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

Coronavirus infections in the United States surged nearly 50 percent in June as states relaxed quarantine rules and tried to reopen their economies, data compiled Wednesday showed, and several states moved to reimpose restrictions on bars and recreation.

More than 800,000 new cases were reported across the country last month, led by Florida, Arizona, Texas and California – bringing the nation’s officially reported total to just over 2.6 million, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

States that took an aggressive approach to reopening led the country in infection spikes – along with California, the nation’s most populous state, where leaders have been more cautious. California on Wednesday reported 110 new deaths, more than any other state.

People wait in line at a walk-up testing site for COVID-19 on Tuesday in Miami Beach, Fla. Associated Press/Lynne Sladky

The novel coronavirus continued its recent spread, especially in the South and Southwest. More than 52,000 new cases were reported in the United States on Wednesday, the highest total since the start of the pandemic, according to data collected by The Post. Record-shattering numbers of new cases were reported Wednesday in six states – California, Georgia, Texas, Alaska, North Carolina and Arizona.

California added 9,740 new cases to its official tally – a new daily high for the state. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, amid the recent spike in cases and hospitalizations after early success against the virus, on Wednesday ordered 19 counties to shut down all indoor services and activities before the holiday weekend, meaning that bars, restaurants and other businesses will remain open only outside.

Pennsylvania ordered protective masks to be worn in public, and New York City delayed the planned loosening of restrictions on indoor dining. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D, ordered the end of indoor service at bars through most of the state’s lower region, citing a spike in cases among younger people.

Read the full story about the surge in June here.

Little evidence that protests spread COVID-19 in U.S.

NEW YORK  — There is little evidence that the protests that erupted after George Floyd’s death caused a significant increase in U.S. coronavirus infections, according to public health experts.

If the protests had driven an explosion in cases, experts say, the jumps would have started to become apparent within two weeks – and perhaps as early as five days. But that didn’t happen in many cities with the largest protests, including New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C.

In what’s considered the first systematic look at the question, a team of economists determined that only one of 13 cities involved in the earliest wave of protests after Memorial Day had an increase that would fit the pattern.

It was Phoenix, where experts say cases and hospitalizations surged after a decision by Gov. Doug Ducey to end Arizona’s stay-at-home order on May 15 and eased restrictions on businesses. Arizona residents who were cooped up for six weeks flooded Phoenix-area bar districts, ignoring social distancing guidelines.

In many cities, the protests actually seemed to lead to a net increase in social distancing, as more people who did not protest decided to stay off the streets, said that study’s lead author, Dhaval Dave of Bentley University.

“The large-scale protests can impact both the behavior of the protesters and the behavior of the non-protesters,” said Dave. The paper was released last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, but has not been published by a peer-reviewed journal.

Read the full story here.

Trump says he would wear a mask ‘in a tight situation’ with others

President Trump on Wednesday denied that he is opposed to wearing face masks, saying in an interview with Fox Business Network that he would wear one if he were in proximity to other people.

“I’m all for masks,” Trump said, adding that he would “absolutely” wear one if he were “in a tight situation with people.”

President Donald Trump at the White House on June 17. Associated Press/Alex Brandon

Trump joked that he has worn a mask at times and liked the way it looked. But he declined to endorse the notion that face masks should be mandatory across the United States — something House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and others have backed.

“Well, I don’t know if you need mandatory,” Trump said, arguing that there are some areas of the country where people are typically far from others.

Trump has repeatedly refused to wear a mask in public and has ridiculed journalists and others for wearing face coverings amid the pandemic. Top members of his party, meanwhile, have been ramping up their calls for the president to wear a mask to set an example for the country.

Earlier Wednesday, former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said in a tweet that the highest levels of government needed to endorse mask-wearing.

“We need a clear message from the very top of our federal government that everyone needs to wear a mask in public. Period,” Biden said in a tweet. “It’s not just about you — it’s about your family, your neighbors, your colleagues. It’s about keeping other people safe.”

Some Canadian businesses want to let Americans back in. Most Canadians don’t.

TORONTO — In normal times, this would be the high season for Eric Brown’s Ontario fishing lodges. In these times, he wonders if his business can survive.

Brown says Americans make up 95 percent of the business at his Totem Resorts in Sioux Narrows. Travel restrictions on the U.S.-Canada border, he said, have “absolutely devastated us.”

“It’s just heartbreaking to watch it all dissolve — 42 years of my legacy disappear in one season.”

As restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus drag into a fourth month, Brown and other business operators are pushing officials to consider ways to let at least some tourists in. But they’re running into resistance from the broader population, which appears to have little appetite for lifting the restrictions.

Amid a general sense here that Canada has handled the coronavirus better than the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in June there was “broad consensus” among provincial leaders to keep current measures along the 5,500-mile frontier in place.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he wants the border to stay closed to nonessential travelers beyond the current July 21 end date. British Columbia’s health minister last week rattled off the record numbers of new cases in hard-hit U.S. states.

A national survey by Destination Canada, a crown corporation that markets Canada as a tourist destination, found that just 24 percent of people in Quebec somewhat or strongly agreed with welcoming U.S. visitors — and they were the most enthusiastic province. In British Columbia, the figure was 6 percent.

“Canadians look at what’s happening with the spread of covid in the United States and their comparatively better performance at getting it under control,” said Edward Alden, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And they have no interest at all in Americans coming to Canada.”

U.S. infections surged nearly 50% in June, and July 4 celebrations are looming

The number of coronavirus infections in the United States swelled enormously last month as states tried to relax quarantine rules and reopen their economies. More than 800,000 new cases were reported in June — led by Florida, Arizona Texas and California — bringing the nation’s officially reported total to just over 2.6 million.

Health officials are nervously eyeing the July 4 holiday weekend amid the surge. Though some beaches, including in South Florida and Los Angeles, have been closed, other oceanfront destinations have not. “We’re going to see several hundred thousand people come down here regardless of the recommendations that have come out,” Galveston Island Beach Patrol Chief Peter Davis told the Houston-based new station KHOU this week.

Health experts are pleading with Americans to take the pandemic seriously before it’s too late. The director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, Ashish K. Jha., said on “Good Morning America” Wednesday that every state should require people to wear masks. And Tom Freiden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote in an op-ed for Fox News that “the more we fight among ourselves, the more the virus divides and conquers us.”

At least 44,474 new coronavirus cases were reported in the United States on Tuesday, the second-highest total since the start of the pandemic, according to data collected by The Washington Post. More than 10.5 million cases have been detected worldwide.

Watching Sun Belt spikes, New York City, states pause reopening

NEW YORK — New York City and states that likewise seemed to have tamed their coronavirus outbreaks are hitting pause on some of their reopening plans because of the alarming surge in reported infections across the Sun Belt and other parts of the U.S.

The run-up in cases — blamed in part on “knucklehead behavior” by Americans not wearing masks or obeying other social-distancing rules — has raised fears that many states could see the same phenomenon if they reopen too, or that people from the South and West could spread the virus to other regions.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that the city is delaying its resumption of indoor dining at restaurants — not because of any rise in cases in the city but because of upticks elsewhere.

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Customers dine outside in New York City in late June. Associated Press/John Minchillo

“Even a week ago, honestly, I was hopeful we could. But the news we have gotten from around the country gets worse and worse all the time,” he said.

The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. per day has roughly doubled over the past month, hitting 44,800 on Tuesday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. That is higher even than what the nation witnessed during the deadliest stretch of the crisis in mid-April through early May.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, warned Congress on Tuesday that the rise across the South and West “puts the entire country at risk.” New infections, he said, could reach 100,000 a day if people don’t start listening to public health authorities.

“When you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they’re doing well, they are vulnerable,” Fauci said.

Read the full story.

Myrtle Beach reopened to survive the summer. Now, it’s a coronavirus ‘petri dish.’

Cara Ellen Modisett fields the usual battery of questions every time she visits the doctor: Is she feeling well? Did she travel abroad? Has she been in contact with someone known to have the coronavirus?

Then, last week, Modisett’s physicians in Roanoke, Va., added an unexpected query to their list. “They asked whether I had been to Myrtle Beach,” the 47-year-old said.

With summer in full swing – and the Fourth of July holiday around the corner – scores of Americans have booked hotels, hit the boardwalk and camped out along the popular South Carolina coast. The unexpected rush of vacationers has helped rejuvenate a local economy left in tatters this spring when the pandemic closed shops and halted travel nationwide. But it has also turned the Myrtle Beach region into a coronavirus hot spot – and a startling example of the difficult, and perhaps deadly, calculation some cities and states face about when to reopen.

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Across America, people are leaving their cares — and sometimes their masks — at home after months of worry about the virus as Southern states like South Carolina open hotels and restaurants and like Myrtle Beach advertise “Yes, the beach is open!” Associated Press/Jeffrey Collins

Dozens of locals, visitors and business owners describe a beach that has been packed at times over the past few weeks, with few people wearing masks and maintaining safe distances from one another. The city did not even require facial coverings when businesses reopened in May, although city council members are expected to vote on a mandate as soon as Thursday.

The safety lapses have resulted in a surge of infections in Horry County, where Myrtle Beach is located, which had registered more than 3,300 confirmed coronavirus cases by Tuesday, according to public health officials. The figure does not include countless tourists who unknowingly contracted the virus while visiting and unwittingly have taken it back home to multiple states including Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, where Gov. Jim Justice, R, recently warned people to “think twice” before traveling to Myrtle Beach.

Some residents and travelers alike are now wondering whether Myrtle Beach reopened too quickly, forgoing critical safety precautions in an attempt to salvage much-needed tourism revenue. But government officials and business leaders have stressed that a prolonged closure would have resulted in irreparable harm to workers and their families, underscoring the complexity that many localities face in a pandemic that at times has pitted economic recovery against public health.

“For Myrtle Beach, it was a survival decision,” said Brenda Bethune, the city’s mayor.

“We all expected once we opened up, and people started coming from other areas, that we would see those [case] increases and we certainly have,” she said. “On the other hand, how do you keep things closed, and keep people out of work, when families have to pay their bills?”

Read the full story.

Pfizer reports encouraging, very early vaccine test results

The first of four experimental COVID-19 vaccines being tested by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech showed encouraging results in very early testing of 45 people, the companies said Wednesday.

Study volunteers given either a low or medium dose, in two shots about a month apart, had immune responses in the range expected to be protective, when compared to some COVID-19 survivors, according to the preliminary results.

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The first patient enrolled in Pfizer’s COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, receives an injection in May. University of Maryland School of Medicine via Associated Press

Side effects were typical for vaccines, mostly pain at the injection site and fever.

The report has been submitted for publication in a scientific journal but not yet reviewed. With its other potential candidates still in the earliest stage of testing, Pfizer aims to open a large-scale study this summer but can’t yet say which shot is best to include.

But researchers didn’t administer a second shot of the highest dose initially tested, sticking with the low and medium doses. The higher-dose shot caused more injection reactions without apparent added benefit.

About 15 different COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in human testing worldwide, with several poised to begin huge, last-stage studies to prove if they really work.

Different companies are pursuing different types of vaccines, boosting the odds that at least one approach might work — although there’s no guarantee. The Pfizer and BioNTech candidates use a piece of the coronavirus genetic code to prime the body to recognize and attack the virus.

Earlier this week, Inovio Pharmaceuticals issued a news release saying its gene-based vaccine candidate showed encouraging results in similar early testing in 40 volunteers.

Stop politicizing the pandemic and focus on public health measures, ex-CDC director says

The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged government officials and the public Wednesday to stop politicizing the coronavirus, saying battle-tested public health measures are the only way to slow the pandemic’s spread.

“There’s only one enemy — the virus. We need to overcome the politicization of measures that protect all of us,” Tom Frieden wrote in an op-ed for Fox News. “The more we fight among ourselves, the more the virus divides and conquers us.”

The coronavirus still “has the upper hand,” Frieden wrote, because officials have not mounted a full-fledged response to contain it.

“One reason the virus is winning in much of the U.S. is that some leaders and some members of the public seem to think a single silver bullet will make it go away,” Frieden wrote. “We’ve pivoted from travel restrictions, to stay-at-home lockdowns, to ramping up testing, and are now focused on wearing masks.”

Each of those measures was important, he said, but would not succeed without a “comprehensive approach.”

He called on officials to use real-time data to stay ahead of the virus, tracking the proportion of infections for which the likely source is known, the average number of days between when someone feels sick and when they isolated, and the proportion of cases occurring among people in quarantine. He also stressed the importance of wearing face coverings around others, washing hands regularly and practicing social distancing.

Echoing remarks he made earlier in the week, Frieden noted that surges in cases in the South and West were not driven by increased testing. “They reflect the virus spreading explosively in many communities,” he said.

“We can minimize the risk of explosive spread if we recognize that we’re all in this together,” he wrote. “We will be safer when our governments and all of us do our part.”

Students testing positive for coronavirus are showing up at parties anyway, Alabama official says

Students in Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, have been attending parties despite testing positive for the coronavirus, a city official said.

Tuscaloosa Fire Chief Randy Smith said at a Tuesday briefing for city council members that several parties were held in the city and surrounding Tuscaloosa County in recent weeks where “students or kids” would show up despite knowing that they had tested positive. Local officials “thought that was kind of a rumor” before investigating further, Smith said.

“Not only did the doctor’s offices help confirm it, but the state confirmed they also had the same information,” he said.

Smith didn’t specify whether any of the students attended the University of Alabama, which is by far the largest school in Tuscaloosa. The city is also home to Stillman College and Shelton State Community College, which have significantly smaller enrollments.

As infection rates across Alabama continue to take a turn for the worse, the number of confirmed cases in Tuscaloosa County has risen to 1,964. At least 573 of those were detected in the past two weeks, the Tuscaloosa News reported. In light of the recent rise, the city voted Tuesday to make masks mandatory.

Although classes have yet to resume and campuses largely remain closed, college towns are already seeing significant numbers of new cases among students who chose to stick around for the summer. Last week, the University of South Carolina said that off-campus gatherings in neighborhoods near its Columbia campus had prompted a surge of new infections. Outbreaks have also stemmed from bars frequented by Michigan State University and Louisiana State University students, and new cases have been linked to fraternity parties at the University of Mississippi.

North Korean defections hit record low during pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically reduced the number of people defecting from North Korea, according to figures released by South Korean authorities.

Only 12 defectors arrived in South Korea between April and June, compared with 320 during the same period last year, officials said Wednesday. That number represents the lowest quarterly tally since 2003, when the South Korean government began keeping track. Typically, more than 1,000 North Koreans defect each year.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which manages relations with Pyongyang, said border closures in neighboring countries had made leaving North Korea extremely difficult and were probably responsible for the sudden drop. But “a more professional analysis is needed” to determine whether other factors contributed to the decline, said agency spokesman Yoh Sang-key, according to Reuters.

North Korea has claimed to be coronavirus-free since the start of the pandemic, which experts find hard to believe. Although its isolation from the rest of the world potentially offered benefits, particularly when China and South Korea emerged as hot spots early on, independent news outlets have reported that a number of deaths within the country are believed to be a result of the virus.

Tokyo Disneyland reopens

TOKYO — Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea reopened after being closed for four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, with hundreds of visitors applauding as they were let in Wednesday.

The two parks have new guidelines, including limiting the number of entrants in three shifts to maintain social distancing.

No handshakes, hugging or photos taken with Mickey Mouse and other characters are allowed.

Though characters greet guests from afar, their signature parades and shows have been suspended to avoid crowds.

Entrants are asked to get their temperatures checked at the gate, sanitize their hands and wear masks while in the park.

Tokyo has detected more than 50 cases for five consecutive days, and on Wednesday confirmed an additional 60. Japan on Tuesday had 132 new cases nationwide for a total of 18,723 with 974 deaths.

Melbourne locks down for a month

MELBOURNE, Australia — An Australian state leader has welcomed “some sense of stability” in numbers of new coronavirus cases detected daily in the nation’s second largest city as more than 300,000 residents prepare to be locked down for a month.

There were 73 confirmed cases in Melbourne in 24-hours to Wednesday, up from 64 reported on Tuesday but less than 75 on Monday.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews says “it is pleasing that there is some sense of stability to these numbers. There is the beginning of some consistency here.”

He said a “significant concentration” of the new cases were in the 36 hot spot suburbs that will be locked down from Wednesday night until July 29 in a bid to halt the spread.

Some of the infections were spread from staff who had supervised travelers who had been held in hotel quarantine for two weeks on arrival from overseas.

Andrews says a judge would be appointed to investigate “unacceptable infection control breaches in hotel quarantine.”

He says international flights would not be allowed to land in Melbourne for two weeks because of those breaches.

Thailand opens schools, massage parlours

BANGKOK — Thailand has further eased COVID-19 restrictions, allowing the reopening of schools and high-risk entertainment venues such as pubs and massage parlors that had been shut since mid-March.

It also is allowing in foreign visitors on a controlled basis, limiting entry to those with existing family or work ties, students, technical experts, investors and specially invited VIPs. Scheduled passenger flights to Thailand were suspended in early April.

The number of foreign visitors allowed into the country each day is limited to 200, and they are supposed to travel on repatriation flights bringing Thai citizens home. All returnees, foreign and Thai, will be subject to varying degrees of quarantine.

All confirmed coronavirus cases for the past five weeks have been repatriated Thais rather than cases of local transmission, giving the government confidence to lift restrictions. However, it has extended through July a state of emergency, which critics charge is used to suppress political dissent.

Reopened establishments still have to maintain social distancing rules. A contact tracing app already used at shopping malls is also mandated for the reopened entertainment venues, including “soapy” massage parlors, which are often illegal fronts for sexual services.

40% of new infections in South Korea traced to places of worship

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is considering including religious facilities on the same list with nightclubs, hostess bars and karaoke rooms as “high risk” venues for the spread of COVID-19 following a slew of transmissions tied to church gatherings.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a virus meeting on Wednesday that more than 40% of the country’s newly confirmed infections over the previous three days have been traced back to places of worship.

He pleaded people to refrain from religious gatherings and criticized churches and other facilities for failing to implement proper preventive measures, such as requiring followers to wear masks and sit apart during services.

“If religious facilities continue to be an environment for infections by failing to implement anti-virus measures, it will be inevitable for the government to designate (them) as high-risk facilities and enforce strong restrictions,” Chung said.

High-risk facilities are advised to close or otherwise must enforce anti-virus measures, including distancing, temperature checks, keeping customer lists and requiring employees and visitors to wear masks. They are also required to register visitors with smartphone QR codes so they could be easily located when needed.

Beijing’s recent outbreak slows

BEIJING — China has reported just three new confirmed cases of coronavirus, all in the capital Beijing where an outbreak last month appears to have run its course amid intense testing and case tracing.

No new deaths were reported Wednesday, leaving the toll at 4,634 among 83,534 cases of COVID-19 recorded since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

The National Health Commission said 421 people are in treatment with another 108 under monitoring for being possible cases or having tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.

Beijing has begun discharging those infected in the recent outbreak tied to the Xinfadi wholesale food market in the southwestern suburbs.

With 328 cases reported since June 11, Beijing has reinstated some prevention measures, suspended classes for schoolchildren and carried out 8.3 million virus tests among the city’s more than 20 million residents.

 


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