The latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

WASHINGTON — The World Health Organization warned nations Tuesday against scaling back coronavirus restrictions too quickly, saying a premature push to return to normalcy could fuel a rapid acceleration of new cases.

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Hundreds of people gather on the beach Sunday in Newport Beach, Calif. Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez

“We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now that it’s going to keep going down,” Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies program, told reporters during a briefing Tuesday.

He cautioned that countries could face another peak of coronavirus cases even before a presumed second wave of infections months from now. “The disease can jump up at any time,” he added.

That warning echoed concerns from public health experts and others who have urged local, state and federal leaders to move slowly as they seek to reopen their economies. But the pleas for caution collided with a shifting reality as spring gives way to summer.

In the United States, where the death toll on Tuesday approached 100,000, crowds flooded newly reopened beaches and other public spaces over Memorial Day weekend, even as the virus claimed more than 2,000 lives.

At a club in Houston, dozens splashed around the pool and sipped drinks on the patio. In North Carolina, thousands packed the stands shoulder-to-shoulder on opening night of a speedway, where face masks were the exception. In Daytona Beach, Florida, even after an event called “Orlando Invades Daytona” was canceled, hundreds of people danced in the street and on top of cars near the boardwalk.

Read the full story on the World Health Organization’s warning here.

Third U.S. service member dies of coronavirus complications

An Army Reserve soldier became the third U.S. service member to die of complications from a coronavirus infection, the Army said Tuesday, as the number of cases among American troops passed 6,100 worldwide.

It was not clear where the soldier died or whether the soldier had been mobilized as part of the Pentagon’s effort to combat the pandemic. An Army Reserve spokesman did not immediately provide more information.

It has been six weeks since the last service member died of coronavirus complications.

Navy Chief Petty Officer Charles Robert Thacker Jr., a sailor assigned to the virus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt, died in a naval hospital in Guam in April. Douglas Hickok, a captain in the New Jersey Army National Guard, died in a civilian hospital in March before his unit was mobilized to assist with the pandemic response.

There have been a total of 35 coronavirus-linked deaths associated with the Defense Department, the agency’s data shows. Most of those deaths, 18, occurred among the civilian employee ranks. Nine contractors have died, along with five military dependents.

The Pentagon data shows that 165 service members required hospitalization because of virus complications.

Read the full story about the coronavirus hitting the U.S. military here.

McConnell discusses prospects for another round of relief

Faced with a collapsed job market, Congress needs to tend to unemployment insurance funds supporting millions thrown out of work, but surging debt means there are limits to the scope of federal aid to help heal the coronavirus -damaged economy, the Senate’s top leader said Tuesday.

In his first public appearances in his home state of Kentucky since March 13 due to the pandemic, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke at length about the prospects of another round of coronavirus relief passing the Republican-led Senate.

“Obviously, a lot of Americans have lost their jobs, so we need to make sure we have unemployment insurance properly funded for as long as we need,” McConnell said during an appearance in Lexington. “And that could well lead to yet another bill.”

McConnell said another round of federal assistance to state and local governments is possible, but he stopped short of committing to it. He expressed concern about the financial plight faced by cities, counties and states but added that the mushrooming national debt is also a concern.

“We don’t know yet,” the senator said. “We’re still measuring the impact of what we’ve already done, and all of that money is not yet out.”

In Kentucky, economic damage caused by the pandemic will force cutting about $457 million, or 4%, from the General Fund in the current fiscal year, plus a potential special legislative session to downsize the Road Fund. The General Fund pays for most state services.

Gov. Andy Beshear has said Kentucky has enough in its unemployment insurance trust fund until summer to meet the unprecedented demand for benefits but will eventually need a cash infusion.

The health crisis, and the economic fallout, is unfolding as McConnell seeks a seventh Senate term in this year’s elections in Kentucky.

Read the full story here.

North Carolina says Republicans need safety plan with ‘several scenarios’ for convention

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Prompted by President Donald Trump’s threat to pull the Republican National Convention from Charlotte unless “full attendance” was allowed, North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen requested a written COVID-19 safety plan from the CEO of the Republican National Convention Monday.

In a letter obtained by The Charlotte Observer, Cohen wrote to CEO Marcia Kelly that “we look forward to continuing to work with you and your team to ensure a safe RNC,” and there must be “several scenarios planned that can be deployed depending on the public health situation.”

Gov. Roy Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles have not said definitively whether or not the convention will be held in August, instead insisting that data and science will govern their decisions on whether or not the RNC will go forward. Cohen’s letter is the clearest sign yet that the state is seriously planning for an in-person convention in Charlotte in August.

Before the pandemic, the RNC was expected to draw 50,000 people to Charlotte. Currently, under the second phase of Cooper’s reopening plan, the size of indoor gatherings is capped at 10 people.

Unless “full attendance” is allowed, Trump wrote on Twitter Monday, “we will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site.”

It appears that Trump’s comments were a jolt to the ongoing negotiations between state officials and Republicans. On Friday, Cooper, Cohen, Kelly and Cooper aide Jordan Whichard spoke by phone to discuss the convention, according to the letter. When Trump tweeted his threat Monday, the president shared “an accelerated decision-making timeline,” Cohen wrote. An RNC spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read the full story here.

Putin says Russia passed peak of epidemic, orders WWII parade

President Vladimir Putin said Russia has passed the peak of the coronavirus epidemic and ordered preparations to resume for military parades marking the 75th anniversary of the World War II victory.

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A man poses for a photo with a red flag in front of the closed Red Square during the 75th anniversary of the Nazi defeat in World War II in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, May 9. AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin

Moscow and other cities should stage the postponed May 9 Victory Day parades on June 24, “given that the situation in the country as a whole, in most regions and in the Armed Forces is stable, and that it is stabilizing in many places after the peak of infections,” Putin told Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in a videoconference Tuesday.

The Kremlin had planned particularly grand commemorations for the 75th anniversary this year, before Putin was forced in April to postpone the nationwide events as the coronavirus spread. The annual Red Square parade in Moscow involving thousands of troops and Russia’s most sophisticated weapons has long been an occasion for him to project a sense of power and national pride.

With Russia’s economic activity declining by a third during a two-month nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the epidemic, the Kremlin is now seeking to limit the fallout.

The rate of new infections has started to slow in Russia, which over the weekend slipped to third place in the number of total cases globally, after Brazil and the U.S.

Diagnoses rose 2.5% in the past day to 362,342. Russia reported a record 174 deaths in the same period, taking the total to 3,807.

The Kremlin is considering holding both the parade and a referendum that would open the way for Putin to remain in power until 2036, RBC website reported last week, citing four unidentified officials.

WHO warns countries they could face new peak of cases before ‘second wave’

The World Health Organization has warned that countries could face a second peak of coronavirus cases even before they enter a second wave of infections, echoing concerns expressed by opponents of rapid reopening in countries around the world.

During a briefing on Monday, WHO emergencies program head Mike Ryan suggested that the presumption that a second surge in countries with dropping infection rates can only occur later this year, in fall or winter, may be misleading.

“When we speak about a second wave classically, what we often mean is that there will be a first wave, the disease by itself effectively goes to a very low level and then recurs a couple of months later,” Ryan said. “But we need to be also cognizant of the fact that the disease can jump up at any time. We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now that it’s going to keep going down.”

Similar patterns have played out during other pandemics in the past, he said.

The WHO warned North America, Southeast Asia, Europe and other regions against scaling back coronavirus restrictions and public health measures too quickly, which could result in a rapid acceleration in the emergence of new case clusters, Ryan said.

While the United States and European Union countries have pushed ahead with reopening measures in recent weeks, efforts to tie eased restrictions to virus conditions have varied widely.

In Germany, for instance, the reopening of regions is tied to a maximum threshold of new coronavirus cases, meaning that the easing of restrictions could automatically be put on hold if there are signs of a second surge.

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Donald Trump said last week that “we are not closing our country” in case a second wave emerges.

Stocks soar as New York Stock Exchange reopens floor to traders

Stocks roared Tuesday coming off the holiday weekend, as the national shutdown continues to unwind, more drug companies chase coronavirus vaccines and the New York Stock Exchange reopened its floor to traders for the first time in two months.

The Dow Jones industrial average shot up nearly 600 points Tuesday, about 2.3 percent, on the heels of its 3.3 percent gain last week.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 57 points, about 1.9 percent. And the tech-heavy Nasdaq showed a 1.6 percent gain. All three indexes are coming off strong gains last week and are positive for May.

“With more signs of the worst of the virus being behind us investors are beginning to focus on more countries reopening and the lifting of travel bans around the world,” said Torsten Slok, chief economist for Deutsche Bank Securities in an email. “More signs of reopening and more signs of travel bans being lifted creates more clarity for markets.”

Dow component Merck was up in early trading after the pharmaceutical giant announced several advances against the coronavirus, including teaming with another company on the development of a vaccine as well as new treatments for virus patients.

Merck joins several companies racing to develop a vaccine to stop the disease, which has claimed nearly 100,000 American lives.

Maryland-based Novavax also reported Monday that it has entered human study for a vaccine virus. Massachusetts-based Moderna last week reported that it had found good results from a small, early trial for its own vaccine. Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and others are also trying to develop a vaccine for use as early as this year.

“One of these is going to work,” said Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner in an interview with CNBC Tuesday morning.

Read the full story here.

U.S. new-home sales post slight gain in April

BALTIMORE — U.S. new home sales ticked up 0.6% in April, a surprising gain amid the coronavirus outbreak that hints at the relative health of potential buyers.

The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that sales of new single-family homes rose slightly to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 623,000 last month. This followed a decline of 13.7% in March. Over the past 12 months, sales are down 6.2%.

Read the full story here.

Researchers to look into why Japan is seeing fewer virus deaths

Eight universities and research institutes, including Keio University, have launched a joint research project to investigate what makes a person more susceptible to experiencing severe symptoms of the coronavirus.

Researchers will look for genes common among Japanese people that are associated with severe illness, in light of the fact that there have been fewer deaths per capita in Japan than in other Western countries.

In Asian countries, mortality rates from the new coronavirus are lower than in the West. In addition to more people wearing masks and differences in health care systems, some think the difference could be related to the genes of people in the region or of certain ethnic groups.

The research group will collect blood samples from 600 people who were infected with the virus from about 40 hospitals nationwide and analyze the genetic information.

The researchers will examine whether there are genetic differences between those who are mildly ill or asymptomatic and those who are severely ill or have died.

They hope to have the data compiled by around September.

The research group will also participate in an international joint research project regarding genetic factors that is also being conducted at research institutions overseas to compare data.

Federal coronavirus testing plan puts burden on states

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s new strategy for coronavirus testing puts much of the burden on states while promising to provide supplies such as swabs and material to transport specimens.

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Members of the Illinois National Guard work with the public at the state’s COVID-19 testing facility at Rolling Meadows High School on Friday in Rolling Meadows, Ill. Joe Lewnard/Daily Herald via AP

The plan, which was delivered Sunday to members of Congress, drew harsh criticism Monday from Democrats. In a joint letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. and Washington Sen. Patty Murray said the administration “still does not have a serious plan for increasing testing to stop the spread of the virus.”

The report comes as the U.S. death toll from the pandemic approaches 100,000. President Trump, who has been eager to revive the economy by loosening coronavirus-related restrictions, vowed Monday, “Together we will vanquish the virus and America will rise from this crisis to new and even greater heights.”

The 81-page document from the Department of Health and Human Services says, “State plans must establish a robust testing program that ensures adequacy of COVID-19 testing, including tests for contact tracing, and surveillance of asymptomatic persons to determine community spread.”

It says the federal government will “ensure that States have the collection supplies that they need through December 2020.” To that end, the administration plans to acquire and distribute 100 million swabs and 100 million tubes of viral transport media.

The HHS document, which The Washington Post first reported, recommends that all states “have an objective of testing a minimum of 2 percent of their population in May and June.”

Read the full story on the federal testing strategy here.

People are wearing hazmat suits on planes, but should they?

Last year, supermodel Naomi Campbell made headlines when she shared a video of herself very thoroughly sanitizing her Qatar Airlines seat. There were disinfecting wipes involved, plastic gloves and a face mask.

And that was before the coronavirus pandemic.

With the world battling a highly contagious global health threat, Campbell has taken her in-flight hygiene habits a step further by wearing a hazmat suit on board.

Campbell is not alone in wearing hazmat suits on planes. The behavior is becoming more common for regular air travelers, as well as airline staff.

Disposable PPE suits can cost less than $20 online, but health experts aren’t advocating wearing them on planes during the pandemic.

“Wearing a hazmat suit on an airplane is unnecessary and could cause undue concern for other travelers,” Scott Pauley, a press officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told The Washington Post by email. “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

Qatar Airways announced May 18 it would require its cabin crew to wear disposable Personal Protective Equipment as well as safety goggles, gloves and a mask. Amer Sweidan/Courtesy of Qatar Airlines

Nonetheless, multiple carriers are requiring flight attendants to wear hazmat suits on planes, including Philippine Airlines, AirAsia and, most recently, Qatar Airways, CNN reported.

On May 18, Qatar Airways announced it would require members of its cabin crew to wear disposable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suits over their uniforms in addition to other gear including safety goggles, gloves and a mask.

According to Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer for Healix International, a company specializing in security and international medical and travel-assistance services, neither the European Union Airline Safety Association (EASA) nor the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recommends hazmat suits for airline crew unless they’re dealing with sick passengers.

Hyzler said one concern with wearing hazmat suits is improperly getting out of them. If there’s any trace of the coronavirus on the suit, wearers may come into contact with it as they take off their PPE. The CDC did say recently, “coronavirus primarily spreads from person to person and not easily from a contaminated surface,” The Washington Post reported.

Another issue is they can give the wearer a false sense of security.

“This is something with all PPE that makes the wearer think that they are somehow better protected,” Hyzler said.

Read the full story.

Cities nationwide rethink their streetscapes in a reopening world

Forced distancing required because of the coronavirus prompted several cities quickly to close some public roads so cooped-up residents anxious to get outside for exercise could do so safely.

Following moves to shut, narrow or repurpose streets from Oakland to Tampa, cities including Washington are trying to determine how those emergency closures might have lasting impacts on some of urban America’s most important, and contested, real estate.

Indianapolis restaurants opened on May 22 but were limited to seating guests at outdoor tables. The city closed several streets to traffic to accommodate larger outdoor areas for restaurants to provide for social distancing. Associated Press/Michael Conroy

In Washington, lawmakers are drafting legislation to make it easier for shutdown-battered restaurants to space out their tables by putting them on public roads, parking spaces and sidewalks at least for months, and to give neighborhoods a way to close streets to traffic to make walking and biking safer. A mayoral advisory group made similar recommendations Thursday.

Officials around the country say their moves to change public roadways have been met with broad support, though they acknowledge some early missteps, such as not giving enough emphasis to the specific needs of disadvantaged neighborhoods. Some of the newly closed streets also were underused or met with objections from some businesses.

But cities have taken steps to address those concerns, including reopening some roads and closing others as they seek to get the balance right..

Trump threatens to move Republican convention if N.C. governor won’t allow full attendance

President Donald Trump demanded Monday that North Carolina’s Democratic governor sign off “immediately” on allowing the Republican National Convention to move forward in August with full attendance despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump’s tweets Monday about the RNC, planned for Charlotte, come just two days after the North Carolina recorded its largest daily increase in positive cases yet.

On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper moved the state into a second phase of gradual reopening with some further loosening of restrictions on hair salons, barbers and restaurants. But he said the state must continue to closely watch virus trends and has ordered entertainment venues, gyms and bars to remain closed.

“Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed… full attendance in the Arena,” Trump tweeted Monday.

He added that Republicans “must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced…to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site.”

Cooper’s office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the tweets.

A week ago, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel asserted on a call with reporters that the convention slated for Aug. 24-27 would be held at least partly in person and vowed not to hold “a virtual convention.” She said at the time that the RNC has enlisted a medical adviser and that the party was consulting with the Charlotte mayor and the governor.

Several days later, during a visit to the Charlotte area, a top Trump administration health official sounded less certain. Asked about what preparations Charlotte will need to make to safely host the RNC, federal Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said increasing testing capacity will be important. However, he did not refer to a traditional in-person convention as a certainty, but rather noted that “we’re several months away from the possibility of the RNC.”

Before Monday, Cooper and Trump had yet to publicly spar during the pandemic. While Cooper has urged the federal government to help North Carolina get more testing supplies and protective gear, he’s avoided criticizing Trump by name. Trump, meanwhile, has refrained before Monday from calling out Cooper as he has other Democratic governors.

Cooper, who narrowly won election over an incumbent Republican in 2016, faces a challenge in November’s gubernatorial race from Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who has urged a faster reopening of state businesses.

Spain will life quarantine requirement for international visitors

MADRID — Spain says it will lift a 2-week mandatory confinement for all travelers arriving from overseas starting July 1.

The government said in a brief statement that Cabinet ministers made the decision to lift the mandatory quarantine during a meeting Monday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had already announced over the weekend that his nation was ready to welcome some foreign visitors in July.

The government is looking to establish safe corridors between parts of Spain that have the outbreak under control and similar areas in Europe that are an important source of tourists. There has been no talk so far of reopening to travelers from outside the European Union.

Spain is one of the world’s most visited countries, attracting over 80 million international tourists each year. The industry represents 12% of Spain’s GDP and employs 2.6 million people. Its economic importance is even greater on Spain’s Canary and Balearic archipelagos.

West Bank to reopen as virus spread slows dramatically

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian prime minister says the West Bank will reopen on Tuesday after a dramatic slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said shops, restaurants and mosques and churches would reopen on Tuesday, while government offices would reopen on Wednesday following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, imposed a strict lockdown in March.

The Palestinians reported 368 cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank, with two deaths.


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