The Latest: New Mexico officials want health orders reviewed

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:

— New Mexico officials say governor’s health orders violate civil rights.

— Obama criticizes Trump on handling of coronavirus.

— Fire strikes Moscow hospital treating COVID-19 patients.

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RIO RANCHO, N.M. — New Mexico Republicans and sheriffs are asking U.S. Attorney General William Barr to look into Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s health orders aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.

State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce and New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association President Tony Mace each sent letters to Barr last week seeking a review into the health orders that have shuttered some businesses since late March. They say the orders, which have closed several small businesses, violate residents’ civil rights.

“We want to express our fears and frustrations regarding New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham’s public health order, a policy many in our state believe to be a blatant violation of peoples’ civil rights, liberties and their right to conduct free commerce,” Pearce wrote. “The situation in New Mexico is one that is unjust and inequitable.”

Mace, the Cibola County sheriff and a frequent critic of fellow Democrat Lujan Grisham, said the health order was unfairly hurting residents.

“The governor has been discriminatory in her policies, keeping big box corporate giants open — draining New Mexico dollars out of state — while shutting down mom and pop locally owned establishments,” Mase wrote. “This is not only preferential treatment for the big box stores but a violation of the civil rights of our small business owners whose livelihoods are now in free fall.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Pearce said he wanted Barr to look at New Mexico to see if the U.S. Constitution “is being respected” during the health order.

A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham declined to comment.

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GATLINBURG, Tenn. — The reopening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a little too tempting a draw Saturday as scores of nature lovers from dozens of states crowded trails and trekked into blocked-off areas, a spokeswoman said.

Even with some of the most popular trails closed, parking lots were packed and lines of cars snaked down tree-lined streets, in one case for about a mile leading up to a waterfall path, according to park spokeswoman Dana Soehn. Many people did not wear masks.

“It seemed like people were not respecting our suggestion that they avoid crowded areas,” said Soehn, adding that she counted license plates from 24 states in one visitor center parking lot.

Visitors also walked past heavy barricades on one of the park’s most trafficked trails, Laurel Falls, which was closed off to heed federal social distancing guidelines, she said.

On the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the Great Smoky Mountains is the county’s most visited national park. It was closed March 24 after officials said it was becoming too congested during the coronavirus pandemic.

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LIHUE, Hawaii — Environmental groups in Hawaii have joined a campaign to bring attention to discarded personal protective equipment that’s adding to plastic pollution on shorelines worldwide amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Surfrider Foundation Kauai chapter scientist Carl Berg said the campaign is aimed at reducing the environmental and public health impacts of improperly discarded PPE.

PPE can be mistaken as food by birds, turtles and marine mammals and can put animals at risk, the foundation said in a statement. It added that the used items could also be carrying pathogens and contributing to the spread of COVID-19.

Federal and state governments have advised people to wear masks in public to protect themselves and others against the coronavirus, but masks, gloves and other equipment are not always properly disposed of. Millions of pounds of plastic pollution wash ashore on Hawaii beaches each year.

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WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama harshly criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as an “absolute chaotic disaster” during a conversation with ex-members of his administration, according to a recording obtained by Yahoo News.

Obama’s comments Friday came during a call with 3,000 people who served in his administration. He said combating the virus would have been bad even for the best of governments, but it’s been “an absolute chaotic disaster” when the mindset of “what’s in it for me” infiltrates government.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that President Trump’s response “has been unprecedented and saved American lives.”

The United States has suffered nearly 80,000 deaths from COVID-19, the most of any nation.

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WASHINGTON — A trade group representing major airlines says its members support having the government do temperature checks of passengers as long as necessary during the coronavirus crisis.

Airlines for America said Saturday that the checks will add a layer of protection for passengers as well as airline and airport employees. Airline workers who come in contact with the public also would be checked.

The association said passenger screening is the responsibility of the Transportation Security Administration. “Having temperature checks performed by the TSA will ensure that procedures are standardized, providing consistency across airports so that travelers can plan appropriately.”

Last week, the group announced that airlines would require customer-facing employees and passengers to wear cloth face masks from check-in through the end of the trip.

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LAS VEGAS — Restaurants, hair salons and other Nevada businesses that closed or had their operations reduced under state-imposed restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus were able to reopen Saturday and allow customers inside their establishments.

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday had said restaurants, salons and other nonessential businesses could reopen Saturday with limited capacity. He said hospitalization rates and positive tests had stabilized.

Sisolak ordered the closures on March 17.

The state reported over 300 deaths from the coronavirus outbreak as of Saturday, with over 6,000 cases of COVID-19.

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ROME — At least two people have died in separate avalanches in northern Italy on the first weekend Italians have been allowed to venture far afield after a two-month coronavirus lockdown.

The Trento Alpine Rescue service said the body of one man was found late Saturday on the Folgaria plateau after an avalanche separated him from his dog. The pet was found unharmed.

At the ski resort of Cortina, the body of a skier was found after a separate avalanche. His brother was rescued, the ANSA news agency said.

Italian authorities closed ski lifts early on in Italy’s lockdown and they remain closed, but skiers can still venture out on ungroomed, unmarked terrain.

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MOSCOW — A fire at a Moscow hospital treating people infected by the new coronavirus killed one patient and forced the evacuation of about 200 others.

News reports said the fire at the facility in the northern part of the city has been extinguished. No cause was immediately determined for the fire, which affected a ward of the hospital that had been repurposed for treating victims of the new coronavirus.

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin confirmed reports that a patient had died and said those evacuated would be transferred to other hospitals. It was not clear how many of the evacuees were suffering from COVID-19.

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NEW YORK — Two children and a teenager have now died in New York state from a possible complication from the coronavirus involving swollen blood vessels and heart problems, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.

More than 70 children in New York have been diagnosed with symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease — a rare inflammatory condition in children — and toxic shock syndrome. Most of them are toddlers and elementary-age children.

Cuomo announced the deaths of a 7-year old in Westchester County and a teenager in Suffolk County a day after discussing the death of a 5-year-old boy Thursday at a New York City hospital.

There is no proof that the virus causes the mysterious syndrome.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. regulators have approved a new type of coronavirus test that administration officials have promoted as a key to opening the country.

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday announced emergency authorization for antigen tests developed by Quidel Corp. of San Diego. The test can rapidly detect fragments of virus proteins in samples collected from swabs swiped inside the nasal cavity, the FDA said in a statement.

The antigen test is the third type of test to be authorized by the FDA. Antigen tests can diagnose active infections by detecting the earliest toxic traces of the virus rather than the genetic code of the virus itself.

Currently, the only way to diagnose active COVID-19 is to test a patient’s nasal swab for the genetic material of the virus. While considered highly accurate, the tests can take hours and require expensive, specialized equipment mainly found at commercial labs, hospitals or universities.

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ROME — Italy says a near-record 4,008 people were released from hospitals in the past day after testing negative for COVID-19 as the country continues its cautious reopening after a two-month national lockdown.

Another 1,083 people tested positive, half of them in hard-hit Lombardy, bringing Italy’s confirmed number of cases to 218,268. Officials say the real number is as much as 10 times that.

Another 194 people died, one of the lowest day-to-day death tolls in recent weeks. The confirmed COVID-19 toll in the onetime European epicenter is 30,395.

Another 134 intensive care beds were freed up, bringing the total number close to 1,000. At the height of the outbreak, there were more than 4,000 people in ICUs, and the wards in Lombardy were nearly saturated.

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LONDON — The British government is making $3.1 billion (2 billion pounds) available to boost cycling and walking once lockdown restrictions are eased.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said at the government’s daily briefing that the package to put cycling and walking at “the heart of our transport policy” will be necessary, even after public transport networks get back to normal during the coronavirus pandemic. He said that because of the ongoing social distancing guidelines, trains and buses will operate at only 10% of capacity.

Shapps also said another 346 people who tested positive for COVID-19 have died in the U.K. in all settings, including hospitals and care homes. That increases the death toll in the U.K. to 31,587, the highest in Europe.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey reported 50 new COVID-19 deaths and 1,546 fresh cases Saturday as it prepared steps to return to normal life.

Total fatalities stand at 3,739, while infections number 137,115. According to figures posted on Twitter by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, 89,480 patients have recovered.

Shopping malls, barber shops, hairdressers and beauty salons will open for business on Monday as Turkey starts easing restrictions.

Meanwhile, one of Turkey’s biggest soccer clubs, Besiktas, announced a player and a club employee had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Earlier this week, the Turkish Football Federation said matches behind closed doors would resume next month, prompting the resumption of limited training sessions.

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WASHINGTON — The federal government is sending supplies of the first drug that appears to help speed the recovery of some COVID-19 patients to six states, where it will be distributed by health departments.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Saturday that it is delivering 140 cases of the drug remdesivir to Illinois, 110 cases to New Jersey, 40 cases to Michigan, 30 cases each to Connecticut and Maryland and 10 cases to Iowa. Each case contains 40 vials of the drug, the department said in a statement.

“State and local health departments have the greatest insights into community-level needs in the COVID-19 response,” the statement said.

Earlier this week the government sent 565 cases to New York, 117 to Massachusetts, 94 to New Jersey, 38 to Indiana, 33 to Virginia, 30 to Rhode Island, and seven to Tennessee.

The company that makes the antiviral drug, California-based Gilead Sciences, has said it is donating its entire current stockpile to help in the U.S. pandemic response.

Remdesivir was cleared for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration last week.

The department says the doses have to go to more critical patients including those on ventilators or in need of supplemental oxygen.

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