Masks thrown onto California freeway cause mini-traffic jam

UNION CITY, Calif. — In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a San Francisco Bay Area freeway suffered a mini-traffic jam Wednesday when someone tossed hundreds of face masks onto the road and some motorists stopped to grab them, the California Highway Patrol reported.

Around 1:30 p.m., CHP officers received a report that a white truck had stopped on Interstate 880 in Union City and someone tossed out boxes of medical masks, the CHP reported.

Hundreds of the prized masks spread across southbound lanes, authorities said. As many as 1,000 masks may have been dumped, KPIX-TV reported.

Several motorists “stopped and stepped out of their vehicles to pick up the masks,” the CHP’s Hayward bureau said in a Facebook post.

It took about an hour before a road sweeper picked up all the masks, authorities said.

There were no reported injuries and no arrests or citations were immediately made.

California allows marriage licenses via videoconference amid pandemic

For better, for worse and hopefully the internet isn't out: Californians will now be able to obtain marriage licenses via videoconference, the governor announced Thursday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom's order also allows — at the discretion of the county clerk — for couples to be married this way, as long as at least one witness can join the videoconference. Previously both parties had to apply for licenses in person. The changes last for 60 days, according to Newsom's office.

The move comes amid social distancing and other restrictions designed to limit the gathering of people amid the coronavirus pandemic which has killed more than 60,000 people in the U.S. so far. 

California is not the first to announce such a move. New York's governor earlier this month signed an executive order also allowing residents to obtain a marriage license remotely and allowing clerks to perform ceremonies via videoconference, something that had been impermissible under the law.

On Wednesday, New York City announced "Project Cupid," designed to transition the marriage licensing process fully online.

Demonstrators against reopening economy to hit the streets

As demonstrators who want to get back to work planned a show of force in multiple U.S. cities Friday for International Workers Day, counterprotesters said they would hold their own rallies. 

The lunchtime counterprotests, in support of keeping non-essential businesses closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus, are being held by the organization Refuse Fascism.

"We are nonviolent," said Chantelle Hershberger, an organizer of the Los Angeles rally. "We’re not there to literally go toe-to-toe."

Demonstrators in Los Angeles will wear masks and practice social distancing, she said.

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Hawaii florists allowed to open on May 1, Lei Day

Florists in Hawaii will be allowed to open on Friday as the state marks its annual Lei Day, Gov. David Ige said this, despite statewide stay-at-home restrictions.

Ige announced on Monday that florists would be allowed to be open starting May 1 as long as the stores can do so in a way that's safe for employees and customers, like observing social distancing rules.

The governor said it was not an "exemption" for florists, but they are businesses that can safely be operated amid the pandemic. Mother's Day is May 10.

"We expect that it will be a better Mother's Day because of this decision," Ige said Monday. Ige late last week extended the stay-at-home order until May 31.

Public Lei Day celebrations are canceled, and Honolulu's department of parks and recreation encouraged people to make leis from items around the house and hang them outside in a show of support to first responders, medical workers and essential workers.

The governor said Thursday that the state is beginning to look at a phased approach to reopening businesses and activities. "We do believe that the number of cases has gotten to the point that we believe we're in good position," he said.

Huntington Beach, Calif., to ask court to overturn beach closure

The city council in Huntington Beach, California, voted Thursday to authorize the city attorney to take legal action against the state for closing down beaches in Orange County.

After the vote City Attorney Michael E. Gates said by email, "We are filing in State Court tonight hoping for relief for temporary injunction."

Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier in the day said a widely expected statewide beach closure wasn't happening, but one that focused on Orange County would go into effect Friday. This came after images captured throngs of people on the sand in Huntington Beach and nearby Newport Beach on a warm weekend.

The city council held an emergency meeting Thursday. Many residents who wrote to the council on the topic favored keeping the beaches open and suggested the traditionally Republican city was being punished for being of a different political persuasion than the Democratic governor.

Republican lawmakers reject Michigan's virus order; Whitmer unfazed

LANSING, Mich. — The Republican-led Michigan Legislature refused Thursday to extend the state's coronavirus emergency declaration and voted to authorize a lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's authority and actions to combat the pandemic.

The governor, unfazed, responded with new orders stating under one law that an emergency still exists, while under another law declaring new 28-day states of emergency and disaster. The latter measure will ensure health care workers continue to have special legal protections, she said.

Whitmer accused GOP lawmakers of “putting their heads in the sand and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk. I’m not going to let that happen.”

The Legislature's moves came as hundreds of conservative activists, including some who were openly carrying rifles, returned to the Capitol to denounce her stay-at-home order.

Several major airlines to begin asking employees, customers to wear face coverings

Several major airlines will soon ask some employees and passengers to voluntarily wear face coverings, an industry group said Thursday.

Airlines for America, which represents Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue and other airlines, said the companies are working to implement the policy as quickly as possible. The group did not provide a specific date.

Customer-facing employees and passengers will be asked to wear cloth face covering during check-in, boarding, in-flight and while leaving the aircraft, the group said.

The group added that airlines are also using intensive cleaning measures to sanitize their planes.

Farmworkers sue Washington state seeking coronavirus protections

A farmworker tends to the fields in Skagit County, Washington.Edgar Franks / Familias Unidas por la Justicia

A court in Skagit County, Washington, will consider Friday whether the state should impose enforceable emergency safety rules to protect farmworkers from the coronavirus.

The case, which pits the labor advocacy group Familias Unidas por la Justicia and the United Farm Workers of America against the state's labor and health departments, is among the first agricultural labor lawsuits filed in the country since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

The labor groups are seeking adequate social distancing in farm labor housing and transportation and to ensure that protective gear is available at work sites, among other concerns.

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Government orders 100,000 body bags

WASHINGTON — The federal government placed orders for well over 100,000 new body bags to hold victims of COVID-19 in April, according to internal administration documents obtained by NBC News, as well as public records. The biggest set was earmarked for purchase the day after President Donald Trump projected that the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus might not exceed 50,000 or 60,000 people.

That batch is a still-pending $5.1 million purchase order placed by the Homeland Security Department April 21 with the Montebello, Calif.-based company E.M. Oil Transport, Inc. The “human remains pouches” have not been shipped to the Federal Emergency Management Agency or paid for yet, according to the company’s marketing manager, Mike Pryor.

Body bag contracts bid by the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments are just one illustration of how Trump’s sunny confidence about the nation’s readiness to re-open is in conflict with officials in his own administration who are quietly preparing for a far worse outcome.

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Industry exec: White House plan to send a week's worth of masks, gloves to nursing homes is not enough

Cheyenne Pipkin, left, visits with her mother Loraine Franks her grandfather Jerry Hogan in Porterville, Calif. Jeremy Hogan / Echoes Wire / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that nursing homes, which have been ravaged by coronavirus, had been "a little bit of a weak spot" in the U.S. response to the disease, and announced FEMA would ship a seven-day supply of gowns and masks to the nation's 15,000 long-term care facilities.

But nursing home residents have accounted for a quarter of the nation's 60,000 reported COVID-19 deaths, and for some industry leaders and advocates for residents, a week's supply of personal protective equipment is not an answer.

"This is the first sign in months that our calls for PPE prioritization for providers of aging services are being heard -- but this action is far too little, far too late," said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO LeadingAge, an association of 6,000 nonprofit providers of aging services, including 2,000 nursing homes.

Read the full story here. 

Major drug company partners with Oxford to produce vaccine even before approval

AstraZeneca says it is pushing ahead to produce millions of doses of a trial coronavirus vaccine, developed by Oxford University, even before the research is complete.

Thousands of cruise ship crew members remain out at sea amid clash over CDC's rules

A man rides a bicycle in front of the Coral Princess ship, of Princess Cruises fleet, docked at Miami Port with patients affected by coronavirus in Miami on April 4, 2020.Marco Bello / Reuters file

Thousands of cruise ship crew members remain stuck at sea amid the coronavirus pandemic as their companies clash with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over rules to bring them home.

Carnival Cruise Line said it has more than 10,000 healthy crew members on board their ships and is planning to have them home to their respective countries over the next week. Roughly 10,000 crew have already been repatriated, the company said in a press release.

"The safety and well-being of our team members continues to be a top priority," said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. "Given the pause in our operations, we are committed to getting our crew members safely home to their families. We sincerely thank them for their hard work, patience and understanding during this process."

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