Global COVID-19 cases reach 5 million

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Global cases of COVID-19 topped 5 million early Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

By Thursday night that number had passed 5.1 million, according to the university.

More than 332,900 people have died worldwide, according to that count. In the United States, more than 1.5 million cases have been reported and more than 95,000 deaths, according to NBC News' count.

President Donald Trump visited a Ford plant in Michigan on Thursday, and while he did wear a mask at one point, when he appeared before the media he did not. " I didn’t want to press to get the pleasure of seeing it,” Trump told reporters. The president also said he wasn't wearing one because he was making a speech.

Trump also tweeted that he will be ordering flags on federal buildings and monuments nationwide to fly at half-staff over the Memorial Day weekend to honor those who have died of COVID-19.

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

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This live coverage has ended. Continue to May 22 coronavirus updates.

Financial help en route for struggling New York City transit system, Trump says

More federal financial help is on the way for New York City's transit system, which has been reeling from losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.  

President Donald Trump announced on Twitter Thursday night that about $300 million was heading to New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority, part of the $3.9 billion that's been allocated for New York under coronavirus stimulus legislation passed by Congress.

The MTA runs the state's trains, subways and buses. With the payment, the agency will have received over $2 billion in federal funding to date, Trump said. 

"This is critical to keeping essential personnel moving and aiding metro NYC in recovery," the president tweeted. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters last week that the agency "desperately needs funding because the ridership is way down" and credited Trump for expediting the payments to his former home state. The "president cut red tape," Cuomo said. 

Early release of Cohen and Manafort shows how unfair prison system is, experts say

Brian Stauffer / for NBC News

Michael Cohen is just the latest well-connected federal prisoner to be sent home early because of the coronavirus, even though he has served only a third of his sentence — well shy of the 50 percent threshold federal officials often cite in denying requests for early release.

By contrast, prisoners like Eddie Brown, an Oklahoma man who has served a bigger portion of his sentence than Cohen and also cites health problems, remain behind bars, raising questions about the Bureau of Prisons' opaque process and its fairness.

New data show that Cohen, along with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, released last week, are among the relatively few federal prisoners to win early release in the seven weeks since Attorney General William Barr cited the pandemic in ordering more federal prisoners to be let out.

During that time, the number of people in home confinement increased by only 2,578, about 1.5 percent of the nearly 171,000 people in federal prisons and halfway houses when Barr issued his memo.

Read the full story here

Nursing home executive to Pence: Enough photo ops

The head of an association representing more than 5,000 non-profit senior living facilities sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence Thursday asking that he stop doing what she characterized as “photo op” deliveries of personal protective gear to nursing homes.

“While it may not be your intention, these photo-ops send a false impression that nursing homes and other aging services providers are getting what they need. That is nowhere close to the truth,” wrote Katie Smith Sloan, CEO of LeadingAge.

Pence delivered PPE to a nursing home in Orlando yesterday in front of reporters and also to a facility in Northern Virginia on May 7. In late April, the White House announced FEMA would deliver one week’s worth of PPE to every nursing home in the U.S.; after criticism FEMA increased the size of the shipments to a 14-day supply.

NBC News previously reported that one of the first shipments went to a facility in Saratoga Springs, New York with no coronavirus cases.

Trump spotted wearing mask during Ford tour, but refuses to wear it in front of press cameras

President Donald Trump has a face covering with the presidential seal on it, but refused to wear it on the public part of his tour of a Ford plant in Michigan on Thursday despite factory policy.

Trump was photographed wearing a mask at the plant, and a source familiar with the matter confirmed the authenticity of that photo. The president was given a mask by Ford.

President Donald Trump wears a mask during his tour of the Ford Rawsonville Components Plant that is manufacturing ventilators, masks and other medical supplies in Ypsilanti, Michigan on May 21, 2020.

“I wore one in the back area but I didn’t want to press to get the pleasure of seeing it,” Trump told reporters during an appearance at a Ford plant in Ypsilanti that's making ventilators to combat the coronavirus.

He then displayed the black face covering, which has the presidential seal in the corner. "I think I look better in the mask," Trump said, before offering a different explanation for why he wasn't wearing it. "I'm making a speech so I won't have it on now," he said.

Click here for the full story. 

As country reopens, a question remains: Can coronavirus spread on surfaces?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed the wording on its website earlier this month to emphasize that the coronavirus is not easily spread through contact with contaminated surfaces.

The change, made May 11 with no public announcement, was to a headline on the agency's page about how the virus spreads, and specifically, whether a person can get sick from touching a surface with the virus on it.

Read more. 

USDA to provide $1 billion in loans to rural businesses and farmers

Dairy cows stand in a pen at a cattle farm in West Canaan, Ohio on, April 30, 2020.Dane Rhys / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would provide up to $1 billion in guaranteed loans to rural businesses and farmers in an effort to help them survive the coronavirus pandemic. 

"USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural businesses and agricultural producers and being a strong supporter of all aspects of the rural economy,” Perdue said. “Ensuring more rural agricultural producers are able to gain access to much-needed capital in these unprecedented times is a cornerstone of that commitment.”

The policy change opens up eligibility to some agriculture producers who were not able to receive loans from the USDA Farm Service Agency program, but the loans can only be used as working capital "to prevent, prepare for or respond to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic." 

They can only be used by rural businesses, which includes farmers, that were operating as of Feb. 15. 

Security firm says North Dakota's contact-tracing app is sending user data to third parties

A new report from cybersecurity firm Jumbo Privacy claims that Care19, a contact-tracing app created to track the spread of coronavirus in North Dakota, is sending user data to third-party services, including location service Foursquare.

FAQs about the app published on North Dakota’s official site say that "information is 100% anonymous,” and that “the application does not have any information that is tied to an individual person.”

Jumbo disagrees.

"They share the IDFA with Foursquare, which means it’s not anonymous,” said Jumbo Privacy CEO Pierre Valade. "It’s a unique ID tied to your phone.” 

North Dakota is one of a few states, including South Dakota and Utah, that have built their own contact-tracing apps.

Foursquare said in a statement that while it receives Care19 data, it does not use it in any way and promptly discards it. ProudCrowd did not immediately return a request for comment.

White House to issue guidance on church reopenings after dispute with CDC caused delay

President Donald Trump said Thursday that his administration will release guidelines for reopening places of worship by Friday after they were delayed by a disagreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over what the recommendations should entail.

Trump said he told the CDC on Thursday to put out the guidelines, which have been revised by White House officials in recent days to make them less stringent than the ones the agency initially recommended.

“The CDC is going to put something out very soon,” Trump said during an event in Michigan. “We’re going to get our churches open.”

“They’re so important to the psyche of our country,” the president said.

According to a senior administration official, the guidelines for places of worship that have been cleared by the White House Counsel’s Office include recommendations such as wearing gloves while distributing Holy Communion, social distancing and holding virtual services as a last resort.

Read the full story.

Pelosi: Voting in the United States 'is under assault'

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said voting in the United States is "under assault both from a systematic national, nationwide campaign of voter suppression and from the coronavirus" and must be protected with vote-by-mail provisions.

"People should not have to choose between voting and preserving their good health and that of their families," Pelosi, D-Calif., said during her weekly briefing with reporters in Washington, D.C.. She called on the Senate to pass the House Democrats' latest stimulus package, dubbed the "HEROES Act." The $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill includes over $3 billion in funding in election protections.

Pelosi called the sum "a small price to pay for our democracy and the good health of people going to the polls."

The California Democrat's comments come one day after President Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from Michigan and Nevada over their pursuit of mass mail-in voting, calling their moves illegal.

Read the full story.

COVID-19's severe toll on blood vessels in lungs much worse than flu

A post-mortem analysis of individuals who died from COVID-19 or influenza reveals key differences in how the coronavirus damages the lungs.

The paper, published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, found severe blood vessel damage and widespread blood clotting throughout the lungs of those with COVID-19. The lungs of people who died from flu didn't show that kind of damage.

The authors also observed more new blood vessel growth in the lungs of COVID-19 patients than influenza patients. This blood vessel growth, the authors hypothesize, is the body's response to the blood vessel damage and blockage — essentially growing new blood vessels to compensate. 

The study included seven autopsied lungs from COVID-19 victims, seven autopsied lungs from H1N1 flu victims, and 10 uninfected autopsied lungs.