US Nears 100,000 Deaths

Health workers carry the bodies of patients who died of coronavirus in New York. (Reuters)

As Americans begin an unusual Memorial Day weekend, flags around the country will be at half-staff for victims of the virus. The death count in the U.S. is likely to hit 100,000 by early next week.

President Donald Trump said he ordered the flags to be lowered Friday through Sunday “in memory of the Americans we have lost to the CoronaVirus.” Flags will be at half-staff Monday “in honor of the men and women in our Military who have made the Ultimate Sacrifice for our Nation,” Trump tweeted.

Americans itching to get out of the house this weekend “can be outside” if they take proper social distancing precautions, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx advised Friday. “You can play golf. You can play tennis with marked balls. You can go to the beaches” while keeping at least six feet apart, she said.

About 97,000 people have died from the virus in the United States, more than a quarter of the 342,000 deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. There are more than 5.3 million confirmed cases around the globe, with 1.6 million in the United States alone.

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Here are some highlights to know Saturday:

  • In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has eased restrictions on nonessential gatherings, allowing birthday parties, barbecues and any other gatherings of 10 people or less as long as they practice social distancing and wear masks.
  • But Justice Department officials have warned Los Angeles and Illinois their lockdown orders could be illegal if they are too restrictive.
  • Trump golfed Saturday at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia. Golf courses have remained open in the state under the governor’s stay-at-home order.
  • A sick hairstylist in Missouri may have exposed 91 people at a Great Clips while working with COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Homeland Security loosens travel ban restrictions for some foreign athletes and their inner circles, including players in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.

What we’re talking about: A growing number of studies and data on COVID-19 deaths confirm the link between obesity and an increased risk of serious illness and death from the virus.

Some good news: Three vaccine candidates are showing early promise.

Tracking the spread:He was negative for the flu but positive he had COVID-19. How his case could help experts.

Tale of two cities:100 years ago, Philadelphia chose a parade over social distancing during the 1918 Spanish flu – and paid a heavy price

Staying Apart, Together: USA TODAY brings a newsletter about how to cope with these trying times straight to your inbox. 📥

New York Times’ Sunday front page is list of coronavirus victims

The New York Times has devoted Sunday’s entire front page to a long list of names of people who have died during the coronavirus pandemic.

The names and brief descriptions culled from obituaries from around the country fill six columns under the headline “U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, an Incalculable Loss,” with a subheadline reading: “They Were Not Simply Names on a List. They Were Us.”

The all-text list takes the place of the usual articles, photographs and graphics in an effort to convey the vastness and variety of lives lost, according to Simone Landon, assistant editor of the graphics desk.

Tom Bodkin, chief creative officer of The Times, said he did not remember any front pages without images, though there have been pages with only graphics, during his 40 years at the newspaper.

– The Associated Press

Sick hairstylist may have exposed 91 people

A Missouri hairstylist served 84 clients over eight days while experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus, potentially exposing them and seven co-workers. Now, one of those coworkers is sick, health officials said.

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department announced in a Facebook post Saturday that 56 other Great Clips clients were potentially exposed by the second stylist.

The announcement came one day after the health department’s director, Clay Goddard, said in a news briefing that the first stylist to get sick worked eight days from May 12 to May 20, with only the 18th off. The coworker then worked five shifts from May 16 to 20 while experiencing very mild symptoms.

All of the two stylists’ clients wore masks and will be tested. The owner of the Great Clips said in a statement that the salon will be closed until it goes through sanitizing and deep cleaning.

The two cases come just days after city officials announced plans to relax even more distancing requirements and about a week after the health department started seeing an influx of new travel-related infections.

– The Associated Press

Trump administration exempts foreign athletes from entry ban

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf signed an order Friday that exempts certain foreign professional athletes from the ban on entry into the U.S.

“Professional sporting events provide much needed economic benefits, but equally important, they provide community pride and national unity,” Wolf said in a press release. “In today’s environment, Americans need their sports. It’s time to reopen the economy and it’s time we get our professional athletes back to work.”

The order also exempts the athletes’ staff, team and league leadership, spouses and dependents from entry restrictions.

The order applies to Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the Women’s National Basketball Association, the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour, the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, the National Hockey League, the Association of Tennis Professionals, and the Women’s Tennis Association.

Spain to reopen borders in July

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced Saturday that the country would be open to international tourism starting in July, Madrid-based newspaper El Pais and Reuters reported.

“Spain needs tourism and tourism needs security,” Sanchez said.

According to The Financial Times, tourism accounts for 12% of Spain’s gross domestic product. The country welcomes 80 millions tourists each year.

The rest of Europe won’t reopen until after June 15 and probably later than that for non-EU citizens.

– Jayme Deerwester

Hawaii struggles to enforce vacation rental quarantines

Honolulu is not capable of effectively enforcing a mandatory, 14-day quarantine on visitors staying in Oahu vacation rentals during the coronavirus pandemic, an official said.

Honolulu’s Acting Director of Planning and Permitting Kathy Sokugawa told state senators her department does not have the ability to monitor activity at reported vacation rentals, Hawaii Public Radio reported Thursday.

“We definitely aren’t able to help with the self-isolation and quarantine,” said Sokugawa, whose department is responsible for enforcing the city’s short-term rental ordinance.

Vacation rentals were designated nonessential businesses and ordered by Democratic Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to cease operations because of the pandemic, although traditional hotels are permitted to operate. Despite the prohibition, the planning and permitting department has issued more than 300 warnings to suspected vacation rental operators, Sokugawa said.

– The Associated Press

Public remarks led to Florida data curator’s firing

The woman who raised questions about Florida’s COVID-19 data after being ousted as the data’s curator had been reprimanded several times and ultimately fired for violating Health Department policy by making public remarks about the information, state records show.

Rebekah Jones’ comments over the past week and a half in emails to researchers, interviews with a handful of media outlets and blog posts have sought to sow doubt about the credibility of the data now that she is no longer in that role.

State health officials strenuously deny any issue with the information’s accuracy as Gov. Ron DeSantis seeks to make a data-driven case for a step-by-step reopening of the state’s battered economy following safer-at-home orders. The Republican governor lashed out at a news conference earlier this week saying Jones had a pattern of “insubordination” and should have been fired months ago.

– The Associated Press

Chief Justice to 2020 graduates: ‘You will be tested’

In a virtual commencement address to his son’s high school class, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. told graduates to appreciate their “genuine accomplishments” while preparing to be tested by a “jarring and unexpected world.”

“I think the pandemic is the world’s way of saying to mankind, you’re not in charge,” he said. “The pandemic has pierced our illusion of certainty and control.”

Like the Greatest Generation who fought in WWII, Roberts told students that they were among “one of the most challenged” graduating classes. He encouraged them to proceed with humility, compassion and courage. “The pandemic should teach us at least that,” he said.

Amid the sobering warning and advice, Roberts also added a bit of deadpan humor. “Now as for working remotely, I was asked whether the Justices participating in arguments from their homes would wear robes,” he said. “I didn’t know if the person was asking judicial or bath.”

‘Strong’ after shooting, El Paso now vulnerable to virus

Inked on skin and hashtagged on social media, the words “El Paso Strong” united city residents after a mass shooting at a Walmart last year.

As COVID-19 took hold in El Paso, government officials have tried to repurpose the slogan, much like “Don’t mess with Texas,” originally an anti-littering slogan, or “Keep Calm and Carry On,” a little-used WWII poster popularized in the internet age. But “El Paso Strong” hasn’t been embraced by the public in the context of the virus, which is challenging community ties in a region that normally transcends borders.

The region’s top elected official, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, initially supported tapping “El Paso Strong” to rally residents’ support for social distancing with the same zeal as they helped each other after the Aug. 3 shooting.

In some ways, life during the pandemic is not unlike the first few weeks after the shooting, when many residents were afraid to go out.

– The Associated Press

Obesity increases risk of COVID-19 severity, studies show

The chronic conditions that increase the risk of serious illness and death of COVID-19 are by now well known: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and being older than 65. Obesity is less well known or understood, but a growing number of studies and data on COVID-19 deaths confirm the link.

The extra weight on people in the 40-plus BMI range who contract COVID-19 increases the chance they will require hospitalization, most likely in the intensive care unit. It also hampers the ability of physicians to treat them, especially with ventilators, doctors say. Read more here.

– Jayne O’Donnell

Feds reassign warden at Louisiana prison hit hard by coronavirus

Federal officials have reassigned the warden of a Louisiana prison where the coronavirus has ravaged the compound, leaving eight inmates dead and infecting dozens of other prisoners and staffers.

The Bureau of Prisons said Friday that Oakdale, Louisiana, warden Rodney Myers had been assigned to “temporary duty” at the bureau’s South Central Regional Office in Texas. The bureau did not elaborate on the reason for the move. Myers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Early in the COVID-19 crisis, Oakdale had become the epicenter of the outbreak in the vast federal prison system. Conditions at the compound had drawn lawsuits from the ACLU and inmates who feared they would fall victim to the virus’ rapid spread.

– Kevin Johnson

NBA, Disney discuss resuming season in late July at Florida complex

The NBA’s plans to resume its season have taken a more concrete form.

The league has entered “exploratory conversations with the Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement Saturday.

The NBA, which suspended its season when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, has explored the idea of using a single site to resume games, and Las Vegas and Houston were other sites considered. But if the NBA restarts, the Disney complex makes sense for a variety of reasons, starting with the NBA’s relationship with Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN, two of the league’s main TV partners.

– Jeff Zillgitt

DOJ to LA, Illinois: Lockdown orders may be illegal if too restrictive

The Justice Department is warning state and local officials that stay-at-home orders aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus may be illegal if they become too strict.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a letter Friday to Los Angeles officials that their recent comments suggesting that stay-at-home orders may be extended “may be both arbitrary and unlawful.” The Justice Department also said Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “sweeping limitations” on his state’s residents raise constitutional concerns.

New York permits recreational gatherings of up to 10 people

In time for Memorial Day weekend, New York will allow all gatherings of up to 10 people with proper social distancing and mask-wearing.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order easing the ban on nonessential gatherings of any size, which took effect March 23 as the coronavirus rapidly spread through New York. His move followed a lawsuit from the New York Civil Liberties Union challenging a prior order that allowed gatherings only for religious services.

The decision will enable New Yorkers to spend time together in parks, backyards and beaches over the holiday weekend as long as they maintain distance and adhere to the state Department of Health’s cleaning and disinfecting protocols. However, beaches in New York City are closed for swimming.

– Jon Campbell and the Associated Press

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Donald Trump orders US flags lowered to honor coronavirus victims

President Donald Trump said Thursday he will order U.S. flags to be lowered over federal buildings to honor those who have died from the coronavirus.

The order, which Trump said would continue into the Memorial Day weekend, comes as the nation approaches 100,000 deaths from the virus. Flags traditionally fly at half-staff on Memorial Day to honor the nation’s fallen members of the military.

Trump’s decision came hours after congressional Democrats sent a letter requesting flags be lowered when the coronavirus death toll hits 100,000.

– John Fritze and Nicholas Wu

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