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The Latest: US to recommend widespread wearing of masks

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:

Trump administration finalizing recommendation for widespread wearing of masks.

Number of coronavirus cases worldwide tops 1 million.

— United Nations chief says non-payment of dues exacerbated by pandemic.

Feds propose fine for Seattle-area nursing home where at least 40 died.

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is formalizing new guidance to recommend that many, if not almost all, Americans wear face coverings when leaving home, in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The recommendations were still being finalized Thursday. They would apply at least to those who live in areas hard-hit by community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

A person familiar with the White House coronavirus task force's discussion said officials would suggest that non-medical masks, T-shirts or bandannas be used to cover the nose and mouth when outside the home — for instance, at the grocery store or pharmacy. Medical-grade masks, particularly short-in-supply N95 masks, would be reserved for those dealing directly with the sick.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the proposed guidance before its public release.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Passengers aboard two cruise ships that have had coronavirus cases and deaths have been given the green light to disembark at a Florida port.

Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine said Thursday that an agreement had been reached between local, state and federal officials and Carnival Corp., which owns the Zaandam and the Rotterdam. And Port Everglades traffic records list the two ships’ arrival as “confirmed.”

The cruise line Holland America is operating the ships. Holland America says 45 passengers who are mildly sick will stay on board until they recover, but that it needs 10 people to be taken to a Fort Lauderdale hospital for immediate medical care.

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NEW YORK — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide passed the 1 million threshold Thursday as the pandemic swept across the globe.

Johns Hopkins University’s website showed the milestone was hit Thursday afternoon. The count represents confirmed cases, but the true numbers are believed to be much higher.

Nearly 51,500 people have died from the virus.

The United States accounts for about 236,000 of the confirmed cases — more than any other country, according to the tally.

The milestone came on the same day that figures showed more than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week in the latest indication that the pandemic is ravaging global economies.

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UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the U.N. is facing a cash crisis because of non-payment of dues by member states, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.N. chief said in a letter to the 193 U.N. member nations obtained Thursday by The Associated Press that outstanding payments for regular budget operations have now reached $2.27 billion “and we have no clear indication of when these payments might be received.”

Guterres said “unpredictable cash inflows, exacerbated by the global crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, seriously threaten” the U.N.’s ability to do its work.

He announced a temporary hiring freeze and urged all countries to pay their dues and adopt measures to enable the U.N. to better cope with a cash crisis.

The U.N.’s annual operating budget for 2020 is nearly $3.1 billion, and Guterres said the gap between its planned and actual collections is already more than $220 million.

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SEATTLE — Federal authorities have proposed a $611,000 fine for a Seattle-area nursing home connected to at least 40 coronavirus deaths.

State regulators and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services conducted an inspection of the Life Care Center of Kirkland on March 16, finding serious infractions that they said placed residents in immediate danger.

Authorities said Life Care had at least partially fixed the most serious problems by the time they conducted follow-up inspection last weekend. In a letter to Life Care on Wednesday, CMS proposed a fine of $611,000, but said that could be adjusted up or down based on how Life Care continues to correct remaining problems.

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RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia long-term care facility that tested all of its residents because of the scope of its coronavirus outbreak announced more deaths Thursday, bringing the total to 16, but said many residents who tested positive showed no signs of being ill.

The testing more than doubled the number of confirmed cases at Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center, according to a statement from the facility. Ninety-two in-house or hospitalized residents tested positive, the statement said, up from a total earlier in the week of 41.

Of those who tested positive, 53, or about 58%, showed no sign of being ill.

Canterbury's medical director, Dr. Jim Wright, said in an interview this week that at one point in the outbreak, staff were triaging patients in a way he never expected to see in the United States.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — More than 5,000 medical masks that an Alabama county received from the national stockpile were rotted, the local emergency management director said.

States and cities are receiving shipments from the National Strategic Stockpile to try to relieve shortages in medical equipment because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Christi Thornton, director of the Montgomery City/County Emergency Management Agency, said the shipment of 5,880 procedure masks was unusable because of dry rot. The masks had a 2010 expiration date, according to the city's response to a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Thornton said they received a replacement shipment Wednesday.

Alabama has more than 1,100 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the state health department. There have been 32 COVID-19 deaths reported to the state; health officials have so far confirmed 17 of them.

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BRUSSELS — NATO foreign ministers have tasked the organization’s top military officer to help improve the 30-nation military alliance’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday the ministers had asked General Tod D. Wolters “to coordinate the necessary military support to combat the crisis, to speed up and step up assistance.”

Wolters' job will be to locate the right aircraft to help deliver medical supplies, coordinate the use of any surplus stocks and equipment among members and ensure they reach countries most in need quickly.

While the disease is hitting all its member countries and could yet raise security concerns, NATO itself has no front-line role to play against its spread, apart from supporting national efforts with logistical, transportation and communications help.

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LONDON — The British government has written off 13.4 billion pounds ($16.5 billion) of historic debt that hospitals owe in order to free up resources in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at the government's daily news conference that it was a “landmark step” for the National Health Service.

Following days of criticism, Hancock also spelled out a five-point plan to ratchet up tests for the virus from 10,000 a day to 100,000 by the end of the month.

U.K. figures earlier showed that the number of people who have died from the virus had risen by a daily 569 to 2,921.

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WASHINGTON — Army soldiers are setting up a military hospital at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field and it will include 250 beds for non-coronavirus patients.

Lt. Col. Jason Hughes, from the Army’s 10th Field Hospital out of Fort Carson, Colorado, said there will be about 500 medical professionals at the hospital, and they will be ready to take patients early next week.

He told Pentagon reporters that the soldiers are putting up barriers in the tents to add privacy for the patients, and they are working on abating the noise from power generators and oxygen systems.

Col. Hope Williamson-Younce, from the 627th Hospital Center, also from Fort Carson, said they have 60 ventilators. Asked why those aren’t being sent to hospitals that need them for their more critically ill coronavirus patients, she said the field hospital will need them for the seriously ill or injured patients that they will have to see.

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is calling on governments around the world to immediately release hundreds of thousands if not millions of prisoners who have been jailed for peacefully practicing their religion.

The U.S. special envoy for religious freedom Sam Brownback said Thursday that the coronavirus pandemic had made the situation more urgent, particularly in authoritarian countries known for repression of religious minorities. He cited China, Indonesia, Iran, Eritrea, North Korea, Russia and Vietnam as having significant numbers of prisoners of religious conscience in jails.

“These are people who should not be in jail on the first place,” Brownback told reporters. “In this time of pandemic religious prisoners should be released. It’s good health practice and the right thing to do.”

Brownback also called for governments to push back on allegations from some quarters that religious minorities are to blame for the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has reported 79 more deaths from the coronavirus outbreak, increasing the death toll in the country to 356.

Figures posted by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca on Twitter Thursday also showed that 2,456 more people tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 18,135.

So far, a total of 415 people have recovered, the figures show.

Koca said 82% of Thursday's fatalities were people above the age of 60.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana's confirmed number of coronavirus cases spiked 42% higher Thursday as a backlog of test results poured in.

The spike in cases confirmed Gov. John Bel Edwards' message that the virus's footprint across the state is much wider than limited testing has been able to document so far.

Nearly 9,200 people have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the latest figures released by the Louisiana Department of Health. That's a jump of more than 2,700 confirmed cases from a day earlier and the largest single-day increase reported so far.

Edwards said many of the tests were done days ago, and he emphasized that most of those infected are self-isolating at home, not requiring a hospital bed.

The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 did not show a similar jump. Louisiana's death toll from the coronavirus disease grew to 310 in Thursday's figures, 14% higher than the day before, recording an additional 37 people whose deaths from the virus have been confirmed.

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WASHINGTON — Melania Trump has offered well wishes to Sophie Grégroire of Canada following her recovery from COVID-19.

The White House says the first lady expressed “deep appreciation” during Thursday's conversation with the wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for continued cooperation between the U.S. and Canada as they address the coronavirus pandemic.

Mrs. Trump stressed the importance of maintaining strong economic ties following a joint agreement between the countries to ban nonessential travel across their shared border.

She and Grégoire also discussed efforts to repatriate Americans and Canadians who have been stranded on cruise ships around the world.

Trudeau's office announced March 13 that his wife had tested positive for the coronavirus after she returned from a trip to London. The prime minister continues to self-isolate at home in Ottawa.

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PRAGUE — The Czechs — the biggest beer drinkers per capita in the world — have been trying to save their beloved beer and bars amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Major brewers, including the Pilsner Urquell and Budweiser Budvar, are launching a campaign to help the establishments and watering holes struggling to survive a period of tough restrictions imposed to contain the outbreak.

The brewers say “the current situation is really critical.” They say some 250,000 jobs in the industry are under threat and “nobody knows how long it might take.”

The bars and restaurants have been ordered to shut down. Only some serve meals and drinks to go.

As part of the “Save a Bar” campaign, people can send money to their favorite bar or restaurant in exchange for vouchers they can use there once the crisis is over.

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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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