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Sunday May 24th, 2020 9:42PM

The Latest: Birx offers guidance on Memorial Day weekend

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:

—Trump calls for reopening of houses of worship.

—Pence visits Georgia, says state is ‘leading the way.’

—President Putin says virus stabilized in Russia.

— Virus accelerates across Latin America, India, Pakistan.

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WASHINGTON — The coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force has offered Americans guidance on how they can enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff to summer.

Dr. Deborah Birx says people can enjoy the outdoors as long as they remain mindful of the need to stay socially distant.

Birx offers the example of playing tennis with marked balls so players only touch their tennis balls. She says another example would be to designate utensils for individuals or use disposable spoons, forks and knives at picnics or potlucks.

Birx says a lot of Americans are carrying the coronavirus and don’t know it.

She says the Washington, D.C., metro area has the highest positivity rate in the U.S.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has called for the reopening of houses of worship, declaring them “essential” services.

The president wants governors to allow them to reopen this weekend.

“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors,” Trump says. “In America, we need more prayer not less.”

Trump says the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention also was issuing guidance for communities of faith to hold safe gatherings.

The president’s comment came one day after he prodded the agency to issue guidelines, so congregations can restart gatherings for worshipers.

The CDC previously sent the Trump administration documents outlining steps for religious facilities to reopen, but the White House shelved them at the time out of concerns about the propriety of government making specific dictates to places of worships.

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DENVER — A U.S. Postal Service distribution facility in Denver that handles 10 million pieces of mail a day for Colorado and Wyoming is still open despite being ordered to shut down by city health officials because of a coronavirus outbreak investigation.

The agency says it is complying with federal safety guidelines and working with city officials to address their concerns. Denver health officials say the closure order was a last resort after the Postal Service refused to provide it with necessary information and inspectors were refused entry beyond its post office service counter.

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NORCROSS, Ga. — Vice President Mike Pence has traveled to Georgia, where he had lunch with Gov. Brian Kemp at a cafe and praised the state — one of the first to allow businesses to start up again despite the coronavirus outbreak.

Pence and Kemp were scheduled to talk about reopening during the pandemic with members of the restaurant industry later at the headquarters of the popular Southern eatery, Waffle House.

Kemp allowed salons, restaurants, gyms and other businesses in Georgia to reopen with restrictions in April.

The Republican governor has insisted the move was guided by data and state public health officials, but it ran counter to the advice of many experts, who warned that resuming business too soon risked a fresh spike in infections.

The move also drew criticism from President Donald Trump, who said he totally disagreed with the decision after first telling Kemp he supported it.

On Friday, Pence said Georgia was “leading the way” and the country was making progress against the virus.

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ROME — All residents of nursing homes in Lombardy, Italy’s worst-stricken region in the COVID-19 pandemic, have now been tested for the infection.

Lombardy Health Commissioner Giulio Gallera says about 30 percent of the residents tested positive and are being cared for in separate sections of their facilities.

Prosecutors in Lombardy and other Italian regions are investigating how devastating outbreaks in various nursing homes was handled. Among those residences being investigated is one in Milan, which is Italy’s largest and where a doctor was temporarily removed from duty after he insisted, in vain, that staff wear protective masks.

Nursing homes have tallied a high number of deaths during the outbreak, especially in northern Italy. But since many residents were never tested for COVID-19, how many of them might have had coronavirus isn’t known.

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CARSON CITY, Nev. -- A federal agency has awarded $89.9 million to Nevada to enhance COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.

The Nevada Appeal reports that the grant awarded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was announced by the state’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen.

The lawmakers say the funding is important because the state needs “an expansive and efficient system for testing and contact tracing” as it moves toward reopening its economy. Nevada health officials reported that the state had 7,401 cases of COVID-19 with 381 deaths as of Friday.

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SUNLAND PARK, N.M. -- Several dozen workers at a meat processing plant in southern New Mexico have tested positive for coronavirus. State health officials plan another round of testing at the facility next week.

Illinois-based Stampede Meat says its processing facilities are cleaned and sanitized daily, employees are screened and they’re instructed to wear protection that includes masks and face shields.

The state has nearly 6,500 cases, with officials raising concerns about young people without symptoms potentially spreading the virus. Children and teenagers make up about 13% of the state’s positive cases, up from 7% a few weeks ago and about four times higher than the national average.

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MADRID — The leading virus expert of Spain’s government says the European country is “very close” to having checked its coronavirus outbreak.

Fernando Simón, the director of Spain’s health alerts and emergency center, says “We could be very close to having the virus at (contagion) levels that are practically undetectable.”

Spain’s daily death toll remained well under 100 fatalities for a sixth consecutive day Friday, when the health ministry reported 56 deaths. That took the tally from the start of the pandemic to 28,628 deaths.

The ministry also said 13 of its 19 regional governments did not need to admit any COVID-19 patients to critical care units in the previous 24 hours.

At the height of the outbreak in late March and early April, Spain’s critical care units were overrun with virus cases in hot spots and deaths spiked above 900 a day.

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BERLIN — The leader of one of Germany’s governing parties wants to set a limit for the amount of money the country borrows to help finance the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The German government already has put together various aid packages and in the process given up its dedication to keeping the budget balanced. After six years in the black, it plans to borrow 156 billion euros ($171 billion) to finance rescue packages and cover the expected shortfall in tax revenue.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition of center-right and center-left parties plans to put together a stimulus package next month. Conservatives are keen to keep a lid on spending.

Markus Soeder, the leader of the Christian Social Union – the smallest of the three governing parties – says the new package must add at most 100 billion euros, preferably less, to the new debt. Soeder, who is also Bavaria’s governor, says that’s necessary to prevent Germany running into trouble if there are further setbacks.

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LONDON — Teachers’ unions in England say they remain unconvinced it is safe to open schools to more children after the government published papers from its scientific advisory group.

The publication came after teachers demanded to see the scientific evidence driving the government’s decision to let small numbers of children go back to school from June 1. The topic has divided Britain, with many local authorities refusing to comply with the government’s school opening timetable.

The papers say the evidence on how likely children are to transmit COVID-19 remains inconclusive. The advisers also say teachers do not appear to be at significantly increased risk if schools reopen.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, says the official advisers have “only weak evidence as to what extent children can transmit the virus to others.” Patrick Roach, head of the teacher union known as NASUWT, says the papers did not change its view that no school should reopen until “it can be demonstrated that it is safe to do so.”

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KEYSTONE, S.D. — Mount Rushmore is opening sooner than expected. The national memorial and its facilities and restaurants will be opening Saturday, about three weeks earlier than previously planned.

The National Park Service’s website says the grounds will be open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“After careful consideration and consultation with local and state health authorities, we are pleased to announce that Mount Rushmore’s parking lot, retail shops, and Memorial Team Ice Cream will open earlier than expected on Saturday, May 23,” according to the memorial’s Facebook.

The Nature Trail and the Presidential Trail will be open to the base of the mountain, and the Sculptor’s Studio will be open. The park service says the information center and gift shop are closed and all educational and interpretive programs are suspended.

The amphitheater, Avenue of Flags and a short section of the Presidential Trail are closed due to deferred maintenance.

Visitors are encouraged to maintain physical distancing and hand sanitizer dispensers are available in multiple locations. Employees will be wearing personal protective equipment that is appropriate for their job responsibilities.

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ROME — Italy has registered 652 new coronavirus cases, even as the number of people in the country known to be currently positive for COVID-19 continues to decline.

According to Health Ministry figures, the nation where the outbreak began in Europe now has 228,658 cases. Nearly 300 of the latest confirmed infections were registered in Lombardy, the northern region which also has had the highest number of deaths in Italy.

In the 24-hour period ending Friday evening, 130 deaths nationwide of infected patients were confirmed, raising Italy’s overall death count to 32,616.

But in recent days, various government agencies, comparing the numbers of deaths during the outbreak this year to the same period last year, have concluded that surely far more persons who died this year likely had COVID-19 but weren’t tested. Many who died in nursing facilities or in their own homes didn’t receive COVID-19 tests.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus plans to resume commercial flights next month from select countries with low COVID-19 infections.

Cyprus’ Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos says flights will begin from countries, selected by a team of medical experts, on June 9 and June 20.

The first group includes Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, Norway, Austria, Finland, Slovenia, Hungary, Israel, Denmark, Germany, Slovakia and Lithuania. The second group includes Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

Karousos says starting June 9, passengers arriving from countries in either group must get a health certificate confirming they virus-free three days before departure.

Starting June 20, passengers from the first group of countries won’t need health certificates, but those from second group will still be required to produce.

Hotels will open on June 1.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says summer camps and youth activities can open without restrictions.

He says local organizations and governments can set rules and guidelines. The state won’t pre-empt those rules.

DeSantis says there have been no deaths in Florida of people under age 25.

Also, Miami Beach city commissioners agreed to open beaches and hotels on June 1, a week after the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Officials say they didn’t want large crowds at the beach over the long holiday weekend that unofficially kicks off the summer season.

On Friday, there was more than 49,000 reported cases in Florida, with more than 2,100 deaths. The median age of people infected was 54 years old.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says the coronavirus has stabilized in the country, with the number of new infections abating.

Putin, speaking during Friday’s video conference with top officials, says “the positive dynamic is not so fast as we would like it to be, sometimes even unstable, but it does exist.”

Russia currently ranks second behind the United States in the number of infections with more than 326,400 reported cases and more than 3,200 deaths. The U.S. has more than 1.5 million cases and leads the world with more than 90,000 deaths.

The Russian leader says the positive trends set the stage for further lifting restrictions, but he emphasized the need to preserve the hospital capacity for a possible new wave of contagion.

Officials have reported to Putin the hospitals treating COVID-19 patients are currently filled by just over half and the influx of patients, particularly those in grave condition, has been decreasing.

The coronavirus mortality rate in Russia has remained remarkably low at about 1 percent, drawing suspicions in the West that the country was under-reporting its death toll. Russian officials have rejected the claim, saying the low death toll reflected efficient preventative measures and broad testing.

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GENEVA — The United States wants the World Health Organization to start work “now” on a planned review of the WHO’s coordinated international response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The U.N. health agency is facing a Trump administration threat to cut off funding.

Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sent a written letter to the U.N. health agency’s executive board meeting on Friday saying the United States believes the WHO can “immediately initiate organizational processes for the review,” such as by bringing together independent health experts and setting up guidelines for it.

Giroir is one of the board’s 34 international members but didn’t participate in person in the board’s first virtual meeting on Friday.

He alluded to a resolution passed Tuesday by the WHO’s assembly calling on its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to launch “comprehensive evaluation” of the WHO-coordinated international response to the outbreak to begin “at the earliest appropriate moment.”

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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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