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U.S. deaths top 60,000, Florida to lift stay-at-home order Monday

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from around the world.
Image: Healthcare workers react as they watch a flyover in Philadelphia
Healthcare workers react as they watch a flyover by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in Philadelphia on April 28., 2020.MARK MAKELA / Reuters

The number of deaths in the U.S. totaled more than 60,000 as of Wednesday evening, according to NBC News' tally, while the global death toll climbed over 226,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The growing U.S. death toll hasn't prevented some states from relaxing their lockdowns, including Florida, which announced it would begin lifting stay-at-home orders on Monday.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday that an experimental drug for the coronavirus has a proven benefit.

"The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery," Fauci said at the White House on Wednesday.

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

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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.

Newsom expected to close all California beaches

The California Police Chiefs Association told members in an email Wednesday that Gov. Gavin Newsom planned to announce Thursday that beaches statewide would be closed starting Friday.

The closure is also expected to include state parks.

The move appears to be designed to prevent the kind of crowding seen over the weekend, when warm weather prompted thousands to flock to the Orange County coastline.

On Monday Newsom, expressed his displeasure with the Southern California crowds, saying, "This virus doesn’t take the weekends off. This virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful sunny day around our coasts."

Read the full story here.

Should students get a tuition refund as classes move online?

LeBron James to honor Class of 2020 with all-star event

LeBron James is putting together an all-star event to honor and celebrate the high school class of 2020, which has had its graduation season upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

The LeBron James Family Foundation, XQ Institute and The Entertainment Industry Foundation on Wednesday announced that the one-hour special, “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020,” will air simultaneously on NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox on May 16 at 8 p.m. EDT. The event will pay tribute to high schoolers graduating this year and will include appearances by James, Pharrell Williams, Malala Yousafzai, the Jonas Brothers, Bad Bunny, Yara Shahidi, Ben Platt, Lena Waithe and H.E.R.

“I wanted to help create a show that looked and felt very different from traditional specials. Something that spoke to kids in a different way. These kids worked so hard to graduate and what is happening to them is truly unfair,” James said in a statement. 

“Graduate Together” was curated by high school students, educators and the American Federation of Teachers. It will feature commencement speeches, performances and more. It will also air on TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, Complex Networks, PeopleTV and other digital platforms.

Biden says Trump should order flags be flown at half-staff

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday said President Donald Trump should order that flags be flown at half-staff to honor the American lives lost to coronavirus as well as the first responders and medical workers helping the country fend off the disease.

"We've lost more people to this virus in the last several months than we lost in the entire Vietnam War," said Biden.

He made the remarks during a virtual fundraiser attended by 200 Florida donors. 

This month, New York, New Jersey and Michigan have ordered flags flown at half-staff.

"The president has talked about himself and how he's affected, rather than about how it's affected America," Biden said. "I don't see much empathy or concern."

During a news conference Monday, the president addressed the pandemic's human toll. "We continue to mourn with thousands of families across the country whose loved ones have been stolen from us by the invisible enemy," he said of the human toll of the coronavirus at a Rose Garden news conference. "We grieve by their side."

Oregon woman's giant cinnamon rolls raise more than $29,000 for food bank

Whitney Rutz is not a baker by trade, but she decided to make a giant cinnamon roll with her 7-year-old daughter to help raise her family's spirits amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

"I lost it, I cried and screamed and just had a really good session of 'I'm down in the dumps,'" Rutz told NBC News. And then she got to baking.

Rutz's social media followers were amazed by photos of the cinnamon roll, 12 inches in diameter and about 5 pounds. That's when she decided to auction a giant cinnamon roll, thinking she'd raise money for the Oregon Food Bank.

"If you're in dire straits and you're trying to figure out how to pay your rent and your utility bills, at least you have the food bank and can leverage that service, which is just so, so, so great," she said. 

The pastry sold for $300. 

That was in March. Since then, Rutz has baked more than 50 giant cinnamon rolls and raised more than $29,000 for the Oregon Food Bank. But only four of those rolls have gone to individuals.

Many who participated in the auctions didn't want the sweets for themselves and asked Rutz to donate them to health care facilities. The Oregon Food Bank recently began working with Rutz to facilitate an online fundraiser, so for every $500 raised, she's baking one cinnamon roll to donate to health care facilities. 

"It's been wonderful," Rutz said. "I cry out of happiness a lot. I have felt like this really allowed me to focus on something positive under these really terrible circumstances." 

More than 50 who worked, voted in Wisconsin election have COVID-19

MADISON, Wis. — More than 50 people who voted in person or worked the polls during Wisconsin’s presidential primary this month have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the latest count by state health officials tracking the impact of holding the election in the middle of a pandemic.

It remains unclear how many — if any — of those people contracted the virus at the polls and health officials are still collecting testing and tracing information. But officials say they don’t expect the number of known cases potentially tied to the election to grow substantially.

The “vast majority” of cases tied to the election have “already likely come to the surface,” said Andrea Palm, the state Department of Health Services secretary on Wednesday.

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, concerned about a spike in virus cases, tried to change the April 7 election so that it would be conducted entirely by mail, but he was blocked by the Republican-led Legislature and conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Brooklyn funeral home used U-Hauls to store bodies after running out of space

A New York City funeral home used moving trucks loaded with ice to store dozens of dead bodies after running out of space, police officials said Wednesday.

New York City’s health department issued two citations to the owner of the Brooklyn facility, Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Services, but he was not criminally charged, two senior New York Police Department officials told NBC News.

Read the full story here

Trump, Musk boosted online interest in antimalarial drugs, study finds

Online interest in purchasing drugs touted by President Donald Trump and billionaire Elon Musk spiked in late March after both weighed in, a new analysis published by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found.

Musk tweeted March 16 that antimalarial drug chloroquine was "maybe worth considering," and Trump said March 19 that chloroquine and related drug hydroxychloroquine showed "very, very encouraging early results," though Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, disagreed.

University researchers based at Oxford, Harvard, UC San Diego and Johns Hopkins measured a 1,389 percent surge in online searches about purchasing hydroxychloroquine after Trump first touted the drug. "This could be evidence that thousands of Americans were interested in purchasing these drugs," study co-author Mark Dredze of Johns Hopkins University said in a statement.

In April, a drumbeat of headlines dashed high hopes for the drugs and for a combination also touted by Trump, one including antibiotic azithromycin. In fact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the drugs should not be tried outside a hospital setting.

On March 22 an Arizona man died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate, a parasite treatment for fish, believing it would protect him from coronavirus. His wife said the couple believed the substance was the drug endorsed by the president.