The latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

WASHINGTON — America faces the “darkest winter in modern history” unless leaders act decisively to prevent a rebound of the coronavirus, says a government whistleblower who alleges he was ousted from his job after warning the Trump administration to prepare for the pandemic.

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Dr. Rick Bright in 2017 Health and Human Services via AP

Dr. Rick Bright, an immunologist, makes his sobering prediction in testimony prepared for his appearance Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Aspects of his complaint about early administration handling of the crisis are expected to be backed up by testimony from an executive of a company that manufactures respirator masks.

A federal watchdog agency has found “reasonable grounds” that Bright was removed from his post as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority after sounding the alarm at the Department of Health and Human Services. Bright alleged he became a target of criticism when he urged early efforts to invest in vaccine development and stock up on supplies.

“Our window of opportunity is closing,” Bright says in his prepared testimony posted on the House committee website. “If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities.”

Bright’s testimony follows this week’s warning by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, that a rushed lifting of store-closing and stay-at-home restrictions could “turn back the clock,” seeding more suffering and death and complicating efforts to get the economy rolling again.

Read the full story about Dr. Rick Bright’s upcoming testimony here.

Wisconsin’s high court blocks governor’s stay-home extension

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ administration overstepped its authority when it extended the governor’s stay-at-home order through the end of May, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Tony Evers

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ administration overstepped its authority when it unilaterally extended the governor’s stay-at-home order through the end of May, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. Scott Bauer/Associated Press

The 4-3 ruling marks a defeat for Evers as Republican legislators, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and with the aid of the conservative-controlled high court, continue to chip away at the Democratic governor’s powers.

The immediate effect of the ruling wasn’t clear. Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, who wrote the majority opinion for the conservative-dominated court, also wrote a concurring opinion that called for a six-day stay for Republicans to huddle with the administration on a way forward. Evers’ office said they interpreted the ruling as immediately striking down his order.

Evers issued a stay-at-home order in March that closed schools and nonessential businesses. The closures battered the state economy, but Evers argued they were necessary to slow the virus’ spread. The order was supposed to lift April 24, but Health and Human Services Secretary Andrea Palm, an Evers appointee, extended it to May 26.

Republicans asked the Supreme Court to block the extension, arguing that Palm exceeded her authority because the extension amounted to an administrative rule, requiring legislative approval.

Evers’ administration countered that state law clearly gives the executive branch broad authority to quickly enact emergency measures to control communicable diseases. Attorney General Josh Kaul also noted that Evers’ order was similar to that in at least 42 other states and has saved many lives.

Nearly seven of 10 Wisconsin residents back Evers’ “safer at home” order, based on a Marquette University Law School poll released Tuesday, though that support was down from 86 percent in March.

Exhaustion, uncertainty mark COVID-19 survivors’ journeys

An angelic voice singing “Hallelujah” echoes off the stately stone and brick canyons of a narrow Montmartre street.

Alex Melo uses a steaming pot for a nebulizing treatment at his home in York, Maine. The retired Marine became critically ill with COVID-19 in April and spent a few days on a ventilator for pneumonia. He also developed blood clots that threatened his heart and lungs. Grety Melo via Associated Press

Still struggling with COVID-19 complications two months after falling ill, Parisian soprano Veronica Antonelli wanted the impromptu performance from her third-floor balcony to project hope. Hours earlier, her doctor had delivered troubling news: The lung scarring that sometimes makes her too tired to sing may last for months. Or maybe years.

“It makes things a bit complicated, given my profession,” Antonelli said sadly.

The virus that has sickened over 4 million people around the world and killed more than 280,000 others is so new that patients face considerable uncertainty about what they can expect in recovery and beyond.

“The short answer is that we’re still learning,” said Dr. Jay Varkey, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University in Atlanta. “What we know has been gathered mostly by anecdotal reports from COVID-19 survivors.”

In support groups created on social media sites, survivors post head-to-toe complaints that read like a medical encyclopedia: anxiety, heart palpitations, muscle aches, bluish toes. It’s hard to know which ones are clearly related to the virus, but the accounts help fuel doctors’ increasing belief that COVID-19 is not just a respiratory disease.

Persistent exhaustion is a common theme, but every survivor’s story is different, said Brandy Swayze, a coronavirus sufferer who created a Facebook survivors group after developing pneumonia. She was hospitalized in late March and early April. Her fatigue comes and goes. Insomnia is another concern.

On top of her lung damage and fatigue, Antonelli has issues with her memory and a diminished sense of taste and smell – a common early symptom that lingers for many, which doctors say stems from the virus attacking nerves.

Two-thirds of patients in a study in Italy had a loss of smell and taste. Some reports suggest these problems last only a few weeks, but it’s been almost two months for Antonelli. She said that when she asked a voice specialist when she would be able to smell again, his answer was “‘We know nothing. We just have to be patient. We have no solution.’”

Read the full story about COVID-19 survivors here.

Japan’s government holding coronavirus task force meeting

TOKYO — Japan’s government is holding a coronavirus task force meeting Thursday to get experts’ approval on a plan to lift an ongoing state of emergency in most areas ahead of schedule, with the exception of Tokyo and several other high risk areas.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a monthlong state of emergency on April 7 in Tokyo and six other urban prefectures and later expanded it to the whole country through May 31. With signs of the infections slowing, Abe is seeking to relax the measure while balancing disease prevention and the economy.

His government plans to lift the state of emergency in 39 of the country’s 47 prefectures, while keeping the measure in place for eight prefectures, including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido.

Japan has more than 16,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with about 680 deaths. The number of new cases has significantly decreased nationwide.

Abe will explain details at a news conference later Thursday.

China reports 3 new cases as it moves toward reopening businesses, schools

BEIJING — China reported three new coronavirus cases Thursday while moving to reopen for business and schools.

The National Health Commission said 101 people remain in treatment for COVID-19, while 716 are isolated and being monitored for being suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.

China plans to restart classes for most students on June 1, with other grades to resume at a later date, depending on conditions. No announcement has been made on when university classes will resume.

China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths among 82,929 cases of the virus.

South Korea battles spike in infections linked to nightlife spots in Seoul

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has confirmed 29 coronavirus cases over a 24-hour period as it battles a spike in infections linked to nightlife spots in Seoul.

The additional cases reported Thursday by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pushed the national total to 10,991 with 260 deaths. The agency says 26 of the 29 new patients were locally transmitted cases while the rest three came from overseas.

South Korea’s caseload has been on an upward trend in the past week, with about 120 new cases detected linked to nightclubs in Seoul’s entertainment Itaewon district as of Wednesday.

The new outbreaks in Itaewon are threatening South Korea’s progress in its anti-virus quarantine. The country reported hundreds of new cases every day between late February and early March.

Meat plants are changing, signaling end of 99-cent chicken

The human cost of producing 99-cent chickens and affordable burgers during a pandemic is pushing U.S. meatpackers to eye major operational changes that will likely make American meat more costly.

Some plants are already running slower than normal to adhere to social distancing. But companies are also considering how best to redesign their operations to prevent infections, including by automating some lines altogether. The likely result: higher costs for an industry dominated by the likes of Tyson Foods and JBS that’s been very efficient at pumping out cheap meat.

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A meat case at a Publix Super Market in Atlanta is mostly empty of chicken on May 5. This Publix store is limiting shoppers to two packages of chicken, like a number of other grocery retailers due to supply concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Associated Press/Jeff Amy

The changes are arriving as concerns mount over mega-plants staffed with low-paid workers operating elbow-to-elbow. More than 10,000 meat workers have been infected by the coronavirus, and at least 30 have died, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

“Americans want to buy cheaper and cheaper and cheaper food,” said Matthew Wadiak, founder of Cooks Venture, a small chicken producer selling directly to consumers. “We need to figure out how to pay a little bit more, because what’s the cost of a human life? It’s a lot more than 25 cents at the checkout.”

Workers at meatpacking plants continue to fall ill, even with barriers placed between them, more protective equipment and enhanced social-distancing measures in common areas including cafeterias and locker rooms.

While President Donald Trump has ordered plants to reopen, many are running at slower-than-usual rates to try to reduce the spread. Reducing plants to a third of their capacity and distributing the adequate protective equipment could boost chicken prices at grocery stores by 25 percent to 30 percent, according to Sanchoy Das, a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

“The 99-cents per pound chicken could be in short supply very quickly,” said Das, whose research focuses primarily on supply chain modeling and analysis.

Read the full story here.

Canada considers strengthening virus surveillance at U.S. border

Canada may soon administer questionnaires, use contact tracing apps and conduct temperature and medical history checks on people entering through its border crossings with the United States, authorities said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau floated these surveillance possibilities as the two North American countries continue talks on when and how to reopen their border — the longest in the world — to travelers who have been deemed “nonessential.”

Only one lane is open at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Associated Press/Elaine Thompson

“We’re going to be very, very careful about reopening any international travel, including the United States, before we feel that it is time,” Trudeau said at a news conference Tuesday.

In March, officials from both nations agreed to close the border for tourism or recreation. But that agreement is set to expire on May 21, and no announcement has been made on what will happen next.

In recent weeks, local government officials across Canada have voiced their worries about fully reopening the border to their southern neighbors. Although the pace of infections in Canada has begun to slow, with some provinces carefully easing their restrictions, large outbreaks in the United States present a continued cause for concern.

That means Canada’s only land border — and those who come across it — may soon merit special attention.

“Preventing transmission from outside of Canada into Canada, once we have controlled the spread within Canada, will be an essential part of ensuring that we don’t fall back into a second wave that could be as serious as this wave we’re going through, or even more so,” Trudeau said.

Theresa Tam, Canada’s top public health officer, also warned Tuesday that any decision to reopen the international border must be made with “extreme caution.”

Paul Manafort granted home confinement due to coronavirus fears

Paul Manafort has been granted home confinement to serve his sentence in Alexandria, Va., his lawyer said Wednesday.

The former Trump campaign chairman has been serving time in Pennsylvania’ minimum security Loretto prison for his conviction on fraud charges in 2018. He was set to be released in 2024. But his attorneys in April argued that, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Manafort should be released to serve out at least a portion of that sentence with his wife in their Northern Virginia condominium.

Paul Manafort at New York court in 2019. Manafort has been released to house arrest. Associated Press Photo/Seth Wenig

“Mr. Manafort is 71 years old and suffers from several preexisting health conditions, including high blood pressure, liver disease, and respiratory ailments,” his lawyers wrote.

Manafort was hospitalized for several days in December due to heart problems, they noted, and in February contracted both influenza and bronchitis. Given that history, they said that if he became infected with COVID-19 “Mr. Manafort is at a significantly higher risk for serious illness or death.”

Attorney General William P. Barr in late March directed the BOP to release to home confinement more vulnerable prisoners not considered a danger to the community.

BOP has said they are “prioritizing for consideration” inmates who had served more than half their sentences or had 18 months or less remaining; Manafort is not in either category.

No COVID-19 cases have yet been reported at Loretto. As of April 19, there are 495 federal inmates and 309 staff who have confirmed positive test results.

Nebraska stops reporting coronavirus cases in meatpacking plants

For weeks, people in rural Nebraska communities charted the rise of novel coronavirus cases in the state’s several meatpacking plants. First, there were handfuls, and then, many more.

Neb. Gov. Pete Ricketts Associated Press/Nati Harnik

As of the first week of May, public health officials reported 96 at the Tyson plant in Madison; 237 at the JBS plant in Grand Island; and 123 arising from the Smithfield plant in Crete.

There were other cases around the state, too, and the counts were climbing. At least three workers reportedly died.

Then the numbers stopped.

In a change initiated last week, Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) announced at a news conference that state health officials would no longer share figures about how many workers have been infected at each plant. The big companies weren’t sharing numbers either, creating a silence that leaves workers, their families and the rest of the public blind to the severity of the crisis at each plant.

Slight increase in infections and deaths as Spain relaxes confinement rules

MADRID — Spain is reporting a slight increase in new daily coronavirus deaths and infections, as officials watch closely the curves to see if the relaxation of confinement rules is leading to a significant rebound.

Spain’s recorded fatality toll has surpassed the 27,000 mark on Wednesday with 184 new deaths in the past 24 hours, eight more than Tuesday’s increase.

There were also about 400 new coronavirus cases confirmed by the most reliable laboratory tests on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total over 228,600. At least 42,000 more infections have emerged with tests that track antibodies that appear after the contagion.

More than 140,000 have overcome the COVID-19 illness.

Twitter employees can choose if they want to go back to the office

SAN FRANCISCO — It was one of the first companies to send its workforce home when the novel coronavirus started spreading. Now Twitter is going to be the first to make working remotely a permanent option.

Twitter announced Tuesday that employees who were able could continue working from home, or possibly anywhere else that makes them happy and productive, forever. The policy will not apply to employees who have to do things in person, such as maintain the offices or technology such as servers.

Its main offices, including its San Francisco headquarters, won’t begin to open until September, and the company says there will be additional precautions in place when workers do return. All in-person events are canceled for the rest of the year, and it will revisit whether to have any 2021 events later this year. Business travel will also be on hold through September.

Germany will drop quarantine requirement

BERLIN — The German government is recommending that a requirement for people arriving from other countries in Europe to self-quarantine for 14 days be dropped.

Germany last month imposed a requirement for all people arriving in the country to go straight home and stay there for two weeks, except those who were on very short trips, commuting to their jobs, transporting goods or in some other essential functions.

A court in the northern state of Lower Saxony suspended the rule for that region this week.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Wednesday he is recommending that state governments, which are responsible for quarantines, drop the requirement for travelers from other European countries but maintain it for arrivals from other nations such as the United States and Russia.

The comment came as Seehofer said Germany will start loosening checks on its borders with some neighbors this weekend — though he said controls will be stepped back up if infections rise strongly in neighboring countries.

R-rate drops below 1 in Germany

BERLIN — The coronavirus reproduction factor in Germany has again dropped below 1, after three days above the key number.

The Robert Koch-Institute, Germany’s public health agency, reported Wednesday that the so-called R-rate had dropped to 0.94 — meaning that for every 100 people infected, they would infect another 94 people, indicating a slowing of the pandemic spread.

Though health authorities focused closely on the R-rate early on in the pandemic, they say now that daily infections in Germany are quite low so it has to be viewed in context with other factors. That’s because there is a lag in the data for the R-rate and with very few new cases it is particularly volatile, with even small increases or decreases in the daily numbers causing it to jump up or down.

Germany is watching the numbers very carefully, after embarking on a plan in late April to relax restrictions in stages.

The RKI said Germany registered almost 800 new cases overnight for a total of over 171,000 total infections. At the same time, some 1,500 people were added to the recovered total, which is now almost 150,000. About 100 people died from the virus, for a total over 7,600.

Golf, tennis and lake swimming ok’d in England

LONDON — Golf courses in England are reopening as part of some modest socially distanced easing of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

People in England can now exercise more than once a day and with one person from outside their household, provided they stay two meters apart (around 6.5 feet). In addition, outdoor tennis and basketball courts can be used, and people will also be able to swim in lakes and the sea. Garden centers can also reopen, while potential house buyers can visit properties in person. And people who cannot work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, are being encouraged to return if they can do so in a COVID-secure way.

The lifting of some restrictions, first announced by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday, applies only in England. The semi-autonomous governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are going more slowly and sticking with the “Stay Home” message.

Indonesian cases spike as authorities ponder social easing

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia has reported more than 600 new cases of COVID-19 for the first time since the country confirmed its first cases in early March, making the national total exceed 15,000 on Wednesday.

There were 689 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours to bring the total to 15,438. The cumulative figure includes about 1,000 deaths and nearly 3,300 recoveries.

The highest spike in a day came as the government is mulling over a plan to start easing social restrictions next month to allow businesses to resume operations gradually.

The plan, which is still under development, aims to restore “business as usual” by the end of July, where shopping malls will be allowed to resume limited operations on June 8, schools allowed to reopen on staggered schedules and exercising outdoors allowed with social distancing.

But the draft also stressed that the plan was contingent on fulfilling the public health metrics first, including flattening the daily curve of new COVID-19 cases.

Denmark opens borders to families

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway is opening its borders to allow people from other European countries enter the Scandinavian country if the have a residence there or have family they want to visit.

Justice Minister Monica Maeland said Wednesday that Norway, which is not part of the European Union, is opening up for citizens from the European Economic Area that includes EU member states, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Liechtenstein. The last three countries have together with Norway signed the agreement that gives EU non-members access to the EU’s huge single market.

Maeland said in a statement that it also means, among other things, that seasonal workers will have the opportunity to enter Norway.

Japan has recorded almost 16,000 cases of COVID-19 and 670 deaths, according to a tally by Japan’s health ministry.

Thai authorities report no new coronavirus cases

BANGKOK — Health authorities in Thailand have reported no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 for the first time in more than two months.

There were also no new deaths reported Wednesday, leaving the country’s total just over 3,000 cases with nearly 60 fatalities, while almost 3,000 of the patients have recovered.

Since the beginning of May, Thailand has reported single-digit daily increases, with the exception of May 4, when a cluster pushed the number to 18.

The last time Thailand reported no new cases was on March 9, when there were 50 cases in total with a single death.

Thai authorities have been gradually and selectively easing restrictions meant to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Restaurants in Bangkok last week were allowed to reopen for sit-in dining under rules mandating social distancing, and the city’s popular shopping malls, whose supermarkets and drug stores have remained in operation, may get permission Friday to restart many of their other activities as soon as this weekend.


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