Stay-at-home protests held across the country

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Image: Protest To Reopen California Businesses, Beaches, And Parks Held In Huntington Beach
Protestors gather in a demonstration in Huntington Beach, California on May 1, 2020.Apu Gomes / Getty Images

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Protests against stay-at-home orders were held across the country Friday amid mounting frustration over the economic impact from the coronavirus pandemic.

Rallies were scheduled in at least 10 states. Outside the Capitol building in Albany, New York, protesters chanted "USA! USA!" as they flew American and "Don't Tread on Me" flags. Counterprotesters scheduled their own rallies in support of keeping non-essential businesses closed.

Some states started to slowly reopen Friday, including Texas, where retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls were allowed to open for business. In Louisiana, restaurants (except those in hard-hit New Orleans) are allowed to add outdoor tables.

The calls to reopen business come as meat processing plants struggle with widespread outbreaks that have slowed or halted production. At a Tyson Foods pork-processing plant in Indiana, nearly 900 employees, 40 percent of the workforce, tested positive for the coronavirus.

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Nearly 900 employees at a Tyson pork plant in Indiana test positive for coronavirus

A Tyson Fresh Meats plant employee leaves the plant in Logansport, Ind., on April 23, 2020.Darron Cummings / AP file

Nearly 900 employees, 40 percent of the workforce, at a Tyson Foods pork-processing plant in Indiana have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The plant in Logansport halted operations April 25, one of several Tyson plants across the country that have voluntarily closed in an effort to help contain the spread of the virus.

The Cass County Health Department's administrator, Serenity Alter, said 890 employees at the plant have tested positive so far, and that a couple of hundred of others still need to be screened.

Read the full story here.

Romney unveils plan to give frontline workers hazard pay

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, introduced a plan Friday to give hazard pay to workers on the front lines of the coronavirus fight. 

The 2012 presidential nominee’s “Patriot Pay” plan would provide temporary bonus pay of up to $12 an hour from May through July. A quarter of that pay would be given by employers and and three-quarters by the federal government and funded through a refundable payroll tax credit, the announcement said. 

“Health care professionals, grocery store workers, food processors, and many others — the unsung patriots on the frontline of this pandemic — every day risk their safety for the health and well-being of our country, and they deserve our unwavering support,” Romney said.

Romney, who was the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump during the president's impeachment trial earlier this year, was also the only Republican not invited earlier this month to serve on the president’s task force to reopen the U.S. economy. Senate Democrats also unveiled a plan this month to support frontline workers, giving them up to $13 an hour in extra pay.

Family of asthmatic inmate held at virus-ravaged prison fears 'death sentence'

Watch towers of Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island, a low security facility housing male inmates, stand at the entrance of the Port of Los Angeles on April 16, 2013 in San Pedro, Calif.Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images file

More than a week has passed since Lyndsay Harrington has heard from her brother, who is locked up at a federal prison in California that houses inmates with health problems.

“We’re just so scared,” Harrington said.

She has good reason to worry.

Some 600 inmates at FCI Terminal Island, roughly 57 percent of the total inmate population, have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said. Five inmates have died after contracting COVID-19, including three in the last 48 hours, and at least 10 staff members have been infected.

Harrington said her brother is particularly vulnerable because he suffers from asthma and a thyroid condition.

“We don’t want this to turn into a death sentence for him,” she said of her brother, who is also bipolar.

Read more here.

University of Chicago students hold tuition strike due to pandemic

A group of students at The University of Chicago are holding a tuition strike as they demand that the elite private university cut tuition costs by 50 percent and waive fees for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, according to organizers.

UChicago for Fair Tuition launched a petition in April calling on the university to help students and families facing financial hardship due to economic fallout from the spread of the virus.

"As the coronavirus pandemic continues, it will create an increasingly disparate impact on low-income students, students with disabilities, students of color, queer students, students with children, and more," the petition reads.

Read the full story here

An aquarium in Japan wants people to video call their eels

Keepers at Japan's Sumida Aquarium, closed because of the coronavirus outbreak, are appealing to patrons to go online and call — their eels. 

The creatures have forgotten what it's like to see human faces so when keepers come to check their health, the frightened fish dive into the sand, according to the marine center in Tokyo.

So between Sunday and Tuesday, keeps hope their "face show festival," with patrons video dialing into tablets set around the tank, can remind them that humans are friendly.

Parts of Everglades National Park in Florida set to reopen

Everglades National Park in Florida will begin reopening some recreational areas starting Monday, the National Park Service announced.

Access will return for the park's Flamingo Marina and boat launch ramps, as well as the marina store, restrooms and gas pumps, and the external restrooms at its visitor center. Entry fees are also being waived.

Numerous other areas of the wetlands preserve remain closed. Decisions to reopen are made "on a park-by-park basis," and follow guidance from federal, state and local authorities, NPS officials said.

"I am pleased that we can be part of our community’s efforts to take incremental steps towards reopening,” Superintendent Pedro Ramos said in a statement. “Our action to restore access to the park's main road and Flamingo provides additional opportunities for people to spread out a little more while practicing social distancing."

The park's increased access will happen the same day as some Florida businesses are set to reopen in a phased plan outlined earlier this week by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

NASA develops new high-pressure ventilator

NASA engineers have developed a new high-pressure ventilator that could be used to treat coronavirus patients and help ease demand on the country’s limited supply of the machines. 

Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, designed the device that they named VITAL (short for Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), and the agency announced Friday that the design was approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A free license for the device is being offered in a bid to jumpstart the manufacturing process, according to Fred Farina, head of innovation and corporate partnerships at Caltech, which manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA.

"Now that we have a design, we're working to pass the baton to the medical community, and ultimately patients, as quickly as possible," Farina said in a statement. "To that end, we are offering the designs for licensing on a royalty-free basis during the time of the pandemic."

A Southern mayor had careful plans to reopen the city. His governor had other ideas.

Andy Berke, the mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, became one of the earliest leaders in the South to enact measures to prevent the spread of the virus, quickly closing gyms, bars, restaurants and other nonessential businesses. By March 16, Chattanooga was effectively shut down. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, ordered the same measures a week later statewide, and on April 2, he ordered residents to stay home.

But this week, Lee announced that the "vast majority" of businesses in the state were allowed to reopen — regardless of whether city officials like Berke or individual business owners felt it was safe to do so. The mayor said he can't promise it's safe if he doesn't know how many cases there are in his community, and he can't do that without help from the federal government to expand the city's testing capacity.

The development puts Chattanooga at the center of growing partisan tension between Democratic city leaders in the South who want to pursue a slower approach until testing has increased and Republican governors who want the economy reopened as quickly as possible.

Read the full story here.

Cuomo: New York state domestic violence incidents rose in March and April

Domestic violence incidents in New York state rose 15 percent in March and nearly 30 percent in April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday at his daily coronavirus briefing.

New York state entered into its version of "shelter in place" due to the COVID-19 crisis when Cuomo signed an executive order placing "New York state on PAUSE" on March 20. It was unclear if the increase in calls in March he cited were from after the start of the order or for the entire month. The state remained "on PAUSE" throughout all of April, when incidents increased dramatically.

As states began to issue orders to stay home in March, domestic violence experts were sounding the alarm that isolation at home raises concerns for domestic violence survivors, and warning police would see an increase in related calls.

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New York state will keep schools, colleges closed for rest of academic year

All schools and colleges in New York state will remain closed for the remainder of the academic year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference on Friday.

He said the decision was made to keep the state's 4.2 million students in K-12 schools and colleges and their teachers safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Distance learning will continue, the governor said, adding that schools and colleges should plan now on what measures they may need to take to reopen campuses in the fall.

Read the full story here.