New York’s Cuomo says businesses can turn away people not wearing masks

(Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would sign an executive order on Thursday authorizing businesses to deny entry to anyone who does not wear a mask or face covering, stressing masks were critical to preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“We’re giving the store owners the right to say if you’re not wearing a mask, you can’t come in. That store owner has a right to protect themselves, that store owner has a right to protect the other patrons in that store,” Cuomo told a daily briefing.

(reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

White House directs staff to wear masks after officials contract coronavirus

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Monday directed all people entering the West Wing, where the daily operations of President Donald Trump’s administration are carried out, to wear masks after two aides tested positive for the coronavirus, administration officials said.

The new guidelines, released in a memo to the president’s staff on Monday afternoon, reflect a tightening of procedures at the highest levels of the U.S. government over fears that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence could be exposed to the virus.

Trump’s military valet and Pence’s press secretary both tested positive for the coronavirus last week.

The 73-year-old president said on Monday he did not think those cases suggested the White House system had broken down.

“I felt no vulnerability whatsoever,” Trump said, adding he felt the situation was controlled “very well.”

Still, the president said he would discuss maintaining some distance from Pence, perhaps by communicating with him by phone, for a period of time. Pence worked at the White House on Monday but did not attend a news conference held in the Rose Garden. Officials who attended wore masks, and speakers used a different podium from the one used by Trump.

ABC News first reported about the memo, which also said unnecessary visits from other parts of the White House complex to the West Wing area, which includes the Oval Office and workspace for senior advisers, are being discouraged.

Officials who work near the president have been getting tested for the coronavirus but previously had not been wearing masks on a regular basis.

“Common sense has finally prevailed,” one senior administration official told Reuters.

Trump has been resistant to wearing a mask himself and has not put one on in public, though he said he tried some on backstage during a visit to a mask factory in Arizona last week.

On Saturday he met the top leaders of the U.S. military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and members of his national security team in the White House Cabinet Room. The officials did not wear masks but had been tested for the virus in advance, a Pentagon spokesman said, adding that social distancing measures appeared to have been met. Secret Service agents in the room wore masks.

The president is in the age group that is considered high risk for complications with the coronavirus, which has killed more than 80,000 people in the United States alone and ravaged countries and economies worldwide.

Staff members including Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, wore masks on White House grounds on Monday.

The White House said last week it was stepping up precautions for people who spend time around Trump and Pence, both of whom have resumed travel outside of Washington. The two men are being tested for the virus daily.

“In addition to social distancing, daily temperature checks and symptom histories, hand sanitizer, and regular deep cleaning of all work spaces, every staff member in close proximity to the president and vice president is being tested daily for COVID-19 as well as any guests,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.

After Pence’s spokeswoman, Katie Miller, tested positive for the virus last week, Trump was asked whether people in the West Wing would begin to wear masks. He responded that people already were doing so. But he and his guests that day had not donned masks, and staff in the West Wing were not wearing them either.

Miller is married to Stephen Miller, a senior White House aide and speech writer for the president.

Some who had contact with Katie Miller have gone into partial quarantine. An administration official said Pence worked from the White House on Monday but would be maintaining distance from the president for the immediate future, in consultation with the White House medical unit.

“We can talk on the phone,” Trump said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, Diane Bartz and Phil Stewart; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Lyft to require passengers and drivers to wear masks

By Moira Warburton and Tina Bellon

TORONTO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Lyft will require both passengers and drivers to wear masks and complete a health certification program, including confirming before each ride that they are not displaying symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus, the company said on Thursday.

The move comes as ridesharing companies struggle to maintain revenues with millions of people worldwide under social distancing orders from public health authorities.

Lyft has previously committed to distributing masks to its more than one million drivers, focusing on cities where masks are required by law, said Angie Westbrock, head of global operations, although she declined to say how many masks had been or would be distributed.

“A really important component of this policy is that it’s not just for drivers,” Westbrock said. “This policy requires passengers to also certify that they’re going to comply with this health safety policy and that they’ll also wear a mask.”

Passengers are also asked to leave the windows open when possible, and not sit in the front seat of cars.

Masks and cleaning supplies for drivers will be distributed through Lyft’s hubs, some of which will reopen for this purpose, Westbrock said.

Uber Technology Inc, Lyft’s main competitor, has said they will implement technology that will require drivers to submit a photo of their face to confirm that they are wearing the mandatory mask.

Unlike Uber, Lyft only operates in the United States and parts of Canada.

Didi, a Chinese ridesharing company, is paying to install plastic barriers in cars to protect riders and drivers.

Westbrock said that Lyft is “always looking at new technology and thinking about ways to improve health and safety,” and that Thursday’s announcement represents “the first step and a really important foundation to build on… as the situation evolves.”

Nicole Moore, a part-time Lyft driver and volunteer with Drivers United, an advocacy group representing ride-hail drivers in the United States, said many drivers have not been able to access the promised masks, and have had to buy their own.

The requirements also put the onus on drivers to enforce the new rules, she said.

Lyft is “not doing what they need to do to protect their brand and the people who work for them that generate the cash that they use,” Moore said.

A corporate policy such as installing plastic barriers “would be a huge help,” she added.

Lyft said in its earnings call on Wednesday that U.S. ridership had improved more than 20% from coronavirus-hit rock bottom last month and that it believes Americans will turn to ride-hailing as the first opportunity to make up for lost income as the U.S. economy reopens, helping the company cut down on driver incentives and other costs.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto and Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Some White House staff to wear masks after valet tests positive: Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said certain White House staff members have started wearing face masks, one day after the White House said his personal valet had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Trump, asked whether those who serve him food would now cover their faces, told Fox News in an interview that such White House staff would now be covering their faces.

“They’ve already started,” he said on the network’s “Fox and Friends” morning program.

The White House on Thursday said Trump and Vice President Mike Pence tested negative for the virus and were feeling well after the staffer – a U.S. military service member who works at the White House as a valet – came down with the virus. It also said the two leaders would now be tested daily, versus weekly.

Trump has said he would not wear a mask and has not publicly worn a mask to any of his events so far amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but told reporters this week that he tried some on behind the scenes during his visit to a Honeywell face mask factory in Arizona.

He is scheduled to attend a public event at the World War Two memorial later on Friday before meeting with Republican members of Congress at the White House, according to the White House.

The Republican president also told Fox News that he has not yet been tested for antibodies to the novel coronavirus but probably would be soon. Such a test could confirm previous exposure to the virus.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Lisa Lambertl editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Masked and partitioned, worshippers return to Jerusalem’s Western Wall

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Worshippers are returning to the Western Wall in Jerusalem as Judaism’s holiest prayer site gradually reopens under eased coronavirus precautions. But now they are themselves being walled-off.

Under revised rules, up to 300 visitors at a time are being allowed to access the Western Wall, a remnant of two ancient Jewish temples in Jerusalem’s Old City. They must wear masks.

“Worshippers that have so yearned to visit the sacred stones and pray in front of them can return to the Western Wall while keeping to the health ministry restrictions,” said the site’s chief rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz.

But the prayer plaza facing the wall, which in peak holidays of the past would throng with thousands of people, is subdivided by barriers and cloth partitions forming temporary cloisters that can each accommodate 19 worshippers – the current cap.

Full Jewish prayer services require a quorum of 10.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Pravin Char)

U.S. may require masks at airports in changes to limit coronavirus

By Ted Hesson and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The lead U.S. airport security agency is weighing the possibility of requiring masks or face coverings for passengers who pass through checkpoints, according to a U.S. official and two people familiar with the deliberations.

The move is part of a broader rethinking of how to limit the spread of the new coronavirus during air travel, an effort that could bring some of the most significant changes to the industry since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Travelers passing through U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints will see other changes, including additional barriers to protect security officers, more extensive cleaning regimes and upgraded screening equipment to speed travelers through lines faster, according to current and former U.S. officials and industry experts familiar with the plans.

TSA officers are allowed to wear masks at checkpoints but not required to do so. The agency is considering such a requirement, sources said.

News of potential changes came as the Senate Commerce Committee was set to hold a hearing Wednesday on the state of the aviation industry.

The number of U.S. air travelers plunged by 95% in March as lockdowns went into effect across the country to limit the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by the new coronavirus. But with restrictions ending in some states, U.S. officials, airports and airlines are grappling with how air travel must change to operate more safely.

The discussions over possible face mask requirements came after nearly every major U.S. airline said in the past week they will require passengers to wear them onboard flights. The San Diego International Airport and San Francisco International Airport already require face coverings.

Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the country’s largest union for federal workers, said during an online discussion with Democratic lawmakers on Thursday that passengers should be encouraged to wear masks, calling it “a priority.”

TSA has been reviewing the legality of requiring passengers to wear them, as well as reviewing whether it would need to have masks available for passengers, but has not reached a final decision, according to a U.S. official and a source familiar with the matter.

An agency spokeswoman declined to comment on a mandate for passengers, calling it “speculative.”

INCREASED SAFETY, FASTER PROCESSING

Aside from masks, passengers will find other changes in place at airports.

Plexiglass barriers have been installed at TSA checkpoints in more than a dozen airports around the country to protect officers from infection, according to the agency.

Cleaning efforts will be stepped up, too.

Some U.S. airports and airlines are disinfecting surfaces with electrostatic sprayers, which create a quick-drying mist.

Separately, TSA frontline employees have been instructed to routinely clean frequently touched surfaces and screening equipment, the agency said.

The most ambitious developments could be on the technology front to speed up passenger processing and limit interactions with security officers.

A technology rolled out in 2019 that allows TSA security officers to scan a traveler’s driver’s license or identity document to confirm its authenticity and check it against flight records could be positioned to allow passengers to insert their IDs themselves.

The agency has installed more than 500 of the “credential authentication” machines across the country and recently awarded French company Idemia $11 million for another 500 units, which will be deployed over the summer, according to the TSA.

The agency has been pushing ahead with more advanced checkpoint scanning equipment that creates 3-D images of the contents of a traveler’s bag. Since November, TSA has put nearly 100 such machines into place and continues toward a goal of 300 in total, a spokeswoman said.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. airlines now requiring masks, promise more safety measures

By Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson

(Reuters) – With the largest U.S. airlines now set to mandate – and provide – facial coverings for all passengers over the next two weeks, many are turning their focus to other measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus during air travel.

United Airlines Holdings Inc., for example, told journalists on Friday that it has purchased hundreds of hospital-type electrostatic fogging machines that it will start using in June to decontaminate airplane cabin surfaces and crevices before every flight.

The measures are among the steps airlines are taking to help passengers feel more comfortable about flying in the midst of the pandemic, which has decimated travel demand.

The industry, through lobby Airlines for America, has also begun discussions with policymakers in Washington on measures such as virus testing and pre-boarding temperature checks, United Chief Communications Officer Josh Earnest said.

Southwest Airlines Co and Alaska Airlines on Friday joined other major airlines in imposing facial coverings.

JetBlue Airways Corp <JBLU.O> was the first to mandate such a policy, and on Thursday United, Delta Air Lines Inc. American Airlines Group Inc  and low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines, which is owned by private equity firm Indigo Partners LLC, followed suit.

The largest airlines provide masks for passengers who do not have their own facial covering. United noted that recent supply issues with masks have now eased.

The requirements are being made by airlines on an individual basis and will be included in the contracts of carriage and explained on their websites. They are not mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has said that it only has the authority to regulate matters that are directly tied to air safety.

Asked how airlines would enforce the policy, United’s Earnest said: “We’re gonna ask customers to comply with the requirement.”

Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, applauded the airlines’ “common-sense measure” on Friday while calling on the U.S. government to “provide clear and consistent policies that reflect the seriousness of this global pandemic.”

Airlines have also made face coverings mandatory for employees.

In Canada, regulators started requiring that passengers wear a non-medical mask or face covering during the boarding process and flights last month, and the European Commission has said that it is working on a set of rules for the safe reopening of air travel.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky)

Long lines, lots of kids, and plenty to touch: How does Disney reopen its parks?

By Helen Coster and Lisa Richwine

(Reuters) – For a glimpse at how Disney recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, look no further than Shanghai, where the entertainment giant has staged a limited reopening of Shanghai Disney Resort. Adults, kids and senior citizens wear masks while wandering among staff and security guards who carry contact-less thermometers and hand sanitizer.

As some U.S. states lift stay-at-home orders, investors and park fans are watching to see how Walt Disney Co — which makes a third of its revenue from parks, experiences and products — reimagines the “happiest place on earth” for a world altered by the coronavirus.

The high-touch, high-volume, kid-centered nature of the parks, and Disney’s need to prevent damage to a brand synonymous with safety and families, will make reopening difficult, experts said.

Disney’s ability to reopen its parks in Asia, the United States and France will also be a powerful signal about how the world can get back to a semblance of normal as it deals with COVID-19.

“This is the greatest challenge that the industry has ever faced,” said Phil Hettema, founder of The Hettema Group, which designs theme park rides and other experiences.

Disney, which has not announced any plans to reopen the parks, declined to comment for this story.

Executive Chairman Bob Iger recently said checking guests’ temperature could become routine at Disney park entrances. Among other plans under consideration, according to a source briefed on Disney’s thinking: Rides like the Space Mountain roller coaster could stagger guests in each “rocket” to enforce social distancing. Guests could be notified via app or another technology when they can go on a ride or in a restaurant to eliminate lines.

Staffers, known as cast members, and guests could be required to wear masks. But in true Disney fashion, employees’ masks would be fun, not scary, the source said.

Disney on Thursday began online sales of face masks featuring Mickey Mouse, Baby Yoda and other characters and said up to $1 million in profits would go to charity.

Masks, now worn commonly across China, are ubiquitous in the shopping district outside Shanghai Disney, where workers disinfect a playground for 5- to 12-year-olds at noon and 3 p.m. daily. Temperature checks are mandated by local regulations, according to Shanghai Disney’s website.

Business and political leaders in Florida, home to Walt Disney World, have floated ideas such as limiting capacity at all theme parks during an initial re-opening phase.

The question that health experts and financial analysts are asking is whether any of these measures will be enough to protect employees, guests or Disney’s bottom line.

Social distancing could come at a steep price.

In April, UBS downgraded its rating on Disney and lowered its division profit estimates to $500 million in fiscal 2020 and just $200 million in 2021 compared to $6.8 billion in 2019.

Disney parks need to be running at roughly 50% of capacity to be profitable, according to the firm.

Investors will see a fuller impact of coronavirus when Disney releases its second-quarter results on May 5; Comcast said on Thursday that if its Universal Studios parks remain closed for the entire second quarter, the company would suffer an earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization loss of roughly $500 million.

Financial analysts have predicted reopen dates for Disney ranging from as early as June to Jan. 1. Guidelines will be set by governors in California and Florida, where Iger and Walt Disney World Resort President Josh D’Amaro sit on state reopening task forces. The rest is up to Disney.

Although Disney and other large venues face an unprecedented challenge protecting guests from an easily spread airborne virus, experts and a former executive pointed to its experience handling crowds.

More than 157 million people visited Disney parks in 2018, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.

“If anybody can figure it out, Disney will,” said Dave Schmitt, founder of MR-ProFun, a consultant to theme parks.

Safeguards have limits. Temperature checks will not catch everyone infected, and most vaccines are not 100% effective, said Dr. Megan Murray, a global health professor at Harvard Medical School.

Even so, a vaccine would provide some reassurance for park-goers, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted from April 15-21. While a fifth of respondents said they would attend an amusement, theme or water park whenever they reopen, about 30% would go if a vaccine was available. The poll, which surveyed 4,429 American adults, noted that a vaccine might not be available for more than a year.

Loyal fans are counting on Disney to get this right. Chicago resident Kelly Alexis, 50, has been to Disney resorts 35 to 40 times and plans to go to Disney World with her family in October if the park is open.

“It’s just the feeling that they do things so perfectly and they will take every precaution,” Alexis said. “They’re not going to want to have an epidemic where everyone gets sick at Disney. They would never let that happen.”

(Reporting by Helen Coster in New York, Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles, and Shanghai Newsroom; Additional reporting by Arriana McLymore in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Kenneth Li and Lisa Shumaker)

‘Elbow to elbow:’ North America meat plant workers fall ill, walk off jobs

By Tom Polansek and Rod Nickel

CHICAGO/WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – At a Wayne Farms chicken processing plant in Alabama, workers recently had to pay the company 10 cents a day to buy masks to protect themselves from the new coronavirus, according to a meat inspector.

In Colorado, nearly a third of the workers at a JBS USA beef plant stayed home amid safety concerns for the last two weeks as a 30-year employee of the facility died following complications from the virus.

And since an Olymel pork plant in Quebec shut on March 29, the number of workers who tested positive for the coronavirus quintupled to more than 50, according to their union. The facility and at least 10 others in North America have temporarily closed or reduced production in about the last two weeks because of the pandemic, disrupting food supply chains that have struggled to keep pace with surging demand at grocery stores.

According to more than a dozen interviews with U.S and Canadian plant workers, union leaders and industry analysts, a lack of protective equipment and the nature of “elbow to elbow” work required to debone chickens, chop beef and slice hams are highlighting risks for employees and limiting output as some forego the low-paying work. Companies that added protections, such as enhanced cleaning or spacing out workers, say the moves are further slowing meat production.

Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork processor, on Sunday said it is shutting a pork plant indefinitely and warned that plant shutdowns are pushing the United States “perilously close to the edge” in meat supplies for grocers.

Lockdowns that aim to stop the spread of the coronavirus have prevented farmers across the globe from delivering produce to consumers. Millions of laborers also cannot get to the fields for harvesting and planting, and there are too few truckers to keep goods moving.

The United States and Canada are among the world’s biggest shippers of beef and pork. Food production has continued as governments try to ensure adequate supplies, even as they close broad swathes of the economy.

The closures and increased absenteeism among workers have contributed to drops in the price of livestock, as farmers find fewer places for slaughter. Since March 25, nearby lean hog futures have plunged 35%, and live cattle prices shed 15%, straining the U.S. farm economy.

North American meat demand has dropped some 30% in the past month as declining sales of restaurant meats like steaks and chicken wings outweighed a spike in retail demand for ground beef, said Christine McCracken, Rabobank’s animal protein analyst.

Frozen meats in U.S. cold storage facilities remain plentiful, but supply could be whittled down as exports to protein-hungry China increase after a trade agreement removed obstacles for American meat purchases.

“There’s a huge risk of additional plant closures,” McCracken said.

JBS had to reduce beef production at a massive plant in Greeley, Colorado, as about 800 to 1,000 workers a day stayed home since the end of March, said Kim Cordova, president of the local United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union that represents employees.

“There’s just not enough people,” Cordova said. She added that the union knew of at least 50 cases and two deaths among employees as of Friday.

Plant worker Saul Sanchez, known affectionately as “grandpa” among some co-workers, tested positive for the virus and died on April 7 at 78 years old, according to his daughter, Beatriz Rangel. She said he only went from home to work before developing symptoms, including a low fever.

“I’m heartbroken because my dad was so loyal,” Rangel said.

Brazilian owned JBS confirmed an employee with three decades of experience died from complications associated with COVID-19, without naming Sanchez. The company said he had not been at work since March 20, the same day JBS removed people older than 70 from its facilities as a precaution. He was never symptomatic while at work and never worked in the facility while sick, according to the company.

JBS said it was working with federal and state governments to obtain tests for all plant employees.

Weld County, where the plant is located, had the fourth highest number of COVID-19 cases of any county in Colorado on Friday, according to the state. Health officials confirmed cases among JBS workers.

JBS said high absenteeism at the plant led slaughter rates to outpace the process of cutting carcasses into pieces of beef. The company disputed the union’s numbers on worker absences but did not provide its own. It took steps including buying masks and putting up plexiglass shields in lunch rooms to protect employees, said Cameron Bruett, spokesman for JBS USA.

“MY LIFE IS IN JEOPARDY”

At Wayne Farms’ chicken plant in Decatur, Alabama, some workers are upset the company recently made employees pay for masks, said Mona Darby, who inspects chicken breasts there and is a local leader of hundreds of poultry workers for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“My life is in jeopardy because we’re working elbow to elbow,” she said.

Wayne Farms, with annual sales exceeding $2 billion, is trying to obtain masks to distribute to employees, though supplies are limited, spokesman Frank Singleton said. He said he did not know of any instances where employees were charged for masks.

Workers at a Tyson Foods Inc chicken plant in Shelbyville, Tennessee, bought their own masks when the facility ran out, said Kim Hickerson, who loads chicken on trucks there and is a union leader. Some are talking about quitting because they are scared of getting sick, he said.

“I just put it in God’s hands,” he said.

Tyson, the top U.S. meat producer, is working to find more personal protective equipment for employees, spokesman Worth Sparkman said. The company increased cleaning at facilities and sought to space out employees, which can both slow production, according to a statement.

Workers have lost their trust in Olymel after an outbreak of the coronavirus closed a plant in Yamachiche, Quebec, according to union spokeswoman Anouk Collet. “They do not feel that the company took all the measures they could have taken to keep them safe,” she said.

Company spokesman Richard Vigneault said the plant will reopen on Tuesday with new measures in place, such as separating panels, masks and visors.

Marc Perrone, international president of the UFCW union, said meat plant workers are increasingly weighing concerns about their own safety and their responsibility to produce food.

“If we don’t take care of the food supply, the American people are going to panic,” he said.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Edward Tobin)

U.S. to seize exports of masks and gloves amid coronavirus crisis

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will seize exports of key protective medical gear until it determines whether the equipment should be kept in the country to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, two federal agencies announced on Wednesday.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will hold exports of respirators, surgical masks and surgical gloves, according to a joint announcement made with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA will then determine if the equipment should be returned for use in the United States, purchased by the U.S. government or exported.

President Donald Trump issued a memorandum on Friday that directed federal agencies to use any authority necessary to keep the highly sought-after medical supplies in the United States.

Governors, mayors and physicians have voiced alarm for weeks over crippling scarcities of personal protective gear for first-responders and front-line healthcare workers, as well as ventilators and other medical supplies.

The move to seize exports will include N95 respirator masks, which filter airborne particles and are used to protect against COVID-19, the potentially lethal respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The U.S. manufacturing company 3M Co, a leading producer of the masks worldwide, said on Monday that it had reached a deal with the Trump administration that would allow it to continue to export the masks to Canada and Latin America despite the new restrictions. The company had said days earlier that ceasing exports to those regions would have “humanitarian implications.”

A federal regulation that outlines FEMA’s procedures for seizing and vetting the exports will go into effect on Friday and remain in place until Aug. 10, according to a draft version posted online.

FEMA will aim to make decisions about exports quickly and seek to minimize disruptions to the supply chain, the draft regulation said.

Some state and local government officials have accused FEMA in recent days of confiscating shipments of masks and other supplies coming from overseas.

An official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who requested anonymity to discuss the matter earlier this week said half of the protective gear brought to the United States on U.S. government flights can be redirected to high-need areas around the country, but disputed the idea that the equipment had been seized.

FEMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Paul Simao and Jonathan Oatis)