IOWA CITY, Iowa — The deadly rise in COVID-19 cases across the U.S. is forcing state and local officials to adjust their blueprints for fighting the virus, with Republican governors adopting mask mandates – skeptically, in at least one case – and schools scrapping plans to reopen classrooms.

The steps face blowback from those who question the science behind mask wearing and social distancing and fear the new restrictions will kill off more jobs and trample on their civil liberties.

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds had pushed back against a mask mandate for months but imposed a limited one Tuesday, becoming the latest GOP holdout to change course on face coverings. At the same time, she claimed “there’s science on both sides” about whether masks reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

With Thanksgiving coming up next week, public health officials are bracing for a holiday-fueled surge. Doctors are urging families to stick to small gatherings.

Governors in Ohio, Maryland and Illinois imposed restrictions on business hours and crowd sizes Tuesday, and their counterparts in Wisconsin and Colorado proposed economic relief packages.

Read the full story here.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, 87, says he tested positive for coronavirus

WASHINGTON — Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the longest-serving Republican senator and third in the line of presidential succession, said Tuesday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Charles Grassley

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, shown in October, said Tuesday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus, but that he looks forward to “resuming my normal schedule soon.” Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Associated Press

Grassley announced earlier Tuesday that he was quarantining after being exposed to the virus and was waiting for the results of a test. On Tuesday evening, he tweeted that he had tested positive.

“I’ve tested positive for coronavirus,” Grassley wrote. “I’ll b following my doctors’ orders/CDC guidelines & continue to quarantine. I’m feeling good + will keep up on my work for the ppl of Iowa from home.”

Grassley said he looks forward to “resuming my normal schedule soon.”

The Iowa Republican, who was in the Senate and voting on Monday, did not say how he was exposed. His office said Tuesday morning that he was not experiencing any symptoms.

Grassley is the president pro tempore of the Senate, meaning he presides over the Senate in the absence of Vice President Mike Pence and is third in line to become president, behind Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The president pro tempore is the senator in the majority party who has served the longest.

By missing votes Tuesday, Grassley broke a 27-year streak of not missing a single Senate vote. According to his office, the last time he missed a vote was in 1993, when he was in Iowa assisting with relief efforts after severe flooding.

Grassley was first elected to the U.S. House in 1974 and then to the Senate in 1980. He is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and is expected to become the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee when a new Senate session begins in January.

Doctors warn Idaho is on verge of rationed health care unless community spread stops

BOISE, Idaho — Doctors serving Idaho and eastern Oregon spent hours Tuesday trying to sway health districts, city leaders and the public to do more to stop the spread of coronavirus, warning that rationed care is looming in Idaho’s future.

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The marquee at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre offers a message to address the coronavirus outbreak in Moscow, Idaho, in April. Idaho’s unchecked spread of coronavirus has become so overwhelming in some areas that medical care providers are struggling even to answer all of the phone calls from would-be patients. Geoff Crimmins/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via Associated Press

But in one public health department, they were met with debunked conspiracy theories and skepticism.

Idaho is experiencing severe and unchecked community spread of COVID-19 in much of the state, with more than 83,000 cases statewide and a positivity rate that has increased by nearly 42 percent in the past two weeks. There were nearly 1,000 new cases reported for every 100,000 residents in the past two weeks, according to numbers from Johns Hopkins University.

Unless the community “radically changes,” the number of COVID patients in southwestern Idaho hospitals will double by Christmas and triple by mid-January, Dr. Steven Nemerson with Saint Alphonsus Health Center told Boise Mayor Lauren McLean during a briefing Tuesday morning. The hospital system uses predictive modeling to determine how many coronavirus cases will likely come in the weeks ahead.

“And that’s when we begin to take care of patients in areas of the building that are not used for traditional care — things like conference rooms,” Nemerson said.

The modeling systems use regional testing numbers and other data to predict how many COVID-19 patients will need to be hospitalized. It has been highly accurate so far, Nemerson said, but it doesn’t account for Thanksgiving get-togethers or holiday traveling. That could increase numbers dramatically, if the spikes seen in Idaho after the 4th of July holiday weekend are any indication.

“We’re very, very concerned about the upcoming holidays, both Thanksgiving and Christmas. One family getting together with another family is a very common spreader-event opportunity,” he said. “Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings that we love to have, they really need to not happen this year.”

While Nemerson and other healthcare leaders were meeting with the Boise mayor, members of the Southwest Public Health District board were meeting in neighboring Canyon County. The district, which oversees one of the most populated regions in the state, has resisted mask mandates and other steps other regions have taken to slow the spread of the virus.

Board members invited speakers to talk about the impact of coronavirus, including some who promoted debunked conspiracy theories denying the existence or severity of COVID-19, such as claiming wireless internet plays a role in the disease. Board members also heard from doctors who attempted to counter the misinformation and urged people to wear masks and take other steps to protect themselves and others from illness.

Electric Boat workforce contends with rising infections

General Dynamics Electric Boat, the Connecticut-based builder of U.S. Navy submarines, is encouraging more people to work from home as it contends with a surge in coronavirus infections among its workforce.

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Shipyard workers at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., prepare a submarine for float-off in 2015. Jessica Hill/Associated Press

A total of 404 infections have been reported among Electric Boat staff, including 170 in the three weeks leading up to Nov. 13. The Groton-based company employs about 12,000 people in Connecticut, 4,000 in Rhode Island and a small number at shipyards elsewhere in the U.S.

“We, like the community, are seeing an uptick in infections,” company spokesperson Liz Power said. She said the company has added sanitizing stations, conducted aggressive contact tracing and expanded the ability to work from home for workers who do not have to be in the shipyards.

Electric Boat President Kevin Graney, who contracted COVID-19 himself in April, addressed the increase in a recent podcast for employees.

“I’m very concerned about this trend as I know you are,” Graney said, according to The Providence Journal. “We understand that cases are rising in the community and that means that we cannot let our guard down — we must adhere to all of the measures we’ve been taking for the last several months.

The Connecticut governor’s office said the number of people hospitalized in Connecticut with COVID-19 increased by 20 on Tuesday to 777. There were 12 additional deaths linked to the virus, bringing the total for the pandemic to 4,771.

The seven-day rolling average for Connecticut’s coronavirus positivity rate has risen over the past two weeks from 3.6 percent on Nov. 2 to 5.53 percent on Nov. 16. State health departments are calculating positivity rates differently across the country, but for Connecticut the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

Fed Chairman Powell warns ‘we’re not going back to the same economy’

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the nationwide surge in confirmed coronavirus could slow the economy in the months ahead by discouraging consumers from spending.

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Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell Drew Angerer/Pool via Associated Press

“We’re seeing states begin to impose some activity restrictions,” Powell said in an online discussion with the Bay Area Council, a San Francisco-based business group. “The concern is that people will lose confidence in efforts to control the pandemic, and … we’re seeing signs of that already.”

While Powell did not elaborate, the government reported earlier Tuesday that retail sales grew just 0.3 percent in October, the smallest gain since the pandemic sent sales plunging nearly 15 percent in April. A measure of consumer confidence has also declined this month.

And JPMorgan says that consumer spending fell earlier this month compared with mid-October, according to activity on 30 million of its credit and debit cards that it anonymously tracks.

Powell said the threat also means that Congress and the White House should provide more stimulus spending to support the unemployed, states and cities, and small businesses, and to keep the economy afloat. Powell has repeatedly called for more government spending as have many other Fed officials.

“There hasn’t been a bigger a need for it in a long, long time here,” he said.

He also warned that even when the economy fully recovers, likely after a vaccine is distributed, some industries will likely remain weaker than they were before the pandemic. That could force many of those still unemployed to find work at a new company or in an entirely different industry. Those transitions might also require government support, he said.

“We’re not going back to the same economy, we’re going back to a different economy,” he said. “That’s going to mean that those people who worked in the service industry, they may need help and support for a time as they find work in new places.”

States plead for more federal help, but Congress can’t agree on the amount

With more shutdowns looming and a vaccine months away from wide distribution, governors across the U.S. are pleading for more help from Washington ahead of what is shaping up to be a bleak winter.

Mitch McConnell, Washington

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on Tuesday, the Democrats’ approach to coronavirus aid includes “huge sums of money for state and city governments with no linkage to demonstrated COVID needs” and comes as tax revenues in some states are ahead of where they were at this time in 2019. Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Renewed restrictions on indoor businesses, the coming end of unemployment benefits for millions of Americans and overloaded hospitals have led governors to paint a dire picture of the months ahead unless the federal government steps in with more money and leadership to help them shore up their damaged budgets and beat back the resurgence of the coronavirus.

Between now and June 2022, state and local governments could be facing a shortfall or $400 billion or more by some estimates.

The cost of distributing tens of millions of doses of a vaccine in 2021 is also emerging as a major concern for governors. The Association of State and Territorial Health Officers and the Association of Immunization Managers have called on Congress to provide $8.4 billion for vaccine distribution.

A new infusion of federal money does not appear to be on the way anytime soon. A lame-duck session of Congress and a presidential administration on its way out have chilled the prospects for a deal.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans generally say a new stimulus bill is needed, but they disagree on the scope of it. Some Republicans are opposed to another round of checks directly to most taxpayers, and some don’t want Washington to “bail out” state and local governments that had financial struggles before the pandemic.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Democrats’ approach includes “huge sums of money for state and city governments with no linkage to demonstrated COVID needs” and comes as tax revenues in some states are ahead of where they were at this time in 2019.

“But Democrats still want coronavirus relief for the entire country held hostage over a massive slush fund for their own use,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Read the full story here.

Dr. Fauci recommends ‘uniform wearing of masks’

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci is recommending “uniform wearing of masks” to help curb the surge of coronavirus cases in the United States.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert told CNN on Tuesday that “we need to intensify public health strategies,” which include wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding places where people gather.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, listens during a Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing on the federal government response to COVID-19 Capitol Hill in Washington in September. Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP

The U.S hit a record daily high of more than 184,000 coronavirus cases on Friday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

On Monday, Moderna announced early data suggests its vaccine candidate provides strong protection against the coronavirus. That news comes a week after Pfizer revealed its vaccine was similarly effective.

Vaccines candidates must go through independent data and safety monitoring before approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Fauci says in the meantime, it’s important for people “to be motivated to hang in there a bit longer and double down on the public health measures. I just can’t understand why there’s pushback against that. They’re not that difficult to do. And they save lives.”

The U.S. leads the world with 11.2 million coronavirus cases and more than 247,000 deaths.

Iowa governor drops opposition to masks, calls for statewide mandate

IOWA CITY, Iowa — With Iowa hospitals filling up, Gov. Kim Reynolds has dropped her opposition to a statewide mandate for mask use to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gives a primetime televised address announcing new efforts to combat COVID-19 in the state, on Monday, Nov. 16, at Iowa PBS, in Johnston, Iowa. Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register via AP

Reynolds signed a proclamation Monday requiring that everyone over 2 years old wear masks when in indoor public spaces. The mandate applies only when people are within 6 feet of others for 15 minutes and they aren’t members of their households.

Reynolds also is limiting gatherings for social, community, business and leisure purposes to no more than 15 people indoors and 30 outdoors, including family events. Routine office and factory work and spiritual gatherings are exempted.

The governor rejected calls to close bars and restaurants for in-person service but is ordering that they close by 10 p.m. She also has suspended sports and recreational activities, except for high school, college and professional sports.

Read more about other Republican governors who have changed their tune on masks.

87-year-old Sen. Grassley in quarantine after virus exposure

WASHINGTON — Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the longest-serving Republican senator, says he is quarantining after being exposed to the coronavirus.

Grassley, 87, did not say how he was exposed. He said he would follow doctor’s orders and “immediately quarantine” and work virtually as he waits for results of a test.

“I’m feeling well and not currently experiencing any symptoms, but it’s important we all follow public health guidelines to keep each other healthy,” Grassley said in a statement.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa Erin Schaff/The New York Times via Associated Press

The Iowa Republican is the president pro tempore of the Senate, meaning he presides over the Senate in the absence of Vice President Mike Pence and is third in the line of presidential succession, behind Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The president pro tempore is the senator in the majority party who has served the longest.

By missing votes this week, Grassley will break a 27-year streak of not missing a single Senate vote. According to his office, the last time he missed a vote was in 1993, when he was in Iowa assisting with relief efforts after severe flooding.

Grassley was first elected to the U.S. House in 1974 and then to the Senate in 1980. He is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and is expected to become the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee when a new Senate session begins in January.

British PM Johnson tests negative for virus

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested negative for the coronavirus, but will complete 14 days of self-isolation because of contact with an infected person.

Johnson’s office says the prime minister was tested using a lateral flow test — a quick test that doesn’t need to be processed in a lab. The tests are not widely available in the U.K., but the government says staff in the prime minister’s office could get them as part of a pilot project.

Johnson was told to self-isolate on Sunday after a lawmaker with whom he had met three days earlier tested positive for the coronavirus. The prime minister says he has no symptoms and will continue to lead the government, holding meetings using videoconferencing.

Government rules say people in close contact with an infected person must quarantine for two weeks.

Johnson was seriously ill with the coronavirus in April, spending three nights in intensive care. People who recover from the virus are thought to have some immunity, but it’s unclear how long it lasts. There have been a small number of confirmed cases worldwide of people becoming re-infected with the virus.

Wisconsin prisons see highest one-day spike in virus cases

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin prisons have experienced the highest single-day spike in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

The state Department of Corrections reported 808 new cases among inmates Monday, bringing the number of active cases to 2,063.

Six prisons have outbreaks of more than 100 active coronavirus cases among prisoners. They include New Lisbon Correctional Institution with 362 cases, Fox Lake Correctional Institution with 360, Oshkosh Correctional Institution with 258, Racine Correctional Institution/Sturtevant Transitional Facility with 250, Taycheedah Correctional Institution with 140 and Dodge Correctional Institution with 135.

Among staff, a total of 1,470 corrections employees have self-reported testing positive for the virus, with 338 of those active Monday, the State Journal reported.

Despite cases continuing to rise, the department says the death count at 10 hasn’t changed since Nov. 3.

Austria goes into lockdown

VIENNA — Austria has started a new tough lockdown meant to slow the surging spread of the coronavirus in the Alpine nation.

As of Tuesday, people are only allowed to leave their homes to purchase groceries, to go to jobs deemed essential, to exercise or to help people who need assistance.

All restaurants, shops, hair salons and other services have been ordered closed, and the nation’s schools have been moved to remote learning programs.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Monday ahead of the lockdown, which is to run through Dec. 6, that “all of social and public life will be brought down to a minimum.”

Austria currently is registering more than 527 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days — more than 10 times the rate that authorities say is sustainable. Over the last seven days, it has reported 46,946 new coronavirus infections.

South Korea to tighten up social distancing rules

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it will tighten social distancing rules in the greater Seoul area and some parts of eastern Gangwon province to try to suppress a coronavirus resurgence.

Tuesday’s announcement came as South Korea’s daily virus tally stayed above 200 for a fourth straight day. The country has been experiencing a steady increase in virus infections since it relaxed its social distancing guidelines last month.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said it was necessary to adjust the distancing rules for two weeks.

Under the new rules starting Thursday in those areas, authorities are banning gatherings of more than 100 people during rallies, festivals, concerts and academic events. Customers at theaters, concerts and libraries are required to sit at least one seat apart from each other, while audiences at sporting events will be limited to 30% of the stadium’s capacity.

The new rules also ban dancing and moving to others’ seats at nightclubs and other high-risk entertainment facilities, and drinking and eating at karaoke rooms and concert halls.

South Korea added 230 more virus cases on Tuesday, raising the country’s total to 28,998, including 494 deaths.

Johnson & Johnson starts new trial of experimental COVID-19 vaccine

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Johnson & Johnson has begun a new late-stage trial of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine, this time on a two-dose regimen.

J&J plans to give up to 30,000 people two doses of the vaccine. It’s been testing a one-dose regimen in a 60,000-person trial that began in late September and has enrolled nearly 10,000 volunteers so far.

In the new trial, volunteers will get either the vaccine or a dummy shot, then a second dose 57 days later, a company spokesman said Monday. That study is being conducted in the U.S., plus Belgium, Colombia, France, Germany, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain and the UK — locations chosen because they have a high incidence of COVID-19 and can start testing quickly.

The company said it’s being “extremely thorough”’ by testing multiple doses and dosing regimens to evaluate long-term effectiveness.

A small, early-stage study of the vaccine found it triggered a strong immune response and was well tolerated.

South Dakota has the nation’s highest death rate for virus, but governor won’t take measures

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is showing no sign of budging from her hands-off approach to the pandemic, despite her state having the nation’s highest death rate this month.

South Dakota has reported 219 deaths in November — about a third of all its deaths over the course of the pandemic. The COVID-19 deaths have sent the state to the top of the nation in deaths per capita this month, with nearly 25 deaths per 100,000 people.

Still, Noem, a Republican, has no plans to issue mask requirements. The governor’s spokeswoman Maggie Seidel pushed back against arguments by public health experts, pointing to states like Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin that have also experienced significant virus waves in spite of having mask rules.

California pumps the brakes on reopening

SACRAMENTO — California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was pulling the “emergency brake” on the state’s efforts to reopen its economy as coronavirus cases surge more dramatically than during a summer spike.

Newsom will impose more restrictions on businesses across most of the state. He said masks would now be required outside homes with limited exceptions.

Newsom’s action, which takes effect Tuesday, will put most of the state’s 58 counties in the strictest of the four-tier system for reopening that is based on virus case rates. That tier closes many non-essential indoor businesses.

Counties with lower rates have had more freedom for businesses to operate, schools to open for classroom instruction and for formal gatherings like religious services.


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