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Coronavirus live updates: US death toll reaches 61, Fed lowers interest rates to near zero

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iStock(NEW YORK) — There are at least 3,244 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the United States and at least 61 coronavirus-related deaths in the country as of Sunday.

COVID-19 has reached 49 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. More restaurants and schools are closing across the nation to try to stop the spread.

Globally, there are more than 162,600 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 5,800 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and ABC News reporting.

Here’s how the news is unfolding. All times Eastern:

5:52 p.m. New York City closes public schools

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday that the city’s public school system is canceling classes as of Monday morning to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The mayor said that all New York City public schools will be closed through at least Monday, April 20, at a minimum, and at a maximum the entire remaining school year could be canceled.

The unprecedented decision will shutter schools for the nation’s largest school system, leaving more than a million students at home.

De Blasio said the Department of Education is working to roll out an ambitious remote learning program that is slated to begin next week.

School officials said they had determined that approximately 300,000 of the system’s 1.1 million students do not have a connected device, and administrators were working with Apple to purchase 300,000 iPads to loan to those students so they could participate in the school system’s distance learning program.

“I am distraught at having to take this action, but I became convinced over the last few days that we have no other choice,” de Blasio said about the decision to close the city’s schools. “We’ve seen the latest models [regarding the spread of the virus] … it’s a sacrifice that has to be done.”

The mayor said that as of Sunday, New York City has 329 confirmed coronavirus cases, up from a few dozen last week. Five city residents have died from the coronavirus.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also announced Sunday that schools would close from Tuesday through at least March 31.

Students who receive meals through the school lunch and breakfast program will be able to continue receiving meals while classes are canceled — similar to the way summer meals are operate, Lamont said.

5:50 p.m. Starbucks to close some stores

Starbucks is temporarily switching to a “to-go” model and will close some stores in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Seattle-based coffee company will pause all seating at restaurants, including inside the café and on outside patios, according to a letter sent to partners.

Customers will still be able to order at the counter or via the mobile app.

5:40 p.m. All coronavirus testing will be free

Vice President Mike Pence announced that coronavirus testing will now be free for all Americans.

Nearly two million tests will be available by the end of the week, officials said during a press conference at the White House Sunday afternoon.

5:25 p.m. Fed lowers interest rates to near zero

The Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates to near zero amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The new rate is to 0.25%, according to a press release from the Federal Reserve.

“In light of these developments, the Committee decided to lower the target range for the federal funds rate to 0 to 1/4 percent,” the release read.

President Donald Trump praised the decision during a White House news conference on Sunday.

“It’s really good news,” Trump said. “It’s something that’s really great for our country.”

4:50 p.m. Germany closes borders to neighboring countries

Germany will close its borders with France, Luxembourg, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland starting Monday in an effort to stave off the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The spread of the coronavirus is progressing rapidly and aggressively,” German Interior Minister Horst Seehoder said in a press conference Sunday.

Seehoder said that one of the most important measures is to “cut off the source of infection,” by limiting social events and travel.

4:45 p.m. Illinois bans dining out

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that all bars and restaurants in the state will be closed from Monday to March 30.

Restaurants will still be allowed drive-thru and delivery services.

“This is not a joke. No on one is immune to this,” Pritzker said during a news conference Sunday.

4:06 p.m. Ohio shutters all restaurants

All restaurants and bars in Ohio are ordered to close beginning at 9 p.m. Sunday, said Gov. Mike DeWine.

The state has 36 COVID-19 cases including one person who started showing symptoms in early February, DeWine said.

“Establishments can stay open for carry-out and delivery,” DeWine tweeted. “What we can’t have is people congregating and seated.”

“Every day we delay, more people will die,” the governor tweeted.

2:53 p.m. Louis Vuitton to make free hand sanitizer

French luxury goods company Louis Vuitton says it’s dedicating its perfume and cosmetics production facilities in France to make large quantities of hand sanitizer for hospitals free of charge.

2:38 p.m. National Institutes of Health employee tests positive for COVID-19

An employee with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has tested positive for COVID-19, NIH said Sunday.

“The individual works for the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases but is not involved in patient care,” the NIH said in a statement.

The employee — who is quarantined at home and “doing well” — did not have symptoms while at work “which is believed to lower the risk of transmission,” the NIH said.

The NIH added that it anticipates more cases among its staff.

Tune into ABC News Live at noon ET every weekday for the latest news, context and analysis on the novel coronavirus, with resources from the full ABC News team.

1:58 p.m. 368 people dead in 24 hours in Italy

Italy, hard-hit by the coronavirus, has seen nearly 3,600 new cases and 368 deaths in 24 hours.

This brings the total number of fatalities in the country to 1,809, according to the Italy Civil Protection Agency.

12:45 p.m. St. Patrick’s Day changes for Chicago and South Boston

Two days before St. Patrick’s Day, one of Chicago’s most celebrated days of the year, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said businesses selling liquor must reduce their capacity, with no more than 100 people inside.

Bars and restaurants also can’t allow revelers to line up outside, she said.

Meanwhile, in South Boston, bars and restaurants are closing Sunday, according to a tweet from State Sen. Nick Collins.

Some South Boston bars appeared packed with St. Patrick’s Day partygoers on Saturday.

“We are in uncharted waters,” Collins tweeted. “We are in this together & it’s imperative now that we do all that we can to keep our communities safe.”

12:00 p.m. Self quarantine recommended in New Jersey town

The northern New Jersey town of Teaneck is “ground zero” for infections in the state, Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin told ABC News.

The town of 41,000 people had 18 cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday.

Teaneck is in Bergen County, which has 31 reported cases. Among the confirmed cases in Bergen County is a hospital worker. Staff in contact with that worker are now in self-quarantine.

Hameeduddin said county officials decided to close all schools, municipal buildings, parks and other places where people congregate.

The mayor recommends Teaneck families stay home and only leave for food and medicine. Hameeduddin said residents should assume they’ll be infected if they go out.

The self-quarantine is completely voluntary, Teaneck Township Manager Dean Kazinci said Sunday.

11:36 a.m. New York governor wants federal troops to be mobilized to fight coronavirus

In an op-ed in The New York Times, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging President Donald Trump to let states take over coronavirus testing.

Cuomo also asked the president to mobilize the Army Corps of Engineers to expand hospital capacity.

“States cannot build more hospitals, acquire ventilators or modify facilities quickly enough. At this point, our best hope is to utilize the Army Corps of Engineers to leverage its expertise, equipment and people power to retrofit and equip existing facilities — like military bases or college dormitories — to serve as temporary medical centers,” Cuomo said.

“We believe the use of active duty Army Corps personnel would not violate federal law because this is a national disaster,” Cuomo wrote. “Doing so still won’t provide enough intensive care beds, but it is our best hope.”

There are 729 cases of COVID-19 in New York, the most of any state in the country. Of those 729 people, 137 are in hospitals.

At a news conference Sunday, Cuomo urged private businesses to “aggressively consider” working from home and voluntary close. He did not rule out taking more action.  

10:20 a.m. More universities stop classes

Yale is joining the growing list of universities to cancel in-person classes for the rest of semester.

One Yale community member has tested positive for COVID-19 and two others who were in contact with that person are awaiting test results, university officials said Saturday. All three are at a New Haven, Connecticut, hospital, officials said.

Students are to remain off-campus and learn online for the rest of the spring semester, including final exams, officials said.

“It is too soon to say whether Commencement Weekend, scheduled for mid-May, will be carried out in the traditional way,” the officials said.

Michigan State University officials also decided Saturday that classes will only be offered online for the rest of the semester.

MSU said graduation is postponed.

9:27 a.m. Holy Week celebrations closed to public, says Vatican

Vatican officials said Sunday that Holy Week celebrations — the week before Easter — will be closed to the public because of the coronavirus. Easter is on April 12.

Why is Italy being hit so hard?

Italy is on lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 which has killed over 1,400 people in the country.

Two of the pope’s weekly gatherings, on Wednesdays and Sundays, will continue to be livestreamed until Easter Sunday, said Vatican officials.

8:38 a.m. Nike closes stores

Nike is closing its stores in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, company officials said Sunday.

The closures will last from March 16 through March 27.

8:03 a.m. Hospital workers contract coronavirus in Boston

A spokesperson for Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston has confirmed that an undisclosed number of their health care workers have contracted coronavirus.

“As the novel coronavirus spreads across the globe, it is inevitable that health care workers will be infected, as is now the case at the Brigham. We are in the process of contacting patients and staff who may have been exposed,” the spokesperson said. “We have been in close contact with the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health and the Boston Public Health Commission and we will continue to follow their and CDC’s guidance, as well as the advice of our own infectious diseases experts as the situation continues to evolve.”

5:55 a.m. People over 70 to self-isolate in U.K.

People over the age of 70 will be asked to self-isolate for up to four months as the United Kingdom escalates its fight against the coronavirus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News that it is a “very big ask,” but it is for their own “self-protection.”

The U.K.’s coronavirus death toll rose on Saturday from 11 to 21 and the total number of people testing positive passed 1,000.

5:31 a.m. Muslim holy sites close

The Islamic Waqaf, the highest Islamic authority in Jerusalem for Muslims, has decided to close down the third holiest place in Islam for prayer because of the coronavirus. The prayer will only be allowed at the plaza in the open air area but not inside the two buildings, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque.

3:57 a.m. Tom Hanks tweets Australian-themed update

“Thanks to the Helpers. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other,” tweeted actor Tom Hanks, along with a photo of a kangaroo, koala and vegemite on toast.

Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, are in Australia where they tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

3:10 a.m. Israeli Prime Minister’s corruption trail postponed

A Jerusalem district court announced it was postponing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial for two months because of restrictions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The hearing will now begin on May 24.

2:50 a.m. Long lines at airports as travelers wait for screenings

As President Trump’s European travel restrictions go into effect, thousands of airline passengers are facing hours-long waiting lines for enhanced coronavirus screenings by the CDC and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at airports across the country.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted, “The crowds & lines [Chicago’s] O’Hare [airport] are unacceptable & need to be addressed immediately.”

Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, is calling wait times “unacceptable.”

Morgan tweeted Sunday that “some of the resources of our partners are stretched thin” and that CBP is continuing to adjust its resources.

The Department of Homeland Security said: “Upon arrival, travelers will proceed to standard customs processing. They will then continue to enhanced entry screening where the passenger will be asked about their medical history, current condition, and asked for contact information for local health authorities. Passengers will then be given written guidance about COVID-19 and directed to proceed to their final destination, and immediately home-quarantine in accordance with CDC best practices.”

Trump said in a tweet Sunday, “We are doing very precise Medical Screenings at our airports. Pardon the interruptions and delays, we are moving as quickly as possible, but it is very important that we be vigilant and careful. We must get it right. Safety first!”

1:30 a.m.: Trump tests negative for COVID-19

Trump has tested negative for COVID-19, a White House physician said Saturday.

While hosting the Brazilian delegation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last week, Trump came in close contact with at least two people who later tested positive for the virus.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

SpaceX aborts rocket launch after countdown

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iStock(BREVARD COUNTY, Fla.) — Three, two, one, zero, grounded.

A SpaceX rocket launch was aborted after countdown finished Sunday at Kennedy Space Center. Although some of the Falcon 9’s rockets had already ignited, a power issue triggered an auto abort, the company said.

Huge plumes of smoke billowed out into the air while the rocket stayed in place on the launch pad.

“The purpose of the countdown is to catch potential issues prior to flight. There are a thousand ways a launch could go wrong and only one way it can go right,” Michael Andrews, a SpaceX supply chain supervisor, said during the launch’s livestream.

The rocket was set to launch 60 new satellites into orbit. SpaceX said it will determine a date to re-attempt lift off.

In January, SpaceX conducted a safety test where it intentionally blew up one of its Falcon 9 rockets to test its escape pod. Earlier this month, the company conducted a cargo transport mission to the International Space Station.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Storm hitting California with up to 6 feet of snow possible

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iStock(LOS ANGELES) — A large and potent storm system on the West Coast is already bringing very heavy snow to the northern and central California Mountains in what looks to be the most significant storm so far this season for parts of the state.

Since there is a good amount of instability in parts of the region, snowfall rates could be quite intense with locally up to 4 inches per hour possible this morning. This will make any travel in the region extremely dangerous.

Heavy rain is also starting to spread down the coast with localized flash flooding possible. Additionally, gusty winds over 40 mph will be possible in parts of central and southern California as the storm slides into the region.

The heaviest bands of rain will move southward towards Southern California Sunday night and into Monday, with locally 2 to 4 inches of rainfall possible. Heavy snow will continue for the Sierra through Monday as some snow also will develop in some of the southern California mountains.

The precipitation should decrease in coverage on Tuesday as the system moves deeper into the intermountain west. Locally, 4 to 6 feet of mountain snow will be possible in the northern and central California mountain range and 2 to 4 inches of rain will be possible in the California coast. Up to a foot of snow will be possible in the Southern California mountains.

As we head into the middle of the week, this storm will begin to interact with another storm that in the central U.S.

Late Tuesday and into Wednesday, there will be two distinct areas of unsettled weather. One being heavy rain and thunderstorms in the central U.S., especially the southern plains, as well as regions of rain and mountain snow in the intermountain west.

Then on Thursday, a more prevalent storm system will take shape with widespread mountain snow from Montana to New Mexico and heavy rain and strong storms for the plains and Midwest.

Late Thursday and Friday, the storm will then race off to the north and east and likely bring a round of snow to parts of the upper Midwest.

Additionally, a line of strong storms will form along the cold front that will move into the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, eventually reaching the east coast by the end of the week.

The main threat that could result from this storm system is several rounds of heavy rain in the southern plains and parts of the Midwest. This could lead to increase flooding potential as get towards the end of the week.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

ACM Awards postponed until September in response to COVID-19

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Academy of Country MusicThe upcoming 55th Academy of Country Music Awards — which were to be held Sunday, April 5 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas — have now been postponed until September, in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus.   The exact date, time and venue for the CBS show will be announced at a later date.

“The ACM Awards is a tentpole event for our country music industry, and the Academy of Country Music and dick clark productions went to great lengths to find a safe solution for the show to go on so that we can honor our artist community,” ACM CEO Damon Whiteside says in a statement.

“This decision involved many partners, stakeholders and the industry who we have been in constant conversations with over the past several days as the situation has developed,” he continues. “We look forward to identifying a future date that we can celebrate with our country community safely.”

Ticketholders for the awards and its related events can visit ACMCountry.com for information about a refund. 

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

$9.4 billion plastics facility to be built on slave burial grounds, report says

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iStock(ST. JAMES PARISH, La.) — Community activists in St. James Parish, Louisiana, are demanding land permits for a $9.4 billion plastics facility be revoked after archaeologists may have discovered the project is scheduled to be built atop several slave burial grounds, a report shows.

Organizers with RISE St. James provided a “comprehensive and detailed report” by Coastal Environments Inc. to the St. James Parish Council that shows FG LA LLC, better known as Formosa Plastics, has been aware since 2018 that the land set aside for the project is above as many as seven cemeteries that could contain hundreds of slaves.

Formosa Plastics didn’t immediately respond to repeated requests for comment from ABC News.

“The enslaved people in these gravesites had no choice in where they lived, where they worked, where they died and where they were buried,” said Sharon Lavigne of RISE St. James. “Our ancestors are crying out to us from their graves — they are telling us to not let industry disturb their burial sites. Formosa Plastics did not inform the citizens of St. James or the parish council of the existence of the graves when they knew — they don’t care, they just want to profit from St. James Parish.”

Ethylene oxide is used to produce other ingredients that are used in other chemicals like antifreeze.

Coastal Environments, aka CEI, a firm that specializes in environmental and archeological services, alerted to the Louisiana Division of Archaeology in 2018 that based on maps from 1877 and 1978 the existence of two cemeteries on the former Acadia and Buena Vista plantations.

“The significance of this discovery for descendants, and for history, cannot be overstated,” said Pam Spees, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights who’s representing RISE. “This land has a value and meaning that should be honored and protected against this kind of harmful development that will only serve to destroy, rather than help, build the community of descendants of those from whom so much was taken.”

Members of RISE St. James have long known there are burial sites of enslaved people along the Mississippi River.

“Formosa’s consultants were sent back out to survey the site again, having not found any cemeteries the first time,” according to a letter sent to the parish on Wednesday from Spees and other representatives for RISE. “They marked out a cemetery on the former Buena Vista plantation but believed the cemetery on the Acadia plantation had been destroyed under previous ownership.”

The letter also said that the plastics company didn’t mention the findings by Coastal Environments, and that the company’s consultants “chose to investigate an area where the cemetery was not located.”

Formosa Plastics’ spokeswoman Janile Parks told The Associated Press via email on Wednesday that the company is following the law and has fenced off the burial ground they found.

“FG will continue to be respectful of historical burial grounds and will continue to follow all applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations related to land use and cultural resources,” Parks wrote.

“Historically, it has been a challenge to locate the burial grounds of enslaved people before harm was done to such graves upon inadvertent discovery,” Spees wrote. “Had it not been for the archaeologist at CEI working independently and going out of his way to alert the Division of Archaeology to the likely existence of these graves, more graves may have been destroyed and lost forever to history and to descendants.”

The aerial views of the possible graveyards within CEI’s 146-page report shows the land with “difficult to see” images of crosses, according to the report that makes recommends to prove their hypothesis including excavating the land.

The Taiwan-based company went forward with submitting land approval applications to build the ethylene complex on St. James Parish’s West Bank on the approximately 2,500-acre plot that is also in the middle of a historic African American community, according to RISE.

Formosa Plastics said working with the District No. 5 community has “enabled us to partner with local schools, churches, senior centers, businesses and others to implement much-needed programs.”

The St. James Parish Council did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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