The latest on the coronavirus pandemic around the U.S. and the world.

WASHINGTON — With coronavirus cases rising in about half the states and political polarization competing for attention with public health recommendations, Dr. Anthony Fauci returns to Capitol Hill on Tuesday at a fraught moment in the nation’s pandemic response.

The government’s top infectious disease expert will testify before a House committee, along with the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Since Fauci’s last appearance at a high-profile hearing more than a month ago, the U.S. is emerging from weeks of stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns. But it’s being done in an uneven way, with some states far less cautious than others. A trio of states with Republican governors who are bullish on reopening — Arizona, Florida and Texas — are among those seeing worrisome increases in cases.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks at the White House on April 17 about the coronavirus. He returns to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Associated Press/Alex Brandon

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence published an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal saying the administration’s efforts have strengthened the nation’s ability to counter the virus and should be “a cause for celebration.”

Then President Trump said at his weekend rally in Tulsa that he had asked administration officials to slow down testing, because too many positive cases are turning up. Many rally goers did not wear masks, and for some that was an act of defiance against what they see as government intrusion. White House officials later tried to walk back Trump’s comment on testing, suggesting it wasn’t meant to be taken literally.

Fauci has recently warned that the U.S. is still in the first wave of the pandemic and has continued to urge the American public to practice social distancing. And, in a recent ABC News interview, he said political demonstrations such as protests against racial injustice are “risky” to all involved. Asked if that applied to Trump rallies, he said it did. Fauci continues to recognize widespread testing as critical for catching clusters of COVID-19 cases before they turn into full outbreaks in a given community.

Read the full story here.

After union balks, Major League Baseball makes its own plan for 60-game schedule

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball plans to unilaterally issue a 60-game schedule for its shortest season since 1878 after the players’ association rejected a negotiated deal of the same length, putting the sport on track for a combative and possibly unhappy return to the field amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Commissioner Rob Manfred and union head Tony Clark negotiated a deal to resume baseball this year, but it was rejected by the players union’s executive board. Associated Press/LM Otero

Six days after baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and union head Tony Clark negotiated to expand the playoffs from 10 teams to 16, widen use of the designated hitter to National League games and introduce an experiment to start extra innings with a runner on second base, the deal was rejected by the Major League Baseball Players Association’s executive board in a 33-5 vote.

“Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development,” MLB said in a statement. “The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic. It gave our fans the chance to see an exciting new postseason format. And, it offered players significant benefits.”

MLB’s control owners approved going unilaterally with the 60-game schedule if the final arrangements can be put in place, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement was made.

MLB asked the union to respond by 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday as to whether players can report to training and whether the players’ association will agree on the operating manual of health and safety protocols. The schedule would be the shortest since the National League’s third season.

The union announced its rejection, and the vote total was confirmed by a person familiar with that meeting who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the balloting was not made public. The decision likely will provoke what figures to be lengthy and costly litigation over the impact of the coronavirus on the sport, similar to the collusion cases that sent baseball spiraling to a a spring training lockout in 1990 and a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that wiped out the World Series for the first time in nine decades.

Read the full story on the baseball season here.

Rising virus numbers in Texas don’t slow its reopening

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas’ surging coronavirus numbers are not slowing down the state’s reopening.

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Gov. Greg Abbott addresses a news conference at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, about the coronavirus pandemic on Monday. Abbott said he has no plans to shut down the state again. “We must find ways to return to our daily routines as well as finding ways to coexist with COVID-19,” Abbott said. Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via Associated Press

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday instead prescribed a renewed emphasis on face coverings to curtail sobering trends, including hospitalization rates that have more than doubled over the past month. Monday marked the 11th consecutive day Texas set a new high for COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Abbott didn’t rule out reimposing lockdown orders but described it as a last resort. He says the virus is spreading at an “unacceptable rate” in Texas but stopped short of mandating face masks in public.

Big cities in Texas have begun mandating that businesses require customers to wear masks, including Houston, where the order went into effect Monday.

Surge in U.S. virus cases raises fear that progress is slipping

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Coronavirus cases in Florida surpassed 100,000 on Monday, part of an alarming surge across the South and West as states reopen for business and many Americans resist wearing masks or keeping their distance from others.

The disturbing signs in the Sunshine State as well as places like Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and South Carolina — along with countries such as Brazil, India and Pakistan — are raising fears that the progress won after months of lockdowns is slipping away.

“It is snowballing. We will most certainly see more people die as a result of this spike,” said Dr. Marc Boom, CEO and president of Houston Methodist Hospital, noting that the number of COVID-19 hospital admissions has tripled since Memorial Day to more then 1,400 across eight hospital systems in the Houston metropolitan area.

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An employee wearing a protective face covering, right, monitors the flow of customers at an Apple retail store Wednesday in Miami Beach, Fla. Associated Press/Lynne Sladky

He predicted that in three weeks hospitals could be overwhelmed, and he pleaded with people to cover their faces and practice social distancing.

“It is possible to open up at a judicious pace and coexist with the virus, but it requires millions and millions of people to do the right thing. Right now, we don’t have that” because people have let their guard down, Boom said.

The number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases across the country per day has reached more than 26,000, up from about 21,000 two weeks ago, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The analysis looked at a seven-day rolling average through Sunday.

Over 120,000 deaths in the U.S. have been blamed on the virus.

Read the full story here.

White House relaxes its own virus screening as D.C. hits phase two

The White House is cutting back on screening visitors for the coronavirus as President Donald Trump pushes to reopen the country.

“In conjunction with Washington, D.C., entering Phase Two today, the White House is scaling back complex-wide temperature checks,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement on Monday.

The White House had been conducting temperature checks in a makeshift medical tent at the press entrance since March. The tent was gone on Monday, as Washington entered its second phase of reopening, allowing the businesses such as restaurants and gyms to open under limited conditions.

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, June 17. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

“In addition to social distancing, hand sanitizer, regular deep cleaning of all work spaces, and voluntary facial coverings, every staff member and guest in close proximity to the president and vice president is still being temperature checked, asked symptom histories, and tested for COVID-19,” Deere said.

A notice posted in the briefing room lists symptoms of the virus and recommends social distancing.

On Saturday, Trump held his first rally since the pandemic began, drawing a crowd in Tulsa, Oklahoma, far smaller than he and his camaign had touted. Health experts had warned that a large indoor rally would fuel the virus’s spread in Oklahoma.

The U.S. reported 33,894 new cases on Saturday, its highest total since May 1. About 120,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S.

Germany works to tame meatpacking outbreak

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said “everything needs to be done” to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus linked to a large slaughterhouse where over 1,300 people have tested positive for COVID-19.

Steffen Seibert said 20 workers at the Toennies meat plant in the western Guetersloh region have been hospitalized and several are in intensive care.

“We very much hope that all those who have fallen ill survive,” Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Monday. “This is an outbreak that needs to be taken very seriously.”

Authorities have scrambled to stop the outbreak from spreading, by ordering mass tests of all workers and putting thousands of people into quarantine. The outbreak at Toennies, where many workers are migrants from Eastern Europe, has pushed up Germany’s daily infection rate.

Authorities have dispatched virologists, contact tracing teams and the German army to help contain the outbreak.

Germany’s disease control center says the country has seen 190,359 confirmed cases and 8,885 virus-related deaths — about five times fewer deaths than in Britain.

Netherlands reports no deaths in last 24 hours

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch public health institute says that no COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the last 24 hours, the first time since March 12 that no new deaths have been seen.

The institute’s Monday death tallies are sometimes lower than other days of the week due to weekend reporting lags.

The official Dutch death toll in the coronavirus pandemic stands at 6,090. The true toll is higher because not all people who have died with suspected COVID-19 were tested.

Tesla delays annual meeting until September

SAN FRANCISCO — Due to coronavirus restrictions in Silicon Valley, Tesla Inc. is delaying its annual shareholders meeting from July 7 probably until Sept. 15.

The electric car and solar panel company announced the delay in a regulatory filing Monday after CEO Elon Musk revealed it overnight on Twitter.

The event likely will be combined with what Musk has touted as “Battery Day,” when the company is supposed to announce new battery technology that will work for 1 million miles and have longer range than current models.

In the filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Tesla said its board believes that stockholders appreciate the “interpersonal connection and dynamic” of an in-person annual meeting.

It reprinted Musk’s tweets saying Sept. 15 was a tentative date, and the meeting would be held at the company’s factory in Fremont, California.

Croatia bans visits to nursing homes

ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatian authorities have banned visits to nursing homes and hospitals in the Croatian coastal town of Zadar following an outbreak of the new coronavirus at an exhibition tennis tournament there.

Tennis players Grigor Dmitrov from Bulgaria, Borna Coric from Croatia and two more people have tested positive after participating in the Adria Tour event organized by top-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia.

Authorities said Monday that dozens more tests are underway in Zadar, while Croatia’s state HRT television reported that Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic also will be tested after visiting the event.

Djokovic’s team said he has returned to Serbia and was tested there, while the event has been canceled.

Croatia has reopened in hopes of salvaging the summer tourism season along the Adriatic Sea coast. The European Union nation will hold a national election on July 5.

Seoul’s mayor fears virus resurgence

SEOUL, South Korea — The mayor of South Korea’s capital fears the country is losing control over a virus resurgence and said Seoul will reimpose stronger social distancing measures if the daily jump in infections doesn’t come below an average of 30 over the next three days.

“If Seoul gets penetrated (by the virus), the entire Republic of Korea gets penetrated,” Park Won-soon said Monday in a televised briefing, referring to South Korea by its formal name.

He also lamented what he described as complacency of citizens in social distancing, citing an increase in public transportation usage that he says has been approaching last year’s levels in recent weeks.

Citing research by health experts, Park the country could be possibly reporting as much as 800 new cases a day a month from now if it fails to stem current trends in transmissions. He said the basic reproduction number of virus carriers, which measures the number of infections caused by an individual, has reached nearly 1.8 for the period between April 30 and June 11. Any number above 1 indicates a growing epidemic.

In a separate briefing, Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledged that the country was now going through a second wave of the virus, following a surge in late February and March centered around the southeastern city of Daegu.

The country has been reporting around 40 to 50 new cases per day since late May, mostly from the Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live.

South Korea was reported around 500 new case per day in early March but managed to control the outbreak with an active testing and contact tracing campaign.

UN warns pandemic could jeopardize supply of AIDS drugs to developing nations

LONDON — The U.N. AIDS agency is warning that the coronavirus pandemic could jeopardize the supply of AIDS drugs in developing countries and could lead to deadly shortages in the next few months.

In a statement Monday, UNAIDS said a survey it recently conducted found that lockdowns and border closures to stop the spread of COVID-19 were affecting both the production and distribution of the medicines, which could result in higher costs and shortages in the next two months.

As of June 2019, UNAIDS estimated that more than 24 million people were on life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and that losing access now could risk their health and the further spread of HIV.

“I call on countries and buyers of HIV medicines to act swiftly in order to ensure everyone who is currently on treatment continues to be on it,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, said in a statement.

UNAIDS said the sharp reduction in air and sea transport was complicating the distribution of raw materials and that social distancing was reducing manufacturing capacity. This could lead to a shortage of medicines or price increases, with some of the treatment courses for children estimated to be those worst affected.

The UNAIDS analysis was based on information collected from eight generic manufacturers of AIDS drugs in India, who account for more than 80% of the generic anti-retroviral drug supply globally. Governments in seven other countries that produce generic AIDS medications were also surveyed.

Beijing officials say they have contained outbreak

BEIJING — A Beijing government spokesperson said the city has contained the momentum of a recent coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 200 people, after the number of daily new cases fell to single digits.

“The situation is developing in a good direction … but the prevention situation remains grave and complex,” Xu Hejian said at a Monday news conference.

Xu spoke after the city reported nine new cases in the previous day, down from more than 20 daily for eight straight days. A massive testing campaign found 236 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 22 more without any symptoms. China does not include the latter in its official case count.

The Transport Ministry said tests of more than 100,000 of the city’s ubiquitous delivery drivers were expected to be competed Monday, as authorities expand testing to more groups.

The outbreak took hold in a huge wholesale food market crowded with workers and buyers. Additional cases traced to the same outbreak have been found in neighboring Hebei province and nearby Tianjin city.

 


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