New COVID-19 cases are down about 20% since early August, but deaths remain alarmingly high, with nearly 1,000 Americans a day still dying from the virus.
That’s according to data from Johns Hopkins University. A closer look at testing reveals similarly mixed news: Positive tests rates are falling but less tests are being done.
A growing awareness of how the virus spreads and more mask-wearing are likely helping curb the number of new cases, experts say. But reopening schools and universities continues to be a confounding challenge.
Most universities are unlikely to be able to reopen safely, said A. David Paltiel, a professor at Yale’s School of Public Health, who recently built a mathematical model to track the spread of the virus on college campuses. He found scenarios in which universities can open safely, he said, but “it’s an incredibly high bar. It’s probably one that most universities can’t reach.”
Some significant developments:
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 5.7 million confirmed infections and 178,000 deaths. Worldwide, there have been more than 818,000 deaths and 23.8 million cases, according to John Hopkins University data.
📰 What we’re reading: USA TODAY’s expert panelists, increasingly optimistic about the prospect of a readily available vaccine, are concerned about who will get it first, how doses will be shipped, and what messages the government must send so Americans trust getting one.
This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to the Daily Briefing.
First lady Melania Trump used a keynote address at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night to talk about the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking from a podium in the White House Rose Garden, the first lady offered her “deepest sympathy” to “everyone of has loved a loved one.” And she offered prayers to those who are ill or suffering.
“I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone,” she said. “My husband’s administration will not stop fighting until there is an effective treatment or vaccine available to everyone.”
She also expressed gratitude to health care professionals, front-line workers and teachers, saying they have been selfless despite the risks of catching the virus. She added that she is moved by how Americans have dealt with “such an unfamiliar and often frightening situation.”
Mass evacuations ahead of a major hurricane are usually enough of a challenge. But as Hurricane Laura barrels toward the Texas coast, officials have to take coronavirus safety precautions into account as well.
As a result, more than 385,000 residents told to flee Beaumont, Galveston and Port Arthur are being urged to seek safety in the isolation of hotel rooms if they can, not the temporary communal living of shelters.
State officials said buses deployed to the coast were stocked with personal protective equipment and disinfectants. Buses would make more trips and carry fewer passengers in order to keep people farther apart ahead of the storm’s projected landfall Wednesday night or Thursday morning.
For those who must stay in shelters, virus testing teams will also be deployed “as soon as practical,” said Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
Officials are also sounding warnings about outrageous behavior. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says please just don’t to Louisiana residents thinking of planning a hurricane party.
BioButtons? Students raise privacy concerns over health monitoring
Colleges are coming up with some novel ways — both high and low tech — to try to ensure students aren’t involved in behavior that puts them at risk for the coronavirus, but they’re getting pushback over privacy.
A variety of methods are being tried to monitor behavior and discourage large gatherings, from special police patrols in student-heavy neighborhoods to smartphone apps that monitor health information that can be read by campus authorities.
All come as campuses have seen clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks that have led some to cancel the start of in-class instruction.
At Oakland University in suburban Detroit, administrators hatched a plan to mandate all students wear BioButtons, which measure heart rate and other vital signs and share the data once a day to the college via a smartphone app. But the plan was nixed after a student outcry.
Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, is sending campus and city police officers for special patrols in student-heavy neighborhoods. The city police department says they “serve as a visible presence and reminder to students and other community members of the need to follow public health guidance” and that “COVID-19, large gatherings and harmful alcoholic behavior are all concerns this year.”
—David Jesse, Detroit Free Press
A plan was shelved Tuesday that would have furloughed about two-third of the federal workers tasked with offering citizenship, green cards and visas to immigrants.
Has the move gone forward, it would have effectively brought the nation’s immigration system to a standstill.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the change Tuesday that would have furloughed 13,400 of its 20,000 employees on Aug. 30. It said it was reversing course due to “unprecedented spending cuts and a steady increase in daily incoming revenue and receipts.”
The agency, which is under the Department of Homeland Security, is funded by money it makes from fees. But the number of petitions seeking entry into the U.S has decreased amid the coronavirus pandemic.
– Christal Hayes
Hawaii plantation towns suffer with island tourism at a standstill
The plight of Hawaii’s towns that transformed themselves into tourism havens after the demise of sugar plantations illustrates how the coronavirus is taking its toll on the islands’ economies.
In the Maui town of Paia, the community association estimates 40% of 71 shops and restaurants are either temporarily or permanently shuttered, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
In Old Koloa Town on Kauai, a collection of historic buildings, a handful of 19 shops and restaurants have closed.
“Ninety-five percent of our projects rely on tourism, and I don’t see there being any replacement of that. We’re more or less in a hold-your-breath situation until tourism returns,” said Cory Beall, president of the Beall Corp. that owns the complex.
Health restrictions including a 14-day mandatory quarantine for visitors arriving from outside the state. They havee crippled the tourism industry that accounts for about 25% of Hawaii’s economy.
In June alone, visitor arrivals were down 98.2% compared to a year ago, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Wisconsin’s statewide mask mandate should be immediately ended because Gov. Tony Evers didn’t have the legal authority to order it, three western Wisconsin residents represented by a conservative law firm argue in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
It’s the first legal challenge to the mask order Evers issued to help slow the spread of the coronavirus after cases began to spike again in mid-June. Evers issued the order on July 30, it took effect Aug. 1, and is set to run until Sept. 28. The order requires everyone age 5 and older to wear a mask while indoors, except at home. Violators could be fined $200.
The three plaintiffs are represented by the conservative law firm the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback accused Republicans and their allies of trying to prevent the governor from keeping people healthy and safe.
The lawsuit contends that the legal challenge is about Evers’ authority, not whether the state should act to slow the spread of COVID-19 or whether there can be a mask mandate. If Evers wanted to enact a mask mandate, he could have done so with the Legislature’s approval, not by issuing an executive order, said Rick Esenberg, president of the law firm bringing the challenge.
Cross-border commuters reported more than four-hour wait times at international bridges, with some waits as long as eight hours, over the weekend as U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed inspection lanes and increased scrutiny to discourage nonessential travel.
Border restrictions issued by the Department of Homeland Security in March already prohibit crossing for tourism or recreation. In practice, Mexican nationals who hold a B1/B2 tourist card have been barred from crossing to the United States, while U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents have been permitted to return stateside.
As economies on both sides of the border have opened in recent weeks, border crossings have increased.
– Lauren Villagran, El Paso Times
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn on Tuesday apologized for overstating the life-saving benefits of treating COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma.
Scientists and medical experts have been pushing back against the claims about the treatment since President Donald Trump’s announcement on Sunday that the FDA had decided to issue emergency authorization for convalescent plasma, taken from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus and rich in disease-fighting antibodies. The announcement raised suspicions that it was politically motivated to offset critics of the president’s handling of the pandemic.
Hahn had echoed Trump in saying that 35 more people out of 100 would survive the coronavirus if they were treated with the plasma. That claim vastly overstated preliminary findings of Mayo Clinic observations.
– Matthew Perrone and Deb Riechmann, Associated Press
American Airlines warned in July that it would have to lay off up to 25,000 flight attendants, pilots and other front line workers this fall due to the steep decline in travel brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The final number came in lower thanks to voluntary employee exits and leaves but the figure is still staggering: 17,500 workers. That is in addition to 1,500 management and administrative workers already laid off.
The only thing that will stop the layoffs, the company said, is an extension of the payroll protection program the government approved earlier this year to support key industries until travel demand returned. Travel demand hasn’t returned in sufficient numbers, however, and airline unions are fighting to extend the payroll protection, and thus any layoffs, through March 31.
– Dawn Gilbertson
The global tourism industry has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, with $320 billion lost in exports in the first five months of the year and more than 120 million jobs at risk, the U.N. chief said Tuesday.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a policy briefing and video address that tourism is the third-largest export sector of the global economy, behind fuels and chemicals, and in 2019 it accounted for 7% of global trade. “It employs one in every 10 people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more,” he said.
But the U.N. chief said that in the first five months of 2020, because of the pandemic, international tourist arrivals decreased by more than half and earnings plummeted. Guterres said this has been a “major shock” for richer developed nations “but for developing countries, it is an emergency, particularly for many small island developing states and African countries.”
– Associated Press
Two fraternities at Florida Gulf Coast University have been suspended after allegedly throwing large, off-campus parties Friday night, ignoring the school’s new COVID-19 health and safety rules.
School officials were made aware of the events held by Sigma Chi and Phi Delta Theta fraternities, which were allegedly “not compliant with the university’s COVID-19 health and safety measures for crowd size, masks and social distancing,” said Susan Evans, chief of staff for the Fort Myers-based university.
The two organizations are now cut off from normal activities, including holding meetings and recruitment efforts, until adjudicated through the process outlined in the student code of conduct.
Last week, the university re-opened to in-person classes. The university has about 15,000 students enrolled in fall courses, which are being offered in a variety of virtual and face-to-face options.
– Pamela McCabe, Fort Myers News-Press
Eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt has tested positive for COVID-19, a top Jamaican public health official confirmed in a news conference Monday night. The sprinter previously said in a statement on social media Monday that he took a COVID-19 test on Saturday, one day after celebrating his 34th birthday, and was waiting on the result.
“I’m trying to be responsible, so I’m going to stay in and stay away from my friends,” Bolt said in the message, which he posted early Monday afternoon. “I’m having no symptoms (but) am going to quarantine myself.”
Nationwide News Network, a Jamaican radio station, first reported that Bolt had tested positive Monday morning.
Bolt is the latest notable athlete to contract COVID-19, which has infected more than 23 million people worldwide, according to data from the World Health Organization. Jamaica has recorded 1,529 cases of COVID-19 to date.
– Tom Schad
The hundreds of thousands of bikers who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally may have departed western South Dakota, but public health departments in multiple states are trying to measure how much and how quickly the coronavirus spread in bars, tattoo shops and gatherings before people traveled home to nearly every state in the country.
From the city of Sturgis, which is conducting mass testing for its roughly 7,000 residents, to health departments in at least six states, health officials are trying to track outbreaks from the 10-day rally which ended on Aug. 16.
An analysis of anonymous cell phone data from Camber Systems, a firm that aggregates cell phone activity for health researchers, found that 61% of all the counties in the U.S. have been visited by someone who attended Sturgis, creating a travel hub that was comparable to a major U.S. city.
Health departments in four states, including South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wyoming, have reported a total of 81 cases among people who attended the rally. South Dakota health officials said Monday they had received reports of infections from residents of two other states — North Dakota and Washington. The Department of Health also issued public warnings of possible COVID-19 exposure at five businesses popular with bikers, saying it didn’t know how many people could have been exposed. Read more.
– Stephen Groves, Associated Press
A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Monday shows three states set records for new cases in a week while two states had a record number of deaths in a week. New case records were set in Kansas, North Dakota and South Dakota, and also Guam. Record numbers of deaths were reported in Arkansas and Wyoming.
– Mike Stucka
Dozens of people who took quick-result coronavirus tests at a Manchester, Vermont, clinic in July were told they had the virus, only to be informed days later that more accurate lab tests concluded they didn’t.
But last week, Quidel, the company that makes the rapid antigen test used by the clinic, stood by the original results. The top executive said it’s “highly likely” his company’s test was correct, and the state of Vermont’s conflicting lab-based test was “at risk of providing inaccurate results.”
As companies and universities create their own strategies to widely test employees and students – even those with no symptoms of COVID-19 or no known exposure to the virus – experts warn such confusion over conflicting results is inevitable. Read more.
– Ken Alltucker
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Contributing: The Associated Press