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Memorial Day weekend in lockdown as U.S. death toll nears 97,000

Here are the latest updates from around the world.
Image: TOPSHOT-US-HEALTH-VIRUS
An aerial view shows painted circles in the grass to encourage people to social distance at Washington Square Park in San Francisco, California, on Friday.Josh Edelson / AFP - Getty Images

As the number of U.S. deaths nears 97,000 and the coronavirus lockdowns continue, the long Memorial Day weekend won't look anything like years past, but in some parts of the country the pandemic has stabilized enough for some to think about beginning the economic recovery.

The nation's most populous county is getting ready to reopen by the next big summer holiday: July 4.

Los Angeles County officials set the deadline this week to reopen restaurants, malls and retail stores by Independence Day as stay-at-home orders continue to take a toll on nearly every industry, from retail to TV and film production.

Meanwhile, ongoing stay-at-home orders also prompted President Donald Trump on Friday to deem houses of worship essential. He threatened to override governors who have ordered churches, synagogues and mosques not to reopen in the coming days.

Here's what to know about the coronavirus, plus a timeline of the most critical moments:

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Two more arrested in Hawaii for allegedly violating quarantine

Two men were arrested by authorities in Hawaii after they allegedly violated self-quarantine rules for visitors and returning residents, Gov. David Ige's office said Saturday.

Artyon Zhiryada, 20, of Happy Valley, Oregon, and Dan Vlasenko, 19, of Vancouver, Washington, were arrested Friday as they exited a condominium in Honolulu, the office said. They arrived May 16, it said.

The pair represents the fourth and fifth high-profile arrests of visitors who allegedly failed to isolate for 14 days as a pandemic precaution ordered by Ige. It was at least the third time a suspect was accused because authorities said they found imagery of their public activity on social media.

Zhiryada also faced an allegation of cruelty to animals after he posted a video showing him shooting a "feral" chicken with a speargun in a parking lot, the governor's office said.

Over 100 workers at L.A. meat processing plant test positive

More than 100 workers at a Los Angeles-area meat plant that makes the famous Dodger hot dogs have tested positive for the coronavirus.

At least 116 people at the Smithfield Foods-owned Farmer John processing plant have been infected, according to the Los Angeles County public health department. Local media reports put the estimate closer to 140 people, NBC Los Angeles reported. 

Smithfield, which bought Farmer John in 2017, could not be reached for comment. The company previously closed multiple plants throughout the country because of coronavirus outbreaks among employees.

According to Smithfield's website, “every employee involved in handling, preparing and processing food wears personal protective equipment covering their heads, faces (including masks and face shields), hands and bodies. Additionally, employees undergo temperature checks and are screened for COVID-19 symptoms.”

New York Times' front page memorializes the dead

The New York Times plans to dedicate its entire Sunday front page to hundreds of names of Americans killed by the coronavirus.

On Saturday, it tweeted an image of the page, which is topped with the headline, "U.S. DEATHS NEAR 100,000, AN INCALCULABLE LOSS."

An introduction to the list explains,"The 1,000 people here reflect just 1 percent of the toll." Victims get brief descriptions: "Florencio Almazo Morán, 65, New York City, one-man army."

Marc Lacey, the Times' national editor, said in a story explaining the presentation, "I wanted something that people would look back on in 100 years to understand the toll of what we’re living through."

In April, NBC News documented "60 Lives 60 Days: Stories of victims we've lost from COVID-19 two months since the first U.S. death."

U.S. appeals court upholds California's church closures

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has upheld California Gov. Gavin Newsom's ban on gatherings at houses of worship, denying an emergency motion that sought to resume in-person services while the case is appealed.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista had argued the ban violated its freedom of religion, but a federal court in San Diego upheld Newsom's prohibition on May 15.

On Friday a three-judge appeals panel voted 3-2 in favor of the state, saying plaintiffs had little chance of winning their appeal. The majority agreed with the state's argument that "constitutional rights may be reasonably restricted" in extraordinary circumstances.

A long dissent from Judge Daniel Collins, an appointee of President Donald Trump, argued the state's ban "likely violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment." The church's pastor, Arthur E. Hodges III, vowed to reopen May 31.

Biden wins Democratic primary in Hawaii

Former Vice President Joe Biden won Hawaii's Democratic presidential primary Saturday in an election that was all vote-by-mail because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The race pitted Biden against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ended his presidential campaign last month.

Read the full story.

Man allegedly kidnaps teen driver to get through checkpoint

A Florida man was in jail Saturday after he allegedly kidnapped a 17-year-old girl and ordered her to get him through a lockdown checkpoint, authorities said.

Alexander Michael Sardinas, 37, was arrested on suspicion of felony false imprisonment, according to inmate records from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

The office said Sardinas forced the girl, a resident of the Florida Keys, to drive him and a companion through a checkpoint that leads to the islands after he couldn't get through in a ride-hail vehicle.

The mainland checkpoint regulates traffic to the Keys, which have been off limits to visitors since March 22 in an effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Read the full story.

Georgia man allegedly faked coronavirus diagnosis to employer, faces federal charges

A Georgia man who allegedly faked a coronavirus diagnosis to his employer, leading the business to temporarily shut down, is facing federal charges.

Santwon Antonio Davis, 34, of Morrow, about 15 miles south of Atlanta, is charged with defrauding his employer after he allegedly faked a medical excuse letter. He has since admitted to authorities that he did not have the virus, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta.

Davis, who was employed by an unidentified Fortune 500 company, told his supervisors in March that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and emailed a letter stating that he had been admitted to the hospital and needed to quarantine for 14 days, an affidavit states.

Out of an abundance of caution, the company shut down for cleaning, and at least four workers had to quarantine.

“The defendant caused unnecessary economic loss to his employer and distress to his coworkers and their families,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak for the Northern District of Georgia.

Read the full story here

NBA in talks to possibly resume season at Walt Disney World Resort

The NBA is in "exploratory" talks with the Walt Disney Co. to possibly restart its season at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in late July.

The restart would be at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which would act as “a single site ... for games, practices and housing," spokesman Mike Bass said.

“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place,” Bass said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

GOP governor in North Dakota gives emotional plea against 'mask shaming'

Republican Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota issued an emotional plea for residents of his state to avoid "ideological or political" divides on the choice to wear face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support,” Burgum said during a press conference on Friday.

The governor's voice began breaking with emotion as he went on to say that people might wear a face mask "because they’ve got a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have COVID, and they’re fighting.”

Read the full story here.

Universal Orlando to be Florida’s first major theme park to reopen

New Jersey beaches reopen for Memorial Day weekend

New York deaths drop below 100 for 1st time since March as suburbs poised to reopen

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday that New York has seen the lowest number of daily coronavirus deaths since the state became the epicenter of the virus. 

The state had 84 deaths Friday, which Cuomo said "is a hideous number" by any normal standard but marks the first time since March the figure was below 100.

With new hospitalizations also declining, the governor said the state expects to reopen the mid-Hudson region and Long Island.

Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Sullivan and Ulster counties are set to reopen on Tuesday as long as teams of contact tracers in the area complete online training. Cuomo said the region needs 1,991 contact tracers. So far, 1,134 have been trained.

The governor said officials are considering reopening Long Island by Wednesday.

New York City beaches will remain closed during Memorial Day weekend while state beaches are expected to remain open for residents only. 

Trump visits one of his private golf courses as he pushed for reopening

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump kicked off his Memorial Day weekend by visiting his club in Virginia, marking the president's first time back at one of his private golf courses in 75 days, the longest stretch of his administration without spending time at one.

He was seen leaving the White House on Saturday morning wearing a white hat, white shirt and no mask as his motorcade made its way to the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia.

Trump last visited his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida the weekend of March 6 where he hosted several Brazilian officials, one of whom tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after the trip. 

The president spent most of the rest of March locked down at the White House participating in near-daily press briefings with the White House coronavirus task force highlighting the administration's response to the pandemic. The briefings were abandoned in late April after Trump was criticized for suggesting people might be able to prevent the coronavirus by injecting or ingesting toxic household cleaning products.

Click here for the full story. 

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India reports over 6,000 new cases for second straight day

Image: Migrant workers queue outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus railway station to return to their hometowns after the government eased a nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Mumbai
Migrant workers queue outside a railway station to return to their hometowns after the government eased a nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus in Mumbai, India last week.Punit Paranjpe / AFP - Getty Images

New cases of the coronavirus in India topped 6,000 for a second consecutive day, marking another record jump for the South Asian country in a 24-hour period.

India reported 6,654 new cases on Saturday, bringing the nationwide total to 125,102, including 3,720 deaths. The rate of infection in the country of 1.3 billion has risen as a two-month lockdown has eased.

States with relatively few cases have seen spikes in recent days as residents, including migrant workers traveling on special trains, have returned home.

Authorities in the northeastern border state of Assam introduced criminal charges on Saturday for quarantine violators after more than 100 people in state quarantine facilities tested positive for COVID-19.

Spain announces reopening to tourists as thousands in far-right party protest lockdown

Amid anti-lockdown protests by a far-right party, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the country will reopen to international tourists in July.

"We will guarantee tourists will not take any risks and will not bring us any risks," the prime minister said at a news conference Saturday.

Foreign visitors contribute around an eighth of Spain’s economic output and government curbs taken to contain one of Europe's severest coronavirus outbreaks have shuttered everything from hotels, bars and restaurants to beaches and leisure parks just as the tourism season gets under way. 

Several thousand followers of Spain’s far-right Vox party gathered on Saturday in Madrid and other cities to protest the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Vox called for protesters to come in their cars and motorbikes to skirt the current prohibition on social gatherings in effect under the nation’s two-month long state of emergency.

“Let your desire be heard for the resignation of the government,” Vox leader Santiago Abascal said from an open-top bus leading the cars inching down a Madrid boulevard. Vox called the protest the “Caravan for Spain and Liberty.”

Most cars were decked with Spanish flags, and there were also small groups of people who participated on foot, with some not respecting the two-meter social distancing rules. Over 28,000 Spaniards have been confirmed to have died from COVID-19. The lockdown successfully reduced the daily contagion rate of over 20 percent at the height of the crisis to under 1 percent for the past week.

Quarantine TV: Drama on forbidden love casts spotlight on life in North Korea

Image: Son Ye Jin and Hyun Bin star in 'Crash Landing On You.'
Son Ye Jin and Hyun Bin star in 'Crash Landing On You.'Lim Hyo Seon / Netflix

The series features all the ingredients a viewer could wish for. A beautiful heiress. A swooning soldier. Danger. Forbidden love. All set in one of the most repressive places on earth — North Korea.

The series — "Crash Landing on You," on Netflix — has drawn a global audience of millions, many no doubt searching for entertainment as they while away their time in coronavirus-related lockdowns.

The premise is this: The gorgeous heiress has accidentally paraglided into North Korea, where she is aided by none other than the swooning soldier — with whom, of course, she eventually falls in love.

Read the full story here.

Photo: A night at the movies

Image: Drive-in theater
Moviegoers watch a film from their cars at a drive-in theater in Les Herbiers, western France, on Friday.Loic Venance / AFP - Getty Images

Japanese nightclubs get COVID instructions

The Japanese association representing workers at nightclubs and hostess bars is instructing people to wear masks and to disinfect doorknobs and tables every 30 minutes. 

The guidelines, issued by the Nihon Mizushobai Kyokai on Saturday, said karaoke microphones must be cleaned after each use, and workers should wash their hands and gargle every 30 minutes. A customer and worker can sit together, but one empty seat must be kept in between another customer. Visitors from abroad, who didn’t undergo a 14-day quarantine, will be refused at the door. 

Staff should not touch their hair or face, and must report health problems to authorities, according to the checklist. More than a million women are estimated to work at cabarets in Japan, and their income has plunged amid the outbreak as major companies instructed employees to work from home. 

The government’s stay-home request has been lifted in much of Japan but remains in Tokyo. Japan has more than 16,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 777 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Virus concerns show increased need, demand for home care, experts say

For people recovering from COVID-19, home care can be both essential and elaborate, involving a health care professional who provides additional oxygen, monitors vital signs, administers medication and helps with daily tasks such as eating, bathing and getting in and out of bed.

Home care professionals and nurses said the coronavirus pandemic shows how crucial the industry is. It provides life-saving services to people who are vulnerable while keeping them safe in their own homes.

“It’s been quite a dramatic challenge for all of us and certainly the public health challenge of our lifetime,” said Dr. Steven Landers, president and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Association Health Group, which serves New Jersey and Ohio.

Read more here.

South Korea reports 23 new cases, as authorities shut down nightclubs

South Korea reported 23 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, mostly from the densely-populated Seoul metropolitan area where authorities have shut down thousands of nightclubs, bars and karaoke rooms in an attempt to stem transmissions.

Figures on Saturday brought national totals to 11,165 cases and 266 deaths according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirteen of the new cases came from Gyeonggi province surrounding capital Seoul, which on Saturday issued an administrative order to ban gatherings at an additional 2,629 bars and karaoke rooms, bringing its number of shut-down entertainment venues to more than 8,000.

After the government used aggressive tracing and testing to stabilize its outbreak, more than 200 of the recent infections have been linked to club-goers in Seoul, who went out in early May as the country began easing on distancing.

Meanwhile, most high schools in South Korea remain open under strict COVID-19 disinfectant measures observed by school administrations.

Taliban leverages virus crisis to burnish its image as violence in Afghanistan surges

Image: Afghan children sit on a grave on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan
Afghan children sit on a grave on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday. Rahmat Gul / AP

Decades of war, political chaos, desperate poverty, and now coronavirus.

A perfect storm has gathered over one of the world’s most benighted nations, Afghanistan, where ordinary citizens are facing a fresh form of misery.

Taliban militants have announced they will keep fighting since they say there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in areas under the group’s control, a senior militant in the province of Ghazni has told NBC News.

Despite an uptick in violence, Taliban sources in Ghazni and four other provinces, Helmand, Paktika, Khost and Nangarhar, have told NBC News that there is now what they characterized as an unwritten understanding in place with the Afghan government and international groups like the World Health Organization to work together during the pandemic, particularly when it comes to testing.

Read the whole story here.

Brazil surpasses Russia in confirmed virus cases

Image: Adenilson Souza Costa, 47 years, and his coworkers wearing protective gear bury a coffin during a burial at Vila Formosa Cemetery amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
Adenilson Souza Costa and his coworkers wearing protective gear bury a coffin during a burial at Vila Formosa Cemetery amidst the pandemic last week in Sao Paulo, Brazil.Alexandre Schneider / Getty Images

Brazil surpassed Russia in total number of confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, with 330,890 cases according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The South American country now as the second-highest number of cases globally behind only the United States — which has reported 1.6 million cases as of Saturday.

The worst-hit nation in Latin America also reported 1,001 deaths over the previous 24 hours, bringing its total death toll to more than 21,000. The news came as states and cities across Brazil debate whether to loosen restrictive measures introduced to limit the spread of the virus, or implement stricter lockdowns.

This comes after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro unveiled rules on Wednesday expanding the prescription of chloroquine — the predecessor of an anti-malaria drug promoted by President Donald Trump — for coronavirus patients despite a lack of clinical proof that it is effective.

UN warns cybercrime rising during pandemic

The United Nations disarmament chief said that while the pandemic is increasing technological innovation and online collaboration, “cybercrime is also on the rise, with a 600 percent increase in malicious emails during the current crisis.” 

Izumi Nakamitsu said “there have also been worrying reports of attacks against health care organizations and medical research facilities worldwide,” in a virtual briefing with the U.N. Security Council on Friday. 

Calling the threat of misusing information and communications technology “urgent,” she said that recent digital dependency has increased the vulnerability to cyberattacks, and “it is estimated that one such attack takes place every 39 seconds.”

According to the International Telecommunication Union, nearly 90 countries are still only at the early stages of making commitments to cybersecurity, Nakamitsu said. "It is concerning that we are not as yet collectively equipped to deal with the cyber threats at hand," she said. 

China reports no new cases for first time since start of the pandemic

China reported no new confirmed infections or deaths in the past 24 hours, marking the first time the country has registered zero new infections of the virus since they began reporting data in January.

China’s National Health Commission said 79 patients still were being treated as of Saturday and a total of 741,696 close contacts are being traced across the country. To date the country has reported a total of 4,634 deaths and 82,971 cases in total. 

The government still remains vigilant working to avoid a second wave, as all 11 million residents of Wuhan — where the outbreak was first detected — will be tested for the virus, officials said last week.

Queensland halts work on 2032 Olympics bid to deal with virus

Image: Tokyo Olympics
A man is seen through the Olympic rings in front of the New National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan in March.Jae C. Hong / AP

 

The Australian state of Queensland has postponed work on its bid for the Olympic 2032 Games while they focus on the coronavirus outbreak.

Queensland Premier Annastascia Palaszczuk wrote that it would be "put on hold until further notice,” in The Australian newspaper. 

Senior international Olympic official John Coates said in a statement on Saturday that everyone understood there were pressing issues of public health and community wellbeing for governments to address.

Alaska State Fair canceled for first time since World War II

The Alaska State Fair was cancelled for the first time since World War II on Friday amid concerns surrounding coronavirus spread, organizers said in a statement Friday. Alaska has 404 confirmed virus cases as of Saturday, according to an NBC News tally. 

“We need to make decisions now based on what we know today, not how we hope things will be in August,” said the Alaska State Fair Board of Directors and CEO Jerome Hertel in the statement, citing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. The fair was originally scheduled from Aug. 27 - Sept. 7.

While the staff is now instead working to offer some socially distant activities like drive-in movies and food trucks, the statement said, “We plan to come back next year with a 2021 Alaska State Fair that is even bigger and better than ever.”

U.S. grants OK for 15 airlines to suspend service to 75 airports

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Transportation Department said late Friday it had granted tentative approval to 15 airlines to temporarily halt service to 75 U.S. airports because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Airlines must maintain minimum service levels in order to receive government assistance, but many have petitioned to stop service to airports with low passenger demand.

Both United Airlines and Delta Air Lines won tentative approval to halt flights to 11 airports, while JetBlue Airways Corp, Alaska Airlines and Frontier Airlines were approved to stop flights to five airports each. The department said all airports would continue to be served by at least one air carrier.

The Transportation Department said objections to the order can be filed until May 28.

U.S. air carriers are collectively burning through more than $10 billion in cash a month as travel demand remains a fraction of prior levels, even though it has rebounded slightly in recent weeks. They have parked more than half of their planes and cut thousands of flights.

Nevada eyes June 4 are reopening date for casinos

LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has set a tentative June 4 date for reopening the state’s shuttered casinos, including the famous glitzy casinos of Las Vegas.

The Democratic governor says Nevada has continued to see decreasing cases of the coronavirus and COVID-19 hospitalizations after some businesses reopened and some restrictions began to be lifted nearly two weeks ago. Sisolak’s office says he plans to hold a press conference Tuesday to offer more details about the next phase of reopening, assuming the decreasing cases of the virus and hospitalizations continue through the Memorial Day weekend.

Nevada’s gambling regulators plan to meet Tuesday and will consider reopening plans submitted from casinos, which need to be approved at least seven days before reopening.

N.Y. allows groups of 10 or fewer to congregate

After months of strict stay-at-home orders and just in time for the Memorial Day weekend, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Friday allowing groups of 10 people or fewer to congregate.

Social distancing, cleaning and disinfection protocols must be followed as required by the state's Department of Health, according to the order.

Earlier in the day, New York joined the rest of the tristate area in opening its beaches with restrictions. Masks are required, visitors should maintain a 6-foot distance from others and concession stands will remain closed.