Wilderness camps to $50,000 RV rentals: Luxury travelers in pandemic ready to pay for privacy

By Helen Coster

(Reuters) – Before the coronavirus pandemic, Melanie Burns and her husband between them had planned five trips between April and September, including three to Europe.

With only one still a possibility, the Oklahoma City resident is turning to a more reliable option: driving eight hours to the 550,000-acre Vermejo resort in Raton, New Mexico, where the couple can hike, fly fish and dine under the stars while avoiding other guests.

“We didn’t want a large property,” said Burns. “We didn’t want a hotel situation where there was daily housekeeping and you had to walk down a hall with rooms across from each other.”

As borders and much of the travel industry remained closed after the Memorial Day weekend, historically the start of the U.S. summer travel season, most Americans are staying put, with travel within the United States expected to plunge by over half a trillion dollars this year, a nearly 54% decline from 2019.

Even so, some cooped-up Americans are starting to think about stepping out. Nearly one-third of Americans would consider taking a vacation outside the home between now and the end summer, according to a study from The Points Guy, a U.S. travel website.

Some of the first to book trips will likely be those who can minimize their risk of exposure to the virus, with budgets that allow for more isolated and private forms of travel.

“There’s a redefining of what luxury means,” said Eliza Scott Harris, chief operating officer of Indagare, a members-only boutique travel company. “It’s less about the ‘wow’ factor of the design and more about the privacy you’re afforded.”

High-end travelers are upgrading to more self-contained transportation, resulting in a “huge uptick” in private air travel, according to Joanna Kuflik, director of travel services at Marchay, a membership-based luxury travel agency.

For those who prefer a road trip, luxury RVs are expected to be popular. Goss RV, which offers weeklong luxury RV rentals with a driver for up to $50,000 per week, saw a 62% increase in revenue from rentals compared to the same month last year, as of May 21.

Cities are less popular options and small, elite properties in remote destinations are in, according to industry experts.

The country’s wealthiest travelers are beginning to book U.S. properties like the Amangiri, a 600-acre, $3,000 per night resort in southern Utah, which reopened May 21 with employees who have been trained to perform spa treatments while wearing masks and gloves.

The Amangiri has bookings through July and beyond, according to a resort spokesperson, with clients coming from nearby California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado at a time when flights remain limited. To enhance social distancing, the resort is limiting occupancy of its already-low room count of 34 suites.

Low density is a big draw.

“In a smaller boutique hotel or Airbnb you can trust that it’s a better-contained staff and a manager could be confident that 12 rooms could be cleaned very well, rather than 600 rooms,” said Kristin Peterson Edwards, an art consultant in Connecticut.

To attract more guests driving from San Francisco and Los Angeles – 11 and 10 hours away, respectively – the Lodge at Blue Sky in Wanship, Utah, may work with another outfitter to set up luxury camps in wilderness settings midway between the resort and those cities. The resort is reopening with limited occupancy on June 1, said general manager Joe Ogdie, who isn’t seeing a “major push of demand” yet, although he’s fielding inquiries about bookings.

On the international front, Indagare’s Harris said when borders reopen and international travel picks back up, many high-end travelers will head to New Zealand, which recorded just over 1,500 cases of coronavirus after imposing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. Based on bookings for late December and early 2021, the country is now for the first time her firm’s top foreign destination from a revenue standpoint, beating out Italy and France, Harris said.

For now, New Orleans resident Catherine Makk is not ready to fly and is instead planning a road trip with her daughter, possibly to Santa Fe, New Mexico. She’ll seek out small resorts where she can have more direct access to management, as well as experiences like private art tours.

“I think there will be more private one-on-one experiences with people in the region,” Makk said. “Everything will be much more relationship-based, much more considered.”

(Reporting by Helen Coster in New York; Editing by Kenneth Li and Leslie Adler)

Americans pass pandemic holiday on beaches, in parks as death toll nears 100,000

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Americans sunbathed on beaches, fished from boats and strolled on boardwalks this holiday weekend, even as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 fast approaches 100,000.

The Memorial Day weekend that signals the start of the U.S. summer is normally a time when cemeteries across the nation fill with American flags and ceremonies to remember those who died in U.S. wars.

This year it has also become a time to mourn the loss of more than 97,000 people due to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

The New York Times filled its entire front page with the names and selected details of 1,000 victims on Sunday seeking to illustrate the humanity of the lives lost.

Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. –

“We were trying to capture that personal toll,” Marc Lacey, the newspaper’s national editor, told Reuters. “We were trying to humanize these numbers which keep growing and have reached such unfathomable heights that they’re really hard to grasp any more. …This is about everyday people. It’s about a death toll, reaching a number that’s really just jaw-dropping.”

Among the victims, drawn from obituaries and death notices in hundreds of U.S. newspapers: Lila Fenwick, 87, the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Law; Romi Cohn, 91, saved 56 Jewish families from the Gestapo; Hailey Herrera, 25, budding therapist with a gift for empathy.

All 50 states have relaxed coronavirus restrictions to some degree. In some states, like Illinois and New York, restaurants are still closed to in-person dining and hair salons remain shuttered. In many southern states, most businesses are open, with restrictions on capacity.

Last week, 11 states reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases, including Alabama, Arkansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Maryland, Maine, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters tally. It is not clear if the cases are rising from more testing or a second wave of infections.

Total U.S. cases are over 1.6 million, the highest in the world, while forecast models for possible COVID-19 deaths predict the death toll will exceed 100,000 by June 1.

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

A plea by health officials and many state governors to wear masks in stores and in public is being met with protest and resistance from some Americans. Social media is filled with videos of businesses turning away a few angry customers who refuse to cover their mouths and noses.

“We need to be wearing masks in public when we cannot social distance. It’s really critically important we have the scientific evidence of how important mask-wearing is to prevent those droplets from reaching others,” Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House coronavirus task force, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

While Americans were largely adhering to warnings to maintain social distancing over the holiday weekend, there were notable exceptions.

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

These included some packed beaches in Florida and other gulf states, forcing authorities to break up large gatherings. Videos posted on social media showed parties in other states where people crowded into pools and clubs elbow-to-elbow.

One such party at a Houston club called Cle prompted the city’s Mayor Sylvester Turner on Sunday to order firefighters across the metropolitan area to enforce social distancing rules.

Last week Turner said authorities would not forcibly make sure businesses were operating at capacity restrictions of 50% for restaurants and 25% for bars. But he reversed course after more than 250 crowd complaints were phoned into the city by Sunday evening.

“There are too many people who are coming together going to some of our clubs, our bars, to swimming pool parties, with no social distancing, no masks,” Turner said. “It’s clear people are crowding in, looks like to maximum capacity, almost on top of one another.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Sinead Carew and Koh Gui Qing in New York, and Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Diane Craft and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

U.S. forecasters expect above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season: NOAA

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – U.S. forecasters expect an above-normal 13-19 named storms during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center said on Thursday.

NOAA forecasters estimate three to six major hurricanes packing winds of at least 111 miles per hour (179 km/h) may form. The last two years have seen an above-average number of named storms with 18 last year and 15 in 2018.

Gerry Bell, lead forecaster with the Climate Prediction Center, said the Atlantic is in a warm cycle of a multi-decadal pattern that has dominated the ocean’s weather since 1995.

“We’re predicting this to be an above-normal season, possibly very active,” Bell said.

NOAA’s seasonal outlook is consistent with recent academic and private forecasts. Above-average ocean surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico and an absence of high-level El Nino winds that break up storms portend a more active season, researchers have said

About half of this year’s named storms may reach hurricane strength, with winds of at least 74 mph. The season formally begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

The 2020 season started early with Tropical Storm Arthur, bringing heavy rains to the southeastern U.S. coast this week before dissipating on Tuesday. No storms are currently brewing.

Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the COVID-19 pandemic would affect disaster plans.

“Social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more,” Castillo said.

Eighteen tropical storms developed in 2019 including six hurricanes, three of which were major. The average hurricane season produces 12 named storms and six hurricanes, three of which are major.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba, Editing by Tom Brown and Richard Pullin)

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)

U.S. employers wary of coronavirus ‘immunity’ tests as they move to reopen

By Caroline Humer and Timothy Aeppel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. employers have cooled to the idea of testing workers for possible immunity to the coronavirus as they prepare to reopen factories and other workplaces.

Blood tests that check for antibodies to the new coronavirus have been touted by governments and some disease experts as a way to identify people who are less likely to fall ill or infect others. Italian automaker Ferrari NV has made antibody testing central to its “Back on Track” project to restarting factories.

But many U.S. companies are not planning to use them, relying on face masks, temperature checks, social distancing, and diagnostic tests for those with symptoms, employers and healthcare experts told Reuters.

Mercer, which advises companies on healthcare benefits, has surveyed more than 700 U.S. employers in industries from high tech to retail to energy, and found 8% of companies said they would include antibody tests in plans to screen employees.

Interest in antibody tests from employers has fallen in recent weeks as reports have suggested that it is too early to conclude that antibodies to the new coronavirus translate into immunity. The American Medical Association cautioned on Thursday that these tests do not determine an individual’s immunity.

“Many employers … are realizing that antibody testing isn’t going to be a silver bullet and really isn’t going to bring them any value,” said David Zieg, a lead consultant on clinical services at Mercer.

Other employers worry about their liability if they administer and interpret such tests, or are concerned about test costs and availability. Some were spooked by a flood of tests that hit the market before being reviewed by regulators for accuracy, which has contributed to confusion over results.

A new antibody test from Roche Holding AG that has shown itself to be highly accurate could potentially help answer questions about antibodies and immunity and change corporate demand, but it has not done so yet, consultants and companies said.

Governments, however, are interested in antibody tests, particularly if they are accurate. Britain on Thursday said it is in talks with Roche over buying tests that it could use to create a certificate of immunity once there is a better understanding of the science.

Collective Health, a healthcare technology company that has built back-to-work strategies for large companies, is advising employers to use diagnostic tests, not antibody tests.

“There has been a proliferation of low-quality antibody tests and the antibody tests themselves don’t necessarily answer any questions about immunity,” said Rajaie Batniji, Collective Health’s chief health officer.

GETTING BACK TO WORK

When General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV reopen production next week, they intend to offer diagnostic tests to workers, not antibody tests. Officials at the Detroit carmakers said it was because it was not clear what the antibody tests show.

Amazon.com Inc’s on-site testing plan, now in development, does not include antibody testing. Those views were echoed in interviews with a handful of smaller U.S. manufacturers.

Shawn Kitchell, chief executive of Florida-based plastics manufacturer Madico Inc, is not planning to use antibody tests for his 250 employees. He questions their costs, accuracy, and the fact that the timing of tests can lead to different results, requiring multiple tries.

“How frequently would we need to test to make it safer for our co-workers?” Kitchell said.

Employers are also wary of an unregulated U.S. market for antibody tests. Since March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed more than 200 tests into the market without regulatory review to make them available quickly, opening the door to questionable vendors and inaccurate tests, Reuters found.

Last week, the agency set a deadline for all vendors to prove to the FDA that their tests work or remove them from the market. It has also authorized two highly-accurate tests from Roche and Abbott Laboratories, which are able to supply millions of tests per week.

One of the biggest U.S. testing providers, LabCorp, on Thursday said it was rolling out a program to make diagnostic tests and antibody tests available at workplaces.

LabCorp’s chief medical officer, Brian Caveney, said interest in antibody testing is coming from companies in coronavirus hotspots, such as New York, while other areas with fewer COVID-19 cases see diagnostic testing as more important.

As the new FDA process shows which tests work and which don’t, that will help advance research on how many people recovering from COVID-19 develop antibodies and at what level, and show if they are truly immune to infection, said Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Until we go through those steps, I don’t see how we can translate this for the typical person who wants to go back to work,” Koh said.

(This story has been refiled to change spelling to Zieg from Zeig in paragraph six)

(Reporting by Caroline Humer, Timothy Aeppel and Krystal Hu in New York and Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by Michele Gershberg and Nick Zieminski)

Pandemic hampers Philippines mass evacuation as typhoon hits

By Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic is complicating Philippine efforts to move hundreds of thousands of people into evacuation centers where social distancing is hard to enforce as a strong typhoon pummeled through its eastern provinces.

Typhoon Vongfong, the first to hit the country this year, intensified after slamming into the eastern Philippines on Thursday afternoon, packing winds of 155 kilometers per hour (kph) and gusts of up to 255 kph (158 miles per hour), the state weather bureau said in a bulletin.

Provincial and city governments, many of which are already strapped for resources due to the outbreak, are grappling with logistical and space issues, with an estimated 200,000 people needed to be moved from their homes in coastal and mountainous areas because of fears of flooding and landslides.

“This is really a nightmare for us here,” Ben Evardone, governor of the Eastern Samar province, told CNN Philippines. “Our problem right now is where to squeeze our people, while making sure they practice social distancing”.

With an average of 20 typhoons every year hitting the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, the challenges faced by stretched-thin local governments offer a grim preview of disaster response in the time of COVID-19.

The typhoon was forecast to move northwestward and hit Luzon, the country’s largest island that includes the capital Manila, which remains on lockdown.

Images shared on social media showed the powerful typhoon bringing intense rain and violent winds in areas along its path, toppling trees, knocking out power and destroying homes.

In the town of Buhi in the province of Camarines Sur, hundreds of evacuees were given face masks before they were allowed in the evacuation centers.

Mark Anthony Nazarrea, a public information officer at Buhi, said the local government turned two more schools into temporary shelters to enable better social distancing.

There were no reported cases of the new coronavirus in Buhi, Nazarrea said, but “we want to minimize the risk”.

Classrooms that used to accommodate eight families during disasters are now housing only one to two families, he said.

The novel coronavirus has killed 790 people in the Philippines since the first local transmission was recorded in March, and infected close to 12,000.

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Mark Potter)

Restaurants in parts of California can open for sit-down dining

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Restaurants in a half-dozen California counties can host sit-down dining, and shopping malls throughout the state can open for curbside pickup as coronavirus restrictions ease, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday.

Offices can also open with some restrictions, Newsom, a Democrat, said in his daily press briefing. But his latest plan for reopening the world’s fifth-largest economy still does not allow nail salons, tattoo parlors or gyms.

“It’s a mistake to over-promise what reopening means,” said Newsom, who has hesitated to loosen restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus even as other states have done so.

On Tuesday, leading U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci warned Congress that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed more than 80,000 people in the United States and brought the economy to its knees.

In California, the modest loosening of stay-at-home rules imposed in March comes as infections in the most-populous U.S. state appear to be stabilizing. But the state allows local governments to keep imposing stricter guidelines, and health officials in high-density areas like Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area have not yet supported easing restrictions.

Similarly, counties with few or stabilized cases can apply to the state for permission to open more businesses, including restaurants serving sit-down meals, and allow customers inside shopping malls, retail stores and swap meets. Schools can open with modifications.

Six Northern California counties, Butte, El Dorado, Lassen, Nevada, Placer and Shasta, received that permission on Tuesday.

To reopen, restaurants must retool their dining rooms to accommodate social distancing, closing areas where customers congregate or touch food, and stop setting tables with shared condiments such as mustard containers. Menus must be disposable and table-side food preparation is no longer allowed.

California’s slow pace of reopening has been criticized by lawmakers in Republican-leaning rural parts of the state, and a conservative lawyer filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday contesting the state’s restrictions on beauty salons.

Harmeet Dhillon, a San Francisco-based attorney and the former vice chair of the California Republican Party, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Professional Beauty Federation of California in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles.

She has also challenged Newsom’s order closing houses of worship, saying that while she supported the initial efforts to slow the virus’ transmission, the shutdown had gone on for too long.

“The premise was never lock everybody down, deprive them of their livelihoods, their properties, their dreams, everything they built,” she said.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney and Richard Pullin)

Pandemic inflicts historic U.S. job losses, as states struggle to reopen

By Lucia Mutikani and Maria Caspani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic triggered the steepest monthly loss of U.S. jobs since the Great Depression, government data showed on Friday, while Michigan and California prepared to put people back to work after a manufacturing shutdown.

Labor Department data for April showed a rise in U.S. unemployment to 14.7% – up from 3.5% in February – demonstrating the speed of the U.S. economic collapse after stay-at-home policies were imposed in much of the country to curb the pathogen’s spread.

Worse economic news may yet come. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said the unemployment rate is likely to move up to around 20% this month.

The economic devastation has put a sense of urgency into efforts by U.S. states to get their economies moving again, even though infection rates and deaths are still climbing in some parts of the country.

At least 40 of the 50 U.S. states are taking steps to lift restrictions that had affected all but essential businesses.

Two manufacturing powerhouses, Michigan and California, outlined plans on Thursday to allow their industrial companies to begin reopening over the next few days.

Public health experts said reopening prematurely risks fueling fresh outbreaks. They also have raised concerns that a state-by-state hodgepodge of differing policies confuses the public and undermines social distancing efforts.

“If we make a mistake and react too quickly, the situation is only going to get worse,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference. “We have people who are dying.”

The virus has killed nearly 76,000 Americans with more than 1.26 million confirmed cases, according to a Reuters tally.

An astounding 20.5 million U.S. jobs were lost in April – the steepest loss since the Great Depression some 90 years ago – and the jobless rate broke the post-World War Two record of 10.8% in November 1982, the government said.

Just as the pathogen itself has hit black and Hispanic Americans particularly hard – they are overrepresented in the U.S. death toll relative to their population size – minorities also have suffered greater job losses during the crisis.

The April unemployment rate was 14.2% for white Americans, but the rate reached 16.7% among African Americans and 18.9% among Hispanic Americans, the data showed.

Adding to the pain, millions of Americans who have lost their jobs have been unable to register for unemployment benefits. A survey released last week by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that up to 13.9 million people have been shut out of the unemployment benefits system.

‘JUST SO TENSE’

Rita Trivedi, 63, of Hudson, Florida, was furloughed as an analyst at Nielsen Media Research on April 23 and has struggled to secure benefits from the state’s troubled unemployment system. Trivedi worries that she does not have enough money to cover her husband’s medical bills and other expenses.

“I’m more than anxious, I’m more than worried – it’s ‘can’t sleep’ kind of anxious,” Trivedi said in an interview. “I’m just so tense thinking about these things and how to manage.”

Tom Bossert, Trump’s former White House homeland security adviser, said the national trend of new cases outside New York – where the situation has stabilized – was of great concern.

“What we’re looking for now is red flags for reopening, and unfortunately we’re seeing those red flags – about a 2 to 4% daily increase in the rest of the country when you take New York out of the analysis,” Bossert told ABC News.

That increase, if not contained, could lead to “really devastating results in the next 72 days,” Bossert added.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday gave the go-ahead to Michigan manufacturers to restart on Monday, removing a major obstacle to North American automakers seeking to bring thousands of idled employees back to work this month.

In California, her fellow Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled rules permitting manufacturers in his state – ranging from makers of computers, electronics and textiles to aerospace and chemical plants – to reopen as early as Friday.

President Donald Trump, seeking re-election in November, initially played down the threat posed by the coronavirus and has given inconsistent messages about how long the economic shutdown would last and the conditions under which states should reopen businesses.

“Those jobs will all be back, and they’ll be back very soon,” Trump told Fox News on Friday.

A member of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff has tested positive for the virus, briefly delaying Pence’s Friday flight to Iowa and prompting some fellow passengers on Air Force Two to disembark, according to a White House official.

Trump said certain White House staff members have started wearing masks, one day after the White House said his personal valet had tested positive.

As many as 75,000 Americans could die due to alcohol or drug misuse and suicide triggered by the pandemic, according to a report by the Well Being Trust, a national foundation working on mental health and wellbeing.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Jeff Mason, Mari Caspani, Andy Sullivan, Lisa Shumaker, Rajesh Kumar Singh and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham, Editing by Howard Goller)

Social distancing signs around the world show the new normal

(Reuters) – They range from simple spray-painted circles on the ground in a Mogadishu market to bright and breezy floor stickers in a Dubai mall, which blow a kiss and urge: “Hey there beautiful, don’t forget to keep a safe distance.”

The markings that will oblige us to keep apart in busy social settings, in order to prevent transmission of the new coronavirus, are appearing on shop floors, city pavements and train or tram platforms the world over.

As people emerge from weeks of lockdown, they face an array of new measures to try and keep the virus in check and protect society’s most vulnerable.

The signs mounted so far went up at speed – but look likely to become commonplace and could be in use for years.

Dots on the ground, lines, squares within squares, love hearts and smiley faces are being used around the world. The markings need to be impactful enough to be adhered to, but also, ideally, to reassure people without making them feel cattle-driven.

“Anywhere where there are graphics at the moment, it is because people have had to react super quick and put something in place – speed has been of the essence. We are now at the point where there is a bit of breathing space,” said Chris Girling, Head of Wayfinding at CCD Design & Ergonomics in London.

We have a hotchpotch of styles, colours, terminology, scale and placement strategies, he notes. “This means every single time a member of the public enters a different space they are having to relearn the rules.”

There is a balance to be found, he said. “People want to feel safe, reassured and at ease. If you can do that, they are in turn going to be more likely to shop, feel relaxed and return. The message needs to be clear and consistent … and absorbed.”

A social distancing marker as preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is seen inside a pharmacy store in downtown Nairobi, Kenya May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

PLEASE

Levels of politeness vary in the places where retailers, city and transport authorities have been able to afford to print special signs.

“For your safety please stand 2 meters from other people,” reads a floor sign in a Shell petrol garage in Britain.

“Please practice social distancing,” reads another alongside footprints in Santa Monica, California.

“Stand here” is written in English on a red circle floor sign in a grocery shop in Beirut.

“If we are using words like ‘stop’ and ‘go’ and more abrupt language, then that is more associated with hazard and prohibitive signage. This (COVID-19) is a very different type of situation and one that people have never experienced before, so it warrants a different tone of voice,” said Girling.

“It is definitely worth trying a more friendly and inventive touch with how you talk to your customers or the general public as they are likely to be more receptive… there is even a bit of space for humour.”

Footprints have proved popular so far, in signs from Bury in Britain to Abidjan in Ivory Coast, but as Girling points out, the best sign systems would also encourage linear movement and give a visual understanding of direction.

Asked how he would design a social distancing system, he suggested a line of tape to show a pathway, which changes color every two meters.

“The instinct to follow a line from childhood naturally stays the same as we become adults, and you subconsciously pick up on these visual cues as you walk around environments.”

Signs related to COVID-19 should also ideally have their own distinctive color, which will become instantly recognizable.

(Reporting by Reuters photographers worldwide; Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

U.S. adds social distancing to Atlantic hurricane season emergency response plan

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – With the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season fast approaching, U.S. officials on Thursday said they were readying more buses, hotel rooms and shelter space for social distancing to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus during potential evacuations.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a telephone briefing that it anticipated a higher-than-average number of storms during the U.S. storm season beginning on June 1. It urged states and cities to step up their preparations.

“COVID will make it a little more difficult,” FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor said, referring to the disease caused by the virus. “We’re asking local leaders to think about how they will manage evacuating and shelter. You’re going to need extra space.”

Last year, there were about 15 hurricane-related deaths in the United States, and at least 70 in the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian caused billions of dollars in damage.

COVID-19 has killed more than 73,000 people in the United States in the past two months.

In partnership with the American Red Cross, FEMA said it was preparing to house more evacuees in hotel rooms where families can stay, instead of packing them into shelters. They are also working to provide more buses to transport evacuees to avoid tight conditions.

An official estimate on the number of storms during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30, is expected to be released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on May 21.

But several forecasters see a more active season than average, with 18 named tropical storms and eight hurricanes.

Last year there were 12 named storms of which, seven strengthened into hurricanes, including two major ones, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The most deadly storm was Dorian, which ravaged the Bahamas, killed scores and left whole communities obliterated.

Gaynor said FEMA had more money than ever going into the hurricane season, with $6 billion devoted to federal response to the pandemic that officials could on draw on, as well as $80 billion remaining in disaster relief funds.

Brad Kieserman, vice president for disaster operations and logistics at the American Red Cross, said his organization had reserved more than 20,000 overnight stays at thousands of hotels.

“I can’t reinforce enough: our goal collectively is to keep people safe,” he said.

FEMA is also working to provide more face masks and other protective gear to help states fight COVID-19, as many hospitals and other U.S. facilities struggle to maintain enough masks and protective gear.

FEMA is also working with states to maximize each state’s ability to test for the virus, Gaynor said, but each state must decide how many people get tested.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Tom Brown)