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Things to Know: Face covering rules vary by jurisdiction

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Health authorities want people to wear masks or face coverings outdoors to help prevent spread of the coronavirus, but is it a hard and fast rule? It depends. Here are things to know:

WHY WEAR A MASK?

Health experts say face coverings help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Cloth coverings cannot block the virus itself. However, they can provide some protection from droplets from breath and saliva that can carry the disease. Some people don’t realize they are infected because they have no symptoms. If they wear a mask, it limits the possibility of them unwittingly spreading the disease.

HOW IS THE LOS ANGELES MASK REQUIREMENT DIFFERENT?

The city of Los Angeles has the strictest requirement of any major city in the state. Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an order this week saying: “All individuals engaging in outdoor activities, except for water activities, must wear a cloth face covering.” That includes everything from walking around the block to skateboarding. The order exempts children under 2 and people with certain disabilities. Even in surrounding Los Angeles County it’s a little less stringent. Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer say masks aren’t needed for solitary walks or jogs.

DO I HAVE TO WEAR IT IN THE CAR?

Garcetti says no. But he emphasized wearing it other places when away from home and applying social distancing are foundational elements to continuing the progress Los Angeles has made against the virus.

ABOUT THE VIRUS

As of Friday, 1,755 people have died due to COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, which has a quarter of the state’s nearly 40 million residents but more than half the deaths. Slight decreases in hospitalizations have occurred over the last week and a half and “we are encouraged,” Ferrer said. For the most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms for up to three weeks. The vast majority recover. Some older adults and people with existing health problems can experience severe illness including pneumonia and death.

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Kroger offers Fred Meyer workers extra pay after outcry

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Kroger, the parent company of grocer Fred Meyer, announced Friday that it will provide “thank you” payments to hourly employees after a union outcry over the company ending a $2 per hour pay bump it implemented in March amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union held rallies Friday at Fred Meyer stores seeking additional pay for workers while the pandemic continues, KREM-TV reported.

Kroger officials said Friday that bonus payments of $400 and $200 for full- and part-time employees will be paid in two installments in May and June.

Fred Meyer has locations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska.

“Our associates have been instrumental in feeding America while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic,” Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO, said in statement. “As the country moves toward reopening, we will continue to safeguard our associates’ health and well-being and recognize their work.”

Testing for the coronavirus is available for Fred Meyer employees based on their symptoms and medical need, said Fred Meyer spokesperson Jeffrey Temple. Workers who are most directly affected by the virus or experiencing related symptoms have been provided with emergency leave or paid time off, he said.

Fred Meyer has also added safety measures throughout the stores including plexiglass partitions on check-out stands and masks for employees.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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Potential vaccine shown to protect monkeys from coronavirus

A potential vaccine has proven to protect monkeys from pneumonia caused by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the National Institutes of Health and University of Oxford.

The results have not been peer-reviewed, but a phase one trial began April 23 in healthy volunteers in the United Kingdom.

The pharmaceutical industry and health officials around the world are racing to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. President Trump said Friday that he enlisting the government, manufacturers and the military to secure a vaccine before the end of the year in his campaign, called “Operation Warp Speed.”

The vaccine was developed at the University of Oxford Jenner Institute. Oxford has partnered with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca for the further development, large-scale manufacturing and possible distribution of the vaccine.

In the study, six rhesus macaques were injected with a single dose of the vaccine called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 28 days before being infected with SARS-CoV-2 and compared to three control animals that did not receive the vaccine. The vaccinated animals showed no signs of virus replication in the lungs, significantly lower levels of respiratory disease and no lung damage compared to the control animals, NIH said Friday.

The researchers posted their data to the preprint server bioRxiv. The data can be found here.

The vaccine uses a replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus to deliver a SARS-CoV-2 protein to induce a protective immune response. ChAdOx1 has been used to develop investigational vaccines against several pathogens, including the coronavirus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

The scientists adjusted the platform to SARS-CoV-2 when the first cases of COVID-19 appeared. The vaccine rapidly induced immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 in mice and rhesus macaques. The research team then tested the vaccine’s effectiveness on the macaques at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana.

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Nominations sought for home for U.S. Space Command

The Air Force is asking the nation’s governors to recommend locations that could be the home of the United States Space Command — the newest U.S. military combatant command.

When fully established, U.S. Space Command will have about 1,400 military and civilian personnel working within its headquarters. The provisional headquarters is currently in Colorado Spring, Colorado, but that could change.

Pentagon officials are allowing eligible communities to self-nominate to serve as the permanent home for U.S. Space Command. The new headquarters should be ready for move-in within six years, officials said.

“We are requesting your endorsement of any self-nominations from eligible communities to ensure they have the support of the state government,” according to the letter to the nation’s governors from Assistant Secretary of the Air Force John W. Henderson.

On Friday, the Air Force released the criteria for local communities to be eligible. It must be within one of the 150 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. and within 25 miles or less of a military base that can support the personnel with services like house and commissaries.

The new home for U.S. Space Command also must provide a quality of life that enables them to attract and retain a skilled workforce, officials said.

The top scoring candidate cities will receive a site visit. Pentagon officials expect to make the final selection in early 2021.

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US begins ‘warp speed’ vaccine push as studies ramp up

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump vowed to use “every plane, truck and soldier” to distribute COVID-19 vaccines he hopes will be ready by year’s end – even as the country’s top scientists gear up for a master experiment to rapidly tell if any really work.

Trump on Friday declared the vaccine program he calls “Operation Warp Speed” will be “unlike anything our country has seen since the Manhattan Project.”

The goal is to have 300 million doses in stock by January, a huge gamble since a vaccine never has been created from scratch so fast – and one that could waste millions if shots chosen for the production line don’t pan out. As the manufacturing side gets into place, the National Institutes of Health is working in parallel to speed the science.

At least four or five possible vaccines “look pretty promising” and one or two will be ready to begin large-scale testing by July with others to follow soon, NIH Director Francis Collins told The Associated Press.

“The big challenge now is to go big and everybody is about ready for that. And we want to be sure that happens in a coordinated way,” Collins said.

That year-end goal is a “very bold plan … a stretch goal if there ever was one,” he said in an interview late Thursday.

Worldwide, about a dozen vaccine candidates are in the first stages of testing or poised to begin, small safety studies in people to look for obvious problems and whether the shots rev up the immune system. Among those getting the most attention are one created by the NIH and Moderna Inc., and a different type created by Britain’s Oxford University.

Current tests “are looking pretty good,” Collins said. “But until you put it into the real world and check it out you don’t really know. You can’t skip over that really, really hard part of testing this in thousands and thousands of people.”

For those next-step studies, NIH is working with some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms to create a master plan so each potential vaccine is tested the same way, using the same database, instead of each company devising its own methods. That partnership – called ACTIV or Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines – is like an umbrella where vaccine makers can sign on when they’re ready to start enrolling.

Some key questions are how those at highest risk from COVID-19, such as older adults and people with chronic health problems, will respond to the shots.

“If you had a vaccine that only worked for 20-year-olds and didn’t work for 70-year-olds, that would not be a success,” Collins said.

While Collins’ team musters the needed science, Trump on Friday appointed Moncef Slaoui, a former GlaxoSmithKline executive, to lead the broader warp-speed project, along with Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the commander of United States Army Materiel Command.

The project also will work on new treatment and testing options, but vaccines are a priority.

“When a vaccine is ready, the U.S. government will deploy every plane, truck and soldier required to help distribute it to the American people as quickly as possible,” Trump said in a Rose Garden event.

The World Health Organization and global health leaders have made clear that any vaccine must be shared equally between rich and poor countries. Trump said the U.S. would work with other countries, no matter who found a vaccine first.

“We have no ego when it comes to this,” he said. He later added, “the last thing anybody’s looking for is profit.”

Slaoui, a veteran vaccine developer, said the goals are “very credible,” but added, “I also believe they are extremely challenging.”

Some groups are questioning Slaoui’s financial conflicts of interest; he has resigned from Moderna’s board.

Despite all the emphasis on speed, Collins stressed that “no corners are going to be cut” on safety and scientists will be carefully looking for side effects.

But he added: “If we can get this vaccine out there even a day sooner than otherwise we might have, that’s going to matter to somebody.”

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Nursing homes want access to beds in COVID-19 recovery homes

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Connecticut nursing homes want greater access to available beds in other such homes that are part of an experiment dedicating them to discharged hospital patients recovering from COVID-19.

“Today these centers only address hospital surge patients,” representatives of several state nursing home industry organizations said in a written statement Thursday evening. “However, as those numbers continue to decrease, the alternative recovery centers should be made available to accept transfers directly from other nursing homes or assisted living communities.”

They cited recent numbers showing at least one case in 238 of the state’s nursing homes or assisted living centers. New data released Thursday shows more than 2,000 confirmed and probable deaths related to COVID-19 in the homes.

Josh Geballe, Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief operating officer, said there is flexibility to help nursing homes that cannot properly separate residents for infection control.

“There is still significant additional capacity in those COVID recovery sites that we’ve stood up,” said Geballe, noting there are currently 267 people in those facilities. “But there’s significantly more capacity than that, and people are being discharged from them every day.”

Connecticut is in the process of dedicating homes as COVID-19 recovery sties to free up about 800 beds in hospitals. The long plan was to contract with more nursing home operators and have 1,175 beds available in COVID-19 recovery homes, state health officials said.

The concept has been introduced in some other states, including Massachusetts and Utah, but not on as large a scale as in Connecticut.

For most people, the virus 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, or death.

In other coronavirus-related developments around Connecticut:

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TESTING CHILDREN

The Hartford HealthCare system has begun testing children under age 12 for the coronavirus.

The ramped-up testing comes amid concern over a rare childhood syndrome believed to be linked to COVID-19 that can cause inflammation and serious problems in organs, including the heart.

Dr. Lucia Benzoni-Diek, a pediatrician with Hartford HealthCare, said the condition, which is believed to affect about one in 1,000 children with the coronavirus, could complicate plans to reopen schools in the fall.

The syndrome, which is similar to Kawasaki disease and occurs after someone has recovered from COVID-19, can be treated but is unpredictable, she said.

“It’s going to be kind of hard, unless we do some active screening for the active disease, to keep it out of the schools and out of the day care settings,” she said. “It is a scary risk. The benefits of opening versus the benefits of staying closed are going have to be weighed very carefully.”

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Tourists enter reopened Grand Canyon despite virus concerns

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. (AP) – Tourists appeared ready to roam Grand Canyon National Park again after it partially reopened Friday, despite objections from Navajo officials and others that it could hurt efforts to control the coronavirus.

By 7:30 a.m., more than two dozen people were enjoying some viewpoints along the South Rim.

Among them were friends Jack Covington from Texas and Judy Smith from Tucson, Arizona. They had planned their trip to the Grand Canyon a year ago since Covington had never seen it. They changed their plans and were visiting other places in Northern Arizona when they found out the park would be open.

“We figured we’d go for an adventure and we got lucky,” Smith said.

Park officials said the South Rim entrance will only open from 6-10 a.m. through Monday. Visitors have limited daytime access to viewpoints, picnic areas and some restrooms. The east entrance to the South Rim will remain closed. The North Rim remains closed.

“This initial reopening phase will increase access to our public lands in a responsible way by offering the main feature of the park for the public, the view of the canyon, while reducing the potential exposure of COVID-19 to our nearly 2,500 residents,” Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Ed Keable said.

Commercial services within the park remain closed. Visitors were told to bring food, water and hand sanitizer. There are no overnight accommodations available.

The National Park Service says it is working with federal, state and local public health authorities to closely monitor the pandemic and using a phased approach to increase access on a park-by-park basis.

However, officials on the hard-hit Navajo Nation, which stretches into northern Arizona, expressed disappointment at the reopening. There have been at least 3,632 positive cases and 127 deaths on the reservation, which also includes portions of New Mexico and Utah.

“We welcome the economic benefits that tourists bring, but we are also fearful of the potential negative impacts and had hoped that when the Grand Canyon closed on April 1, the park would remain closed until our positive COVID-19 numbers have flattened,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said.

The Sierra Club also cited the Navajo Nation in its criticism of the reopening. Alicyn Gitlin of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter said it could result in a “patrolling and enforcement nightmare.”

“Cases in Coconino County where Grand Canyon’s South Rim is located are still rising,” Gitlin said. “The large population that lives at Grand Canyon and all nearby communities are put at risk by this move.”

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. ____

Associated Press photographer Matt York contributed to this report.

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CBS orders a third ‘Star Trek’ series with Spock onboard

NEW YORK (AP) – CBS All Access is bringing back Spock for its third full live action show in the “Star Trek” universe, ordering a new series set in the years before Capt. James T. Kirk helmed the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” will star Anson Mount as Capt. Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Number One and Ethan Peck as Science Officer Spock.

It will be the third show in the Alex Kurtzman-pioneered Trekverse after “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Star Trek: Picard.” Peck, Mount and Romijn will be reprising their respective roles from Season 2 of “Discovery.”

“Fans fell in love with Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn and Ethan Peck’s portrayals of these iconic characters when they were first introduced on ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ last season,” said Julie McNamara, executive vice president and head of programming at CBS All Access. “This new series will be a perfect complement to the franchise, bringing a whole new perspective and series of adventures to ‘Star Trek.’”

There’s also an animated series in the works, “Star Trek: Lower Decks.”

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Zoom planning to hire hundreds of software engineers in U.S. amid growing hostility with China

The Zoom video conferencing company is making plans to hire hundreds of new workers in the U.S. as the company looks to offset the security risks associated with the company’s ties to China.

Zoom is based in California but has engineers working in China, which has contributed to security concerns expressed by U.S. officials. Now, the company wants to add as many as 500 software engineers for research and development operations to be located in Arizona and Pennsylvania. The company is looking to staff up near Arizona State University in the Phoenix area and near Carnegie Mellon University in the Pittsburgh area.

“Both Phoenix and Pittsburgh have incredibly well-educated, skilled, and diverse talent pools that are well-positioned to help support Zoom’s ongoing growth and continued success,” Eric S. Yuan, Zoom CEO, said in a statement. “We plan to hire up to 500 software engineers between these two cities in the next few years, drawing largely on the recent graduates of many universities.”

On Friday, President Trump took new action to block semiconductor shipments to China’s Huawei, by changing a Commerce Department export rule. The move is expected to put stress on the United States’ relationship with China and could cause internet and technology companies to also rethink how they do business.

The growing animosity between the U.S. and China has led to Republican senators’ new proposal this week to allow Mr. Trump the ability to sanction China because of its unwillingness to cooperate with investigations into the origins and spread of coronavirus.

Zoom was rejected by the Department of Defense for its official business last month because of safety concerns, which involve the company’s operations in China.

As videoconferencing and teleconferencing software has become a necessity amid the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom has become the premier platform for many industries and institutions in the public and private sectors. The company has grown rapidly in recent months to include hundreds of millions of users and a market capitalization nearing $49 billion on Friday.

Zoom has plenty of competitors, including Facebook which recently launched its Messenger Rooms feature to seize on the social video chat growth that has propelled Zoom during the coronavirus outbreak.

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Once adversaries, Boston lawyers now aid COVID-19 caregivers

During a storied legal career, Clyde Bergstresser has become one of the go-to medical malpractice lawyers in Massachusetts. But as COVID-19 cases surged at Boston area hospitals, Bergstresser found his sympathies aligning with the professions he has often fingered in million-dollar lawsuits.

“I’ve made a lot of money suing the health care industry. This seems like a good time to give back,” he said.

Rather than make a personal donation to one of the city’s many hospitals, Bergstresser blitzed the local legal community, corralling support from some of the city’s most prominent attorneys in a new non-profit they are calling, “Lawyers Honoring COVID Caregivers.”

The idea is to use the considerable influence of board members, and a quickly designed website, to raise money for front-line care givers.

Although a variety of recipients could qualify for the funds, Bergstresser said the group is targeting Boston EMS, the city’s ambulance service, and Boston Medical Center, a safety-net hospital that serves the city’s poor.

Norman Stein, the chief development officer at BMC, said the funds are arriving just in time and are likely to be used for a variety of items that don’t normally pop up on the hospital’s budget.

For instance, the hospital is housing nearly 140 staffers at a nearby Hampton Inn so they can be sure they won’t infect family members with the novel coronavirus. The staffers run the professional gamut, from doctors and nurses to maintenance workers, dietitians and medical technicians. And they have been staying at the inn anywhere from two to 50 nights.

“At the end of the day you really want to go home. But should you go home?” Stein asked. “If staffers decide they’d rather not, they can stay at the hotel.”

Another unexpected expense has been food and financial support for some of the 750 staffers, many of them low-wage earners, who were furloughed as the hospital stopped providing elective surgeries and other non-emergency procedures while gearing up for the rush of COVID-19 patients.

At the peak of the surge, which is cresting in Massachusetts, 70 percent of the hospital’s beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, a higher percentage than at any of Boston’s other hospitals, according to Stein.

At Boston EMS, chief of staff Laura Segal said the lawyers’ interests were “perfectly aligned” with the goals of agency’s Peer Support Unit, which helps EMTs and paramedics who may be traumatized after responding to emergencies.

Pat Calter, the unit coordinator, said it typically helps emergency personnel recover by encouraging them to take time for themselves with meditation, yoga or a physical workout, and by relying on the support of their fellow EMTs and paramedics. “There needs to be guidance, there needs to be support and there needs to be a safety net, and we provide all three,” he said.

Calter said the funds coming from the lawyers are especially welcome because it is expected that when the pandemic eases, EMTs and paramedics will show the effects of the strain under which they’ve been living.

“Members are out there burning the candle at both ends. They’re going to fall hard, and we need to lessen the blow and soften the landing,” he said.

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While nonstop global news about the effects of the coronavirus have become commonplace, so, too, are the stories about the kindness of strangers and individuals who have sacrificed for others. “One Good Thing” is an AP continuing series reflecting these acts of kindness.

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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