-at-home restrictions.
Inslee did say that curbside retail sales in Washington could begin almost immediately for businesses with reopening plans approved by health officials.
He said data showed that the reproductive rate of the coronavirus in Western and Eastern Washington was above three when the outbreak was first detected in late February and March. That means each infected person infects about three others. It has since dropped to about one, Inslee said, but data up to April 19 shows that the reproduction rate is on the upswing.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi’s governor says barbershops, salons and gyms will be allowed to reopen Monday but must take steps to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves made the announcement Friday. It was his latest step to gradually remove restrictions he had imposed because of the pandemic. Reeves said people must continue taking precautions against the virus as confirmed case numbers continue to rise. But he also said he is trying to avoid another Great Depression.
Reeves said the pandemic has been “particularly cruel to the working class — those people who work on their feet, those people who don’t have a home office or paid leave.”
Reeves said he is extending his “safer at home” order for another two weeks. It was set to expire Monday morning, and the new expiration date is May 25. It requires medically vulnerable people to stay home and suggests that people work from their homes if possible. It limits indoor gatherings to groups of no more than 10 people and outdoor gatherings to groups of no more than 20.
Rules for Mississippi restaurants took effect Thursday and will remain in place through May 25. They are allowed to reopen their dining rooms and patios with limits on the numbers of customers; servers must wear masks.
BOGOTA, Colombia — A Colombian advertising company is pitching a novel if morbid solution to shortages of hospital beds and coffins during the coronavirus pandemic: combine them.
ABC Displays has created a cardboard bed with metal railings that designers say can double as a casket if a patient dies.
Company manager Rodolfo Gómez said he was inspired to find a way to help after watching events unfold recently in nearby Ecuador.
Families in the coastal city of Guayaquil waited with dead loved ones in their homes for days last month as COVID-19 cases surged. Many could not find or were unable to afford a wood coffin, using donated cardboard ones instead.
Gómez said he plans to donate 10 of his new beds to Colombia’s Amazonas department, where resources are in short supply. So far there is no indication whether the beds will be put to use and no orders have been placed.
The Bogota-based company is usually at work on advertisements but has been mostly paralyzed over the last month as Colombia remains on lockdown. The South American nation has reported nearly 9,500 confirmed cases of the virus.
UNITED NATIONS — The United States has objected to a proposed U.N. resolution on the coronavirus pandemic after diplomats said it had agreed to compromise language with China that didn’t directly mention the World Health Organization.
The WHO is an issue of growing dispute between the world’s two major economic powers.
The U.S. objection to the Security Council resolution drafted by France and Tunisia reflects rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, and apparent differences within the Trump administration.
It also leaves the U.N.’s most powerful body impotent on reacting to the greatest crisis facing the world — and unable to back Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ March 23 call for global cease-fires to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, which diplomats said all 15 Security Council members agree on and is the main point of the resolution.
But the United States and China, veto-wielding permanent council members, have been at odds for almost seven weeks over including a reference to the WHO.
President Donald Trump suspended funding to WHO in early April, accusing the U.N. health agency of failing to stop the virus from spreading when it first surfaced in China, saying it “must be held accountable,” and accusing the WHO of parroting Beijing.
China strongly supports the WHO and insisted that its role in calling for global action on COVID-19 be included in any resolution, diplomats said, while the U.S. insisted on no mention of WHO and a reference to “transparency” on the COVID-19 pandemic, which China opposed.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The number of people dying from the coronavirus in Ohio’s nursing homes has continued to increase at an alarming pace.
Close to 500 residents of long-term care centers have died of COVID-19 in the past three weeks, according to data released by the state this week. That’s nearly double the total reported for the previous two weeks.
The increase in deaths could be attributed to a significant jump or a backlog of cases being added over the past week, said Melanie Amato, a spokeswoman for the state health department.
Since mid-April, more than 4,300 nursing home residents and staff members have tested positive for the virus.
The numbers don’t tell the entire story of how the virus has devastated nursing homes during the pandemic because the Ohio Department of Health has only released the totals for just the past three weeks.
Before that, the state didn’t require local health departments to report nursing home deaths linked to the virus, so any numbers collected before mid-April may not be accurate, Amato said Friday.
Overall, the nursing home deaths reported since April 15 account for 40% of all the virus-related deaths in Ohio since the first one was reported in mid-March.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Restaurants throughout South Carolina can soon reopen with limited, indoor dining service.
Starting Monday, Gov. Henry McMaster said restaurants could open for indoor dining as long as they kept patrons to 50% occupancy, placed tables 6-to-8 feet apart and followed stringent cleaning and sanitizing guidelines. Among the new guidelines are to keep hand sanitizer at entrances and remove previously shared condiments from tables.
“A lot of iconic restaurants have actually gone out of business, and the whole state regrets that,” the governor said Friday, in announcing what he calls “phase 2” of a process to get dining rooms back open.
The Republican governor is gradually lifting restrictions initially put in place to stem the coronavirus outbreak and promising to soon discuss reopening other businesses.
This week, restaurants were allowed to open for limited outdoor dining. Next week, McMaster said he would likely address “close-contact” businesses like hair and nail salons, which have been closed for weeks to help slow the spread.
CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has released the city’s five-step path toward reopening, which includes some stricter standards than the state plan released earlier this week.
The Democratic mayor warned on Friday that progress is dependent on residents continuing to stay home through the month of May to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 1,248 people in the nation’s third-largest city.
Lightfoot’s plan projects substantial changes to life in the city even after restrictions start to loosen, including continuing to require people to wear face coverings through the fourth phase. Chicago is in the second phase of the plan, which requires people to stay home except for essential activities or work.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan split the state into four regions that can advance — or be forced to pull back — independently of the others based on certain factors. Chicago is included in the northeastern region along with the rest of Cook County and eight surrounding counties.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s nonpartisan legislative analyst says the state can expect budget deficits through at least 2024 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek released an analysis on Friday showing the deficits could total up to $126 billion depending on the severity of the recession.
Petek says the deficit for the upcoming budget year could be as high as $31 billion. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is projecting a deficit of $54.3 billion in the upcoming budget year.
The numbers are different because the governor’s projection is based on his January budget proposal. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimate is based on the current budget.
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the death of a 5-year-old boy who showed symptoms of a rare condition is challenging assumptions that children can’t be hurt by COVID-19 complications.
Cuomo did not provide details about the child who died Thursday. But the Democratic governor said said there have been 73 reported cases in the state of youngsters showing symptoms like those of Kawasaki disease — a rare inflammatory condition in children — and toxic shock syndrome.
New York is the hardest-hit U.S. state in the coronavirus pandemic.
Cuomo calls it “every parent’s nightmare” that a child could be affected by the virus.
Dozens of children elsewhere in the U.S. have been hospitalized with the condition, which scientists think may be linked to the coronavirus and has been seen in Europe. Symptoms include prolonged fever, severe abdominal pain and trouble breathing.
Source: Associated Press