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.

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.

The State Department has issued its most serious travel warning yet in light of the coronavirus crisis. On Thursday, it instructed U.S. citizens not to travel internationally.

The Level 4 travel advisory also calls on U.S. citizens who live in the U.S. but are currently overseas to "arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period."

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 12:41 p.m. ET Friday

Officials in Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon and the District of Columbia have announced that schools in their states will be closed for several weeks amid concerns about the coronavirus. The statewide closures come after many school districts and dozens of colleges and universities have temporarily closed because of the COVID-19 disease.

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."

Thousands of people have been facing a difficult decision in recent weeks about whether to cancel or postpone an upcoming cruise vacation amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Now, for many, the decision has been made for them.

Starting in April, immigration authorities will start taking cheek swabs to collect DNA from hundreds of thousands of immigration detainees in federal custody each year.

The Trump Administration says the policy change will help law enforcement apprehend criminal suspects. The data collected will be transferred to an FBI database, so that in the future, law enforcement officials could check if these samples matched any DNA recovered from a crime scene.

The International Criminal Court has cleared the way for its prosecutor to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, including those allegedly committed by U.S. forces and the CIA.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted the decision, calling it a "breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution, masquerading as a legal body."

In Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria's nearly decade-long civil war, airstrikes have razed villages to the ground and displaced populations are being forced into smaller and smaller areas, as their camps balloon and overtake farmland, according to newly revealed satellite imagery.

The province has come under attack from Syrian and Russian forces in an offensive that began last year.

Thailand's top court has dissolved a nascent political party that has rankled the country's military establishment.

The court said the party's leader, 41-year-old Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, violated election law because he gave the new party about $6 million – far more than Thai law allows for political donations. Thanathorn insists the money was a loan.

The Horn of Africa, one of the world's most impoverished regions, is being ransacked by billions of tiny invaders.

Farmers look on in horror as desert locusts moving in vast cloud-like swarms darken the sky. The insects blast through fields of crops at an astonishing pace, decimating livelihoods in the process.

Forever 21, the fast-fashion mall standby that filed for bankruptcy last year, will live on. Three companies announced Wednesday that they are jointly acquiring the retailer aimed at young shoppers and that they plan to continue to operate its U.S. and international stores.

The buyers are Authentic Brands Group, which owns major brands such as Barneys New York, Aeropostale and Nine West; and real estate companies Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners.

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