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

When Gov. Doug Ducey allowed Arizona’s stay-at-home order to expire on May 15, 340 patients were in intensive care units statewide due to the novel coronavirus – the largest number since the beginning of the pandemic. Public health experts at the University of Arizona spent the week before publicly pleading with Ducey to postpone reopening, suggesting cases in the state were still projected to grow.

Virus_Outbreak_Arizona_14545

An ambulance is parked Wednesday at Arizona General Hospital in Laveen, Ariz. Hospitals that were expected to be able to treat new cases of coronavirus without going into crisis mode were above 80 percent capacity Tuesday. Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

About two weeks later, the maximum amount of time it takes the virus to incubate, Arizona began seeing a precipitous rise in cases and a flood of new hospitalizations, straining medical resources and forcing the state’s top medical official to urge all hospitals to activate emergency plans.

What Arizona is experiencing could be an ominous sign. More than a dozen states are showing new highs in the number of positive coronavirus cases or hospitalizations, according to Washington Post data, a few weeks after lifting restrictions on most businesses and large gatherings.

The spikes provide disturbing data points for the ongoing tug-of-war between federal, state and local officials weighing the economic costs of restrictions meant to stop the spread of the virus with the human cost of lifting them.

“Worse times are ahead,” said Joe Gerald, an associate professor and public health researcher at the University of Arizona who has been part of an academic team providing projections to the state health department. “The preponderance of evidence indicates community transmission is increasing.”

Texas, Arkansas, South Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon, Florida and Utah all set new highs in seven-day rolling case averages Wednesday, according to Post data.

Read the full story about the rise in coronavirus cases here.

South Korea reports 45 new COVID-19 cases, mostly in Seoul

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is reporting 45 new cases of COVID-19, all but two of them in the capital region, continuing a weekslong resurgence that health authorities fear could develop into a huge wave.

The figures announced Thursday bring national totals to 11,947 cases and 276 deaths. The capital of Seoul has 21 new infections, while 22 other cases are in nearby Incheon and Gyeonggi.

South Korea has been reporting around 30 to 50 new cases a day since late May, mostly in the densely populated Seoul area where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live.

Despite expressing concern over the steady rise in infections, government officials are resisting calls to reimpose stronger social distancing measures. They cite concerns over hurting a fragile economy.

U.S. expands virus testing of detained migrants amid criticism

WASHINGTON — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Wednesday that it has expanded COVID-19 testing among people held at its detention facilities following criticism of its response to the outbreak.

ICE says it now offers voluntary tests for the virus to all people held at detention facilities in Tacoma, Washington, and Aurora, Colorado, and will consider doing the same at other locations. The announcement follows weeks of criticism that the agency has not taken sufficient steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among people in its custody and those it deports to other countries.

The most recent data available from ICE shows there are 788 people with COVID-19 among the nearly 25,000 people in its custody at about 200 facilities around the nation. The largest outbreak, with more than 100 cases, is at a detention center in the Dallas area.

ICE says it has tested nearly 5,100 detainees since the start of the outbreak.

There have been 45 confirmed cases among ICE employees at detention centers, including 15 at a facility at the airport in Alexandria, Louisiana, where people are held just prior to deportation.

Guatemala suspended deportation flights from the U.S. for nearly a month after at least 186 people tested positive for COVID-19 upon their return even after U.S. assurances that they were healthy. Those flights resumed Tuesday with one from Alexandria.

ICE has disputed claims from detainees and immigrant advocates of insufficient supplies of hygiene materials such as soap and face masks or social distancing at confinement facilities, some of which are operated by private companies or local government agencies.

At a hearing this month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressed surprise when Henry Lucero, the agency’s executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations, testified that detainees are typically tested only when they show symptoms of the disease. “I am very interested in seeing that everyone is tested,” the senator, a California Democrat, told him.

A lockdown one week earlier could have halved UK deaths says scientist

LONDON  — A scientist whose modeling helped set Britain’s coronavirus strategy said Wednesday that the country’s death toll in the pandemic could have been cut in half if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier.

Britain has the world’s second-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths, at more than 41,000. Including cases where the coronavirus was suspected but not confirmed by a test, the total is over 50,000 people dead.

Virus_Outbreak_Britain_Politics_77646

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday. Associated Press/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Neil Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, told lawmakers that when key decisions were being made in March, scientists underestimated how widely the virus had spread in the U.K.

He told Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee that “the epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced,” rather than the five to six days estimated at the time.

Ferguson said that “had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half.”

He also said the death toll would have been lower if residents of nursing homes had been shielded from infection, something that didn’t happen effectively enough.

Ferguson developed models that earlier this year predicted hundreds of thousands would die unless the U.K. imposed drastic restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

On March 16, Ferguson and colleagues published a paper suggesting that even with some social distancing measures, the U.K. could see 250,000 virus-related deaths and the United States a death toll of about 1 million. Ferguson predicted those figures could more than double in both countries in a worst-case scenario.

The following day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised Britons to work from home, if possible, and to avoid unnecessary social gatherings. A nationwide lockdown followed on March 23, barring people from visiting friends and family that they don’t live with.

Johnson’s Conservative government is facing strong criticism for allegedly being slow to act against the virus. The government says it followed the advice it was given at the time by scientific advisers.

Ferguson said the measures taken in March were warranted “given what we knew about this virus then in terms of its transmission and fatality.”

Asked at a government news conference whether mistakes had been made, Johnson said “at the moment it’s simply too early to judge ourselves.”

Mnuchin loosens restrictions on small-business loans to ease forgiveness, but borrowers to remain secret

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Congress on Wednesday that he has continued to loosen the rules of the Paycheck Protection Program to make sure the vast majority of borrowers will have at least some of their loans forgiven but that he does not plan on releasing the names of borrowers to the public.

The Small Business Administration typically discloses names of borrowers from the loan program on which the PPP is based. But Mnuchin said he will not be doing the same with the PPP, despite a rocky rollout in which dozens of publicly held companies received millions of dollars in loans.

“We believe that that’s proprietary information, and in many cases for sole proprietors and small businesses, it is confidential information,” Mnuchin said before the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Senators of both parties credited the nearly $700 billion program, created in March, with driving down unemployment. Despite extensive problems with the program’s launch, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said that without the program, “tens of millions of Americans would have been permanently separated from their livelihoods.”

Officials have not released any data, however, to confirm such statements.

United will require passengers to complete health assessments before they fly

United Airlines on Wednesday became at least the second U.S. carrier to ask travelers to answer questions about their health status before they fly. It’s all part of a strategy to ease the mind of travelers concerned about flying in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic.

United’s “Ready-to-Fly” checklist will ask travelers to confirm that they have not experienced any covid-19-related symptoms in the 14 previous days or been in close contact with any individual who has tested positive during the same time period. It also will require passengers to verify that they are aware of the airline’s policy, which requires face coverings when aboard the airplane.

“The health and safety of our customers and employees is our highest priority, and we have been working closely with trusted medical experts and partners to institute new practices and procedures to further protect those who work and travel with us,” said Pat Baylis, corporate medial director for United. “United’s ‘Ready-to-Fly’ wellness checklist sets clear guidelines on health requirements for our customers and helps minimize the risk of exposure during the travel experience.”

United has partnered with the Cleveland Clinic to address health and safety issues related to the novel coronavirus.

In April, Frontier Airlines became the first U.S. airline to ask passengers to fill out a health questionnaire and earlier this month began scanning temperatures of all passengers before boarding. Those with temperatures of 100.4 degrees or higher will not be allowed to board the plane.

United passengers will be required to verify that they reviewed checklist when they check in either on the United mobile app, United.com, at a United kiosk, or with an agent at the airport before they receive their boarding pass.

Other U.S. airlines also recently began requiring passengers to wear masks on planes. However, at a House Transportation Committee hearing Tuesday, several lawmakers who had recently flown said not all travelers appeared to abide by the rule.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., said it was frightening flying through a Washington-area airport because of the crowding and because “half the people weren’t wearing masks.”

Susannah Carr, a United flight attendant who testified on behalf of the Association of Flight Attendants – CWA, said it has been difficult for some crew members to enforce the rule since unlike smoking or other infractions, it’s not a violation of law if customers refused to wear face covering.

EU wants tech giants to do more to counter fake coronavirus news

BRUSSELS — A senior European Union official warned online platforms like Google and Facebook on Wednesday to step up the fight against fake news coming notably from countries like China and Russia, but she praised the approach of Twitter for fact-checking a tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Unveiling a plan to fight disinformation linked to the coronavirus, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said she wants online tech companies to provide far more detailed reports each month than currently on the action they are taking to prevent a fake news “infodemic.”

The EU commission said that “foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China” are flooding Europe with “targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns.” It cited dangerous misinformation like claims that drinking bleach can cure the disease and that washing hands does not help prevent its spread.

“I’m afraid the disinformation flow will continue,” Jourova said, adding that vaccination seems to be the next big topic subject to misinformation. She cited a study showing “that the willingness in Germany to take up vaccination decreased by almost 20 percentage points in less than two months.”

The virus has infected 7.2 million people worldwide and killed nearly 412,000, about 180,000 of them in Europe, according to official figures tallied by Johns Hopkins University. The true toll is believed to be much higher because many people died without being tested.

Jourova praised those U.S. digital giants that agreed to extra scrutiny under a voluntary code of practice aimed at halting the spread of disinformation linked to the virus, but she told reporters that this is just a first step and that “there is room for improvement.”

“They have to open up and offer more evidence that the measures they have taken are working well. They also have to enable the public to identify new threats independently. We invite them now to provide monthly reports with more granular information than ever before,” Jourova said.

Read the full story here.

Republicans expect to move convention to Fla. after dispute with N.C. over pandemic safeguards

Seeking a city willing to allow a large-scale event amid the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans have tentatively settled on Jacksonville, Fla., as the new destination for the premier festivities of the Republican National Convention in August, according to three Republican officials briefed on the plans.

The details of the arrangement are still in flux and RNC aides are scrambling to determine whether the northern Florida city has enough hotel rooms to accommodate the quadrennial event, which typically kicks off the final stretch of the presidential campaign.

Republican officials were in Jacksonville on Monday looking at the city and the surrounding areas.

The convention’s more routine and lower-profile meetings still would take place in Charlotte, the original host site for the convention, according to two officials. Those smaller meetings are intended to honor the RNC’s contractual obligation to hold its convention in North Carolina and shield the party from lawsuits for moving the large events elsewhere.

The highly unusual decision to seek an alternative location for the convention’s marquee events – including speeches by President Donald Trump and others – stems from Trump’s desire to accept his party’s nomination before an enormous crowd.

North Carolina officials have declined to promise a packed arena for the Aug. 24-27 event, as public health officials are urging Americans to avoid big gatherings, wear face coverings and practice social distancing. The coronavirus epidemic has killed more than 110,000 Americans so far.

Confetti and balloons fall during celebrations after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s acceptance speech on the final day of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Associated Press

The president was dissatisfied with North Carolina’s position, given his desire to address a large, enthusiastic crowd. “I don’t want to be sitting in a place that’s 50% empty,” Trump told Gov. Roy Cooper (D) late last month in a phone conversation about the convention, according to two people familiar with the call, who, like others for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personal conversations and planning.

“We can’t do social distancing,” Trump said on the call.

Cooper pushed back, asking Trump whether that wasn’t a risk to the health of the convention’s attendees, who could number close to 20,000. The president responded that he was not worried about an outbreak at the convention, because the biggest impact of the coronavirus is on those who are older or have underlying conditions.

Cooper, a Democrat who is up for reelection this year, has asked Republican officials to provide a plan for maintaining safety protocols at the convention. Party leaders have said they would use testing and would aggressively sanitize rooms and buses used to transport officials, but they have not offered specifics.

The Republican governors of Georgia and Florida, meanwhile, a have been courting GOP and White House officials since it became clear that North Carolina and the party were not seeing eye to eye. Trump has spoken to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about putting the event in Florida.

Aides to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Curry previously served as Florida’s Republican Party chairman.

Following messy start, enormous Paycheck Protection Program shows signs of buttressing economy

WASHINGTON – After a flood of complaints, balky computer systems, changed rules and frantic calls to the Treasury Department, the federal government’s small business Paycheck Protection Program is suddenly looking like a measured success.

The U.S. economy buckled in March and April amid the coronavirus pandemic, but it appeared to regain some of its footing in May, adding 2.5 million jobs. The economy remains extremely weak, with a high unemployment rate and a surge in Americans seeking assistance. Many economists think conditions will remain shaky for at least another year.

But they also think things would be even worse without the giant corporate loan forgiveness program, which Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., shepherded through Congress and then helped defend during chaotic weeks of implementation.

Getting to this point strained the government, the banking industry and small businesses, with many missteps and pivots along the way as they tried to build a program from scratch. And the Trump administration vacillated wildly between trying to rush money out the door and then trying to tighten rules, enraging lawmakers such as Rubio, confusing borrowers and nearly overwhelming banks, even those with small business expertise.

“It was like saying, ‘I want my locally owned farmers market to work like Walmart or Amazon,’ ” said Alicia Wade of Oklahoma City’s Valliance Bank, which processed 178 loans the first weekend the fund opened. “It’s not feasible.”

Confusion engulfed the program from the outset.

One week before the program began, a bank lobbyist group wrote to the Treasury Department warning of a major flaw.

Treasury was not planning to waive strict criminal penalties for lenders who did not thoroughly vet their new customers. The banking group warned that leaving the rules in place would require a level of vetting that they couldn’t quickly provide. “As currently envisioned, CARES Act funding will only be provided to banks’ current legal entity customers,” stated the letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post. The PPP was established as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (Cares) Act.

When the PPP began accepting applications on April 3, the bank lobbyists’ prediction proved true. Rather than covering all businesses that qualified, much of the funding went first to the customers the banks already knew and trusted ― including large corporations ― igniting a public firestorm that outraged tens of thousands of business owners still desperately awaiting funding.

This created a logistical and public relations nightmare, with many smaller companies sidelined while larger firms found easy access to the money. Treasury had to make repeated changes to the program and eventually ask Congress for more money before many of the problems were ironed out.

Two months later, the PPP has directed more than $530 billion to 4.5 million companies, and economists, business leaders, White House officials and lawmakers from both parties think it helped stabilize the economy. Because the government has released no detailed information about how many jobs the program has saved, it’s still unclear whether it achieved its primary goal of apportioning the lion’s share of the money to workers.

The program is now about to enter a new stage, as many of the companies that received loans will begin applying for loan forgiveness to determine whether they have to repay the money. The program will also face its first congressional hearing on Wednesday, when Rubio will call Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who had appeared skeptical about creating the program while the legislation was being drafted, and Small Business Association head Jovita Carranza to testify.

Arizona tells hospitals to activate emergency plans as infections surge

As a newly reopened Arizona rapidly emerges as one of the country’s newest coronavirus hot spots, state officials and hospitals are scrambling to handle an influx of patients.

Like in several other states across the South and West, the number of new infections has been on the rise since Memorial Day weekend, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.

Hospital staff practice with a new intubation shield that just arrived to help protect medical workers at the Kayenta Health Center emergency room in Kayenta, Ariz. Associated Press file photo

While Gov. Doug Ducey (R) said that could be due to ramped-up testing, hospitalizations are on the rise, too. On Tuesday, Arizona reported 1,243 current hospitalizations, nearly a 50 percent increase since Memorial Day.

Over the weekend, state health director Cara Christ told medical facilities to “fully activate” their emergency plans, the Arizona Republic reported.

She had last sent that message on March 25, just as most of the country was bracing for the pandemic and a week before Arizonans were instructed to stay at home. Nearly two months later, on May 15, Arizona lifted that directive.

In the weeks since, a rolling seven-day average of new cases has more than doubled.

Banner Health, the state’s largest medical network, warned on Twitter on Monday that its intensive care units are nearing capacity. The number of covid-19 patients on ventilators has quadrupled over the past month, the system said Monday, and it has no space left for some types of cardiac and respiratory care.

Will Humble, the state’s former health chief, told Reuters that a “cavalier” exit from a largely successful stay-at-home directive pushed infections up suddenly.

If Arizona does not require residents to wear face masks in indoor public spaces, Humble said, it will have to impose another mandate or start building field hospitals.

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: