Trump deems places of worship 'essential'

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Image: President Donald Trump holds a protective face mask with a presidential seal on it that he said he had been wearing earlier in his tour at the Ford Rawsonville Components Plant
President Donald Trump holds a protective face mask with a presidential seal on it that he said he had been wearing during his tour of a Ford plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on Thursday.Leah Millis / Reuters

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Ongoing stay-at-home orders prompted President Donald Trump on Friday to deem houses of worship essential. He threatened to override governors who have ordered churches, synagogues and mosques not to reopen in the coming days.

With the coronavirus threat looming, the long Memorial Day weekend won't look anything like years past.

Meanwhile, the nation's most populous county is getting ready to reopen by the next big summer holiday - July 4.

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

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This live coverage has now ended. Continue reading May 23 coronavirus news.

America's last Blockbuster gets a boost from film buffs staying at home

Chicago won't begin to loosen restrictions for several weeks

CHICAGO — Chicago cannot begin to loosen restrictions designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus before early June, officials in the United States’ third-largest city said.

Chicago, like the rest of Illinois, has been under a stay-at-home order since March 21. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said all parts of the state are on track for restrictions to begin loosening on May 29. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, though, said she could not provide residents with a specific date when the city can loosen restrictions but she hopes it can move forward in early June.

The city’s multi-phase plan for reopening businesses, government buildings and lifting some restrictions on residents’ movement requires a decline in new cases and emergency room visits, along with a 15% average rate of positive tests among those performed by health care providers in a 14-day window.

At 20.5%, the rate of positive tests remained a concern Friday, but the head of the city’s public health department said that percentage has declined in recent days and that she feels confident the city can reach the target number.

“The bottom line is that we are on track but we need people to continue to stay home and save lives this weekend and next week,” Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Tanzania says virus defeated through prayer, but fears grow

NAIROBI, Kenya — On just one day this month, 50 Tanzanian truck drivers tested positive for the coronavirus after crossing into neighboring Kenya. Back home, their president insists that Tanzania has defeated the disease through prayer.

All the while, President John Magufuli has led a crackdown on anyone who dares raise concerns about the virus’s spread in his East African country or the government’s response to it. Critics have been arrested, and opposition politicians and rights activists say their phones are being tapped.

The country’s number of confirmed virus cases hasn’t changed for three weeks, and the international community is openly worrying that Tanzania’s government is hiding the true scale of the pandemic. Just over 500 cases have been reported in a country of nearly 60 million people.

While many African countries have been praised for their response to the coronavirus, Tanzania is the most dramatic exception, run by a president who questions — or fires — his own health experts and has refused to limit people’s movements, saying the economy is the priority.

Indiana moves to next reopening phase two days ahead of schedule

Medical worker fought COVID-19 with help from doctor who was former patient

This July 4, Independence Day could take on new meaning for L.A. residents

The nation's most populous county is aiming for a July 4 reopening as public health and policy experts say the coronavirus pandemic has stabilized enough to begin economic recovery.

Los Angeles County officials set the deadline this week to reopen restaurants, malls and retail stores by Independence Day as stay-at-home orders continue to take a toll on nearly every industry, from retail to TV and film production.

"We have the epidemic under control with these lockdown orders, and we can start thinking about relaxing those orders," said Neeraj Sood, a professor and vice dean for research at the University of Southern California's Price School of Public Policy. "I think the county is ready to open on July 4th."

Businesses must submit detailed proposals to the county by June 30 outlining the safety measures they plan to introduce to protect workers and customers, including social distancing rules and employee access to personal protective equipment.

Read the full story here.

Justice Department joins push against Illinois coronavirus restrictions

The Justice Department is adding its support to a lawsuit challenging the pandemic-related stay at home restrictions in Illinois.

On Friday, DOJ lawyers filed a statement of interest backing a lawsuit filed by Illinois state Rep. Darren Bailey, a Republican who charges Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's emergency orders to help the state cope with the pandemic have exceed his authority.

“However well-intentioned they may be, the executive orders appear to reach far beyond the scope of the 30-day emergency authority granted to the governor under Illinois law,” Steven D. Weinhoeft, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, said in a statement. “Even during times of crisis, executive actions undertaken in the name of public safety must be lawful."

The filing also urges that Bailey's suit, which was moved from state court to federal court earlier this week, be moved back to state court.

Click here for the full story.

Mom meets new baby after more than 2 months fighting COVID-19

DOJ warns L.A. against long-term lockdown

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles County Health Director Barbara Ferrer have been warned that long-term lockdowns because of the coronavirus "may be both arbitrary and unlawful."

A letter sent Friday from Assistant Attorney General of Civil Rights Eric Drieband references several "heavy-handed" statements the Southern California officials have made about stay-at-home requirements that may remain in place until vaccines are developed.

The DOJ said in its letter that it recognizes the duty to protect residents but cautioned that "governmental authority, however, is not limitless, and must be exercised reasonably."

The Justice Department said it will not dictate how cities and counties determine to what degree activity and personal interaction should be allowed to protect citizens, but that it is the department's role to protect the constitutional rights of citizens.

 "There is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights," the DOJ wrote. 

Remdesivir clinical trial results published in New England Journal of Medicine

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases published long-awaited results of its first study of remdesivir, an antiviral medication that Dr. Anthony Fauci previously said has a "clear-cut, significant, positive effect" on patients with COVID-19. 

On Friday, NIAID published the preliminary analysis of the drug in the New England Journal of Medicine. The analysis included data on 1,059 hospitalized patients. About half received remdesivir, and half received a placebo. 

Patients who received remdesivir were in the hospital for about 11 days, on average, compared with 15 days for those who received the placebo. 

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for remdesivir. The move was intended to increase physicians' access to the drug. It's not a cure, but it's the only treatment so far shown in clinical trials to have a moderate impact on the illness.

Jersey Shore and many other U.S. beaches reopen for a Memorial Day like no other

When the Jersey Shore reopens for Memorial Day weekend with the coronavirus still stalking the state and the rest of the land, not everything will be as “all right” as it used to be.

"SOCIAL DISTANCE TODAY -- START SPREADING THE NEWS” is the message Jersey Shore-bound masses will see on flashing billboards as they ford freeways that are expected to be packed. And once they reach their desired destinations, there will be more reminders that life on the shore is still a long way from normal.

No arcades. No rides. No concerts or special events. Closed playgrounds. Capacity limits on beaches. Long lines to use the few public bathrooms that will be open. Just takeout at most bars and restaurants. And drones flying overhead to help authorities monitor it all.

Police and other security will be out on the sand making sure people keep six-feet apart, and lifeguards will blow the whistle on anyone who does not follow the new rules.

Read the full story here.