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Friday April 3rd, 2020 6:58AM

The Latest: Feds concerned about virus spikes in 2 counties

By The Associated Press
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The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— U.S. leads the world in confirmed coronavirus cases with more than 82,000.

— Trump to attend departure of hospital ship bound for New York.

— U.N. calls for stop to hostilities in Libya.

— Eight countries ask for immediate lifting of sanctions to fight virus.

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WASHINGTON — The White House coronavirus response coordinator says the task force is concerned about certain counties in the Midwest that appear to be seeing a rapid increase in cases.

Dr. Deborah Birx listed two counties: Wayne County in Michigan and Cook County in Illinois.

She said at Thursday's White House briefing that the task force is not only looking at where the cases are today, but where they will be in the future so the Federal Emergency Management Agency can be alerted to where the next hotspots will be.

Birx says the two counties both are in urban areas or in communities that serve an urban area. Chicago is the seat of Cook County, which is one of the most populous counties in the United States. Wayne County is outside Detroit.

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CAIRO — The former prime minister of Libya has contracted the coronavirus, according to the Facebook page of his political party.

Mahmoud Jibril served as interim prime minister of the North African country for almost a year during the civil war that toppled and later killed longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

The veteran politician, now based in Egypt, was in stable condition in isolation at a Cairo hospital. Egypt recorded 39 new infections on Thursday, bringing the total to 495.

The 67-year-old Jibril, a U.S.-educated economist, led the liberal pro-business National Forces Alliance that secured a landslide victory against the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya’s 2012 parliamentary elections.

Since, Libya has been plunged into chaos as rival militias and their foreign backers vie for power in the oil-rich country.

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico has extended its coronavirus curfew to April 12 and warned of new restrictions.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez said Thursday that nonessential workers will have to be home by 7 p.m. starting March 31, two hours earlier than the current curfew.

Vázquez said the new restriction is in response to the nearly 400 people who have been detained for violating the ongoing curfew.

All nonessential businesses will remain shuttered until mid-April, and people will only be allowed to leave their homes or hotels to go to the bank or buy food or medicine.

Puerto Rico has reported two COVID-19 deaths and more than 60 confirmed cases.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Amid the outbreak's climbing trajectory in Louisiana, the state received news Thursday that President Donald Trump agreed to create two, 250-bed federal field hospitals in the state.

The federal government will provide a 60-person “strike team” of health care workers to staff the sites, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

The White House also was sending a CDC epidemiology team to help with the state's response to “clusters” of coronavirus cases identified at six nursing homes.

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NEW YORK — The United States now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases.

According to a running count by Johns Hopkins University, the number of people infected in the U.S. topped 82,000 on Thursday. That's just ahead of the 81,000 cases in China and 80,000 in Italy.

Italy has the most confirmed deaths of any country with more than 8,000. More than 1,000 people have died in the U.S.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he will travel to Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday to see off a 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship that will relieve the pressure on New York hospitals dealing with coronavirus patients.

Trump says he told New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo the ship will arrive in New York Harbor on Monday.

Trump said in a White House press conference that he’ll “kiss it goodbye” and that the ship is “loaded up to the top” with medical supplies.

The announcement of the USNS Comfort’s planned deployment comes as New York City-area hospitals are clearing out beds, setting up new spaces to triage patients and urging people with mild symptoms to consult health professionals by phone or video chat instead of overrunning emergency rooms.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York had climbed to 3,800 this week, including close to 900 in intensive care, with the peak of the outbreak weeks away.

The critical question remains whether the severe “social distancing” restrictions recently enacted by New York will help the state avoid a worst-case scenario of overwhelmed hospitals.

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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is imposing quarantine orders on New Orleans travelers as the city rapidly becomes a major concern of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued the restriction Thursday while also requiring that airline passengers coming from the New York area similarly self-isolate for two weeks. Governors in Florida and Maryland earlier this week also required people coming from New York to quarantine, but not New Orleans.

Louisiana state health officials say the number of coronavirus cases Thursday surpassed 2,300, along with 86 related deaths. New Orleans was gearing up for a possible overflow at area hospitals, with plans to treat as many as 3,000 patients at the city’s convention center.

Abbott said travelers arriving from New Orleans or the New York area would be required to submit a form listing where they will quarantine. He said Texas state troopers will conduct checks and that anyone caught in violation risks jail time.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council is expressing concern at the possible impact of the coronavirus pandemic in war-torn Libya and is calling on the warring parties to stop fighting “urgently” and allow unhindered access for humanitarian aid throughout the country.

The council said in a statement after closed video discussions and a briefing Thursday by the acting U.N. special representative that it was concerned at “the significant escalation of hostilities on the ground in Libya.”

It called on all U.N. member states to comply with an arms embargo and reaffirmed “the importance of the United Nations' central role in facilitating a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned inclusive political process.”

A weak U.N.-recognized administration that holds the capital of Tripoli and parts of the country’s west is backed by Turkey and to a lesser degree Qatar and Italy as well as local militias. A rival government in the east that supports self-styled Gen. Khalifa Hifter, whose forces launched an offensive to capture the capital last April, is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt as well as France and Russia.

Fear of the new coronavirus is widespread in Libya. Authorities tracked down and quarantined dozens of people who had come into contact with the country’s first confirmed case, a 73-year-old man who entered from neighboring Tunisia on March 5 after traveling to Saudi Arabia. Health officials said Wednesday he was in stable condition.

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ISELIN, N.J. — More than 40 million medical-grade gloves that have been held at U.S. customs warehouses since last fall are going to be delivered to health care facilities.

Ansell, a company with a corporate hub in Iselin, New Jersey, said it had resolved a dispute over whether the gloves had been manufactured using forced labor in Malaysia.

“The release of this supply to health care facilities across the United States will be an immediate benefit to workers in dire need of proper PPE supplies,” spokesman Tom Paolella said Thursday in an email.

The company credited U.S. Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey with helping resolve the dispute. Smith, a Republican who has been active in combating human trafficking and exploitation, became involved recently.

“Ansell makes a very credible case that they moved quickly to ensure that their supply chain was not complicit with forced labor and that problems raised by the U.S. government have been remedied,” Smith spokesman Jeff Sagnip said.

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LONDON — Across the United Kingdom, people took to their windows and front porches to applaud everyone in the National Health Service for their work in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The Clap For Carers initiative, which took place at 8 p.m. Thursday, echoed expressions of support elsewhere, notably Italy, which has seen the most deaths related to the COVID-19 disease.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his next-door neighbor, Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, joined in.

In a video posted on his Twitter page, Johnson thanked NHS staff and said the government would support them “in any way that we can.” Sunak then said: “Whatever you need, that's what you're going to get.”

In an Instagram post, Kensington Palace showed the children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, applauding. Their grandfather, Prince Charles, is in self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. His symptoms are said to be mild.

And “Star Wars” actor John Boyega tweeted that hearing his neighbors express their support for the NHS was “beautiful.”

The number of people in Britain who have died after testing positive for COVID-19 stands at 578, according to the latest government figures.

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LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County has 421 new positive cases of the coronavirus and nine new deaths, recording its largest single-day jump in both numbers.

Barbara Ferrer, director of the health department, said Thursday the increases are primarily attributed to the ramping up of testing countywide.

Ferrer says the total number of residents who have tested positive since the outbreak began is 1,216. There have been 559 new cases over the past 48 hours.

Twenty-one people have died.

Officials say they are preparing the Los Angeles Convention Center to receive coronavirus patients for quarantining or post-hospitalization treatment — but not acute care.

They did not release a timeline for staffing the convention center, one of the largest in the nation with 720,000 square feet (67,000 square meters) of exhibition space.

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UNITED NATIONS — Eight countries under unilateral sanctions urged U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday to request the immediate and complete lifting of these measures to enable the nations to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a joint letter obtained by The Associated Press, the ambassadors from China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua, Russia, Syria and Venezuela urged the U.N. chief to “reject the politicization of such a pandemic.”

The ambassadors, who said they were under instructions from their foreign ministers, did not name any countries responsible for what they called “illegal, coercive measures of economic pressure.” But the United States has imposed sanctions on all of the nations except China and the European Union has imposed sanctions on all but Cuba.

In a speech to the Group of 20 major industrialized nations on Thursday, secretary-general Guterres appealed “for the waiving of sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic.”

The ambassadors said their governments have “the political and moral will” to gear up to fight the pandemic, but they said “this is a hard — if not impossible — deed” for countries facing sanctions.

The eight countries said efforts to combat COVID-19 are hindered by “the destructive impact” of sanctions nationally “plus their extraterritorial implications, together with the phenomena of over-compliance and the fear for 'secondary sanctions,’” which impede governments from regularly accessing the international financial system or trading freely to procure medical equipment and supplies including testing kits for the virus.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa's president has appeared in full military uniform for the first time since the end of apartheid and urged troops to be a "force of kindness" as they enforce a lockdown that begins Friday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier told police to show compassion as South Africans are “terrified right now.”

The country is nearing 1,000 coronavirus cases, the most in Africa, and the three-week lockdown is one of the strictest in the world. Alcohol sales are banned, as well as running and dog-walking.

South Africa's racist system of apartheid ended in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela as the country's first black president.

___

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Thursday that her husband, John Bessler, had been released from the hospital and is recovering at home.

Klobuchar announced earlier this week that Bessler, a law professor, had COVID-19 and had needed hospitalization for pneumonia and low oxygen.

In a statement, Klobuchar thanked “those who cared for him and for all front line health care workers.”

Klobuchar, a Democrat, was among the candidates seeking the party's nomination for president before she dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden.

___

PARIS — France’s virus death toll is continuing to climb fast, increasing 27% in one day Thursday to 1,696 victims, including a 16-year-old.

The overall number of confirmed cases grew 15% over the previous day to more than 29,000, according to national health agency chief Jerome Salomon.

But he acknowledged that the real number is much higher because France is only testing people with severe symptoms. He said doctors estimate another 42,000 people who have sought medical advice for milder symptoms recently also have the virus.

Salomon did not provide details about the 16-year-old who died, citing medical privacy. He noted that thousands of people with the virus in France have recovered, and expressed hope that confinement measures would start bringing deaths down soon.

France has reported the fifth-highest number of deaths from the virus of any country. France’s government has come under criticism for its limited number of tests, and for waiting until last week to impose nationwide confinement measures even as the virus spread rapidly in neighboring Italy and Spain.

___

BATON ROUGE, La. — The number of known coronavirus cases in Louisiana jumped by more than 500 Thursday, surpassing 2,300, with 86 deaths, the state health department said.

A 17-year-old was among the latest deaths, the first in the state of someone under 18.

The higher infection numbers reflect the increase in testing. In Thursday's figures, the number tested rose nearly 6600, to 18,000.

Coronavirus has now been found in 53 of 64 parishes, although Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he believes it's present in every parish, even as statewide mandates banning crowds and closing businesses continue.

"We won’t see the impact of the distancing and the closing of schools and people staying home for a couple of weeks. ... We are not near the peak of this yet," said Dr. Catherine O'Neal, an infectious disease expert and chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

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