White House to wind down task force

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Image: How Royal Papworth Hospital Adapted To Battle A Pandemic
Clinical staff wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as they care for a patient at the Intensive Care unit at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, England on May 5, 2020.Neil Hall / Pool via Getty Images

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President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force is in the early stages of winding down, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci are still expected to be at the White House on a daily basis, but other members of the task force may be less physically present.

Speculation about the task force's ongoing presence emerged as Trump was traveling outside the D.C. area for the first time in more than a month to visit a Honeywell mask manufacturing facility in Phoenix, Arizona.

The U.S. coronavirus death toll passed 70,000 Tuesday, with at least 70,972 deaths linked to the illness across the country, according to an NBC News count of reports. Globally, there have been more than 257,000 deaths according to Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, businesses in several states including Florida and California, have reopened their doors, hopeful to bring back customers while managing expectations and safety. But fears continue to mount about America's food supply chain. At a Tyson meat factory in Iowa, 58 percent of workers tested positive for COVID-19.

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

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Kansas farmer who donated mask to New York receives college diploma

Dennis Ruhnke, the retired farmer who was singled out by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo after donating a face mask to New York in March, finally received his college diploma. 

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and Kansas State University President Richard Myers presented Ruhnke with his bachelor’s degree Tuesday. Ruhnke was just two credits from earning his degree when his father died in 1971, Kelly said, and chose to leave school to care for his mother and their family farm. 

“Dennis’ kindness and lifelong career in agriculture make him more than qualified to receive a degree,” Kelly wrote in a Facebook post.

Ruhnke gained national attention last month after he sent a letter and N95 mask to Cuomo, who read Ruhnke’s letter during a news conference. Cuomo called the gesture “humanity at its best.” 

“Many of those who wrote to me to thank me asked me how they could help,” Ruhnke said Tuesday. “Just pay it forward as much as you can afford to do so, to honor all those who have lost their lives to the [COVID-19] virus, and also to honor the first responders who, in some cases, even lost their own lives in the line of duty. The ultimate sacrifice.”

Detroit automakers push for restart of plants within 2 weeks

DETROIT — Major U.S. automakers are planning to reopen North American factories within two weeks, potentially putting thousands of workers back on the assembly line as part of a gradual return to normality.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley said on an earnings conference call Tuesday his company plans to start reopening factories May 18, though that depends on an easing of government restrictions.

Right now, Michigan’s shelter-at-home order is in effect until May 15.

Detroit automakers will likely be on the same timetable because their workers are represented by the same union.

The United Auto Workers union on Tuesday appeared to be onboard.

Detroit automakers employ about 150,000 factory workers in the United States alone. Auto plants have been shut since mid-March because of the outbreak. At least 25 employees at auto facilities represented by the UAW have died as a result of COVID-19, although it’s not known if they were infected at work.

Manley said a lot depends on whether Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allows factories to reopen.

Last week, Whitmer hinted that auto plants may soon reopen as the curve of cases continues to flatten. She said the reopening could take place as long as the UAW can ensure employees feel safe.

Native American health center asked for COVID-19 supplies. It got body bags instead.

In mid-March, as the Seattle region grappled with a coronavirus outbreak, a community health center caring for the area's Native American population made a pressing request to county, state and federal health agencies: Please send medical supplies.

What it received almost three weeks later left staff members stunned.

"My team turned ghost white," said Esther Lucero, chief executive officer of the Seattle Indian Health Board. "We asked for tests, and they sent us a box of body bags."

The health board's center — serving about 6,000 people a year in Seattle and King County — still has the package, which is filled with zippered white bags and beige tags that read "attach to toe."

Read the full story here

Huntington Beach, scene of protests following closures, to reopen

A Southern California coastal community that has been fighting the state over beach closures has been given the green light to begin to reopen beaches, along with two other Orange County cities.

Huntington Beach saw a protest of several hundred people on Friday after Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all beaches in the county closedfollowing crowds seen there amid the coronavirus epidemic.

On Tuesday, the California Natural Resources Agency said that Huntington Beach, Dana Point and Seal Beach received approval to reopen beaches after submitting plans that include measures to protect public health.

Newsom issued his order on Thursday, and Huntington Beach's city council the same day voted to authorize legal action. A judge then refused to block Newsom's order.

Huntington Beach said in a statement Tuesday that the beaches and bike pathway would be reopened for active recreation only. People will also have to maintain physical distancing.

Federal judge rules New York must hold June primary election canceled over coronavirus risks

A federal judge ordered Tuesday that New York state hold its Democratic primary in June, which was canceled over coronavirus concerns, which places Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other former 2020 candidates back on the ballot.

U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres of Manhattan ruled in favor of the law team representing businessman Andrew Yang, who dropped out of the Democratic primary in early February.

Yang’s lawyers brought the lawsuit against the New York State Board of Elections late last month after the board canceled the state’s primary, which already had been postponed two months. Citing coronavirus concerns, the board stripped Sanders' name from the June 23 presidential primary ballot after he dropped out — effectively canceling the primary and making former Vice President Joe Biden the winner.

Dozens of states have postponed their primaries or moved to mail-in or drive-by voting as the pandemic has upended the 2020 election cycle. Some states, however, have gone forward with their usual in-person voting. Wisconsin, for instance, held its April 7 primary with in-person voting after Republicans blocked efforts to move to mail-in ballots, and several cases of the coronavirus have been linked to those who went out to vote.

Click here for the full story.

Pennsylvania hospital celebrates release of one of first COVID-19 patients

Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Pennsylvania, discharged one of its first coronavirus patients on May 1. 

The patient reunited with his wife as dozens of staff members applauded and held signs that said, "Mount Nittany Medical Center Will Miss You" and "Wish You All The Best." The scene was captured in a video released by the hospital this week. 

The man, whose name was not released, had been hospitalized for 31 days. He had been on a ventilator and in a coma for two weeks. Four days after being removed from the ventilator, he was able to sit up and breathe on his own. 

“I can’t thank all of the doctors and nurses at the hospital enough. I appreciate them so much,” his wife of 46 years said in a statement. “I’ve always believed in miracles, but I’d never had one in my life until now.”

Pennsylvania has had more than 52,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to NBC News' count. 

Former Olympian Jenny Thompson joins the fight against COVID-19

Jenny Thompson is best known as the record-holder for the most Olympic medals won by a female swimmer.

However, Thompson, a pediatric anesthesiologist, traded her swim goggles for a face shield and joined the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19 in Charleston, South Carolina.

As the number of cases continued to increase, Thompson became concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment needed in order to keep medical professionals safe while treating patients.

Two of her former Stanford swimming teammates, Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer, created a GoFundMe page to help raise money for Thompson and her colleagues; the page raised almost $11,000.

“I just was so touched by the outpouring of support, from friends and family, the swimming community, even people I didn’t know," Thompson told Team USA. "It brought me a feeling that this is a crisis, but all of these people have my back.”

Thompson won eight gold, three silver and one bronze over the course of her four Olympic appearances.

Americans divided over coronavirus pandemic stay-at-home orders

According to a new poll, 78 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with going out to eat, while 56 percent say they’re comfortable with going to a grocery story. Most believe gyms, theaters and barber shops should not yet be allowed to reopen.