The Latest: 3 US states report 1st coronavirus deaths

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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:

– Trump signs massive stimulus with cash payments to Americans.

– Trump issues order to require GM to produce ventilators.

– Disney theme parks in Florida, California closed indefinitely.

– WHO’s emergencies chief says pandemic has no clear end date.

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Three more states reported their first COVID-19 deaths on Friday, bringing the total to 46 as the number of U.S. cases continued to rise.

Officials in Nebraska, North Dakota and Maine announced the first deaths from the virus. The only states that haven’t had a confirmed COVID-19 death as of Friday afternoon are Hawaii, Rhode Island, Wyoming and West Virginia.

The Nebraska case involved an Omaha man in his 50s who had serious underlying health conditions before he was diagnosed.

The North Dakota case involved a man in his 90s in Cass County, the most populous county, who had underlying health conditions.

The Maine death was a man in his 80s who lived in Cumberland County, the state’s most populous county and the center of that state’s outbreak so far.

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WASHINGTON – The USNS Mercy, one of the Navy’s two hospital ships, will begin taking patients from pierside in Los Angeles on Saturday, in an effort to relieve overburdened medical facilities in the city as it struggles to handle the coronavirus outbreak.

The captain of the 1,000-bed ship said its operations will ramp up slowly, taking a handful of patients the first day, then gradually expanding over time.

“We would start slowly with a number like five for the first day, then doubling that and doubling again,” Navy Capt. John Rotruck told The Associated Press in an interview from the ship as it was heading into the port.

The Mercy’s arrival comes as the USNS Comfort, the Navy’s other hospital ship, prepares to leave Virginia on Saturday, heading to New York City.

The ships will take only non-virus patients, freeing up hospital beds in the city for those who are infected.

There are about 1,000 sailors on the Mercy, and about two-thirds of that are medical staff. They’ve spent the last several days at sea training, since this is the first time that many of them will have worked together.

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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Friday signed a $2.2 trillion economic rescue package, calling the bill much-needed relief for American workers reeling from the economic tumult caused by the coronavirus.

Trump signed the bill in Oval Office ceremony surrounded by Republican lawmakers and members of his administration shortly after the Democratic-controlled House approved the massive spending package. Under the plan, many single Americans would receive $1,200, married couples would get $2,400 and parents would see $500 for each child.

The signing came the after the U.S. government on Thursday reported nearly 3.3 million new weekly jobless claims. The U.S. death toll has surpassed 1,200 from the virus.

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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has issued an order that the government can use to require General Motors to produce ventilators under Defense Production Act.

Trump signed the order Friday in the Oval Office as health professionals around the country lamented shortages of the machines that help patients with the coronavirus breathe.

In a joint statement, GM and Ventec Life Systems said they will build critical care ventilators at GM’s manufacturing plant in Kokomo, Indiana, and start shipping them as soon as next month. GM also is to produce surgical masks at its plant in Warren, Michigan, that can be used by health care workers.

In a statement, the White House accused GM of wasting time in the contracting process.

“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” the statement said.

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ORLANDO, Fla. – The Walt Disney Co. is indefinitely extending closures at its theme park resorts in Florida and California because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The company had closed Disneyland in Southern California and Disney World outside Orlando in mid-March with plans to reopen at the start of April, but Disney said Friday the resorts would remain closed until further notice. It cited directions given by health and government officials.

The company has been paying its employees during the closure, and Disney said it would continue to pay its tens of thousands of hourly workers through April 18.

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UNITED NATIONS – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the world is not only fighting the “common enemy” of the coronavirus “but our enemy is also the growing surge of misinformation” about COVID-19.

To overcome the virus, he said “we need to urgently promote facts and science” and “promote hope and solidarity over despair and division.”

He said the U.N. is launching a COVID-19 Communications for Solidarity Initiative to rapidly inform the global public about the facts and science, “and promote and inspire acts of humanity around the world.”

Guterres spoke Friday at the first joint video briefing for the 193 U.N. member nations that also included the presidents of the Security Council, General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council as well as a question-and-answer session. The video failed for about 10 minutes while the secretary-general was speaking, but then resumed.

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ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s president announced a set of additional measures aiming to prevent the transmission of the new coronavirus, including halting all international flights and limiting travel between cities.

The measures announced Friday came hours after the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Turkey surpassed the 5,000 mark, while the death toll hit 92.

In a late-night address to the nation, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said intercity travel would be subjected to approval from the local governor. Private businesses would emulate the public sector by working with the minimum amount of staff and adopt flexible working hours, Erdogan said, while passengers traveling on public transport would be seated separately.

Erdogan said a “pandemic board” would be formed in all provinces to monitor the measures and take additional precautions if necessary.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Friday that anyone arriving in the state from Louisiana must self-quarantine like those arriving from New York already must because of the coronavirus pandemic.

DeSantis said he is expanding his quarantine order to include Louisiana after officials in the lightly hit Panhandle worried that people will flee New Orleans as the number of positive tests there climb. DeSantis said the Florida Highway Patrol and sheriff’s offices will set up checkpoints to screen cars arriving from Louisiana.

The order will require anyone who arrives from Louisiana to isolate themselves for two weeks under the threat of a misdemeanor conviction and a 60-day jail sentence. He already issued this week identical restrictions on travelers arriving from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

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WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s lawmakers were debating and voting remotely Friday on a government rescue package for the economy hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The first-time-ever remote attendance is designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and protect the health of the 460 lawmakers who do not have to all gather in parliament.

Later Friday the legislators were to vote on the “anti-crisis shield” worth at least 212 billion zlotys ($51 billion; 46 billion euros) of financial and administrative assistance to large and small businesses, to the chronically strapped health care system and to the employees.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stressed that the rescue package was balanced between the need to prevent bankruptcies and the need to keep the world’s trust in Poland’s financial decisions. Poland, a country of 38 million, has confirmed 1,340 cases of coronavirus infections. Sixteen people have died.

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PARIS – “Merci.”

The French word for “thank you” was emblazoned in lights on the Eiffel Tower on Friday in recognition of health workers fighting to save lives, as France’s coronavirus death toll continued to climb.

The tower also switched on its sparkling lights. The show of solidarity from 8 p.m. on Friday coincided with the moment when citizens in lockdown have been cheering and applauding from their windows and balconies in support of doctors and nurses.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the light show will take place every evening on the 324-meter-tall (1,063-foot-tall) tower.

French hospitals have recorded nearly 2,000 deaths, a figure that doesn’t include COVID-19 cases elsewhere. Health workers are straining to keep pace with the ever-increasing number of infections, with nearly 3,800 people in intensive care, in serious condition.

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ROME – Italy’s president says the country is living through “a sad page in our history,” with its oldest generation paying a very high price in loss of life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With coffins piling up in the country with the highest number of deaths in the world of persons infected with the coronavirus, President Sergio Mattarella sought to shore up morale Friday night.

He hailed the thousands of doctors who have volunteered to work in the most hardest-hit areas of the outbreak in Italy’s north. He encouraged Italians to keep obeying a national decree that has kept them at home for 2 1/2 weeks so far, save to go essential jobs or do other vital tasks like shop for food.

He praised the tireless giving of self by medical staff, those assuring the nation’s food supply, factories which have converted production lines to producing masks in dire need by doctors and nurses, and others doing their part.

But Mattarella took to task leaders of some European Union countries who have balked at giving countries like Italy and Spain, reeling under the economic impact of the outbreak, the concrete solidarity promptly required.

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WASHINGTON – The State Department says it has coordinated the return of more than 15,000 Americans stranded overseas in more than 40 countries since January because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The department said that as of midday Friday, it had arranged the repatriation of 15,441 U.S. citizens through various means, including military, commercial and civilian chartered aircraft. The countries with largest number of evacuees so far are Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and Morocco.

The department also said in a statement on Friday that 93 of its employees had tested positive for the virus, including 68 overseas and 25 in the U.S. Another 110 employees are awaiting the results of tests and 1,760 are self-isolating for precautionary reasons.

The department employs more than 75,000 people in the United States and 220 diplomatic missions abroad.

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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says hospitals can repurpose medical equipment, including devices used to treat sleep apnea, to serve as ventilators amid concerns about the national supply of the life-sustaining breathing machines.

Under the emergency step, hospitals can use anesthesia machines, CPAP devices and their components in the place of ventilators to treat patients fighting COVID-19. The agency made the regulatory changes in a series of steps this week but FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn announced them Friday “to ease burdens on the health care system during this pandemic.”

U.S. regulators have waived dozens of regulations in recent weeks to try and boost levels of critical medical supplies needed to address the coronavirus pandemic, including tests, masks, gloves and hand sanitizers.

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GENEVA – The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief says widespread testing for coronavirus is crucial and countries should not be faulted for turning up higher numbers.

Dr. Michael Ryan appealed for a shift toward measures that allow us “to live with this virus” until a vaccine emerges.

Ryan’s comments Friday suggested a change in mindset and increased resignation at the U.N. health agency that the new coronavirus outbreak that first emerged in China late last year and now has infected over a half-million is here to stay for a while.

“At this point, no one can predict how long this epidemic is going to last,” he said at a regular WHO news conference. “We are entering and moving to an uncertain future … many countries around the world are just beginning the cycle of this epidemic.”

Ryan said the world needs to move from measures aimed to “take the heat” out of the pandemic, in favor of “much more precise targets – directed targets – that will allow us, at the very least, to live with this virus until we can develop a vaccine to get rid of it.”

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GENEVA – With many countries initiating lockdowns, school and business closures, and other drastic measures to cut down on the spread of the new coronavirus, World Health Organization officials suggested Friday that individual liberties should be sacrificed for the greater good.

Speaking at a Geneva news conference, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged that measures like limits on travel or leaving the house influence “individual human rights.”

“But this is a choice that we should make: Meaning, in order to have collective security, to be better society and to fight the virus, we give our freedom, you know, for a while.”

WHO’s emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryan, added that “individuals are prepared to offer a little piece of individual sovereignty in order to support the community itself.

“This sense of the one to help the many. But that must be a temporary gift,” Ryan said. “That is a gift of the individual to society, not a demand upon the individual.”

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BRUSSELS – Belgium’s government has extended lockdown measures for two weeks, up to April 19, as it tries to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus across the country.

The measures, which were initially set to last until April 5, include the obligation for Belgian residents to stay at home, except to go to work when working from home is not possible, and to avoid contact outside of their family as much as possible.

Nonessential shops will remain closed, with access to supermarkets limited to one person per 10 square meters for a maximum of 30 minutes.

Speaking Friday after a meeting of the national security council, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said the lockdown could be extended for a further two weeks if necessary.

According to the latest figures released Friday, 7,284 cases of COVID-19 have been registered in Belgium, including 289 people who died.

President Donald Trump speaks before signing the coronavirus stimulus relief package, at the White House, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Washington, as from left, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., House Minority Kevin McCarthy of Calif., and Vice President Mike Pence, look on. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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