U.S. death toll nears 100,000

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Image: A man wears a protective mask as he walks on Wall Street during the coronavirus outbreak in New York
A man wears a protective mask as he walks on Wall Street during the coronavirus outbreak in New York on March 13, 2020.Lucas Jackson / Reuters file

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The number of U.S. coronavirus deaths approached 100,000, with more than 99,600 deaths recorded as of early Wednesday, according to NBC News' count. The U.S. leads the world in both deaths and confirmed cases, with 1.69 million infections.

The National Hockey League on Tuesday announced a plan to resume its suspended season by moving directly into playoffs, but details, including which "hub cities" would host the contests, remained up in the air.

Former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called President Donald Trump "an absolute fool to talk that way" after Trump criticized Biden for wearing a mask during a Memorial Day remembrance.

"Every leading doc in the world is saying we should wear a mask when you're in a crowd," Biden said in a CNN interview.

Trump, who did not wear a mask during Memorial Day services, retweeted Fox News commentator Brit Hume's Monday night tweet criticizing Biden. Trump denied mocking Biden at a Tuesday news conference.

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

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New Jersey authorizes professional sports teams to resume practice and competition

Professional sports teams in New Jersey are allowed to practice and play in games or matches, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Tuesday.

Teams will only be allowed to use athletic facilities where team personnel are on location, according to an executive order that Murphy signed last Friday.

“While leagues make their own decisions about operations, I am confident that teams are equipped to practice and eventually play in a responsible manner, protecting the health and safety of players, coaches, and team personnel,” Murphy said.

Coronavirus cases and deaths in New York state continue to drop, Gov. says

New York continues to move in a good direction, the state's governor said at his daily news briefing on Tuesday. 

Hospitalizations in the state are down as well as the number of new coronavirus cases, which is about 200. On Monday, 73 people died from COVID-19. The day before that number was 96. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the number of deaths is still tragic "but relative to where we've been, we're on the other side of the curve." 

"It's the lowest number that we've had so we thank all the healthcare staff once again," he said. The governor said his focus is now on continuing to reopen but doing it smartly. 

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to allow graduation ceremonies

The class of 2020 will have the chance to celebrate graduating, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday. 

"Beginning July 6th, schools WILL have the opportunity to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies that comply with social distancing – ensuring the health and safety of all in attendance," the governor said in a tweet

The Department of Education and the Secretary of Higher Education will release guidance on Wednesday. For graduating classes that are too large to accommodate the governor's rule that no more than 25 people can gather outdoor, schools may have to hold multiple ceremonies. 

"We want them to celebrate and to be celebrated by their family, friends and educators who helped get them there," Murphy said. 

Memorial Day weekend draws large crowds across the country

As states around the country ease up on coronavirus lockdowns, Memorial Day weekend festivities seemed to attract large crowds with many people flocking to beaches, bars and other public spaces while forgoing social distancing and face mask rules.

Crowds were spotted at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, beaches in Maryland, New Jersey and Florida, as well as a packed pool party in Houston. 

Read the full story here.

N.Y.C. Mayor confident city will bounce back because of "strength the resilience of New Yorkers"

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday that while some people might choose to flee the city after it was so hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, he is still "very confident about the future of this city."

"People of this city are strong and resilient," de Blasio said remembering residents' responses to the financial crisis, 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. New York "has come back every single time, and stronger —literally stronger each time." 

He said the "strength the resilience of New Yorkers" gives him hope that both New Yorkers and visitors would return. "New Yorkers have mounted a heroic, heroic effort here. A lot of people admire that and feel very, very strongly that this place is special."

Ohio school bus drivers honor class of 2020

An Ohio school district’s bus drivers found a creative way to honor the class of 2020, even though the school year ended early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Bus drivers with the Loveland City School District said they have known many of the graduating seniors since kindergarten and had formed special memories with the students. In a video posted on the district’s website and Facebook page, bus drivers can be seen waving as the camera pans out to reveal the school buses arranged to write 2020. 

“This is a huge accomplishment and anyway we can show them some love, we will do it,” bus driver Jennifer Bloom Bowman wrote in a statement posted on the district’s website. “So here's to the Class of 2020. Your bus drivers are proud of all of you.”

DOJ warns Nevada's church restrictions could violate Constitution

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday sent a stern letter to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak warning that the department had civil rights concerns over the state's ban on gatherings of ten or more people for religious worship services. 

In the letter, U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada Nicholas Trutanich and Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband wrote that "churches and other faith-based organizations are currently subject to restrictions that other businesses and groups are not," such as restaurants and hair and nail salons, which are allowed to open with limited capacity. 

"We are concerned, however, that the flat prohibition against ten or more persons gathering for in-person worship services — regardless of whether they maintain social distancing guidelines — impermissibly treats religious and nonreligious organizations unequally. These directives may violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, unless the government can prove a compelling interest and pursued the least restrictive means possible," the letter continued, urging the state to amend their emergency directives. 

On Friday, President Donald Trump announced that places of worship were considered "essential" businesses and threatened to "override" any governors who refused to allow them to open, although it is unlikely the president has the legal authority to do so. 

NYSE floor reopens with Cuomo ringing in trading day

The trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange reopened for the first time in two months with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ringing the iconic bell, but the controlled chaos was more subdued Tuesday under new pandemic rules.

The floor, known worldwide for an anarchic atmosphere with traders shouting orders over one another, has been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus outbreak. The NYSE says fewer traders will be on the floor at a given time for now in order to support six-feet social distancing requirements. They also must wear masks.

Anyone entering the Exchange at 11 Wall Street is also being asked to avoid public transportation, and they will have their temperature taken before entry, said Stacey Cunningham, president of the NYSE.

Designated market makers, which oversee the trading of the NYSE's 2,200 listed companies, will continue to do so remotely and electronically as they have been since March 23.

Famed archeological site reopens in Italy

Italy’s famed archaeological site Pompeii has reopened to the public for the first time since the beginning of the country’s lockdown.

Mask-wearing visitors were asked to adhere to social distancing guidelines while queuing. They were also offered hand sanitizer and had their temperatures checked upon arrival.

American couple Colleen and Marvin Hewson were among those to visit the site on Tuesday, nearly three months after they landed in Italy for their 30th wedding anniversary.

“We didn't want to be one of the millions of people herding into the airports in America so we just decided to stay," Colleen Hewson said. "We've seen a lot of it on YouTube and read about it and we were so, so scared that we were not going to be able to experience it but here we are."