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

Softening his earlier stance, President Trump on Thursday acknowledged that some schools may need to delay their reopening this fall as the coronavirus continues to surge.

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President Trump speaks at a news conference Thursday at the White House. He said he’s asking Congress to provide $105 billion to schools as part of the next virus relief bill. Associated Press/Evan Vucci

It marks a shift from Trump’s previous demand for a full reopening of the nation’s schools this fall. In recent weeks, Trump has said that it’s safe to open schools and that Democrats have opposed it for political reasons.

But speaking at a White House news conference, Trump said districts in some virus hot spots “may need to delay reopening for a few weeks.” He said the decision will fall to governors.

Even as he tempered his position, Trump insisted that every school should be “actively making preparations to open.” He said students need to be in school to prevent learning setbacks and to access meal programs and mental health services.

Trump said he’s asking Congress to provide $105 billion to schools as part of the next virus relief bill. If the local district doesn’t reopen, the money should be steered to parents so they can pursue other education options, he said.

“If schools do not reopen, the funding should go to parents to send their children to the public, private, charter, religious or home school,” he said. “All families should be empowered to make the decision that is right for their circumstance.”

Read the full story here.

Florida sets a grim single-day record with 173 more coronavirus deaths

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida reported 173 more COVID-19 fatalities on Thursday, which is the most of any day throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

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A health care worker air dries her gloves after sanitizing her equipment while working at a walk-up COVID-19 testing site during the coronavirus pandemic Friday in Miami Beach, Fla. Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The previous high was 156 deaths one week ago. Thursday’s total also is an increase over Wednesday’s reported 140 fatalities.

Health officials say a total of 5,632 people have died from COVID-19 complications in Florida. This includes 114 people who were not residents.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he is hopeful the state will soon see encouraging data trends, based on signs of “positive momentum” outside of South Florida.

“I do think we are going to head in a better direction shortly,” the governor said, during a news conference at a Melbourne hospital.

The state Department of Health also says infections are on the rise, with 10,249 more cases on Thursday. The state has reported an average of 10,585 cases per day, and 121 deaths per day, over the past seven days.

Florida has one of the worst outbreaks anywhere in the nation. The new infections reported Thursday bring the total cases to 389,868, the third highest in the country behind California and New York, according to COVID Data Tracker from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mask mandates are coming to more states. They were controversial in 1918, too. 

The controversy over government mask mandates and how to enforce them was a huge issue more than a century ago, when the 1918 influenza pandemic killed 675,000 people in the United States and caused an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide, the Power Up newsletter reports. Those who did not comply with mask rules faced fines, public shaming or even prison.

A Seattle street car conductor refuses to allow passengers to board without a mask. In Seattle, public health officials required passengers and employees wear masks as a precautionary measure. National Archives

Fines then, as now, could be steep: Penalties for mask violations in San Francisco ranged from $5 to $100 — which in today’s dollars is about $85 to more than $1,700. In West Palm Beach, Fla., violations of an ordinance that closed all public meetings and gatherings of any kind until the flu had passed carried a penalty of a “$100 fine or 30 days in jail. In 1918, $100 carried the purchasing power of $1,762 today,” according to the Palm Beach Post.

Typist wearing mask, New York City, October 16, 1918. National Archives

Not dissimilar to today’s culture war, the “mask slackers” in 1918 viewed mandates as a threat to personal freedom: “A week ago, I laughed at the idea of the mask,” local Red Cross Chairman John A. Britton told a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. “I wanted to be independent. I did not realize that the cost of such independence was the lives of others.” And viewing masks as a sign of weakness — as President Trump previously suggested — also appears to be a timeless attitude in particular among men, who in 1918 also needed more convincing than women to wear masks.

Republicans scrap Trump demand for payroll tax cut in draft coronavirus bill

WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans have cast aside one of President Donald Trump’s key demands from a new coronavirus stimulus package, refusing to include a payroll tax cut in their opening offer to Democrats, which could be unveiled as soon as Thursday.

In recent days, Trump had insisted that he might not sign an eventual bill if it did not include the tax cut, but the plan was unpopular with Republicans. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC Thursday morning that the White House still liked the idea and would pursue it in potential future legislation.

“It won’t be in the base bill,” Mnuchin conceded.

The evolving GOP plan, which Republicans have struggled to assemble, comes with coronavirus cases surging in much of the nation. The White House and GOP are under pressure to put together a public health and economic response as the November election nears. Republicans had hoped to present their plan on Wednesday but they couldn’t reach agreement, and the situation remained extremely fluid on Thursday morning as well.

The bill is expected to include a fresh round of $1,200 payments to individuals, a limited extension of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, $70 billion for elementary and secondary schools, money for coronavirus testing and tracing, and legal liability protections for businesses and health care providers = among other provisions.

Half of the school money will be tied to schools physically reopening their classrooms. No new money for state and local governments is expected, but instead the legislation will allow local leaders more flexibility in spending $105 billion allocated in the Cares Act in March. Tax credits are expected to encourage businesses to retain workers and help them enact safety protections in workplaces.

The proposal, which McConnell views as the starting point for negotiations that will unfold over the next couple of weeks, falls far short of what Democrats have demanded. They have rallied around a $3 trillion bill passed by House Democrats in May, which includes $1 trillion for state and local governments alone and continues the $600-per-week enhanced unemployment benefits that will be expiring for millions of workers in coming days.

Read the full story here.

Australian hot spot will pay people to stay home after getting tested

The Australian coronavirus hot spot of Victoria will provide hardship payments for workers awaiting the results of their coronavirus tests, officials announced Thursday.

“What we’ve got at the moment is people who feel unwell but don’t want to go and get tested quick enough because they’re fearful of not being able to go to work,” said Daniel Andrews, the state’s premier. Having to choose between feeding one’s family and potentially putting other families at risk was a “wicked choice,” he added.

The payments of 300 Australian dollars (about $214) are intended to encourage people without paid sick leave to stay home if there’s any risk they could be infected.

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People walk through Melbourne’s central business district on Wednesday. James Ross/AAP Image via Associated Press

Victoria reported 403 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, one of its highest daily totals yet. On Wednesday, after the state shattered records by reporting nearly 500 cases, Andrews said the surge was being driven by people who “just continued on as usual” despite experiencing symptoms. More than 50 percent of those testing positive between July 7 and July 21 had failed to self-isolate while waiting for their test results, he said.

People in Victoria who test positive for the coronavirus are already eligible for a hardship payment — equivalent to roughly $1,072 — if they will lose income by self-isolating.

Another 1.4 million unemployment claims filed last week

WASHINGTON — The number of laid-off Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week for the first time since the pandemic struck in March, evidence of the deepening economic pain the outbreak is causing to the economy.

The rise in weekly jobless claims to 1.4 million underscores the outsize role the unemployment insurance system is playing among the nation’s safety net programs — just when a $600 weekly federal aid payment for the jobless is set to expire at the end of this week.

All told, the Labor Department said Thursday that roughly 32 million people are receiving unemployment benefits, though that figure could include double-counting by some states. Some economists say the figure is likely closer to 25 million.

Last week’s pace of unemployment applications — the 18th straight week it’s topped 1 million — was up from 1.3 million the previous week. Before the pandemic, the number of weekly applications had never exceeded 700,000.

An additional 975,000 applied for jobless aid under a separate program that has made self-employed and gig workers eligible for the first time. That figure isn’t adjusted for seasonal trends, so it’s reported separately.

The resurgence of confirmed viral cases across the country has forced some businesses to close a second time or to impose tighter restrictions on customers in response to state mandates. The resulting pullback in business activity has hindered job growth and likely forced additional layoffs.

Read the full story.

Emirates airline will cover passengers’ COVID-19 medical bills

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Long-haul carrier Emirates now says it will cover the costs of passengers’ coronavirus-related medical expenses in an effort to encourage more travelers to fly on the airline.

In a statement Thursday, Emirates said passengers can claim medical expenses of up to 150,000 euros and quarantine costs of 100 euros per day for 14 days if they are diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the chairman and CEO of the government-owned airline, said: “We know people are yearning to fly as borders around the world gradually reopen, but they are seeking flexibility and assurances should something unforeseen happen during their travel.”

The airline said the coverage is good for passengers flying until Oct. 30.

Switzerland adds 15 countries to quarantine list

GENEVA — Swiss authorities have added another 15 countries, including Mexico and Luxembourg, to their list of nations facing increased risk of COVID-19 infection from which travelers entering Switzerland will be required to undergo a 10-day quarantine.

There are now 42 countries on the quarantine list, based on per capita outbreak levels over the last two weeks.

Under the Swiss rules, arriving passengers must “immediately and directly” go home or to other “suitable accommodation” for 10 days, and contact cantonal — or regional — authorities within two days.

Release is permitted only after no symptoms have been shown for the duration. In some cases, cantonal officials provide food and other assistance to those under quarantine — but no support for loss of income is provided.

The move effective Thursday adds places like Costa Rica, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” and the United Arab Emirates to the list already including Brazil, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Over 2,000 cases linked to German slaughterhouse

BERLIN — A German official says authorities have now linked more than 2,000 coronavirus infections to an outbreak at a slaughterhouse last month that led to a partial lockdown in two western counties.

Regional authorities restored some coronavirus restrictions in the Guetersloh and Warendorf areas in late June after more than 1,400 people at the Toennies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck tested positive for the virus.

North Rhine-Westphalia state’s health minister, Karl-Josef Laumann, told Thursday’s edition of the daily Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung that authorities now link 2,119 cases to the Toennies outbreak. He said a link is possible in another 67 cases.

The partial lockdown has since been lifted and the slaughterhouse reopened, with improved hygiene precautions.

Iraq opens airports despite record case numbers

BAGHDAD — Iraq opened its airports to commercial flights following months of lockdown as part of the government’s plan to ease restrictions despite record numbers of coronavirus cases expected to exceed 100,000 this week.

Airports were shut in March along with full-day curfews. Cases have risen exponentially since then and in particular following the Eid holiday in June.

The curfew has been extended many times amid rising case numbers, which has exacerbated a severe economic crisis spurred by falling oil prices and crippled Iraq’s private sector.

Iraq’s Health Ministry reported 2,700 new cases over a 24-hour period on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total to 99,865 cases. Over 4,000 people have died.

Flights to Beirut and Cairo were scheduled to take off 10 a.m. on Thursday.

The curfew will also be lifted following the Eid al-Adha holiday one July 30.

Fla. governor says opening schools important but districts may delay opening

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says there is a strong need to reopen schools. He says keeping them closed will lead to depression, social isolation and a higher dropout rate. However, he adds that parents should be able to keep children at home if they fear the coronovirus.

In an address on a state-run television channel Wednesday, DeSantis also said that if school districts want to delay opening, or allow teachers to work remotely, they should be allowed to do so.

A Florida teachers union has filed a lawsuit seeking to block what it calls “reckless and unsafe reopening” of public schools for face-to-face instruction.

The governor acknowledged there are worries about returning children to school, but added that “it should also be asked how safe it is to keep schools closed.”

Trump casts blame for surge in cases

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is casting wide blame for a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases, pointing to racial justice protests, travelers from Mexico and young bar-goers.

Holding his second briefing on the virus in as many days after a three-month hiatus, Trump sought on Wednesday to explain the rise in confirmed cases across the nation’s South, Southwest and West.

Trump says cases among young Americans first started to rise “shortly after demonstrations.” He says the protests following the death of George Floyd “presumably triggered a broader relaxation of mitigation efforts nationwide.”

He also says a “substantial increase in travel” around Memorial Day and summer vacations was also a driver of new cases.

Further, he says, “Young people closely congregating at bars and probably other places, maybe beaches,” likely also led to new cases.

Trump also blames travelers crossing the U.S.-Mexico border for spikes, saying cases in Mexico are surging.


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