The Latest: Great Smoky Mountains National Park to reopen
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:
—Military member near Trump tests positive for virus.
—Japan approves remdesivir for coronavirus treatment.
—British await ‘very limited’ easing of restrictions.
WASHINGTON — When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park becomes one of the country’s first national parks to reopen Saturday, some of its most popular trails will remain off limits.
Major roadways, most trails and some restroom facilities will be accessible, but it’s unclear when the Laurel Falls, Chimney Tops and Alum Cave trails will reopen, park spokeswoman Dana Soehn says. She says safety will be stressed as officials seek to follow federal and state guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“We think that access to the three most heavily used trails just simply wouldn’t be possible with CDC social distancing guidelines,” Soehn said.
The push to restore access to some of the country’s most treasured spaces comes six weeks after the park abruptly shut its gates after visitors weren’t following social distancing guidelines.
Located on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the Great Smoky Mountains is the nation’s most visited national park.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves did a dramatic about-face Thursday, saying state legislators will have a role in deciding how to spend $1.25 billion the state is receiving from the federal government as part of a massive coronavirus relief package.
“They’ve assured me that they want what I want, which is to get this money to those people that need it,” Reeves said at a news conference with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn. The fellow Republicans had challenged Reeves’ assertion that the governor has the power to spend money without legislative consent during emergencies.
The majority-Republican state House and Senate met Friday and voted nearly unanimously to pass a bill that puts most of the money into funds that they control. They cited the Mississippi Constitution’s provisions that say lawmakers have the power to spend money. Reeves harshly criticized Hosemann and Gunn during multiple public appearances in the past week, accusing legislators of a power grab. But Reeves said Thursday that he had invited them to the Governor’s Mansion on Wednesday to make peace.
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada will begin allowing restaurants, salons and other non-essential businesses to open starting Saturday.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak says he’s still encouraging people to get takeout or food delivery, but restaurants may open if they limit capacity to 50% and keep customers seated 6 feet apart. Salons and barbershops cannot except walk-in appointments and must keep customers spaced apart, while stores may reopen but must limit customers to 50% of the building’s capacity.
Sisolak says casinos, nightclubs, spas and gyms must remain closed until further notice.
MINNEAPOLIS — Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has outlined a “battle plan” to keep Minnesota long-term care residents and workers safe against COVID-19, which so far has claimed the lives of more than 400 residents of nursing homes or assisted-living facilities in the state.
Walz tells reporters the state is “prepared to go very much on the offensive” to reduce illnesses and deaths at nursing homes, where residents are more susceptible to the coronavirus because of age, underlying medical conditions and close quarters.
Walz’s plan includes expanded testing for the coronvirus for residents and workers at long-term care facilities, creating “strike teams” to quickly conduct on-site testing, getting personal protective equipment for facilities facing outbreaks, activating the Minnesota National Guard to maintain staffing levels and requiring facilities to exclude sick workers and those testing positive.
State health officials say another 17 residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have died. Minnesota’s COVID-190 death toll rose 23 on Thursday to 508. Of the total number of deaths, 407 people lived in long-term care or assisted-living facilities.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations is appealing to governments, companies and billionaires to contribute to a $6.7 billion appeal to fight the coronavirus pandemic in vulnerable countries, warning that a failure to help could lead to a “hunger pandemic,” famine, riots and more conflict.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock says the initial $2 billion appeal launched March 25 was being increased because there is already evidence of incomes plummeting and jobs disappearing, food supplies falling and prices soaring, and children missing vaccinations and meals — and the peak of the pandemic isn’t expected to hit the world’s poorest countries for three to six months.
He told a video briefing launching the new appeal that the poorest countries face “a double whammy” — the health impact of COVID-19 and “the impact of the global recession and the domestic measures taken to contain the virus.”
World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley stressed two keys to averting the possibility of 265 million people being on the brink of famine by the end of the year: money and keeping supply chains running smoothly without disruptions.
PHOENIX — Arizona health officials have backed down from their decision to abruptly end COVID-19 modeling by a group of university researchers following a backlash that received national attention.
The researchers will maintain access to health data, which the department had asked the researchers to return, Department of Health Services spokesman Chris Minnick said.
The researchers from Arizona State University and University of Arizona developed one of several models that state health officials have used to project the need for hospital beds and ventilators, as well as the effects of social distancing requirements meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Their projections, while highly uncertain, predicted the first peak in hospital demand would arrive in late May, which is later than other publicly available models have shown.
The researchers were notified in a Monday night email that their work was being placed on “pause” and that the health department would “pull back the special data sets” they’d used for the model. The email came hours after Gov. Doug Ducey announced he would allow barbers and salons to reopen on Friday and restaurants to open their dining rooms on Monday.
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says auto and other manufacturing workers can return to the job next week, further easing her stay-at-home order while extending it through May 28 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Manufacturers — which account for 19% of the state’s economy — can resume operations on Monday. It is key for auto parts makers a week ahead of automakers’ planned phased-in May 18 restart. Factories must adopt measures to protect their workers, including daily entry screening and, once they are available, the use of no-touch thermometers.
SAN DIEGO — A federal judge has agreed to push back the start of former California Rep. Duncan Hunter’s prison term for stealing campaign funds until next year because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan moved the surrender date from May 29 to Jan. 4 after Hunter’s lawyers and prosecutors filed a joint motion asking for the change earlier this week.
Hunter’s defense lawyer said the virus outbreak makes it a bad time to add to the prison population. Corrections facilities have been releasing inmates to control the spread of the virus.
Hunter resigned from Congress in January after pleading guilty to stealing campaign funds and spending the money on everything from outings with friends to his daughter’s birthday party. The ex-Marine was sentenced in March to 11 months in prison.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Authorities in Oklahoma say three McDonald’s employees suffered gunshot wounds when a woman opened fire because she was angry that the restaurant’s sit-down dining area was closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Police Capt. Larry Withrow says a 16-year-old employee was shot in in the arm, another 16-year-old and an 18-year-old suffered shrapnel wounds while a second 18-year-old suffered a head injury.
All are expected to recover.
Withrow said Gloricia Woody, 32, whose first name is spelled Glorica in jail records, was arrested for assault and battery with a deadly weapon.
Woody entered the restaurant’s lobby and was told the dining room was closed for safety reasons, Withrow said
“The suspect was forced out of the restaurant by employees. She reentered the restaurant with a handgun and fired approximately three rounds in the restaurant,” Withrow said.
The shooting comes amid tensions over restrictions in efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic that have escalated into violence elsewhere in the country.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine says bars and restaurants in Ohio can fully reopen in two weeks, on May 21.
The Republican governor says outside dining can begin a few days earlier on May 15, along with hair salons and barbers. The reopening of eating establishments comes with limits, including parties of 10 or fewer and spacing between tables either by a barrier or 6 feet of distance.
“What we’re trying to marry is the science and the practicality of that profession and business,” said DeWine, who has won praise for his handling of the outbreak.
SALEM, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown has outlined a plan to reopen salons, gyms, barber shops and restaurants in the least-affected — and mostly rural — parts of Oregon after more than a month of a statewide stay-at-home order.
But Brown also is cautioning that any loosening of restrictions could be rolled back if COVID-19 infection rates surge.
Brown, who has come under increasing pressure to reopen from rural counties, said on May 15 she will loosen restrictions statewide on day cares and on retail shops that were previously closed, including furniture stores, boutiques, jewelry stores and art galleries.
Counties that have very small numbers of coronavirus cases and that have seen declining infection numbers can also apply to reopen beauty salons, gyms and bars and restaurants for sit-down dining on May 15 with a number of rules and limitations.
TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey is sending 120 National Guard members to nursing homes hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic to help staff members.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and other officials didn’t offer details on what their exact role would be. Nursing homes need “some relief from the bullpen,” Murphy said.
The troops will first go to the state’s biggest home, in Andover, he said. The home became so overwhelmed by COVID-19 deaths at one point that it began using what Murphy called a “makeshift morgue.”
Murphy reported an additional 254 deaths in the hard-hit state, bringing the total to 8,801, with about 134,000 reported cases.
WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say fewer illegal immigrants are trying to enter the country from Mexico amid new enforcement rules imposed in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan says agents are encountering about half the number of migrants along the southwest border than in the month before President Donald Trump authorized the rapid expulsion of migrants under a March 21 public health order.
Total encounters in April were about 16,700.
The public health order was initially renewed for 30 days and is scheduled to expire this month. But Morgan and Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez suggested Thursday that the public health restrictions may have to stay in place longer even as the U.S. starts to ease quarantine restrictions.
Morgan also said border agents have encountered their first two migrants with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The first was from India and was captured near Calexico, California, on April 23. The second was a man from Mexico captured this week as he tried to enter the U.S. to seek medical attention for his illness.
JUNEAU, Alaska — Gyms, pools and bars will be allowed to open with limitations starting Friday under the next phase of Alaska’s plan to reopen parts of the economy that had been forced to shut down amid efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Other businesses that were allowed to reopen April 24 — including retail stores, restaurants for dine-in services, salons and other businesses that were classified as nonessential — will be able to boost their capacity from 25% to 50% under plans announced Wednesday.
Starting Friday, bars, gyms, libraries, theaters and other entertainment venues can reopen with limited capacity, state health Commissioner Adam Crum said.
WASHINGTON — A military member working in close proximity to President Donald Trump tested positive for the new coronavirus Wednesday. The White House says Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have since tested negative for the virus and “remain in good health.”
Spokesman Hogan Gidley says in a statement the military member works “on the White House campus” and tested positive Wednesday. The White House instituted safety protocols nearly two months ago to protect the nation’s political leaders, including frequent temperature checks. Last month it began administering rapid COVID-19 tests to all those near the president, with staffers being tested about once a week.
TOKYO — Japan has approved Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir for coronavirus treatment in a fast-track review just four days after the U.S. company submitted an application.
The drug is the first approved in Japan for the coronavirus. It was originally developed for Ebola and could block the coronavirus from replicating itself in the human body.
It will mainly be used for seriously ill patients. It was authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for coronavirus treatment last Friday.
Japan is also testing a Japanese-made influenza drug, favipiravir, that is also designed to inhibit viral replication but could cause birth defects. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for favipiravir and says he hopes to have it approved by the end of May for less serious patients.
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