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Korean soccer club apologizes for putting sex dolls in seats
A South Korean professional soccer club has apologized after being accused of putting sex dolls in empty seats during a match Sunday in Seoul.
In a statement, FC Seoul expressed “sincere remorse” over the controversy, but insisted that it used mannequins — not sex dolls — to mimic a home crowd during its 1-0 win over Gwangju FC at the Seoul World Cup stadium.
Following a weeks-long delay over the coronavirus, the country’s top-flight K-League returned to action on May 8 without spectators, days after professional baseball began under similar conditions. The leagues plan to ban fans until the risks of infections are meaningfully lowered.
With players competing in front of rows of empty seats, some soccer and baseball teams have been trying to create a festive and humorous atmosphere that involves filling stands with huge team banners, pictures of mask-wearing fans, or even vegetables.
FC Seoul said it was attempting to add “an element of fun” with the mannequins. The team said it was repeatedly reassured by Dalkom, the company that produced the mannequins, that they weren’t sexual products.
India reports its largest single-day surge
India has recorded its biggest single-day surge with 5,242 new cases of coronavirus and 157 deaths due to COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, taking the country’s infection tally to more than 96,000, the most in Asia.
The country now has 3,029 reported fatalities due to COVID-19.
The surge in infections comes a day after the federal government extended a nationwide lockdown to May 31 but eased some restrictions to restore economic activity and gave states more control in deciding the nature of the lockdown.
Authorities are largely attributing the recent surge in infections to the return of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to India’s villages, which have weaker health infrastructure.
India had eased its lockdown rules on May 4 and even allowed migrant workers to travel back to their homes, a decision that has resulted in millions of people being on the move for the last two weeks.
All domestic and international passenger flights remain prohibited in the country. Metro services, schools, colleges, hotels and restaurants also remain shuttered nationwide.
Most of the infections reported in India are from its major cities. Mumbai, the financial capital and home to Bollywood, alone has registered almost 20% of the total cases.
Butte County pastor speaks out after defying orders with Mother’s Day service
A Butte County pastor who defied public health officials and held an in-person Mother’s Day service that potentially exposed 180 congregants to the coronavirus has spoken out about his decision on social media.
In a Facebook post on Friday, pastor Mike Jacobsen of Palermo Bible Family Church said that an asymptomatic congregant who attended the May 11 service woke up the next morning “needing medical attention” and was tested for the coronavirus that day. The congregant received positive test results for COVID-19 two days later.
Jacobsen, who with his wife has led the pentecostal church since 2008, said in the post that he would “never with knowledge put anyone in harms [sic] way.”
“For 7 weeks we have been kept out of our church and away from our church family,” Jacobsen wrote in the post, which has since been deleted. “I am fully aware that some people may not understand that for our church it is essential to be together in fellowship.”
Canadian aerobatic jet crashes amid pandemic show; 1 dead
A Canadian aerobatic jet crashed into a British Columbia neighborhood Sunday during a flyover intended to boost morale during the pandemic, killing one crew member, seriously injuring another and setting a house on fire. Video appeared to show the plane’s crew ejecting.
The crash left debris scattered across the neighborhood near the airport in the city of Kamloops, 260 miles northeast of Vancouver. The Snowbirds are Canada’s equivalent of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds or the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.
“It is with heavy hearts that we announce that one member of the CF Snowbirds team has died and one has sustained serious injuries,” the Royal Canadian Air Force said in a tweet. The air force said the surviving member does not have life-threatening injuries.
A senior government official identified the deceased as Capt. Jennifer Casey, who served as a spokesperson for the Snowbirds. The official was not authorized to speak ahead of the announcement of her death and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Strapped for cash, they turn to bartering and sharing
On a hilly street in Highland Park, Alexandra Kacha’s front garden bursts with kale and broccoli, eggplant and artichoke, zucchini and celery and a host of fragrant herbs. Out back, there’s a mulberry tree.
Kacha never thought too much about it all. Gardening was just a hobby that happened to put food on the table.
But as Los Angeles shut down and the world became smaller, as people lost their jobs and the economy faltered, neighbors started stopping by to ask for tips. One brought over a big bowl of oranges from her own backyard, ready to trade for basil.
Friends and Instagram followers came ready to barter, too, always standing outside and from six feet away. In one exchange, Kacha’s friend Jennifer Noble brought apple and carrot muffins, and left with fresh mulberries and chard.
“I was never really grateful for my garden, but during quarantine it has saved me,” said Kacha, 33, a photographer. “This is changing everyone.”
“It’s a nice way to connect,” said Noble, 36, a city librarian who has bartered with other friends, too. “Particularly for someone like me who lives alone — it’s just me and my two dogs — finding spaces for connection is important.”
In California and across the country, an ancient ethos of community codependence is quietly being revived, as people return to a world where the marketplace is the neighborhood and where bartering and borrowing — or just giving things away — is always preferable to paying.
Cuomo is tested for virus on live TV, says New York has a surplus of testing capacity
NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was tested for coronavirus on live TV Sunday as he announced all people in the state experiencing flu-like symptoms were now eligible for tests.
Any New Yorkers experiencing flu-like symptoms or those who will be returning to work as part of phased reopenings across the state can now get tested, Cuomo said.
The state is expanding eligibility as it deals with a surplus of testing capacity. Cuomo said drive-through and walk-in testing sites were performing about one-third of the 15,000 tests they’re capable of each day. In all, the state is testing about 40,000 people per day.
An agreement with CVS will allow samples to be collected at more than 60 pharmacies across the state, Cuomo said. Testing in New York City is being expanded to 123 CityMD walk-in clinics.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also made an urgent appeal Sunday for blood donations, saying coronavirus-related blood drive cancellations had led supplies to dwindle to about two days’ worth, which could mean postponing some surgeries.
Vaccine within a year is ‘far from a sure thing,’ expert warns
WASHINGTON — A coronavirus vaccine by year’s end is possible but not something to “bank on,” a leading public health expert warned Sunday as the Trump administration continued to push for swift business reopenings in a bid to revive the battered U.S. economy.
Aides to President Trump have touted vaccine prospects, but they’ve also tried to de-couple significant progress toward an immunization protocol from the need to return to workplaces, schools and public life, as many states are now moving to do.
“Everything does not depend on a vaccine,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” echoing language used two days earlier by Trump when he announced an ambitious public-private initiative to achieve widespread inoculation by January.
“Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back,” Trump said Friday.
With the U.S. death toll approaching 90,000, public health experts described the president’s vaccine timetable as ambitious — perhaps overly so.
European leaders are blunt: A vaccine won’t come soon enough
In separate, stark warnings, two major European leaders have bluntly told their citizens that the world needs to adapt to living with the coronavirus and cannot wait to be saved by the development of a vaccine.
The comments by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came as nations around the world and U.S. states are struggling with restarting economies blindsided by the pandemic. With 36 million newly unemployed in the U.S. alone, economic pressures are building even as authorities acknowledge that reopening risks new waves of infections and deaths.
Pushed hard by Italy’s regional leaders and weeks in advance of an earlier timetable, Conte is allowing restaurants, bars and beach facilities to open Monday, the same day that church services can resume and shops reopen.
California deserves federal aid to counter budget crunch, Newsom says
California’s budget crunch is a direct result of the coronavirus crisis, and the state is deserving of federal aid to counter that, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Sunday.
“We’re not looking for charity,” Newsom said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that “it is incumbent upon the federal government to help support these states through this difficult time.”
Democrats have pushed for swift assistance to state and local governments, while the White House has said such aid may be premature. President Trump has criticized some states — particularly blue states — for fiscal woes he says have been brought on by poor management.
Newsom pointed out that, a year ago, California was running a $21.5-billion surplus. “And here we are at a $54.3-billion budget deficit that is directly COVID-induced,” he said, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. “We have been managing our budget effectively.”
The governor also said in the CNN interview that it wasn’t yet clear whether all California schools would be in a position to reopen this fall for in-person classes.
“I think some schools will not be. Many schools will be,” he said. “And it’s all conditioned on our ability to not only keep our children safe, but to keep staff and faculty safe, to keep the community safe.”
Wolfgang Puck on the restaurant industry crisis and the solution
Wolfgang Puck is one of the most famous chefs in the world. Arguably the first celebrity chef, he built a culinary empire with a catering company and dozens of restaurants. In Los Angeles, the Austrian chef is known for helping to start a dining renaissance in the 1980s with restaurants Spago and Chinois. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing shutdown have pushed him into politics, with a seat on President Trump’s economic council alongside chefs Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
We spoke with Puck, who is quarantining in Los Angeles, about the crisis facing the restaurant industry and his thoughts on a solution. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s happening with your restaurants?
Most of the restaurants are closed. We are supposed to open in Singapore soon. In Istanbul soon too. Here in L.A., we’re doing takeout at Spago, a little takeout at Bel-Air Hotel and a little takeout at Chinois. With all the overhead of a restaurant, I hope that when we reopen at Spago and Chinois, with some customers coming in and takeout, it will be enough to actually stay alive.
The price of being ‘essential’
For Lupe Martinez, who does the laundry at a Riverside nursing home, each day presented an agonizing choice: Go to work and risk getting the coronavirus or lose the $13.58-an-hour paycheck her family relies upon.
Martinez went to work.
Even after the masks started running low. Even, she said, after a patient whose room she had entered without protective equipment fell ill and was put into isolation.
Martinez, 62, tested positive for COVID-19 last month, followed by her 60-year-old husband, who had to stop working after having a heart attack last year. Her adult son and daughter, who live with them, also tested positive.
For low-paid employees whose work is rarely if ever glorified — the people who clean the floors, do the laundry, serve fast food, pick the crops, work in the meat plants — having the jobs that keep America running has come with a heavy price. By the odd calculus wrought by the viral outbreak, they have been deemed “essential.” And that means being a target.
Confronting the grief: ‘Everything just feels fake’
It’s been seven weeks since Karen Blanks’ brother-in-law died from COVID-19, but his death still doesn’t seem real to her.
She and her husband couldn’t visit Scott Blanks in the hospital. They couldn’t view his body at the mortuary before he was cremated. They’re not holding a memorial service until large gatherings are permitted.
“Everything just feels fake — like I’m in this big, clouded fog, and someone is telling me, ‘Your brother-in-law died,’ ” she said. “It doesn’t feel real because everything has been so different.”
The cruel toll of the COVID-19 pandemic reaches beyond its victims to hundreds of thousands of family members and friends who have been robbed of communal support and time-honored rituals to help them cope with the loss of loved ones.
California’s prisons and jails have emptied thousands into a changed world
In short order, the coronavirus crisis has ushered in a sweeping and historic emptying of California’s overcrowded prisons and jails, as officials have dramatically lowered the number of people held in custody to avert deadly outbreaks.
State data show California’s prisons have released about 3,500 inmates and the daily jail population across 58 counties is down by 20,000 from late February.
The exodus is having a profound and still-evolving effect: Those leaving custody enter a vastly different world in which a collapsed economy, scant job opportunities and the closure of many government offices have compounded the challenges of getting lives back on track.
North Carolina judge blocks enforcement of governor’s rules regarding indoor religious services
GREENVILLE, N.C. — A federal judge on Saturday blocked the enforcement of restrictions that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper ordered affecting indoor religious services during the coronavirus pandemic.
The order from Judge James C. Dever III came days after two Baptist churches, a minister and a Christian revival group filed a federal lawsuit seeking to immediately block enforcement of rules within the Democratic governor’s executive orders regarding religious services. Dever agreed with the plaintiffs, who argued that the limits violated their right to worship freely and treated churches differently from retailers and other secular activities.
Cooper’s latest order still largely prevented most faith organizations from holding indoor services attended by more than 10 people. His office had said the newest order stating permitted services could “take place outdoors unless impossible” carried only a narrow exception, such as when religious activities dictate they occur indoors with more people.
Cooper’s spokesman, Ford Porter, said the governor’s office disagreed with the decision but would not appeal.
Obama, in national commencement address, decries racial impact of COVID-19 deaths
WASHINGTON — Taking a thinly veiled swipe at President Trump, former President Barack Obama on Saturday decried racial inequities revealed by the coronavirus pandemic and told graduating college students that the crisis had “torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they are doing.”
“A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” Obama said in a livestreamed commencement address to students graduating from the nation’s historically black colleges and universities.
Obama delivered the speech, to be followed later in the day by a nationally televised address to high school graduates, as educational institutions across the country have been forced to cancel in-person graduation ceremonies to comply with stay-at-home and social distancing orders during the public-health emergency.
The speeches have turned the national spotlight on Obama at a time when the former president is becoming a central figure in the 2020 presidential campaign. His vice president, Joe Biden, has emerged as the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee and is embracing the Obama legacy.
And after largely keeping away from politics during the primaries, as for much of his post-presidency, Obama has lately aimed a series of withering critiques at Trump for his handling of the coronavirus crisis and other matters.
Even vigilant Angelenos are fed up with distancing and are bending the rules
For nearly two months, Sara McLean and her family took all the pandemic precautions.
The potter and her husband pulled their 6- and 12-year-olds out of school a few days before LAUSD canceled in-person instruction on March 16. They stocked up on gloves, masks and food. And they didn’t leave the house, save for twice-monthly grocery trips.
In a time of pandemic, another rural hospital shuts its doors
The red “Emergency” sign glowed above the empty ER waiting room as Loretta Simon walked to the front door and posted a notice that Williamson Memorial Hospital was shutting down.
It was just after 1:15 a.m. The emergency room beds were vacant. The last staff on duty were clocking out. Soon she would switch off the heart monitor in the nurses’ station and watch its screen fade to black.
L.A. County looking at whether some cities could reopen sooner than others
Even as coronavirus deaths and new cases continue to rise, Los Angeles County officials offered more insights Friday into what it would take to further reopen a local economy devastated by the pandemic.
L.A. County remains the center of the coronavirus outbreak in the state, with more than 1,700 deaths and more than 35,000 confirmed cases. On Friday alone, officials announced 962 more cases and 47 additional deaths.
But like the rest of California, some areas of the county have seen far fewer cases and deaths than others. That’s why Los Angeles County officials are trying to determine whether it’s possible for individual cities that meet the benchmarks to move to the next stage of reopening before other parts of the county do.
Ralphs offers one-time ‘thank you’ bonus after union protests end of temporary pay raise
After Ralphs employees protested the grocery chain’s phasing-out of “appreciation pay” for working through the coronavirus outbreak, parent company Kroger said Friday it would award a new one-time bonus to all hourly grocery, supply-chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center workers.
Employees and union supporters gathered outside a Ralphs store on Vermont and 3rd Street on Friday morning to protest the company’s decision to end the $2-per-hour pay bump Saturday. Protesters said the risky working conditions that won them extra pay haven’t substantially changed.
Shortly after the protest, Kroger, which owns Ralphs and several other grocery chains, announced the new “thank you” bonus of $400 for full-time employees and $200 for part-time employees.
“The new Thank You Pay bookends an Appreciation Pay first provided to frontline associates for their efforts at the start of the pandemic in March. It also follows multiple Hero Bonuses that were paid in April through mid-May, with associates receiving their final payment by May 23,” Ralphs spokesman John Votava said in a statement.
Work-from-home Congress? House OKs proxy votes
WASHINGTON — Neither the Civil War, the Great Depression nor any other national crisis has pushed the House to allow lawmakers to vote by proxy — without being “present,” as the Constitution requires. That’s about to change during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The House on Friday approved a package of historic rule changes so Congress can keep functioning even while it’s partly closed. The shift will dramatically change the look, if not the operation, of the legislative branch, launching a 21st century WFH House — like many Americans, “working from home.”
“This House must continue legislating,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, said before the vote. “And we have to do so in a way that is safe for all those around us.”
Debate over the changes has been fierce. As President Trump encourages Americans back to work, the 435-seat House has stayed away due to health risks while the 100-member Senate has resumed operations.
Parts of New York and other states reopen, but Cuomo urges caution: ‘How this goes is up to all of us’
After nearly two months on coronavirus lockdown, New Yorkers in some regions of the state started a slow reopening process on Friday. In New Jersey, some popular Jersey Shore beaches opened up again. And as the weather warms up, hard-hit New York City will deploy thousands of “social distancing ambassadors” to try to reduce the crowding that can help spread of the coronavirus.
Several states eased restrictions Friday, as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 87,000, including New York, where the death toll has passed 27,800. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged his constituents to remain cautious.
“We’re starting to turn the activity valve. Watch what happens to the infection rate, testing rate, hospitalization rate,” Cuomo said Friday during his daily briefing. “If those numbers start to move, slow down on the activity level.”
Five regions in upstate and central New York were allowed to reopen retail stores for curbside or in-store pickup and resume construction and agricultural operations, after meeting public health experts’ criteria, including a two-week decline in hospitalizations and deaths, increased testing capacity and availability of hospital beds. Cuomo late Thursday extended a stay-at-home order until June 13 for areas that have not met benchmarks for reopening. He said 132 New Yorkers died of COVID-19 in the 24-hour period that ended Thursday.
Restrictions were also loosened in parts of Oregon, Louisiana and Virginia, with strict social-distancing protocols.
Restaurants, bars, retail stores and gyms in 31 counties in Oregon are open for business again. In much of Virginia, residents are allowed to roam retail stores (which must stay below 50% capacity), but beaches, gyms and in-restaurant dining rooms remain off-limits.
U.N. health agency chief unbowed amid attacks, Trump criticism
GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s director-general has faced many challenges during the coronavirus outbreak: racial slurs, death threats, social media caricatures — he was once depicted as a ventriloquist’s dummy in the hands of Chinese President Xi Jinping — and U.S. funding cuts.
Through it all, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has endeavored to rise above the troubles with a focus on one main task: building international “solidarity” against an outbreak with a confirmed death toll that has exceeded 300,000 and that has quelled economic activity in countries rich and poor. Many health policy experts have praised his handling of the outbreak overall, despite criticism of the United Nations health agency by the Trump administration.
Next week, Tedros’ track record and background will come under more intense scrutiny as WHO holds its biggest annual event — the World Health Assembly — in a “virtual” and abbreviated version that focuses on COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Critics and some analysts cite his background as a government minister in Ethiopia, with its history of authoritarian regimes. Not long after taking office in 2017, Tedros appointed Zimbabwe’s then president, Robert Mugabe, who often traveled abroad to receive healthcare, as a WHO “goodwill ambassador,” only to revoke the appointment after a wave of outrage erupted.
Most recently, Trump has faulted WHO for being too accepting and praising of China’s handling of the early outbreak, wedging Tedros personally in the political standoff between the U.S. and China. He has shied away from criticizing the two powerful U.N. members, and has praised both Trump and Xi — even while leaving hints seemingly directed at Beijing and Washington.
“Don’t use this virus as an opportunity to fight against each other or score political points. It’s dangerous,” he said recently, appealing to the world. “It’s the political problem that may fuel further this pandemic.”
Blood plasma appears safe for patients in early trial results
Taking antibody-rich blood plasma from people who have recovered from coronavirus infections and transferring it to patients who are severely ill with COVID-19 does not appear to increase their risk of dying from the disease, according to initial results of a nationwide clinical trial.
What’s more, the findings offer an early hint that the treatment may indeed save lives.
The early safety reading, posted this week to the MedRxiv website, likely clears the way for larger clinical trials to test two potential uses for plasma harvested from recovered COVID-19 patients: as a treatment for those in the midst of fighting a coronavirus infection, and as a way to protect essential workers who are routinely exposed to the virus from becoming seriously ill.
In the six months since a new coronavirus began sickening residents of Wuhan, China, scientists across the globe have sought to tap the power of recovered patients’ antibodies to treat the newly infected. For infected patients, they hope a transfusion of so-called convalescent plasma will speed recovery and increase the odds of survival.
In addition, the antibodies might give healthcare workers and first responders at least a temporary vaccine-like protection known as “passive immunity,” researchers have suggested.
But unlike a vaccine, which is not expected to become available before 2021, the supply of convalescent plasma is growing every day as more people join the ranks of the recovered. More than 1.5 million people worldwide have battled the coronavirus and survived, according to experts tracking the pandemic at Johns Hopkins University.
If further research bears out that it’s safe and effective, both treatment and prophylaxis with convalescent plasma could become common almost immediately since blood centers have already begun collecting blood from recovered individuals.
For now, the new results should be interpreted with caution because they have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal or thoroughly reviewed by independent scientists.
South Coast Plaza launches curbside pickup
In the latest sign of reopenings, South Coast Plaza — Orange County’s world-renown upscale shopping destination — has joined the list of outlets offering contact-free pickup for customers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The new program, which the Costa Mesa center calls SCP 2 GO, launches Friday.
It works like this: Shoppers will place an order with a participating restaurant or boutique. When their order is ready, customers will be assigned one of five color-coded pickup stations located throughout South Coast Plaza.
Brazil’s health minister resigns after less than a month on the job
SAO PAULO — Brazil’s health minister resigned Friday after less than a month on the job in a sign of continuing upheaval in the nation’s battle with the COVID-19 pandemic and President Jair Bolsonaro’s pressure for the nation to prioritize the economy over health-driven lockdowns.
Nelson Teich’s resignation was confirmed by the Health Ministry. An oncologist and former healthcare consultant, Teich took the job April 17 under pressure to align the ministry’s actions with the president’s view that the economy must not be sacrificed to controlling the spread of the virus.
Officials say that more than 13,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil, though some experts say the figure is most assuredly significantly higher due to insufficient testing, and analysts say the peak of the crisis has yet to hit Latin America’s largest nation.
Teich’s top assistant, Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, who had no health experience until joining the ministry in April, will be the interim minister until Bolsonaro chooses a permanent replacement
Teich’s resignation comes one day after Bolsonaro told business leaders in a video conference that he would ease rules for use of the antimalaria drug chloroquine to treat people infected with the coronavirus. The outgoing health minister has frequently called the use of chloroquine “an uncertainty” in the fight against the virus, and this week warned of its side effects.
Some outdoor museums may open, Newsom says, but what’s an outdoor museum?
Outdoor museums are among the places that Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday have the green light to reopen in some regions, but that statement has created confusion is places such as Los Angeles County, which is giving museums, outdoor and otherwise, a red light for now.
L.A. County has been the area hardest hit by the pandemic in California, with more than 35,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 1,700 deaths as of Thursday, so outdoor museums are not allowed to open just yet.
“We will now work to see what’s feasible and what makes sense,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said during Wednesday’s press briefing, offering no specific timeline. “We may go a little slower than the state and we ask that you have patience.”
Gov. Newsom’s latest guidelines for outdoor museums apply as well to open-air galleries, botanical gardens and outdoor exhibition spaces. That does not include zoos, amusement parks and indoor spaces at museums and galleries, including exhibit halls, gift shops and cafes. The guidelines cover the training and screening of staff and interaction with visitors, as well as cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
‘We are the shame of Europe,’ angry medics tell French President Emmanuel Macron
Angry doctors and nurses faced off with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, demanding better pay and reform of a once-renowned public health system that found itself quickly overwhelmed by tens of thousands of coronavirus patients.
“We are desperate. We no longer believe in you,” said a nurse who confronted Macron at the leading Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris, adding that she was using a long-expired surgical mask. “We are the shame of Europe.”
“That’s not true,” the president countered — but he could barely get a word in as medics peppered him with their grievances.
Apparently anticipating such tensions and fearing that they could further hurt Macron’s image, the president’s office did not allow a single video, photo or radio reporter on the visit.
U.S. factory production plummets by most on record
U.S. factory production plummeted in April by the most in records back to 1919 as coronavirus-related shutdowns exacted a bigger toll on the economy.
Output slumped 13.7% from the prior month after a revised 5.5% decrease in March, Federal Reserve data showed Friday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 14.6% decline. Overall industrial production — which also includes output at mines and utilities — dropped 11.2% in April.
Manufacturers in the U.S. were among the first to experience the pandemic’s economic drag as producers fell victim to supply-chain disruptions, a severe weakening in the exports market and a drop in domestic demand.
Meanwhile, output fell 0.9% at utilities and decreased 6.1% in mining. Oil and gas well drilling plummeted a record 28% as a collapse in crude prices prompted swift cutbacks in exploration. According to the latest Baker Hughes data, the oil and gas well rig count stood at 374 last week, the lowest in records back to 1974.
No concerts? No problem. During pandemic, artists turn to brands for livestream lucre
At 5 p.m. on Friday last week, Diplo and Dillon Francis — A-list DJs and dance music producers — hopped behind their decks to spin a quarantine livestream. In front of a psychedelically oozing virtual background, they played an hour of house and Latin club music. “Are we raving? Are we all raving together?” Diplo shouted to around 250 viewers on Instagram Live at the set’s halfway mark (it was also broadcast on Zoom). For the usual festival headliners, this amounted to a bar gig.
Don’t feel bad for them. The set was sponsored by the fast-food chain Jack in the Box, and posed as a substitute prom for a pair of Los Angeles-area high schools, whose students lightheartedly heckled them in the comments. “Put some taco sauce on this track,” one implored.
Diplo, a recent Calvin Klein underwear model, is no stranger to advertisers. But with his “Prom in the Box” set, he may have seen the future.
When COVID-19 lockdowns began in March, the sudden necessity of livestreamed performances created a rush of attention from housebound music fans. From Global Citizen’s celeb-packed “One World: Together at Home” to Instagram Live’s wildly popular hip-hop/R&B hitmaker showdowns, these sets were a rare shared experience in quarantine.
Two San Diego County gyms stay open as COVID-19 cases continue to climb
Two recently reopened public gyms in Oceanside and Vista were still accepting members Thursday, despite county and state prohibitions, but owners at both locations said they fear they could be forced to shut down at any time.
Oceanside police arrested Metroflex Gym owner Lou Uridel on Sunday. He was released the same day, and he opened the business again Wednesday after holding what he called a “freedom rally” attended by well over 100 people in the parking lot outside his business.
He said Thursday afternoon that police had warned him again that he could be cited for each day he remains open, but so far the officers had taken no additional action.
Uridel was only the second person cited in Oceanside for violating COVID-19 health restrictions, said police spokesman Tom Bussey. The previous arrest was several weeks ago, when lifeguards detained a surfer who ignored repeated warnings to leave the ocean, before the county lifted the surfing ban in late April.
Column One: For this reporter, the danger zone is at the White House
WASHINGTON — Anyone who has seen a post-apocalyptic movie knows that a desolate White House offers a ripe backdrop for end times.
That was my overwhelming impression when I reported from the White House this week for the first time since March. Anxiety seemed to lurk at every temperature check and socially distant encounter.
Almost everyone I passed talked about the coronavirus that had infected two staffers in the West Wing, thus breaching the supposedly secure offices and residence of the most powerful man on the planet.
A masked Secret Service agent spoke fatalistically on the phone about her exposure. TV crews and photographers who usually trade pop culture references and practical jokes worried aloud about vulnerable relatives.
Many of the 17 television stalls on the driveway, which normally blast live shots around the world, sat vacant or sparsely staffed. The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, often crammed with more than 100 chattering reporters, was nearly empty most of the day, and many of the small office bureaus sat dark and abandoned.
The undocumented restaurant workers who fed us are being forgotten. This is their struggle
Tony Ruiz doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep tonight.
Two months ago, the 31-year-old had a steady job as a line cook at the San Francisco Saloon, the long-standing bar and grill on Pico Boulevard, and was renting a room in a home near the West L.A. neighborhood where he grew up. When he wasn’t working, he dreamed of someday opening his own restaurant.
Now, with his job lost to the coronavirus outbreak and his savings eroded, Ruiz is in crisis mode.
He got evicted from the home he was living in last week over a dispute involving missed rent (Ruiz moved out but says he’s looking for legal aid to fight the eviction). Most of his personal belongings were recently locked up in storage. He’s spent the past several nights drifting between friends’ houses, sleeping on couches, scanning Craigslist job boards daily for work and trying not to fall into despair.
Ruiz has no access to unemployment benefits, or federal, state or city emergency relief funds, because he is undocumented.
Face coverings now a mandatory L.A. accessory. Can we keep it covered up?
After weeks of telling residents to say indoors, L.A. officials this week started easing strict stay-at-home rules.
But Angelenos desperate to return to the beaches, mountains and trails as summer approaches, just learned there is a catch. Both city and county officials said residents must wear face coverings when going outdoors.
The rules apply “any time you’re out and there are people around, whether it be at a trail head or a parking lot or a sidewalk,” Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s director of public health, said Thursday.
In the city of L.A., the new law requires face coverings for walking, running, cycling, scooting, roller skating, skateboarding and all outdoor activities except for those on the water, according to the order from Mayor Eric Garcetti. Elsewhere in L.A. County, you can still be outdoors without a face covering when there is no one else around, but must put it on when others approach, Ferrer said.
This small Texas hospital is finding ways to save COVID-19 patients
HOUSTON — Before the doctor unzipped his COVID unit’s plastic curtain, he grabbed a laminated photo from a hook labeled “Faces Behind the Mask.” He draped the photo over his protective suit so patients could see who he was: Dr. Joseph Varon, 58, bald and trim with intense blue eyes.
Varon entered the 20-bed unit hyper as usual, rustling through the airlock of an entrance like an astronaut, raising the final curtain with hands coated in several sets of black rubber gloves.
A lung doctor specializing in intensive care, he’d managed emergency rooms at larger hospitals, spoken a half-dozen languages in clinics around the world. When SARS erupted in Asia, Varon flew to Singapore to learn how to treat it. Now he was pulling 20-hour shifts, phoning medical students late at night to scan the latest research.
As he noted in a recent medical journal, being a “COVIDoligist” means, “No days off, no time for family. No time for anything else other than COVID-19.”
“This,” he said, “is what I’m meant to do.”
As chief of staff and chief of critical care services at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Varon and his small team of nurses and medical student volunteers have treated COVID-19 patients with surprising success.
Baltic nations reopen borders to each other
VILNIUS, Lithuania — The prime ministers of the three Baltic nations said the first coronavirus wave is under control in their region. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania formally removed travel restrictions between them Friday.
“We are the first in the European Union to open our borders to each other’s citizens,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said. “But we remain cautious and responsible and are protecting the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian space.”
In a joint video, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins called it “a very important day,” while his Estonian counterpart Juri Ratas said it was “another step toward our normal life.”
They spoke hours before the three former Soviet republics’ foreign ministers gathered in the Latvian capital of Riga to sign a document, formally reopening the borders between the three EU members, which are home to about six million inhabitants.
Baltic citizens and residents have been able to move freely between the three EU nations since Thursday night at midnight. People returning from countries outside the region will still be required to self-isolate for two weeks.
Slovenia becomes first European country to declare end to epidemic on its soil
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Tiny Slovenia has become the first European country to proclaim an end to the coronavirus epidemic at home.
The Slovenian government said Friday that the COVID-19 spread is under control and there is no longer a need for extraordinary health measures.
The government says other EU residents are free to cross into Slovenia from Austria, Italy and Hungary at predetermined checkpoints, while most non-EU nationals will have to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine in what is a major step for the small Alpine country as it accelerates the easing of restrictions.
The first coronavirus case in Slovenia was recorded on March 4, a returnee from neighboring Italy. The nationwide epidemic was proclaimed on March 12.
By May 13, there were 1,467 confirmed cases and 103 deaths in Slovenia.
Cafes, restaurants, churches reopen in Sydney
SYDNEY, Australia — Many cafes and restaurants opened again Friday in Sydney as some coronavirus restrictions were lifted, although rainy weather and ongoing fears appeared to keep patronage relatively low.
Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales began allowing cafes, restaurants and places of worship to reopen with up to 10 people on the condition they adhere to social distancing rules. Pubs and clubs were also permitted to open, but only for dining.
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned people to take personal responsibility, saying that easing restrictions in some other countries had backfired.
“Let’s please do our part in keeping everybody safe so that all of us can keep moving forward so that we never, ever go backwards,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney. “That’s really, really critical.”
Many Catholic churches across the state opened for private prayer, confession and small-scale Masses.
U.S. pilot jailed in Singapore for breaking quarantine order
SINGAPORE — An American cargo pilot who admitted to “poor judgment” in breaking a quarantine order to buy medical supplies became the first foreigner imprisoned in Singapore for breaching its restrictions meant to curb the coronavirus, his lawyer said Friday.
FedEx pilot Brian Dugan Yeargan, 44, of Alaska, was sentenced to four weeks Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to leaving his hotel room for three hours to buy masks and a thermometer, defense lawyer Ronnie Tan said.
Singapore has one of the largest outbreaks in Asia, with 26,000 cases. More than 90% of those infected are foreign workers living in crowded dormitories, while the government recently began easing restrictions for the local population.
The tiny city-state has strict penalties for those who breach quarantine rules, don’t masks in public or fail to adhere to social distancing measures. Quarantine violators face up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $7,000 or both.
Noma, one of the world’s best restaurants, reopens next week — as a burger and wine bar
For the last decade, it was nearly impossible to get a table at Noma, widely considered one of the best restaurants in the world. A meal required a prepaid reservation (and most likely a flight to Copenhagen) that cost around $400 per person. During seasons when pollen-stuffed dried fruit partially submerged in rabbit oil was on hiatus, cod bladder simmered in quince might have been one of 18 or so courses.
Then coronavirus hit. Like businesses across the globe, Noma was forced to temporarily close amid the fast-spreading outbreak.
On Thursday, Noma will reopen for the first time in more than two months. When it does, one of the most exclusive and groundbreaking restaurants of the century will take walk-ins only and seat all customers outside on picnic blankets around its sprawling grounds. The menu: $15 burgers and drinks.
“We were like, ‘Should we do an ant marinade with raw carrots to have that twist of who we are?’” chef-owner René Redzepi said by phone this week. “But then I’m like, ‘No, why should we do that right now?’ It’s about being together, it’s not about trying to be innovative.”
China marks a month without any confirmed COVID-19 deaths
BEIJING — China has gone a month without announcing any new deaths from the coronavirus and has fewer than 100 patients in treatment for COVID-19.
The National Health Commission reported four new cases of the virus Friday, all local cross-infections in the northeastern province of Jilin, where a cluster of uncertain origin has been detected in recent days. The last day the commission reported a COVID-19 death was April 14.
Just 91 people remain in treatment for COVID-19 and 623 others are in isolation for being suspected cases or for having tested positive without showing symptoms, including 11 newly detected.
In total, China has reported 4,633 deaths among 82,933 cases since the virus was first detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan.
Some residential compounds are testing inhabitants for the virus as Wuhan attempts to test all its 11 million people in 10 days. The city ordered local communities to test everyone after six new cases surfaced last weekend, the first infections there in more than a month.
China has maintained social distancing and bans on foreigners entering the country, but has increasingly opened up the world’s second-largest economy to allow both large factories and small businesses to resume production and dealings with customers.
L.A. city attorney sues maker of radish paste advertised as protection against COVID-19
The Los Angeles city attorney’s office filed suit Wednesday against an herbal remedy specialist, accusing the store of trying to pass off an untested radish paste as a safeguard against the coronavirus, officials said.
The civil lawsuit accuses Insan Healing in Koreatown of touting the item as a “must-have product for the protection and prevention” of coronavirus contagion, even though it has not been tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, court filings said.
The radish paste costs $99.95 per bottle and is made from a combination of “white radish harvested during frost,” garlic and ginger that can enhance a person’s immune system, according to the Insan Healing website.
References to the coronavirus and COVID-19 had been taken down by Thursday afternoon after the lawsuit was filed, but the city attorney’s office provided screenshots showing the claims that the paste could help with coronavirus prevention.
Controversial Travis McCready concert canceled by Arkansas officials
The first high-profile concert of the quarantine age will not go on as planned Friday, according to the Arkansas venue where it was scheduled to take place.
Mike Brown of Temple Live, a 1,100-seat theater located in a former Masonic temple in Fort Smith, said at a news conference Thursday that the state government had ordered the venue to call off a highly publicized performance by Travis McCready, frontman of a roots-rock band called Bishop Gunn. Brown said state officials had also suspended the venue’s liquor license, Arkansas’ KARK reported, even as the venue was working on ways to keep fans socially distant during the show.
“We’ve been punished for thinking about doing something, or considering while we were evaluating,” Brown said. “It’s very ‘Minority Report’ and ‘Westworld,’ which I thought were pieces of fiction but are now reality in this country and state.”
Coachella and Cathedral City vote to mandate face coverings
Coachella and Cathedral City officials voted Wednesday to require residents to wear face coverings in certain public settings, joining such other Riverside County cities as Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs and La Quinta.
The regulation comes less than a week after the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to rescind several public health orders implemented by the county’s public health director Cameron Kaiser. Following the vote, face coverings were no longer a requirement but were “strongly recommended whenever practical and within reason.”
Though the county rescinded this order, individual cities can impose stricter regulations, just not more relaxed ones, according to Coachella spokesperson Chris Parman.
“Unfortunately, Coachella and the rest of the eastern valley remains a hot spot for coronavirus cases,” Mayor Steven Hernandez said. “Until we can get this virus under control, our city will continue to require these reasonable measures to protect the health and safety of people living and working in Coachella.”