Merrit Kennedy | WCAI

Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Kennedy joined NPR in Washington, D.C., in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ousting of two presidents, eight rounds of elections, and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East, and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET

A former nursing assistant at a medical center for veterans in West Virginia has pleaded guilty to seven counts of second-degree murder and one count of assault with the intent to commit murder.

Reta Mays, 46, appeared in federal court Tuesday and admitted to killing the patients at the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Clarksburg by injecting them with insulin. She also admitted injecting an eighth patient in order to kill him.

As Major League Baseball prepares to start its season, a massive set of coronavirus test results shows that 28 out of the league's 30 teams have had a player or staff member test positive.

So far, 71 players and 12 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, MLB announced Friday.

When teams convened for training camps at the beginning of the month, the league carried out intake screenings. Some 58 players and eight staff members tested positive. That's a rate of 1.8%, with more than 3,700 samples tested.

Updated at 2:15 p.m. ET

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered the Hagia Sophia museum, one of Istanbul's most famous landmarks, to be converted into a mosque.

He made the announcement on Friday, hours after a top court cleared the way for him to make the change.

The Hagia Sophia, a major draw for tourists, has a long and complicated history. The architectural marvel was built as a church by the Byzantines in the 6th century and then converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined Tuesday how the state will eventually decide to start lifting restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor did not indicate when these decisions might happen, only saying that "when it comes to re-opening, SCIENCE – not politics – must be California's guide."

The World Bank has projected that a recession is coming to sub-Saharan African for the first time in 25 years — due to an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the number of coronavirus cases in his state is doubling every four days now — a marked decrease from early on in the outbreak, when it was doubling every 2 1/2 days.

"It's still doubling, and that's still bad news, because that still means you're moving up towards an apex," Cuomo said at a press conference on Friday. "But there is good news in that the rate of the increase is slowing."

Fred "Curly" Neal, the Harlem Globetrotters star who played more than 6,000 games and 22 seasons, has died at 77. The team remembers him as "one of the truly magical dribblers and shooters in basketball history."

The Globetrotters said in a statement that Neal, who played with the team from 1963 to 1985, died at home in Houston on Thursday morning.

A political twist in Israel may help the embattled prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stay in power.

After three inconclusive elections, the right wing Netanyahu and his centrist rival Benny Gantz are reportedly close to a deal to rotate as prime minister, with Netanyahu taking the first turn.

If you don't already have a REAL ID-compliant drivers license or ID, you have an additional year to get one before you probably need it to board a domestic flight.

The Dept. of Homeland Security has pushed back the enforcement deadline from Oct. 1, 2020 to Oct. 1, 2021 in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated at 3:45 p.m.

China will close its borders to foreigners starting on Saturday, March 28, in a dramatic step to try to stop the coronavirus coming in from abroad.

The move is the latest in a string of tough steps by the Chinese government to combat the virus, which first appeared in the city of Wuhan late last year and has spread widely since.

Updated at 7:31 p.m. ET

Nearly three years after crude oil started to flow through the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, a federal judge has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental review.

It's a major victory for the Native American tribes and environmental groups who have been fighting against the project for years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says that because of the coronavirus pandemic, he is delaying a constitutional referendum that could allow him to stay in power until 2036. The vote had been scheduled for April 22.

"You know that this is a very serious matter for me," Putin said in a speech on Wednesday. "However...our absolute priority is the health, life and safety of the people. This is why I believe the vote should be postponed."

The U.N. is calling for countries to reduce the number of people in detention, saying that "physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible."

U.N. High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet says authorities should look for ways to release people in detention who are especially vulnerable to the disease, such as those who are elderly or who have health issues. She says they should also consider releasing low-risk offenders.

U.K Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced sweeping new restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Brits must now stay home – with very few exceptions – or risk facing fines.

"No prime minister wants to enact measures like this. I know the damage that this disruption is doing and will do to people's lives, to their businesses and to their jobs," Johnson said in a video posted on his Twitter account. "At present, there are just no easy options."

Updated 8:36 p.m. ET

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has endorsed a delay in the start of the 2020 games in Tokyo because of the spread of deadly coronavirus.

The U.S. committee released a statement saying it had polled athletes and concluded that "the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can't be overcome in a satisfactory manner."

The State Department says it is organizing repatriation flights for U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are having trouble leaving Morocco because of travel restrictions prompted to fight the coronavirus crisis.

"Today, as we speak, Mission Morocco is supporting the repatriation via chartered flight of more than 1,000 American citizens stranded in Morocco as that country halted its air, land and maritime links in order to slow the virus's spread," David Schenker, the Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs, told reporters.

Authorities are calling in the army to Italy's hardest-hit region to help enforce orders that people stay at home, as the country registers its largest death toll in a single day since the start of the outbreak.

"Lombardy Gov. Attilio Fontana said the Rome government has agreed to deploy the army in his region to ensure compliance," NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reported. "Officials complain that there are simply too many people still on the streets with no justification."

Updated at 2:45 p.m. ET

Trump administration officials say nonessential travel between the U.S. and Mexico will halt as of Saturday to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"The United States and Mexico have agreed to restrict nonessential travel over our shared border," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Friday.

Updated at 12:15 p.m. ET

U.S. taxpayers will have a three-month extension to file their taxes because of the coronavirus pandemic, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday.

He said that at the president's direction, "we are moving Tax Day from April 15 to July 15."

"All taxpayers and businesses will have this additional time to file and make payments without interest or penalties," Mnuchin added.

At the same time, he encouraged people who are set to receive refunds to file earlier so that they can get their money more quickly.

Brazil's famed Christ the Redeemer statue was lit up with the flags of countries that have reported positive coronavirus tests, as cases of the virus spread around the world.

The giant statue of Jesus Christ, which stands nearly 100 feet tall and overlooks the city of Rio de Janeiro, also showed images of the continents afflicted. Images of the words "pray together" in many languages were also projected onto the statue on Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of guardsmen could be called up to help state efforts to combat the coronavirus in the coming weeks and months, the head of the National Guard Bureau said.

"This could quickly blossom," Gen. Joseph Lengyel told Pentagon reporters Thursday.

At the moment, just over 2,000 members of the National Guard are assisting governors in 27 states, doing things such as helping with testing and transportation. Lengyel said that number could double by this weekend.

There are some 450,000 Guardsmen in the Air Guard and National Guard.

Updated at 3:23 p.m. ET

Italian authorities say the number of deaths related to coronavirus has risen to at least 3,405 — meaning the country's death toll has passed that of China, where the virus was first detected late last year.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state will waive mortgage payments for the next 90 days, based on financial hardship, due to the impacts of the coronavirus.

"If you are not working, if you are working only part-time, we're going to have the banks and financial institutions waive mortgage payments for 90 days," he said at a news conference Thursday. "That will be a real-life economic benefit. It will also be a stress reliever for many families."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state will waive mortgage payments for the next 90 days, based on financial hardship, due to the impacts of the coronavirus.

"If you are not working, if you are working only part-time, we're going to have the banks and financial institutions waive mortgage payments for 90 days," he said at a news conference Thursday. "That will be a real-life economic benefit. It will also be a stress reliever for many families."

Updated at 10:26 p.m. ET

The Brazilian government says an official who met President Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort last weekend has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fábio Wajngarten, the communications director for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, was part of a delegation that traveled to the U.S. During that trip, Wajngarten posted a photo of himself on Instagram standing directly next to Trump and wearing a hat that says "Make Brazil Great Again."

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