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Thursday May 28th, 2020 8:31AM

The Latest: Whitmer wins legal fight with lawmakers

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. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— Michigan governor wins legal fight with lawmakers over virus.

— Official: Washington state has lost hundreds of millions of dollars to fraudulent jobless claims.

— Trump: “full” G7 summit bringing together the leaders of the world’s major economies “looks like” it “will be on.”

— Spanish health authorities: daily death toll has remained under 100 fatalities for a fifth consecutive day.

— US sends 50 ventilators to Russia, with 150 more to follow.

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DETROIT — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer prevailed Thursday in a high-stakes challenge from Republican lawmakers who sued over her authority to declare emergencies and order sweeping restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak.

A 1945 law cited by Whitmer, a Democrat, is not limited to local and regional emergencies only and can have no end date, said Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Court of Claims.

The lawsuit by the House and Senate grew out of frustration with Whitmer’s one-size strategy to stop the spread of the coronavirus by keeping people at home statewide and shutting down businesses, even if some regions were not harmed much by the virus or COVID-19.

The Legislature did not extend Whitmer’s disaster emergency declaration in late April but she acted anyway, pointing to the ’45 law.

The Legislature preferred a 1976 statute that gives it a say in emergency declarations after 28 days. Indeed, the judge said the governor can’t use that law to extend emergencies without input from lawmakers.

The decision was a third time that a Court of Claims judge ruled in favor of Whitmer. The other lawsuits were brought by residents, a business owner and a new group that has organized protests at the Capitol.

Also, Whitmer has further relaxed stay-at-home restrictions, saying a ban on nonessential health procedures would be lifted next week and that groups of up to 10 people can gather immediately ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

Retailers can reopen by appointment only, starting Tuesday, as long as there are no more than 10 customers inside at a time. People also can make an appointment to visit an auto dealer showroom. Social distancing requirements remain in place.

She said Thursday that the stay-home order, which remains in effect through May 28, will likely be extended.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — Impostors have used the stolen information of tens of thousands of people in the state to fraudulently receive hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits, the head of Washington’s Employment Security Department said Thursday.

Commissioner Suzi LeVine said that the state is currently working with federal law enforcement, financial institutions and the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the fraud and to try and recover the money paid out during the coronavirus crisis.

LeVine said she can’t release specific numbers or details of the ongoing investigation. But she said that countermeasures taken by the state have “prevented hundreds of millions of additional dollars from going out to criminals and have prevented thousands of fraudulent claims being filed.”

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey signed an emergency regulation Thursday requiring people to wear masks or other cloth face coverings starting Tuesday when they’re inside stores, hotels, recreation centers, the skyway system and other government buildings.

“With more commercial activity set to resume, it’s important that we right-size our approach to public health regulations given our city’s outsized footprint in the state,” the Democratic mayor said.

Minneapolis businesses won’t be required to provide masks to customers or employees, though employers will be required to mandate the use of masks by their workers. Violations could be punished by fines up to $1,000.

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U.S. health officials are planning to draw blood from people in 25 cities over the next year as part of one of the government’s largest studies yet to better understand how widely the coronavirus has spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is partnering with two other federal agencies and other organizations to expand a study of blood donation specimens from Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. The list of 19 additional metro areas has not been finalized, CDC officials said Thursday.

The researchers will be looking for antibodies that signal past coronavirus infection.

Nearly 300,000 blood samples will be tested over the next year, the CDC said. Specimen collection is supposed to begin next month and continue every month until May 2021, with one final collection in October 2021.

The goal is to see how widely the coronavirus has spread in different parts of the country.

The CDC’s partners in the project include the National Institutes of Health, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Vitalant Research Institute, and a number of large blood collection agencies.

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he would ratify a financial package worth 60 billion reais ($10.8 billion) to help states and cities during the pandemic and asked them in return to back his plan to freeze public servant salaries.

His video conference with governors was something of an olive branch after a tense few months. Bolsonaro has repeatedly clashed with local leaders who have introduced measures to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, such as shutting down businesses or recommending that people stay home.

The Brazilian leader says the measures could have a deadly impact on the economy and end up hurting the population more than the virus itself.

The interim health minister, Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, also held his first meeting with state and municipal health secretaries to discuss the country’s COVID-19 response.

Federal health officials said in a news conference Thursday that the number of municipalities that have registered COVID-19 cases has surged over the past two months to 3,488, which represents 60 percent of Brazilian cities.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations is launching a new initiative to sign up millions of “digital first responders” around the world to counter misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and spread fact-based information and advice to their networks of family, friends and followers.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who announced the initiative on Thursday, said: “We cannot cede our virtual spaces to those who traffic in lies, fear and hate.”

The U.N. chief said “misinformation spreads online, in messaging apps and person to person” and “its creators use savvy production and distribution methods.”

Guterres said that scientists and institutions such as the United Nations need to reach people with accurate information they can trust to counter the misinformation and that’s why the U.N. is launching the initiative called “Verified.”

It is asking interested people around the world to sign up to become “information volunteers” — also called “digital first responders” — at https://www.shareverified.com/ and share a daily feed of verified information that counters misinformation or fills an information void.”

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Universal Orlando is aiming to reopen its theme parks in early June, a resort official said Thursday, more than two months after the company joined crosstown rivals Disney World and SeaWorld in closing their gates to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

During a tourism forum in Orlando with Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, SeaWorld’s interim CEO, Marc Swanson, said he also expected a reopening in June. Officials with Disney World haven’t said when they plan to reopen.

Universal Orlando executive John Sprouls asked Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings for approval to open the company’s theme parks as early as June 5, the Orlando Sentinel reported Thursday.

Demings must sign off on Universal’s reopening plan before it heads to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his approval, the newspaper said.

Universal, Disney World and SeaWorld have been closed since mid-March in an effort to stop the virus’s spread.

Both Disney and Universal in Orlando have reopened shopping complexes and restaurants in the past week, with several restrictions.

All workers and visitors must wear masks, although Disney exempts children under age 3. Temperatures are checked at entrances to keep out anyone with a fever of 100.4 degrees (38 degrees Celsius) or higher and a limited number of people are admitted to allow social distancing.

Many of those same protocols will be implemented at the theme parks. Children’s play areas will remain closed and employees won’t be sharing wardrobes, Sprouls said.

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CONCORD, N.C. — Federal Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he came to North Carolina to see the work being done in Charlotte and to highlight the upcoming NASCAR Coca-Cola 600.

He described the race as “an important part of getting America back and to working to school, to functioning, to getting people out and getting our activities going again.”

He praised moves that governors have been making to reopen their economies — with North Carolina set to enter a second phase of loosened restrictions Friday — saying that there are health risks associated with restricting economies that must be weighed against the risks of the virus.

He said that economic downturns can lead to increased suicide rates, reductions in cancer screening and reductions in vaccine use.

Azar addressed reporters after touring a testing center at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and having a discussion with health leaders about reopening state economies.

Asked by a reporter if state reopenings create a risk of a second wave of virus cases, Azar said it’s too early to tell.

Asked about what preparations Charlotte will need to make to safely host the Republican National Convention in August, Azar said that increasing testing capacity would be important. However, he didn’t refer to the RNC as a certainty, but rather noted that “we’re several months away from the possibility of the RNC.”

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says a “full” G7 summit bringing together the leaders of the world’s major economies “looks like” it “will be on.”

But he says the in-person event — which had been scrapped in March because of the coronavirus — will now take place “primarily at the White House,” with “a piece of it” perhaps taking place at the nearby Camp David presidential retreat.

Trump made the comments while departing the White House for a trip to Michigan on Thursday.

The District of Columbia remains under stay-at-home orders and U.S. travel restrictions remain in place on many Group of Seven nations.

But Trump has said that holding the event would be a “great sign to all” that things are getting back to normal.

He said a formal announcement will likely come early next week.

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MADRID — Spanish health authorities say that the daily death toll for its COVID-19 outbreak has remained well under 100 fatalities for a fifth consecutive day.

But the government’s leading virus expert warned Thursday that Spain cannot let down its guard a day after hundreds of people tried to sunbathe in Barcelona when the beach was reopened only for jogging and walking. Police had to remind them that social gatherings were still not permitted.

“These are images that no one likes,” leading health official Fernando Simón said. “They show that there is a part of the population that is still not fully aware (of the danger).”

Overall, though, Simón said Spain is maintaining its favorable evolution of the coronavirus outbreak.

The health ministry reported a confirmed 48 new deaths over the past 24 hours, but that figure was missing the data from the Catalonia region home to Barcelona, one of the hardest-hit areas. Simón said the region was still confirming its data for the day, but that he expected the full daily death count for the country to be around 50.

Spain is emerging slowly from a strict lockdown that has brought its daily infection rate increase from more than 20% in March and April to under 1% for the past week. On Friday, health authorities should decide if Madrid and Barcelona are in condition to loosen restrictions and reopen outdoor seating for restaurants and bars that have been closed for more than two months.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is moving more than 140 healthy inmates from one county jail that reported it was ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus to a state prison.

The DOC says Comanche County Detention Center inmates with two consecutive negative tests began being moved on Wednesday.

County inmates who have tested positive for the virus will remain quarantined at the jail in Lawton.

The department said in a news release Thursday that 73 inmates had been moved and 69 more will be transported to state facilities. More than 100 inmates and 16 staff members at the jail have tested positive for COVID-19.

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LAS VEGAS — Three major Las Vegas casino companies have announced their employees will be tested for COVID-19 before returning to work.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and Boyd Gaming have launched employee testing measures as businesses are preparing to reopen.

A joint statement says the University Medical Center will administer tests at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Results are expected within 48 hours. Depending on where employees work, testing may not be required.

Casino operations in Nevada stopped in March after Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak imposed a stay-at-home order and closures of non-essential businesses.

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MOSCOW — The United States has delivered 50 ventilators to Russia as part of a $5.6 million humanitarian donation to help the country cope with the pandemic.

The U.S. Embassy said the first shipment of U.S.-manufactured breathing machines arrived in Moscow on Thursday, and another 150 will follow next week.

U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan emphasized that “particularly in times of crises we must work together,” adding “we must set aside policy differences and focus on the needs of our people.”

Russia has reported more than 317,000 infections and more than 3,000 deaths. Officials have scrambled to secure ventilators and other essential supplies as COVID-19 spread.

Russia sent a planeload of medical supplies, including ventilators, to the U.S. last month. Russia’s state investment fund said this week it has fully funded the delivery.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has decided to exempt health workers from other countries who work for the country’s National Health Service from an otherwise mandatory surcharge to use the health system, in a reversal of a policy criticized by some as anti-immigrant and racist.

A statement from No. 10 Downing Street on Thursday said the Prime Minister had asked the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care “to remove care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible.”

The surcharge applies to immigrants to the U.K. and is scheduled to increase in October.

Medical organizations have long slammed the surcharge for NHS health professionals, arguing they should not be charged to use the same health service they work for.

After Johnson recovered from COVID-19 last month — which included a stay in intensive care — he publicly thanked two of the nurses who cared for him, from Portugal and New Zealand.

___

MILAN — Italy reported 156 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total in the epidemic to 32,486 on Thursday as Italy marks the third week of gradual reopening.

Confirmed new cases rose by 642, or .28%, to 228,006, with half in the populous northern region of Lombardy which has borne the brunt of the epidemic.

Calabria in the south and Bolzano in the north were the only areas to report zero cases.

The number of people who are currently positive sank by nearly 3% to 60,960, according to the civil protection agency, and there were nearly 400 fewer coronavirus patients in hospital beds.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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