The latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

A shift to mail voting is increasing the chances that Americans will not know the winner of November’s presidential race on election night, a scenario that is fueling worries about whether President Trump will use the delay to sow doubts about the results.

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A worker processes mail-in ballots Wednesday at the Bucks County Board of Elections office before a primary election in Doylestown, Pa. Associated Press/Matt Slocum

State election officials in some key battleground states have recently warned that it may take days to count what they expect will be a surge of ballots sent by mail out of concern for safety amid the pandemic. In an election as close as 2016’s, a delayed tally in key states could keep news organizations from calling a winner.

“It may be several days before we know the outcome of the election,” Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state, said in an interview. “We have to prepare for that now and accept that reality.”

Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, Frank LaRose, pleaded for “patience” from the public. “We’ve gotten accustomed to this idea that by the middle of the evening of election night, we’re going to know all the results,” LaRose said Wednesday at a forum on voting hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Election night reporting may take a little longer” this year, he warned.

Delayed results are common in a few states where elections are already conducted largely by mail. But a presidential election hasn’t been been left in limbo since 2000, when ballot irregularities in Florida led to weeks of chaos and court fights.

For some election experts and Democrats, the prospect of similar uncertainty is especially worrisome this year, as Trump disparages mail-in voting as fraudulent and has claimed without evidence that widespread mail balloting will lead to a “rigged” election.

Read the full story about November’s election here.

Wall Street closes higher on economic revival hopes

Stocks closed higher Wednesday, extending the market’s gains into a third day on hopes for a coming economic revival as larger swaths of the country relax stay-at-home mandates imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic and clear the way for more businesses to reopen.

Despite a choppy day of trading, the S&P 500 gained 1.5 percent and finished above the 3,000-point mark for the first time since early March. The Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed above 25,000 points, where it hasn’t closed since March.

Financial, industrial and health care stocks accounted for a big slice of the gains. Department store chains, which took some of the market’s worst losses earlier this year when worries about the recession were peaking, surged amid optimism that life can inch back toward normal.

“Today is a little bit of a follow-through from yesterday,” said Bill Northey, senior investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “This is optimism about the reopening of the U.S. economy and, really, the global economy.”

The S&P 500 is back to where it was in early March, in the early days of its sell-off on worries about the coming steep recession. It’s now down only 10.3 percent from its high in February, recovering from a nearly 34 percent drop in March.

Massive amounts of stimulus for the economy from the Federal Reserve and Capitol Hill helped start the rally in late March. The gains have accelerated more recently on hopes that economic growth can return later this year as governments ease up on business-shutdown orders meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In recent weeks, stocks whose profits are most closely tied to the strength of the economy have been showing more life.

Read the full story on Wednesday’s stock market gains here.

How one French town made going to the beach safe again

For weeks, France’s 3,500 miles of beaches lay empty, closed off to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in a country that has seen more than 28,000 deaths. On May 16, a few days after the French government started lifting confinement orders, most of these beaches reopened to the public, but only for exercise – reclining on a blanket for hours was not allowed.

One resort, though, is experimenting with social-distancing-compliant sunbathing. La Grande-Motte, a resort town near Montpellier renowned for its homogenous architecture, has divided its expanse of sand into 75 squares, marked off by stakes and ropes.

La Grande-Motte set up the first organized static beach in France. The municipality built 75 spots that can hold 250 people and are delineated by wooden stakes and ropes to keep people at a distance from one another. Sandra Mehl for The Washington Post

The spots must be booked two days in advance on the municipality’s website. Each slot is for three hours – the static beach closes at lunchtime for a safe turnover. Security guards crew the entrance. “That makes for a strange feeling of an extraordinary experience,” said Martin Gauthe, who came to the beach with his wife, Christine, from Clapiers, on the outskirts of Montpellier. “Plus, it’s nice, we’re not on top of one another, and most importantly, we can see the horizon.”

Outside of the static beach’s 75 squares, no one is allowed to lie on the sand. Municipal officers use lifeguard stations to monitor the coast, giving warning to those who might breach the nationwide rules.

“Just before 9 a.m., we were already on the website for a chance to get a space,” Gauthe said. “Being here, we get the feeling that we’re experiencing something exceptional, something that won’t happen again, because either all the beaches are going to reopen soon or we’ll have to confine ourselves again if there is a second wave of the virus. Either way, this static beach device will disappear.”

On June 2, France will enter the second phase of its planned reopening. At that time, restrictions on the country’s beaches may be lifted, bringing to an end La Grande-Motte’s singular experiment. But, with fears of a second wave, other towns on France’s coasts are already talking about copying the model.

U.S. is about to mark at least 100,000 deaths from virus

WASHINGTON — The United States was on the cusp of marking at least 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus, a once-unthinkable toll that now appears to be just the beginning of untold misery in the months ahead as Las Vegas casinos and Walt Disney World make plans to reopen, crowds of unmasked Americans swarm beaches and public health officials predict a resurgence by fall.

The stark reality comes as only half of Americans said they would be willing to get vaccinated if scientists are successful in developing a vaccine, according to a new poll released Wednesday from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

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Artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada works on a 20,000 square foot mural of a healthcare worker near the Queens Museum. The mural is to honor those who lost their lives during the coronavirus pandemic, especially minority healthcare workers. Associated/Seth Wenig

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, issued a stern warning after viewing video showing Memorial Day crowds gathered at a pool party in Missouri.

“We have a situation in which you see that type of crowding with no mask and people interacting. That’s not prudent and that’s inviting a situation that could get out of control,” he said during an interview Wednesday on CNN. “Don’t start leapfrogging some of the recommendations in the guidelines because that’s really tempting fate and asking for trouble.”

After months of lockdowns in countries around the world, places have begun reopening in stages. Mediterranean beaches and Las Vegas casinos laid out plans to welcome tourists again. Churches began opening up. And humans restless at being cooped up indoors for weeks began venturing outside in droves, often without practicing safe social distancing or wearing protective coverings.

Summertime is already a time when more people head outdoors. This year, it also means the every-four-years national political conventions in the United States where the two major political parties anoint a presidential candidate.

The events generally draw thousands of delegates and others who converge for several days. Fauci said it’s too early to say whether this year’s conventions should be held as normal.

“If we have a really significant diminution in the number of new cases and hospitalizations and we’re at a level where it’s really very low, you might have some capability of gathering,” he said. “But I think we need to reserve judgment right now, because we’re a few months from there. Hopefully we will see that diminution. If we don’t, then I would have significant reservation about that.”

Read the full story here.

House to cast first-ever remote vote as Republicans wage constitutional challenge

WASHINGTON – House lawmakers prepared to cast the first-ever remote congressional floor votes Wednesday, albeit under a legal cloud after Republican leaders filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the arrangement.

The new system of remote voting by proxy was pushed forward by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow Democratic leaders this month as a temporary measure, they said, that would allow lawmakers’ full participation during a deadly global pandemic that has made travel and in-person meetings hazardous.

Several Democrats have fretted about the House’s effectiveness as the coronavirus outbreak has sidelined lawmakers while other organs of the federal government have adapted to the new reality and the smaller-member Senate has returned to Washington to vote on nominations and legislation.

Under rules adopted earlier this month, House members may each designate a colleague to cast floor votes on their behalf during the pandemic while they remain away from the Capitol.

But Republican leaders criticized the change as a breach of 231 years of House custom and, with their lawsuit filed Tuesday, are challenging whether the proxy voting provision is constitutional. The Article I clause mandating a majority quorum for the House to do business, they said, implies that such a majority must be present in Washington.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called the proxy voting system unconstitutional and a “dereliction of duty” by Democrats, while noting that Congress continued to assemble during previous public health crises such as a devastating Yellow Fever outbreak in 1793 and the 1918 flu pandemic of 1918, as well as the Civil War and the 9/11 attacks.

“The Founders believed we should assemble, and we should work just as we’ve done [through] every challenge this country has had,” he said. “It is essential that Congress continues to meet, and that’s why we’ll move forward with the lawsuit.”

Pressed on the significance as Democrats pressed ahead with the vote, McCarthy likened it to playing a baseball game under protest.

The lawsuit names Pelosi, D-Calif., House Clerk Cheryl Johnson and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving as defendants. Leading the Republican legal team is Charles Cooper, among the most prominent GOP appellate attorneys in Washington.

Read the full story here.

Walt Disney World plans to reopen its first parks on July 11

Disney revealed plans to reopen its four theme parks in Florida in July with masks, temperature checks, smaller crowds and social distancing — and without the parades, fireworks shows or character meet-and-greets that are typical hallmarks of the experience.

Jim McPhee, vice president of operations for the Walt Disney World Resort, said Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom would open on July 11, while Epcot and Hollywood Studios would follow four days later.

Those proposed dates are much later than Orlando-area competitors Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld, both of which plan to open in early June. Universal has said it plans to reopen on June 5, and SeaWorld said Wednesday that it intends to open to the public on June 11.

Both Disney and SeaWorld presented their plans Wednesday morning to a task force in Florida’s Orange County. Members approved those plans unanimously; the mayor and governor must both sign off.

Fauci says canceling political conventions scheduled for August would be premature

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said Wednesday that it was too early to start canceling political conventions planned for August.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with CNN that decisions about the Republican and Democratic national conventions should be based on future data.

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Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci at the White House on May 15. Associated Press/Alex Brandon

“If we have a really significant diminution in the number of new cases and hospitalizations and we’re at a level where it’s really very low, then, again, according to the guidelines, you may be able to go to whatever phase you’re in and have some sort of a capability of gathering,” he said.

The conventions are months away, leaving room for the country to see a reduction in cases and hospitalizations.

“If we don’t, then as I’ve said before, I would have significant reservations about that,” Fauci said.

Fauci encouraged the public to remain vigilant in social distancing and to continue wearing face masks, a guideline that Trump has disregarded and mocked.

“I wear it for the reason that I believe it’s effective,” Fauci said. “It’s sort of respect for another person and have that person respect you.”

Fauci also said decisions about whether schools should reconvene in the fall are not “one-size-fits-all.”

“You always have to talk about what the dynamics of the outbreak are in the area that you’re talking about,” he said. “Because we live in a big country, and there are certain states, cities, regions and counties in which the level of infection is at a rate that the schools can be much more flexible in how they open.”

Fauci said he was heartened by the slowing rates of infections in parts of the country — evidence that mitigation measures work — and cautiously optimistic about a vaccine.

South Korea may reimpose social distancing as case numbers rise

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s top infectious disease expert says the country may need to reimpose social distancing restrictions it eased in April, with coronavirus transmissions creeping up in the populated Seoul metropolitan area and elsewhere in recent weeks.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a virus briefing on Wednesday it’s becoming increasingly difficult for health workers to track the spread of COVID-19, which has coincided with increased public activity amid warmer weather and eased attitudes on social distancing.

South Korea reported 40 new cases on Wednesday, its biggest daily jump in nearly 50 days, as officials scrambled to trace hundreds of infections linked to nightspots, restaurants and a massive e-commerce warehouse near Seoul.

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First grade students and their parents maintain social distancing during a welcome ceremony at DunSan elementary school in Daejeon, South Korea on Wednesday. Kim Jun-bum/Yonhap via Associated Press

“We will do our best to trace contacts and implement preventive measures, but there’s a limit to such efforts,” Jeong said. “There’s a need to maximize social distancing in areas where the virus is circulating, to force people to avoid public facilities and other crowded spaces.”

South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases per day in early March before managing to stabilize its outbreak with aggressive tracking and testing, which allowed officials to relax social distancing guidelines and proceed with a phased reopening of schools.

But Seoul and nearby cities restored some controls in recent weeks by shutting thousands of bars, karaoke rooms and other entertainment venues to slow the spread of the virus. Education authorities in Seoul said Wednesday they delayed class openings in 111 schools due to virus concerns, but they couldn’t immediately confirm how many students were affected.

Just half of Americans would get a COVID-19 vaccine

Only about half of Americans say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if the scientists working furiously to create one succeed, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

That’s surprisingly low considering the effort going into the global race for a vaccine against the coronavirus that has sparked a pandemic since first emerging from China late last year. But more people might eventually roll up their sleeves: The poll, released Wednesday, found 31% simply weren’t sure if they’d get vaccinated. Another 1 in 5 said they’d refuse.

Health experts already worry about the whiplash if vaccine promises like President Donald Trump’s goal of a 300 million-dose stockpile by January fail. Only time and science will tell — and the new poll shows the public is indeed skeptical.

“It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“The unexpected looms large and that’s why I think for any of these vaccines, we’re going to need a large safety database to provide the reassurance,” he added.

Among Americans who say they wouldn’t get vaccinated, 7 in 10 worry about safety.

Read the full story.

Spain begins 10 days of mourning virus victims

MADRID — Flags are flying at half-staff on more than 14,000 public buildings in Spain as the European nation holds its first of 10 days of national mourning for the victims of the coronavirus.

Spanish King Felipe VI led a minute of silence held at noon local time on Wednesday for the more than 27,000 lives that have been confirmed to be lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and other lawmakers participated from the Parliament, while health workers and other citizens also stopped activity to honor the dead.

The 10-day period is the longest national mourning declared in Spain since the restoration of democracy in the late 1970s.

Felipe VI, as Spain’s head of state, is also planning to preside over a solemn ceremony to honor the dead once the country emerges from its strict lockdown rules.

Belgium, a country of 11.5 million inhabitants, has reported more than 57,000 virus cases including about 9,000 deaths.

French government stops using malaria drug for virus patients

PARIS — The French government has stopped the use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19 patients after a new study suggested it doesn’t work and poses health risks.

A decree ending its use for the coronavirus in France was published Wednesday.

The World Health Organization did the same after a study of 100,000 patients worldwide published last week found that the drug was ineffective against the virus and tied to a greater risk of death and heart rhythm problems.

The drug has been popular and politically sensitive in France, where it was included in a trial of multiple treatments and used on hospitalized patients.

U.S. President Donald Trump started pushing hydroxychloroquine based on early research by prominent French virologist Dr. Didier Raoult suggesting it reduced virus symptoms.

Raoult shrugged off guidance from France’s High Council for Public Health to stop use of the drug, suggesting it’s not important now that the number of infected people is no longer at crisis levels. The council’s recommendation is “one opinion like any other, I don’t care much,” he told France’s LCI television Tuesday night.

Poland lifts most restrictions

WARSAW, Poland — Poland is lifting most of its anti-coronavirus restrictions in public life starting Saturday.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday that limits are being lifted on the number of customers in shops, restaurants and hair dressers. Open-air gatherings of up to 150 people will be allowed, under the condition of keeping the distance of at least 2 meters (6 feet) or wearing masks.

Limits are also being lifted on the number of people attending Mass in churches.

Culture Minister Piotr Glinski said that starting June 6 cinemas, theatres, concert halls are allowed to open, but can only fill 50% of the audience seats while the spectators must wear masks. Wedding parties of up to 150 guests will be allowed after June 6. In case of large gatherings, sanitary authorities must give their consent.

Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said that the relaxing of rules is possible because COVID-19 transmission has been curbed, while 80% of hospital beds destined for patients with the disease remain empty. He said in most of Poland, except the southern industrial region of Silesia, has transmission rate, the R number, is below 1, meaning 1 person infects less than 1 other person.

Cyprus will cover coronavirus costs for vacationers

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus is pledging to cover costs for anyone testing positive for the coronavirus while vacationing in the east Mediterranean island nation.

The Cypriot government says it will cover lodging, food, drink and medication for COVID-19 patients and their families. Patients will only have to pay for the taxi ride to the airport and the flight back home.

A 100-bed hospital will cater exclusively to foreign travelers who test positive. Some 112 intensive care units equipped with 200 respirators will be reserved for critically ill patients.

A 500-room “quarantine-hotel” will host exclusively patients’ family members and other close contacts.

The pledge came in a five-page letter sent to governments, airlines and tour operators outlining strict health and hygiene protocols that Cyprus is enacting to woo visitors to the tourism-reliant country.

Tourism directly accounts for 13% of Cyprus’ economy. The country expects to lose as much as 70% of 2.6 billion euros in tourism-generated revenue this year.

The letter, signed by Cyprus’ foreign affairs, transport and tourism ministers, boasts that the country has one of the lowest coronavirus ratios per capita in Europe after having tested more than 10% of its population.

International air travel to Cyprus begins June 9 initially from 19 countries, with passengers required to undergo a COVID-19 test three days prior to departure. That measure will be lifted June 20 for 13 countries, including Germany, Finland, Israel, Greece and Norway.

Nevada governor says casinos will reopen June 4

LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Tuesday night that he will allow casinos to reopen June 4, welcoming tourists to return to the glitzy gambling mecca of Las Vegas.

The Democratic governor told reporters that Nevada will welcome visitors from across the country to come to Las Vegas and have a good time. Sisolak closed the casinos 10 weeks ago as part of a broad shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The casinos typically draw millions of tourists to Las Vegas and power the state’s economy. The governor said he would also allow in-person religious services of up to 50 people starting Friday.

China reports one new case of virus

BEIJING — China reported one imported case of coronavirus Wednesday and no new deaths as legislators meeting for the ceremonial parliament’s annual session pushed for improvements in the public health system.

The national Health Commission said in its daily report that 79 people remain in treatment, while another 410 are under isolation and monitoring for possibly having the virus or after testing positive without showing any symptoms. China has reported 4,634 COVID-19 deaths among 82,993 cases.

Public health has been discussed more than usual at the National People’s Congress session, which was delayed more than two months and cut from two weeks to one because of the virus outbreak that began in the central city of Wuhan late last year.

 


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