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 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 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.

As doctors in London performed surgery on Dagmar Turner's brain, the sound of a violin filled the operating room.

The music came from the patient on the operating table. In a video from the surgery, the violinist moves her bow up and down as surgeons behind a plastic sheet work to remove her brain tumor.

Updated 6:50 a.m. ET Friday

Federal prosecutors have added new charges against Chinese telecom giant Huawei, its U.S. subsidiaries and its chief financial officer, including accusing it of racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets from U.S.-based companies.

The company already faced a long list of criminal accusations in the case, which was first filed in August 2018, including bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Prosecutors filed the expanded indictment in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday.

Updated at 2:20 p.m. ET

Houston Astros players and coaches offered an apology Thursday in the wake of a sign-stealing scandal that sent shock waves throughout Major League Baseball. But the apology seemed to further inflame critics of the league's and team's response to the sweeping cheating scheme during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

About 50,000 years ago, ancient humans in what is now West Africa apparently procreated with another group of ancient humans that scientists didn't know existed.

There aren't any bones or ancient DNA to prove it, but researchers say the evidence is in the genes of modern West Africans. They analyzed genetic material from hundreds of people from Nigeria and Sierra Leone and found signals of what they call "ghost" DNA from an unknown ancestor.

Holden Matthews, the white son of a sheriff's deputy, has pleaded guilty to federal charges over setting three historically black churches on fire in Louisiana during a 10-day period last March and April. The religious institutions were completely destroyed.

"His atrocious actions inflicted severe pain and grief upon these congregations," Bryan Vorndran, the special agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans Field office, said in a statement.

Angela Merkel's handpicked successor says that she will not seek Germany's chancellorship, casting into uncertainty the future of the Christian Democratic Union, Germany's most dominant political party.

"With the aim of making the CDU stronger, I have today, after extended reflection, informed the party board and leadership team: I will not seek to become a candidate for the office of German Chancellor," party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 57, announced Monday, according to Deutsche-Welle.

A federal judge in Boston has handed down the stiffest penalty yet in the massive college admissions scandal. Douglas Hodge, the former CEO of the global investment giant PIMCO, has been sentenced to nine months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton also sentenced Hodge, 61, to two years of supervised release and 500 hours of community service. He also must pay a fine of $750,000.

Until now, all the pictures of the sun have been straight-on head shots. Soon, scientists will be getting a profile.

NASA and the European Space Agency are set to launch a joint mission on Sunday to provide the first-ever look at the sun's poles. Previous images have all been taken from approximately the same angle, roughly in line with the star's equator.

Scientists are hesitant to guess what the elusive poles of the star might look like. "I hate to speculate," says Holly Gilbert, the NASA project scientist for the mission.

Federal prosecutors have charged Patrick Wood Crusius with hate crimes related to the killing of 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, last August. Crusius allegedly told police he had driven to the store intending to kill "Mexicans."

A federal grand jury returned a 90-count indictment that also included firearm charges in connection with the shootings, which the Department of Justice has described as an act of domestic terrorism.

Bernie Madoff, the mastermind behind a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that defrauded hundreds of investors, is seeking compassionate release from prison because of terminal kidney failure.

The motion filed by Madoff's lawyer, Brandon Sample, says the 81-year-old suffers from end-stage renal disease and many other chronic medical conditions. He has a life expectancy of less than 18 months, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Updated at 6:15 p.m. ET

An airplane careened off a runway at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport on Wednesday evening, dropping more than 100 feet to the ground where it broke into pieces. Turkish authorities say that at least three people were killed and 179 others were injured.

The plane, from a Turkish low-cost carrier called Pegasus Airlines, was coming from the western city of Izmir and was attempting to land in Istanbul during bad weather.

Canada's Federal Court of Appeal has cleared the way for a major expansion to the Trans Mountain Pipeline by ruling against four different challenges from First Nations groups concerned about the environmental impacts of the project.

The Trans Mountain expansion, which would add more than 600 miles to the pipeline and increase its capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000, has been mired in controversy and legal battles since Canada's cabinet first approved the project in 2016.

The European Union expressed major reservations about President Trump's newly unveiled plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it doesn't meet "internationally agreed parameters" on issues such as where Israel's borders should be drawn.

The plan, which has been roundly rejected by Palestinians, sides with Israel on major sticking points such as Jerusalem, settlements in the West Bank and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

The trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency software engineer who allegedly leaked thousands of pages of documents to WikiLeaks was set to begin Monday in federal court in New York. The leak has been described as one of the largest in the CIA's history.

Joshua Schulte has pleaded not guilty to 11 criminal counts, including illegal transmission of unlawfully possessed national defense information and theft of government property.

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