With Washington talks on emergency coronavirus aid having stalled, both sides are playing the blame game Thursday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted Republicans for not giving “a damn.” (Aug. 13)

AP Domestic

On a day when the U.S. reported the most COVID-19-related deaths since May, the elected leaders in charge of bringing economic relief to the nation showed how far away they are from doing that.

A bipartisan deal for a new coronavirus stimulus package appeared hopelessly out of reach Thursday, with congressional Democrats blaming Republicans, Republicans blaming Democrats and President Donald Trump suggesting the talks are doomed.

A Labor Department report issued Thursday on new unemployment claims reflected the mixed bag of virus data, with 963,000 new jobless claims filed. That’s the lowest in months, but it was considered a big number before the virus-driven recession.

The latest daily U.S. death toll was 1,499, pushing the nation’s total above 166,000, the Johns Hopkins data dashboard reported Thursday, when the U.S. surpassed 5.2 million confirmed cases. Iowa reported its 50,000th case and Illinois went past 200,000 cases.

Meanwhile, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warns of a deadly autumn if Americans don’t stringently follow individual guidelines.

Here are some significant developments:

📈 Today’s numbers: Worldwide, there have been 750,000 deaths and more than 20.6 million cases, according to John Hopkins University data.

📰 What we’re reading: Critics fear the economic downturn could give donors to public universities more leverage to quietly influence curriculum, hiring and scholarships.

Stimulus bill negotiations at an impasse

The parties negotiating a bill to provide relief from the economic ravages of the coronavirus agree on one point: They’re at an impasse.

“I want you to see how vast our differences are,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a news conference Thursday. She pointed to a large blue poster detailing the wide gap between what Republicans and Democrats want to pay for various priorities. “It’s no wonder we have a vast difference because this administration, other Republicans in Congress, have never understood the gravity of this situation.”

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., condemned Democrats for sticking with a “completely unrealistic, far-left proposal” and holding the negotiations “hostage” over “non-COVID-related ideological items.”

— Michael Collins, Christal Hayes and Nicholas Wu

Trump and first lady request mail-in ballots

At the same time he’s assailing mail-in voting and opposing funding for the U.S. Postal Service to handle an expected increase in such ballots amid the pandemic this fall, President Donald Trump has requested a vote-by-mail ballot in Palm Beach County for this month’s primary. 

The request for himself and first lady Melania Trump came Wednesday, the Palm Beach County elections website shows. The next day, Trump told Fox Business Network that holding back money from the U.S. Postal Service, sought by Democrats in a relief package that is stuck in Congress, would hamper mail-in voting, which he favors. Trump has claimed without evidence that mail-in voting will lead to widespread election fraud.

— Hannah Morse, Palm Beach Post

China says chicken wings from Brazil were COVID positive

A sample of frozen chicken wings transported from Brazil to China tested positive for COVID-19, Chinese officials announced Thursday.

But there is no evidence that shows the coronavirus can be transmitted by eating or handling food, according to health experts.

Health officials in the Shenzhen Longgang District inspected imported frozen food Wednesday when a surface sample of frozen chicken wings tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a statement released by the Shenzhen Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters Office.

— Jessica Flores

Pandemic harms US mental health, CDC finds

Besides killing more than 166,000 Americans, the coronavirus pandemic is having a significant damaging impact on much of the country’s mental state, according to a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 40% of respondents who completed surveys during June reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, and 11% reported having seriously considered suicide in the previous 30. The study identified young people, racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers and caregivers of adults as being at increased risk.

— Alia E. Dastagir

New Jersey expected to vote mostly by mail

New Jersey voters will cast their ballots this fall mostly through the mail in an attempt to curb spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to announce Friday. It would be the third vote-by-mail election since the pandemic hit the state in March, but the November contest may pose extra challenges because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to provide extra funding to the United States Postal Service for an expected surge in ballots.

Dustin Racioppi and Charles Stile, Bergen Record

COVID-19 in some ways comparable to 1918 Spanish flu that killed 50M

The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic claimed an estimated 50 million lives worldwide, yet in some ways the COVID-19 pandemic has been worse, according to a study published Thursday in the medical journal JAMA Network Open.

The current pandemic has been linked to less than 1 million deaths. But the study compares the two months after the first recorded death of COVID-19 in New York City – the epicenter of the U.S. epidemic for weeks – with the deadliest two months of the 1918 calamity.

“They’re comparable events in terms of magnitude,’’ said Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the lead author of the study. “What our numbers show is that what happened in New York was pretty similar to what happened in the greatest modern pandemic.’’

Jorge L. Ortiz

‘Skewed’ test results further erode confidence in Florida reporting

Florida’s system for reporting COVID-19 cases, already the source of skepticism for previous missteps, exacerbated the crisis of confidence when state health officials said Wednesday that half of the roughly 8,000 new cases it tallied in the daily update were from tests taken as long as seven weeks ago.

Blaming a Miami lab for dumping more than 4,000 positive tests in one day, the Florida Department of Health tweeted that the results were “skewed,” particularly in Miami-Dade County. Some of the tests were taken as far back as June 23, it said. The development prompted accusations from those who believe the state is intentionally under-reporting positive results to protect the economy.

— Jane Musgrave, Palm Beach Post

Georgia, late to close and early to open, struggling to contain virus

More than 1,600 students and staff are in quarantine this week as cases continue to rise in Georgia – a state that has been criticized for its inaction and mixed signaling on the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the last states to institute a shelter-in-place order and the first to reopen businesses, Georgia is now seeing a rising number of COVID-19-related deaths. The state reported 136 deaths Tuesday – its most in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic – and another 109 deaths Wednesday, according to the state’s department of health.

“Georgia is very much the poster child for what happens when leadership take a hands-off approach to managing a pandemic,” said Dr. Harry Heiman, a professor at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health.

— Grace Hauck

Marriage made in pandemic: Empty hotels and colleges needing rooms

Hotel chains, including Wyndham, Hilton and Graduate Hotels, are working with universities to house students during the coronavirus pandemic, matching the need of the hotel industry to make money and alleviate low occupancy numbers and universities’ attempts to safely bring students back to campus.

But time will tell if this experiment will help keep students as well as hotel guests and staff safe, or lead to continued complications that come with people congregating in larger groups.

Graduate Hotels has 23 boutique hotels near universities around the U.S. and is “trying to create as normal of an experience as possible during a very un-normal time,” said David Rochefort, president of Graduate Hotels. “We’re here really just to provide a very viable option to parents and students that are coming back this fall.”

David Oliver

More than 100 infections in Indiana schools raise questions about safety

Schools in Indiana reopened early, officially on July 1, and may serve as an indicator of what other states can expect when students return to in-person learning. The initial results raise questions about whether it can be done safely.

The Indianapolis Star has been tracking the number of cases connected to schools since the reopening and found more than 100 cases across dozens of Indiana school buildings. The state is creating a mechanism to track and report cases connected to schools but has not yet made any of that information public. State health officials said they are considering it. 

Arika Herron and MJ Slaby, Indianapolis Star

Black, Latino people 4 times more likely to be hospitalized

Black people and Latinos are four times more likely than white people to be hospitalized for COVID-19, and Black people are twice as likely as white people to die of the virus, according to a report published Thursday by the National Urban League. 

Those health results stem from people of color tending to live in more crowded housing, which allows easier transmission of the respiratory virus, and people of color being less likely to be able to work from home, according to the league’s annual report called “State of Black America Unmasked.”

“This is a crisis,” said Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League. “Those that have less access to doctors and hospitals are going to be diagnosed much later. When they’re diagnosed much later, they are more likely to be hospitalized, they’re more likely to die.”

Bart Jansen

FDA tells Detroit health system it can’t use hydroxychloroquine  

The Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System requested and was denied permission to continue treating COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump whose emergency-use authorization was revoked by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Studies have found the drug ineffective in treating patients infected with the coronavirus and potentially dangerous to those with heart conditions. 

The request came four days after the Henry Ford system published a disputed study in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases that suggested hydroxychloroquine slashed the COVID-19 death rate in half. The peer-reviewed observational study contradicted other published reports and was called “flawed” by leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. The FDA denied the request this week.

— Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press

Back to school – and then back home for two weeks

One day after schools reopened for in-person learning in Martin County, Florida, one class at SeaWind Elementary School was sent home after a student exhibited symptoms of COVID-19, district officials confirmed. The nine students who were in the classroom will be required to quarantine for 14 days, district spokesperson Jennifer DeShazo said. The other students were already enrolled in remote learning. 

The teacher — deemed an essential worker — may return to the classroom to live-stream lessons but will maintain a distance from others, DeShazo said. The teacher will be required to stay at home and quarantine if symptoms begin, she said.

Sommer Brugal, Treasure Coast Newspapers

CDC director warns of ‘worst fall from a public health perspective’

Americans must wear masks, socially distance, wash their hands and avoid crowds in the next few months to avoid an avalanche of illness and death, says Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I’m not asking some of America to do it. We all have to do it,” Redfield told WebMD. “Or this could be the worst fall from a public health perspective that we have ever had.”

Redfield also said flu shots will be crucial to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed by flu and COVID-19 cases. He said he expects a COVID-19 vaccine by year’s end, but did not detail how quickly it might become widely distributed and curb what he described as the “greatest public health crisis to hit this nation in a century.”

“We were unprepared,” he said. “We owe it to our children and grandchildren that this nation is never unprepared again.”

Maskless woman accused of striking gate agent after being denied boarding

A woman is accused of striking an American Airlines gate agent after she was denied boarding Wednesday at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for refusing to wear a mask. 

The woman was a passenger on American Airlines flight 2027 from Los Angeles,  scheduled to connect to Las Vegas. After she refused to wear a mask on the first flight, crew members flagged her itinerary to be denied service in accordance with American’s policy on mask wearing.

Phoenix police Sgt. Mercedes Fortune, in an emailed statement, said the victim told officers “the suspect had struck him with her hand on his face.” Fortune said officers arrested Yolanda Yarbrough, 47, on assault charges.

Melissa Yeager, Arizona Republic

Less than 1 million more Americans filed unemployment claims

About 963,000 filed initial jobless claims, a rough measure of layoffs, the Labor Department said Thursday. It’s the first time weekly claims have dipped below 1 million in months. But the latest stream of applications still means nearly 56 million Americans have sought unemployment aid in little more than five months.

The report comes as out-of-work Americans make do without the extra $600 federal weekly benefit that began during the pandemic but ended the final day of July. Unemployment fell to 10.2% in July, down from 11.1% in June, but the economic rebound has been uneven, with rehiring increasing in certain industries while stalling in others.

– Charisse Jones

Anxious teachers preparing wills before returning to classrooms

With the coronavirus pandemic still hitting local communities, teachers are being forced to think about a lot more than their lesson plans — they’re considering their own mortality. Across the country, teachers are drafting their wills as part of back-to-school preparation. Some are marching to cemeteries in protest. Others are inviting officials to their looming funeral services. 

“There’s a huge spike, like one-thousand percent,” said Teddy Rivera, a teachers union’s lawyer in Jacksonville, Florida. “Literally all I’m doing now is wills, wills, wills.” 

– Emily Bloch, Florida Times-Union

Man who plotted to behead blogger freed to avoid virus in prison

A Rhode Island man sentenced in 2017 to 15 years behind bars for plotting to behead a conservative blogger and other terrorist activities in the name of the Islamic State is being paroled early because of the risk of coronavirus exposure inside a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut.

Judge William G. Young revised Nicholas Rovinski’s sentence to time served and 10 years of supervised release in home confinement. Rovinski’s lawyer, William Fick, said Rovinski, 29, is “medically vulnerable” due to cerebral palsy, cognitive limitations, hypertension and depression.

Tom Mooney, Providence Journal

New Zealand, after no virus cases for 102 days, now has 17

New Zealand’s first known community outbreak in more than three months grew to 17 cases Thursday. Health officials are still working to trace where the virus came from, and a lockdown imposed in Auckland could be extended. Before the cluster was detected this week, no case of local transmission had been reported in New Zealand in 102 days. All of its other cases were travelers quarantined after arriving from abroad.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned that the cluster in Auckland is expected to “get worse before it gets better.”

Basic hand-washing at schools around the world a struggle

The United Nations estimates that 43% of schools around the world don’t have access to water and soap for basic hand-washing. The new report comes as countries wrestle with when and how to safely open schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The report by the World Health Organization and UNICEF says more than one-third of the 818 million children around the globe who lacked basic hand-washing facilities at their schools last year are in sub-Saharan Africa.

 “We must prioritize children’s learning,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore. “This means making sure that schools are safe to reopen – including with access to hand hygiene, clean drinking water and safe sanitation.”

Disney World cast members to get COVID-19 testing after dispute

Florida will begin providing coronavirus testing for Disney World cast members this week, ending a nearly two-month dispute with a union that represents stage actors at the park. According to Disney, the testing site will be run by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and will be located on Disney property, though not in the park. Testing will be available to Disney employees and visitors, as well as Florida residents. 

According to Kate Shindle, president of the Actors’ Equity Association, the union has signed a memorandum of understanding with Disney for hundreds of actors to return to work. The union began pushing Disney World to offer testing for its members in late June, before the park’s July reopening. 

– Curtis Tate


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Contributing: The Associated Press


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