Trump reaches aid deal with Democrats as cases mount

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Image: Servpro workers file in to begin a third day of cleaning at Life Care Center of Kirkland
Servpro workers begin a third day of cleaning Friday at Life Care Center of Kirkland, Wash., a long-term care facility linked to several confirmed coronavirus cases. Lindsey Wasson / Reuters

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President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, the most significant move yet by the U.S. government to head off the coronavirus outbreak, and House Democrats and the White House later reached a deal on an aid package.

Trump's declaration came as many public and private institutions have taken action — including canceling major events, temporarily banning large gatherings, closing schools and telling people to work from home — in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled, soared, and then closed with a gain of 1,900 points after the emergency declaration. Wall Street had reeled Thursday afternoon after coronavirus fears drove the markets to their worst day since the Black Monday crash in 1987.

The United States as of Friday afternoon had surpassed 2,000 confirmed or presumptive cases of the coronavirus, and the death toll climbed to 41.

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U.S. general 'fairly certain' North Korea has COVID-19 cases

The top American general in South Korea said Friday he is fairly certain North Korea has not been spared by the COVID-19 outbreak that began in neighboring China, although the North has not publicly confirmed a single case.

Speaking by video-teleconference from his headquarters in South Korea, Army Gen. Robert Abrams told reporters at the Pentagon that the North had halted military training for a month — including a 24-day hiatus in military flying — but has since resumed.

“It is a closed-off nation, so we can’t say emphatically that they have cases, but we’re fairly certain they do," he said. “What I do know is that their armed forces had been fundamentally in a lockdown for about 30 days and only recently have they started routine training again."

Trump to hold afternoon news conference

Federal agencies encouraged to provide telework flexibilities to vulnerable employees

The Office of Management and Budget is encouraging federal government departments and agencies to provide more flexible telework policies for employees who are at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19 and who have weakened immune systems like pregnant women. 

The guidance was released in a memo Thursday by OMB which says that some of the vulnerable people are those who "have chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease or compromised immune systems."

"Agencies do not need to require certification by a medical professional, and may accept self-identification by employees that they are in one of these populations," it says. 

The memo also instructs agencies to consult with public health officials to determine whether to extend telework flexibilities to all eligible workers in areas where the disease has spread.

U.S. Department of Defense shuts schools across Europe

The U.S. Department of Defense says it's temporarily shutting down all schools on continental European military facilities as a precaution against the spread of the COVID-19 virus, affecting tens of thousands of students.

Department of Defense Schools spokesman Stephen Smith told The Associated Press on Friday the closures as of Monday would affect 63 elementary, middle and high schools in Germany, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, and likely Ankara, Turkey. Three schools in the U.K. will remain open for the time being, he said.

In all, some 27,000 students attend the Defense Department schools in Europe, Smith said, adding that the schools will be closed through the April break and then the situation will be reassessed. 

Starting next week, a distance learning plan, already in use for the students in Italy and Bahrain, will be implemented in Europe, he said. 

Chinese-language media in U.S. are debunking coronavirus misinformation

The warning on Chinese-language social media was dire — unless you want the coronavirus, avoid the Gold City Supermarket in Flushing in the New York borough of Queens.

The report turned out to be false, one in a string of fake news stories shared widely on WeChat, a platform popular with Chinese-language speakers, many of them from mainland China.

It was eventually debunked by Chinese-language media in New York — home to the largest Chinese population of any city outside Asia.

Read the full story here.

Boston Marathon postponed until Sept. 14

The marathon, originally scheduled for April 20, will now be held on Sept. 14, the Boston Athletic Association said in a statement.

“On matters of public health and safety we take our guidance from the officials entrusted with protecting the public in this area,” said Tom Grilk, CEO of the association. “We understand our role, along with our partners, in ensuring a safe environment for all participants, volunteers, spectators, and supporters that meets the standards set by those officials.”

Masters golf tournament postponed

"Considering the latest information and expert analysis, we have decided at this time to postpone the Masters Tournament, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Drive,  Chip and Putt National Finals," said Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.

The Masters had been scheduled for April 9 through 12.

France bans gatherings for over 100

France has banned gatherings for more than 100 people to contain the outbreak of coronavirus in the country, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Friday.

The move  comes after French President Emmanuel Macron announced Thursday that schools, daycare centers, and universities would close starting the following Monday.

In a televised interview, Macron called coronavirus the "most serious sanitary crisis France has ever known in a century." The country had more than 1,500 confirmed cases of the virus as of Friday.

Michigan suspends outside visits at state prisons

Michigan is halting in-person visits at its more than three dozen state prisons in an effort to limit the potential spread of the coronavirus, although officials said there have been no cases among its prison population.

The state has at least 12 cases of COVID-19. "This was not a decision we arrived at lightly, as we understand and recognize the importance of family contact with the prison population," Heidi Washington, the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, said in a statement Friday.

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