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‘We know something about loss’: Memorial Day in the time of coronavirus

President Trump salutes after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery to mark Memorial Day on May 25, 2020, in Virginia.
President Trump salutes after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery to mark Memorial Day on May 25, 2020, in Virginia.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

Memorial Day events took on a new form Monday as America honored its fallen forces and commemorated the holiday under social distancing rules, even as the national death toll from COVID-19 climbed toward a grim milestone — 100,000 lives.

“We know something about loss because we’re living it again. Over 100,000 Americans will lose their lives to this COVID virus,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday during his daily news briefing aboard the Intrepid, a retired aircraft carrier that serves as a museum.

“How do we honor them? We honor them by growing stronger, together.”

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Cuomo announced Monday that state and local governments will provide death benefits to front-line essential workers in the public sector, including firefighters, police, transit workers, and doctors and nurses, who were COVID-19 victims.

“I also believe that the federal government should be doing the same, honoring the front-line workers, showing Americans that we appreciate what you did, that you showed up when it was hard,” he said.

There were 96 COVID-19 deaths Sunday in the state, including 21 in nursing homes, Cuomo said Monday. Deaths in New York state have ranged from 84 to 112 a day since Tuesday. More than 29,000 state residents have died of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins Unversity.

Nationwide, there have been more than 98,000 COVID-19 deaths and 1.6 million cases.

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Death is hitting the country unevenly, and Trump is counting on a polarized and fragmented response to prevent the toll from sinking his presidency.

President Trump paid tribute Monday to fallen troops and the members of the military who are now helping to fight the coronavirus.

“Tens of thousands of service members and National Guardsmen are on the front lines of our war against this terrible virus, caring for patients, delivering critical supplies and working night and day to safeguard our citizens,” Trump said at the Ft. McHenry national monument in Baltimore.

“As one nation, we mourn alongside every single family that has lost loved ones, including the families of our great veterans.”

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His remarks followed a barrage of tweets expressing anger over news coverage of his Memorial Day weekend golf trip and threatening to move the Republican National Convention, scheduled for August, out of North Carolina if the state doesn’t reopen quicker.

The president wrote on Twitter that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper “is still in Shutdown mood” and wouldn’t guarantee the convention will have full-capacity attendance.

Vice President Mike Pence suggested that states such as Florida, Texas and Georgia could host the convention instead.

“There are states around the country, we think of Texas, Florida, Georgia ... that have made tremendous progress on reopening their communities, and reopening their economies,” Pence said Monday morning on “Fox and Friends.”

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The Trump administration has been pushing governors to speed up their reopening. Last week the president said houses of worship are essential and called on governors to open them immediately.

But experts warn that there must be widespread testing available for states to safely reopen. The federal government, in a report sent to Congress on Sunday, appeared to shift most of the responsibility for expanding testing to states.

“With support from the Federal government to ensure States are meeting goals, the State plans for testing will advance the safe reopening of America,” the report reads. The government pledged to purchase 100 million testing swabs for distribution to states.

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Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, criticized the administration Monday for failing to come up with “a serious plan for increasing testing.”

“This disappointing report confirms that President Trump’s national testing strategy is to deny the truth that there aren’t enough tests and supplies, reject responsibility and dump the burden onto the states,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote in a joint statement with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

The holiday weekend tested the loosened social distancing rules put in place by several states in recent days. Videos of crowded pools, bars and restaurants spread across social media.

In Missouri, health department officials warned residents that there could be “long-lasting and tragic” consequences if young and healthy people contract COVID-19 and spread it to more vulnerable populations. The warning came after pictures and videos of people gathering in crowded pools at the Lake of the Ozarks spread on social media.

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“The virus can be transmitted even among those young and healthy who aren’t experiencing symptoms,” Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams said in a statement Monday.

Boy Scout Daniel Perez, 11, of New York, places American Flags on graves at Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Boy Scout Daniel Perez, 11, of New York, places American Flags on graves at Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn.
(Craig Ruttle / Associated Press)

In Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Sunday that the city would begin enforcing state rules that allow bars to reopen only at 25% capacity and restaurants at 50%, after officials received hundreds of complaints of crowded businesses over the holiday weekend.

“There are too many people who are coming together, going to some of our clubs, our bars, swimming pool parties, no social distancing, no masks,” he said.

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On Saturday, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state was entering a “second peak” in cases. There had been more than 5,900 cases in the state and 116 reported deaths as of Sunday. Over the weekend he referenced a cluster of cases in the state that has been traced back to a recent high school pool party.

“I don’t think we’re going to say you can’t invite anybody over to a pool in the backyard of your home, I think you have to exercise discipline and make sure you have the right constraints in place,” Hutchinson said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Hutchinson never issued a stay-at-home order, and the state reopened movie theaters, arenas and gyms this month with social-distancing guidelines. He said residents have to “manage the risk” by taking precautions.

“We take the virus very seriously, it’s a risk, it causes death, but you can’t cloister yourself at home,” he said Sunday. “That is just contrary to the American spirit.”


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