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


An employee wearing a protective face covering, right, monitors the flow of customers at an Apple retail store Wednesday in Miami Beach, Fla. Associated Press/Lynne Sladky

PHOENIX — When the coronavirus flared in China this week, the country canceled flights, suspended reopenings and described the situation as “extremely grave.” But with cases rising in some U.S. states, local officials have balked at even requiring people to wear masks.

In the United States, which has the most confirmed cases and deaths in the world, authorities wrestled Wednesday with balancing demands for constitutional rights and personal freedom with warnings from health officials that being lax will have deadly consequences.

China responded to a new outbreak in Beijing by scrapping more than 60 percent of its flights to the capital, canceling classes and strengthening requirements for social distancing. It was a sharp retreat for the nation that declared victory over COVID-19 in March.

“This has truly rung an alarm bell for us,” Party Secretary Cai Qi told a meeting of Beijing’s Communist Party Standing Committee.

China’s actions follow about 137 new cases, a fraction of the number some U.S. states see each day. In Arizona, more than 1,100 people visited emergency rooms on Tuesday alone with positive or suspected cases. Alabama also is running out of hospital space, stirring impassioned debate over a mask requirement. Other states that haven’t mandated face coverings, like Texas and Florida, are seeing infections soar.


With masks becoming a political symbol, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has taken aim at President Trump’s approach to the pandemic.

Read the full story about the debate over face masks here.

Beijing reports decline in new cases as it presses stricter containment measures

BEIJING — China’s capital has reported a decline in newly confirmed coronavirus cases as the city continues to press stricter measures to contain a new outbreak.

Beijing reported 21 cases Thursday, down from 31 a day earlier.

Officials reported 28 new cases in all nationwide. Of the cases outside Beijing, four were brought by Chinese travelers from outside the country and three were reported in the city of Tianjin and Hebei province, both of which border Beijing.


No new deaths were reported, leaving the total number of fatalities at 4,634.

Beijing this week moved to suspend classes and restrict tourism and travel in and out of the city to stem any further spread in the latest outbreak traced to the city’s largest wholesale market.

Masks credited with preventing coronavirus spread inside Missouri hair salon

Clay Goddard wasn’t religious about wearing a face mask in public, despite being the director of the health department in Springfield, Mo., and the head of the region’s response to COVID-19. He doubted a face covering – even his favorite Kansas City Chiefs-pattern mask – offered much protection.

“You’d probably have better luck stopping the wind,” Goddard said.

Few people wore face masks in Springfield, health officials said. The risk from the virus seemed low, with relatively few cases in the city of 170,000. And just wearing a face mask had become, to some, like carrying a political yard sign – especially in a conservative corner of a state that President Donald Trump, who has refused to wear a mask, won easily in 2016. Republican state lawmakers, too, have made a show of going mask-less.


But then a hair stylist in Springfield was diagnosed with COVID-19 in late May, directly exposing 84 customers who had sat just inches from her face for up to 30 minutes each.

And Goddard would end up changing his thinking about masks.

The result appears to be one of the clearest real-world examples of the ability of masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. It also highlights the challenges for public health officials around the world who at times have sounded ambivalent about masks as they are still trying to understand the threat from this new virus. Several new medical studies have shown support recently for the idea that masks work, yet going without a mask for some people can still seem like a badge of honor.

The sick hair stylist had worked eight shifts over nine days at a Great Clips on the city’s main commercial strip, despite showing symptoms, according to health officials.

The next day, a second stylist at the same Great Clips tested positive. She’d worked on 56 clients.

The city faced a potentially huge outbreak, just two weeks after reopening barber shops and salons.


“Alarm bells went off,” Goddard said.

But then there were the face masks.

Read the full story.

‘COVID baby bust’ could lead to half a million fewer births next year

In a new report, economists writing for the Brookings Institution estimate that the United States could see “on the order of 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births next year” as a result of the economic recession triggered by the novel coronavirus.

The economists, Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip Levine, derive their estimates from data on birth rates during the Great Recession and the 1918 flu pandemic. Both of those upheavals had a considerable negative impact on fertility.


During the Great Recession, for instance, states that experienced steeper job losses tended to see more dramatic reductions in their birth rates between 2008 and 2011. Looking at the country as a whole, they found that “in 2007, the birth rate was 69.1 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44; in 2012, the rate was 63.0 births per 1,000 women.” That works out to a 9%drop, or roughly 400,000 fewer births.

A pregnant woman waits in line for groceries with hundreds of others in need due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak in Waltham, Mass., in May. Associated Press/Charles Krupa

The reason? Children are expensive, and having a child is in many ways a financial decision. The loss of a job or otherwise uncertain prospects for a steady income lead many would-be parents to postpone having kids until things are more settled. In economic jargon, birth rates are “procyclical” – they tend to rise during times of economic growth and fall during recessions.

Birth rates also track pandemics, as the fertility data from the time of the 1918 pandemic show. Crucially, in the wake of the 1918 pandemic, American mothers didn’t “make up” for the previous decline in fertility by having more kids. Rather, the pandemic left a permanent mark on American families, with many having fewer children than they would have otherwise, leaving tens of thousands of future American citizens permanently unborn.

What does all that mean for the current crisis, which involves not just a pandemic or an economic collapse, but both simultaneously? Using the skyrocketing unemployment rate as a baseline and factoring in the additional effect of an ongoing public health crisis with no end in sight, Kearney and Levine estimate we’re in for a decline of anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 births.

16 friends say they were infected with the virus after a night partying in a Florida bar

A night of partying on the weekend that bars in Florida reopened resulted in a group of 16 friends becoming infected with the novel coronavirus and regretting the decision to go out, they said.


On June 6, Erika Crisp and her friends visited a crowded Lynch’s Irish Pub in Jacksonville Beach to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The pub was packed with other celebrators who weren’t wearing masks, she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “Cuomo Prime Time” on Tuesday.

“At the time it was more out of sight out of mind. We hadn’t known anybody who had it personally. Governor, mayor, everybody says it’s fine,” she said, adding that her friends showed symptoms within days of the outing. “It was a mistake. I feel foolish. It’s too soon.”

Bartenders Holly Mackinder, left, and Jessica Dawkins, right, hold signs during a “Right to Work” rally in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday. Across Florida, bars were part of the Phase 2 reopenings that occurred earlier in June, except in three counties in South Florida. Associated Press/Lynne Sladky

One of her friends from that night, Kat Layton, who lost her sense of smell, said she knew she and her friends “were pushing it” by being out that night. She warned viewers that the current state of the pandemic is not ready for such gatherings and that the coronavirus is still very much present.

About seven employees at the pub also tested positive for the virus after the owner had them tested out of precaution, CBS Miami reported. Those employees also worked the night Crisp, Layton and her friends went out, but the owner told the station he thinks a customer brought in the virus.

The bar closed for deep cleaning but reopened Tuesday night, WJXT reported. Other nightlife establishments in the area recently reclosed for cleaning after dozens of people claimed to be infected with the virus after going out.

Florida’s coronavirus cases have set new daily records over the past few days. More than 2,700 cases were reported Tuesday.


The ultimate COVID-19 mystery: Why does it spare some and kill others?

The novel coronavirus can be a killer — or no big deal. It can put a person in the intensive care unit on a ventilator, isolated from family, facing a lonely death — or it can come and go without leaving a mark, a ghost pathogen, more rumor than reality.

Six months into a pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 people globally, scientists are still trying to understand the wildly variable nature of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Among their lines of inquiry: Are distinct strains of the coronavirus more dangerous? Does a patient’s blood type affect the severity of the illness? Do other genetic factors play a role? Are some people partially protected from COVID-19 because they’ve had recent exposure to other coronaviruses?

Customers at a fruit and vegetable stall market in Rome in early May. The median age of people who died in virus-ravaged northern Italy was 81. Shutterstock

Much of the research remains provisional or ambiguous, and for now scientists can’t do much better than say that COVID-19 is more likely to be worse for older people — often described as over the age of 60 — and for those with chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, lung disease and heart disease.

That describes tens of millions of people in the United States alone. It also isn’t much of an explanation: The link between chronic disease and the severity of COVID-19 is more in the category of correlation than causation. The “why” of the matter remains unclear.


Read the full story.

Special disinfection tunnel installed for Putin

MOSCOW — A special disinfection tunnel has been installed in the residence of Russian President Vladimir Putin outside Moscow and two more in the Kremlin, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Reports about the tunnel spraying anyone passing through it with disinfectants appeared in Russian state media on Tuesday night. RIA Novosti news agency reported that the tunnel was manufactured by a Russian company based in Penza, some 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Moscow.

The tunnels have been installed when the outbreak “was in full swing,” Peskov said. “When it comes to the head of the state, additional precautionary measures are justified.”

Last month, Putin said that Russia had passed the peak of the outbreak and urged the government to gradually start easing lockdown restrictions, in place since late March.

On Wednesday, Russian health officials reported 7,843 new coronavirus cases — the lowest daily number since late April. The country’s caseload – currently at 553,301 – remains the third largest in the world.

Kremlin critics question the official statistics and link reopening efforts to the Russian government’s desire to boost voter turnout in an upcoming constitutional referendum that would allow Putin to rule until 2036. The plebiscite is scheduled for July 1.

Germany reports large cluster at meatpacking plant

BERLIN — Authorities in western Germany say 400 people at a large meatpacking plant have tested positive for COVID-19.

The regional health authority in Guetersloh said Wednesday that the new cluster is linked to a slaughterhouse operated by the Toennies Group in nearby Rheda-Wiedenbrueck.

There have been several outbreaks at German abattoirs in recent weeks, prompting the government to impose stricter safety rules for the industry and ban the practice of using subcontractors.

Toennies Group says the slaughterhouse is its largest site and employs over 6,000 staff.

Portugal contends with small outbreaks

LISBON, Portugal — Small outbreaks are piling up for Portuguese authorities as they try to keep a lid on what so far has been a relatively successful battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest hot spot is in Alcobaca, a town about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the capital Lisbon, where 29 elderly people and 10 staff, as well as several of the staff’s family members, have tested positive for COVID-19 at a nursing home.

Police were evacuating the home Wednesday in preparation for disinfection.

Also, officials were still trying to trace some of the about 100 people who attended an illegal weekend party in Lagos, on the southern Algarve coast. The popular vacation region is hoping to draw foreign tourists this summer.

Officials have so far confirmed 16 cases among the partygoers, some of whom reportedly danced together without wearing masks.

With the number of hospitalizations and ICU patients remaining stable, the government says there is no immediate cause for alarm.

By Tuesday, Portugal had officially recorded 37,336 confirmed cases and 1,522 deaths.

Germany says coronavirus tracing app is off to a successful start

BERLIN — The German government is celebrating a successful start for its coronavirus tracing app, which is says has been downloaded 6.5 million times in just over a day.

Health Minister Jens Spahn wrote on Twitter Wednesday that it was a “strong start” and “should motivate even more citizens to join in.”

He added that “containing corona is a team game” and everyone who uses the app makes a difference.

Use of the app is voluntary and the app in Germany, where people are particularly sensitive about data protection, is designed to store data only on people’s phones rather than centralized servers.

The app was launched with great fanfare on Tuesday.

India struggles with rising infections, fatalities

NEW DELHI, India — India has added more than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths to its tally, after Delhi and Maharashtra states included 1,672 unreported fatalities, increasing the total number to 11,903.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 10,974 new coronavirus cases for a total of 354,065. Of the 2,003 newly added fatalities, 331 were reported in the last 24 hours.

India has been reporting some 10,000 new infections and more than 300 deaths each day over the last two weeks. The previously unreported deaths have driven India’s fatality rate from 2.9% to 3.4%.

Earlier, health experts had warned that India was undercounting fatalities as some states used different criteria. Like elsewhere, the actual numbers are thought to be higher as testing remains limited.

India is the fourth hardest-hit country by the pandemic after the U.S., Russia and Brazil.

New Zealand cancels quarantine exemptions after 2 infected women go on road trip

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has assigned a top military leader to oversee the nation’s border quarantine measures after what she described as an “unacceptable failure” by health officials in allowing two women who had recently returned from London to leave quarantine before they had been tested for the virus.

The women, who are New Zealand citizens, had flown home to visit a dying parent and were granted an exemption to leave their mandatory 14-day quarantine early on compassionate grounds. They then traveled by car from Auckland to Wellington, where they tested positive for the virus.

Health officials said the women had no contact with other people on their road trip. However, officials said they are contacting 320 people who may have come into contact with the women on their flight or in the hotel they stayed at during their time in quarantine.

Before the two new cases were announced Tuesday, New Zealand had gone more than three weeks without reporting any new cases and was considered virus-free.

Ardern has advocated tough border measures to prevent another outbreak and has cancelled quarantine exemptions on compassionate grounds while the case is investigated further.

She said she had appointed Air Commodore Digby Webb, the assistant chief of defense, to oversee all quarantine and managed isolation facilities.

Australian official says accuses China, Russia of using pandemic for political ends

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne says China and Russia are using the heightened anxiety around the coronavirus pandemic to undermine Western democracies by spreading disinformation online.

Payne said in a speech at the Australian National University that the disinformation contributed to a “climate of fear and division” when the world needed cooperation and understanding.

She said “it is troubling that some countries are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracy to promote their own more authoritarian models.” Payne referred to a Europe Union commission report Russia and China are flooding Europe with disinformation campaigns.

Mexico to reopen churches as virus numbers rise

MEXICO CITY — Even as Mexico announces plans for reopening churches and religious events, the country is posting near-record numbers of newly confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19.

The Health Department reported on Tuesday that confirmed cases rose by 4,599, the second-highest daily increase to date, to reach an accumulated total of 154,863.

Deaths rose by 730, the third-highest daily confirmation number, after one-day increases of 1,092 and 816 earlier this month. Those death tolls rivaled those of the United States.

Both case and death total — which now stands at 18,310 — are clearly undercounts, because Mexico does very little testing.

Health officials acknowledged Mexico is on a plateau with sustained rates of transmission and deaths, with few if any signs of a decrease. Despite that, business are beginning to reopen after mandatory lockdowns due to the coronavirus.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. 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: