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

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County, which recently appeared headed for another lockdown amid escalating coronavirus cases, now is seeing fewer hospitalizations and a lower transmission rate that health officials said Wednesday are evidence people are heeding the call to change their behavior.

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People line up behind a health care worker at a mobile coronavirus testing site at the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles this month. Los Angeles County reported Wednesday that COVID-19 hospitalization and transmission rates are dropping. Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The nation’s most populous county said 2,045 people were hospitalized, 28 percent of them in intensive care units. But the number of new hospitalizations is showing a “very gradual downturn” and projections call for a slight decline in cases over the next four weeks, said Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the county Department of Health Services.

The county saw 91 additional deaths — a new daily record due in part to lagging reporting — but the number of fatalities has generally been decreasing since May, county Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

Ghaly said that statistically, the transmission rate shows any infected person is passing on the virus to fewer than one other person.

“While we are seeing the results of strict adherence to best practices — like wearing the face coverings, washing hands, quarantining and isolation, physical distancing — these practices need to continue,” Ghaly said.

The county had seen drops in its COVID-19 cases after months of stay-at-home orders that shuttered many businesses, beaches and other recreational areas and banned large social gatherings. But after easing of those health orders began, the virus began surging in early June, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to reimpose some shutdown orders early this month.

The county’s declining hospitalization rate “does coincide with the paring back of reopening at the local and statewide level a few weeks ago,” Ghaly said.

Every one of California’s 58 counties now has COVID-19 cases. Modoc County on Tuesday confirmed its first two cases. The remote county bordering Oregon and Nevada was the first to defy state shutdown orders to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

Statewide, California reported 197 additional deaths on Tuesday — a grim new daily record — and nearly 8,800 new cases. The state now has had more than 466,500 cases and more than 8,500 deaths, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Los Angeles County has had a significant role in those figures, with more than 183,000 confirmed cases and more than 4,500 deaths.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti had warned the situation in LA had become so tenuous that a city lockdown might be needed. But on Wedesday, he said there wouldn’t be any additional closures if hopeful signs continue.

The county estimated that one in 450 residents was infectious, which was down from one out of 320 last week, Garcetti said, and he urged people to follow health and safety measures.

Trump scorns giving help to cities, as virus aid talks hit stalemate

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday dismissed Democratic demands for aid to cash-strapped cities in a new coronavirus relief package and lashed out at Republican allies as talks stalemated over assistance for millions of Americans. Another lawmaker tested positive for the virus.

Donald Trump, Steven Mnuchin, Mark Meadows

President Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows talk before Trump speaks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday in Washington. Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Republicans, beset by delays and infighting, signaled a willingness to swiftly approve a modest package to revamp a $600 weekly unemployment benefit that’s running out. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., roundly rejected that approach as meager, all but forcing Republicans back to the negotiating table. Without action, the aid expires Friday.

“We’re nowhere close to the deal,” said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. He said they’re “miles apart.”

Stark differences remain between the $3 trillion proposal from Democrats and $1 trillion counter from Republicans, a standoff that is testing Trump and Congress ahead of the November election and putting aid for communities nationwide at risk.

Pelosi said the best way to reopen schools and the economy is to defeat the virus, and that can’t be done with the “skinny” bill Republicans are rushing to cobble together. “They still don’t get it,” Pelosi said.

The virus toll continued to mount in the U.S., with 4.4 million confirmed cases and deaths passing 150,000. Outspoken Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who often objects to mask-wearing, became the latest lawmaker at the Capitol to test positive for the virus.

Money for states and cites is a crucial dividing line as local governments plead for help to shore up budgets and prevent deeper layoffs as they incur COVID-19 costs and lost tax revenue in shutdown economies.

Trump complained about sending “big bailout money” to the nation’s cities, whose mayors he often criticizes.

“It’s a shame to reward badly run radical left Democrats with all of this money they’re looking for,” he said at the White House.

Democrats proposed nearly $1 trillion for the local governments, but Trump and Republicans are resisting sending the states and cities more cash.

Instead, the GOP offers states flexibility to use $150 billion previously allotted for the virus on other needs. At one point this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said states could just declare bankruptcy.

Read more on the impasse here.

Virus misinformation is highly contagious, as U.S. hits 150,000 deaths 

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, there is seemingly no antidote in sight for the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.

The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites.

Experts worry the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus, whose death toll in the U.S. hit 150,000 Wednesday, by far the highest in the world, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Over a half-million people have died in the rest of the world.

Hard-hit Florida reported 216 deaths, breaking the single-day record it set a day earlier. And South Carolina’s death toll passed 1,500 this week, more than doubling over the past month.

“It is a real challenge in terms of trying to get the message to the public about what they can really do to protect themselves and what the facts are behind the problem., said Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

He said the fear is that “people are putting themselves in harm’s way because they don’t believe the virus is something they have to deal with.”

Rather than fade away in the face of new evidence, the claims have flourished, fed by mixed messages from officials, transmitted by social media, amplified by leaders like Trump and mutating when confronted with contradictory facts.

“You don’t need masks. There is a cure,” Dr. Stella Immanuel promised in a video that promoted hydroxychloroquine. “You don’t need people to be locked down.”

The truth: Federal regulators last month revoked their authorization of the drug as an emergency treatment amid growing evidence it doesn’t work and can have deadly side effects. Even if it were effective, it wouldn’t negate the need for masks and other measures to contain the outbreak.

None of that stopped Trump, who has repeatedly praised the drug, from retweeting the video. Twitter and Facebook began removing the video on Monday for violating policies on COVID-19 misinformation, but it had already been seen more than 20 million times.

Many of the claims in Immanuel’s video are widely disputed by medical experts. She has made even more bizarre pronouncements in the past, saying that cysts, fibroids and some other conditions can be caused by having sex with demons, that McDonald’s and Pokemon promote witchcraft, that alien DNA is used in medical treatments, and that half-human “reptilians” work in the government.

Read the full story here.

House virus oversight panel demands documents from 4 states

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The head of a congressional coronavirus oversight panel on Wednesday demanded Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Lee and three other Republican governors provide documents showing how their states are combating the pandemic.

“I am writing to request information about the private guidance the Administration has provided to Tennessee and whether you plan to implement those recommendations and take other critical actions to slow the spread of the coronavirus across the state,” wrote South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, a Democrat and chairman of the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee.

Similar letters were sent to governors Brian Kemp of Georgia, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, according to the subcommittee’s spokeswoman.

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee answers questions during a news conference Wednesday, July 1 in Nashville, Tenn. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Clyburn’s request comes days after White House coronavirus task force leader Dr. Deborah Birx traveled to Nashville to implore leaders to close bars and residents to wear masks. However, Lee has rebuffed calls to roll back the state’s reopening efforts and refused to issue a statewide mask mandate even as virus case numbers and hospitalizations continue to rise statewide.

According to the letter, Tennessee is failing to follow at least five different recommendations provided by the White House Coronavirus Task Force — ranging from failing to adopt a statewide mask mandate, allowing indoor dining without strict restrictions and permitting gyms to remain open without limitations in counties with high virus numbers.

“The Task Force report privately recommended that Tennessee implement these health measures to help reverse the dangerous spike in cases across the state and to prevent unnecessary deaths,” Clyburn wrote. “Failure to comply is allowing the virus to spread, prolonging and exacerbating the public health crisis facing the state.”

Lee’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. The office of the Florida governor confirmed the receipt of the letter but did not have an immediate reaction. There was no immediate response from the other governors.

In Georgia, Clyburn noted six recommendations which he said the state was not following. The letter said the state was not only failing to implement a statewide mask mandate but also noted Kemp had filed a lawsuit against Atlanta officials to prevent a mask requirement. Kemp and Atlanta officials are now in mediation.

According to the letter sent to Stitt, Oklahoma is not following five recommendations from the White House task force. The 12-member House Oversight panel, with a 7-5 Democratic majority, has the power to subpoena Trump administration officials and conduct depositions.

“You made clear on July 15 that you have no plans to roll back the state’s reopening or impose a statewide mask requirement,” Clyburn wrote.

Each state was asked to provide guidance documents and public health recommendations on how to stop the spread of the virus provided by the White House task force; detailed description on any public health measures rescinded or implemented after receiving the task force guidance; and any plans on how to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The four states have until Aug. 12 to respond.

Fed sees dim economic outlook as virus squeezes economy

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve is expressing concern that the viral outbreak will act as a drag on the economy and hiring in coming months and that it plans to keep its benchmark short-term interest rate pegged near zero.

In a statement at the end of its policy-making meeting Wednesday, the Fed acknowledged that the economy has rebounded from the depths of March and April, when nearly all states closed down nonessential businesses. But it said the ongoing coronavirus pandemic “will weigh heavily on economic activity, employment and inflation.”

Jerome Powell

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference in March. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File

The Fed announced no new policies in its statement. The central bank said it will also continue to buy about $120 billion in Treasury and mortgage bonds each month, which are intended to inject cash into financial markets and spur borrowing and spending.

Economists say the Fed has time to consider its next policy moves because short- and long-term rates remain historically ultra-low and aren’t restraining economic growth. Home sales have picked up after falling sharply in the spring. The housing rebound has been fueled by the lowest loan rates on record, with the average 30-year mortgage dipping below 3% this month for the first time in 50 years.

With the economy struggling just to grow, small businesses across the country in serious danger and unemployment very high at 11.1%, few investors expect the Fed to hike interest rates for perhaps years to come. After its previous meeting last month, the Fed had signaled that it expected to keep its key short-term rate near zero at least through 2022.

Since March, the Fed has slashed its short-term rate, bought more than $2 trillion in Treasury and mortgage bonds and unveiled nine lending programs to try to keep credit flowing smoothly.

Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert tests positive for coronavirus

WASHINGTON – Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican who has frequently walked around the Capitol without wearing a face mask or maintaining social distance from others, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to a person familiar with the results.

Gohmert had been scheduled to travel with President Trump aboard Air Force One to Texas on Wednesday but tested positive at the White House and did not join the trip, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

News of Gohmert’s diagnosis was first reported by Politico.

Several other members of Congress also have tested positive or have been presumed to have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent months, including Reps. H. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., Nydia M. Velázquez, D-N.Y., Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Ben McAdams, D-Utah, Seth Moulton, D-Mass., Mike Kelly, R-Pa., and Tom Rice, R-S.C., as well as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Because of the memorial services for the late congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., the full House has held only one roll call vote, at lunchtime Monday, over the past five days, so many lawmakers would not have been around the Texan in recent days.

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Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 24, on oversight of the Justice Department and a probe into the politicization of the department under Attorney General William Barr. AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool

Gohmert has typically worn a mask as required during House hearings, including during Tuesday’s nearly six-hour testimony by Attorney General William Barr before the House Judiciary Committee.

That session was held in a massive auditorium with lawmakers spaced out, and Gohmert appears to have adhered to the committee rules that one must wear a mask at all times unless it is his or her turn to speak.

But he has not always worn one or maintained social distance while walking around the Capitol. As they arrived at Tuesday’s hearing, Gohmert and Barr were walking near each other at one point, according to the Hill. Neither man was wearing a mask.

Barr will be tested Wednesday for the virus because of his proximity to Gohmert at the hearing, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.

Read the full story here.

Experts ask: Who should get virus vaccine first?

With some coronavirus vaccine trials in their much-anticipated final stage, U.S. officials and experts are wrestling with one of the most difficult issues facing the country: Who should be first to get limited doses of a vaccine during one of the worst public health crises in a century?

Discussions have begun to identify priority groups for initial vaccination against COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Those discussions, involving federal health officials and outside experts, are based on planning developed during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. Highest priority would go to health-care and essential workers and high-risk populations. This proposed group would also include older adults, residents of long-term-care facilities and people with underlying medical conditions.

A federal advisory panel that provides vaccine recommendations to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented an overview of the priority groups last month and is scheduled to meet again on the issue Wednesday.

As officials and experts race to stop the pandemic, they are grappling with the fraught nature of establishing vaccination priorities. Clinical trials of at least two experimental vaccines have shown encouraging results and this week moved into final-stage testing for safety and effectiveness in 30,000 participants. If a vaccine is shown to be effective, U.S. officials have said the first doses could be available by the end of the year.

The decision-making will take place over the next few months and is certain to be controversial, experts said. Officials and experts must address a host of issues, including how much consideration should be given to race and ethnicity because of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. Aside from doctors and nurses, will cafeteria workers and cleaning staff at hospitals be considered essential personnel? What about teachers who keep schools running so parents and others can go back to work?

“This is going to be controversial and not everybody’s going to like the answer,” said Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, referring to the process of establishing priorities. He spoke last week at the kickoff meeting of a committee of experts helping with planning. “There will be many people who feel that they should have been at the top of the list and not everybody can be.”

That committee of experts is developing a framework to help the federal advisory panel and the CDC set final vaccination priorities. The experts are from an independent advisory group, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and from the National Academy of Medicine. The panel, which is supposed to have an initial draft ready by the end of August and a final version by the end of September, was formed at the request of the directors of the NIH and the CDC.

Read the full story here.

Despite fewer virus cases, Hawaii hesitant to open schools

HONOLULU — The principal of the only school on Lanai thought reopening with full, in-person instruction next month was a no brainer: The Hawaiian island has had no confirmed coronavirus cases, and breezes flow through many of the school’s classrooms.

But even there, faculty pushed back, said Lanai High and Elementary School Principal Elton Kinoshita. In the end, only kindergartners and first-graders will meet face to face daily.

While Hawaii has one of the lowest rates of cases per capita in the country and many schools have open-air campuses, the challenges of returning kids full time to classrooms may still be insurmountable. Many residents live in multigenerational homes and fear for their elderly relatives, many schools lack the classroom space to allow for desks to be 6 feet (2 meters) apart, and the state is a major tourist destination and could see a rise in cases if restrictions are eased.

As a result, most schools in Hawaii will institute the hybrid approach being adopted in many parts of the country, with students alternating between attending in-person classes and online instruction. Some schools will have full face-to-face instruction for younger grade levels, but only a handful of schools will offer a full-time, in-person return.

Read the rest of this story here.

European Commission signs deal for virus drug

LONDON — The European Commission says it signed a $72 million deal to secure thousands of doses of remdesavir, the only licensed experimental drug to treat people with severe COVID-19.

The European Commission says it had bought enough remdesivir, sold by Gilead Sciences as Veklury, to treat about 30,000 patients with serious coronavirus illness for member countries and the United Kingdom.

This month, the U.S. announced it had signed a deal with Gilead to buy nearly all of the company’s production of the drug through September. Numerous public health experts slammed the agreement, calling the U.S. move selfish and warned other countries could lose out.

Bosnian government official dies after testing positive

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — A Bosnia minister for veteran affairs has died after testing positive for the coronavirus. He was 53.

Salko Bukvarevic died Wednesday in a COVID-19 hospital in Sarajevo, where he was admitted last week with pneumonia and breathing problems.

He had served in the government of Bosniak-Croat federation since 2015. The region’s prime minister, Fadil Novalic, was also hospitalized with COVID-19, but was released Tuesday following two weeks of treatment.

So far, Bosniahas tallied over 10,700 virus cases and 297 deaths.

Nearly 80% of all cases in the country of 3.5 million were registered since mid-May, when a strict nearly 2-month-long, coronavirus lockdown was lifted.

Committee says British government made reckless error discharging patients to care homes

LONDON — A committee of British lawmakers says the government’s decision to advise English hospitals to discharge thousands of patients into care homes without knowing if they had the coronavirus was a “reckless” and “appalling” policy error.

The Public Accounts Committee said discharging around 25,000 patients to free up beds was an example of the government’s “slow, inconsistent and at times negligent” approach to social care.

In a report, it voiced concerns that the Department of Health and Social Care continued with the policy “even once it was clear there was an emerging problem.”

Hospitals in England were asked on March 17 to discharge patients, but did insist on coronavirus test prior to discharge until April 15. The government only said at the end of April that all care home residents and staff, regardless of symptoms, would be able to access tests.

The U.K. has the highest official coronavirus death toll in Europe, with around 46,000. The actual figure is thought to be far higher as it does not include those who died after contracting the virus but were not tested, including many in care homes.

Britain agrees to buy 60 million doses of potential vaccine

LONDON— The British government has signed a deal with GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur for 60 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine that could start to be rolled out in the first half of next year.

Britain’s GSK and France’s Sanofi have the largest vaccine manufacturing capability in the world. The vaccine prospect is based on the existing DNA-based technology used to produce Sanofi’s seasonal flu vaccine.

The government said that if the vaccine proves successful, then priority groups, such as health and social care workers, could be given the first doses as early as the first half of next year.

Human clinical studies of the vaccine will begin in September followed by a phase 3 study in December.

This is the fourth deal the British government has signed for potential coronavirus vaccines, worth a combined 250 million doses.


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