The Latest: Texas begins reopening as new virus deaths drop

By The Associated Press

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— Rural Pennsylvania to see some easing of restrictions.

— New Mexico governor seals off roads in bid to contain outbreak in city of Gallup.

— U.N. chief seeks stronger efforts to aid elderly amid pandemic.

— May Day protests silenced in Brazil as president complains about lockdowns.

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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas’ reopening is underway with sparsely filled shopping malls and a man facing felony charges for pushing a park ranger into a lake.

New virus deaths in Texas also dropped Friday, one day after a single-day record of 50 fatalities was set on the eve of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott lifting stay-at-home orders. More than 120 people have died over the past three days in Texas, the worst stretch since the state’s first coronavirus case in March.

But Abbott, who isn’t yet allowing hair salons or gyms to open, says hospitalizations remain steady and infection rates are down.

In Austin, police say a 25-year-old man was charged with attempted assault on a public service worker after a video posted on social media showed a city park ranger getting shoved into the water Thursday while asking a crowd to keep 6 feet of distance.

The video shows shirtless parkgoers, some in swimsuits, and laughter is heard after the park ranger is pushed into shallow water near the shore. The Austin Parks and Recreation Department said in a statement it was “saddened” by the incident.

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday that 24 counties in rural northern Pennsylvania will see some relief from his strictest orders for residents to stay at home and businesses to close as part of a strategy to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The counties have seen far fewer virus infections and deaths than most of the rest of the state.

The changes are to take effect next Friday, May 8, and affect about 1.5 million of Pennsylvania’s 12.8 million residents. Stay-at-home orders will be lifted and retail shops can start to reopen, though gyms, barbershops, nail salons, casinos, theaters and other such venues will remain closed and other restrictions will remain in place.

The state’s largest cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, will remain under the Democratic governor’s strictest orders.

The coronavirus has infected more than 45,000 Pennsylvania residents and killed nearly 2,300, according to the latest Health Department statistics.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s Minister of Construction has been hospitalized for treatment of coronavirus infection, the second high-ranking official to be infected in two days.

Construction minister Vladimir Yakushev will undergo treatment at a Moscow hospital, the ministry said Friday, according to Russian news agencies.

Deputy construction minister Dmitry Volkov also was diagnosed with the infection, the reports said.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Thursday he had contracted the virus.

Russia reported its largest one-day number of new inflections on Friday, nearly 8,000 new cases. Nearly 115,000 cases have been recorded nationwide.

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The governor of New Mexico invoked the state’s Riot Control Act on Friday as she sealed off all roads to nonessential traffic in the city of Gallup to help control a surging coronavirus outbreak in the former trading post city on the outskirts of the Navajo Nation.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also announced a ban on routine outings and required that businesses close from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. in the city of about 70,000 people.

COVID-19 infection rates in Gallup and surrounding McKinley County make it one of the worst U.S. hotspots for the pandemic as patients overwhelm intensive care facilities.

Lujan Grisham said the virus has run amok in McKinley County and physical distancing is not being maintained among residents.

“A problem in one part of our state, with a virus this contagious, is a problem for our entire state,” she said.

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CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — A resident of a suburban St. Louis nursing home is believed to be one of the oldest people in the world to survive the coronavirus.

Rudi Heider had two reasons to celebrate on Thursday — he turned 107 and he beat COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Relatives couldn’t come into his room at Friendship Village in Chesterfield, Missouri, but gathered outside his window while Heider enjoyed a slice of his favorite dessert, lemon meringue pie.

Heider said he looks forward to being able to be with family and friends again.

Heider’s granddaughter, Janet Heider of Seattle, called her grandfather “amazing.”

“I had to tell him that he’s lived through the Spanish Flu, two World Wars, a stroke at 100 years old, and a fractured vertebra at 104 years old that he would not to lose to COVID-19, and he ended up beating it,” she said.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations secretary-general says the COVID-19 pandemic is causing “untold fear and suffering” for older people around the world who are dying at a higher rate, and especially for those over the age of 80 whose fatality rate is five times the global average.

Antonio Guterres said Friday that beyond the health risks, “the pandemic is putting older people at greater risk of poverty,” with an especially devastating impact on the elderly in developing countries.

The U.N. chief launched a 16-page policy briefing on the impact of COVID-19 on older people with several key messages, most importantly that “no person, young or old, is expendable” and “older people have the same rights to life and health as everyone else.”

Guterres also called for improved social support and “smarter efforts” to use digital technology to reach older people who may face great suffering because of isolation and restrictions on their movements.

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CHICAGO — A few hundred protesters chanting and carrying signs gathered Friday afternoon in front of Chicago’s Thompson Center building to call for a statewide lockdown to be lifted.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, and other state officials have offices in the building.

Demonstrators carried signs that read, “We demand Illinois opens now!,” “Reason over fear” and “The cure is worse than the disease.”

Others stayed put in cars, circling the block and honking their horns and waving American flags out their windows.

Some gathered outside wore masks, but many did not and stood close together. Police officers wore masks as they lined the street, directed traffic and hemmed protesters in on a sidewalk.

Among the organizers of the protest was Freedom Movement USA. It’s website describes itself as “a group of like-minded Republican activists” and said its members were avid supporters of President Donald Trump.

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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — With gatherings banned amid a lockdown to combat the new coronavirus, a few thousand people staged a protest in Slovenia against the center-right government by riding their bicycles through the capital Ljubljana.

The cycling protest on Friday was held for the second week in a row following reports of alleged political pressure in the procurement of protective gear and ventilators.

Wearing face masks, the protesters passed through the center of the city before briefly stopping or riding in circles by the government and parliament buildings. Many shouted “Thieves!”

Slovenian anti-corruption authorities have launched an investigation into the allegations leveled by a whistleblower. Government officials have denied any wrongdoing, citing the need for hasty orders during the crisis.

A country of 2 million people, Slovenia has reported 1,434 cases of the new coronavirus while 93 people have died. Only five new infections were registered on Friday.

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DUBLIN — Ireland’s premier has announced an extension of the country’s coronavirus restrictions to May 18.

“We need two more weeks of tight restrictions to weaken the virus further,” Leo Varadkar said Friday.

However, he said people over 70 years old who have been told to stay home, or “cocoon,” can start going outside their homes starting Tuesday as long as they avoid all contact with people. The 2-kilometer limit that people are allowed to exercise outside their homes will also be extended to 5 kilometers.

Varadhar said that starting May 18, the country plans to reopen the economy in five stages, should the virus stay under control, with the last stage planned for August.

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BRASILIA, Brazil — In Brazil, the streets of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are usually packed on May Day with workers taking part in marches demanding higher pay and better benefits. But they were quiet Friday because of lockdown orders prohibiting the gatherings.

From the capital of Brasilia, President Jair Bolsonaro reiterated his belief that sweeping measures imposed by governors and mayors to close all but essential businesses in the country with the most Latin American COVID-19 deaths are more damaging than the coronavirus.

“I would like everyone to go back to work, but it is not me who decides this. It is the governors and the mayors,” said Bolsonaro, who has also likened the coronavirus to “a little flu.”

He added: “Governors and mayors who took very strict measures did not flatten the curve.”

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in a video message to members of his leftist Workers Party said “the pandemic left capitalism naked.”

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GRETNA, Neb. — A Nebraska mall that announced plans to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic got off to a subdued start Friday morning with just a few shops welcoming customers and about half a dozen patrons who wandered the open-air facility wearing masks.

Nebraska Crossing resumed business with new safety measures, including hand sanitizing stations, clear plastic barriers and signs to promote social distancing guidelines. A handful of patrons walked through mostly empty pathways between stores, glancing into shop windows.

Mall officials have faced some criticism for their decision to reopen at a time when the number of coronavirus cases in Nebraska is continuing to increase. They’ve repeatedly held up their outlet as a national model for how to safely reopen shopping centers, but when reporters arrived on Friday to cover the reopening, a mall employee screamed at them to leave and followed them to their vehicles, saying they were on private property.

Customers said they were a little apprehensive about coming to the opening but felt safe given the light crowds.

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GENEVA — The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization reiterated that the group believes the novel coronavirus is “natural in origin.”

Dr. Michael Ryan responded Friday to to comments by U.S. President Donald Trump, who said he has seen information that the virus may have emerged from a virology institute in China.

Ryan said WHO teams have listened “again and again” to many scientists who have looked at the gene sequences and the virus, “and we are assured that this virus is natural in origin.”

Ryan said it was important to establish the natural host of the virus, which could help pave the way for a better understanding of it and ways to prevent and respond to future outbreaks.

On Thursday, Trump suggested he was confident that China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology was at the origin of the coronavirus, before again criticizing WHO’s early response to the outbreak. Most scientists believe the virus emerged at a market in the Chinese city, linked to an animal that has not yet been identified.

The WHO’s Emergency Committee on the COVID-19 outbreak recommended Friday that the outbreak remains an international public health emergency, its highest level of alert.

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LISBON, Portugal — Several hundred people rallied for workers’ rights on May Day in Lisbon while respecting social distancing limits applied to stem contagion from the coronavirus pandemic.

Portugal’s main union organized the event with special measures in place. Protesters respected indications to remain separated by several meters as they gathered on a large grass-covered promenade where the traditional May Day marches finish. Wearing face masks, around 500 protesters carried signs with messages against layoffs and precarious labor contracts.

“It’s important to be here on May Day in the name of all the workers that cannot be here and that are allowing for the country to keep going in such a critical time,” railway worker Catarina Cardoso said.

Portugal attributes 1,007 deaths to the outbreak from more than 25,000 confirmed cases.

In neighboring Spain, the two main labor unions canceled all marches and instead held online events.

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming allowed barbershops, nail salons, gyms and daycare centers to reopen Friday in its first loosening of statewide restrictions intended to slow the coronavirus’ spread.

The openings come with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines as well as limits on the number of customers allowed inside any establishment. Business owners are required to collect contact information for their customers in case contact tracing is needed.

Schools remain closed, restaurants restricted to take-out, and gatherings restricted to 10 people or less.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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