As states around the U.S. consider reopening, the country's death toll topped 61,000, according to an NBC News tally. Globally, there have been more than 232,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Protesters, some armed, demonstrated on Thursday against the Michigan lockdown on the steps of the state capitol building. And in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down beaches in Orange County after seeing what he called "disturbing" images of crowds from over the weekend.
Florida on Wednesday announced that it would slowly reopen. Gov. Ron DeSantis said the plan to lift restrictions "in a very measured, thoughtful and data-driven way," will go into effect Monday in every county except the three where most of the state's COVID-19 cases have been reported.
Meanwhile, South Korea recorded no new domestic COVID-19 cases for the first time in 72 days. The country dealt with the first major outbreak outside China, but brought the crisis under control with a massive testing campaign and intensive contact tracing.
- MAPS: Confirmed cases in the U.S. and worldwide, confirmed deaths in the U.S. and globally.
- Reopening America: See what states across the U.S. are starting to reopen.
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Churches, museums and playgrounds to reopen as Germany eases lockdown measures
Church and religious services will be allowed to take place in Germany and playgrounds, galleries, museums, and zoos will be allowed to reopen, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday, she announced that lockdown measures in the country would be eased. However, concerts and major sporting events will remain closed.
"We need to further slow the spread of the virus," Merkel said, adding that the country needed to bring down further the number of daily new infections and social distancing rules must be observed in public places to avoid a spike in infections.
Merkel said there were “difficult decisions” on how to proceed but insisted: “We have a great responsibility so that there is no relapse in a more difficult phase."
Biden calls on Trump to lower White House flag to honor coronavirus victims
Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee, called on President Donald Trump to lower the White House flag to half-staff to honor the thousands of victims of the coronavirus pandemic.
“By the end of this month, we will have lost more people to the coronavirus, dead, than we lost in the entire Vietnam War, Americans lost in the entire Vietnam War,” Biden said in a video posted to Twitter on Thursday.
“I think the president should lower the flag on the White House to half-mast to recognize their loss, and all they leave behind,” he said. "Folks, I think if he does not do that, when I’m president, I promise you that’s what I’ll do.”
Pelosi says House plans to come back the week of May 11
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that Democrats are planning to bring the House back into session the week of May 11.
When asked at her weekly press conference when the House will come back to vote on the next major coronavirus relief package, Pelosi said lawmakers are at the “mercy of the virus in terms of when they have the Capitol physician and the sergeant-at-arms say that we can come together and our large number.”
A few minutes later, she said, “We're not coming back this week. Our plan is to come back the following week.”
The speaker said that lawmakers are focused on working and voting on the next relief package as soon as possible, and the timing could change. Earlier this week, Democratic leaders said that the House would reconvene next week, but they were later advised by the Capitol physician not to return because of the coronavirus threat.
Holocaust survivor, 94, discharged from rehab center after recovering from COVID-19
The red carpet was rolled out for a 94-year-old Holocaust survivor who recently recovered from COVID-19.
Jack Holzberg, from Forest Hills, a neighborhood in New York City's Queens borough, was discharged from CareOne at Hanover, a rehab center in New Jersey, on Tuesday after he spent weeks fighting the deadly virus.
“He’s just one of the toughest people that I know,” Holzberg’s grandson-in-law Jeff Wasserman told NBC New York.
The great grandfather of five has been a fighter his whole life. As a teenager, Holzberg survived multiple concentration camps in Austria and Poland, according to testimony he gave to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute in 1996.
In a post on Facebook, Holzberg’s granddaughter Erica Wasserman expressed her gratitude for her grandfather’s health care team. “As a Holocaust survivor, he personifies strength and positivity. We are beyond grateful to everyone who cared for him and we can’t wait for the day when we can all celebrate together,” Wasserman wrote.
New York will hire up to 17,000 people to trace contacts of people with coronavirus
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday detailed plans to develop a massive program for tracing the contacts of people in the state who test positive for coronavirus.
Cuomo said the effort will require hiring between 6,400 and 17,000 contact tracers, depending on the spread of the virus.
Bloomberg, whose philanthropic organization is helping to lead the program's launch, joined Cuomo via video during the governor's daily coronavirus briefing.
"When social distancing is relaxed, contract tracing is our best hope for isolating the virus when it appears and keeping it isolated," Bloomberg said.
He said Johns Hopkins University has developed a training class for contact tracers that can be taken remotely.
Vaccine by January is 'doable,' Fauci says
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the "TODAY" show on Thursday that the government is determining whether a vaccine is effective before beginning to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses.
"We want to go quickly, but we want to make sure it's safe and it's effective," Fauci said. "I think that is doable if things fall in the right place."
In January, Fauci estimated that a vaccine against the coronavirus could be developed in a year to 18 months.
NYC Mayor says funeral home storing bodies in U-Haul was 'absolutely unacceptable'
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it is "absolutely unacceptable" that a funeral home in Brooklyn stored bodies in moving trucks after running out of space.
Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Services was issued two citations this week after police found 50 bodies had been stored in four trucks, including rentals from U-Haul. The owner, who was not criminally charged, told officials that he had an overflow of bodies and was trying to do his best.
"This horrible situation that occurred with the funeral home in Brooklyn, absolutely unacceptable," the mayor said at his news conference on Thursday. "They have an obligation to the people they serve to treat them with dignity. I have no idea in the world how any funeral home can let this happen."
Funeral homes are regulated by the state and not the city, but de Blasio said the owner should have reached out for help if the were having issues with storage. "It's unconscionable to me," he said.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said he would be convening a bereavement committee on Monday to address the incident and demand the city do better, NBC New York reported. De Blasio said he supports Adams' plan.
U.S. Intelligence Community examining whether outbreak came from animals or laboratory accident
The United States Intelligence Community agrees with the scientific consensus that COVID-19 was "not manmade or genetically modified," according to a statement by the office of the Director of National Intelligence published Thursday morning.
The U.S. Intelligence Community is comprised of 17 federal government intelligence-gathering agencies and offices. Together, they have been providing national policymakers and responders with information about the virus by "surging resources and producing critical intelligence on issues vital to U.S. national security."
The community is continuing to examine "whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan,” according to the DNI statement.
Not taking public transit during the pandemic? France offers 50 euro to fix up your bike
In an effort to encourage socially distant forms of transportation in the COVID-19 era, the French Ministry of Ecological and Inclusive Transition announced Thursday that it would be putting forward a 20 million euro ($21.7 million) plan to improve bicycle infrastructure, but notably would also include a one-time 50 euro ($54) subsidy that cyclists can use toward bike repair.
In a news release, Minister Elisabeth Borne said that 60 percent of trips in France during the pre-pandemic era are under 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). “The weeks to come represent an opportunity for many French people, whether they are already cyclists or not, to choose their bike to get to work or to get around nearby,” she said.
The Ministry is calling it a “bike repair boost” that will cover many minor bike repairs, including a new chain installation, new brakes, tires, derailleur and more. It can be used only among the network of 3,000 bike mechanics who are members of a French bike advocacy group known as FUB. The French government agency also intends to use the funds to improve bike parking and bike lanes, and to set up bike training classes nationwide.
Germany warns of second or third virus wave in the fall
Germany is still at the “beginning of a marathon” when it comes to the outbreak, according to Lothar Wieler, the president of Germany’s public health institute. He stressed that some experts expect a second or even a third wave of coronavirus infections in the country — particularly in the fall.
Wieler said Thursday that recent developments are “pleasant” given that daily new cases in Germany this week stand at around 1,000 (compared to around 2,000 daily cases last week), but he asked citizens to continue to adhere to all social distancing measures.
The comments come a week after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the campaign against the outbreakwas in its early stages and warned that Germany was still on "thin ice." Germany has fared better than most European nations in terms of its death toll, but it has the fifth-highest caseload in Europe with almost 160,000 confirmed as of Thursday.
Surge of masks and gowns coming to New York City, de Blasio says
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference on Thursday that a factory in Vietnam is producing a mass supply of surgical gowns.
One million gowns are on the way to the city with 900,000 more being loaded onto a plane, he said. The city has purchased an additional 3 million gowns that are in production.
"We are now confident that we will have enough surgical gowns to get us through the middle of May," he said.
De Blasio also said Thursday that 100,000 face masks will be distributed this week free-of-charge in parks. He said they will focus on communities that have been hard-hit by the virus and parks where there is heavy traffic.
Hundreds of thousands of masks have been donated to the city, de Blasio said. American Eagle donated 175,000 surgical masks and the NBA contributed 35,000 masks, including N95 respirators. The Consulate General of Egypt donated 200,000 masks and 5,000 protective gowns and suits.
De Blasio said he was "very appreciative" of all of the donations.