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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Georgia's shelter-in-place order expires tonight
Georgia's shelter-in-place order will expire at 11:59 pm ET on Thursday night for most of the state and not be extended, Gov. Brian Kemp announced.
The governor said Thursday that though he was lifting the mandatory lockdown measures, he urged residents to voluntarily remain home and said any opened businesses should maintain social distancing guidelines. Kemp signed a new order that required "medically fragile and elderly Georgians" to remain sheltered in place until June 12.
"The health and well-being of Georgians are my top priorities, and my decisions are based on data and advice from health officials," Kemp said Thursday. "I will do what is necessary to protect the lives — and livelihoods — of our people."
Although many states have chosen to loosen restrictions in an effort to reopen the economy, high-ranking health officials have warned that it may be too soon.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC's "Today" on Thursday that states must have the capability of identifying, isolating and contact tracing people who test positive or they risk a rebound in cases.
Cadets will be tested for coronavirus when they return to West Point for graduation
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy pushed back Thursday afternoon on the idea that President Donald Trump drove the decision to bring cadets back to West Point for a graduation ceremony in June, saying Army leadership presented the plan to return to Pentagon leadership and the White House over a month ago.
Speaking during a Pentagon briefing, McCarthy and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville explained the cadets have to come back to clean out their dorm rooms and go through medical screening so they can become second lieutenants in the Army. They said they have been planning to bring them back all along and were just working through procedures and timing.
West Point's Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, said the Army has set up a staging base near the academy where all cadets will be screened and tested for COVID-19. Those who pass will move to West Point and be split into five corps, and all corps will live and eat separate from each other for two weeks to ensure no one is sick.
A defense official said a cadet who is exposed to COVID-19 or tests positive will not be required to return and can come back later this summer.
Fact check: Trump says the U.S. ready to contain COVID-19 with contact tracing. Experts disagree.
President Donald Trump and members of his administration, who are eager to have parts of the economy restarted, have insisted that a robust contact tracing program to contain future outbreaks of the coronavirus is in place.
“We’ve gotten good at tracing,” Trump claimed during a press briefing on April 23.
Contact tracing, the time consuming process of tracking down the associates of people who test positive for viral contagions, is seen as key to a safe reopening.
But a number of public health experts have said Trump paints an overly rosy picture, pointing to issues like funding and the challenge of executing tracing programs on a mass scale to explain why the U.S. is still likely unprepared to aggressively contain the next wave of COVID-19.
“We don’t have the scale that we need — we don’t have even close to the scale we need,” Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told NBC News.
About face: Pence wears mask during visit to Indiana plant following criticism
Days after he was criticized for not wearing a mask during a tour of a hospital's coronavirus testing facility, Vice President Mike Pence sported a face covering on Thursday while touring a General Motors plant making ventilators in Indiana.
Like the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the G.M. plant in Kokomo has protocols in place requiring workers to wear "medical grade protective masks."
Pence, who's the head of the White House coronavirus task force, thanked workers at the plant for their "critical help" in fighting the virus. He said the re-purposed plant has already made over 600 ventilators. "I just wanted to thank you," the former Indiana governor said. "It's an honor to be among the heroes in the Hoosier State."
He later took off the mask during a round table discussion at the plant, where participants, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, appeared to be sitting several feet apart. None of the attendees at the panel, including administration officials and GM executives, wore a mask.
Texas zoo launches drive-thru experience
A Texas zoo is giving families an opportunity to see animals while also practicing social distancing.
Beginning May 1st, visitors to the San Antonio Zoo will be able to enjoy the sights and sounds, all from the comfort and safety of their vehicles. The drive-thru zoo experience is expected to last between 30 minutes and an hour and includes an audio tour, which is posted on the zoo’s website.
"This is a very unique and safe way for families to see the zoo while we are closed from the comfort of their own car," said Tim Morrow, President & CEO San Antonio Zoo, according to NBC affiliate WOAI.
The zoo has been closed since March 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Proceeds from the drive-thru experience will help the zoo to continue to care for the animals until it is safe to reopen, according to Murrow.
Georgia voters request record 1 million absentee ballots amid pandemic
Georgia voters are requesting a record numbers of absentee ballots for the state's June 9 primary election amid the coronavirus pandemic.
More than a million of the state's residents have requested a mailed ballot so far, an enormous leap from the little more than 37,000 absentee ballots cast in the primary in 2016, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Thursday.
Despite President Donald Trump's public criticism of voting by mail, Raffensperger is one of a number of Republican state election chiefs who haves embraced that process to conduct votes without violating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's social-distancing guidelines, at least for the primary election.
Gov. Murphy thanks Trump for coronavirus relief during New Jersey's 'darkest hour'
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy spoke with NBC News' Andrea Mitchell on what he called a "good discussion" with President Donald Trump on the coronavirus pandemic and detailed part of the plan for his state's reopening.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin tests positive for the virus
Russia's Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin informed President Vladimir Putin that he had tested positive for coronavirus during a video conference on Thursday evening, according to a Kremlin transcript of their conversation.
"It has just became known that the tests I took for coronavirus have given a positive result," Mishutin said, adding that he "must observe self-isolation as the doctors order."
He said that planned to stay in contact with his colleagues by phone and videocall.
Putin then wished Mishustin a speedy recovery.
Photos: Navy hospital ship departs New York
A Navy hospital ship left New York City on Thursday, a month after it was sent to relieve stress on hospitals at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
After arriving to great fanfare, the USNS Comfort treated just 182 people as a surge in cases in the hard-hit city fell short of the worst-case projections. The last dozen patients on the ship were discharged or transferred to other hospitals over the weekend.
WHO investigating link between virus and syndrome that affects young kids
The World Health Organization is “urgently” investigating a potential link between the coronavirus and Kawasaki syndrome, an illness of unknown cause that primarily affects children under 5.
“We are aware of this newly described syndrome from a number of countries in Europe and potentially a small number of cases in North America,” Dr. Adam Finn, chair of the WHO's European Technical Advisory Group, told a news briefing Thursday.
“We are urgently conducting a surveillance study in the United Kingdom to establish what is going on,” he added.
Also known as Kawasaki disease, on its website the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes Kawasaki syndrome as “acute febrile illness of unknown cause" that "primarily affects children younger than five years of age.”
Boris Johnson leads first briefing since COVID-19 recovery
Leading his first coronavirus press briefing at No. 10 Downing Street since he recovered from COVID-19, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday paid tribute to the U.K.'s National Health Service.
Johnson, whose fianceé, Carrie Symonds, gave birth to their son on Wednesday, said, "I want to thank everybody who has been doing such a good job in my absence, and I want to thank the NHS for so much — including getting me back here and, I might add, a very much happier hospital visit yesterday."
He added that an additional 674 patients had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the U.K. as of 5 p.m. local time (12 p.m. ET) on Wednesday, bringing the country's death toll to 26,771.