STATE

DALLAS (AP) — For 81-year-old Dell Kaplan, the offer to get calls from a stranger just to chat while staying home during the coronavirus pandemic was immediately appealing.

“It gets pretty lonely here by yourself,” said Kaplan, a suburban Dallas resident who has been missing meals out with friends, family get-togethers and going to classes at a nearby college.

The program being offered by the city of Plano is among those that have popped up across the U.S. during the pandemic to help older adults with a simple offer to engage in small talk.

The global coronavirus pandemic has created a huge need for health care in the U.S., but it also is delivering a devastating financial blow to that sector.

COVID-19 worries have kept patients away from doctors’ offices and forced the postponement and cancellation of nonurgent surgeries. The pandemic also has shut down large portions of the American economy, leaving many would-be patients without insurance or in a financial pinch that makes them curb spending.

All of this has forced hospitals, health systems and doctors to lay off staff, cut costs and hope a return to normal arrives soon.

“You couldn’t ask for a worse situation, really,” said Joe Antos, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute.

NEW YORK (AP) — J.C. Penney will close almost 30% of its 846 stores as part of a restructuring under bankruptcy protection.

The Plano retailer said Monday that it plans to close about 192 stores by February 2021, and then 50 additional stores in the year after that.

That would leave the company with just over 600 stores.

NATION

WARREN, Mich. (AP) — More than 130,000 autoworkers returned to factories across the U.S. for the first time in nearly two months Monday in one of the biggest steps yet to restart American industry, while an experimental vaccine against the coronavirus yielded encouraging results in a small and extremely early test.

At a Fiat Chrysler pickup assembly plant in Warren, outside Detroit, workers entered a giant white tent with a sign that read: “Let’s restart and keep each other safe.” Inside they had their temperatures checked and answered a set of questions on whether they had symptoms of COVID-19.

“I feel safer than being anywhere at any stores, because they got the screening and everything,” said Ann’alazia Moore, a janitor at the factory. “I feel like that’s amazing. That’s smart. I like that. So, I feel more safe. I won’t get sick.”

NEW YORK (AP) — Western New York, including the city of Buffalo, met the state’s coronavirus containment goals and can begin to reopen its economy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

Hospitals will be able to schedule elective surgeries as the region enters the first phase of reopening on Tuesday, but gatherings such as church services and sports events will still be banned, Cuomo said.

“Personal disclosure — I want to watch the Buffalo Bills,” said Cuomo, who held Monday’s briefing in Buffalo. “But I’m still objective, I’m acting as governor.”

MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (AP) — Tropical Storm Arthur began moving away from the North Carolina coast Monday after dumping heavy rain as forecasters warned that the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season could also bring life-threatening surf and rip currents along the U.S. East Coast.

It’s another early start for the Atlantic hurricane season: Arthur formed Saturday in waters off Florida, marking the sixth straight year that a named storm has developed before June 1.

With Arthur’s center passing off North Carolina, towns near the coast including Newport and Havelock recorded more than 4 inches (10 cm) of rain Monday morning as others approached that number, according to the National Weather Service.

Wind gusts of at least 40 mph were recorded in at least two places on the Outer Banks, the weather service said.

WORLD

BERLIN (AP) — The leaders of Germany and France agreed Monday on a one-off 500 billion-euro ($543 billion) fund to help the European Union recover from the coronavirus pandemic, a proposal that would add further cash to an arsenal of financial measures the bloc is readying to cope with the outbreak’s economic fallout.

Following a video call, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron said the plan would involve the European Union borrowing money in financial markets to help sectors and regions that are particularly affected by the pandemic.

Crucially, the money would be disbursed in the form of grants rather than loans, with repayments made from the EU budget, an unprecedented proposal that overcomes long-standing objections in Berlin to the notion of collective borrowing.

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian artists and opposition party supporters gathered for a second day Monday to protest authorities’ demolition of the crumbling National Theater building in the capital, which has triggered strong political tension amid a major heritage debate.

Defying a lockdown ban on mass gatherings, a few thousand people gathered near the Interior Ministry, close to the site of the building, to support the artists in their protest against Prime Minister Edi Rama’s government.

Artists and intellectuals addressed the crowd, denouncing the theater’s demolition and pledging to continue protests until Rama’s government is overthrown. They are planning a new protest Wednesday.

GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization bowed to calls Monday from most of its member states to launch an independent probe into how it managed the international response to the coronavirus, which has been clouded by finger-pointing between the U.S. and China over a pandemic that has killed over 300,000 people and leveled the global economy.

The “comprehensive evaluation,” sought by a coalition of African, European and other countries, is intended to review “lessons learned” from WHO’s coordination of the global response to COVID-19, but would stop short of looking into contentious issues such as the origins of the new coronavirus.

U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed he has proof suggesting the coronavirus originated in a lab in China while the scientific community has insisted all evidence to date shows the virus likely jumped into humans from animals.

WHO’s normally bureaucratic annual assembly this week has been overshadowed by mutual recriminations and political sniping between the U.S. and China. Trump has repeatedly attacked WHO, claiming that it helped China conceal the extent of the coronavirus pandemic in its early stages. Several Republican lawmakers have called on WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to resign.