Between two storms: Caribbean braces for hurricanes in coronavirus era

By Sarah Marsh and Rodrigo Campos

HAVANA/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Ken Hutton is worried Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas where he lives is far from rebuilt after being devastated by Hurricane Dorian last year yet he is bracing for another hurricane season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The business consultant feels lucky to have survived Dorian, which tore the hurricane shutters off his house and sucked out the windows.

Yet there is still no running water or power in his area – he relies on a generator and a well – and many of the organizations that had been helping to rebuild suspended work because of the pandemic.

“We are still in no position to be ready for another hurricane,” he told Reuters Tuesday. Already, the Caribbean has been hit by two tropical storms before the official start of the hurricane season on June 1, one of which started right over the Bahamas, Hutton added.

“There are lots of people walking around here now with post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.

Hurricane Dorian caused $3.4 billion in damages – more than a quarter of the annual output of the Bahamas or the equivalent of the United States losing the combined outputs of California, Texas and Florida, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

Across the Caribbean, island nations are now facing the double whammy of a hurricane season forecast to be more active than usual combined with a pandemic that has already drained public coffers and leveled tourism, one of its top earners.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week forecast 13-19 named storms this year, following 18 named storms last year and 15 in 2018, both above the average of 12.

But the Caribbean has used up much of the fiscal buffers it would usually have readied to respond to hurricane season, Caribbean Development Bank President Warren Smith said.

Countries have tapped typical sources of external emergency financing, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to respond to the coronavirus crisis, further limiting their funding options.

Meanwhile, new health protocols for hurricane season prep comes at an added cost. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) has revised guidelines to prevent the virus’ spread, including social distancing, personal protective equipment and hand cleaning facilities in shelters, said CDEMA head Elizabeth Riley.

“We can’t put as many people into a shelter (with social distancing), which means we must have many more shelters available,” St Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet told Reuters.

ECONOMIC STORM

Caribbean nations have had to absorb the high costs of managing virus outbreaks even as they have lost revenue from the stop in tourism caused by border closures and lockdowns, while also being forced to provide a welfare safety net to more people.

The economic outlook does not look set to improve any time soon, with the Caribbean facing a regional contraction of 6.2 % according to the IMF.

“Small island states rely heavily on tourism and remittances. Both are now at a standstill,” United Nations head Antonio Guterres said on Thursday. “Households that had a secure income are at imminent risk of poverty and hunger.”

He added that alleviating “crushing” debt “must be extended to all developing and middle-income countries” that request forbearance as they lose access to their main financial markets.

But it is not all doom and gloom. In Cuba, a meme went viral on social media in recent weeks appearing to present a duel for television airtime between the country’s chief epidemiologist and its most renowned weatherman as they cover the two crises.

The weatherman, Jose Rubiera, told Reuters much of what happens will depend on each storm’s route.

“One single hurricane can be devastating whereas you can have many that don’t hit,” he said. “It’s all very relative, but the one rule of thumb is to always be well prepared.”

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Rodrigo Campos in New York; Additional Reporting by Sarah Peter in Castries, St Lucia, Nelson Acosta in Havana and Karin Strohecker in London; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Aurora Ellis)

Tyson Foods will shut U.S. pork plant as more workers catch COVID-19

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Tyson Foods Inc said on Thursday it will temporarily close an Iowa pork plant due to the coronavirus pandemic, a month after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered slaughterhouses to stay open to protect the country’s food supply.

Meat processors like Tyson Foods, WH Group’s Smithfield Foods and JBS USA temporarily closed about 20 slaughterhouses last month as workers fell ill with the new coronavirus, leading to shortages of certain products in grocery stores. Production remains lower than normal because of increased absenteeism and social distancing among employees.

An Iowa state official said 555 employees at Tyson’s Storm Lake plant tested positive for the virus, about 22% of the workforce.

Tyson will stop slaughtering hogs at the facility and finish processing the animals over the next two days, according to a statement.

It will resume operations next week following “additional deep cleaning and sanitizing of the entire facility,” the statement said. The closure is due partly to a delay in COVID-19 testing results and employee absences, according to Tyson.

Tyson said it conducted large-scale COVID-19 testing at the plant in northwestern Iowa and implemented safety measures to protect employees like requiring them to wear masks.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union called on the Trump administration and meat companies to do more to protect workers. The union reported more than 3,000 infections and 44 deaths among U.S. meatpacking workers, up from 35 deaths as of May 12.

“Too many workers are being sent back into meatpacking plants without adequate protections in place, reigniting more outbreaks in the plants and our communities,” said Nick Nemec, a South Dakota farmer who is part of an advocacy group working with the union.

The Storm Lake plant slaughters about 17,250 pigs a day when it is running at full capacity, according to industry data. That accounted for about 3.5% of U.S. production before the pandemic.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)

Factbox: Where states stand as U.S. reaches 100,000 coronavirus deaths

By Peter Szekely

(Reuters) – Less than four months after a 57-year-old California woman died and was later found to be the country’s first COVID-19 fatality, the coronavirus U.S. death toll topped 100,000 people on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally.

The grim milestone is by far the largest of any country, although by population, several Western European countries, led by Belgium, have much higher death rates.

The outbreak set off a patchwork of responses by the 50 states and the District of Columbia, some of which were hammered by the global pandemic while others were barely touched.

Initial actions ranged from sweeping business shutdowns and orders to shelter in place to less drastic guidance and regional closings. All states have loosened at least some restrictions in recent weeks, but still require or recommend precautions, such as social distancing or masks. Almost all states have ended in-class instruction at public schools for the academic year.

Below are summaries of how the states and the District of Columbia are coming back from the economic slowdown they orchestrated to combat the pandemic, based on Reuters reporting, a Reuters tally of infections and deaths as of Wednesday, and data compiled by the National Governors Association:

ALABAMA: 12 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 581. Total cases: 15,775. After its stay-at-home order expired at the end of April, the state moved to a “Safer at Home” order that urged residents to minimize travel and banned public gatherings unless social distancing can be maintained. The order was amended to continue until July 3. The state has allowed retail stores to operate at 50% of capacity, while restaurants, bars, gyms and some personal care services were allowed to reopen with restrictions. State beaches also were reopened.

ALASKA: 1 death per 100,000. Total deaths: 10. Total cases: 411. On May 8, the state entered the second phase of a five-step reopening process that allows offices, restaurants, swimming pools, personal care and other retail businesses to operate at 50% of capacity, and bars, gyms and theaters to operate at 25% of capacity. Social and religious gatherings are limited to 50 people with social distancing.

ARIZONA: 11 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 831. Total cases: 17,262. After the state’s stay-at-home order expired on May 15, bars, pools, gyms and ballparks without fans were allowed to reopen, though social distancing policies remain in place. Non-essential retailers, including barbershops, reopened on May 8 and dine-in service at restaurants reopened on May 11.

ARKANSAS: 4 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 119. Total cases: 6,180. The state responded to the outbreak in March with piecemeal measures, not a sweeping shutdown, and is now relaxing them. Restaurants were allowed to resume dine-in service at 33% capacity on May 11, personal service businesses, such as barbershops, were allowed to reopen on May 6, gyms were allowed to reopen on May 4. Large venues, such as movie theaters and sports arenas, were allowed to reopen on May 18, and restaurant bars could reopen on May 19, all with capacity limits. Since May 14, travelers from any international location, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey or New Orleans have been required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

CALIFORNIA: 10 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 3,824. Total cases: 99,769. The most populous U.S. state is in the second step of a four-stage reopening process after leading the country to close businesses and lockdown residents in March. The reopening is being phased in by county and business sector. Some statewide commerce is allowed, including curb-side retail sales and limited in-store shopping, manufacturing and office work. Some counties were permitted to open limited dine-in restaurant service, barbershops and hair salons. State beaches, bars, gyms and large venues, such as theaters, remain closed. On May 18, Governor Gavin Newsom said professional sports could return by early June under strict guidelines that include no fans.

COLORADO: 23 deaths per 100,000: Total deaths: 1,352. Total cases: 24,565. After a month-long “stay-at-home” order, the state moved to a looser “safer-at-home” order on April 27 that phases in activities, while still barring gatherings of 10 or more and requiring residents to stay within 10 miles (16 km) of home. On May 1, personal services, such as hair salons, and in-person shopping at non-critical stores resumed with restrictions. On May 4, commercial employers could have up to 50% of their employees on-site but were encouraged to have them work from home. Bars remain closed, but on Wednesday restaurants were allowed to resume seating customers, either outdoors or inside at 50% of capacity.

CONNECTICUT: 106 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 3,769. Total cases: 41,303. Two months after issuing a stay-home order, the state, among the country’s hardest hit, began loosening commercial restrictions on May 20. With restrictions, the new order allows offices to reopen, stores to allow onsite shopping and restaurants to offer outdoor table service. Unlike some neighboring states, Connecticut never closed manufacturing, construction or curbside retail service. Bars, gyms and personal service businesses remain closed. DELAWARE: 34 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 344. Total cases: 9,096. The state is gradually reopening the activities and businesses it shuttered on March 23 when residents were told to shelter in place, an order that has been extended to May 31. On May 8, most non-essential retailers were allowed to do curbside pickup sales, while several others, including hair care shops, were allowed to open for business with restrictions. Wider limited reopenings, including beaches, malls and restaurants and bars at 30% of capacity are set for June 1, although meeting facilities, sports venues and nail salons will remain closed.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: 62 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 445 Total cases: 8,406. Unlike most states that have moved to expand economic activity, the U.S. capital extended its stay-at-home order to June 8 because its efforts to curb the spread of the disease, had not met federal reopening guidelines. All but essential businesses, including grocery stores and restaurant take-out sales, remain closed. The district, among the country’s hardest-hit areas, was considering reopening parks.

FLORIDA: 11 deaths per 100,000: Total deaths: 2,319. Total cases: 52,634. The expiration of the state’s stay-at-home order on May 4 enabled most counties to reopen businesses, including retailers, dine-in restaurants, personal care services and gyms. Three heavily populated South Florida counties were slower to accept the reopenings, with Palm Beach, the home of U.S. President Donald Trump’s resort, joining a week later and Miami-Dade and Broward announcing some incremental reopenings afterward. The city of Miami Beach, which was hit hard by the virus, set its reopening of restaurant dining for May 25.

GEORGIA: 18 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 1,907. Total cases: 44,421. Georgia was the first state to emerge from lockdown as Governor Brian Kemp relaxed restrictions on April 24 over the objections of some local officials. The move allowed retail stores, dine-in restaurants, gyms and personal care businesses to open their doors, along with places of worship.

HAWAII: 1 death per 100,000. Total deaths: 17. Total cases: 643. The state, which relies heavily on tourism, requires all visitors arriving on the islands through June 30 to self-quarantine for 14 days. While the reopening of some businesses began on May 7, a stay-at-home order remains in effect through May 31. Retailers have been allowed to operate, except in Honolulu and Maui, and outdoor recreational facilities, including beaches, are open. More reopenings are expected on June 1.

IDAHO: 4 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 79. Total cases: 2,699. The state began its incremental reopening on May 1, the day after its stay-at-home order expired, by allowing places of worship to operate. Dine-in restaurants, gyms and personal care service businesses were allowed to open on May 16. More openings are expected on May 30.

ILLINOIS: 39 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 4,923. Total cases: 113,195. Illinois has taken only tentative steps away from the stay-at-home order Governor J.B. Pritzker issued in March. Since April, retail curbside sales and some manufacturing have been permitted, and state parks were opened. The stay-at-home order in place through May 29 bars non-essential travel, encourages work-from-home and restricts religious activities to gatherings of up to 10 people or drive-in services.

INDIANA: 30 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 2,030. Total cases: 32,437. Since May 4, the state has been phasing in the reopening of its economy in most regions, following the expiration of its March 23 stay-at-home order. The steps toward relaxation have allowed retailers and personal care services to do business, while restaurants and bars that serve food to could reopen their dining areas. Manufacturers, offices and places of worship also were free to operate.

IOWA: 15 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 490. Total cases: 18,360. One of a handful of states that did not issue a shutdown order, Iowa has been gradually unwinding the piecemeal restrictions it implemented in March but is keeping social distancing requirements. By May 15, all dine-in restaurants, gyms, hair salons and other personal service businesses were allowed to reopen. Large venue businesses, including theaters and zoos, were allowed to open on May 20, and bars were set to resume business on May 28. Gatherings of more than 10 people remain banned through May 27.

KANSAS: 6 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 205. Total cases: 9,337. The state has been in a phased reopening since May 4 when Governor Laura Kelly’s earlier stay-at-home order expired. Under the May order, retailers, offices, hair salons, gyms and restaurant dining areas were permitted to reopen, while bars and theaters remained closed. Further reopening steps are expected.

KENTUCKY: 9 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 394. Total cases: 8,951. The state is in the process of a phased-in reopening following a March 22 shutdown order. On May 11, manufacturing, construction and office workers were allowed to go back to their workplaces with restrictions. The reopenings also extended to horse racing tracks, including the state’s internationally known Churchill Downs, but without spectators. Limited reopenings at 33% of capacity were applied to retailers on May 20 and restaurants on May 22. Other targeted reopenings include personal care services on May 25 and gyms and movie theaters on June 1. Bars remain closed.

LOUISIANA: 58 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 2,722. Total cases: 38,497. With New Orleans among the areas hit hardest by the outbreak, Governor John Bel Edwards issued a stay-at-home order on March 22, but began a gradual unwinding of it on May 15. The new order permits several businesses, including restaurant dining areas, shopping malls, salons and barber shops, places of worship, casinos, racetrack, gyms and most other businesses to operate at 25% of their customer capacity. Parks are also open.

MAINE: 6 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 81. Total cases: 2,137. Maine, which has had a stay-at-home order in effect since April 2, began a regionally phased-in reopening approach on May 1. Car washes and auto dealerships were allowed to operate statewide, but the reopening of other retailers and restaurant dining areas was limited to some rural counties. On May 19, Governor Janet Mills delayed the reopening of salons and gyms, but opened the state’s campgrounds in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

MARYLAND: 39 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 2,392. Total cases: 48,423. After shutting down the state on March 30 with a stay-at-home order that also banned gatherings of more than 10 people, Governor Larry Hogan began reopening commerce on May 15. The new order allowed a broad range of retail stores, drive-in movie theaters, personal care services, manufacturers and places of worship to reopen in much of the state. The initial reopening phase also covered beaches and campgrounds, but not dine-in restaurants and gyms. Some localities chose to remain closed.

MASSACHUSETTS: 94 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 6,473. Total cases: 93,693. Massachusetts, among the states hardest hit by pandemic, began to emerge from a March 23 stay-at-home order with a phased-in reopening on May 18. The new order by Governor Charlie Baker, the first in a series, allowed the resumption of manufacturing, construction and worship services. It also sets May 25 for the reopening of curbside retail sales, office buildings, salons, car washes and drive-in movie theaters. Bars, dine-in restaurants, gyms and personal care services remain closed.

MICHIGAN: 53 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 5,334. Total cases: 55,608. Michigan, scene of protests by groups of armed demonstrators calling for a resumption of commerce, has been one of the most locked-down states since March 24. It began relaxing restrictions by region on May 11 by allowing some retailers to do curbside sales. Another order allowed retailers and car dealerships to do business by appointment starting May 22. Some manufacturing, construction and restaurants also were allowed to resume operation in certain areas. The current stay-at-home order is set to expire after Thursday.

MINNESOTA: 16 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 942 Total cases: 22,464. The state has loosened its March shutdown order over the past few weeks, allowing manufacturing and office employees back to work, but requiring that workers who can work from home do so. Gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited, although drive-in gatherings are permitted. On May 17, Governor Tim Walz reopened parks and many recreation areas and allowed retailers and malls to open their doors while limiting customers to 50% of capacity. A planned reopening of bars and dine-in restaurants is set for June 1. Gyms and personal care services remain closed.

MISSISSIPPI: 22 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 670. Total cases: 14,044. A shelter-in-place order issued on April 3 lasted only a matter of weeks, before being loosened for a phased-in resumption of commerce, starting with retailers operating their stores at 50% of capacity. Since then, the reopening has extended to dine-in restaurants and bars, gyms, casinos, salons, barbershops and state parks.

MISSOURI: 11 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 696. Total cases: 12,492. After the expiration of a shelter-at-home order, restaurants were allowed to seat customers in their dining areas on May 4, and retailers were allowed to open their doors, but with limits ranging from 10% to 25% of customer capacity, depending on the size of the store. Also reopened were gyms, entertainment venues, personal care services and campgrounds. Manufacturing, construction and office employees were allowed to return to their workplaces.

MONTANA: 2 death per 100,000. Total deaths: 17. Total cases: 481. A phased-in business restart began on April 27, following the expiration of a March stay-at-home order. Allowed to reopen were retail stores, restaurants and bars, salons and barber shops, gyms and entertainment venues. Places of worship were also reopened. In early May, some public schools reopened their classrooms in Montana, one of the very few states to allow it.

NEBRASKA: 9 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 167. Total cases: 12,619. One of the few states not to issue a blanket stay-at-home order, Nebraska began to relax its limited, regionally varied “directed health measures” on May 4 with the resumption of elective surgeries. While Governor Pete Ricketts limited public gatherings and urged Nebraskans to stay home, construction, manufacturing and office work continued. Restaurants, which were restricted to takeout in some regions, were allowed to serve a limited number of dining patrons by May 11. Bars and large venue businesses were either operating with limited capacity or ordered to stay closed through May 31.

NEVADA: 13 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 396. Total cases: 8,114 While Las Vegas casinos remain closed, Nevada has been phasing in an economic restart after ordering a statewide shutdown in March. Starting on May 9, restaurants were allowed to seat guests, retailers could operate at 50% of capacity, barbershops and salons could serve customers and drive-in theaters could roll movies. The state’s legal brothels, gyms, and indoor malls are among the businesses still closed.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: 16 deaths per 100,000 Total deaths: 214. Total cases: 4,231. While the state’s March 27 stay-at-home order remains in effect at least through the end of May, some pockets of the economy have been allowed to restart. Starting in May, retailers were allowed to open their doors to customers at up to 50% of capacity. Gyms, barbershops and hair salons also could reopen, while restaurants could seat customers outside and drive-in movie theaters could operate. Construction workers were allowed to return to their jobs.

NEW JERSEY: 126 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 11,339. Total cases: 156,628. The country’s most dense state and one of the hardest hit by the outbreak is emerging from a sweeping March shutdown order incrementally. While bars and dine-in restaurant service remain closed, non-essential construction, curbside pickup for non-essential retailers and drive-in businesses resumed on May 18. Parks reopened in early May, and beaches were set to reopen on May 22. On Tuesday, Governor Phil Murphy opened the way for the state’s professional sports teams to come back to train and compete.

NEW MEXICO: 15 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 325. Total cases: 7,130. With a March 24 stay-at-home order in effect until at least the end of May, New Mexico has taken limited steps to reopen its economy, though not in all regions. Retail stores were allowed to open at 25% of their customer capacities, places of worship, parks and golf courses have opened and offices were allowed to operate at 25% of capacity. Bars, restaurant dining areas, gyms and personal care services remain closed.

NEW YORK: 150 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 29,339. Total cases: 369,883. A strict March shutdown and stay-at-home order in the most severely affected U.S. state was slowly being lifted by region. Its reopening moves began in mid-May in several upstate areas that were largely unaffected by the surge of cases in the New York City area, and extended to areas along the Hudson River and Long Island on Tuesday and Wednesday, all with social distancing and other restrictions. Construction can resume and retailers may offer curbside pickup or open their doors with capacity limits in those areas. Drive-in movie theaters were among a handful of outdoor, low-risk businesses allowed to reopen statewide on May 15, and state beaches reopened for Memorial Day weekend. Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday invited the state’s sports teams to come back to train and compete in empty arenas. Dine-in restaurants, bars and personal care services remain closed.

NORTH CAROLINA: 7 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 794. Total cases: 24,628. The state has moved incrementally to reopen its economy even as a March 30 stay-at-home order remained in effect through most of May. Starting on May 22, retail stores, restaurant dining areas and personal care services were allowed to operate at 50% of their customer capacity. Places of worship and some outdoor recreational areas were also reopened. Earlier in May, the beaches of the state’s Outer Banks were reopened to non-residents.

NORTH DAKOTA: 7 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 56. Total cases: 2,439. The state responded to the outbreak with “a low-mandate, high-compliance approach” that left the “vast majority” of its economy open, according to Governor Doug Burgum. March shutdowns of bars, dine-in restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and personal care services, were lifted on May 1 with distancing constraints. Banquet hall gatherings of up to 250 people were permitted on May 15, but sports arenas and entertainment venues remain closed. Most travelers from other countries must quarantine for 14 days.

OHIO: 17 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 2,044. Total cases: 33,439. The state is slowly unwinding a number shutdown orders it issued in March, including a March 22 stay-at-home order. Manufacturing, construction and office workers were allowed to return to their workplaces on May 4. Retailers could reopen in early May, but only for curbside pickup or by appointment, a limited number of customers at a time. Personal care services, including salons and barber shops, could reopen on May 15, and restaurants can serve customers in outdoor seating areas. On Tuesday, the state reopened fitness centers and a variety of sports and recreational facilities, ranging from batting cages to bowling alleys.

OKLAHOMA: 8 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 322. Total cases: 6,229. The state, among the few not to issue a sweeping statewide shutdown order, has undone the selective closings it ordered in March, which mostly affected businesses in counties where there was community spread of the disease. By May 15, dine-in restaurants, bars, personal care services, gyms, theaters, houses of worship and sports venues were allowed to reopen with social distancing and other restrictions. A “Safer at Home” order directs older residents and those with pre-existing conditions to limit travel. Travelers coming to Oklahoma from six severely infected states are required to quarantine for 14 days.

OREGON: 4 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 148. Total cases: 3,967. Oregon has taken a regional approach to reopen its economy after a number of shutdown orders, including one to “Stay Home, Save Lives,” were issued in March. Retail stores were allowed to reopen with restrictions earlier in May, while restaurant dining areas, gyms and personal care services in many parts of the state were also allowed to operate.

PENNSYLVANIA: 41 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 5,273. Total cases: 73,553. With an April 1 stay-at-home order in effect until at least June 4, the state has taken tentative steps to restart its economy in phases and by region. So far, construction workers have been allowed to return to their job sites, and retail stores have been allowed to reopen with restrictions in some counties. Bars, dine-in restaurants, gyms and personal care services remain closed.

RHODE ISLAND: 60 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 655. Total cases: 14,353. Since a stay-at-home order expired on May 8, Rhode Island has gradually reopened businesses sector by sector. Manufacturing, construction and office employees have been allowed to return to their workplaces. Retail stores were allowed to operate with restrictions, restaurants may seat customers in outdoor areas, and parks and golf courses are open. Bars and gyms remain closed, but plans are in place to allow fitness classes, salons and barbershops and indoor restaurant dining at 50% of capacity to resume on June 1. At least some beaches reopened on the May 25.

SOUTH CAROLINA: 9 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 446. Total cases: 10,416. After shutting down most businesses for a matter of weeks in late March and early April, the state has been allowing them to reopen, starting in late April. Retail stores, gyms, restaurant dining areas and salons and barbershops have been allowed to operate with restrictions. Zoos, amusement parks, museums and other attractions were set to reopen on May 22.

SOUTH DAKOTA: 6 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 54. Total cases: 4,710. The state did not shut down businesses or issue a stay-at-home order, but many businesses throughout the state, including meat packers, closed temporarily because of the outbreak. Governor Kristi Noem issued a “Back to Normal” plan on April 28 that offers guidance for business reopenings and encourages social distancing and other precautions.

TENNESSEE: 5 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 353. Total cases: 21,306. After closing businesses and ordering residents to stay home in late March and early April, Tennessee has started to reopen its economy, except in some regions. Dine-in restaurants, retail stores, gyms, personal care services and places of worship have been allowed to operate with restrictions. Bowling alleys and arcades also were allowed to reopen, but bars, theaters and sporting and entertainment venues remain closed. Office employees were allowed to return to their workplaces with restrictions.

TEXAS: 5 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 1,551. Total cases: 57,475. Since its stay-at-home order expired on April 30, Texas has reopened much of its economy by region. In most areas, retail stores, restaurant dining areas, shopping malls, movie theaters and personal care services were allowed to operate at 25% of capacity. Places of worship also have been allowed to operate with restrictions. Manufacturing and office workers were allowed to return to their workplaces. Starting on May 31, the state will allow professional sports to be played without spectators.

UTAH: 3 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 105. Total cases: 8,706. While the state did not issue a blanket shut-down order, some selected businesses were ordered closed locally in March, including personal care and dine-in restaurant services and movie theaters. A March 27 “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive from Governor Gary Herbert asks residents to stay home where possible and reminds businesses to comply with hygiene and distancing measures. Herbert has gradually lowered the state’s color-coded alert status from high-risk red, and declared most counties to be at low-risk yellow on May 16. The status permits the opening of all businesses, bars and dine-in restaurants with precautions.

VERMONT: 9 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 54. Total cases: 971. After the state’s stay-at-home order expired in mid-May, retail stores were allowed to operate with restrictions and state parks and golf courses could open. Public worshipping was limited to drive-in services and fitness center activity was restricted to outdoor classes. Manufacturing, construction and office employees were allowed to return to their workplaces. Bars, restaurant dining areas and personal care services remain closed.

VIRGINIA: 14 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 1,281. Total cases: 40,249. Although a March 30 stay-at-home order remains in effect, the state has phased in much of its economic reopening, except in the suburban areas surrounding Washington, D.C. Retailers and personal care services can operate with restrictions, restaurants and bars were allowed to offer outdoor seating and fitness centers were permitted to offer outdoor classes. Places of worship were allowed to operate, and campgrounds were reopened.

WASHINGTON: 14 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 1,078. Total cases: 20,181. In Washington, the first state to have a COVID-19 casualty, some counties have been allowed to reopen businesses even as a March 25 shutdown order remains in effect. The reopenings include retail sales, restaurant dining, personal care services and some fitness center activities, all with restrictions. In select counties, manufacturing, construction and office employees were allowed to return to their workplaces with restrictions. Parks and golf courses were reopened, and public worshipping is limited to drive-in services.

WEST VIRGINIA: 4 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 74. Total cases: 1,867. In West Virginia, among the last states to be hit by a coronavirus infection, businesses have been reopening since a stay-at-home order expired on May 3. The reopenings include restaurant dining areas at 50% of capacity, retail stores, personal care services and gyms, all with restrictions. State parks, campgrounds and drive-in movie theaters are also open. Bars, movie indoor movie theaters, playgrounds, zoos and bowling alleys are among the businesses that were still closed.

WISCONSIN: 9 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 539. Total cases: 16,462. After the state Supreme Court struck down Governor Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order on May 13, the pace of the state’s economic reopening was left to each locality. In what one restaurant trade group official called “a little bit of the Wild, Wild West,” some allowed bar and restaurant owners to open, while others kept their lockdowns in place.

WYOMING: 2 deaths per 100,000. Total deaths: 13. Total cases: 850. Although Wyoming was among a handful of states that did not issue sweeping shutdown orders, it closed select businesses on March 20, including bars, dine-in restaurants, theaters, personal care services and gyms. On March 25, Governor Mark Gordon urged residents to stay home whenever possible. The targeted shutdowns were rescinded on May 15 and the limit on public gatherings was expanded to 25 from 10.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Kudlow says Trump administration looking at ‘back to work bonus’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s administration is looking carefully at a potential “back to work bonus” to encourage Americans who had been laid off as the coronavirus pandemic spread to return to work.

Kudlow, speaking on Fox News Channel, also said he does not think Congress will approve another $600 per week in extra jobless benefits to laid-off workers in a future coronavirus relief legislation.

(Reporting by Tim Ahmann, Lisa Lambert and Daphne Psaledakis)

U.S. veterans agency has given hydroxychloroquine to 1,300 coronavirus patients

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has treated 1,300 coronavirus patients with the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which a study has tied to an increased risk of death, according to a document released by a Senate Democrat on Friday.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who received the information from the VA in response to questions he submitted on the issue, said he was “deeply troubled” by the data.

President Donald Trump has long urged use of hydroxychloroquine against coronavirus and recently said he has been taking it himself, despite evidence that the treatment could be harmful.

A study published on Friday in the medical journal Lancet tied the drug to an increased risk of death in hospitalized patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

In April, doctors at VA itself also said hydroxychloroquine did not help COVID-19 patients and might pose a higher risk of death.

The VA, which provides care to 9 million veterans, said that about 1,300 coronavirus patients who received the drug are among more than 10,000 COVID-19 patients it has treated. It has also dispensed hydroxychloroquine to about 7,500 patients with other conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

The VA said it will continue to dispense the drug under the guidelines of the Food and Drug Administration.

In answer to a question from Schumer, the VA said it was not pressured into using hydroxychloroquine by the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services or any other federal agency.

“VA, like so many medical facilities across this nation, is in a race to keep patients alive during this pandemic, and we are using as many tools as we can,” the VA told Schumer.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Sonya Hepinstall)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now 5-21-20

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

“A long way to go”

The World Health Organization is starting to raise the alarm bell about the rising number of new coronavirus cases in poor countries, even as many rich nations emerge from lockdowns.

The global health body said on Wednesday 106,000 new cases had been recorded in the previous 24 hours, the most in a single day since the outbreak began.

“We still have a long way to go in this pandemic,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Global coronavirus cases have surpassed 5 million, with Latin America overtaking the United States and Europe in the past week to report the largest portion of new daily cases.

Vaccine: high hopes and a reality-check

The United States said it will pump up to $1.2 billion into developing AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and confirmed that it would order 300 million doses.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he hoped the first doses of the vaccine, which is being developed with the University of Oxford, would be available by October.

AstraZeneca meanwhile stressed it was still awaiting results from an early-stage trial to know if the vaccine worked at all.

China fur and traditional medicine trade to continue?

China’s parliament is preparing new laws to ban the trade and consumption of wildlife, following on from a temporary move in January after exotic animals traded in a Wuhan market were identified as the most likely source of COVID-19.

However, local action plans published this week suggest the country’s fur trade and lucrative traditional medicine sectors will continue as usual.

That means practices that lead to cross-species virus transmission could continue, said Peter Li, China policy specialist with Humane Society International, an animal rights group. China’s annual national session of parliament, delayed from March, starts on Friday.

Sports and sleepwear over suits and ties

The new bestsellers at Marks & Spencer are sportswear, sleepwear and bras, while sales of suits and ties are down to “a dribble”, as the lockdown transforms shoppers’ priorities, Britain’s biggest clothing retailer said on Wednesday.

What customers are buying is “completely different from what it would have been a year ago,” M&S chairman Archie Norman told reporters, after the 136-year-old group published annual results and its response to the pandemic.

Along with surging sales of jogging pants, hoodies and leggings, an emphasis on home comforts and family needs has boosted bedding sales by 150%.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh and Mark John; editing by Nick Macfie)

Global coronavirus cases surpass 5 million, infections rising in South America

By Lisa Shumaker and Cate Cadell

(Reuters) – Global coronavirus cases surpassed 5 million on Wednesday, with Latin America overtaking the United States and Europe in the past week to report the largest portion of new daily cases globally.

It represents a new phase in the virus’ spread, which initially peaked in China in February before large-scale outbreaks followed in Europe and the United States.

Latin America accounted for around a third of the 91,000 cases reported earlier this week. Europe and the United States each accounted for just over 20%.

A large number of those new cases came from Brazil, which recently surpassed Germany, France and the United Kingdom to become the third-largest outbreak in the world, behind the United States and Russia.

Cases in Brazil are now rising at a daily pace second only to the United States.

The first 41 cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 10 and it took the world until April 1 to reach its first million cases. Since then, about 1 million new cases are reported every two weeks, according to a Reuters tally.

At more than 5 million cases, the virus has infected more people in under six months than the annual total of severe flu cases, which the World Health Organization estimates is around 3 million to 5 million globally.

The pandemic has claimed over 326,000 lives, though the true number is thought to be higher as testing is still limited and many countries do not include fatalities outside of hospitals. Over half of the total fatalities have been recorded in Europe.

Despite the continued increase in cases, many countries are opening schools and workplaces following weeks of lockdown that have stemmed the spread.

Financial markets have also been boosted slightly by promising early results from the first U.S. vaccine trial in humans.

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker and Cate Cadell; editing by Jane Wardell)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now 5-19-20

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

On the economy, “medical metrics” rule for now

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will testify on Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee and face questions about their plans keep the world’s largest economy afloat and missteps in rolling out some $3 trillion in aid so far.

Two months into the pandemic, many analysts have concluded that U.S. policy has at best fought back worst-case outcomes on both the health and economic front.

Powell has said he sees the likely need for up to six more months of government financial help for firms and families. With regular data on the economy at best volatile and at worst outdated when it comes out, he said “medical metrics” were the most important signs to watch right now.

The presidential pill

Donald Trump surprised many on Monday by revealing that he is taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventative medicine against the coronavirus – despite warnings about the malaria drug.

“I’ve been taking it for the last week and a half. A pill every day,” he told reporters. “All I can tell you is so far I seem to be OK.”

Weeks ago Trump had promoted the drug as a potential treatment based on a positive report about its use against the virus, but subsequent studies found it was not helpful. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about it.

Glimmer of hope

That overshadowed news that an experimental COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna Inc produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers, according to very early data released by the biotech company on Monday.

The vaccine has the green light to start the second stage of human testing. In this Phase II trial to test effectiveness and find the optimal dose, Moderna said it will drop plans to test a 250 mcg dose and test a 50 mcg dose instead.

Reducing the dose required to produce immunity could help spare the amount of vaccine required in each shot, meaning the company could produce more of the vaccine.

Eating with your mask on

Israeli inventors have developed a mask with a remote control mouth that lets diners eat without taking it off, which they say could make a visit to a restaurant less risky.

A squeeze of a lever opens a slot in the front of the mask so food can pass through.

The process could get messy with ice cream or sauces, but more solid morsels can be gobbled up a la Pac-Man in the arcade game.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh and Mark John; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Texas prepares for a pandemic first: a jury trial by Zoom

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – With jury trials on hold throughout the United States because of the coronavirus pandemic, court officials in Texas are trying something new: let jurors hear a case through Zoom.

Lawyers in an insurance dispute in Collin County District Court on Monday picked a jury to hear the case by videoconference, in what officials believe is the first virtual jury trial to be held nationally amid the COVID-19 crisis.

More than two dozen potential jurors logged in by smartphone, laptop and tablet for jury selection, which was streamed live on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/c/JudgeEmilyMiskel, with a judge occasionally providing tech advice on how to best use their devices.

The one-day trial is a so-called summary jury trial, in which jurors hear a condensed version of a case and deliver a non-binding verdict.

The parties, having seen how their case could fare before a jury in a full-blown trial, will sit down for mediation and try to negotiate a settlement on Tuesday.

Officials say the abbreviated format and non-binding verdict make it ideal to test the viability of holding jury trials remotely, as they grapple with the more daunting challenge of how to conduct them safely in person during the pandemic.

“You can’t drag people down to the courthouse and make them sit together for days at a time,” Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said in an interview. “It’s just too dangerous.”

Courts throughout the country have since March curtailed operations and limited in-person court hearings as states adopted stay-at-home orders and ordered businesses closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In 39 states and the District of Columbia, court systems on a statewide basis directed or encouraged judges to conduct hearings remotely by phone or videoconference, according to the National Center for State Courts. But jury trials came to a halt.

Monday’s case, a lawsuit accusing the insurer State Farm of failing to honor its obligations to cover property damage to a building caused by a 2017 storm, was originally set to go to trial in McKinney, Texas, in March.

Even as courts in many states draw up plans to resume operations, judges and court officials have questioned how to safely conduct in-person trial proceedings.

Ideas include spreading jurors out in a courtroom and requiring them and lawyers to wear masks. Even with these precautions, it is not clear how hundreds of people can be asked to show up for jury duty in cramped courthouses.

“It’s just imponderable,” Hecht said. “There are hundreds of people over the country studying how do we get back to jury trials.”

The Indiana Supreme Court said last week that once jury trials resume in the state, parties in civil cases can agree to conduct them remotely. And in Arizona, the state’s top court has said it will allow jurors to be selected remotely.

The moves come as courts face a growing backlog of cases. In 2019, Texas held an average of 186 jury trials per week, said David Slayton, the Texas Office of Court Administration’s administrative director.

Whether virtual trials will be successful remains to be seen.

Judge Emily Miskel, whose courthouse is overseeing Monday’s trial, said the case could illuminate whether a “hybrid approach” is possible, in which jury selection is virtual and the remainder of the trial is conducted in person.

Slayton acknowledged that holding trials remotely presents challenges, including making sure jurors remain attentive and do not conduct research online. But those issues also exist with in-person trials and can be easily dealt with by a warning from the judge, he said.

“Obviously it’s on video, so the judge can tell if jurors are washing dishes or doing something else,” Slayton said.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Daniel Wallis and Tom Brown)

Beaches, parks busy as Europe heat wave and U.S. spring test new coronavirus rules

Beaches, parks busy as Europe heat wave and U.S. spring test new coronavirus rules
By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Summer weather is enticing much of the world to emerge from coronavirus lockdowns as centers of the outbreak from New York to Italy and Spain gradually lift restrictions that have kept millions indoors for months.

People are streaming back to beaches, parks and streets just as a heatwave hits southern Europe and spring-like temperatures allow Americans to shed winter coats. As they venture out again, most are keeping their distance and some are wearing masks. However, protests are also heating up from Germany to England to the United States, arguing the government restrictions demolish personal liberties and are wrecking economies.

Greeks flocked to the seaside on Saturday when more than 500 beaches reopened, coinciding with temperatures of 34 Celsius (93 Fahrenheit).

Umbrella poles had to be 4 meters (13 ft) apart, with canopies no closer than 1 meter as the country sought to walk the fine line between protecting people from COVID-19 while reviving the tourism sector that many depend on for their livelihoods.

“This is the best thing for us elderly … to come and relax a bit after being locked in,” Yannis Tentomas, who is in his 70s, said as he settled down on the sand.

White circles were painted on the lawn in Brooklyn’s Domino Park in New York City to help sunbathers and picnickers keep a safe distance. About half the people in the park appeared to be wearing some form of face-covering as they congregated in small groups on a warm Saturday afternoon with police officers in masks keeping watch.

In Paris’ Bois de Boulogne, health training worker Anne Chardon was carrying disinfectant gel and a mask but said she felt a sense of freedom again for the first time after weeks of confinement.

“It’s as if we were in Sleeping Beauty’s castle, all asleep, all frozen, and suddenly there’s light and space, suddenly we can experience again the little joys of every day, in the spaces that belong to us, and that we’re rediscovering.”

On the French Riviera, many who took a dip in the sea wore protective masks. Fishing and surfing were also allowed, but sunbathing was banned.

“We’re semi-free,” said one local bather sporting a straw hat as he strolled the rather empty pebbly beach in Nice.

(Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. -)

‘MAKE CORONA GO AWAY’

Bathers seeking relief from the heat in Tel Aviv in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan Valley mostly tried to stay apart.

“We hope that the hot water, weather, make corona go away,” said Lilach Vardi, a woman who came to swim in the Dead Sea in Israel, as a lifeguard tried to fry an egg in a pan in the scorching sand nearby.

In Tunisia, which reported no new COVID-19 cases over four consecutive days last week, people flooded into the streets and recently reopened shops with little social-distancing.

Muslims are nearing the Eid al-Fitr holiday ending the holy month of Ramadan when many celebrate with new purchases.

“I stayed at home for two months and almost went crazy,” said one woman at Tunis’ Manar City Mall. “I’m surprised by the crowd but I need to buy clothes for my children for Eid.”

But throughout the world, small pockets of protesters bristled at any restrictions. In the U.S. states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, protests demanding states reopen faster have drawn demonstrators armed with rifles and handguns, which can be carried in public in many parts of the country.

Thousands of Germans took to the streets across the country on Saturday to demonstrate against restrictions imposed by the government, and Polish police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in Warsaw.

In London’s Hyde Park, police arrested 19 people on Saturday for deliberately breaking social distancing guidelines in protest at the rules, on the first weekend since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a slight loosening of England’s lockdown.

The scene elsewhere in the city was much calmer on Sunday as children climbed trees, kicked footballs, and threw Frisbees in Greenwich Park. Couples and larger groups sunned themselves on the open lawns, mostly observing social distancing as they chatted and drank beer.

“We’re really happy to be out,” said Niko Privado, who brought his three brightly colored Macaws to the park, each tethered to a portable perch. “It’s only the second time we’ve been able to take them out (since the lockdown),” he said, watched by his wife and daughter.

Nearby, however, a woman working at an ice cream van said business was far from brisk despite the crowds and warm weather.

“It’s very bad — only three to four people every hour,” said Zara Safat. “It’s social distancing and they don’t want to wait in long queues.”

(Graphic: World-focused tracker with country-by-country interactive – )

BEACH VOLLEYBALL AND BEERS

In Australia, hotels and clubs reopened offering a limited number of thirsty patrons their first cold tap beer in months, as long as they had a meal, and some cafes and restaurants opened to small numbers of customers.

Parks again saw picnics and community sport, as long as it was not body contact. Beaches, previously closed or open only for swimmers and surfers, hosted volleyball games.

Unlike the huge outdoor crowds prior to Australia’s lockdown, most people adhered to social distancing as the country eases restrictions in stages.

“It’s fair to say that there has been, in a sense, a great NSW bust-out – people (are) rewarding themselves for many weeks of sacrifice, having themselves locked inside,” said New South Wales (NSW) state Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

“But I also do want to remind people this virus is extremely dangerous and we are all, every one of us, sitting ducks for this virus. We don’t know where this virus might break out.”

Australia is mid-way through its phased reopening and the next few weeks will determine if it continues, with health officials concerned of a second wave of coronavirus infections as people return to work and continue socializing.

(Graphic: Where coronavirus cases are rising in the United States – )

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus and Reuters TV; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Michael Perry; Editing by Daniel Wallis)