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:
— Expansion of mail-in voting on hold in Texas.
— California school districts to decide on their own when and how to open.
— Brazilian president unveils new measures to expand use of chloroquine.
AUSTIN, Texas — A court ruling that paved the way in Texas for a dramatic expansion of mail-in voting over fears of the coronavirus is now on hold.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals voted Wednesday to temporarily put aside any expansion of mail-in voting while the case is under review. The order came less than 24 hours after a federal judge in San Antonio ruled that Texas must give all 16 million registered voters in the state the option of casting a ballot by mail during the pandemic.
The fight in Texas is one of several nationwide over expanding access to mail-in voting during the pandemic. Texas generally limits mail-in ballots to voters 65 or older, or those with a “sickness or physical condition.”
Republican Texas Attorney General Paxton has asserted that fear of getting the virus doesn’t qualify as a disability under the law.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s Tulare County is facing pushback from the state as it pushes the boundaries on reopening beyond what state officials allow.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration told Tulare County officials they could lose out on state and federal disaster funding if they don’t follow the state’s rules. The Central Valley county’s board of supervisors voted Tuesday to allow most businesses and churches to reopen.
More than half the state’s counties have won state approval to reopen things like restaurants for diners and other businesses. Newsom has outlined a four-stage process to ease restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
SAN FRANCISCO — California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond says school districts will make their own decisions about when, and how, to open during this COVID-19 era.
Thurmond said Wednesday he expects most school districts to open as usual in late August or September, but with classes that look radically different to maintain social-distancing standards.
Expected is a mix of in-person and distance learning with fewer children in classes, hallways and other common areas. They will wear masks, as will teachers and staff.
Thurmond plans to hold a virtual meeting Thursday with representatives from 1,000 districts to get an idea of what schools are thinking they’ll have to do to keep students safe and buildings sanitized.
California has 6 million K-12 students.
RIO DE JANEIRO — The administration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday unveiled new measures to expand use of chloroquine, the predecessor of an anti-malaria drug promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump as a treatment for COVID-19.
The new guidelines were approved by Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, who became interim Health Minister after his predecessor was fired five days ago. Pazuello had no health experience until he became the ministry’s No. 2 official in April.
Bolsonaro wrote on his official Facebook page that “there is still no scientific evidence, but it is being monitored and used in Brazil and worldwide.”
Health officials say the virus has killed nearly 18,000 Brazilians and infected at least 271,600 people in the South American country.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city, authorities announced a six-day “mega-holiday” in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, after the state’s death toll surpassed 5,000 this week.
MOSCOW — The Russian military has set up a quarantine facility at a Siberian gold mine where hundreds have been infected with the novel coronavirus.
The Olimpiada mine in the town of Yeruda has emerged as a top spot of contagion, with more than 800 workers testing positive for COVID-19.
The Defense Ministry said Wednesday that it has set up a quarantine camp capable of accommodating 2,000 people. Those who get sick will be treated at a nearby field hospital set up by the military, which has sent 77 medics and hundreds of support personnel to the mine to deal with the outbreak.
Russia has ranked second behind the United States in the number of infections, with more than 300,000 coronavirus cases.
MADRID — The regional authority of Madrid is appealing to Spain’s Supreme Court over the Spanish government’s refusal to ease its lockdown.
The Madrid regional government said in a statement Wednesday it believes that technical assessments over what areas can loosen restrictions adopted to stem the new coronavirus outbreak are not being applied in the same way in different parts of the country.
The Madrid region has officially recorded almost 67,000 of the country’s 232,000 COVID-19 cases, making it the hardest-hit area.
The conservative Popular Party, which is the Socialist-led national government’s main opposition, has a controlling majority in the Madrid regional authority.
TORONTO — Canada is recommending that its citizens wear masks if proper social distancing can’t be maintained.
Canada’s Chief Public Health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says the use of non-medical masks, or face coverings, is recommended as an added layer of protection when physical distancing of 2 meters (6 feet) is difficult.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s started wearing a mask when he’s out of his home and can’t keep a safe distance from others at all times. He was wearing one when he arrived at Parliament on Wednesday.
Canadian health officials once recommended against the wearing of face masks but adjusted that advice in early April when it became clear the novel coronavirus can be spread by people who aren’t showing symptoms.
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state’s unemployment rate shot up to 15.4% in April and the state’s economy lost 527,000 jobs in the month as a result of the economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s the highest jobless rate the state has seen since it started keeping records in the 1970s. The previous record was 12.2% in November 1982, said Paul Turek, an economist for the state’s Employment Security Department.
April’s rate, released Wednesday, is a significant jump from March’s 5.1%, though officials had warned April’s numbers would more truly reflect the widespread closing of restaurants and other businesses, which began in mid-March.
February’s unemployment rate was 3.8%.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the country won’t be cutting foreign aid due to the coronavirus pandemic, and further relief for poor nations is needed.
Speaking Wednesday after a video meeting with heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary fund and three other global economic bodies, Merkel noted last month’s agreement to freeze poor countries’ debt obligations and said that “as far as the sustainability of debt is concerned further steps need to follow.”
Merkel didn’t spell out whether Germany would go so far as agreeing to debt relief.
CHICAGO — Ford resumed production of the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator on Wednesday morning at its Chicago SUV factory, only to shut down again after running short of seats made at a Lear Corp. factory in nearby Hammond, Indiana.
Lear confirmed that production was suspended after an employee told the company of a positive COVID-19 test.
Ford temporarily halted production at the factory twice on Tuesday after two workers tested positive for the disease, and on Wednesday a worker at the company’s pickup truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan, also tested positive for COVID-19, forcing a work stoppage there.
Employees who came in contact with the worker in Dearborn were sent home for 14 days. Production was expected to resume Wednesday night.
The company says all three workers contracted COVID-19 outside the factories, triggering protocols that included sanitizing equipment and isolating employees who came in contact with the affected workers.
The shutdowns on Tuesday came just a day after Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler restarted their U.S. factories after being idle for about two months due to the disease.
GENEVA — The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization says an end to U.S. funding for the U.N. health agency would have a “major implication for delivering essential health services to the most vulnerable people in the world.”
Dr. Michael Ryan was responding to questions from reporters about a letter sent by U.S. President Donald Trump threatening an end to funding from the United States, its biggest donor, unless the agency reforms.
The comments came on a day when a total of 106,000 COVID-19 cases were reported to WHO over a 24-hour period, the most in a single day since the outbreak began.
Ryan said the U.S. funding that reaches the WHO emergencies program was “on the order of $100 million a year” and much of it goes to “humanitarian health operations all over the world, in all sorts of fragile and difficult settings.”
Ryan expressed concern about any such funding cuts and said, if necessary, the agency would have to work with other partners to make sure the money is there.
MILAN — More than two weeks into Phase II of gradual reopening in Italy, the number of reported new coronavirus infections grew by 665 on Wednesday to 227,364, with nearly half in the northern region of Lombardy that has been the epicenter for Italy’s epidemic.
Five regions reported no new cases of COVID-19 and nine regions reported no deaths, according to the civil protection agency.
Deaths in the country rose by 161 to 32,330, the lion’s share in Lombardy, and pressure on hospitals continued to ease, with 400 fewer beds occupied with COVID-19 patients, including 40 in ICUs.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s health minister does not expect a second wave of infections in the country in the coming months, but says his ministry is monitoring the possibility of a risk in September or October.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday following a weekly meeting of the country’s scientific advisory council, Fahrettin Koca said the country is preparing to open to domestic travel next month by introducing a system of certification that will allow passengers with no health issues to travel on planes and trains. The system will also allow health authorities to easily track travelers and anyone they came into to contact with if they fall ill, he said.
The country is also preparing to accept travelers from 31 nations who want to visit Turkey for medical purposes, Koca said.
The announcement came as the number of confirmed infections and deaths in the country continued to drop. Turkey registered 23 COVID-19 deaths and 972 new confirmed cases in the most recent 24-hour period, the first time the number of infections was below 1,000 in two months. The total number of confirmed infections now stands at nearly 153,000 with 4,222 deaths.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s long-awaited tourist season will begin on June 15 with the opening of seasonal hotels.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis says international flights will begin heading directly to tourist destinations on July 1. In a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, Mitsotakis says visitors would be subject to sample coronavirus testing and “our general health protocols will be adhered to.”
The government imposed a lockdown early in Greece’s outbreak, which has been credited with keeping the number of deaths and critically ill people at low levels.
Mitsotakis announced a reduction in consumer taxes on transportation from 24% to 13%, which will lead to cheaper boat, plane and bus tickets during the tourist season. There’s also a cut on tax on coffee, soft drinks and open-air movie theater tickets.
Health authorities announced one death Wednesday and 10 new confirmed coronavirus cases. That brings the total confirmed cases to 2,850 and 166 dead in the country of nearly 11 million people.
MADRID — Spain has registered a fourth consecutive day of fewer than 100 deaths from the coronavirus.
That’s down from more than 900 fatalities a day at the height of its outbreak in early April.
The Spanish Health Minister reported 95 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 Wednesday, taking the overall death toll to 27,888.
The health ministry also reported 416 new infections over the last 24 hours confirmed by laboratory tests. More than 232,000 infections have been confirmed by laboratory tests, and 49,600 Spaniards have tested positive from an antibody test.
Spain is edging toward reactivating its economy, and wearing a face mask is mandatory while outside the home.
BERLIN — Germany hopes to reach agreement with fellow European countries on rolling back travel restrictions in time for the summer holiday season.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says “we hope to be able to lift the worldwide travel warning at least for the European Union after June 14 and replace it with lower level travel advice.”
Maas says countries had gotten “a good bit closer” to that goal with Germany’s nine neighbors and an earlier round of negotiations with 11 other European countries this week.
Maas says Germany wants a “coordinated and transparent process” across the EU that avoids individual countries pressing ahead in a bid for income from tourism when the pandemic isn’t yet defeated.
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