The Latest: White House restricts virus task force testimony
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:
— White House restricts coronavirus task force testimony.
— Senate reopens in Capitol largely shuttered by virus.
— Supreme Court makes history over the phone.
— Fight over Brazil leader Bolsonaro’s virus test.
— Some businesses in California can reopen Friday with restrictions.
WASHINGTON — A White House memo to congressional committees says no member of the administration’s coronavirus task force may agree to testify on Capitol Hill unless the appearance is expressly approved by the president’s chief of staff.
Democrats are bristling at the restriction on gathering information about the nation’s response to the pandemic. The memo follows a White House move to block Dr. Anthony Fauci from testifying before a House panel while allowing him to appear the following week at a Senate hearing.
The Senate is held by Trump’s Republican allies while the House is controlled by Democrats.
WASHINGTON — The Senate has reopened in a Capitol largely shuttered by the coronavirus, but prospects for quick action on a new aid package are uncertain.
Lawmakers face a deepening national debate over how best to confront the deadly pandemic and its economic devastation. Senate Republicans are reluctant to spend more money on virus relief. They hope the gradual reopening of the economy will reduce the need for more aid, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to soon unveil a new relief package.
The 100 senators are convening for the first time since March. The House is staying away on doctor’s orders due to health risks.
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has made history by hearing arguments by telephone and allowing the world to listen in live, both for the first time.
The arguments on Monday were essentially a high-profile conference call with the nine justices and two arguing lawyers. The session went remarkably smoothly. That’s notable for a high court that clings to tradition and only reluctantly changes the way it operates.
The high court had initially postponed arguments in 20 cases because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the justices ultimately decided to hear 10 cases by phone over six days this month.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he twice tested negative for the coronavirus but many, including a federal judge, are demanding he share the actual results.
Still, the leader has refused. The surreal standoff is the latest flashpoint in a broader battle between a president who has repeatedly tested the limits of his power and democratic institutions.
There are concerns that as Bolsonaro pushes back, it could spark a constitutional crisis. Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the coronavirus pandemic and has fiercely criticized efforts by governors and mayors to impose measures to control the virus’ spread, instead advocating for most people to get back to work.
But the courts have repeatedly curtailed him — on this issue and others.
FLINT, Mich. — A woman, her husband and adult son have been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a security guard who refused to let her daughter enter a Family Dollar store in Michigan without a face mask.
Calvin Munerlyn was killed Friday at the store in Flint. Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said Monday that Munerlyn told Sharmel Teague’s daughter that she had to leave unless she put on a mask. Teague argued with Munerlyn before leaving. Two men later came to the store. One of the men shot Munerlyn.
Teague has been arrested. Police are seeking her husband and son.
SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco police will wear neutral face coverings to defuse a controversy sparked when officers sent to patrol a protest wore masks adorned with the “thin blue line” flag.
Police Chief Bill Scott told officers in an email that he considers the blue flag and stripe “a meaningful expression to honor fallen officers.” But he says some may perceive the symbol as “divisive and disrespectful.”
The police union ordered and distributed the masks emblazoned with a dark blue flag with a blue stripe across the middle, a symbol associated with the Blue Lives Matter movement.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The U.S. Treasury Department has yet to send payments to tribal governments from a coronavirus relief package approved in late March.
The agency says it hasn’t determined how to allocate $8 billion in funding that was set aside for tribes. The agency says it will post details on its website, but nothing appeared as of Monday.
The Treasury Department is being sued by tribes seeking to keep the money out of the hands of Alaska Native corporations. The tribes and the federal government disagree over the definition of “Indian Tribe” that was included in the relief package.
YUBA CITY, Calif. — Amid more defiance from local governments, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that some businesses can reopen as early as Friday with restrictions to help prevent spread of the coronavirus.
The plan under the second phase of the governor’s four-point reopening plan allows retailers such as clothing stores, sporting goods and florists to resume operations with curbside pickup.
It did not immediately include dine-in eating at restaurants and reopening of offices, which were in previously stated Phase 2 plans.
Newsom said a key consideration for entering Phase 2 is the ability for health authorities to test and conduct contact tracing of infections.
The announcement came as businesses in two more Northern California counties reopened. Yuba and Sutter counties followed last week’s lead of rural Modoc County amid pressure to restart California’s economy, even as hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 continue.
Newsom’s six-week-old order required nearly 40 million residents to remain mostly at home.
PARIS — French president Emmanuel Macron said he is confident that the United States will join a global pledge for research to find a vaccine against the new coronavirus.
World leaders, organizations and banks on Monday pledged to give 7.4 billion euros ($8 billion) during a videoconference summit hosted by the European Union. The U.S., along with Russia, were notably absent from the event.
Macron, who donated 500 million euros on behalf of France, noted that the U.S. “are on the sidelines” but added that it doesn’t compromise or slow down the initiative.
Speaking from the Elysee palace, he said he discussed the issue with President Donald Trump and is convinced that the U.S. will at some point join the initiative, consisting in finding a vaccine as quickly as possible and making it available to all countries.
Macron added that his government is in a permanent dialogue with the Trump administration and with American companies.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says it has received no evidence or data from the U.S. government to back up claims by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that they have seen evidence that the coronavirus have originated at a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
“From our perspective, this remains speculative,” WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said. “But like any evidence-based organization, we would be very willing to receive any information that purports to the origin of the virus.”
Ryan reiterated that the evidence and advice that the U.N. health agency has received suggest that the novel coronavirus is of natural origin. Pompeo and Trump say they have seen evidence suggesting that it could be from the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab.
“If that data and evidence is available, then it will be for the United States government to decide whether and when it can be shared,” Ryan told reporters in Geneva. “But it’s difficult for WHO to operate in an information vacuum in that specific regard.”
On Sunday, Pompeo told ABC’s “This Week” program that there was “a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”
HELSINKI — Finland says it will lift some coronavirus restrictions on June 1 including allowing restaurants, cafes and bars to reopen with certain limitations.
The government announced late Monday that it will also ease a ban of public gatherings, permitting meetings of up to 50 people instead of the current maximum of 10 people.
Public services such as libraries, theatres and sports facilities are allowed to start operating again on June. The government had said in April that schools in Finland would be gradually reopened on May 14.
A ban on large public events with more than 500 people such as concerts and sports events remains valid until July 31 in line with the government’s earlier decision.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin stressed that relaxing of the COVID-19 restrictions would take place “gradually and in a controlled manner” in the Nordic country.
Finland’s borders will remain partially closed. Work-related and other necessary travel within the European Union’s open-border Schengen area will be permitted again on May 14 but with strict guidelines, Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo said.
MILAN — The number of people currently positive for coronavirus has dropped under 100,000 in Italy — Europe’s hardest-hit country.
As the country began a gradually reopening from a two-month-long lockdown on Monday, the number of deaths rose by 195 to 29,079.
Italy also registered the lowest number of new positives since the day the lockdown took effect, at 1,221, bringing the total of coronavirus cases to 211,938 since the first case of domestic transmission of the virus was detected on Feb. 21.
Pressure on Italian hospitals continued to ease, with 419 fewer people hospitalized and 22 fewer in intensive care units. Three regions — Umbria, Basilicata and Molise — registered no new cases, while most were well under 100.
Lombardy, the densely populated northern region that has borne the brunt of the virus, was responsible for nearly half of all new cases in the past 24 hours.
NEW ORLEANS — Nearly every woman in a Louisiana prison dormitory has tested positive for COVID-19, and two-thirds of them had no symptoms, state figures show.
The women at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center are housed in a dormitory for some of the inmates moved out of the Louisiana Correctional Women’s Institute after floods in 2016, Department of Corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick said last week.
He said 155 women without symptoms were tested after 39 became ill with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
As of Monday, 192 inmates had tested positive, including 66 who had symptoms, according to Department of Correction statistics. The unit has about 195 inmates, though the number fluctuates, Pastorick said Monday.
The women’s dorm inmates make up 64% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 at all of Louisiana’s state prisons.
OKLAHOMA CITY — At least 116 employees at an Oklahoma pork processing plant have tested positive for coronavirus, Seaboard Foods spokesman David Eahart said in a statement Monday.
The plant in Guymon has about 2,700 employees who are advised to stay home if sick, provided face masks and hand-sanitizing stations, and encouraged to maintain social distancing, Eahart said.
Texas County, where Guymon is located about 235 miles (378 kilometers) northwest of Oklahoma City, has 236 confirmed virus cases and two deaths, according to the state Health Department.
Eahart said about 30% of the plant’s employees do not live in Texas County, Health Department spokeswoman Donelle Harder said all cases and deaths would be attributed to an infected person’s county or state of residence.
Guymon is about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Texas and about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Kansas.
The Seaboard plant has not closed, as some around the nation have until beginning to reopen under an executive order from President Donald Trump.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has a simple reason for not wearing a face mask during a visit to a southwestern Missouri thrift store.
“I chose not to,” Parson said tersely Monday in response to a reporter’s question.
Businesses reopened across most of Missouri on Monday (except in St. Louis, St. Louis County and Kansas City), the day after Parson’s stay-at-home order ended. The Republican governor spent the morning visiting several businesses in southwestern Missouri.
Among them was a thrift shop in Joplin operated by the Disabled American Veterans. A photo posted on Parson’s Twitter account shows him bare-faced but surrounded by mask-wearing veterans.
“I think it’s up to the individual,” Parson said in response to a question during his afternoon news conference. “I don’t think it’s government’s role to mandate who wears a mask and who doesn’t.”
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence chose not to wear a mask while touring the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, an apparent violation of the medical center’s policy requiring them.
AMARILLO, Texas — A Texas mayor says federal help is on the way following a surge in coronavirus cases that’s hitting a key region of the nation’s beef supply.
Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson says she expects a “strike force” to arrive Monday in the Texas Panhandle. That’s where infections are climbing and state officials have linked more than 240 cases of COVID-19 to a local meat plant operated by JBS USA.
Outbreaks have hit meat plants across the country. President Donald Trump has ordered them to remain open, while on Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called the plants among “the most dangerous places there are right now.”
Nelson says her community provides 25% of the nation’s fed beef supply. She says her hope is that the incoming help can box-in the hot spots and figure out “why it is our city is having the numbers that we’re having.”
Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.