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A licensed pharmacist in New York bought up thousands of rare N95 masks and sold them at much higher prices during the COVID-19 pandemic, federal authorities said Tuesday, announcing the arrest of Richard Schirripa, a.k.a. “the Mask Man,” on charges that include violating the Defense Production Act. Schirripa is accused of charging up to $25 per mask – often selling them out of his car.

Schirripa is accused of buying about $200,000 worth of N95 masks between February and April and selling thousands of them “at severely inflated prices during both late March and April 2020,” according to a criminal complaint that was recently unsealed. The timeframe coincides with the wave of coronavirus cases that came crashing into New York, as the pandemic arrived in the U.S. in full force.

“I feel like a drug dealer standing out here,” Schirripa, 66, allegedly said in early April as he was recorded selling 16 boxes of N95 masks to a customer on a street in Manhattan, according to the complaint.

The sale took place near Madison Avenue Pharmacy, just east of Central Park – a business Schirripa had recently shut down. But rather than arriving through official channels, the masks had come from “the black market,” Schirripa allegedly said. He is accused of selling most of the protective gear out of the trunk of his Audi.

Schirripa “said that he normally buys the surgical grade masks for $20 per box and sells them for $40, but he said he had purchased these for $400 per box,” the criminal complaint states.

“We’re in a time of emergency and shortage,” Schirripa allegedly told an undercover agent during a phone call that was recorded. The scarcity and vital need for N95 masks – which have been in such short supply that some medical professionals have been forced to improvise devices to protect themselves – justified their high price, Schirripa allegedly said.

“As alleged, Richard Schirripa exploited an unprecedented crisis to engage in profiteering,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman, in a statement Tuesday. Several agencies, from Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to the Drug Enforcement Administration, played roles in building the case against Schirripa.

Agents recovered some 6,660 masks from Schirripa’s house in Long Island, his apartment in New York City, and his car.

The complaint says Schirripa told investigators who interviewed him at his house that “others had nicknamed him ‘the Mask Man.’ “

Schirripa allegedly began hoarding N95 masks in February — and the authorities say he continued to do so after President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act in late March, making it illegal to engage in hoarding or price gouging of personal protective equipment such as N95 masks.

His customers spanned eight states and included several doctors, a nursing home, a funeral home and a drug store, according to court documents. Authorities were able to learn details about Schirripa’s sales because he kept invoices for each transaction — paperwork that apparently used the name of his recently closed pharmacy.

Schirripa faces other serious but unrelated charges stemming from an earlier investigation into his pharmacy – especially the disposition of thousands of doses of strong opiates, including fentanyl, oxycodone and morphine sulfate, when he closed his business and sold its assets.

Early this year, Schirripa sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration in which he said that as part of the closure of his pharmacy he had transferred, sold, or destroyed all controlled substances that had been held by the business.

“In fact, he had thousands of pills/patches in his downstairs safe,” the complaint states, describing the results of the search of Schirripa’s home in early April.

The complaint accuses Schirripa of causing Medicare and Medicaid to be billed for controlled substances when he allegedly used customers’ personal data to fabricate prescriptions for the drugs. During the search of his home, the complaint states, investigators found prescription bottles with more than two dozen different names on the labels.

Based on that inquiry, the pharmacist is accused of health care fraud and identity theft.

If Schirripa is convicted of all the charges against him, he could face a prison sentence of more than 30 years. That includes a count of health care fraud, which carries a maximum 20-year sentence.

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Six Flags is preparing to reopen its Frontier City theme park in Oklahoma City on June 5, requiring visitors and staff to wear face masks.

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Six Flags is preparing to reopen its Frontier City theme park in Oklahoma City on June 5, requiring visitors and staff to wear face masks.

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People visiting Six Flags theme parks and water parks this summer will be required to wear a face mask at all times, the company says, as it prepares to reopen its first park to visitors for the since the coronavirus forced mass closures. Six Flags says it also will use thermal imaging to screen temperatures of guests and employees before they can enter.

Frontier City in Oklahoma City will be the first Six Flags park to reopen, on June 5. But before visiting, customers will need to make a reservation and bring a mask; anyone who doesn’t have a face covering will need to buy one at the gate, the company says.

“All guests over the age of two and all team members will be required to wear face masks covering the nose and mouth throughout their visit/work day,” the company announced Tuesday. Special accommodations can be made for people with “disabilities, health concerns, religious restrictions, or other circumstances” that would prevent them from wearing a mask, Six Flags said.

Capacity will also be restricted, and people will be required to maintain physical distance as they stand in line for rides, food and other attractions. The safety protocols will apply across all of Six Flags’ 26 locations in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

“Frontier City, like all Six Flags parks, is an outdoor attraction that poses a significantly lower risk of exposure than indoor venues,” Six Flags President and CEO Mike Spanos said in a statement about the plans. He added, “Because our parks cover dozens or even hundreds of acres, we can easily manage guest throughput to achieve proper social distancing.”

Every U.S. state is now in the process of relaxing at least some of the restrictions that were put in place in the weeks after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. Many Americans and public officials alike are now weighing how to curb the coronavirus while also restarting normal activities and planning for the summer.

Oklahoma began allowing a broad range of businesses to reopen on May 1, from restaurant dining rooms to movie theaters and gyms. The state further relaxed restrictions when it entered the second phase of its reopening plan on May 15. It’s poised to begin the third phase on June 1.

Oklahoma was reporting more than 6,000 COVID-19 cases and 315 deaths as of Tuesday morning, according to the state Department of Health. More than 2,800 cases – roughly 46% of the current total — have been reported in the past 30 days. The state says more than 4,800 people have recovered from the respiratory disease.

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Traders wear masks as they work in their posts at the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, the first day of in-person trading since the exchange closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Traders wear masks as they work in their posts at the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, the first day of in-person trading since the exchange closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Stock traders are wearing masks at the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, as the trading floor reopens for the first time since March. The exchange has been restricted to only electronic trading for two months, out of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“We are beginning cautiously with fewer traders, and those that are on the floor are wearing masks and keeping a safe distance,” the exchange said, describing some of the safety protocols it says were developed with public health experts along with state and federal officials.

The stock market’s trading floor went dark at the close of business on March 20 – a time when stock prices were plummeting, casualties of the economic fallout from widespread COVID-19 shutdowns and other disruptions.

In addition to wearing masks, brokers will be restricted to certain sections of the floor to enforce social distancing, the NYSE’s president, Stacey Cunningham, said earlier this month. Most employees will continue to work remotely, and anyone entering the building will face health screenings and temperature checks.

The changes, she said, are meant to protect the workers and reduce the strain on the health care system.

“This moment comes as we begin working together across America to restart our economy,” Cunningham said in a statement on the NYSE website.

When the trading floor closed, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index was sinking well below the 20,000-mark. The fall happened so quickly that automatic circuit breakers repeatedly halted trading at the exchange. As of Friday, the Dow had recovered to 24,465 — a level it had last seen in January of 2019.



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Alabama opened public beaches on May 1. Gov. Kay Ivey is letting casinos, museums, zoos and amusement parks open Friday afternoon.

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Alabama opened public beaches on May 1. Gov. Kay Ivey is letting casinos, museums, zoos and amusement parks open Friday afternoon.

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Alabama is allowing movie theaters, bowling alleys and summer camps to reopen Friday afternoon as Gov. Kay Ivey expands her “Safer at Home” order. The rules, which still require social distancing and sanitation measures, also apply to casinos and bingo halls, along with tourist attractions such as museums, zoos and amusement parks.

The governor is relaxing restrictions on aspects of normal life such as schools and water parks even as Alabama faces a rise in COVID-19 cases — and in some areas, a shortage of hospital beds for coronavirus patients.

“In Alabama, a third of the state’s total overall cases have occurred just in the last two weeks,” Janae Pierre of NPR member station WBHM reported. Despite the rise, Pierre said, two of Alabama’s biggest high schools were holding graduation ceremonies at a baseball stadium this week.

Overall, Alabama’s Department of Public Health said, 13,414 of 174,074 coronavirus tests have been positive – a rate of 7.7%. The rate is even lower over the past 14 days when 4,336 tests were positive out of 70,693 – a rate of 6.13%.

But the number of new coronavirus cases in the current week is markedly higher than in the previous one, with more than 1,000 cases in the last three days alone.

Ivey conceded that “our numbers are not as good as we would hope,” but she said it’s time for Alabama to take another step in reopening its economy while adjusting to the “new normal” of coronavirus precautions. The state must find a balance, she said, between acknowledging the deadly threat of COVID-19 and helping people pursue their livelihoods.

Ivey announced the newly eased rules Thursday, the same day Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed sounded an alarm by saying hospital patients in central Alabama who need to be in intensive care might not be able to find an ICU bed.

“Our health care system has been maxed out,” Reed said, adding that patients in his community were being sent to Birmingham. He urged residents not to take “needless risks” and to keep the virus from spreading further.

The amended order will be in effect from 5 p.m. local time Friday through July 3. It increases the number of businesses Alabama allowed to resume operations on May 1, when retail stores received the OK to open at 50% of their occupancy capacity. Restaurants, bars and breweries were also allowed to reopen then, with limited seating and at least 6 feet between tables.

Hundreds of thousands of Alabamians have suffered job losses from the pandemic’s effects: Alabama’s unemployment rate hit 12.9% in April, the state Department of Labor said.

The jobless rate is even worse in some of its most populous counties, such as Mobile and Montgomery, both at 15.1%, and Tuscaloosa at 16.8%. At least three other counties reported unemployment rates of 20% or more.

“This pandemic has negatively impacted Alabama’s economy and in two months’ time has managed to undo years of positive progress,” Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington said as he released the figures Friday. “But the impact to our employers and workers who carry the economy is even greater. So many had life-altering changes that impacted their families almost overnight.

Alabama’s leisure and hospitality businesses have been hammered by shutdowns and physical distancing rules due to the coronavirus, losing roughly 80,000 jobs in April.

The April results show 283,787 people lost their jobs that month. Since early March, Alabama has received more than 501,000 jobless claims.



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U.S. flags will fly at half-staff on federal and military posts through Sunday, as President Trump orders a remembrance of the nearly 100,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. Earlier this month, flags in the hard-hit state of New York flew at half their normal height to honor of those lost to the pandemic.

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U.S. flags will fly at half-staff on federal and military posts through Sunday, as President Trump orders a remembrance of the nearly 100,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. Earlier this month, flags in the hard-hit state of New York flew at half their normal height to honor of those lost to the pandemic.

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U.S. government buildings, military posts and embassies will fly the flag at half-staff through Memorial Day weekend, in memory of the nearly 100,000 people who have died of COVID-19, President Trump announced Thursday night. The move comes after Democratic leaders in Congress sent a letter to the president requesting the gesture.

“I will be lowering the flags on all Federal Buildings and National Monuments to half-staff over the next three days in memory of the Americans we have lost to the CoronaVirus,” Trump said via Twitter.

Flags will be lowered from Friday through Sunday’s sunset. Trump added that flags will again be flown at half-staff on Monday, to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.

The national flag is dropped to half its normal height at times when the nation is in mourning or after a national tragedy. The U.S. is currently in the throes of a pandemic that has killed around 95,000 people in the country and derailed normal life for millions of people.

“Our Nation mourns for every life lost to the coronavirus pandemic, and we share in the suffering of all those who endured pain and illness from the outbreak,” Trump wrote in a proclamation ordering the observance. “Through our grief, America stands steadfast and united against the invisible enemy. May God be with the victims of this pandemic and bring aid and comfort to their families and friends.”

The presidential proclamation came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent Trump a letter asking him to order flags to be flown at half-staff on all public buildings on what they called “a sad day of reckoning” — when the U.S. marks 100,000 deaths.

“It would serve as a national expression of grief so needed by everyone in our country,” they wrote.

Earlier this month, the governors of several hard-hit states ordered their public buildings to fly flags at half-staff, including New York, Massachusetts and Colorado.

The procedure for flying a U.S. flag at half-staff or at half-mast calls for it to be raised briefly to its full peak, then lowered halfway. The process is reversed when lowering the flag at the end of the day – except for Memorial Day, when the display is shortened.

“On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff,” according to Title 4 of the U.S. Code regarding the flag and its protocols.



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Trump Administration Confirms U.S. Is Leaving Open Skies Surveillance Treaty : NPR

Open Skies would be the third major international military pact Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from. This file photo shows Czech soldiers inspecting cameras on a U.S. Boeing plane at a military airbase in Pardubice, Czech Republic, as part of the agreement.

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Open Skies would be the third major international military pact Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from. This file photo shows Czech soldiers inspecting cameras on a U.S. Boeing plane at a military airbase in Pardubice, Czech Republic, as part of the agreement.

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President Trump’s administration will give official notice of the U.S.’s intent to exit the Open Skies treaty, officials announced Thursday. The 34-nation agreement allows the U.S., Russia and other countries to fly their aircraft over each other’s territory – increasing transparency and reducing the chances for perilous miscalculations.

“Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out,” President Trump said, adding that there is “a very good chance” to reach a new deal. “We’re going to pull out, and they’re going to come back and want to make a deal.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in America’s interest to remain a party to the Treaty on Open Skies.”

Pompeo accused Russia of repeatedly violating the treaty and using it to further its expansion goals by refusing to allow flights over “Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia” and asserting control over an airfield in Crimea. Echoing the president, he also suggested the U.S. might remain in the agreement if Russia changes its approach.

“Effective six months from tomorrow, the United States will no longer be a party to the Treaty,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. “We may, however, reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the Treaty.”

The move quickly drew criticism from Democratic members of Congress.

Trump’s plan “directly harms our country’s security and breaks the law in the process,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Engel cited a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act from late 2019, which requires the secretaries of State and Defense to notify Congress at least 120 days before a formal notice is sent to treaty depositories about an intent to leave Open Skies.

Calling the treaty a “pillar of stability, transparency, and security for the United States and our European allies,” Engel said Open Skies is critical to the New START Treaty and other arms control measures, and he said Russia will conduct flights over NATO and American bases “with or without our participation in Open Skies.”

Russian is awaiting a full explanation of the U.S. accusations, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in an interview with Russian TV. She added that the treaty includes mechanisms for ensuring compliance and presenting complaints – and that the U.S. will likely use diplomatic channels as well.

The Russian ministry republished a list of its own grievances on Thursday, saying the U.S. has put a number of new Open Sky restrictions in place since Trump took office.

The Open Skies treaty has been in effect since 2002. The idea of allowing other countries’ surveillance aircraft to conduct flyovers was first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower, early in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. But a deal didn’t gain traction until after the Soviet republic collapsed; it was signed in 1992 and took effect 10 years later.

“It gives you access to things that, even if you have a satellite network, you might not be able to see,” Olga Oliker, director of the Europe program at the International Crisis Group in Brussels, told NPR last November. “It’s a very useful way for the parties to be on the same page about who has what where.”

The treaty includes a number of stipulations that give host countries a level of control over the flights in their airspace, from designating which planes and airports can be used to flight distances. It also allows inspections of surveillance equipment. The signatories include most of America’s NATO allies, and Ukraine.

Noting that many U.S. allies in Europe want to keep the treaty in full force, Pompeo said, “If not for the value they place on the OST, we would likely have exited long ago.”

If the U.S. does exit, Open Skies would be the third major international military pact Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from, coming after the president spiked the Iran nuclear deal and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty.

Critics of the treaty say they believe Russia gets more out of it than the U.S. does.

“Today the president has taken another positive step to end America’s dependence on dysfunctional and broken treaties,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a statement about Trump’s plan.

Cotton says the treaty has become technically defunct and outdated. And he added that by leaving the agreement, the U.S. won’t have to pay “nearly a quarter-billion dollars in recapitalization money for our OC-135 Open Skies Aircraft fleet.”

As NPR’s David Welna has reported, Moscow has modernized Russia’s surveillance planes. But the U.S. has not, according to Oliker of the International Crisis Group.

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The NCAA is clearing the way for college football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball to resume on-campus activities on June 1, even as universities map out how they might return to a new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many schools are also facing a sharp drop in revenue that would be made far worse if the upcoming college football season is canceled.

The NCAA Division I Council says college athletes can take part in “voluntary athletics activities” such as workouts in less than two weeks, as long as they can also follow any local restrictions meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus, such as limits on building capacities and physical distancing. Each school and conference will be free to decide how to safely resume athletic operations, the council said.

The new provision applies to voluntary on-campus workouts, not regular practices. It also says football and basketball players, not coaches, must initiate the activity.

“Coaches may not be present unless a sport-specific safety exception allows it, and activity cannot be directed by a coach or reported back to a coach,” the council says in a statement about the decision.

Council chair M. Grace Calhoun, the athletics director at the University of Pennsylvania, says the move “acknowledges that reopening our campuses will be an individual decision but should be based on advice from medical experts.”

Months after the coronavirus forced the cancellation of this year’s March Madness basketball tournaments and other championships, thousands of schools are now laying out plans for shortened semesters. The virus and its economic toll have forced some colleges to scale back athletic schedules, or cut programs altogether.

Earlier this week, Furman University in South Carolina eliminated its baseball and lacrosse programs, citing a string of coronavirus-related losses that range from millions of dollars in refunded fees, the cancelation of camps and conferences, new technology costs – and a $100 million drop in the value of the private school’s endowment.

Many schools and conferences are forming plans to follow safety rules while also continue holding football games – a huge revenue source or colleges and the NCAA. If the 2020-21 season doesn’t take place, the 65 schools that make up the Power 5 conferences would lose more than $4 billion, according to a recent analysis reported by ESPN.

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Study : Coronavirus Live Updates : NPR

A new analysis finds social distancing has been very effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19 — and that thousands of lives could have been saved if the policies began earlier. In this March 17 photo, people eat at a restaurant along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Fla., nearly a week after President Trump declared a national emergency.

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A new analysis finds social distancing has been very effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19 — and that thousands of lives could have been saved if the policies began earlier. In this March 17 photo, people eat at a restaurant along Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, Fla., nearly a week after President Trump declared a national emergency.

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The U.S. could have prevented roughly 36,000 deaths from COVID-19 if broad social distancing measures had been put in place just one week earlier, according to an analysis from Columbia University.

Underlining the importance of aggressively responding to the coronavirus, the study found the U.S. could have avoided at least 700,000 fewer infections if it had taken the same actions on March 8 that it started taking on March 15.

The U.S. currently has more than 1.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and more than 93,000 people have died from the disease, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

In the analysis, researchers applied transmission models to data drawn from the pandemic’s actual course county-by-county in the U.S. — the worst-hit country in the world.

If social restrictions had gone into effect in the U.S. two weeks earlier, they found, nearly 54,00 people would still be alive and nearly a million COVID-19 cases would have been avoided.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11 — an act that had been widely anticipated. Two days later, President Trump declared a national emergency in the U.S. But it took even longer for dozens of U.S. states to order social distancing and shut down business as usual.

If the U.S. had been able to follow social distancing restrictions to the same degree on March 8, the study says, it would have sharply cut the respiratory disease’s impact — and the early action would have made a big difference in densely populated areas such as New York City.

Noting the New York metropolitan area’s status as the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., the paper says if restrictions had taken effect on March 8, the area would have had at least 209,987 fewer cases and 17,514 fewer deaths.

The new analysis finds social distancing has been very effective in slowing the spread of the virus and it looks at what might happen if states or local governments lift those orders too soon – or wait too long to reimpose them.

Predict a worrying trend, the researchers say that once counties and states reopen their economies and lift restrictions, the number of daily confirmed cases will likely continue to decline for almost two weeks. That residual benefit from the shutdown, paired with the lag time between COVID-19 infection and diagnostic confirmation, will create “a false signal that the pandemic is well under control,” they write.

Citing the persistent vulnerability to the virus, the researchers say their models describe “a large resurgence of both cases and deaths … peaking in early- and mid-June,” even if restrictions are installed anew, just two or three weeks after being relaxed.

“We have to be so responsive and so attentive to what’s going on,” researcher Jeffrey Shaman tells NPR, “and able to quickly identify when there’s a resurgence of the infection in the community and to respond to it quickly and to have the will to do so and not repeat our mistakes.”

As of Wednesday, all 50 states have at least partially eased restrictions on businesses, with a mix of policies letting restaurants or stores welcome customers. Many states still have stay-at-home orders or other social distancing policies in effect, and some cities and counties are maintaining shutdown orders.

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A sign instructs those entering the lobby of the Paul Reed Smith Guitars plant to be screened as the facility prepared to reopen last week in Stevensville, Md.

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A sign instructs those entering the lobby of the Paul Reed Smith Guitars plant to be screened as the facility prepared to reopen last week in Stevensville, Md.

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The Maryland Department of Health reported 1,784 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, setting a new high mark four days after the state began reopening its economy. Maryland is now reporting 41,546 cases, including nearly 2,000 people who have died from the disease.

Along with the new positive tests, 5,368 people tested negative for the coronavirus in the 24 hours leading up to 10 a.m. ET — meaning roughly 25% of the 7,152 tests in that period resulted in positive diagnoses.

The spike in new cases comes more than two weeks after Maryland’s previous high of 1,730 cases, The Baltimore Sun reported.

The overall number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Maryland fell by 26 to 1,421, the health department said. Of that number, 537 people are in intensive care.

Maryland remains under a state of emergency. But as of Friday afternoon, retailers, hair salons and churches were allowed to reopen at 50% of their maximum occupancy under a “Safer at Home” policy.

When Gov. Larry Hogan set May 15 as Maryland’s reopening day, he said in an executive order that he was easing the shutdown because two key statistics — total hospitalizations and the use of hospital beds — were either stable or decreasing.

In that order from last week, Hogan said Maryland was able “to trace the contacts of up to 1,000 new cases per day” — a mark far surpassed by Tuesday’s testing results.

Hours after the coronavirus numbers were released, Hogan announced a new push to increase testing in Maryland, dropping criteria and issuing an emergency order to allow licensed pharmacists to order and conduct tests.

“Beginning this week, we are able to offer appointment-free #COVID19 testing across the state, including for those who do not have symptoms, marking a critical milestone in Maryland’s long-term testing strategy,” Hogan said via Twitter.

He added, “We are also authorizing and actively encouraging the state’s hundreds of pharmacies to directly order and administer #COVID19 tests.”

Many of Maryland’s cases are along a broad corridor stretching from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore. More than 12,000 cases have been confirmed in Prince George’s County, east of the District. Montgomery County, which includes Bethesda, has nearly 9,000 cases. Baltimore County has nearly 5,000.



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In an apparent reference to China, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says a member state of the World Health Organization “made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world.” Azar is seen here last week.

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In an apparent reference to China, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says a member state of the World Health Organization “made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world.” Azar is seen here last week.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says the World Health Organization failed in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic – and that it “cost many lives,” delivering a sharp criticism of the WHO at the organization’s annual meeting Monday.

“We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control: There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed. And that failure cost many lives,” Azar said at the World Health Assembly, reiterating President Trump’s complaints about the WHO.

“This cannot ever happen again. The status quo is intolerable,” the secretary said. “WHO must change, and it must become far more transparent and far more accountable.”

The U.S. supports an independent review of “every aspect of WHO’s response to the pandemic,” Azar said.

Dozens of countries agree with the U.S. that the world’s response to the pandemic should be reviewed. But a European Union-backed resolution that could lay the groundwork for a review at the World Health Assembly this week has a broad focus on improving health systems’ abilities to fight epidemics, rather than investigating the U.S. accusations.

In his remarks about the WHO, Azar echoed some of the complaints critics frequently lodge against the Trump administration: that it failed to heed warning signs of a looming pandemic, and that its response, particularly a bungled approach to testing, is a key reason the U.S. leads the world in confirmed infections and deaths from COVID-19.

Trump has previously accused the WHO of being overly influenced by China and of failing to obtain virus samples from the country. WHO officials have denied those claims. Last month, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, stated, “The virus was identified on January the 7th. The [genetic] sequence was shared on the 12th with the world.”

Ryan also said, “We alerted the world on January the 5th. Systems around the world, including the U.S., began to activate their incident management systems on January the 6th.”

The coronavirus has killed almost 90,000 people in the U.S., ravaging the country’s health care system and its economy. Two months after widespread shutdowns took effect in many states, the U.S. has now confirmed nearly 1.5 million COVID-19 cases — almost a third of the global total, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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As Azar delivered his brief speech Monday, he made what seems to be an oblique attack on China, the original epicenter of the coronavirus.

“In an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak, at least one member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world,” Azar said. “We saw that WHO failed at its core mission of information sharing and transparency when member states do not act in good faith.

Earlier Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping embraced the idea of a formal review of the international response to the pandemic — but with the stipulation that it should be led by the WHO, and take place after the pandemic is over.

Xi also said China will provide $2 billion over the next two years to help the global response to the pandemic and boost social and economic activity, particularly in developing countries.

The Trump administration quickly criticized the Chinese pledge, with the White House National Security Council saying the $2 billion was merely a “token” meant to divert scrutiny – and saying China should pay more.

Accusing China of failing to meet its obligations “to tell the truth and warn the world of what was coming,” National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot issued a statement saying, “As the source of the outbreak, China has a special responsibility to pay more and to give more.”

Xi’s funding announcement came a month after Trump said he will suspend U.S. payments to the WHO, pending a review. The U.S. is the largest single donor to the organization – although as NPR’s David Welna recently reported, the U.S. was already nearly $200 million in arrears on its obligations to the WHO when Trump halted payments.

NPR’s Franco Ordoñez, Michele Kelemen and Roberta Rampton contributed to this report.

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“China supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19, after it is brought under control,” says President Xi Jinping, seen here with President Trump last summer.

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“China supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19, after it is brought under control,” says President Xi Jinping, seen here with President Trump last summer.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

China’s President Xi Jinping is defending his country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it has acted openly and responsibly in sharing information with the international community. Speaking at a World Health Organization conference via video, Xi said that if China succeeds in developing a vaccine, it will share it widely.

“All along, we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility,” Xi said. “We have provided information to the WHO and the relevant countries in a most timely fashion.”

Xi said China released the genome sequence of the virus “at the earliest possible time” and shared its experiences in attempting to control and treat the disease.

During his roughly 10-minute speech to the World Health Assembly, Xi also embraced the idea of a formal review of the response to the pandemic — although he did so in broad terms, and with the stipulation that it should be led by the WHO, and after the pandemic is over.

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The remarks follow President Trump’s frequent criticisms of both China and the WHO — remarks that increased as the number of reported cases and deaths in the U.S. outpaced any other country in the world.

Trump has accused the WHO of depriving the scientific community of essential data, saying it failed to obtain virus samples from China. Last month, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, stated, “The virus was identified on January the 7th. The [genetic] sequence was shared on the 12th with the world.”

Trump has also said the WHO is too deferential to China, saying the country was slow to share details about how the virus works and sought to minimize early portrayals of an epidemic that has now killed more than 300,000 people worldwide. Both the WHO and China have denied those claims.

The U.S., the largest single donor to the WHO, has paused its funding, pending a review. The U.S., Australia and a number of other countries have called for an investigation into the origins and early response to the pandemic; proposals for undertaking that review will likely come up for a vote during the World Health Assembly sessions.

Xi did not specifically refer to any of Trump’s criticisms on Monday. But he said the pandemic has exposed “weaknesses and deficiencies” in the global health system, and that a review could improve how the world responds to a future pandemic.

“China supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19, after it is brought under control,” Xi said, saying that an inquiry should compare countries’ experiences and address any problems.

The WHO should lead the review, the Chinese leader said, adding that it should be “based on science and professionalism” and “conducted in an objective and impartial manner.”

Xi said China will provide $2 billion over the next two years to help the global response to the pandemic and boost social and economic activity, particularly in developing countries.

Xi also said that if China succeeds in developing a vaccine, it will be declared “a global public good.”

“This will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries,” Xi said.

By referring to the vaccine as a “global public good,” the Chinese leader echoed language in a resolution put forth by dozens of countries in Europe, Africa and elsewhere — but not backed by the U.S. — that deems widespread immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good to end the pandemic.

The resolution calls on countries to commit to the idea of a “people’s vaccine” — stating that any cure for the coronavirus that has ravaged families, communities and economies worldwide should be declared patent-free and distributed widely and fairly.

“The big issue is that the U.S. so far is not on board with that” resolution, NPR’s Jason Beaubien reports. “The White House is pushing what they’re calling Operation Warp Speed, which explicitly says that it’s a Manhattan Project to develop a COVID vaccine for the American people.”

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President Trump’s administration “is obsessed with magic bullets — vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear,” The Lancet says. It urges U.S. voters to elect a new president who will strengthen the Centers for Disease Control. Here, CDC Director Robert Redfield and Trump are seen at a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House last month.

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President Trump’s administration “is obsessed with magic bullets — vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear,” The Lancet says. It urges U.S. voters to elect a new president who will strengthen the Centers for Disease Control. Here, CDC Director Robert Redfield and Trump are seen at a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House last month.

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Americans should oust President Trump from the White House and elect a leader who will support – rather than undermine – public health experts who are battling the COVID-19 pandemic, British medical journal The Lancet says in an editorial Friday.

The unsigned editorial sharply criticizes the Trump administration, saying it has marginalized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to a degree that is dangerous for both the U.S. and the world.

“Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics,” the journal says.

Two months after Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus, the U.S. is by far the worst-hit country in the world, with more than 1.4 million confirmed cases and 85,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Far from the worst-hit parts of New York state, new outbreaks are emerging in places such as Minnesota and Iowa – developments that The Lancet says are renewing questions about what it calls the Trump administration’s “inconsistent and incoherent national response” to the crisis.

“The Administration is obsessed with magic bullets — vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear,” the journal states. “But only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles, like test, trace, and isolate, will see the emergency brought to an end, and this requires an effective national public health agency.”

Seeking to lay a pile of critical failings at Trump’s feet, the editorial — titled “Reviving the U.S. CDC” — says a federal agency that was once “the gold standard for global disease detection and control” has devolved into an “ineffective and nominal adviser” on the U.S. response to a disease that poses a public health threat of historic proportions.

The Trump administration has “chipped away at the CDC’s capacity to combat infectious diseases” in a number of ways, The Lancet says, citing the reduction of CDC staff in China and the withdrawal of the last American CDC expert from the Chinese CDC campus last July – moves that left an “intelligence vacuum” when the novel coronavirus was detected in Hubei province in late 2019.

And The Lancet says that partly because of the CDC’s own errors – chiefly a mistaken early insistence on maintaining control of coronavirus testing — “The USA is still nowhere near able to provide the basic surveillance or laboratory testing infrastructure needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The journal accuses the Trump administration of accelerating the “erosion” of the CDC that it says took place under earlier Republican administrations that used the CDC and its funding to score political points – actions that, The Lancet says, previously limited the agency’s ability to combat emergencies such as the HIV/AIDS crisis.

During the current coronavirus crisis, the Trump White House has repeatedly undermined the leading U.S. authorities on infectious diseases, The Lancet states. It adds, “The CDC needs a director who can provide leadership without the threat of being silenced.”

The editorial criticizes the U.S. administration for minimizing the visibility of the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier after she gave a frank — and accurate — warning to Americans, saying people should prepare themselves to face school closings, workplace shutdowns and the cancelation of large gatherings and public events.

After making those statements on Feb. 25, Messonier, director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, was not included at White House briefings; since then, she has played a more limited public role.

The day after Messonier spoke in February, Trump put Vice President Pence in charge of the White House coronavirus task force, raising the profile of the administration’s main platform for discussing COVID-19.

But, The Lancet notes, the task force has recently made headlines for rejecting detailed guidance that was drafted by the CDC that aimed to give clear direction to businesses, restaurants, schools, camps, churches and other entities on ways daily life could safely resume as shutdown orders are eased.

Accusing the Trump administration of weakening one of the country’s most vital agencies, The Lancet states, “A strong CDC is needed to respond to public health threats, both domestic and international, and to help prevent the next inevitable pandemic.”

The editorial was published shortly after Rick Bright, a career government scientist, testified to a congressional panel about his removal from leading the U.S. agency in charge of developing a vaccine against COVID-19. He was sidelined, Bright said Thursday, because he resisted efforts within the Trump administration to promote chloroquine and a related drug, hydroxychloroquine, as treatments for coronavirus patients.

The president and his allies had touted chloroquine as a breakthrough, despite sparse evidence of any potential benefits. Numerous medical and health agencies have recommended against using the drugs to fight COVID-19, citing potentially fatal risks.

Administration officials have denied Bright’s allegations of retaliation. President Trump said of his testimony, “I watched this guy for a little while this morning. To me, he’s nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person.”

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A man with ‘Flu World Order’ written on his back walks in London on Tuesday, as the U.K. continues its lockdown. The U.K. is doubling the length of its worker furlough program, citing the need to help employees when the economy finally reopens.

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A man with ‘Flu World Order’ written on his back walks in London on Tuesday, as the U.K. continues its lockdown. The U.K. is doubling the length of its worker furlough program, citing the need to help employees when the economy finally reopens.

Frank Augstein/AP

The U.K. is extending a worker furlough program that pays people idled by the COVID-19 pandemic up to around $3,088 a month, as Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak says the program will now run through the end of October. The government is doubling the original four-month timeline, he said, to support workers when the economy starts to emerge from a crippling shutdown.

“As we reopen the economy, we will need to support people back to work,” Sunak said.

The U.K.’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is similar to the U.S.’s beleaguered Paycheck Protection Program – both of them seek to preserve jobs, urging businesses to use furloughs to temporarily idle employees rather than resorting to mass layoffs. But unlike the U.S. program that – in theory, at least — targets small businesses, the U.K. program is open to all employers.

Some 7.5 million jobs in the U.K. have now been furloughed through the system — positions that could have simply disappeared if not for the government’s intervention, Sunak told the House of Commons on Tuesday. For comparison, the government said earlier this year that the U.K.’s workforce had grown to a record of roughly 33 million people.

“We believe in the dignity of work,” Sunak said, “and we are doing everything we can to protect people currently unable to work.”

The U.K.’s unemployment rate is expected to more than double because of the coronavirus, from a recent 4% to 9% in the second quarter, the Bank of England warned last week.

News of the extension was welcomed by large union and business groups, with the British Chambers of Commerce praising its continued inclusion of all sectors. Stressing the program’s importance, the BCC said that more than 70% of the firms it surveyed said they have furloughed part of their staff.

“The more good businesses saved now, the stronger and sooner our national revival will be,” said Confederation of British Industry Director General Carolyn Fairbairn.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said the plan will bring “massive relief for millions of working families.”

The British system allows employers that furlough employees to use a government grant to cover 80% of the workers’ normal monthly wages, up to 2,500 pounds a month. It also pays “the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and pension contributions … on that subsidized furlough pay.”

The U.K. program will continue in its current state through July. After that point, the government expects businesses to contribute to the cost of workers’ payments. The furlough plan will also add more flexibility, including the ability of employers to bring workers back on the job part-time, Sunak said.

Details about the extended plan will be announced at the end of May, Sunak said.

The chancellor announced the furlough extension one week before the U.K. is due to release new unemployment numbers that will reflect COVID-19’s impact on the economy.



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A woman wears a face mask on Monday as she walks along a street in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province. Wuhan reported new cases of COVID-19 after going more than a month without new infections.

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A woman wears a face mask on Monday as she walks along a street in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province. Wuhan reported new cases of COVID-19 after going more than a month without new infections.

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Wuhan is reporting a small new cluster of COVID-19 cases, more than a month after lockdown restrictions were eased in the city that was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. Wuhan now has at least six new COVID-19 cases, the first to be confirmed in Hubei province in at least 35 days.

“An 89-year-old Wuhan man tested positive for COVID-19 this week,” NPR’s Emily Feng reports from Beijing, adding that the man’s wife and several other people who lived in the same residential community also tested positive — although they had displayed no clinical symptoms of the disease.

“The rise of such hard-to-detect asymptomatic cases has alarmed public health authorities in China, who have ramped up contact tracing and testing efforts,” Feng says.

A local Communist Party official was swiftly fired over the new cases in Wuhan, with officials accusing Zhang Yuxin of “poor management over the closing-off and control of the Sanmin residential community,” according to the state-run People’s Daily.

Hubei province endured a two-month lockdown that eased in late March; the city of Wuhan emerged from many restrictions in early April. The latest sign of a return to normal came last week, when some high school students returned to class in Hubei.

But as social and business restrictions are being eased in China and other countries, health officials are wary of a second wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

While China’s central government has allowed travel to resume between provinces as part of a return to life before the global pandemic, the country is still being confronted by new hot spots.

After more than a dozen new cases were reported over the weekend in the city of Shulan in the northeast province of Jilin, some 600,000 residents were effectively put under lockdown orders, according to media outlet Caixan.

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