California’s Orange County closes beaches after photos showed them packed with people

By MORGAN WINSOR, EMILY SHAPIRO and MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 233,000 people worldwide.

Over 3.2 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding the scope of their nations’ outbreaks.

Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than one million diagnosed cases and at least 63,001 deaths.

Here’s how the news developed Thursday. All times Eastern:

9:05 p.m.: Chicago to hold virtual high school commencement

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the entire city will take part in a virtual commencement ceremony in mid-June. The ceremony will have a commencement address from none other than city icon Oprah Winfrey.

The ceremony is intended to honor public schools, but also charter and private schools.

“The times we are living in are historic and stunning, forcing us all to take a deep look at who we are as a people and our place in the world,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “No one knows this better than Oprah, and I join all of Chicago in looking forward to hearing the wisdom she’ll be sharing with our incredible young people as they take this unforgettable next step on their life’s journey.”

The event, which does not yet have a date, will feature “speeches, performances, and a wide array of elements that will feature student achievements and experiences.”

Chicago Public Schools closed on March 17 and will be closed throughout the rest of the school year.

6:50 p.m.: American, Delta, United to require face coverings

Three more major American airlines will require passengers to wear face masks during flights.

American Airlines, Delta and United announced on Thursday that all customers will be required to wear face coverings starting in May.

The move follows similar announcements from JetBlue and Frontier.

Delta and United will require face coverings starting May 4. American will require face masks on flights starting May 11.

JetBlue and Frontier will start requiring face masks during travel on May 4 and May 8, respectively.

This week, Democratic lawmakers called for federal action to mandate that all air travelers wear masks.

5:15 p.m.: CityMD has done thousands of antibody tests already

Just two days into its initiative to offer antibody testing, CityMD has already done 19,000 tests, according to the chain of walk-in clinics.

“We did more than 19,000 in the first two days and we remain very busy at the sites,” Joy Lee-Calio, director of public relations and communications for Summit Medical Group, said in a statement. “We do not anticipate any testing capacity issues at this time. Wait times are longer than normal right now, but we’re doing our best to keep the lines moving while maintaining social and physical distancing.”

CityMD has more than 100 locations in New York and New Jersey.

The health provider announced Tuesday it would offer an antibody test to determine if patients had COVID-19, whether or not they experienced symptoms. The tests cost $55, but are covered by most insurers, according to CityMD.

New York and New Jersey have proven to be the epicenter of COVID-19 cases, with more than 400,000 combined confirmed cases in the states and over 30,000 deaths — about half of the total nationwide.

5 p.m.: Connecticut nonessential businesses can open May 20

In Connecticut, nonessential businesses can reopen May 20, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday.

That will include hair and nail salons, outdoor-only restaurant seating and outdoor museums and zoos.

4:10 p.m.: California’s Orange County beaches must close after photos of crowds

California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered beaches in sunny Orange County to close temporarily on Thursday, after too many people flocked to the sand over the weekend.

The “images we saw on the beaches were disturbing,” Newsom said. “Everyone saw those images and we’re all concerned about that. … That’s what ultimately led to this decision.”

“If we can get this right, we can reopen very quickly,” he added.

California has 48,917 people diagnosed with coronavirus, while at least 1,982 people have died.

3:10 p.m.: West Virginia on brink of reopening

In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice says he is replacing his “stay-at-home” order with a “safer-at-home” order on Monday, May 4, which encourages, but does not require, West Virginians to stay at home.

The new order says restaurants can open for outdoor dining service and elective medical procedures can resume.

Public gatherings with more than 35 people are prohibited.

Churches remain essential and can stay open but people should practice social distancing

Small businesses can operate if there are no more than 10 employees. The businesses must have limited customer contact and maintain social distancing and hygiene practices.

Nail salons, hair salons and barber shops can open if they leave time between appointments for proper cleaning and disinfecting. Customers must wait for their appointment in their cars.

2:25 p.m.: Kamala Harris announces legislation for task force to combat racial, ethnic disparities

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., on Thursday announced new legislation — the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act — to create a task force to combat the way minorities are being impacted by the coronavirus.

“People of color are being infected and dying from coronavirus at astounding rates,” Harris said in a statement. “This is in part due to persistent lack of access to health care, bias in our health care system, systematic barriers to equal pay and housing, and environmental injustice. It is critical that the federal government proactively work to right historical wrongs that have led to racial inequities for generations.”

The legislation would require the task force experts and government officials to “make data-driven recommendations to federal agencies about directing crucial resources—like testing kits, testing supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE)—to communities with racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death rates.”

It also aims to extend the work of such a task force beyond the current coronavirus pandemic by establishing a permanent presence, “to continue to identify and address racial and ethnic disparities in our health care system and improve future infectious disease response.”

The legislation has the backing of a number of top Senate Democrats, including five of Harris’ former 2020 presidential competitors — Sens. Cory Booker, Michael Bennet, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

1:55 p.m.: Russia’s prime minister tests positive for COVID-19

Russia Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin says he has tested positive for the coronavirus and will go into self-isolation.

Mishustin made the announcement during a televised video briefing with President Vladimir Putin.

Mishustin said he intended to remain in contact with colleagues, but asked Putin to appoint Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov as acting prime minister.

“The government will continue to work as normal,” Mishustin said. “I plan to be in active contact by telephone and video-conference with my colleagues, and also with you.”

Putin said he hoped Mishustin would continue to be able to work and take part in decisions, adding that getting the coronavirus could “happen to anyone.”

1:25 p.m.: USNS Comfort leaves NYC

The Navy ship USNS Comfort left New York City’s harbor Thursday afternoon to return to Norfolk, Virginia.

The USNS Comfort treated 182 patients during its one month in New York.

The ship “was originally tasked with providing care to non-COVID patients, bringing the first aboard on April 1,” the Navy said in a statement this week. “It quickly became apparent that in order to be of help to the city, USNS Comfort needed to treat all patients, regardless of their COVID status. On April 6, the USNS COMFORT began accepting COVID-positive patients.”

“I believe Comfort not only brought comfort but also saved lives,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a briefing last week.

12:50 p.m.: UK is ‘past the peak,’ Boris Johnson says

The United Kingdom is “past the peak of this disease,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Thursday, as he anchored the daily Downing Street briefing for the first time in weeks.

“We are on the downward slope,” said Johnson, who was diagnosed with the coronavirus and treated in the hospital.

“I will be setting out a comprehensive plan next week on how to get the economy moving, to get children back to school and how we can travel to work and make work in the workplace safer,” Johnson said.

Fatalities in the U.K. has climbed to over 26,000. The U.K. now has the third-highest death toll, behind the U.S. and Italy.

12:05 p.m.: New York forming a ‘tracing army’

In New York state, 306 lives were lost to the virus on Wednesday, including 19 in nursing homes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.

Across the state, 4,681 people tested positive on Wednesday.

New York is now forming a “tracing army” — led by former New York City mayor and presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg — to recruit and train people to work as contact tracers, said Cuomo.

“We want the best system that we can have to get New York open and to protect New Yorkers,” Cuomo said, “but it will also be a laboratory to put together the best system” to share with other states.

Meanwhile, Cuomo announced that New York City subways will close from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. during the pandemic in order to disinfect trains and stations.

The governor said conditions on the subway have “rapidly deteriorated.” Even though the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “stepped” up to clean trains and buses every 72 hours — which Cuomo called “an amazing undertaking” — he stressed that the disinfecting must ramp up because the virus can live on a surface for hours or even days.

“You have to disinfect every place that a hand could touch on the subway car,” Cuomo said. “It is a massive undertaking that we’ve never done before.”

11:35 a.m.: Alabama beaches to reopen Thursday night

Alabama beaches will reopen Thursday night as the state’s new “safer at home” order goes into effect.

With the new rules, no more than 10 people can be in a group at the beach. Beachgoers must stay 6 feet away from people outside their household.

Pools are also reopening with the new rules. Those at pools must follow the same rules as the beach.

“Our beaches will be open – providing people abide by social distancing & the gatherings guidelines,” Gov. Kay Ivey tweeted. “I trust the people of AL to practice personal responsibility while enjoying the Gulf.”

The new “safer at home” order enforces social distancing as some people return to work, Ivey said.

“The threat of #COVID19 isn’t over. We’re still seeing the virus spread,” she cautioned. “You’re urged to wear face coverings around people from other households when you leave your house. Please continue proper hand washing & other good, common-sense hygiene.”

10:50 a.m.: Intelligence Community examining origins of the outbreak

The U.S. Intelligence Community agrees with the “wide scientific consensus” that COVID-19 wasn’t man-made or genetically modified, according to a statement Thursday.

However, the Intelligence Community says it’s continuing to “rigorously” examine “whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”

10:25 a.m.: NYC distributing free face coverings at busy parks

In New York City, free face coverings are being distributed at high-trafficked parks and hard-hit communities, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

The mayor also said he’s assigning city workers to patrol parks and public spaces to enforce social distancing.

De Blasio called it a “very good day” as he announced the latest numbers.

Of people tested citywide Tuesday, 22% were positive — down from 23% on Monday.

There were 129 people admitted to hospitals with coronavirus symptoms on Tuesday, down from 136 on Monday.

And 705 patients were in ICUs on Tuesday, down from 734 on Monday.

As the pandemic continues, New York City is planning to triple testing capacity at community sites, de Blasio said.

The city currently has 11 testing sites, and by the week of May 18, the city plans to have 30 sites.

The mayor said there will be 14,000 tests conducted this week, but by the week of May 18 the city hopes to reach 43,000 per week.

9:42 a.m.: Europe remains ‘in the grip’ of coronavirus pandemic, WHO says

The World Health Organization’s European director warned Thursday that the continent remains “in the grip” of the coronavirus pandemic, even as many countries start lifting lockdowns and relaxing other restrictive measures.

“The European region accounts for 46% of cases and 63% of deaths globally,” Dr. Hans Kluge said during a press conference in Geneva. “The region remains very much in the grip of this pandemic.”

Out of the 44 countries in the WHO Europe’s region that have enacted coronavirus-related restrictions, Kluge said 21 have already begun easing those measures and another 11 intend to do so in the coming days.

Kluge noted that social distancing measures have helped reduce the number of new COVID-19 cases in the region, saying, “We must monitor this positive development very closely.”

But he said France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom still have high caseloads while Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine have all seen increases in cases.

“This virus is unforgiving. We must remain vigilant, persevere and be patient, ready to ramp up measures as and when needed,” Kluge said. “COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon.”

8:49 a.m.: Japan plans to extend state of emergency

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday he plans to extend the country’s state of emergency, which is slated to expire next week.

“I believe it will be difficult to return to our normal daily lives after May 7,” Abe told reporters. “We must expect an endurance race to a certain extent.”

Abe said he will consult with experts to determine how long the declaration should be extended to curb the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

Japan reported more than 200 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 overnight, bringing the nationwide tally to nearly 14,000.

8:40 a.m.: Potential COVID-19 treatment shows ‘glimmer of hope,’ researcher says

Scientists are optimistic about a potential treatment for COVID-19.

A U.S. government-sponsored clinical trial of the antiviral medication remdesivir began on Feb. 21 and includes more than 1,000 patients around the world. Sixty-eight sites have joined the study — 47 in the United States and 21 in countries in Europe and Asia. Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, has played a leading role — the school and an affiliated hospital enrolled 103 patients, more than any other institution in the world.

Preliminary data from the trial shows hospitalized patients with advanced COVID-19 and lung involvement who received the drug recovered faster than similar patients who received a placebo.

“I think now we have the first glimmer of hope of something that can do that,” Dr. Aneesh Mehta, an infectious diseases expert at Emory University who is leading the trial there, told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview Thursday on Good Morning America.

“Having taken care of patients for eight weeks now with many colleagues working hard,” he said, “we have been getting patients better but we are looking to find a medication that helps patients get better more rapidly, get them home to their families and make more room for other patients.”

Mehta noted that most antiviral medications tend to work better earlier in the course of disease, so his team would also like to offer remdesivir to patients with milder cases.

“It is an intravenous medicine so can only be given in the hospital,” he added, “but we are planning to offer this medicine as early as possible to as many patients that qualify.”

Mehta said his team is now looking at other medications to be used in combination with remdesivir.

“We want to learn how remdesivir works for patients, who it works best in and what additional medications or therapies are needed to improve the outcome,” he said. “All patients are different, so we want to make sure that we’re tailoring their therapy to what their needs are.”

7:47 a.m.: China reports no new deaths

China reported no new deaths from the novel coronavirus on Thursday morning and just four new confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, all brought from outside the country.

China has been testing and quarantining people coming into the country from abroad. Imported cases of COVID-19 account for many of China’s recent cases.

China’s National Health Commission said Thursday that 619 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19, including 41 in serious condition.

Since the new virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan back in December, the country has reported 82,862 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,633 deaths.

6:04 a.m.: Russia reports record spike in new cases

The number of people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus disease in Russia surpassed 100,000 on Thursday, while the death toll topped 1,000.

Russia’s coronavirus response headquarters on Thursday morning reported a record daily spike of 7,099 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the tally to 106,498. The death toll from the disease now stands at 1,073, after 101 new fatalities were reported over the past 24 hours — the second day in a row that Russia has recorded over 100 deaths from COVID-19.

Moscow still has the bulk of the country’s reported infections, with 3,093 new cases and 65 more deaths were confirmed in the capital on Thursday morning, according to the coronavirus response headquarters.

Much of Russia has been on lockdown since late March, with residents ordered to stay home and only essential businesses remaining open, including banks, grocery stores and pharmacies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin extended the lockdown until May 11 on Tuesday and asked his government to put together a plan to slowly reopen the country.

4:43 a.m.: California governor plans to order closure of all beaches, state parks

California Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to order the closure of all beaches and state parks after seeing seashores packed with thousands of people, ABC News has learned.

A memo from the California Police Chiefs Association sent to police departments across the Golden State outlines the decision, saying it was prompted by the “well-publicized media coverage of overcrowded beaches this past weekend.”

The governor intends to announce the order Thursday and it will go into effect Friday. The memo, a copy of which was obtained by Los Angeles ABC station KABC-TV, was sent to police agencies ahead of time so they could plan for any situations that might happen in their communities as a result.

Over the weekend, thousands of people flocked to beaches in Southern California amid a heatwave. Newsom reprimanded beachgoers during a press conference on Monday, saying such risky behavior could prevent the state from reopening other activities as it continues to try to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Those images are an example of what not to see, what not to do if we’re going to make the meaningful progress we’ve made the past couple of weeks,” Newsom said.

3:57 a.m.: South Korea reports no new local cases for first time since February

South Korea reported no new locally transmitted cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday for the first time since Feb. 18.

Four new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed over the past 24 hours, but all were imported from abroad, according to the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The country’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported on Jan. 20. Since then, at least 10,765 people have been diagnosed with the disease, of which 9,059 have recovered and 247 have died.

South Korean authorities remain concerned about the possibility of new outbreaks and have urged the public to maintain strict social distancing guidelines as the nation enters an extended public holiday that began Thursday.

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