The Latest: Denver meatpacking plant to reopen
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
— Las Vegas Strip hotel-casino makes plans to reopen in mid-May.
— Tyson plant in Washington state temporarily closing for worker testing.
— WHO reports five-fold increase in cyberattacks, including fake charity fund.
DENVER -- A major meatpacking plant in Colorado that closed because of a coronavirus outbreak that claimed the lives of four workers is set to reopen Friday after a two-week disinfection, even as some question how employees can maintain social distancing inside the facility to curb the spread of the disease.
The JBS USA plant in Greeley was partially closed April 11 after health officials in Weld County cited the close proximity of workers to each other and employees working while they were sick as factors in the outbreak. At least 102 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to state health officials.
A spokesman for JBS, which employs about 6,000 workers at the Greeley plant, did not immediately return a telephone call and an email seeking comment Thursday. But state health officials said JBS has made progress in sanitizing the plant.
“We feel that we are there,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of Colorado’s health department, said during a news briefing.
Ryan said officials from the state and Weld County, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have worked at the plant along with “industrial hygienists” hired by JBS.
SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea says it will send one million face masks to foreign veterans of the 1950-53 Korean War as it expands efforts to help other countries deal with the coronavirus epidemics while its own caseload slows.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun during a virus meeting on Friday said the country could send more masks overseas at a level that doesn’t disrupt domestic supply.
South Korea since early March has banned the exports of masks and channeled most domestically produced masks to pharmacies, where people have been limited to buying two masks per week.
The nationwide rationing program was a drastic attempt at calming public anger over shortages and reduce hour-longs lines that formed in stores across the country in previous weeks as infections soared.
But Chung said supply has stabilized and that the government will increase the weekly allowance to three masks from next week.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported six more cases but no new deaths, bringing national totals to 10,703 and 240 fatalities.
MEXICO CITY -- Mexico has reached 1,069 coronavirus deaths and 11,633 confirmed cases as lock-down measures were tightened Thursday and the country’s capital shut down 20% of subway stations and enforced a partial driving ban.
Mexico City has the largest number of cases and its closed over three dozen of its least-used subway stations. Authorities say that stopping at fewer stations would make trains run more frequently and thus reduce crowding. The city also banned one-fifth of cars from driving one day a week as part of an effort to keep people at home.
As deaths mounted, Mexican officials predicted an even greater toll. The federal government ordered public registry offices to stay open in order to quickly issue death certificates. That was to prevent unclaimed bodies from piling up at hospitals and morgues.
WALLULA, Washington — A Tyson beef plant in eastern Washington state is temporarily shutting down to test workers for the coronavirus.
Tyson says health officials in surrounding counties will test the plant’s more than 1,400 employees. The plant is located in Wallula, near the city of Pasco.
As the number of COVID-19-infected workers at the plant climbed to over 100 this week, family and friends of employees joined together to urge the plant to shut down. Tyson says workers will be paid during the closure.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says it was “grossly irresponsible” for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to suggest states hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak should be allowed to seek bankruptcy protections rather than be given federal aid.
The Democratic governor says he favors Senate legislation co-sponsored by Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, a Republican, that would let states share in part of a $500 billion aid package.
“I’m heartened to say that publicly the president has agreed that in the next phase of coronavirus relief coming out of Congress, states should be included,” Edwards said. “I’m hopeful that the president’s view wins out and that Senator McConnell has a change of heart on this.”
LAS VEGAS — A major hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip is making plans to reopen in three weeks if the governor lifts his closure order because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Treasure Island says it will accept reservations for arrivals starting May 15. It has nearly 3,000 rooms.
The hotel’s announcement on its website comes as a record wave of Nevada residents filed new claims for jobless benefits for a fifth straight week, bringing to more than 343,000 the total since casinos and other businesses were closed in mid-March.
Gov. Steve Sisolak says Nevada will take a gradual approach to easing business closures and stay-at-home rules, but he didn’t give any date for how soon that might occur.
JOHANNESBURG — The U.S. military has declared a public health emergency at its only permanent base in Africa as coronavirus cases in host country Djibouti climb near 1,000.
A statement calls the declaration a precautionary measure and says it affects all personnel, including contractors, at Camp Lemonnier and Chabelley Airfield.
The emergency means any facility can be repurposed for the virus response and health workers can be supplemented with volunteers. More than 4,000 U.S. personnel are based in the Horn of Africa nation.
SAO PAULO — Brazil’s health ministry has confirmed 407 deaths due to the new coronavirus outbreak in the last 24 hours, a daily high for the country. The total of deaths related to COVID-19 in the South American nation is now at 3,313.
Almost 50,000 people have been confirmed as infected with the virus in Brazil, but medical analysts and politicians consider those figures largely underestimated.
More than half of the deaths are in the wealthy and populous state of Sao Paulo, the epicenter of the pandemic. Sao Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas says “the worst is still to come.”
Health care systems in the cities of Manaus, Recife and Fortaleza are near collapse.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro favors taking a less restrictive approach to dealing with the coronavirus and hopes states will lift social isolation measures in the next few days. But governors and mayors are largely ignoring the advice of the far-right leader.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization is reporting a five-fold increase in cyberattacks against it compared to a year earlier. It cites a rise in scams aiming to draw donations into a fake fund that is wrongly billed as a way to help the COVID-19 response.
The U.N. health agency also cited a “dramatic increase” in cyberattacks against its staff, saying 450 active WHO e-mail accounts and passwords were leaked online this week.
WHO says the leaked credentials did not jeopardize its computer systems because the data was not recent, though the incident did affect an older system.
The agency says it’s working to establish stronger internal systems and improve security, and urged the public to be on the lookout against fraudulent e-mails.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s government is canceling some of the key restrictive measures it had imposed to contain coronavirus pandemic.
Health Minister Adam Vojtech says the ban on nationwide travel is cancelled, starting Friday. Currently, Czechs were only allowed to go to work, do essential shopping, and visit doctors and relatives. The number of people who can gather in public is being raised from two to 10.
Vojtech says the moves have been possible because the number of infected has declined for three straight days even though the number of tests is on the rise.
Starting Friday, Czechs will again be able to travel abroad, but those returning home will have to be quarantined or receive a negative test on the coronavirus that is not older than four days.
The Czech Republic has over 7,100 people who tested positive for the virus, including 210 who died of COVID-19.
SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown says hospitals, dentists’ offices and other health-care providers can resume non-urgent procedures on May 1.
She says the state is expecting “extremely large shipments” of protective masks and gowns,
However, health officials warn that Oregon still lacks adequate testing capability to isolate and quash pockets of outbreaks of the coronavirus. Brown says about 8,000 tests are now being conducted weekly and that number will need to more than double.
Brown’s March 19 executive order cancelling all non-urgent, elective procedures — or postponing them to June 15 and beyond — applied to all facilities that used personal protective equipment, or PPE. It was aimed at reserving masks and other PPE for those on the front lines in diagnosing and treating COVID-19 patients.
But starting May 1, those facilities can resume such treatments so long as they minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission to patients and healthcare workers.
JACKSON, Miss. — A Mississippi city facing freedom-of-religion lawsuits and pressure from the U.S. attorney general has revised its policy that banned drive-up church services during the coronavirus pandemic, now saying the services are OK with windows rolled up.
The Greenville City Council’s new policy erases any distinction between drive-up church services and other types of drive-up interactions, including picking up food at restaurants. It says, for example, that customers may roll windows down to get food but must roll them up while sitting in the car to eat.
The Justice Department took the rare step last week of backing a church that sued over the city’s restrictions on worship.
Conflicts have arisen in several places over religious practices as officials set limits on people’s movements because of COVID-19.
A federal judge in California denied a request by three churches to have in-person services during the pandemic. A Louisiana pastor has continued to hold in-person services in defiance of public health orders. A Kentucky church that held in-person services on Easter filed a federal lawsuit challenging restrictions on gatherings in that state.
Ryan Tucker is an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the groups representing the Baptist church that sued Greenville over the original policy. He says the group commends Greenville “for dropping its unconstitutional ban.”
MINNEAPOLIS — Gov. Tim Walz has ordered Minnesota schools to stay closed through the rest of the academic year amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Walz is a former teacher who calls it “a heartbreaking decision.” The Democratic governor says he feels sorry for all the students who will miss out on graduations, tournaments and end of year celebrations. But Walz says the health and safety of Minnesotans is his top priority, so distance learning will continue through the end of this school year.
The governor closed public and charter schools just over a month ago, affecting nearly 900,000 students.
Minnesota’s death toll from COVID-19 hit 200 on Thursday. The state health department says 21 new deaths were reported, the highest one-day death toll from the pandemic. The department also reported 221 new confirmed cases, another one-day high, raising Minnesota’s total to 2,942.
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s governor is extending the state’s stay-at-home order by about a week while also creating a phased plan to gradually reopen businesses.
Gov. Roy Cooper says his stay-at-home order that also restricts non-essential businesses goes until May 8. It was previously set to run through April 29.
The Democrat is resisting pressure to move faster even as some other southern states have already taken steps to allow businesses to resume.
Cooper says the phased plan for reopening would depend on increased testing and contact tracing, along with a downward trend in COVID-19 cases. He says the state is flattening the curve but that it’s not time to lift restrictions yet.