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Holiday amid pandemic: Americans divided on how to respond

As the world begins to reopen, Memorial Day celebrations will look a bit different this year.

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump visited one of his golf courses May 23 at the start of the Memorial Day weekend as he urges U.S. states to reopen after coronavirus-related lockdowns. Yet many Americans remained cautious as the number of confirmed cases nationwide passed 1.6 million.

In California, where many businesses and recreational activities are reopening, officials in Los Angeles County said they would maintain tight restrictions until July 4. Some religious leaders took issue with Trump’s declaration that houses of worship are “essential” and should resume in-person services.

A couple watches TV while doing their laundry amid the coronavirus pandemic in the Vermont Square neighborhood of Los Angeles on May 21. While most of California took another step forward to partly reopen in time for Memorial Day weekend, Los Angeles County didn't join the party because the number of coronavirus cases has grown at a pace that leaves it unable to meet even the new, relaxed state standards for allowing additional businesses and recreational activities. [JAE C. HONG | AP]

"Being at the epicenter of this pandemic and in order to protect our flock, we advise that congregations remain closed until more accurate and uniform information is provided," said Bishop Paul Egensteiner, who oversees the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's congregations in the hard-hit New York City region.

Rain dampened the start of the holiday weekend in the northeastern U.S., where newly reopened beaches had been expected to attract throngs of people and test the effectiveness of social distancing rules.

However, Trump visited one of his private golf clubs for the first time during the pandemic — the Trump National Golf Club in northern Virginia. He has been pushing for state and local leaders to fully reopen after months after closures and tight restrictions.

Overseas, there was mixed news. New coronavirus cases in China fell to zero on May 23 for the first time since the start of the outbreak but surged in India and overwhelmed hospitals across Latin America.

A child temporarily removes his mask to enjoy a ride at a local park in Beijing on May 23. New coronavirus cases dropped to zero in China for the first time Saturday. [NG HAN GUAN | AP]

In countries with weak health care systems, impoverished populations and not enough clean water, fighting the virus is increasingly difficult.

"I'm a mother, if I don't go out and sell, my children won't have food to eat. I am obliged to go out and come here to sell products, despite the danger that we are in," said Nagnouma Kante, a market vendor in Guinea's capital Conakry.

Turkey, which has recorded over 155,000 infections, imposed its toughest lockdown measures yet starting May 23 for the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan, and Yemen’s Houthi rebels urged believers to use masks and stay inside, as authorities try to contain infections at a time usually marked by days of multigenerational feasting and collective prayer.

Many governments are easing restrictions as they face a political backlash and historic recessions brought on by the battle against the virus. In just a few months, the pandemic has killed at least 338,000 people worldwide and infected more than 5.2 million, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. It says more than 96,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States.

In Germany, which has drawn praise for its handling of the virus, seven people appear to have been infected at a restaurant in the northwest of the country. It would be the first known such case since restaurants started reopening two weeks ago.

And in Frankfurt, more than 40 people tested positive after a church service of the Evangelical Christian Baptist congregation on May 10. The city's health office said one is hospitalized.

A church leader said the community had complied with all hygiene rules but has canceled all gatherings and is now holding services online. Authorities in nearby Hanau called off Muslim prayers planned for a stadium May 24 as a precaution.

Religious events helped spread the virus early in the pandemic, and resuming gatherings of the faithful is an especially thorny issue.

Mindful of evangelical Christians who are key to his base of support ahead of November’s election, Trump on May 23 labeled houses of worship as “essential” and urged governors to let them reopen this weekend. However, leaders of many denominations have said they plan to move gradually and cautiously.

France allowed in-person services to resume starting May 23 after a legal challenge to the government’s ban on gatherings in places of worship.

One of the world’s major pilgrimage sites is reopening May 24: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

Latin America is the latest epicenter of the virus, and experts note the limits of government action in a region where millions have informal jobs and many police forces are weak or corrupt and unable to enforce restrictions.

Brazil and Mexico reported record numbers of infections and deaths almost daily this week, fueling criticism of their presidents for limited lockdowns. But infections also rose and intensive care units were swamped in Peru, Chile and Ecuador, all countries lauded for imposing early and aggressive business shutdowns and quarantines.

Concerns are rising in India, where new cases showed another record jump May 23, topping 6,000 for a second consecutive day as a two-month lockdown has eased. States with relatively few cases have seen spikes in recent days as residents, including migrant workers traveling on special trains, have returned home.

While some countries are facing a second wave of infections, badly hit Russia is still struggling with its first, and reported more than 9,000 new daily cases May 23.

In the U.S., some regions are opening more quickly than others. California is preparing its wineries for visitors next week, and Las Vegas casinos could reopen June 4.

New Yorkers got an unexpected reprieve after Gov. Andrew Cuomo eased the virus-ravaged state's ban on gatherings in time for the Memorial Day weekend, when Americans honor fallen military service members, hold picnics and head outdoors on what's traditionally seen as the kickoff to summer.

American flags fly over the graves of veterans on May 19, a few days before Memorial Day, at Lakeside Cemetery in Erie, Pa. In the background is Lake Erie and the Presque Isle channel. [CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE | AP]

Some families planned to go to beaches or national parks for the first time since the virus hit, and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was scheduled to visit the Grand Canyon on May 23.

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