The latest on the coronavirus pandemic around the U.S. and the world.

AUSTIN, Texas — Utah and Oregon put any further reopening of their economies on hold amid a spike in coronavirus cases, but there was no turning back Friday in such states as Texas, Arkansas and Arizona despite flashing warning signs there, too.

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Customers of the Mission Rock restaurant in San Francisco talk with their waitress Friday, the first day when outdoor dining was allowed in San Francisco restaurants since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Associated Press/Ben Margot

One by one, states are weighing the health risks from the virus against the economic damage from the stay-at-home orders that have thrown millions out of work over the past three months.

And many governors are coming down on the side of jobs, even though an Associated Press analysis this week found that cases are rising in nearly half the states — a trend experts attributed in part to the gradual reopening of businesses over the past few weeks.

Texas hit highs this week for hospitalizations and new COVID-19 cases, prompting Houston’s top county official, Lina Hidalgo, to warn that “we may be approaching the precipice of a disaster.” Meanwhile, the state went ahead with allowing restaurants to expand eat-in dining Friday to 75% of capacity, up from 50%.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve been concerned,” 32-year-old Renata Liggins said as she settled in front of a plate of brisket at Black’s Barbecue in Austin and the number of people now hospitalized with COVID-19 in Texas climbed to its highest level yet, at more than 2,100. But “it just feels I can finally breathe a little bit.”

Alabama, which began reopening in early May, has seen more than a quarter of the state’s 23,000 cases come in the past two weeks as Republican Gov. Kay Ivey emphasized personal responsibility.

Read the full story about states’ response to rising case numbers here.

South Korea capital adds 49 more coronavirus cases

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 49 new coronavirus cases.

Most most of them are in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where health authorities have been struggling to slow transmissions linked to entertainment and leisure activities, church gatherings and low-income workers who can’t afford to stay home.

The figures released Saturday brought national totals to 12,051 cases and 277 deaths.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 44 of the new cases are in greater capital area, which is home to half the country’s 51 million people.

Agency director Jung Eun-kyeong is urging residents in the capital area to stay home over the weekend, saying there is “high concern” that increased public activity will lead to widespread circulation of the virus.

Fed says ‘full range of tools’ in play to counter pandemic

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve is promising to use its “full range of tools” to pull the country out of a recession brought on by a global pandemic, signaling that it would keep interest rates low through 2022.

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Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will testify before Congress next week. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press, file

In its semi-annual monetary policy report to Congress, the central bank said Friday that the COVID-19 outbreak was causing “tremendous human and economic hardship across the United States and around the world.”

In response, the Fed said it’s “committed to using its full range of tools to support the U.S. economy in this challenging time.”

The Fed’s report comes two days after a policy meeting where the central bank kept it benchmark interest rate at a record low of zero to 0.25 percent and signaled that it planned to keep it there through 2022. The Fed said it would continue to buy billions of dollars of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities to support the financial market.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will testify before congressional committees for two days next week, starting Tuesday, on the new report. Lawmakers are expected to ask Powell to explain how the central bank plans to further support the economy during what is expected to be the steepest economic downturn in the last 70 years.

Powell predicted this week that the recovery will likely be slow, with Americans “well into the millions” unable to get their old jobs back.

Read the full story about the Federal Reserve’s promise here.

Dow rebounds after worst sell-off since March

Wall Street managed to end a bumpy day broadly higher Friday but still finished with its worst week in nearly three months.

The S&P 500 rose 1.3 percent a day after dropping nearly 6 percent in its biggest rout since mid-March. It lost 4.8 percent for the week, snapping a three-week winning streak for the benchmark index. Small-company stocks and bond yields rose, meaning investors were a bit more willing to take on risk again a day after the sell-off.

The volatility this week interrupted what had been a dramatic rally for the market as investors re-evaluated their expectations for future economic growth, which many skeptics have been saying were overly optimistic.

After surging Monday, stocks sold off for three straight days as a rise in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and a discouraging economic outlook from the Federal Reserve dashed investors’ optimism that the economy will recover relatively quickly as states lift stay-at-home orders and businesses reopen.

The comeback rally lost some of its early strength as the day went on. The S&P 500 gained 39.21 points to 3,041.31 after shedding more than half of its early gains.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 477.37 points, or 1.9 percent, to 25,605.54. It had been up more than 800 points in the early going.

The Nasdaq, which climbed above 10,000 points for the first time on Wednesday, gained 96.08 points, or 1 percent, to 9,588.81. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fared better than the rest of the market, climbing 31.46 points, or 2.3 percent, to 1,387.68. European markets closed mostly higher. Asian markets ended broadly lower.

Investors have been balancing optimism about the reopening of the economy against the possibility that the relaxing of restrictions will lead to a surge in new coronavirus infections and fatalities. Cases are climbing in nearly half the states, according to an Associated Press analysis, a worrying trend that could intensify as people return to work and venture out during the summer.

Florida fired its top coronavirus data scientist. She started publishing the statistics on her own.

Florida wanted to get rid of its top geographic data scientist. The researcher wanted to publish her analysis of the state’s coronavirus data.

So after the Florida health department fired her on May 18, Rebekah Jones decided to start publicizing the statistics on her own, according to the Palm Beach Post. She created FloridaCOVIDAction.com, which gives a higher case total and a lower number of people tested than data published by the state.

Jones told the Post that the health department limited the data she could publish while she worked there and that some of her findings raise questions about Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s push to reopen the Florida economy.

Guests wearing masks stroll through SeaWorld on June 11. The park had been closed since mid-March to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Associated Press/John Raoux

“I decided to stop wallowing in self-pity and do something constructive, something useful with the skill set I’ve been using for so long,” Jones told the Post. “People have a right to know what’s going on in a straightforward, nonpolitical kind of way.”

Jones and DeSantis have offered different explanations for why the state terminated her. Jones alleges that she was pushed out because she refused to censor data, while DeSantis told reporters that she was fired for several reasons, including that “she didn’t listen to the people who were her superiors.”

On Friday, Jones’s website counted 75,897 people with coronavirus infections in Florida, while the state site tallied 70,971. Jones said her total includes people who have tested positive for antibodies — proteins that indicate that someone had the virus in their system.

Terry Adirim, chairwoman of Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Integrated Biomedical Science, warned the Post that counting people who have tested positive for antibodies is risky because antibody tests render more false positives than virus tests.

Researchers ask if survivor plasma could prevent coronavirus

Survivors of COVID-19 are donating their blood plasma in droves in hopes it helps other patients recover from the coronavirus. And while the jury’s still out, now scientists are testing if the donations might also prevent infection in the first place.

Thousands of coronavirus patients in hospitals around the world have been treated with so-called convalescent plasma — including more than 20,000 in the U.S. — with little solid evidence so far that it makes a difference. One recent study from China was unclear while another from New York offered a hint of benefit.

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Aubrie Cresswell, 24, donates convalescent plasma at a blood bank in Delaware in April “It’s, I think, our job as humans to step forward and help in society,” said Cresswell who has donated three times and counting. New York Blood Center Enterprises via Associated Press

“We have glimmers of hope,” said Dr. Shmuel Shoham of Johns Hopkins University.

With more rigorous testing of plasma treatment underway, Shoham is launching a nationwide study asking the next logical question: Could giving survivors plasma right after a high-risk exposure to the virus stave off illness?

To tell, researchers at Hopkins and 15 other sites will recruit health workers, spouses of the sick and residents of nursing homes where someone just fell ill and “they’re trying to nip it in the bud,” Shoham said.

It’s a strict study: The 150 volunteers will be randomly assigned to get either plasma from COVID-19 survivors that contains coronavirus-fighting antibodies or regular plasma, like is used daily in hospitals, that was frozen prior to the pandemic. Scientists will track if there’s a difference in who gets sick.

It if works, survivor plasma could have important ramifications until a vaccine arrives — raising the prospect of possibly protecting high-risk people with temporary immune-boosting infusions every so often.

“They’re a paramedic, they’re a police officer, they’re a poultry industry worker, they’re a submarine naval officer,” Shoham ticked off. “Can we blanket protect them?”

The new coronavirus has infected more than 7 million people worldwide and killed more than 400,000, according to official tallies believed to be an underestimate. With no good treatments yet, researchers are frantically studying everything from drugs that tackle other viruses to survivor plasma — a century-old remedy used to fight infection before modern medicines came along.

The historical evidence is sketchy, but convalescent plasma’s most famous use was during the 1918 flu pandemic, and reports suggest that recipients were less likely to die. Doctors still dust off the approach to tackle surprise outbreaks, like SARS, a cousin of COVID-19, in 2002 and the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, but even those recent uses lacked rigorous research.

When the body encounters a new germ, it makes proteins called antibodies that are specially targeted to fight the infection. The antibodies float in plasma — the yellowish, liquid part of blood.

Because it takes a few weeks for antibodies to form, the hope is that transfusing someone else’s antibodies could help patients fight the virus before their own immune system kicks in. One donation is typically divided into two or three treatments.

Oregon hits pause on reopening as number of cases rise

Oregon governor Kate Brown announced a one-week “pause” to reopening plans, calling for ‘a statewide yellow light’ after the state reported 177 new cases of COVID-19 and two deaths on Thursday. The plan halts new applications for reopening in the Portland area, which had been expected to enter the first phase.

A hotel employee helps a guest from behind protective plastic in Cannon Beach, Ore. Hotels in Orgeon were allowed to open in late May. Associated Press/Gillian Flaccus

Oregon is one of eleven states — the others are Texas, South Carolina, Utah, Arizona, North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, California, Nevada and Florida — that reached its highest seven-day rolling averages of new coronavirus cases on Thursday, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.

The Oregonian/Oregon Live also reports that the state was unable to say whether it had the 631 contact tracers necessary to continue with reopening, and said it’s too early to tell whether Portland’s mass protests against injustice in law enforcement has affected the case numbers. Many areas of the state are in the second phase of reopening.

Georgia, Florida and Idaho have announced plans to move ahead with reopening, despite witnessing a high number of new coronavirus cases.

Trump’s Tulsa campaign rally sign-up page includes coronavirus liability disclaimer

The sign-up page for tickets to President Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa next week includes something that hasn’t appeared ahead of previous rallies: a disclaimer noting that attendees “voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19” and agree not to hold the campaign or venue liable should they get sick.

Trump’s reelection campaign announced Thursday that the president’s next “Make America Great Again” rally will be held June 19 at the BOK Center.

At the bottom of the registration page for tickets to the upcoming Trump campaign rally is a disclaimer notifying attendees that “by clicking register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present.”

“By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury,” the notice states.

Read the full story.

Utah study detected elevated levels of coronavirus in sewage before cases surged

Before testing confirmed a sudden surge of COVID-19 cases in Utah’s rural Cache County, scientists noticed that traces of the coronavirus were showing up in sewage in significantly larger concentrations.

Those findings, which presaged an outbreak at a beef processing plant where at least 287 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus so far, indicate that monitoring wastewater can help alert public health officials to rising infection rates, the Utah Division of Water Quality said Thursday.

Along with a number of other scientists worldwide, Utah researchers have been studying whether sewage can provide early warnings about outbreaks. Because many people who contract the coronavirus don’t display symptoms and may not get tested, the researchers hope that wastewater can provide a more accurate picture of a community’s overall infection rate than the official case count.

The pilot study launched by Utah’s top three research universities in April sampled water from 10 treatment plans across the state and found elevated levels of the virus in urban areas and tourist destinations. In late May, the concentration of the coronavirus in two wastewater plants in Cache County increased dramatically. The number of cases reported in that area spiked about a week later, when officials confirmed that close to 300 workers at the meatpacking plant had contracted the virus, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

“The initial results show that we can not only detect the virus in sewage but we can see trends that are broadly consistent with known infection rates in Utah’s communities,” Erica Gaddis, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said in a statement. “We hope that monitoring the sewage can help in prioritizing limited state resources such as mobile testing.”

The scientists plan to expand the scope of their study in light of the encouraging early results.

Beijing delays the restart of classes for young children

BEIJING — China’s capital is suspending plans to restart classes for the first three years of elementary school next week amid reports of new cases of community transmission in the city.

Beijing’s municipal government said it wants to ensure the health and safety of students and teachers.

Local authorities on Thursday announced a 52-year-old man had become the city’s first confirmed case of local transmission in weeks after he arrived alone at a clinic complaining of fever.

The official Xinhua News Agency said another two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Beijing on Friday.

The man whose diagnosis was announced Thursday had reportedly visited a market on June 3. The hall where he shopped has now been closed for disinfection, state media reported. It wasn’t clear if there was a connection between the three new cases.

Italian prosecutors question premier over delayed lockdown

ROME — Premier Giuseppe Conte is being questioned by prosecutors investigating the lack of a lockdown of two towns in Lombardy’s Bergamo province at the start of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak.

Doctors and virologists have said the two-week delay in quarantining Alzano and Nembro allowed the virus to spread in Bergamo, which saw a 571% increase in excess deaths in March compared to the average of the last five years.

Lead prosecutor Maria Cristina Rota arrived with a team of aides Friday morning at the premier’s office in Rome, Palazzo Chigi. In addition to Conte, she is expected to question the health and interior ministers.

Italy registered its first domestic case Feb. 21 in the Lombardy province of Lodi, and 10 towns in the province were immediately locked down to try to contain the spread.

Alzano and Nembro registered their first cases two days later, on Feb. 23, but the government didn’t quarantine them for two weeks until all of Lombardy was locked down March 7. Conte told La Stampa daily that he acted based on “science and conscience.”

Airlines sue British government

LONDON — Three airlines have launched legal action against the British government, describing the country’s plan to quarantine most incoming travelers as “flawed.’’

British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair say in a statement Friday that the quarantine will have a “devastating effect’’ on tourism and the wider economy. The airlines want the government to readopt its previous policy, where quarantine was limited to passengers from high risk countries.

Quarantine measures imposed this week stipulate that all passengers — bar a handful of exceptions like truckers or medical workers — must fill in a form detailing where they will self-isolate for two weeks. The requirement applies regardless whether they are U.K. citizens or not, and those who fail to comply could be fined.

The quarantine was imposed after a heated debate on whether it would help British efforts to tamp down the outbreak or simply stamp out any hopes that the tourism industry will recover following months of lockdown.

Duterte says China has promised the Philippines vaccine priority

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has been promised by his Chinese counterpart that the Philippines “as a friendly neighbor” will be prioritized when China is able to develop a vaccine against COVID-19.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Friday that Duterte got the assurance from Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a late Thursday telephone call that lasted 38 minutes.

Roque said Xi assured Duterte of “his country’s commitment to make the vaccine available for all, adding that the Philippines, as a friendly neighbor, would certainly be a priority.”

UK economy took an historic hit in April

LONDON — Official figures show that the British economy shrank by a colossal 20.4% in April, the first full month that the country was in its coronavirus lockdown.

The Office for National Statistics said Friday that all areas of the economy were hit, in particular pubs, education, health and car sales.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics, said April’s fall is “the biggest the U.K. has ever seen,” and “almost 10 times larger than the steepest pre-COVID-19 fall.”

April’s decline follows a 5.8% contraction in March. In April, the economy was about a quarter smaller than it was in February.

The U.K. was put into lockdown on March 23 and restrictions are slowly being eased. On Monday, nonessential shops, such as department stores and electronic retailers, are due to reopen.

India’s case count now the 4th highest in the world

NEW DELHI— India’s coronavirus caseload has become the fourth-highest in the world, overtaking Britain, by adding 10,956 new cases in yet another biggest single-day spike.

India’s two-month lockdown kept transmission low but in a large population of 1.3 billion, people remain susceptible and the campaign against the virus is likely to go on for months, Balram Bhargava, director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said.

India’s lockdown was imposed nationwide in late March but has eased since, and it is now largely being enforced in high-risk areas. The new cases rose after India reopened shops, shopping malls, manufacturing and religious places.

Subways, schools and movie theaters remain closed.

The increase reported Friday raised India’s confirmed cases to 297,535 with 8,498 deaths.

 


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