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

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Supreme Court has rejected an effort to require everyone attending President Trump’s rally in Tulsa this weekend to wear a face mask and maintain social distancing inside the arena to guard against spreading the coronavirus.

The court ruled Friday the two local residents asking that the thousands expected at Saturday night’s rally be required to take the precautions couldn’t establish they have a clear legal right to the relief they sought.

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Mike Pellerin joins other Trump supporters on 4th Street and Cheyenne Avenue in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, ahead of President Trump’s Saturday campaign rally, on Friday. Mike Simons/Tulsa World via Associated Press

Oklahoma has had a recent spike in coronavirus cases, but in a concurring opinion, two justices noted the state’s plan to reopen the economy is “permissive, suggestive and discretionary.”

The appeal was filed on behalf of two people described as having compromised immune systems and being particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

Read the story here.

World Health Organization chief says pandemic ‘accelerating’ as cases hit daily high

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization said the coronavirus pandemic is “accelerating” and that more than 150,000 cases were reported Thursday – the highest single-day number so far.

In a media briefing on Friday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said nearly half of the newly reported cases were from the Americas, with significant numbers from South Asia and the Middle East.

“We are in a new and dangerous phase,” he said, warning that restrictive measures are still needed to stop the pandemic. “Many people are understandably fed up with being at home (and) countries are understandably eager to open up their societies.”

But Tedros warned that the virus is still “spreading fast.” He noted the toll would be especially great on refugees, more than 80 percent of whom live in mostly developing nations.

“We have a shared duty to everything we can to prevent, detect and respond to the transmission of COVID-19 detected among refugees in hospitals.”

Read more about this here.

Navy upholds firing of aircraft carrier captain in virus outbreak

WASHINGTON — In a stunning reversal, the Navy has upheld the firing of the aircraft carrier captain who urged faster action to protect his crew from a coronavirus outbreak, according to a U.S. official familiar with the report.

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The firing of Capt. Brett Crozier, shown in January, has been upheld by the U.S. Navy. Crozier was fired after urging faster action to protect his crew aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt from a coronavirus outbreak. Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alexander Williams/U.S. Navy via Associated Press

The official said the Navy also extended the blame for the ship’s pandemic crisis, delaying the promotion of the one-star admiral who was also onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt — concluding that both men made serious errors in judgment.

The spread of the coronavirus aboard the carrier while on deployment in the Pacific in March exploded into one of the biggest military leadership crises of recent years. More than 1,000 members of the crew eventually became infected, and one sailor died. The ship was sidelined for weeks at Guam but recently returned to duty.

The decision by Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, to hold both Capt. Brett Crozier and his boss, Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, accountable is a confirmation of concerns expressed by top Pentagon officials who demanded a deeper investigation last month when the initial probe recommended Crozier’s reinstatement as the ship’s captain. The official described the findings on condition of anonymity to discuss a report not yet made public.

The investigation, done by Adm. Robert Burke and endorsed Friday by Gilday, defends the abrupt turnaround on Crozier saying that the more detailed probe uncovered poor decisions he made that failed to stem the outbreak or properly communicate the escalating crisis to senior commanders. It also concludes that the ship’s slow response to the virus was not just his fault, and that Baker also failed to take decisive actions to address the problem.

Gilday’s recommendations cap a drama that has engulfed the Navy for nearly three months, sidelining the carrier for 10 weeks in Guam, and setting off a dramatic series of events that led to Crozier’s dismissal, the abrupt resignation of the acting Navy secretary who fired him, and the push for a broader review of the Pacific fleet’s top commanders and how they handled the virus outbreak.

Based on the findings, Crozier and Baker would be able to remain in the Navy and move on to other jobs at their current rank, but the admonishments are likely career-enders for both men. Crozier’s firing upset the carrier’s crew, and he received an ovation as he walked off the ship.

Read the full story about Capt. Crozier here.

TSA insider says agency’s virus response endangering airport screeners, travelers

A Transportation Security Administration official is accusing the agency of failing to adequately protect airport screeners from the new coronavirus, endangering both the officers and the traveling public.

The top TSA official in Kansas, Jay Brainard, says the TSA’s actions amount to “gross mismanagement,” according to published reports.

Brainard filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, which handles whistleblower complaints, and the special counsel has ordered an investigation, according to the Washington Post and National Public Radio.

“We did not take adequate steps to make sure that we were not becoming carriers and spreaders of the virus ourselves,” Brainard told NPR. “I believe absolutely that that contributed to the spread of the coronavirus.”

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In this June 17, 2020 file photo, a TSA worker, right, checks a passenger before entering a security screening at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Fla. AP Photo/John Raoux, File

The special counsel’s office declined to comment. Messages for Brainard’s attorney were not immediately returned.

The TSA said in a statement Friday that it has followed guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in deciding protection standards for workers.

Spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said that at the start of the virus outbreak, TSA told employees that masks were optional, then made them mandatory at airport checkpoints in the first week of May.

Airport officers are required to wear nitrile gloves when they screen passengers. They must change gloves after every pat-down, and travelers can request the use of new gloves at any time, Farbstein said. Eye protection has remained optional for screeners.

The agency added that plastic barriers have been installed at security checkpoints and areas where checked bags are dropped off for screening.

Brainard believes those procedures still have gaps, however, including no procedure for how to handle travelers who appear to be sick, the Post said.

TSA says on its website that 706 of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and five have died, plus one screening contractor.

According to the published reports, the special counsel ordered TSA’s parent agency, the Homeland Security Department, to investigate Brainard’s allegations. By law, the special counsel only takes that step when it believes there is a “substantial likelihood” of wrongdoing.

The special counsel will review Homeland Security’s findings and issue a report to the White House and Congress.

Ex-FDA head criticizes movie theater chain for not requiring masks: ‘I don’t think this is a political issue’

Former FDA head Scott Gottlieb on Friday called “universal” mask-wearing “one of the simplest interventions that we can take” to prevent another surge of coronavirus cases, as more governors embrace mandates or let local officials make their own decisions.

Gottlieb had been asked on CNBC about the decision by AMC Theatres to not make moviegoers cover their faces. AMC’s president told Variety that he would be “leading by example” by wearing a mask in the theater but that “we did not want to be drawn into a political controversy.” In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, President Trump suggested that people may wear masks to signal their disapproval of him.

“I don’t think this is a political issue,” Gottlieb responded Friday morning. “There’s very few things that we can do to try to prevent wider spread and another epidemic heading into the fall, and this is one of them.”

“I think you’re going to see people start to change their position on this. There’s this sort of view that imposing masks on the public is somehow denying them their liberty — I think telling them they have to stay at home and close their businesses is denying them their liberty,” he said, after urging people to “reach for the least intrusive things that we can do.”

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) this week reversed course somewhat on masks, saying local governments could start requiring them. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) clarified Wednesday to KWTX that local officials could tell businesses to mandate masks, after opposition to his June 3 executive order barring officials from punishing those who don’t cover up in public with criminal sanctions or fines.

While conservatives have been more resistant to mask rules, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) went on CNBC on Friday morning to question AMC’s decision as well.

“I think people are going to be reluctant to spend their money to go and sit in a confined space for couple of hours breathing the same air as a lot of folks who aren’t wearing masks,” he said, emphasizing that people need to feel safe in the reopening economy.

CDC predicts U.S. death toll could reach 145,000 by July 11

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that the U.S. death toll from the novel coronavirus could rise to as high as 145,000 by July 11, meaning as many as 26,000 Americans could die in the next few weeks.

This latest forecast was made from 21 individual predictions across the country, according to the CDC. The forecast suggests the death toll could be between 129,000 and 145,000.

In some states, the number of deaths over the next four weeks are predicted to rise, including in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah, the CDC said. In other states, the death rate is predicted to remain flat or slightly decrease.

As of Friday, at least 116,000 U.S. residents who contracted COVID-19 have died.

Migrant farmworkers contract virus, die in Canada – and Mexico wants answers

TORONTO – Each summer for the past five years, Aaron has traveled from his home in Mexico to Canada as one of the tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers who seed, tend and harvest the crops that keep the country fed. This year’s journey was unique.

Flights were limited. There were temperature screenings and questionnaires before he took off and after he landed. On arriving in British Columbia this month, he was checked into a hotel for a 14-day quarantine.

“I trust that everything will be fine,” said Aaron, a 31-year-old husband and father from Guanajuato state who declined to be identified by his last name.

But in this year of the coronavirus, the precautions have not kept all of Canada’s migrant farmworkers safe. At least 600 have contracted COVID-19, and at least two, both Mexicans, have died.

Mexico, which provides nearly half of Canada’s migrant farmworkers, has become so concerned that officials said this week they’re hitting the “pause button” on plans to send up to 5,000 more to Canada until they’re satisfied the conditions that led to the deaths of Bonifacio Eugenio Romero, 31, and Rogelio Muñoz Santos, 24, will be rectified – threatening a labor crunch for Canada’s already squeezed agricultural sector.

Migrant workers plant cuttings from Pinot Gris vines in a winery in the Niagara Peninsula in June 2015. Shutterstock

“For us, it was only responsible to halt the coming of further workers until we have this clarity,” said Juan José Gómez Camacho, Mexico’s ambassador to Canada.

Mary Robinson, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said the loss of these workers would be “incredibly unfortunate” and create “greater uncertainty, not only impacting this year’s harvest but next year’s cropping plans.”

The pandemic has highlighted Canada’s dependence on the 60,000 temporary foreign workers who arrive each year from countries such as Mexico and Jamaica as part of a federal government program, and without whom hundreds of thousands of tons of blueberries, asparagus stalks and grapes would wither on the vine.

They’re so vital that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared them essential workers, exempt from the restrictions that have shut the borders to most foreigners.

Read the full story.

In countries keeping the coronavirus at bay, experts watch U.S. case numbers with alarm

As coronavirus cases surge in states across the South and West of the United States, health experts in countries with falling case numbers are watching with a growing sense of alarm and disbelief, with many wondering why virus-stricken U.S. states continue to reopen and why the advice of scientists is often ignored.

“It really does feel like the U.S. has given up,” said Siouxsie Wiles, an infectious-diseases specialist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand — a country that has confirmed only three new cases over the last three weeks and where citizens have now largely returned to their pre-coronavirus routines.

Visitors to the River Walk pass a restaurant that has reopened in San Antonio, Texas on June 15. Cases in Texas and other state are rising as the country reopens its public spaces. Associated Press/Eric Gay

“I can’t imagine what it must be like having to go to work knowing it’s unsafe,” Wiles said of the U.S.-wide economic reopening. “It’s hard to see how this ends. There are just going to be more and more people infected, and more and more deaths. It’s heartbreaking.”

China’s actions over the past week stand in stark contrast to those of the United States. In the wake of a new cluster of more than 150 new cases that emerged in Beijing, authorities sealed off neighborhoods, launched a mass testing campaign and imposed travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, President Trump maintains that the United States will not shut down a second time, although a surge in cases has convinced governors in some states, including Arizona, to walk back their opposition to mandatory face coverings in public.

Commentators and experts in Europe, where cases have continued to decline, voiced concerns over the state of the U.S. response. A headline on the website of Germany’s public broadcaster read: “Has the U.S. given up its fight against coronavirus?” Switzerland’s conservative Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper concluded, “U.S. increasingly accepts rising covid-19 numbers.”

Read the full story here.

Tulsa arena asks Trump campaign for health plan as Oklahoma Supreme Court hears arguments about rally

The managers of the arena in Oklahoma where President Donald Trump plans to hold a controversial campaign rally requested on Thursday that the Trump campaign provide a detailed written plan outlining “health and safety” measures ahead of the event to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to a statement from the venue.

The rally is planned for Saturday evening at the BOK Center, a 19,000-seat venue in downtown Tulsa. According to the arena management’s statement, the campaign has already said it will offer masks, hand sanitizer and temperature checks to everyone who attends. The statement added that facility staffers will be tested for the coronavirus and that the venue will be “cleaned and disinfected repeatedly throughout the event, with special emphasis on high-touch areas.”

Supporters of President Trump, including a man dressed as the border wall, line up outside outside the BOK Center in Tulsa on Thursday. Associated Press/Tom McCarthy

A number of Tulsa residents and business owners, alarmed by the prospect of a large-scale outbreak of coronavirus if the rally proceeds, have sued the venue manager attempting to block the event unless it is held in accordance with social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A Tulsa County judge on Tuesday denied the request for a temporary injunction, but the decision was appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

An officer for the state Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon heard arguments in a conference call with opposing sides and said the court would decide the issue Friday.

Read the full story.

3rd meat plant shut down in UK local outbreak

LONDON — A meat processing plant in West Yorkshire has been shut down amid a localized outbreak of COVID-19, the third such site to shut down in the U.K. in recent days.

The shutdown of the Yorkshire plant follows further outbreaks in food processing sites in Anglesey and Wrexham in North Wales.

Asda confirmed that its subsidiary, Kober, had decided to close a plant in Cleckheaton.

It says that as soon as it became aware of the outbreak, it “responded swiftly and worked collaboratively with the local authority and Public Health England to test all colleagues.’’

Doctors and local officials in the community have expressed frustration at the announcement because they say they first learned about it when Health Secretary Matt Hancock mentioned “as cluster of cases’’ in the Kirklees area during the daily Downing Street news conference on Thursday.

China sequences three strains of virus

BEIJING — China says it has published the gene sequences for three strains of the coronavirus detected in the new outbreak that hit Beijing this month.

The Center for Disease Control said it has provided the sequences to the World Health Organization and the GISAID Initiative that helps disseminate such information around the world.

At least one of the strains tied to the Chinese capital’s largest wholesale food market had reportedly shown similarities to a strain found in Europe.

Also Friday, spokesperson for the National Health Commission Hu Qiangqiang said local confirmed infections had been recorded for five consecutive days in two areas, apparently referencing Beijing and the neighboring province of Hebei.

Meanwhile, CDC researcher Feng Luzhao said that while there so far is no evidence the virus can be transmitted other than the proven vectors of droplets expelled or left on surfaces, it would still be better not to eat uncooked foods.

However, international food and health bodies believe the possibility of transmission by food is extremely low and don’t suggest that countries introduce restrictions on the international trade in food items because of the coronavirus outbreak, Song Yuelian, deputy director of the Chinese customs’ health quarantine department, said.

Beijing has seen 183 confirmed cases since the outbreak last week at the Xinfadi market and the situation for prevention remains “very grave,” city government spokesperson Xu Hejian said. Facilities should be expanded to provide for all that need to be or wish to be tested, Xu said.

UK registers decreasing cases, lower threat level

LONDON — Britain has lowered its coronavirus threat level by one notch, as public health officials say the outbreak is coming under control.

The U.K.’s Joint Biosecurity Center has recommended that the country move from the second-highest level, 4 — meaning transmission is high or rising exponentially — to level 3, where a COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation.

The scale is modeled on Britain’s five-rung scale for terrorist threats.

The U.K.’s chief medical officers say there has been “a steady decrease in cases” across the country, but localized outbreaks are still likely.

Britain has suffered Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 42,000 confirmed fatalities. The real toll is likely higher because not everyone who died with COVID-19 was tested for it.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the lowering of the alert level was “a big moment for the country, and a real testament to the British people’s determination to beat this virus.”

Japan launches contact tracing app

TOKYO — Japan has launched a smartphone app that notifies users who have come into close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 Contact Confirming Application, or COCOA, was created by the Health Ministry using technology developed by Apple and Google.

As Japan resumes social and economic activity, officials say contact tracing, along with aggressive testing, is key to quickly finding and isolating those infected. Less than a month after lifting its pandemic state of emergency, Japan on Friday reopened the remaining businesses that were shut, including nightclubs, though people are still asked to use physical distancing and other precautions.

The free app logs users’ data via phone Bluetooth when they are within a meter (yard) of each other for 15 minutes of longer. If any of them test positive and disclose their results in the app, other users are notified of an anonymous person’s infection.

Data will only be recorded and stored in each user’s phone, and will be deleted after 14 days.

Studies have shown that similar contact tracing apps can be effective when used by about 60% of the population. That means virtually all smartphone users in Japan have to register — an extremely ambitious goal to make it work.

The app is currently on a trial run for one month before a full version is available.

Japan has about 17,500 cases and 935 deaths.

Protest against virus restrictions banned in the Netherlands

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Security authorities in The Hague have banned a planned protest against coronavirus restrictions, saying the demonstration Sunday forms a threat to public health.

The city’s mayor, Johan Remkes, wrote Friday that the planned event originally was to have drawn about 100 people but changes to the program to include performances by DJs have effectively turned it into a festival that could attract up to 10,000. Such large-scale events are banned until Sept. 1 under the government’s coronavirus measures.

Remkes says in a statement that the right to demonstrate in public is important, “but it is not unlimited.”

He adds that the event as planned for Sunday in the city’s large Malieveld park would create “an illegal and dangerous situation.”

Organizers called the event to protest the government’s lockdown measures.


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