The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. 

WASHINGTON — The White House released new guidelines aimed at answering criticism that America’s coronavirus testing has been too slow, and President Trump tried to pivot toward a focus on “reopening” the nation.

Still, there were doubts from public health experts that the White House’s new testing targets were sufficient.

The new testing targets would ensure states had enough COVID-19 tests available to sample at least 2.6% of their populations each month – a figure already met by a majority of states. Areas that have been harder hit by the virus would be able to test at double that rate, or higher, the White House said.

The testing issue has bedeviled the administration for months. Trump told reporters on March 6 during a visit to the CDC in Atlanta that “anybody that wants a test can get a test,” but the reality has proved to be vastly different.

The initial COVID-19 test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was contaminated, and early kits operated only on platforms able to perform a small number of tests per day. While the rate of testing increased as tests developed for higher-capacity platforms, they were still limited by shortages of supplies, from nasal swabs to the reagents used to process the samples.

Read the full story about the White House’s testing targets here.

Barr tells prosecutors to watch for unconstitutional virus restrictions

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr ordered federal prosecutors across the U.S. on Monday to identify coronavirus-related restrictions by state and local governments “that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”

The memo to U.S. attorneys directs the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan to coordinate the department’s efforts to monitor state and local policies and take action if needed.

Barr’s memo comes about two weeks after the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in a civil case in Mississippi, siding with a Christian church where local officials had tried to stop Holy Week services broadcast to congregants sitting in their cars in the parking lot.

The directive also comes as many stay-at-home orders are set to expire and governors eager to rescue their economies are moving to ease restrictions meant to control the spread of the coronavirus, even as new hot spots emerge and experts warn that moving too fast could prove disastrous.

At the same time, protesters have staged demonstrations against stay-at-home orders, and in recent weeks, President Trump has urged supporters to “liberate” three states led by Democratic governors.

Read the full story about the attorney general’s directive here.

Texas to allow some customers into restaurants and stores starting Friday

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott outlined on Monday a slow reopening of one of the world’s largest economies amid the coronavirus pandemic, allowing restaurants, retailers, movie theaters and malls to start letting customers trickle into their establishments starting Friday.

Registered nurse April Lewis, center, prepares to administer a test at a newly opened United Memorial Medical Center COVID-19 drive-thru testing site on Monday in Houston. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The move comes as Texas and other states process a record-high surge in jobless claims and as food banks have seen demand spike. Conservatives in Texas and supporters of President Trump have amplified calls to get the state and country back to work.

“Just as we united as one state to slow COVID-19, we must also come together to begin rebuilding the lives and the livelihoods of our fellow Texans,” Abbott said.

The Republican Abbott’s plan allows those establishments to let in customers up to 25 percent of capacity as long as they follow social distancing guidelines. Those in counties that have reported fewer than five cases of the coronavirus will be able to serve customers at a 50 percent threshold unless officials see a spike in new cases.

Abbott also said he will let his monthlong stay-at-home order expire on April 30. Bars, barbershops, hair salons and gyms remain closed.

Abbott began easing some of restrictions last week, starting with reopening state parks, allowing “retail-to-go” and letting doctors to perform nonessential surgeries.

Abbott has been under some pressure for a quicker reopening but chose a cautious route intended to avoid a spike in new cases. His plan will likely be met with caution in the state’s largest cities, where officials have been more aggressive restrictions and expressed concern that Texas ranks near the bottom per capita in testing.

Abbott’s new order also means cities like Houston and Austin, which have required people wear to masks when in public, cannot punish any violators with penalties. However, Abbott urged people to continue wearing masks.

Read the full story about Texas here.

Virus is expected to reduce meat selection and raise prices 

DES MOINES, Iowa — Meat isn’t going to disappear from supermarkets because of outbreaks of the coronavirus among workers at U.S. slaughterhouses. But as the meat plants struggle to remain open, consumers could face less selection and slightly higher prices.

Industry leaders acknowledge that the U.S. food chain has rarely been so stressed and that no one is sure about the future, even as they try to dispel concerns about shortages.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, has infected hundreds of workers at meat-processing plants and forced some of the largest to close and others to slow production. While the output at beef and poultry plants has diminished, pork plants in the Midwest have been hit especially hard. The viral outbreaks have persisted despite efforts by the meat companies to keep workers at home with pay if they become sick.

The 15 largest pork-packing plants account for 60 percent of all pork processed, so when even one of those plants closes for days or weeks, the consequences ripple across the industry. That has become abundantly clear with two of the nation’s biggest plants now closed: Tyson suspended operations at its plant in Waterloo, Iowa. And Smithfield Foods halted production at its plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Each plant can butcher nearly 20,000 hogs a day. Some plants have reopened days after cleaning.

The result is that the nation’s pork processing capacity had declined by about 25 percent as of last week, said Steve Meyer, an industry economist with Kerns and Associates in Ames, Iowa.

Sarah Little, a spokeswoman for the North American Meat Institute, an industry trade group, said: “It’s down across the board right now, so the next couple of weeks we should see how the system works. It’s never been tested like this before.”

Read the full story about meat processing here.

Thousands already lined up for $310 billion in small business loans

WASHINGTON – Thousands of small businesses are getting a second chance at a financial lifeline as another $310 billion in government loans rolls out Monday, but industry experts expect the funds to run out in a few days.

Meanwhile, the SBA said Monday that $2 billion in small business loans that went to companies during the first round of funding has been returned. At least $500 million of that figure went to large publicly held companies, according to a Washington Post analysis of Securities and Exchange Commission records.

Concerns remain about whether the bailout funds – part of the Cares Act’s Paycheck Protection Program – will be cornered by industry insiders and large businesses that already have access to cash. At least 140 publicly held companies received funds from the first Paycheck Protection Program received loans, including large restaurant chains, a Fortune 500 auto retailer and a pharmaceutical company with $14 million in cash.

“In the time since the previous round of funding ran out, businesses and banks have used this time to prep and perfect applications,” said Juleanna Glover, a Washington-based corporate public affairs adviser tracking the program.

“Once the application portal reopens, there will be an immediate flood of tens of thousands of applicants. Maybe millions. I’d be surprised if this next tranche lasts even 72 hours,” Glover said.

Lenders say they already have thousands of applications cued up, and some have developed technology to make it easier to file loan applications in the SBA’s computer systems. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, two of the country’s largest banks, say they have tens of thousands of applications prepared. JPMorgan was the top lender in the first round of loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.

Read the full story here.

Nations, U.S. states each chart their own path on reopening

LONDON — A thinner-looking British Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work Monday after a bout with the coronavirus and warned strongly against easing the country’s lockdown, even as other European countries and U.S. states began lifting restrictions to get their economies going again.

The shutdowns are being eased piecemeal, with governments charting their own path as they seek to reopen for business without triggering a second wave of infections. Hair salons, restaurants and beaches, for example, are opening in some states, while elsewhere such steps are weeks away.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks back into number 10 after making a statement on his first day back at work in Downing Street, London, after recovering from a bout with the coronavirus that put him in intensive care, Monday, April 27. AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Johnson, recovering from an infection that nearly cost the 55-year-old his life, said Britain is starting to “turn the tide” on the outbreak but added that this is “the moment of maximum risk.” The country’s lockdowns runs through at least May 7.

“I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS,” or National Health Service, he said. “I ask you to contain your impatience.”

The official death toll topped 200,000 worldwide, with about 3 million confirmed infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true toll is believed to be much higher, because of inadequate testing, differences in counting the dead and efforts by some governments to conceal the extent of their outbreaks.

The number of dead in the U.S. reached about 55,000 — close to the 58,000 U.S. troops killed during the Vietnam War. Italy, Britain, Spain and France accounted for more than 20,000 deaths each.

Technology is likely to play an important role in helping countries ease their restrictions. Many governments are working on mobile virus-tracking apps and other technology, keen for automated solutions to the time-consuming task of tracing an infected person’s contacts. The apps can detect when a user comes near someone who is infected.

Read the full story here.

Georgia restaurants reopen for dine-in services as restrictions loosen

ATLANTA — Some Georgia restaurants were reopening for limited dine-in service Monday as the state continued a loosening of coronavirus restrictions, but many chose to remain closed for the time being.

Permission for dine-in service and for movie theaters to reopen comes after other businesses, including barbershops, gyms, tattoo shops and nail salons, were allowed to start seeing customers Friday. While many gratefully opened their doors after a monthlong closure, others didn’t feel ready yet and remained shuttered.

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Barber and owner of Chris Edwards wears a mask and cuts the hair of customer David Boswell at Peachtree Battle Barber Shop in Atlanta on Friday, April 24, 2020. John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

A similar mixed response was expected for the businesses allowed to reopen Monday.

Gov. Brian Kemp last week announced that he was relaxing restrictions despite health experts’ warnings of a potential surge in infections and disapproval from President Donald Trump.

Kemp released 39 requirements that restaurants must follow if they reopen, including a limit of 10 customers per 500 square feet (about 46 square meters) and all employees wearing face coverings “at all times.” Movie theater ushers were ordered to enforce social distancing.

At Plucked Up Chicken & Biscuits in Columbus, eight regulars showed up Monday morning to have their coffee and breakfast and “chatted at each other across the room,” manager Alesha Webster said.

The restaurant was following restrictions put in place by the governor — constantly disinfecting and sanitizing, wearing masks and gloves, placing tables 6 feet (2 meters) apart and enforcing social distancing, Webster said. The restrictions also mean only 10 customers can be inside at a time, rather than the normal capacity of 45.

As a small business, the outbreak has been brutal, even though they’ve been offering to-go orders, Webster said. The decision to reopen for dine-in service was a difficult one, she said.

“You don’t want people to bash you because you’re just trying to make ends meet,” she said.

Read the full story here.

Tyson Foods raises coronavirus alarm in full-page ads

In a full-page newspaper ad published in The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Sunday, Tyson Foods — which sells products ranging from frozen chicken nuggets to cuts of raw pork — said that the coronavirus pandemic may disrupt the U.S. food supply chain and raise the price of meat.

The company defended itself from criticism that it has not adequately protected its workers and pleaded for more government assistance in doing so.

“The food supply chain is breaking,” wrote John Tyson, chairman of the company’s executive board. “We have a responsibility to feed our country. It is as essential as healthcare. This is a challenge that should not be ignored. Our plants must remain operational so that we can supply food to our families in America. This is a delicate balance because Tyson Foods places team member safety as our top priority.”

The company warned that shuttering processing plants would cause “millions of pounds of meat” to disappear from the markets, reducing what’s available on grocery store shelves and raising prices. Farmers may have to kill and dispose of cows, pigs and chickens that were bred for the closed slaughterhouses, the company claimed, and those animals’ meat would go to waste.

Read the rest of this story here.

British lawmakers urge response to domestic abuse

LONDON — British lawmakers are urging the government to take urgent action to tackle domestic violence after a report found that calls to the national domestic abuse helpline surged 49% during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Home Affairs Committee also cited research that estimated at least 16 domestic abuse killings of women and children took place between Mar. 23 when lockdown measures were announced and April 12. It is double that of an average 21 day period in the last decade.

Yvette Cooper is chair of the committee and said Monday urgent action is needed to protect victims.

The committee called for new emergency funding for social services to protect vulnerable women and children, and measures to ensure victims can access urgent help during lockdown.

Some businesses start to reopen in Switzerland

GENEVA — Businesses like hair salons, tattoo parlors, veterinarians’ offices and garden shops are reopening up across Switzerland.

It is part of a multi-tiered reopening as the Alpine country gradually eases restrictions aimed to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Requirements from Swiss authorities say businesses must provide individual clients an average of at least 10 square meters in their shops and offices, set up lines outside their buildings and regularly clean their equipment and surfaces.

Service-providers like barbers and masseurs who come within 2 meters of customers were advised to wear masks and transparent-plastic face screens, and wash or disinfected hands before and after each client.

Pet-owners were expected to drop off their animals outside the vet offices, only to pick them up after the visits are over.

Long-lines snaked outside large garden shops and hardware stores in some areas as the easing took place on Monday.

Swiss authorities for weeks have forced the closure of all non-essential shops and services. Schools and a wider array of businesses are to resume operations on May 11, followed by a vastly expanded reopening on June 8.

No date has been set for the resumption of large gatherings such as sporting events and concerts.

Greece to announce restriction loosATHENS — Greece will announce detailed plans to ease coronavirus-related restrictions on Tuesday but authorities have already promised haircuts will be among the first services available.

Hair salons and barbershops will be included in the first stage of reopening businesses when restrictions begin to ease on May 4.

A recent opinion poll found that going to the hairdressers was top of Greeks’ post-lockdown wish list, followed by domestic travel, and buying clothes.

Strict lockdown measures have helped keep the spread of COVID-19 relatively contained in Greece. The death toll in Greece is 134, and there are 2,517 confirmed cases.

But police have reported an increase in violations in recent days as public anxiety over the pandemic eases and the weather improves.

At least 8 members of Mardi Gras club have died

NEW ORLEANS — At least eight of the 800 members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club have been confirmed to have died of COVID-19, while others may have been killed by the coronavirus, and still more are fighting for their lives, said the club’s board chairman, Jay H. Banks, who also is a New Orleans city councilman.

The toll on the club, a mainstay of Mardi Gras parades that was formed more than a century ago in part to provide funeral services to black people, reflects the outsized impact that the pandemic is having on black people. African Americans represent more than 56% of Louisiana’s 1,670 coronavirus deaths, the state public health department reported Sunday.

Banks said he spoke from the pulpit at the funeral on Friday of Bobby Gray, captain of the Soulful Warriors, who serve as escorts to the Zulu king in club ceremonies. “The people were spread out in the pews in a twisted checkerboard, and everyone was wearing a mask,” he said.

“I think that’s the point that people need to understand, the cruelty of this thing is ongoing. It’s not only taking life; it’s killing the living too. Because how do you mourn by yourself? Think about it — we ain’t got nobody to lean on.”


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