The Latest: Florida to allow pharmacists to administer tests

US & World

People wear face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus as they walk along a street in Beijing, Thursday, April 23, 2020. China says Australian calls for an independent investigation into the cause of the coronavirus outbreak are politically motivated and unhelpful in dealing with the global pandemic. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

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:

—Britain reports nearly 20,000 deaths from virus.

— Trump says disinfectant comments were sarcasm.

— Navy recommends reinstatement of fired carrier captain.

—France won’t reopen its restaurants, bars and cafes before June.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s governor says his administration plans to let pharmacists administer tests for the new coronavirus to expand availability of testing for the general public.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state surgeon general would authorize pharmacists under emergency regulations, but he did not elaborate or say when this kind of testing might be rolled out.

Residents can seek testing through their doctors and private clinics, or go to one of the state’s seven drive-through and six walk-up sites — if they meet certain criteria. The conditions vary, with some sites focused on front-line responders, the elderly or people already showing some symptoms of COVID-19.

Pharmacy test sites would be part of efforts to expand testing to broader categories of people, including those with no symptoms but who believe they may have been exposed, DeSantis said.

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PARIS — A French hotel executive predicts his business will remain “catastrophic” for the rest of this year and is counting on government help to survive the virus crisis.

Serge Cachan, president of the Astotel chain of Paris hotels, tells The Associated Press: “Zero percent in April, probably in May and probably in June.”

He forecasts losses this year of 60-70%.

“Why should a hotel be open when you have no clients? When you have no restaurants. No museums. When you have no theaters, and when you have no planes, and when you close the borders. Why should the people come?” he asked.

Earlier Friday, French authorities said France won’t reopen its restaurants, bars and cafes before June, as they announced reinforced financial support for the sector amid the virus crisis. Other tourist sites like museums will also remain closed.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Amid positive trends in Louisiana’s coronavirus outbreak, officials are grappling with a death rate from the virus that appears higher than other states while outpacing Louisiana officials’ own modeling.

The Louisiana Department of Health offered reporters a first detailed look at the state’s modeling of deaths from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus. While Louisiana’s falling hospitalization rate is tracking the projected results for Gov. John Bel Edwards’ stay-at-home order, the death rate is higher than expected.

More than 1,600 Louisiana residents have died from COVID-19, about 6% of all positive tests for the coronavirus announced so far in the state. But that testing data doesn’t reflect those who never develop symptoms and never get tested for the virus.

The health department estimates that 2% of Louisianans who contract COVID-19 are dying from it, based on modeling of the number of residents presumed to have been infected, said Jeanie Donovan, policy director for the agency.

The department is trying to determine why the death rate is double what was expected and varies considerably among regions of the state, she said.

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BRUSSELS — Belgium is taking its first serious steps to relax its coronavirus lockdown.

After May 3, hospitals will progressively open to some non-essential tasks and textile shops also will be allowed to reopen. One week later, most shops will be given the green light to reopen at the same time, though close-contact professions like barbers will have to wait another week.

Also, as of May 18, the government will allow internal travel to the coast and the hilly, wooded Ardennes forests.

Bar and restaurants will be allowed to start reopening as of June 8, as will be zoos. Travel authorizations will also be expanded.

Protective masks will be mandatory on public transportation.

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WILLMAR, Minn. — A Hormel Foods subsidiary says it’s halting production at a pair of Minnesota turkey-processing facilities after some employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Jennie-O Turkey Store Inc. says 14 employees have tested positive at two plants in Willmar, in western Minnesota, as of Thursday. The plants employ about 1,200 workers.

The plants are the latest to close nationally as meat processing plants wrestle with coronavirus infections among workers. The company didn’t immediately respond to a question about how many turkeys the plants process daily.

Jennie-O President Steve Lykken says the facilities will be deep cleaned while the company figures out a plan to reopen. He says the company has taken steps to protect workers, including physical distancing and personal protective equipment.

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WASHINGTON — Officials say the top Navy officer has recommended the reinstatement of the aircraft carrier captain fired for sending a fraught email to commanders pleading for faster action to protect his crew from a coronavirus outbreak.

Adm. Mike Gilday has recommended that Navy Capt. Brett Crozier be returned to his ship. That’s according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the results of an investigation that have not yet been made public. Gilday met with Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday and with Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday morning to lay out his recommendations. An official says Esper has asked for a delay in any public announcement while he considers the recommendation.

—Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns reported.

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UNITED NATIONS — The president of the world’s largest humanitarian network is urging governments to start thinking about something like the Marshall Plan that helped countries recover after World War II to help nations tackle the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Francesco Rocca, who leads the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies which operates in 192 countries, also warned of the risk that the COVID-19 crisis will lead to social unrest, hunger and starvation.

Rocca said COVID-19 is also going to have “a great social impact in every part of the world” and “we need to plan together with institutions a social response before it is too late.”

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ROME — Opposition lawmakers in Italy are demanding that the justice minister tell Parliament’s anti-Mafia commission how a convicted organized crime boss was given house arrest due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Italian state TV said Pasquale Zagaria had been receiving cancer treatment at a hospital ward for prisoners on the island of Sardinia. But after the ward was converted to care for inmates with coronavirus infections, that treatment wasn’t available and he was transferred to temporary house arrest.

State TV said the justice minister had ordered an administrative investigation into Pasquale Zagaria’s transfer.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has rolled out aggressive steps to reopen daycare places and restaurants without setting specific benchmarks on testing, equipment and coronavirus tracking.

Speaking in broad strokes, the Republican governor said he wanted daycares and outdoor seating at restaurants to open as soon as possible. The strategy comes days after he announced hospitals will resume elective procedures as early as next week.

Justice, a billionaire coal and agricultural businessman without previous government experience, said the state will take “baby steps” in lifting virus restrictions to avoid a jump in cases.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has announced a plan that allows existing construction projects to resume as long as strict coronavirus social distancing protocols are followed.

Before work on the projects can resume, all contractors must develop and post a plan at each site that addresses use of the personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, on-site social distancing and sanitation. In addition, a site-specific supervisor will be designated to enforce the safety plan to monitor the health of employees, and employees will undergo training on the new policies.

Construction was halted under the stay-at-home order and closure of non-essential businesses that Inslee ordered last month.

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JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska is allowing restaurants to resume dine-in service and retail shops and other businesses to reopen, all with limitations, under an initial phase of a plan to restart parts of the economy affected by coronavirus concerns. At least one city, Juneau, asked that business owners wait for local officials to weigh in.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said health considerations must come first and that officials feel good about the state’s numbers, health care capacity, equipment and ability to track cases.

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ROME — The Italian government is asking Parliament to authorize staggering sums of new spending, drastically driving up the national public debt, after the COVID-19 outbreak made the country one of the most stricken by the pandemic.

Premier Giuseppe Conte’s Cabinet has decided on a revised budget for this year, one that calls for 55 billion euros ($60 billion) in debt, 24.85 billion ($27.5 billion) next year, and similarly high debt for several more years. The budget must be approved by parliament.

The government says it must beef up the national health system, whose intensive care units were sorely tested by huge numbers of coronavirus patients, as well as provide additional funds for law enforcement and civil protection agencies to deal with the emergency. More funds will also be earmarked for private and public economic sectors and to provide safety measures for workers heading back to work after national lockdown, now in its seventh week.

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s Department of Corrections says it will test all the nearly 9,000 inmates being held across the U.S. territory to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Officials say 6,000 employees, including prison guards who work at the island’s 32 correctional facilities, also will be tested.

Corrections Secretary Eduardo Rivera says officials have been testing new inmates since April 8.

The announcement comes after a handful of inmates in recent days tested positive even though they were asymptomatic.

Puerto Rico has reported at least 77 deaths and more than 1,270 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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DENVER — Health officials have ordered the immediate closure of a Walmart in suburban Denver after three people connected to the store died after being infected with the coronavirus and at least six employees tested positive.

The Tri-County Health Department announced late Thursday that a 69-year-old man who worked for a private security company at the store died along with a 72-year-old store employee and her 63-year-old husband, who did not work at the store.

The health department said the store didn’t adhere to social distancing requirements under Colorado’s stay-at-home order that allows some businesses deemed essential, like the Walmart, to remain open.

The dates of the deaths were not disclosed.

Besides the six other confirmed cases, three employees suspected of having COVID-19 are awaiting test results.

Walmart said in a statement that the store’s temporary closure would allow it to be cleaned and sanitized.

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PARIS — France plans to keep thousands of newly built intensive care units ready for a second wave of virus cases, even though the first wave is now receding.

Health authorities say France doubled its number of intensive care beds to more than 10,000 as the virus raced across the country.

“We need to keep the beds in case of a return of the epidemic,” national health agency director Jerome Salomon says. “We need to maintain a vigilant posture.”

Now fewer than 5,000 people are in intensive care with the virus, but people with other severe illnesses also need the beds.

France has reported more virus deaths than any country but the U.S., Italy and Spain. Salomon has announced more than 22,000 virus deaths so far in French hospitals and nursing homes.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says his comments suggesting people can ingest or inject disinfectant to fight COVID-19 was an attempt at sarcasm.

Trump noted Thursday that researchers were looking at the effects of disinfectants on the virus and wondered aloud if they could be injected into people, saying the virus “does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

But speaking to reporters in the Oval Office Friday, Trump insisted his comments were misconstrued. “I was asking the question sarcastically to reporters like you, just to see what would happen,” Trump said.

Trump’s comments on disinfectants at Thursday’s briefing came after William Bryan, who leads the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security, spoke about how researchers are testing the effect of disinfectants on virus-laden saliva and respiratory fluids on surfaces.

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Apple and Google have outlined new privacy protections for smartphone apps that could help public health agencies send alerts to people if they spent more than 5 minutes near someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.

The tech giants announced earlier in April that they are jointly working to introduce a new app-building interface in May for billions of Apple and Android phones around the world.

The partnership will enable public health agencies to build phone apps that use Bluetooth short-range wireless beacons to automatically detect the proximity of nearby phones without revealing anyone’s identity or location.

The companies have so far resisted a push from some governments that want them to loosen privacy restrictions to make it easier for health agencies to track the whereabouts of COVID-19 patients and their contacts.

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LONDON — The British government says 684 more people with the coronavirus have died in U.K. hospitals, increasing the total reported to 19,506.

That’s higher than 616 deaths in the previous 24-hour period. There has been increasing scrutiny of the U.K. figures for understating the actual number of coronavirus-related deaths because they don’t include deaths in care homes or elsewhere in the community.

The U.K.’s death toll is the fourth highest in Europe, behind Italy, Spain and France, all of whom have reported more than 20,000 deaths.

The government also says the number of daily tests increased by around 5,000 to 28,532.

On Friday, an online link to an expanded testing program for essential workers stopped accepting applications after a few hours because of “significant demand.”

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

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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