As coronavirus spreads, people are getting more cautious and creative with their social interactions.


As Americans begin an unusual Memorial Day weekend, flags around the country will be at half-staff for victims of the virus. The death count in the U.S. is likely to hit 100,000 by early next week.

President Donald Trump said he ordered the flags to be lowered Friday through Sunday “in memory of the Americans we have lost to the CoronaVirus.” Flags will be at half-staff Monday “in honor of the men and women in our Military who have made the Ultimate Sacrifice for our Nation,” Trump tweeted.

Americans itching to get out of the house this weekend “can be outside” if they take proper social distancing precautions, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx advised Friday. “You can play golf. You can play tennis with marked balls. You can go to the beaches” while keeping at least six feet apart, she said.

About 96,400 people have died from the virus in the United States, more than a quarter of the 340,000 deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. There are more than 5.2 million confirmed cases around the globe, with 1.6 million in the United States alone.

Our live blog is being updated throughout the day. Refresh for the latest news, and get updates in your inbox with The Daily Briefing. Scroll down for more details.

Here are some highlights to know Saturday:

What we’re talking about: A growing number of studies and data on COVID-19 deaths confirm the link between obesity and an increased risk of serious illness and death from the virus.

Some good news: Three vaccine candidates are showing early promise.

Tracking the spread: He was negative for the flu but positive he had COVID-19. How his case could help experts.

Tale of two cities: 100 years ago, Philadelphia chose a parade over social distancing during the 1918 Spanish flu – and paid a heavy price

Staying Apart, Together: USA TODAY brings a newsletter about how to cope with these trying times straight to your inbox. 📥

Public remarks led to Florida data curator’s firing

The woman who raised questions about Florida’s COVID-19 data after being ousted as the data’s curator had been reprimanded several times and ultimately fired for violating Health Department policy by making public remarks about the information, state records show.

Rebekah Jones’ comments over the past week and a half in emails to researchers, interviews with a handful of media outlets and blog posts have sought to sow doubt about the credibility of the data now that she is no longer in that role.

State health officials strenuously deny any issue with the information’s accuracy as Gov. Ron DeSantis seeks to make a data-driven case for a step-by-step reopening of the state’s battered economy following safer-at-home orders. The Republican governor lashed out at a news conference earlier this week saying Jones had a pattern of “insubordination” and should have been fired months ago.

The Associated Press

Chief Justice to 2020 graduates: ‘You will be tested’

In a virtual commencement address to his son’s high school class, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. told graduates to appreciate their “genuine accomplishments” while preparing to be tested by a “jarring and unexpected world.”

“I think the pandemic is the world’s way of saying to mankind, you’re not in charge,” he said. “The pandemic has pierced our illusion of certainty and control.”

Like the Greatest Generation who fought in WWII, Roberts told students that they were among “one of the most challenged” graduating classes. He encouraged them to proceed with humility, compassion and courage. “The pandemic should teach us at least that,” he said.

Amid the sobering warning and advice, Roberts also added a bit of deadpan humor. “Now as for working remotely, I was asked whether the Justices participating in arguments from their homes would wear robes,” he said. “I didn’t know if the person was asking judicial or bath.”

‘Strong’ after shooting, El Paso now vulnerable to virus

Inked on skin and hashtagged on social media, the words “El Paso Strong” united city residents after a mass shooting at a Walmart last year.

As COVID-19 took hold in El Paso, government officials have tried to repurpose the slogan, much like “Don’t mess with Texas,” originally an anti-littering slogan, or “Keep Calm and Carry On,” a little-used WWII poster popularized in the internet age. But “El Paso Strong” hasn’t been embraced by the public in the context of the virus, which is challenging community ties in a region that normally transcends borders.

The region’s top elected official, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, initially supported tapping “El Paso Strong” to rally residents’ support for social distancing with the same zeal as they helped each other after the Aug. 3 shooting.

In some ways, life during the pandemic is not unlike the first few weeks after the shooting, when many residents were afraid to go out.

– The Associated Press

Obesity increases risk of COVID-19 severity, studies show

The chronic conditions that increase the risk of serious illness and death of COVID-19 are by now well known: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and being older than 65. Obesity is less well known or understood, but a growing number of studies and data on COVID-19 deaths confirm the link.

The extra weight on people in the 40-plus BMI range who contract COVID-19 increases the chance they will require hospitalization, most likely in the intensive care unit. It also hampers the ability of physicians to treat them, especially with ventilators, doctors say. Read more here.

– Jayne O’Donnell

Feds reassign warden at Louisiana prison hit hard by coronavirus

Federal officials have reassigned the warden of a Louisiana prison where the coronavirus has ravaged the compound, leaving eight inmates dead and infecting dozens of other prisoners and staffers.

The Bureau of Prisons said Friday that Oakdale, Louisiana, warden Rodney Myers had been assigned to “temporary duty” at the bureau’s South Central Regional Office in Texas. The bureau did not elaborate on the reason for the move. Myers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Early in the COVID-19 crisis, Oakdale had become the epicenter of the outbreak in the vast federal prison system. Conditions at the compound had drawn lawsuits from the ACLU and inmates who feared they would fall victim to the virus’ rapid spread.

– Kevin Johnson

NBA, Disney discuss resuming season in late July at Florida complex

The NBA’s plans to resume its season have taken a more concrete form.

The league has entered “exploratory conversations with the Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement Saturday.

The NBA, which suspended its season when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, has explored the idea of using a single site to resume games, and Las Vegas and Houston were other sites considered. But if the NBA restarts, the Disney complex makes sense for a variety of reasons, starting with the NBA’s relationship with Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN, two of the league’s main TV partners.

– Jeff Zillgitt


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DOJ to LA, Illinois: Lockdown orders may be illegal if too restrictive

The Justice Department is warning state and local officials that stay-at-home orders aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus may be illegal if they become too strict.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a letter Friday to Los Angeles officials that their recent comments suggesting that stay-at-home orders may be extended “may be both arbitrary and unlawful.” The Justice Department also said Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “sweeping limitations” on his state’s residents raise constitutional concerns.

New York permits recreational gatherings of up to 10 people

In time for Memorial Day weekend, New York will allow all gatherings of up to 10 people with proper social distancing and mask-wearing. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order easing the ban on nonessential gatherings of any size, which took effect March 23 as the coronavirus rapidly spread through New York. His move followed a lawsuit from the New York Civil Liberties Union challenging a prior order that allowed gatherings only for religious services.

The decision will enable New Yorkers to spend time together in parks, backyards and beaches over the holiday weekend as long as they maintain distance and adhere to the state Department of Health’s cleaning and disinfecting protocols. However, beaches in New York City are closed for swimming.

– Jon Campbell and the Associated Press

‘We need more prayer’: Trump calls for Memorial Day church reopenings but sends mixed signals on enforcement


CDC says coronavirus ‘does not spread easily’ by touching surfaces or objects. But it still ‘may be possible.’


Hertz, billions in debt, files for bankruptcy

Hertz filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, unable to withstand the coronavirus pandemic that has crippled global travel and with it, the heavily indebted, 102-year-old car rental company.

The Estero, Florida-based company’s lenders were unwilling to grant another extension on its auto lease debt payments past a Friday deadline, triggering the filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

By the end of March, Hertz Global Holdings Inc. had racked up $18.7 billion in debt with only $1 billion in available cash.

Starting in mid-March, the company – whose car-rental brands include Dollar and Thrifty – lost all revenue when travel shut down due to the novel coronavirus, and it started missing its payments in April. Hertz has also been plagued by management upheaval, naming its fourth CEO in six years on May 18.

– Associated Press

NBA legend and Georgetown coach Pat Ewing hospitalized with virus

Georgetown men’s basketball coach and Hall of Fame player Patrick Ewing has tested positive for COVID-19, the school announced Friday evening.

Georgetown said in a news release that Ewing, 57, is isolated and receiving care at a Washington hospital. He chose to announce his diagnosis “to emphasize that this virus can affect anyone,” the school said. He is the only member of the team to test positive.

An 11-time All-Star as a player with the New York Knicks, Ewing transitioned to coaching in 2002, serving as an assistant with several NBA teams before accepting the head coaching job at Georgetown before the 2017-18 season. 

– Tom Schad

Nevada’s 28% joblessness is worst in US and in state history

More than one-fourth of Nevada’s workers don’t have jobs as the state’s unemployment rate hit 28.2% in April — the highest rate in the U.S. and the worst in Nevada history. The previous record for Nevada unemployment was estimated at 25% during the Great Depression.

Nevada was hit especially hard by coronavirus shutdowns because so many of its jobs are tied to the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors, according to David Schmidt, chief economist for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. 

– Sam Gross and Jason Hidalgo, Reno Gazette Journal

Heavy decisions: Families still need care, but many are afraid of nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic

‘You worry about them’: Outnumbered school counselors struggle to keep kids safe remotely

Donald Trump orders US flags lowered to honor coronavirus victims

President Donald Trump said Thursday he will order U.S. flags to be lowered over federal buildings to honor those who have died from the coronavirus.

The order, which Trump said would continue into the Memorial Day weekend, comes as the nation approaches 100,000 deaths from the virus. Flags traditionally fly at half-staff on Memorial Day to honor the nation’s fallen members of the military. 

Trump’s decision came hours after congressional Democrats sent a letter requesting flags be lowered when the coronavirus death toll hits 100,000.

– John Fritze and Nicholas Wu

More coronavirus news and information from USA TODAY:

Contributing: Kristine Phillips, Nicholas Wu, The Associated Press


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