HHS Secretary Alex Azar insisted Sunday it was safe to reopen the economy in certain states, while a White House adviser said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's botched early coronavirus testing efforts "let the country down."
Meanwhile, NASCAR became the latest professional sport to return and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a coronavirus test during his press conference to show how easy it is.
Also Sunday, churches in North Carolina were free to conduct services without restrictions after Gov. Roy Cooper said he would not appeal a federal judge's ruling against Cooper's edict that churches be limited to 10 worshippers.
The U.S. has the largest coronavirus outbreak in the world by far. There are more than 89,000 deaths and almost 1.5 million confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. Worldwide, the virus has killed more than 315,000 people and has infected more than 4.7 million.
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Here are some highlights to know Sunday:
When Wisconsin's statewide stay-at-home order was tossed by the state's Supreme Court, many expected city and county officials to issue their own rules. But soon, some local leaders started canceling their orders over legal concerns.
Graduates around the country deprived of a traditional graduation were treated to a star-studded virtual graduation ceremony, including a commencement address from Oprah Winfrey.
What we're talking about: Having classes and graduations canceled is tough on students. For college towns, it's devastating.
Something to smile about: These blue bees are known for sticking their heads in pollen. They've been spotted in Florida for the first time in years.
HHS Secretary says it's safe to reopen, downplays need for vaccine
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar defended the push to reopen the U.S. economy by championing testing and said that “everything does not depend on a vaccine.”
Azar said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “almost half of our reporting counties haven’t had a single death” and added that more than 60% of confirmed coronavirus cases are in only 2% of reporting counties.
But as several states have lifted stay-at-home restrictions, images of crowded bars, restaurants and public outdoor areas have led to concerns that there could be a resurgence of new cases.
“In any individual instance you're going to see people doing things that are irresponsible,” Azar said. “That's part of the freedom we have here in America.”
NASCAR returns to track at Darlington Raceway
NASCAR became the latest professional sports league to resume competition, following in the footsteps of German Bundesliga soccer restarting its season with matches this weekend.
The Real Heroes 400 NASCAR Cup Series race was held Sunday at the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. Kevin Harvick won the race, which was his 50th career victory. Drivers received health checks upon arriving at the facility, and various crew members have been wearing face masks and other protective coverings. The race was held without fans and social distancing directives are required.
An aggressive schedule calls for four more races to be held in the next two weeks as the series attempts to get back on schedule after being stopped in March with just four of its 36 events held.
The World Health Organization will hold its convention online for first time
The 73rd World Health Assembly, where leaders worldwide usually convene in Geneva to discuss health topics, will take place online Monday. It will focus on the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 315,000 people, and infected over 4.7 million, across the globe. Among the key issues will be the potential development of a vaccine and how to distribute it across the world.
The WHO's 194 member states generally meet every year to discuss the organization's policies and budget, and to appoint the director-general. In April, President Donald Trump halted funding to the WHO after criticizing its handling of the pandemic. The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump is considering to cut off funding again after plans to restore its funds.
Immigration agency asks for emergency funds to stay afloat
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes citizenship applications and work visas, is requesting funds from Congress to stay afloat amid the coronavirus outbreak. On Friday, the agency asked for $1.2 billion in emergency funding and said it would reimburse taxpayers by adding a 10% surcharge to application fees.
The agency, which largely relies on the fees it charges people seeking to live or work in the country, said the number of applications have declined because of the pandemic. Its revenue could drop by 61% through the end of the year, The Associated Press reports.
The pandemic has affected the immigration system in the U.S., with visa processing being suspended and travel to America restricted. President Donald Trump also ordered a 60-day pause on issuing green cards in April to protect the jobs of American citizens during the pandemic.
Gov. Cuomo gets COVID-19 test during his press conference
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was tested for cornavirus during his press conference Sunday to show how quick and easy it is to receive the nasal swab screening. Cuomo interrupted his own news conference to have a physician stick a nasal swab deep into his nose, though the test result was not immediately available. Cuomo had previously expressed resistance to being tested for COVID, arguing that he had not displayed symptoms nor been directly exposed to anyone who has tested positive. But he urged state residents with symptoms to get tested, saying it's so easy that "even a governor can do it."
– Jon Campbell
Trump adviser: CDC 'really let the country down with the testing'
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "really did set us back" in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak by keeping testing within the bureaucracy and providing a faulty test, White House adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday.
"The CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down," Navarro, the national Defense Production Act policy coordinator, told NBC's Meet the Press.
Navarro also defended President Trump for encouraging states to begin opening up, saying it's not about "lives vs. jobs." Unemployment-related depression and other issues, along with sick people unwilling to visit physicians, would cost more lives than would be lost by any additional COVID deaths, Navarro said.
73-year-old woman survives coronavirus after 51 days in intensive care
When Paula Eaton was wheeled on a gurney out of Baptist Hospital East, more than a dozen nurses created a tunnel to clap and cheer for her as the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" played in the background.
Paula holds the record for the hospital's longest amount of time a COVID-19 patient has spent in the Intensive Care Unit before being discharged.
When she was admitted to Baptist East Hospital on March 27, there were only 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Kentucky. She was within the first 20 people to test positive in the state.
After 51 days, several rounds of pneumonia, a blood infection, and weeks on a ventilator and tracheal tube, the 73 year old was released.
Here is where the virus isn't – and why
In just four months, the deadly COVID-19 virus has infiltrated every state and major U.S. city. But a scattering of remote counties continue without a single reported case, according to a USA TODAY analysis. As of May 15, a total of 231 of 3,143 counties had no reported cases. People in case-free counties said they don't consider their communities immune, just less exposed.
“To get to Hancock County, you either have to go over a ridge or a mountain,” said Tom Harrison, the mayor of Tennessee's last county with no recorded cases. “And hopefully that had a little something to do with the COVID. It’s had trouble finding us.”
– Mark Nichols and Natalie Allison
Thailand reopens malls; shoppers must register on smartphones
Thailand threw open the doors to its overwhelmingly popular shopping malls on Sunday after the number of new virus cases dwindled to single digits for all but one day over more than two weeks. Still, shoppers must use their smartphones to register electronically when entering and leaving a mall and when entering and leaving individual stores. If someone later falls ill, the data will be used to determine who may have been in contact with them at the mall.
Vaccine for millions by January? 'If everything goes in the right direction"
A vaccine for the novel coronavirus is possible by the end of the year "if everything goes in the right direction," the director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said Sunday. Dr. Tom Inglesby, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press," said the timeline is far from normal, but that these are not normal times. President Donald Trump said last week he hopes to have a vaccine widely available by January.
"There are many ways that it might not work,“ Inglesby said. "So, I don't think we should bank on it."
Wyoming reopenings include strip club
The Den in Cheyenne, Wyoming, became one of the nation's first strip clubs to reopen over the weekend, kicking things off with a "masks on, clothes off" party. The strippers performed in masks and little else, and there was plenty of hand sanitizer around the establishment. Wyoming has not been hard hit, relatively speaking, with fewer than 600 confirmed cases – another 175 listed as probable – and only seven deaths. Several of the dancers said they tried to earn money performing online, but that's not an easy niche to break into.
"You're competing with millions of other girls," says Elizabeth Thomas, president of the International Entertainment Adult Union. "And it's harder to do. You have to talk, text and be a pretzel."
– Trevor Hughes
Judge blocks North Carolina governor's virus-related orders on churches
Churches in North Carolina were free to hold indoor services Sunday without the severe restrictions imposed by Gov. Roy Cooper after a federal judge sided with conservative Christian leaders. Two Baptist churches, a minister and a Christian revival group filed a federal lawsuit claiming the restrictions violated their rights to worship freely and treated churches differently from retailers and other secular activities. The ordered had limited the services to 10 people while businesses were limited to 50% capacity and funeral services up to 50 people. Cooper said he would not appeal Saturday's ruling but urged religious leaders to voluntarily follow the guidelines.
Eric Trump says Biden 'thrilled' outbreak is halting campaign rallies
President Trump's son Eric says Democrats and their presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden are discouraging efforts to begin reopening the country because that would allow Trump to conduct campaign rallies. After Election Day, the political foes will determine that the coronavirus threat has "magically" gone away, the younger Trump said on Fox News.
"Biden loves this. Biden can't go on stage without making some horrible blunder," Trump said. "They think they're taking away Donald Trump's greatest tool, which is being able to go into an arena and fill it with 50,000 people every single time."
'Wet markets' threaten to fuel future pandemics
In the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government moved quickly to ban wildlife consumption and crack down on certain "wet markets" where snakes, civets and other exotic animals are sold along with more traditional livestock.
Scientists applauded the move as long overdue, but some fear it won't last – and they argue much more needs to be done to guard against future diseases that can make the animal-to-human leap.
"These wet markets are really perfectly conducive to spillover events," said George Wittemyer, an associate professor of wildlife and conservation biology at Colorado State University. "You have so many different species coming in – you have wild species interacting with domestic species.
– Deirdre Shesgreen
Obama says crisis spotlights inequalities
Former President Barack Obama made several surprisingly political comments and touched on current events when he spoke on “Show Me Your Walk, HBCU Edition,” a two-hour livestreaming event for historically black colleges and universities.
As he congratulated graduates and commiserated over the difficult world they face, the former president noted the February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, who was killed while jogging on a residential street in Georgia.
“Let’s be honest: A disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communicates have historically had to deal with in this country," Obama said. "We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning.”
Italy to open its borders in June
The Italian government announced Saturday that it will throw open its borders next month, effectively ending Europe’s longest and strictest coronavirus lockdown just as the summer tourism season gets under way.
Both regional and international borders will open June 3, and the government will eliminate a 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving from abroad. Many hope the move will revive a decimated tourist industry, which is worth 13% of Italy’s gross domestic product.
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5 sailors aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier test positive again
Five sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt that was sidelined in Guam by the COVID-19 outbreak have tested positive for the virus for the second time and have been taken off the ship, according to the Navy.
The resurgence of the virus in the five sailors underscores the baffling behavior of the highly contagious virus and raises questions about how troops that test positive can be reintegrated into the military, particularly on ships.
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Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus updates: Trump reopening safe; NASCAR back; Cuomo test