Navajo Nation still under lockdown

The Associated Press

Roundup of the latest news from the coronovirus pandemic

The Associated Press

Residents of the Navajo Nation will be under the strictest weekend lockdown yet, with grocery stores and gas stations closed, and even essential workers ordered to stay home.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez made the announcement after a spike in deaths that he attributed to shifting traffic patterns after the city of Gallup recently shut down to outside visitors. That lockdown in northwestern New Mexico has since ended.

On the Navajo Nation, residents will face citations, with potential fines and jail time, if they leave their homes during the lockdown, which starts Friday night and ends Monday around dawn. Nez urged people to listen and not pack their bags to head out of town during the lockdown.

“Stay home, that’s the bottom line. There’s nothing wrong with staying home and taking care of your home, taking care of your family members,” a frustrated Nez said Thursday. “We need to be able to recognize that what you do affects everybody.”

While the state of Arizona has loosened its restrictions on residents and businesses, the Navajo Nation has clamped down. The tribe already has daily nighttime curfews and requires people to wear masks when out in public. Government offices are closed or have limited services. The tribe's stay-at-home order has been extended to June 7, while Arizona's expired Friday.

As of Thursday, the tribe reported 127 deaths and 3,632 positive coronavirus cases since it first began tracking the figures. More than 500 people have recovered, tribal health officials said.

Loretta Christensen, the chief medical officer for the Navajo-area Indian Health Service, said the reservation's three largest hospitals hit capacity last week — in line with expected predictions — and a significant number of patients were transferred off the reservation.

“We're still getting cases across the area, but not at the velocity we did before,” she said in a call with reporters Thursday.

People who have tested positive but no longer need to be hospitalized are being encouraged to stay in one of three isolation centers set up in basketball gyms on and off the reservation to protect their families. Isolation tents also are available for those who would rather not leave their property, Christensen said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

McKinley County, which includes Gallup, had been the hot spot on the reservation because of a recent outbreak at a detox center. Apache County in Arizona surpassed it with the most COVID-19 cases on the reservation, according to the Thursday figures.

Apache County had 948 positive cases, while McKinley County had 928, tribal officials said. Navajo County in Arizona had 757 cases, and San Juan County in New Mexico had 428. Six other counties in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah had smaller numbers.

The Navajo Nation's total cases include 99 that previously weren't included because they took longer than usual to verify. Tribal officials also cited jurisdictional challenges.

Georgia says it's controlling outbreak

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Community leaders say an effort to tamp down the spread of COVID-19 is succeeding in northeast Georgia, the site of a recent outbreak that threatened to level the state's huge poultry processing industry.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp visited Gainesville on Friday to highlight the effort, with local leaders saying they believed community outreach and infection-control efforts had begun to control the disease.

Norma Hernandez of the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce says that over the past two weeks, community leaders have worked to present a message from people that Spanish speakers will trust. 

As poultry industry officials proudly noted Friday, Georgia is the nation's largest chicken producer, a $41 billion industry that employs more than 45,000 people statewide and turns out 15% of U.S. production.

Kemp's visit came as Georgia neared 37,000 overall infections and more than 1,550 deaths.

The state recently surpassed 300,000 tests, which Kemp hailed as a milestone in efforts to locate virus cases. The latest testing figure represents close to 3% of the state's population.

Vegas reopening

LAS VEGAS -- The city of Las Vegas has announced that downtown restaurants and businesses operating under the first two phases of state reopening orders are allowed to extend operations to the sidewalk during regular business hours. 

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that outdoor dining and sidewalk sales are now permitted. But each business must continue implementing social distancing measures by keeping tables, chairs and other furniture six feet from pedestrian paths. City spokesman Jace Radke says Las Vegas is currently in the first stage of reopening, which went into effect Saturday. The second phase will allow establishments to expand operations outside with additional restrictions.

New members added to task force

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence is adding five new members to the government's coronavirus task force as the White House increasingly focuses on efforts to reopen the country safely and hasten the development of vaccines for COVID-19.

The new members include two doctors focused on vaccine development: Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. Also joining the task force of about 20 members are Thomas Engels, director of the Health Resources and Services Administration, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Pence made the changes barely a week after the White House bowed to public pressure and shelved plans to begin to shut down the task force, which has been managing the U.S. response to the coronavirus since late January.

The task force announcement comes as Trump named a former pharmaceutical executive to lead his administration's all-out effort to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year.

West Virginia's next steps

CHARLESTON, W.Va. __ West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Friday stressed that medical experts are leading his plan to lift coronavirus restrictions, days after he widened his strategy at the request of business owners.

The Republican governor has expanded the most aggressive stage of his reopening plan to allow the reopening of gyms and tanning salons next week after he said the businesses bombarded his office with calls. Still, he said it's "way out in left field" to suggest he is making decisions based on political pressure.

"That noise or that pressure is not going to influence a decision in any way, no possibility," he said.

The governor has timed several reopenings around Memorial Day weekend. Gyms can open Monday. On Thursday, tanning salons, restaurants at half-capacity, big box stores and all-terrain vehicle rental businesses can reopen. Campgrounds can open for in-state residents Thursday, as can the Hatfield-McCoy trails, whitewater rafting and zipline businesses. The Greenbrier, a private resort Justice owns, is also set to reopen May 22.

It is unclear exactly what criteria Justice is using to decide when certain businesses resume operations.

A visibly frustrated Justice also railed against Democrats, including state lawmakers and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, for requesting that he spend the $1.25 billion the federal government sent West Virginia to cover medical expenses for the pandemic.

"I am absolutely not going to put this pandemic up with politics," he said in an aside that referenced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has become a frequent target during Justice's daily news briefings.

Justice has said he wants to use the federal aid package to backfill the state's ailing budget, though rules prevent such spending.

At least 62 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and around 1,400 have tested positive, health officials said.

British Columbia schools to open

VANCOUVER, British Columbia. Canada's Pacific Coast province of British Columbia is allowing schools to reopen on June 1 but on an optional and part time basis. British Columbia Education Minister Rob Fleming says kindergarten through grade five will be open two or three days. Fleming says there will be staggered lunches and recesses.

Fleming says grade six through 12 students will likely only attend school once a week. Parents will be given the choice to allow their children to attend. British Columbia Premier John Horgan says these steps will pave the way for a full start in September if it is safe. The province has roughly 2,392 of Canada's 74,532 confirmed cases.

Pennsylvania emerges from restrictions

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Another 2.6 million people across western Pennsylvania began to emerge from pandemic restrictions Friday as Gov. Tom Wolf prepared to announce that 12 more counties soon would join them in a partial easing.

Wolf planned to announce that Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne and York will be the next batch of counties moving to the "yellow" phase of his reopening plan, effective May 22, The Associated Press has learned. They are primarily in the south-central and northeast regions of the state.

They'll join residents of 13 lightly impacted counties — including the cities of Pittsburgh, Johnstown and Altoona — where Wolf lifted his stay-at-home orders on Friday and gave permission for retailers and other types of businesses to reopen. Twenty-four counties across a vast swath of primarily rural northern Pennsylvania were the first to see a partial reopening last week.

All told, by the end of next week, more than 40% of Pennsylvania's population of 12.8 million will have seen an easing of pandemic restrictions that were intended to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with very ill COVID-19 patients. 

'We are back, vaccine or no vaccine' says president

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday that he's hopeful to have a coronavirus vaccine on the market by the end of the year or shortly thereafter.

Moncef Slaoui, a former pharmaceutical executive who Trump has tapped to serve as the administration's virus czar, said that early trial data suggests that "a few hundred million doses of vaccine" will be delivered by late 2020.

Trump, speaking at a Rose Garden event, reiterated that he wants to see states move forward with reopening their economies.

"We are back, vaccine or no vaccine," Trump said.

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