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

JACKSON, Miss. — Packed elevators and crowded committee rooms. Legislators sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the House and Senate floor. People standing close to each other and talking, sometimes leaning in to whisper, without a mask in sight.

Those were common scenes at the Mississippi Capitol in June — a month that brought a historic vote to remove the Confederate emblem from the state flag — and now at least 26 lawmakers have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in the biggest known outbreak in any state legislature in the nation.

That works out to about 1 in 7 Mississippi legislators.

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Mississippi legislators, staff and Capitol employees take advantage of a drive-through COVID-19 testing center Monday on the Capitol grounds in Jackson, Miss. Mississippi has the largest outbreak of COVID-19 among legislators in any state. Associated Press/Rogelio V. Solis

Among those testing positive in the heavily Republican body are the presiding officers, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann.

None of the lawmakers has been hospitalized, according to state officials.

President Trump has resisted wearing a mask, and many other Republicans around the country have cast face coverings and social distancing as an infringement on their freedom.

Read the full story about the outbreak in Mississippi here.

Worker advocates file discrimination complaint against meat plants

Several worker advocacy organizations have filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging that meat processing companies Tyson and JBS have engaged in racial discrimination during the coronavirus pandemic.

The complaint filed Wednesday alleges the companies adopted polices that violate a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects individuals from racial discrimination by recipients of federal financial assistance.

Tyson has received more than $109 million from USDA programs this year and JBS more than $45 million, the complaint said. As recipients of federal taxpayer dollars, they are required to comply with federal laws.

“When they took that money, they knew at that point that they would be held accountable to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but they continued to violate that act,” said Joe Henry, director of Forward Latino, one of the groups filing the complaint. Others include the Food Chain Workers Alliance, HEAL Food Alliance, American Friends Service Committee of Iowa and the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils.

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A group of worker advocacy organizations has filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging that meat processing companies Tyson and JBS have engaged in workplace racial discrimination during the coronavirus pandemic. The complaint alleges that the companies adopted polices that reject CDC guidance on distancing and protective gear on meat processing lines, and that the operating procedures have a discriminatory impact on mostly Black, Latino, and Asian workers. Associated Press/Charlie Neibergall

Coronavirus infections were first reported in meatpacking plants in March, and since then, at least 32,151 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed among workers in 291 plants and at least 122 meatpacking workers have died, the complaint said.

A CDC report released Tuesday found 87 percent of those coronavirus cases occurred among racial and ethnic minorities even though they make up 61 percent of the worker population.

Read the full story about the complaint here.

Fauci says states with major outbreaks should ‘seriously look at shutting down’ again

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease official, is advising that some states seriously consider “shutting down” again if they are facing major resurgences of the virus — a warning that conflicts with President Trump’s push to reopen the country as quickly as possible.

“I think any state that is having a serious problem, that state should seriously look at shutting down,” Fauci said Wednesday. “It’s not for me to say, because each state is different.”

With coronavirus infections soaring across the United States, hospitals in hot spot states are on the verge of becoming overwhelmed. Personal protective equipment is once again in short supply, and intensive care units in many hard-hit areas are approaching capacity.

Virus deaths now rising along with cases in key states after weeks of decline

WASHINGTON — Soaring coronavirus infections in Texas, Arizona and Florida are pushing deaths from the disease back upward, reversing two months of declines and undercutting claims by the Trump administration that the pandemic is under control.

In Texas, where hospitals are being swamped by a wave of COVID-19 patients, the seven-day average of deaths hit 46 a day this week, more than double the daily average in mid-June, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The average daily death toll in Arizona has also more than doubled in the last month. And in Florida, another state where infections are skyrocketing, the daily average of coronavirus-related deaths has jumped 60% in the last 2 1/2 weeks.

“We should be very concerned,” said Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, a former Texas health commissioner who now serves as chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Assn. “And we should be thinking about what needs to be done to change this trend.”

California, where infections have also been soaring, hasn’t yet seen a sustained increase in deaths, but on Wednesday the state recorded 149 fatalities, according to a Los Angeles Times county-by-county tally, the highest number since mid-May.

With other states across the South and West wrestling with surging infections, public health officials, hospital leaders and experts are eyeing the trends with growing anxiety, fearful they will soon see a reversal of what had been declining death tolls.

“The trend is very upsetting,” said Lisa McCormick, associate dean at the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Public Health.

Alabama, where the number of new coronavirus cases has quadrupled since mid-May, has seen deaths hold relatively steady, but McCormick said few expect that pattern to hold.

Nationally, a new forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington predicted that the U.S. would record more than 200,000 deaths related to coronavirus by November, up from about 130,000 now.

Read the full story here.

Republicans may move convention outdoors as Florida virus cases keep rising

The Republican convention in Jacksonville, Fla., next month could be moved to an outdoor stadium as cases of the novel coronavirus in the state increase, according to several officials with knowledge of the plans.

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Supporters of President Donald Trump wave at the hundreds of boats idling on the St. Johns River during a rally Sunday, June 14, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla., celebrating Trump’s birthday. Will Dickey/The Florida Times-Union via AP

While no decision has been made, Republican officials are studying two outdoor professional sports stadiums near the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena where the convention is currently slated to be held. They are also looking more broadly into the logistics of pulling off an outdoor convention, according to two Republicans involved in the planning.

This marks the latest uncertainty over planning the convention, which President Donald Trump is determined to hold even as cases surge in Florida and other states. Officials have engaged in weeks of intensive planning for the convention, which was moved from North Carolina after a sharp disagreement with state leaders there over health measures.

Trump was recently briefed on the options of moving the convention away from the indoor arena, officials said, and is expected to make a final decision in upcoming days.

Republicans involved in the planning believe there could be less risk of transmission and spreading for attendees in a larger outdoor arena than in the stadium, and attendees may be less concerned about taking part in such an event.

Several Republican senators have said they will not attend the convention.

Read the full story here.

Despite Trump’s criticism, CDC won’t rewrite guidelines for reopening schools

WASHINGTON — Despite President Donald Trump’s sharp criticism, federal guidelines for reopening schools are not being revised, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

Dr. Robert Redfield said the agency would be issuing “additional reference documents” for parents and schools to facilitate the reopening and deal with safety concerns in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But he said there would be no changing of the overall guidance.

Graduating students practice socially distance during a graduation ceremony in Millburn, N.J. on Wednesday. Associated Press/Seth Wenig

Redfield commented a day after Trump complained the reopening guidelines were “very tough and expensive” and the CDC was “asking schools to do very impractical things.” Speaking of CDC officials, he tweeted, “I will be meeting with them.!!!”

Redfield said, “It’s really important, it’s not a revision of the guidelines, it’s just to provide additional information to help schools be able to use the guidance that we put forward.”

Read the full story.

200,000 seafarers fear there’s no plan to get them off ships

Like thousands of other seafarers, Karika Neethling wanted to get home as the coronavirus pandemic convulsed the cruise industry in March. Her anxiety grew more desperate when she learned she was pregnant.

But for nearly three months, the 27-year-old South African was caught in a web of border restrictions and corporate bureaucracy, shuttled on ships between ports in the Bahamas and Italy as her employer, MSC Cruises, worked to get its crews home.

“I don’t think we were ever priorities,” said Neethling, who worked as a shop employee aboard the luxury liner the MSC Preziosa. “I was depressed and in despair thinking I might have this baby on the ship.”

Neethling isn’t alone. While she’s finally home in Johannesburg, more than 200,000 more seafarers remain trapped on ships around the world, from cargo vessels and oil tankers to luxury cruise liners. Restrictions on ships docking to halt the spread of Covid-19, border shutdowns and a lack of flights are the biggest barriers to relieving exhausted crew. But shipping lines and cruise companies are also coming under increasing pressure to do more.

The container ship Gjertrud Maersk, anchored off the coast of Virginia Beach on June 29. Associated Press/Steve Helber

MSC said it’s been working with governments and ports to get workers home as quickly as possible, prioritizing pregnant seafarers. The company said in a statement that a “small number” of pregnant crew members across its fleet “have had to stay on board awaiting repatriation despite our best efforts to secure safe passage home for them.”

How much responsibility companies bear for workers trapped at sea is a growing point of contention. That leaves one of the world’s most vulnerable working populations, some who have been stuck on board for more than a year, at increased risk and could have a knock-on effect that reverberates through the shipping industry and global economy.

Read the full story.

At least 82 coronavirus cases have been linked to a Missouri summer camp

At least 82 campers, counselors and staff from a Missouri summer camp have tested positive for the coronavirus, bolstering fears that the traditional summertime ritual can easily become a hotbed of infections.

Kanakuk, which operates several Christian sleep-away camps in Missouri, started off the summer by announcing a long list of safety protocols such as installing “medical-grade air filtration systems” in each cabin, banning high-fives and requiring campers to self-isolate for two weeks before their arrival. But by July 2, K-2, an overnight camp for teenagers, had shut down.

Local health officials said at the time that 41 campers and employees had tested positive — with many of them receiving the results after they’d returned home to 10 states and various counties across Missouri. As those numbers have continued to increase, parents have been encouraged to “consider a 14-day self-quarantine for your child,” NBC News reported.

Whether children have a lower risk of transmitting the coronavirus to adults and one another remains a much debated question, with states reporting wildly different findings from child-care centers that have remained open during the pandemic. That has led to a lack of consensus about whether camps can operate safely during the pandemic, creating a difficult decision for parents.

Missouri is one of many states that have opted to allow camps to open, and health officials said Monday that they had no plans to change that.

The outbreak linked to K-2, which is located near Branson, Mo., appears to be the largest connected to a summer camp yet. But it’s hardly the first. In Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas and Tennessee, positive test results have led to camps shutting down or pushing back their opening dates — in some cases, before campers even arrived.

Coronavirus advisor warns that the French have become too complacent

PARIS — The French government’s leading coronavirus adviser is warning that his compatriots have become too complacent, ignoring protection measures and raising the risk of a new wave of infections.

Jean-Francois Delfraissy, head of the government’s scientific council for the virus, gave interviews to French daily Liberation, Le Monde and France-Info radio Thursday laying out his concerns.

“The French in general have abandoned protective measures,” he said.

Since France started gradually emerging from strict lockdown measures in May, much of French life has returned practically to normal.

Restaurants and schools have reopened, and even in government offices and courthouses few people seem to wear masks or practice social distancing. Many people have resumed the French tradition of multiple cheek kisses every time they greet an acquaintance.

Delfraissy said France’s summer could be nearly virus-free “if social distancing measures continue. However I’m struck to see that it is not the case.”

Unlike during France’s lockdown, when police fined people who traveled more than 1 kilometer (half a mile) from their homes, there is limited enforcement now of virus protection rules or recommendations.

France now reports hundreds of new positive tests per day, and has recorded more than 300 new virus clusters since reopening began May 11.

Hong Kong tightens social distancing rules as cases rise

HONG KONG — Hong Kong will tighten its social-distancing measures again after it reported 42 new infections on Thursday, sparking fears of a new wave of coronavirus infections in the city.

Of the 42 cases, 34 cases were locally transmitted. While most were related to known clusters, such as an elderly home and several restaurants in Kowloon, the source of infection for two patients could not be traced.

From Saturday, social-distancing measures for restaurants, bars and fitness centers will be tightened for two weeks. Restaurants will only be allowed to operate at 60% of their seating capacity, with a maximum of eight people per table.

Bars and clubs will only be allowed to have four people per table, and a cap of eight people will be imposed for other venues like fitness centers and karaoke bars.

The new spate of cases takes Hong Kong’s total number of infections to 1,366, with seven deaths reported.

 


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