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

ATLANTA — Georgia’s governor said he’s withdrawing a request for an emergency hearing in a lawsuit that aims to block the state’s largest city from ordering people to wear masks in public or imposing other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brian Kemp

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp says he’s withdrawing a request for an emergency order that would block Atlanta from ordering people to wear masks in public or imposing other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. John Bazemore/Associated Press

Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this month sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the City Council, but a spokesman announced late Monday that the governor wanted “to continue productive, good faith negotiations.” As a result, the governor decided to withdraw the request for a hearing that was scheduled for Tuesday morning, spokesman Cody Hall said.

The move doesn’t withdraw the underlying lawsuit, but it means a judge won’t immediately weigh in on whether Kemp or Bottoms is right in a dispute about the extent of Kemp’s powers under Georgia’s public health state of emergency. The Republican governor argues local leaders cannot impose measures that are more or less restrictive than those in his executive orders.

Hall claimed a partial victory Monday as part of the justification for standing down from the emergency hearing, saying Bottoms had clarified previous confusing statements.

“The mayor retreated from misleading claims that the city was reverting to phase one by shuttering specific businesses and penalizing law-abiding business owners,” Hall said in a statement. “From the beginning, this overstep by the mayor was our foremost concern and the primary impetus behind the litigation, give the threat of economic harm and immediate backlash from Atlanta’s business community.”

Bottoms has said those statements are recommendations, not legal orders, and that Kemp didn’t understand what she was doing.

Bottoms’ office did not immediately have a comment late Monday night on the withdrawal of the request for a hearing.

Atlanta is one of more than a dozen local jurisdictions in the state that have ordered people to wear face coverings in some public places in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

In an executive order earlier this month, Kemp strongly encouraged people to wear face coverings to stem the spread of the coronavirus, but he didn’t mandate the wearing of masks. The order also suspends any local laws or rules that are more restrictive than his order, including local rules or ordinances requiring people to wear masks, even on public property or in public buildings.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick last week ordered the two sides to attend mediation overseen by Senior Judge Cynthia Wright to try to resolve the issues in the case before Tuesday’s hearing.

Pandemic masks are thwarting facial recognition technology, agency says

Having a tough time recognizing your neighbors behind their pandemic masks? Computers are finding it more difficult, too.

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This photo provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology shows digitally applied mask shapes to photos and tested the performance of face recognition algorithms developed before COVID appeared. A preliminary study published by a U.S. agency on Monday found that even the best commercial facial recognition systems have error rates as high as 50 percent when trying to identify masked faces. B. Hayes/National Institute of Standards and Technology via Associated Press

A preliminary study published by a U.S. agency on Monday found that even the best commercial facial recognition systems have error rates as high as 50 percent when trying to identify masked faces.

The mask problem is why Apple earlier this year made it easier for iPhone owners to unlock their phones without Face ID. It could also be thwarting attempts by authorities to identify individual people at Black Lives Matter protests and other gatherings.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology says it is launching an investigation to better understand how facial recognition performs on covered faces. Its preliminary study examined only those algorithms created before the pandemic, but its next step is to look at how accuracy could improve as commercial providers adapt their technology to an era when so many people are wearing masks.

Some companies, including those that work with law enforcement, have tried to tailor their face-scanning algorithms to focus on people’s eyes and eyebrows.

NIST, which is a part of the Commerce Department, is working with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security’s science office to study the problem.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, some governments had sought technology to recognize people when they tried to conceal their faces.

Face masks had become a hallmark of protesters in Hong Kong, even at peaceful marches, to protect against tear gas and amid fears of retribution if they were publicly identified. The government banned face coverings at all public gatherings last year and warned of a potential six-month jail term for refusing a police officer’s order to remove a mask.

Virus-linked hunger tied to 10,000 child deaths each month

HOUNDE, Burkina Faso — The lean season is coming for Burkina Faso’s children. And this time, the long wait for the harvest is bringing a hunger more ferocious than most have ever known.

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One-month old Haboue Solange Boue, awaiting medical care for severe malnutrition, is held by her mother, Danssanin Lanizou, 30, at the feeding center of the main hospital in the town of Hounde, Tuy Province, in southwestern Burkina Faso in June. With the markets closed because of coronavirus restrictions, her family sold fewer vegetables. Lanizou is too malnourished to nurse her. Sam Mednick/Associated Press

That hunger is already stalking Haboue Solange Boue, an infant who has lost half her former body weight of 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms) in the last month. With the markets closed because of coronavirus restrictions, her family sold fewer vegetables. Her mother is too malnourished to nurse her.

“My child,” Danssanin Lanizou whispers, choking back tears as she unwraps a blanket to reveal her baby’s protruding ribs. The infant whimpers soundlessly.

All around the world, the coronavirus and its restrictions are pushing already hungry communities over the edge, cutting off meager farms from markets and isolating villages from food and medical aid. Virus-linked hunger is leading to the deaths of 10,000 more children a month over the first year of the pandemic, according to an urgent call to action from the United Nations shared with The Associated Press ahead of its publication in the Lancet medical journal.

Further, more than 550,000 additional children each month are being struck by what is called wasting, according to the U.N. — malnutrition that manifests in spindly limbs and distended bellies. Over a year, that’s up 6.7 million from last year’s total of 47 million. Wasting and stunting can permanently damage children physically and mentally, transforming individual tragedies into a generational catastrophe.

“The food security effects of the COVID crisis are going to reflect many years from now,” said Dr. Francesco Branca, the World Health Organization head of nutrition. “There is going to be a societal effect.”

Florida judge upholds county mask requirement

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A Florida judge has upheld a county’s coronavirus ordinance that requires masks be worn in public places like stores, saying government officials have the authority to protect their residents from the spread of infectious diseases.

Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes, noting Palm Beach County’s recent spike in cases and deaths, on Monday rejected the challengers’ claim that the recently enacted ordinance violates their rights to privacy and personal autonomy.

Citing a century-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said a state can mandate vaccinations, Kastrenakes said county commissioners came to “a reasonable and logical conclusion that mandating the wearing of facial coverings best serves their constituents.”

Several Florida counties and cities have enacted similar ordinances in recent weeks as coronavirus cases and deaths have skyrocketed around the state. This is at least the fourth Florida city or county ordinance to be upheld.

Attorney Louis Leo IV, who represented the challengers, said on Facebook that the ruling is “paving the way for continued government tyranny under the guise of disease prevention.” He promised an appeal.

Google won’t bring employees back to office until summer 2021

Google won’t bring its 200,000 employees back to the office until July 2021, pushing past its January timeline as U.S. coronavirus cases surge and a vaccine remains months away.

That makes parent company, Alphabet, the first major U.S. company to push its comeback into the second half of next year. Google spokesman Jason Post confirmed the decision, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, on Monday.

Chief executive Sundar Pichai announced the new timetable in a companywide email, to “give employees the ability to plan ahead.”

Pichai made the decision last week. He was partly influenced by the differing approaches to school reopening across the country, the Journal reported. The work-from-home option applies to employees at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., as well as in other parts of the United States, the United Kingdom and India.

Google’s move could motivate other corporations to reevaluate their timelines, especially as the number of confirmed covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise in the United States. At least 4.2 million cases have been reported in the U.S. and at least 144,000 deaths.

Silicon Valley has taken varying approaches to mitigate safety risks for its workforce. Remote working was widely adopted in March, and many companies have signaled plans to reopen offices in January.

Facebook’s current plan is keep its 48,000 workers at home through the end of the year, though CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in May that he expects as much as half of them to transition to remote work in the next decade. Amazon’s corporate employees also are expected to telecommute through 2020. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Snap recently extended its timeline from September to January.

First large-scale test of experimental coronavirus vaccine begins in U.S.

The first person received a shot Monday morning in a large-scale test of a vaccine candidate being developed by biotechnology company Moderna in collaboration with the U.S. government.

The experimental vaccination marks a much anticipated milestone: the official launch of a series of massive U.S. clinical trials that will test the effectiveness and safety of experimental vaccines in 30,000 participants, half receiving the shot and half receiving a placebo.

Moderna executives project that the company will have enough evidence to ask regulators to determine whether the vaccine is effective by this fall or late this year, company president Stephen Hoge testified before Congress last week. Moderna is planning to produce 500 million doses of the vaccine per year, with the possibility of making 1 billion doses annually in 2021. Over the weekend, the U.S. government committed $472 million to support the large trial, doubling the federal investment in Moderna’s vaccine candidate.

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Nurse Kath Olmstead, right, gives volunteer Melissa Harting, of Harpersville, N.Y., an injection as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27 in Binghamton, N.Y. AP Photo/Hans Pennink

Several other vaccines have already begun large trials, including two candidates from Chinese companies and one being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca that is being tested in Brazil and South Africa and will soon start U.S. trials.

“We are indebted to the participants and investigators who now begin the work of the [Coronavirus Efficacy] study itself,” Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel said in a statement. “We look forward to this trial demonstrating the potential of our vaccine to prevent COVID19, so that we can defeat this pandemic.”

Read the full story here.

Trump’s national security adviser has coronavirus

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has tested positive for the coronavirus — making him the highest-ranking official to test positive so far.

That’s according to two people familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss it by name.

The White House confirmed that O’Brien has mild symptoms and “has been self-isolating and working from a secure location off site,” adding that: “There is no risk of exposure to the President or the Vice President” and that the “work of the National Security Council continues uninterrupted.”

The news was first reported by Bloomberg News, which said O’Brien came down with the virus after a family event.

A personal valet to the president and the vice president’s press secretary previously tested positive for the virus, which has now infected more than 4 million people nationwide.

Senior White House staff and anyone who comes into close contact with the president and vice president are tested for the virus every day.

Read the full story about Robert O’Brien here.

After 14 positive tests, Miami Marlins must cancel baseball home opener

MIAMI — The Miami Marlins’ home opener Monday night against Baltimore has been postponed as the Marlins deal with a coronavirus outbreak that stranded them in Philadelphia.

According to ESPN, a total of 14 people have tested positive for the coronavirus – 12 players and four coaches.

The Marlins postponed their flight home Sunday night after their series finale against the Phillies.

Pitcher Jose Urena was scratched from his scheduled start in Sunday’s game, and catcher Jorge Alfaro went on the injured list Friday. No reasons were given for the moves, but Manager Don Mattingly said those who tested positive would be quarantined in Philadelphia.

Read the rest of this story here.

Dozens infected after Alabama church revival

STRAWBERRY, Ala. — An Alabama pastor says more than 40 people have been infected with the coronavirus after attending a multi-day revival event at a Baptist church.

Pastor Daryl Ross of Warrior Creek Missionary Baptist Church in Marshall County says the churchgoers, including himself, tested positive after the congregation held a series of religious services featuring a guest pastor over the course of several days last week.

“The whole church has got it, just about,” Al.com quoted Ross as saying.

Services were shut down by Friday after church leaders learned that one of the members who attended had tested positive for the virus. The member presented no symptoms, according to the pastor.

Ross said that over the weekend, dozens more fell ill.

“We knew what we were getting into,” he added. “We knew the possibilities.”

Ross said only two members’ cases were serious, and as of Sunday, nobody had been hospitalized.

He said some social distancing measures were in place during the services, which were held multiple times a day. Masks were not required, the newspaper reported.

Confirmed coronavirus cases surpass 100,000 in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia announced Monday that its confirmed coronavirus cases have surpassed 100,000, the highest amount in Southeast Asia.

Cases continue to rise across the world’s fourth-most populous nation as testing remains sharply limited and businesses continue to reopen. The health ministry announced 1,525 more cases on Monday, bringing the country’s confirmed total to 100,303. The actual number is thought to be considerably higher because of the low testing and other factors.

While neighboring countries imposed lockdowns and closed their borders, Indonesia’s leaders attributed an apparent early success with the pandemic to prayer and took few precautions against the virus’s spread across the vast archipelago nation until the first official cases were confirmed in early March.

As the virus began to quickly spread — especially in metropolitan areas — the government instituted a lockdown in six regions of the country.

Read the rest of this story here.


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