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

Shutdown restrictions ordered by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus were unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Monday – a decision that was quickly celebrated by President Trump, who said he hopes the decision is followed by similar pronouncements in other states.

The state’s limits on gatherings and closure of nonessential businesses violated the First Amendment and the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, according to a 66-page opinion by U.S. District Judge William Stickman, a Trump appointee. The governor’s office confirmed that it will appeal the decision.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed in May by four Pennsylvania counties – Butler, Fayette, Greene and Washington – that argued against the state’s orders to close “non-life-sustaining” businesses and limit gatherings to 25 people indoors or 250 people outdoors.

Stickman said “open-ended” measures imposed on people with no known end are an overreaching violation of constitutional rights.

“The court believes that defendants undertook their actions in a well-intentioned effort to protect Pennsylvanians from the virus,” the ruling said. “However, good intentions toward a laudable end are not alone enough to uphold governmental action against a constitutional challenge.”

Within hours after the decision was filed, Trump retweeted about two dozen posts about the blow to the Democratic governor’s oversight of his state. In one posts, seniors wag their fingers and peel off their face coverings to beat of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

Read the full story here.

Democrats to probe whether officials meddled with CDC data

WASHINGTON — A House subcommittee examining President Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is launching an investigation into reports that political appointees have meddled with routine government scientific data to better align with Trump’s public statements.

Michael Caputo, Dennis C. Vacco

Michael Caputo, shown in 2018, at left, a communication aide with the Department of Health and Human Services, has often publicly pushed back on CDC statements about the coronavirus and said falsely in a Facebook video on Sunday that the CDC has a “resistance unit” to undermine President Trump, according to The New York Times. J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

The Democrat-led subcommittee said Monday that it is requesting transcribed interviews with seven officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, including communications aide Michael Caputo. Caputo has often publicly pushed back on CDC statements about the coronavirus and said falsely in a Facebook video on Sunday that the CDC has a “resistance unit” to undermine Trump, according to The New York Times. His page has since been made private.

According to a report in Politico, Caputo, along with scientific adviser Paul Alexander, pressured officials to alter the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, a long-running weekly journal that features the latest science-based research and data on infectious diseases. Known as MMWR, the report has long been a sacred government information resource for doctors, scientists and researchers tracking outbreaks.

The officials pressured CDC to change the reports, at times retroactively, to better align them with Trump’s often rosier public statements about the coronavirus, Politico reported.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield, the Democratic members of the subcommittee said they are “gravely concerned” about the reports of political meddling in a journal that has long been free of political interference.

“With nearly 200,000 Americans killed and hundreds more dying each day from the coronavirus pandemic, the public needs and deserves truthful scientific information so they can keep themselves and their families healthy,” the Democrats wrote.

HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

According to Politico, Caputo and Alexander complained about a report that explained children can transmit the coronavirus and Alexander asked the CDC to alter it or pull it down, saying the report could impact school reopening and hurt Trump politically.

In the Facebook Live video, reported by The New York Times, Caputo warned that left-wing hit squads would engage in armed insurrection after the election and said officials were engaging in “sedition” as they handled the pandemic. “You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Caputo said, according to the Times.

More U.S. bars, restaurants opening despite evidence of potential danger

In New York City, diners will be able to have a meal inside a restaurant at the end of the month, something that hasn’t happened there since the coronavirus pandemic began. In Florida, bars are set to reopen Monday for the first time since late June.

One decision appears to be riskier than the other, according to an analysis of cellphone and coronavirus case data by The Washington Post.

States that have reopened bars experienced a doubling in the rate of coronavirus cases three weeks after the opening of doors, on average. The Post analysis — using data provided by SafeGraph, a company that aggregates cellphone location information — found a statistically significant national relationship between foot traffic to bars one week after they reopened and an increase in cases three weeks later.

The analysis of the cellphone data suggests there is not as strong a relationship between the reopening of restaurants and a rise in cases, nor with bar foot traffic and cases over time, except for a handful of states.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of nearly 300 adults who tested positive for the coronavirus found that they were more than twice as likely to have dined at a restaurant in the two weeks before getting sick than people who were uninfected. Those who tested positive and did not have close contact with anyone sick were also more likely to report going to a bar or coffee shop. The same effect was not seen in visits to salons, gyms and houses of worship, or in the use of public transportation.

“You’re sitting there for a long time, everyone’s talking,” said Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech. “And that’s just a recipe for spread.”

Few states make their contact-tracing data available, but in two that do — Colorado and Louisiana — bars and restaurants are responsible for about 20 percent of cases traced to a known source. San Diego traced nearly one-third of community outbreaks to restaurants and bars, more than any other setting.

But Louisiana’s experience suggests bar patrons contribute more to the spread of the virus than restaurant diners. There have been 41 outbreaks tied to restaurants and the same number of outbreaks associated with bars, but bar outbreaks appeared to result in more infections, with 480 cases traced to those establishments compared with 180 from restaurants.

Read the full story on bars and restaurants here.

State Department lifts ‘do not travel’ advisory for Mexico

The U.S. State Department has lowered its travel advisory for Mexico to a Level 3 from its highest possible Level 4, days before the U.S.-Mexico border closure is due to expire on Sept. 21.

The modified travel advisory says U.S. travelers should “reconsider travel to Mexico due to COVID-19” as well as “crime and kidnapping.” A border closure restricting nonessential travel has been in place between the United States and Mexico since March 21 in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

The border closure terms only apply to land and water crossings, as flights between the United States and Mexico have largely continued since the early days of the pandemic. Until last week, the State Department’s Mexico advisory was a Level 4 (do not travel) nationwide. Some less-visited regions of Mexico remain classified Level 4 for “crime and kidnapping.”


A man mops the deck of a painted wooden boat known as a trajinera, popular with tourists that ply the water canals in the Xochimilco district of Mexico City, during a reopening of activities after a six-month pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. AP Photo/Marco Ugarte

The popular resort areas of Cabo San Lucas, Cancún and Cozumel have been allowing U.S. travelers who fly into the country to visit without required quarantines or coronavirus tests. Instead, Mexican airports have been carrying out health-screening procedures such as temperature checks, according to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for Mexico due to COVID-19,” the advisory states. “Mexico has lifted stay at home orders in some areas and resumed some transportation and business operations. Visit the Embassy’s COVID-19 page for more information on COVID-19 in Mexico.”

Mexico has seen a total of 668,000 coronavirus cases and more than 70,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, with daily new cases peaking in August before lowering and holding steady in the range of 4,000 to 6,000 per day since then. The United States has reported more than 6 million total coronavirus cases and 190,000 deaths, with the peak in daily new cases hitting mid-July, at more than 75,000.

The change comes soon after some major tourist sites in Mexico reopened, including Teotihuacán, a UNESCO World Heritage Site outside of Mexico City. The only area in Mexico that has a higher covid-19 rate than Mexico City is the tourist-frequented state of Baja California Sur, which includes Los Cabos. Subregions that have earned the World Travel and Tourism Council’s “Safe Travels stamp,” which certifies that a locale follows health protocols established by the WTTC, include Los Cabos, Cancun, Riviera Maya, Riviera Nayarit, Yucatán, Jalisco and the islands of Cozumel.

“CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential international travel to Mexico. Travelers at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should consider postponing all travel, including essential travel, to Mexico,” according to the CDC website. “Local policies at your destination may require you to be tested for COVID-19 before you are allowed to enter the country. If you test positive on arrival, you may be required to isolate for a period of time. You may even be prevented from returning to the United States, as scheduled.”

COVID-19 hampers fight against HIV

As COVID-19 swept through the South, Mel Prince watched with alarm as some of the HIV positive patients she helps in the rural Black Belt stopped showing up for lab tests and doctor’s visits.

Some fell back into drug and alcohol abuse. Others feared the AIDS virus made them more vulnerable to the coronavirus and refused to leave their homes.

Around the same time, Prince’s HIV organization in Selma, Alabama, stopped sending staff to health fairs and other sites to test people for HIV.

“The virus has made it very challenging for us,” said Prince, executive director of Selma AIR. “We just continue to let people know we’re here, and we’re trying our best to take care of their needs.”

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the delivery of all types of health care services in the U.S. Doctors have put off surgeries to conserve hospital beds and medical supplies for COVID-19 patients and turned to telemedicine for routine consultations to avoid potentially exposing patients to the virus.

The fight against HIV has not been spared. Clinics have stopped or limited testing for the disease, and public health officials overwhelmed by demands to control COVID-19 have shifted staff away from tracking HIV patients.


Mel Prince, executive director of Selma AIR, looks at a quilt that remembers people who lost their lives to AIDS, at her office in Selma, Ala., on Sept 3. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the delivery of all types of health care services in the U.S., and the fight against HIV has not been spared. AP Photo/Kim Chandler

Progress against the virus had already stalled in recent years. Now, health experts and advocates worry the country is at risk of backsliding, with a spike in new HIV infections because people don’t know they have the disease, aren’t aware if their treatment is working or aren’t getting a drug that can prevent them from getting HIV in the first place.

“We’re losing people who are doing HIV testing and focusing on HIV to the COVID-19 response,” said Ace Robinson, with the national nonprofit HIV eradication group, NMAC. “And that means that we’re not able to support people to maintain the care that they deserve.”

The issue is of particular concern in the South, which accounted for more than half of the country’s roughly 37,000 HIV infections in 2018 and has been a focus of the Trump administration’s goal of eradicating the disease by 2030. Fewer people in the South are aware that they have HIV compared with other regions in the U.S, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Parts of the Black Belt — a poor agricultural region stretching from Louisiana to Virginia that was first known for the color of its soil and then for its mostly Black population — have particularly high rates of new HIV infections.

Read the full story here.

Nevada governor blasts Trump’s indoor rally as ‘shameful, dangerous and irresponsible’

Shortly before President Donald Trump took the stage on Sunday night in Henderson, Nev., for his first indoor rally in months, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak blasted the president for flouting the state’s coronavirus restrictions by packing hundreds of supporters, many without masks, into a building.

The Democratic governor noted that Trump and his campaign were violating Nevada’s ban on gatherings of 50 people or more, tweeting that the president’s rally at Xtreme Manufacturing was “shameful, dangerous and irresponsible.”

“Tonight, President Donald Trump is taking reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada,” the governor said. “The President appears to have forgotten that this country is still in the middle of a global pandemic.”

The indoor rally, which featured maskless supporters standing shoulder-to-shoulder inside the industrial facility, came as the United States surpasses 190,000 dead from the novel coronavirus. In Nevada, where Trump held multiple events over the weekend, there have been more than 73,500 cases and more than 1,450 deaths related to the virus.

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at Xtreme Manufacturing, Sunday, Sept. 13, in Henderson, Nev. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Sunday’s rally followed a campaign event last week in Winston-Salem, N.C., in which Trump mocked pandemic restrictions by not wearing a mask and jeered at the state’s restrictions against outdoor gatherings of more than 50 people.

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh rejected criticism of the rally, with the campaign noting that rally attendees were subject to a temperature check, had access to hand sanitizer, and were provided masks and encouraged to wear them.

“If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the 1st Amendment to hear from the President of the United States,” Murtaugh said in a statement.

Joe Biden’s campaign was also quick to bash the president for holding sizable rallies that violate states’ public health rules. The Democratic nominee has maintained a more socially-distanced campaign, following the guidelines of public health experts, said Mike Gwin, a Biden campaign spokesman.

“Every rally turned superspreader event Donald Trump decides to hold serves as another reminder to Americans that Trump still refuses to take this pandemic seriously and still doesn’t have a plan to stop it, even after nearly 200,000 deaths and untold economic damage,” Gwin said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

Major economies shrink amid COVID-19 pandemic

PARIS — A global development agency said the world’s 20 major industrialized nations have seen their economies shrink in an unprecedented manner between April and June amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Monday that the gross domestic product dropped by a record 6.9% in the second quarter of this year in the G-20 area.

This organization noted that is “significantly larger” than the 1.6% fall recorded in the first quarter of 2009 at the height of the financial crisis.

Between April and June this year, the GDP most dramatically fell by 25.2 in India, by 20.4% in the UK and by 17.1% in Mexico. It plunged by 9.1% in the United States.

The OECD said that China was the only G-20 country recording growth (11.5%) in that period. The organization said that reflects “the earlier onset of the pandemic in this country and subsequent recovery.”

Myanmar expands quarantine facilities

YANGON, Myanmar — Authorities in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, are expanding coronavirus quarantine facilities as new confirmed cases rise.

The Myanmar Football Federation said work will be completed this week at a stadium to serve as a temporary quarantine center.

The Health Ministry announced 83 new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Monday, bringing the total to 3,015. It also reported six new deaths, for a total of 24.

Yangon General Hospital is expanding its wards and setting up tents to accommodate virus patients, and other hospitals are doing the same.

Myanmar reimposed tough virus-control measures on Friday, banning travel out of Yangon and grounding all domestic flights until Oct. 1.

Berlusconi released from hospital after 10-day stay

MILAN — Italy’s former Premier Silvio Berlusconi has been released from the hospital after a 10-day stay with COVID-19 and pneumonia, saying he had never feared as much for his life as from this “insidious” disease.

Wearing a suit and smiling, the 83-year-old Berlusconi urged Italians to take the virus seriously and “rigorously” adhere to mask mandates, social distancing norms and frequent hand washing.

He sent a special appeal to Italy’s students, millions of whom were returning to school for the first time Monday since early March, when Italy became the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe and schools shut down.

Berlusconi, who has had heart problems and uses a pacemaker, thanked his doctors at San Raffaele hospital in Milan and acknowledged most Italians in his condition didn’t survive the virus. He said: “I overcame what I consider perhaps the most dangerous challenge of my life.”

Students return to school in Portugal

LISBON, Portugal — Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa has told teachers and students they are embarking on “the most unusual school year of your lives” as classes resume amid the pandemic.

Costa said in a speech at a school Monday that he expected problems to arise, but insisted that the future of younger generations cannot be compromised.

Schools are reopening this week under new regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Face coverings are mandatory for students from the age of 12, except during physical education. Staff must wear masks at all times.

Schools will keep doors and windows open whenever possible, to keep air circulating, and classrooms are to be disinfected after each class. Classes are being staggered to avoid large gatherings in corridors. Breaks are shorter than usual, and each class has a designated outside area they must stay in between classes.

Romania begins school year with various plans

BUCHAREST, Romania — Some 2.8 million Romanian schoolchildren have begun their academic year, with classes being held in classrooms, online or a combination of the two, depending on the intensity of the pandemic in a given region.

President Klaus Iohannis told children in a video message Monday that they have the opportunity to be superheroes by wearing masks, washing their hands and listening to their teachers to protect their parents and grandparents, those most at risk from the virus.

Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said he was confident that children would be safer in schools than on playgrounds or sports facilities.

Since Sept. 1, Romania has averaged about 1,225 new infections a day, slightly higher than during the last two weeks of August.

In all, Romania has confirmed 103,495 cases of COVID-19, with 4,163 deaths, since the pandemic began.

Top German official concerned about rising cases

BERLIN — Berlin’s top health official has expressed concern about the rising number of coronavirus cases in Germany, particularly among young people.

Dilek Kalayci told public broadcaster rbb that experience showed young people could easily become “super spreaders” resulting in older, more vulnerable people becoming sick with COVID-19 too.

Germany’s disease control center on Monday reported 927 new cases across the country in the past day.

One county that’s seen the number of infections in a week rise above the threshold of 50 per 100,000 is Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria.

Locals there have reacted with anger to news that a 26-year-old American woman with symptoms had visited several local bars despite being told to quarantine while waiting for her test result.

As a result, all restaurants in the Alpine town must close at 10 p.m. for the next week.

Pakistan plans to reopen schools Tuesday

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister and education officials say all arrangements are in place to ensure that every child can go to school safely.

Authorities are preparing to reopen schools from Tuesday amid a steady decline in COVID-19 deaths and infections.

Prime Minister Imran Khan took to twitter Monday saying “tomorrow we will welcome millions of children back to school. It is our priority & collective responsibility to ensure that every child can go to school safely to learn.”

Khan’s comment come as education officials said they have finalized arrangements to reopen schools, which were closed in March when the government enforced a nationwide lockdown. Authorities lifted curbs on most of the businesses in May, but schools remained closed across the country.

On Monday, Pakistan reported four new deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, one on of its lowest totals in more five months.

New Zealand will keep cautious restrictions for another week

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand will keep its virus restrictions in place for at least another week as the country continues to battle a small outbreak that began in Auckland last month.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday the country had taken a cautious approach to the virus from the beginning, which had helped save lives and allowed the economy to reopen in a sustained way.

Ardern said New Zealand will continue its strategy of trying to eliminate the virus. Under the restrictions, everybody must wear masks on public transport and planes, and the sizes of most gatherings are limited to 10 in Auckland and 100 elsewhere.

Health authorities announced one more case of the virus on Monday, bringing the number of active cases to 96.

South Korea reports lowest numbers in a month

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported its lowest daily virus tally in about a month as it began easing its tough social distancing rules in the greater Seoul area.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said the 109 new cases took the country’s total to 22,285 with 363 deaths. The daily increase has stayed in the 100s for 12 straight days, but Monday’s increase was the lowest since mid-August.

The government on Sunday relaxed its physical distancing guidelines in the Seoul area, citing a downward trend in new infections and economic worries.

The rules effective Monday allow customers to eat and drink inside franchise cafes and bakeries and indoor gyms and after-school academics can reopen. A ban on late-night dining at restaurants was also lifted. Distancing and masks are still required.

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