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

AUSTIN, Texas — With a cough and shortness of breath, Sam Lee of Austin, Texas, made three attempts to get a COVID-19 test last month.

The first time, he showed up an hour before the public testing site was set to close and was told it had reached capacity. He was turned away from a second center when rain shut it down, and voluntarily left a third after someone ahead of him said they had been waiting in line for more than three hours.

“If you have symptoms and you are just driving around the city trying to figure out how you can get a test, for people who are positive, it is not ideal,” said Lee, who finally got a test a couple of weeks later after he showed up at a site before dawn and waited for more than two hours. Another seven days passed before he got the results.

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A National Guardsman directs traffic at a COVID-19 testing site Wednesday outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Americans are facing long lines at testing sites or are getting turned away. Associated Press/Wilfredo Lee

Four months, 3 million confirmed infections and over 130,000 deaths into the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., Americans confronted with a resurgence of the scourge are facing long lines at testing sites in the summer heat or are getting turned away. Others are going a week or more without receiving a diagnosis.

Some sites are running out of kits, while labs are reporting shortages of materials and workers to process the swabs.

Some frustrated Americans are left to wonder why the U.S. can’t seem to get its act together, especially after it was given fair warning as the virus wreaked havoc in China and then Italy, Spain and New York.

Read the full story about the nation’s inadequate testing here.

Volunteers can now sign up for large coronavirus vaccine studies

A network of more than 100 clinical trial sites at hospitals and medical clinics across the United States will take on the unprecedented challenge of testing COVID-19 vaccines and other preventive treatments, federal officials announced Wednesday.

The COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network, which knits together existing federal clinical trial infrastructure developed largely to test HIV vaccines and treatments, launched with a website for volunteers to join the roster of people to be considered when the first trials begin this month.

The scientific effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine will depend crucially on tens of thousands of volunteers, in a gargantuan scientific, medical and logistical undertaking, with the aim of providing “substantial quantities of a safe, effective vaccine by January 2021,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Wednesday the launch of vaccine trials across the U.S. Associated Press/Evan Vucci

Testing a vaccine is a conceptually simple idea, but it is a careful and methodical process that unfolds through a phased system of trials that grow progressively larger. Early clinical trials, some of which have reported encouraging results, assess the right dose of the vaccine and monitor for any safety concerns in dozens or a few hundred patients. But the ultimate test of these vaccines will be large trials designed to test whether they are effective at preventing or reducing the severity of disease.

The first late-stage vaccine trial, in which 30,000 people will be randomly assigned to receive either an experimental vaccine made by the biotechnology company Moderna or a placebo, is expected to begin in the second half of July. There are expected to be at least five such large vaccine trials conducted through the network over the coming months – as well as trials of other preventive measures, such as monoclonal antibody drugs.

“This is what we do for a living and have done for a living,” said Larry Corey, a virologist and past president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, who is co-leading the trial network. “We have a considerable infrastructure, probably the country’s biggest infrastructure in vaccines.”

Read the full story about clinical trials here.

CDC will issue new guidance on school openings, Pence says, after criticism from Trump

President Trump and senior administration officials made a concerted effort Wednesday to downplay recommendations of their own health experts as they ramped up pressure on states to reopen their schools, characterizing the move as key to the nation’s recovery.

“It’s absolutely essential that we get our kids back into classroom for in-person learning,” Vice President Pence said at the outset of a White House coronavirus task force briefing at which a parade of other officials argued that the health risks to children were outweighed by the downsides of keeping them at home, including stunted academic growth.

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Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a “National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America’s Schools,” event in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, July 7. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

The briefing — the first in two weeks by the group tasked with guiding the administration’s response to the pandemic — came about two hours after Trump publicly voiced disagreement with recommendations for reopening schools issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In morning tweets, Trump called the guidelines “very tough & expensive” as he continued to pressure local school districts to open in the fall, even as many states are facing a surge in coronavirus cases.

“While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things,” Trump said of CDC officials. “ I will be meeting with them!!!”

At the task force briefing, CDC Director Robert R. Redfield was among the administration officials who stressed that the guidelines were not mandatory and not meant to supplant the judgment of state and local officials.

“Our recommendations are not requirements, and they’re not meant to be prescriptive,” Redfield said.

In May, the CDC recommended a raft of social distancing policies for schools: desks at least six feet apart and facing the same direction, lunch in classrooms, staggered arrival times, cloth masks for staff and daily temperature screenings for everyone.

Citing Trump’s concern that the guidance might be “too tough,” Pence said the CDC would issue additional recommendations starting next week that would provide “more clarity.”

Read the full story here.

Trump threatens to withhold funding to schools that don’t fully reopen, attacks CDC guidelines

President Donald Trump intensified his pressure campaign to reopen schools, attacking the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over guidelines he said were too onerous, costly and impractical.

Trump, in tweets Wednesday, said he’d be meeting with the CDC about the guidance, and threatened to withhold federal funding to schools that didn’t fully reopen, as he urged schools to begin again this fall with in-person classes despite a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

Opening schools would enable parents to return to work — a key piece of Trump’s push to accelerate the reopening of the U.S. economy even as the nation sees record numbers of new daily coronavirus cases, including 58,000 on Tuesday.

In a separate tweet on Wednesday, Trump threatened federal funding for schools that didn’t reopen, saying: “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but it is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”

The remark prompted a quick backlash on Capitol Hill. House Appropriations Committee spokesman Evan Hollander said in a statement Wednesday that Congress funds federal education programs.

“President Trump is repeating the same mistakes that have made America’s coronavirus pandemic the worst in the world, attempting to override science in search of political advantage,” Hollander said. “The president has no authority to cut off funding for these students, and threatening to do so to prop up his flailing campaign is offensive.”

Trump’s threat also ran contrary to the traditional Republican stance of giving more control over schools to localities, rather than the federal government. On Tuesday, administration officials said in a briefing with reporters that the decision on reopening would ultimately be up to local leaders. But later that day at a White House event, Trump said his administration is “very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open.”

Read the full story here.

Brooks Brothers goes bankrupt as virus closes offices

Brooks Brothers Group Inc. filed for bankruptcy, felled by the pandemic’s impact on clothing sales and its own heavy debt load.

The two-century-old apparel company is the latest to succumb as a nationwide lockdown during the coronavirus outbreak added to the woes afflicting old-line retailers. Neiman Marcus Group Inc., J. Crew Group Inc. and John Varvatos Enterprises Inc. each filed for bankruptcy since the virus took hold.

Read the rest of the story here.

EU urged to agree to ‘ambitious’ recovery fund

MADRID — The leaders of Italy and Spain, the two countries first affected by the coronavirus in Europe and among the worst-hit globally, are urging fellow members of the European Union to agree next week on “ambitious terms” for a recovery fund to shore up the pandemic’s economic fallout.

Southern European countries are pressing for a no-strings-attached approach in the EU’s recovery fund that will be discussed at a meeting of the bloc’s 27 members on July 17-18.

The $849 billion fund drawn up by the EU’s executive Commission is made up mostly of grants, something opposed by countries dubbed as the “Frugal Four” — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — which are reluctant to give money away without strings attached.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says the EU can’t take a cautious path in its response to the pandemic because that would endanger the union’s common market and economy.

Romania records a new high in daily cases

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania has registered a new high in the daily total of coronavirus cases, with 555 cases reported in the past 24 hours. The previous one-day high was 523 on April 11.

The new record comes on the back of a ruling last week by the Constitutional Court that banned the government from forcing people infected with the coronavirus to quarantine or stay in hospital for treatment.

The government is working on legislation that would address the court’s concerns and set new regulations for people affected by COVID-19.

So far, Romania has 30,175 confirmed cases and 1.817 deaths.

Brazil’s president says hydroxychloroquine will cure him of virus

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he is confident that he will swiftly recover from the new coronavirus thanks to treatment with hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug that has not been proven effective against COVID-19.

Bolsonaro said he tested positive for the new coronavirus on Tuesday after months of downplaying its severity while deaths mounted rapidly inside the country.

The president told reporters he underwent a lung X-ray on Monday after experiencing fever, muscle aches and malaise. As of Tuesday, his fever had subsided, he said, and he attributed the improvement to hydroxychloroquine.

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Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, wearing a face mask, stands among supporters May 25 as he leaves his official residence in Brasilia. Bolsonaro said Tuesday that he tested positive for COVID-19, after months of downplaying the virus’ severity while deaths mounted in the country. Associated Press/Eraldo Peres

He stepped back from the journalists and removed his mask at one point to show that he looked well.

The 65-year-old right-wing populist who has been known to mingle in crowds without covering his face confirmed the results while wearing a mask and speaking to reporters huddled close in front of him in the capital, Brasilia.

“I’m, well, normal. I even want to take a walk around here, but I can’t due to medical recommendations,” Bolsonaro said.

Read the full story on Jair Bolsonaro’s case of COVID-19 here.

Protective gear for medical workers begins to run low again

The personal protective gear that was in dangerously short supply during the early weeks of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. is running low again as the virus resumes its rapid spread and the number of hospitalized patients climbs.

A national nursing union is concerned that gear has to be reused. A doctors association warns that physicians’ offices are closed because they cannot get masks and other supplies. And Democratic members of Congress are pushing the Trump administration to devise a national strategy to acquire and distribute gear in anticipation of the crisis worsening into the fall.

“We’re five months into this and there are still shortages of gowns, hair covers, shoe covers, masks, N95 masks,” said Deborah Burger, president of National Nurses United, who cited results from a survey of the union’s members. “They’re being doled out, and we’re still being told to reuse them.”

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Health care workers help each other with their personal protective equipment Sunday at a drive-through coronavirus testing site outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Equipment that was in dangerously short supply during the initial weeks of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. is running out again as the virus resumes its rapid spread and the number of hospitalized patients climbs. Associated Press/Wilfredo Lee

When the crisis first exploded in March and April in hot spots such as New York City, the situation was so desperate that nurses turned plastic garbage bags into protective gowns. The lack of equipment forced states and hospitals to compete against each other, the federal government and other countries in desperate, expensive bidding wars.

In general, supplies of protective gear are more robust now, and many states and major hospital chains say they are in better shape. But medical professionals and some lawmakers have cast doubt on those improvements as shortages begin to reappear.

Speaking about protective equipment, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that it’s important for gear to be reused and repurposed as a way to stretch the stocks and avoid shortages.

Read the full story on the shortage of protective gear here.


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