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

WASHINGTON— The White House seating chart spoke volumes.

When the president convened a roundtable this week on how to safely reopen schools with coronavirus cases rising, the seats surrounding him were filled with parents, teachers and top White House officials, including the first and second ladies.

But the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, usually the leader of disease-fighting efforts, was relegated to secondary seating in the back with the children of parents who had been invited to speak.

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Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies at a Senate hearing on July 2. When President Trump convened a recent roundtable on how to safely reopen schools, Redfield was relegated to secondary seating on the side. It was a telling indication of how Trump has sidelined and undercut federal health experts. Saul Loeb/Pool via AP

Intentional or not, it was a telling indication of the regard that President Trump has for the government’s top health professionals as he pushes the country to move past the coronavirus. Whatever they say, he’s determined to revive the battered economy and resuscitate his reelection chances, even as U.S. hospitalizations and deaths keep climbing.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. hit the 3 million mark this week, with over 130,000 deaths now recorded. The surge has led to new equipment shortages as well as long lines at testing sites and delayed results.

Yet Trump paints a rosy picture of progress and ramps up his attacks on his government’s own public health officials, challenging the CDC’s school-reopening guidelines and publicly undermining the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Read the full story here.

Dozens of Latin American leaders, including presidents, test positive

HAVANA — The COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping through the leadership of Latin America, with two more presidents and powerful officials testing positive this week for the new coronavirus, adding a destabilizing new element to the region’s public health and economic crises.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, 65, announced his illness Tuesday and is using it to publicly extol hydroxychloroquine, the unproven malaria drug that he’s been promoting as a treatment for COVID-19, and now takes himself.

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Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus’s severity, while deaths mounted rapidly in the country. Eraldo Peres/Associated Press, file

Bolivian interim President Jeanine Añez, 53, made her own diagnosis public Thursday, throwing her already troubled political propects into further doubt.

And in Venezuela, 57-year-old socialist party chief Diosdado Cabello said Thursday on Twitter that he, too, had tested positive, at least temporarily sidelining a larger-than-life figure considered the second-most-powerful person in the country.

Another powerful figure, Venezuela’s Oil Minister Tarek El Aissami, announced Friday he has the bug.

An Associated Press review of official statements from public officials across Latin America found at least 42 confirmed cases of new coronavirus in leaders ranging from presidents to mayors of major cities, along with dozens, likely hundreds, of officials from smaller cities and towns. In most cases, high-ranking officials recovered and are back at work. But several are still struggling with the disease.

Read the full story on the surge in Latin America here.

Florida’s curve no longer flat amid new surge of virus cases

MIAMI — Fighting a surge in coronavirus cases in the spring, Florida appeared to be “flattening the curve” as theme parks and sugar sand beaches closed and residents heeded orders to stay home. Now, it’s almost as if that never happened.

Bars, restaurants and gyms began reopening in May — critics said it was too soon — and weeks later, the Sunshine State became one of the country’s virus hot spots, experiencing an alarming surge in cases. On Thursday, officials reported 120 deaths in one day, the highest number since the previous record of 113 in early May.

“We thought maybe we could keep this thing under wraps. And that worked for a little bit of time,” Dr. Jason Wilson, an E.R. physician at Tampa General Hospital, said during a conversation with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor that was livestreamed Wednesday on Facebook. “But eventually … it caught up to us.”

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A health care worker works at a COVID-19 testing site sponsored by Community Heath of South Florida at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Clinica Campesina Health Center, during the coronavirus pandemic, Monday, July 6 in Homestead, Fla. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

From Miami to Jacksonville and Tampa, hospitals in June and July have seen their numbers of coronavirus patients triple, with new patients outpacing those being discharged. A record 435 newly hospitalized patients were reported Friday to have tested positive for the virus, though they include people seeking hospital care for other reasons and are not all symptomatic.

More than 45% of intensive care units in Florida hospitals were at capacity or had fewer than 10% of their beds available as of Friday, the state Agency for Health Care Administration reported on its website.

Read the full story here.

Britain eases up on travel restrictions for dozens of countries – but not U.S. visitors

The British government rolled back pandemic travel restrictions Friday on arrivals from 75 countries and British overseas territories – but visitors from the United States will still be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Under the new policy, first formulated last month, travelers entering Britain from dozens of countries, including former novel coronavirus hotspots, will no longer face a requirement to self-isolate. The lightened rules free up residents of Britain to travel to the countries in question, as they will not face a requirement to isolate upon return.

Italy and Spain, once the epicenters of the pandemic in Europe, along with countries like Japan and South Korea that pushed back their outbreaks early, are on the green list. But not all parts of the United Kingdom have adopted the exact same rules: Scotland will still require arrivals from Spain to self-quarantine for 14-days, for example, while England, Wales and Northern Ireland will not.

Restrictions on travelers from the United States remain in place. U.S. visitors will still be required to undertake mandatory self-isolation or risk a $1,245 fine. Other destinations where the virus is surging, including Brazil and Russia, will continue to require self-isolation, as will China, the initial epicenter.

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In this file photo dated Monday, June 8, 2020, passengers wearing face masks arrive at London’s Heathrow Airport. AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File

The rollback comes as Britain slowly reopens after months of lockdown. Pubs across the country opened on July 4 and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pushing for most students to return to the classroom in the fall.

Read the full story here.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer toughens mask mandate and orders businesses to reject scofflaws

In Michigan, no shirt, no shoes — and now, no mask — means no service, according to an executive order that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued Friday.

The order toughens the state’s existing mask-wearing requirements, most notably with a change that orders businesses to deny service or entry to those who refuse to cover their face.

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as she addresses the state during a speech in Lansing, Mich. in June. Michigan Office of the Governor via AP, Pool

Whitmer said the new order was necessary due to “spotty compliance” with her previous orders, as well as the state’s “stalled” progress on containing the virus. As of Thursday, Michigan was averaging 484 new cases a day, according to data tracked by The Post; while the number is less than a third of the state’s average daily total when Michigan’s outbreak peaked in April, the rate of new infections has been steadily creeping upward since mid-June.

“Wearing a mask is an effective and low-cost way to protect ourselves and our families from a deadly disease. It should be — and is — the responsibility of every Michigander,” Whitmer wrote.

When the order takes effect on July 13, anyone over 5 years old will be required to wear a face covering when indoors at any public place, as well as when they are in crowded outdoor spaces and cannot consistently maintain six feet of social distancing.

The order’s most significant aspect is the requirement for businesses to refuse customers who do not wear masks. Businesses that fail to comply could face a temporary suspension of their license, while individuals would face misdemeanor charges, but not jail time.

The order builds in several exceptions, including for individuals while they are eating or drinking inside a business following guidelines, for those with medical limitations, for people leading worship services or appearing on broadcasts, and for when exercise such as swimming interferes with wearing a mask.

Experts call for shutdowns as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations spike in some states

With coronavirus caseloads and hospitalizations soaring, many hard-hit states are facing pressure to reimpose stay-at-home orders. Harvard Global Health Institute researchers say shutdowns should be mandatory in Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana and South Carolina, where severe outbreaks are unfolding. At least another 15 states should be weighing the possibility, they say.

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said this week that some parts of the country reopened too quickly — and that “any state that is having a serious problem … should seriously look at shutting down.” But some officials worry that a return to restrictive measures could lead to dire economic consequences and trigger a significant backlash.

A trainer works with a client at a Phoenix gym on July 2. The gym remained open even though Arizona’s governor had ordered them to close. Associated Press/Ross D. Franklin

“People are tired of this, and they’re tired of the same message and they’re tired of this disease,” said Karen Landers, the assistant state health officer in Alabama, which set a single-day record for new coronavirus infections Thursday. “The weather looks nice and it’s, ‘Why should I be worried about sickness?’”

Trump says Fauci is ‘a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes’

President Trump on Thursday called Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, a “nice man” but said he has “made a lot of mistakes” handling the coronavirus pandemic.

During a nighttime phone interview on Fox News, host Sean Hannity asked Trump about the surge in cases, particularly in the South and West, and comments Fauci recently made about states experiencing large increases.

Trump started to make a point about the mortality rate in the United States, but before finishing his thought, he pivoted to Fauci.

“Dr. Fauci is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes, like, you don’t have to ban them coming in from very infected China. I did it anyway, and we saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Trump said, referring to a move early in the pandemic to restrict travel from China.

Trump then appeared to criticize health experts more broadly.

“They have been wrong about a lot of things, including face masks,” he said. “Maybe they are wrong, maybe not. But a lot of them said, don’t wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. And now they are saying, wear a mask.”

Early in the outbreak, some health experts advised against members of the general public wearing masks, given a shortage among health personnel.

Fauci this week made headlines by saying on a podcast that “any state that is having a serious problem … should seriously look at shutting down.” He declined to name specific states, saying he was not interested in blaming people.

After lobbying efforts, U.S. Catholic Church won $1.4 billion in virus aid

NEW YORK — The U.S. Roman Catholic Church used a special and unprecedented exemption from federal rules to amass at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid, with many millions going to dioceses that have paid huge settlements or sought bankruptcy protection because of clergy sexual abuse cover-ups.

The church’s haul may have reached — or even exceeded — $3.5 billion, making a global religious institution with more than a billion followers among the biggest winners in the U.S. government’s pandemic relief efforts, an Associated Press analysis of federal data released this week found.

Houses of worship and faith-based organizations that promote religious beliefs aren’t usually eligible for money from the U.S. Small Business Administration. But as the economy plummeted and jobless rates soared, Congress let faith groups and other nonprofits tap into the Paycheck Protection Program, a $659 billion fund created to keep Main Street open and Americans employed.

By aggressively promoting the payroll program and marshaling resources to help affiliates navigate its shifting rules, Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools and other ministries have so far received approval for at least 3,500 forgivable loans, Associated Press found.

Read the full story.

CDC feels pressure from Trump as rift grows over coronavirus response

As the country enters a frightening phase of the pandemic with new daily cases surpassing 57,000 on Thursday, the CDC, the nation’s top public health agency, is coming under intense pressure from President Trump and his allies, who are downplaying the dangers in a bid to revive the economy ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election. In a White House guided by the president’s instincts, rather than by evidence-based policy, the CDC finds itself forced constantly to backtrack or sidelined from pivotal decisions.

The latest clash between the White House and its top public health advisers erupted Wednesday, when the president slammed the agency’s recommendation that schools planning to reopen should keep students’ desks six feet apart, among other steps to reduce infection risks. In a tweet, Trump — who has demanded schools at all levels hold in-person classes this fall — called the advice “very tough & expensive.”

Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield Redfield, with yellow tie at center, listens to the president in a July 7 roundtable discussion about reopening schools. Washington Post/Jabin Botsford

“While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Trump tweeted Wednesday. The CDC was already planning to issue new guidelines in the coming days. But Vice President Pence on Wednesday explicitly tied the effort to Trump’s ire.

“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence told reporters. “And that’s the reason next week the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools.”

Analysts say the deepening divide is undermining the authority of one of the world’s premier public health agencies, which previously led fights against malaria, smallpox and HIV/AIDS. Amid the worst public health crisis in a century, the CDC has in recent months altered or rescinded recommendations on topics including wearing masks and safely reopening restaurants and houses of worship as a result of conflicts with top administration officials.

Read the full story.

Belgium to make indoor mask wearing mandatory

BRUSSELS — Wearing a face mask will become mandatory from Saturday in Belgian shops, cinemas, entertainment venues and other indoor spaces.

The Belgian government said the decision was made following a meeting of politicians and experts in charge of the lockdown exit strategy who decided to follow recommendations issued by the Health Ministry’s scientific advisory body.

The compulsory use of masks already implemented on public transportation will be extended to conference centers, places of worships, museums and libraries.

Masks remain optional for children under the age of 12 in all circumstances.

The government said places that won’t respect the decision could be shut down, while Belgian residents who won’t follow the new guidelines will face penalties.

Belgium has been hard hit by the pandemic, with 9,781 deaths recorded in the small country with 11 million inhabitants. The number of infections has however nosedived over the past two months, with about 85 new cases recorded every day over the past week.

Virus cases increase in Tokyo

TOKYO — Tokyo has found 243 new cases of the coronavirus, surpassing 200 for a second day in a row and setting a new record.

The numbers reported Friday are fueling concerns about the spread of infections in the Japanese capital, where people are encouraged to pursue social and economic activity while taking safety precautions.

Friday’s record daily increase exceeds the 224 reported the day before, which was the highest since April 17 when Japan was under a state of emergency that ended in late May.

Businesses have largely returned to usual and people are now commuting on packed trains again. The number of daily cases in Tokyo started rising back in late June.


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