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Americans prepare for a Memorial Day transformed by COVID-19

On Friday, President Trump declared houses of worship “essential," calling on governors to reopen them. Some beaches and lakes are also allowing visitors as Americans mark the Memorial Day holiday. But as the pandemic rages on, flags across the country are currently at half-staff for a different somber milestone: the more than 95,000 people in the U.S. killed by COVID-19. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump declared houses of worship essential today, and insisted that governors reopen them this weekend.

    Some beaches and lakes are also reopening, as Americans mark the Memorial Day holiday. That all comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. climbed to roughly 1.6 million.

    William Brangham has our report.

  • William Brangham:

    The flags stood at half-staff at the White House today for the more than 95,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

    The staggering death toll comes as the U.S. enters the unofficial start of summer this weekend.

    One mayor along the New Jersey Shore said he's committed to keeping beachgoers safe:

  • Paul Kanitra:

    We're going to have personnel specifically dedicated to enforcing social distancing, to making sure that groups stay with who they came with and that they're keeping that six-foot radius at all times.

  • William Brangham:

    Mayor Kanitra said he's cut beach parking by half to try and curb the number of out-of-town visitors.

    And beaches along Lake Michigan, like this one in Northwest Indiana, are also slated to reopen this weekend.

    Park ranger Bruce Rowe said they will be watching the crowds carefully:

  • Bruce Rowe:

    Two weeks ago, we shut down a beach in the national park because of overcrowded, dangerous conditions. And if that becomes necessary, we will do that again.

  • William Brangham:

    Meanwhile, a new report from The Lancet medical journal finds that the anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, the latter of which President Trump says he's been taking to prevent COVID-19, is linked to a higher death rate among people who are sick with the virus, and it can double or triple the risk of an irregular heart rhythm.

    There's no good evidence the drugs prevent COVID-19, and the president this week hinted he might stop taking hydroxychloroquine, perhaps when the typical 14-day course ends.

    At a press briefing today, the president said he ordered the Centers for Disease Control to issue new guidance to allow places of worship to reopen their doors this weekend.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now.

  • William Brangham:

    And he said he will override governors who do not comply, though he doesn't have the authority to do so.

    The CDC also updated other coronavirus prevention guidelines, saying that the virus is not as easily spread via contaminated surfaces as originally thought or spread through animals.

    Across the globe today, Muslims are preparing for their normally big Eid celebrations, which mark the end of Ramadan, a bit differently. From this Indonesian outdoor market, to this one in Kabul, crowds of people, some in masks, shopped for the holiday.

    One Kabul official warned, the city will be under lockdown during Eid and urged families to avoid large gatherings.

  • Mohammad Yaqud Haidari (through translator):

    We ask all to stay at home and avoid going out for Eid celebrations, going to relatives' homes, picnics and all other means of celebration.

    The reason for this restriction is the spread of coronavirus in Kabul city and the unexpected increase in number of positive cases.

  • William Brangham:

    Meanwhile, in Europe, there's a rush to implement new safety and prevention measures as businesses start to reopen, like at this upscale salon in Rome.

    Owner Giada Capauno says she's happy to get back to work, but says new safety measures will also be costly.

  • Giada Capauno (through translator):

    To re-sanitize an area between one client and the next takes as a minimum half-an-hour, which means taking less appointments and bringing in less money at the end of the month.

  • William Brangham:

    And in Portugal, one coastal resort town says it will test all its 200,000 residents for coronavirus antibodies.

    Officials say the results could provide peace of mind and hope it can lead to a busy tourist season. But for each new reopening, new hot spots are appearing. India reported 6,088 new coronavirus cases in just 24 hours, its biggest one-day spike.

    And in Brazil, in what is considered by many to be an underestimate, more than 20,000 Brazilians have died from the virus, a fifth of those in Sao Paulo, including Daniela Dos Santos' mother.

  • Daniela Dos Santos (through translator):

    This disease is silent. We don't believe it happens. And look at this. I'm burying my mother.

  • William Brangham:

    In that city, graves are being dug at an unprecedented rate, now creating the largest cemetery in Latin America.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

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