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AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Last Updated May 26, 2020 at 12:08 am EDT

Pandemic brings smaller, subdued Memorial Day observances

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Americans settled for small processions and online tributes instead of parades Monday as they observed Memorial Day in the shadow of the pandemic, which forced communities to honour the nation’s military dead with modest, more subdued ceremonies that also remembered those lost to the coronavirus.

On the weekend that marked the unofficial start of summer, authorities warned people heading to beaches, parks or backyard barbecues to heed social-distancing rules to avoid a resurgence of the disease that has infected 5.4 million people worldwide and killed over 345,000, including nearly 100,000 Americans, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Memorial Day commemorations were cancelled or toned down across the country. Veterans, along with nursing home residents, have made up a significant portion of those who died in the U.S. outbreak.

Frank Groblebe and his wife placed lilacs on several graves at Mountview Cemetery in Billings, Montana, including those of his mother and father, who served in the Philippines as a Navy Seabee during World War II. Groblebe said he approved of plans to curtail the ceremony, which included a motorcycle procession and moments of quiet remembrance.

“This is our freedom. This is our history. It’s what they fought for,” Groblebe said, briefly choking up with tears. “Anything that shows respect for it is all right with me.”

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Biden marks Memorial Day at veterans park near Delaware home

NEW CASTLE, Del. (AP) — Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in more than two months on Monday as he marked Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a veterans park near his Delaware home.

Since abruptly cancelling a March 10 rally in Cleveland at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has waged much of his campaign from his home in Wilmington. When Biden emerged on Monday, he wore a face mask, in contrast to President Donald Trump, who has refused to cover his face in public as health officials suggest.

Biden and his wife, Jill, laid a wreath of white flowers tied with a white bow, and bowed their heads in silence at the park. He saluted. “Never forget the sacrifices that these men and women made,” he said after. “Never, ever, forget.”

“I feel great to be out here,” Biden told reporters, his words muffled through his black cloth mask. His visit to the park was unannounced, and there was no crowd waiting for him.

Biden briefly greeted a county official and another man, both wearing face masks and standing a few feet away. Biden also yelled to a larger group standing nearby, “Thank you for your service.” His campaign says Biden has gone to the park for Memorial Day often in the past, though services were cancelled Monday amid the pandemic.

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Trump honours fallen soldiers as nation battles against virus

BALTIMORE (AP) — President Donald Trump honoured America’s war dead in back-to-back Memorial Day appearances colored by an epic struggle off the battlefield, against the coronavirus.

Eager to demonstrate national revival from the pandemic, Trump doubled up on his public schedule Monday, while threatening to pull the Republican National Convention out of Charlotte in August unless North Carolina’s Democratic governor gives a quick green light to the party’s plans to assemble en masse.

The U.S. death toll from the pandemic approached 100,000; North Carolina two days earlier reported its largest daily increase yet in COVID-19 sickness.

Trump first honoured the nation’s fallen at Arlington National Cemetery. Presidents on Memorial Day typically lay a wreath and speak at the hallowed burial ground in Virginia. But the coronavirus crisis made this year different.

Many attendees arrived wearing masks but removed them for the outdoor ceremony in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Trump, maskless as always in public, gave no remarks. He approached a wreath already in place, touched it and saluted.

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Arbery family lawyer: Feds looking into how case handled

ATLANTA (AP) — A lawyer for the family of Ahmaud Arbery said Monday that a federal prosecutor told the slain man’s mother federal officials are investigating potential misconduct by local officials who handled the case.

Lawyer Lee Merritt said U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine, whose jurisdiction includes southern Georgia, met with him and Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, on Thursday.

“They wanted us to know they had already been involved in the investigation,” Merritt said.

Barry Paschal, a spokesman for Christine, declined to confirm or deny whether the meeting happened.

“Our office does not discuss active investigations, including addressing whether or not those investigations exist,” Paschal said.

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In Bolsonaro’s Brazil, everyone else is to blame for virus

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — With Brazil emerging as one of the world’s most infected countries, President Jair Bolsonaro is deflecting all responsibility for the coronavirus crisis, casting blame on mayors, governors, an outgoing health minister and the media.

By contrast, he portrays himself as a clear-eyed crusader willing to defend an unpopular idea — that shutting down the economy to control COVID-19 will ultimately cause more suffering than allowing the disease to run its course. The refusal of governors to fall into line with his decree allowing gyms to open, he said, verged on authoritarianism.

Confronted with a travel ban imposed on Brazil by the U.S. because of widespread COVID-19, one of his advisers called it press hysteria.

Since the outbreak started, the Brazilian leader has avoided acknowledging the potential effects of his actions, particularly in undermining local leaders’ stay-at-home recommendations. A rare exception came in mid-April, as Bolsonaro appointed a new health minister tasked with sparing the economy from the coronavirus.

“Reopening commerce is a risk I run because, if it (the virus) gets worse, then it lands in my lap,” he said.

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Worker shortage concerns loom in immigrant-heavy meatpacking

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — When Martha Kebede’s adult sons immigrated from Ethiopia and reunited with her in South Dakota this year, they had few work opportunities.

Lacking English skills, the brothers took jobs at Smithfield Foods’ Sioux Falls pork plant, grueling and increasingly risky work as the coronavirus sickened thousands of meatpacking workers nationwide. One day half the workers on a slicing line vanished; later the brothers tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

“It was very, very sad,” Kebede said. “The boys teared up seeing everyone.”

The brothers — who declined to be identified for fear of workplace retaliation — are among roughly 175,000 immigrants in U.S. meatpacking jobs. The industry has historically relied on foreign-born workers — from people in the country illegally to refugees — for some of America’s most dangerous jobs.

Now that reliance and uncertainty about a virus that’s killed at least 20 workers and temporarily shuttered several plants fuels concerns about possible labour shortages to meet demand for beef, pork and chicken.

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California issues guidelines for church reopenings

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Religious services in California will look much different under rules unveiled Monday that limit attendance to 100 people and recommend worshippers wear masks, limit singing and refrain from shaking hands or hugging.

The state released guidance under which county health departments can approve the reopening of churches, mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship. They have been closed since Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

It’s not immediately known how soon in-person services will resume. Counties that are having success controlling the virus are likely to move quickly. Others with outbreaks — such as Los Angeles County, which has about 60% of California’s roughly 3,800 deaths — may choose to delay.

The guidelines ask worshippers to wear masks, avoid sharing prayer books or prayer rugs and skip the collection plate. They also say to avoid large gatherings for holidays, weddings and funerals and warn that activities such as singing or group recitation “negate” the benefits of social distancing.

The guidelines say even with physical distancing, in-person worship carries a higher risk of transmitting the virus and increasing the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths and recommend houses of worship shorten services.

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Branson’s Virgin Orbit fails on first rocket launch attempt

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit failed Monday in its first test launch of a new rocket carried aloft by a Boeing 747 and released over the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California.

The inaugural launch had appeared to be going well until moments after the rocket was dropped from beneath the left wing of the jumbo jet dubbed Cosmic Girl.

“We’ve confirmed a clean release from the aircraft. However, the mission terminated shortly into the flight. Cosmic Girl and our flight crew are safe and returning to base,” Virgin Orbit said in its official Twitter commentary on the launch.

There was no immediate word on what went wrong with the rocket, which carried a test satellite.

Will Pomerantz, Virgin Orbit’s vice-president for special projects, commented during a preflight briefing Saturday that about half of first rocket launches fail.

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Lock your cars! Vehicle theft spikes in COVID-19 pandemic

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The coronavirus hasn’t been kind to car owners.

With more people than ever staying home to lessen the spread of COVID-19, their sedans, pickup trucks and SUVs are parked unattended on the streets, making them easy targets for opportunistic thieves.

Despite silent streets and nearly nonexistent traffic, vehicle larcenies shot up 63% in New York and nearly 17% in Los Angeles from Jan. 1 through mid-May, compared with the same period last year.

And many other law enforcement agencies around the U.S. are reporting an increase in stolen cars and vehicle burglaries, even as violent crime has dropped dramatically nationwide in the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a low-risk crime with a potentially high reward, police say, especially when many drivers leave their doors unlocked or their keys inside.

“You might as well put a sticker on the window that says ‘come take my stuff,’” said an exasperated Alex Villanueva, the Los Angeles County sheriff.

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US communities face tough choices on opening public pools

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Public pools will look very different this summer if they open at all with the coronavirus threat still looming, as teenage lifeguards will be tasked with maintaining social distancing and spotting COVID-19 symptoms in addition to their primary responsibility of preventing drownings.

Pools that do plan to open will take precautions, including screening temperatures on entry, requiring lifeguards to wear masks and significantly reducing the number of swimmers allowed in the water and locker rooms, said Dr. Justin Sempsrott, the medical director for the lifeguard certification program Starguard Elite and executive director of Lifeguards Without Borders, which works to reduce drownings worldwide.

“It’s definitely not going to be business as usual this season,” he said.

Amid the uncertainty, sales of inflatable pools that cost less than $150 have increased by 165% over the seven-week period that began March 15, compared with the same period last year, according to NPD Group, a data and consulting firm. Meanwhile, most of the people who were planning to install in-ground pools in their yards before the COVID-19 shutdown caused economic havoc have decided to proceed, said Sabeena Hickman, the CEO of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, an industry trade group, which reached out to the country’s top 25 residential pool builders.

“It appears as if a lot of people are looking for pools and hot tubs for staycations,” she said. “We are anticipating that it will be a strong season for backyard pools.”

The Associated Press