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

Florida’s largest teachers union sued top state officials Monday over an order mandating a return of in-person schooling, drawing the courts into an increasingly politicized nationwide debate over when and how kids can return to class amid the pandemic.

The suit from the Florida Education Association asked a judge to stop Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran from requiring the return of in-person schooling without first reducing class sizes and ensuring that educators have adequate protective supples.

The move came as confirmed cases of the coronavirus are increasing in many states, including Florida, raising fears in some quarters that a return to brick-and-mortar schools in the fall could put students and teachers at risk and exacerbate the spread of the virus. Others argue that reopening schools is a critical step in a return to normalcy.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives an update on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on July 10. In a lawsuit, the Florida Education Association is asking a judge to stop DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran from requiring the return of in-person schooling without reducing class sizes and ensuring that educators have adequate protective supples. Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP

The Florida teachers are asking the court to strike down an emergency order by Corcoran, saying it violates a requirement in the state constitution for safe and secure schools.

On Monday, the United States added more than 53,000 new cases and more than 350 new deaths – both below seven-day averages, though Monday typically sees lower figures than other days. Six states and Puerto Rico reported new highs for currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients, with Florida reporting close to 9,500 inpatients.

At the same time, hospitalizations appear to be leveling off in Texas and Arizona. The two states combined still account for more than 18,000 of the estimated 56,000 currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Read the full story here.

Big companies got coronavirus loans first, analysis shows

NEW YORK — Ever since the U.S. government launched its emergency lending program for small businesses on April 3, there have been complaints that bigger companies had their loans approved and disbursed more quickly.

There is now evidence to back up those complaints.

An Associated Press analysis of Small Business Administration’s $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program shows that nearly a third of the loans approved in the program’s first week ranged from $150,000 to $10 million, the maximum allowed. In a second round of funding that began April 27, such loans made up just 7.4 percent of the total.

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Two people walk past a closed retail store in Chicago. Almost one-third of the loans approved in the first week of PPP ranged from $150,000 to $10 million. Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The average loan size fell from $257,240 on April 10 to nearly $105,000 as of July 17, according to the SBA.

The PPP made very low-interest loans available to any business – or any franchisee of a business – with under 500 employees. The loans would be forgiven if most of the money was used to keep employees on payroll.

Larger companies with connections to major national or regional banks got priority treatment in the program’s initial phase, the data show, while many smaller businesses said they were turned away because the banks required them to have a checking account, a credit card and a previous loan to be considered.

Read the full story here.

Economic crisis, political turmoil collide as virus cases continue spiking

MIAMI — The desperate race to corral the coronavirus pandemic took on even greater urgency Monday as a burgeoning economic crisis collided with political turmoil. Even as the latest experimental vaccine appeared to show promise, politicians in Washington seemed far apart in finding a way to bring financial relief to Americans.

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Health care workers work at a walk-up COVID-19 testing site during the coronavirus pandemic Friday in Miami Beach, Fla. As of Monday in Florida, nearly 9,500 people were hospitalized, and just 18 percent of its ICU units were available. Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

As the first federal relief package was poised to come to an end, members of Congress were trying to come to agreement on another package to ease the financial burden Americans have dealt with as businesses have endured repeated shutterings or pauses since the virus first appeared on the continent.

The political turmoil was playing out as there appeared to be good news on the medical front, with scientists involved in the development of at least one vaccine reporting promising results in an early trial.

Even as Republicans were at odds with Democrats over how much money was enough, top Republican members of Congress also faced pushback from the White House. Republican leaders were expected to meet Monday with President Trump as the White House panned some $25 billion in the Republican ‘s plan that would be devoted to testing and tracing, said one Republican familiar with the discussions.

There remains a wide gulf between the Republican and Democratic packages, with Democrats passing in the House a $3 trillion package, while the Republican package came in at about $1 trillion.

The political stakes were high for all sides before the November election, especially with the nation having registered more coronavirus infections and deaths than any other country. With 17 straight weeks of unemployment claims topping 1 million, many households were facing a cash crunch and losing employer-backed health insurance coverage.

The number of cases was spiking in spots throughout the United States, stressing not just the economy and Americans’ psyche but also its medical system.

Read the full story here.

Judge to hear arguments in Atlanta mask mandate lawsuit

ATLANTA — A judge plans to hear arguments on an emergency request by Georgia’s governor to stop Atlanta from enforcing a mandate to wear a mask in public and other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic while a lawsuit on the issue is pending.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Ellerbe has scheduled a hearing for 11 a.m. Tuesday on Gov. Brian Kemp’s motion. Because of “the current public health crisis” the hearing will be held by videoconference, Ellerbe’s order says.

Georgia has tallied 143,123 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,173 deaths, with 3,036 hospitalized as of Sunday afternoon, the most recent figures available.

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp returns to his office after giving a coronavirus briefing at the Capitol Friday, July 17 in Atlanta. AP Photo/John Bazemore

In a lawsuit filed Thursday against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the members of the City Council, Kemp argues that local leaders don’t have the legal authority to change or ignore his executive orders.

“Governor Kemp must be allowed, as the chief executive of this state, to manage the public health emergency without Mayor Bottoms issuing void and unenforceable orders which only serve to confuse the public,” the lawsuit states.

Bottoms, who has said she and members of her family have tested positive for COVID-19, tweeted in response to the lawsuit that, “A better use of tax payer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing.” She also accused the governor of suing over recommended guidelines.

A pandemic-related executive order issued last Wednesday strongly encourages but does not require the wearing of face coverings, and suspends any local laws or rules that are more restrictive, the lawsuit says. Bottoms and some other mayors responded by saying they would continue to enforce local mask mandates.

Bottoms’ orders and statements to the press have created uncertainty and confusion, the lawsuit says, asserting that some restaurant owners believed they had to close their doors to avoid running afoul of city rules.

“Mayor Bottoms’ orders and actions present a high potential for irreparable harm to the citizenry, including but not limited to, lost wages and livelihood, business closures, and the opportunity for economic growth,” the suit says.

The lawsuit asks a judge to overturn Bottoms’ orders that are more restrictive than Kemp’s, block her from issuing any more such orders, instruct the City Council not to ratify Bottoms’ actions or adopt any ordinances inconsistent with Kemp’s orders, to force Bottoms not to make any public statements claiming she has authority that exceeds Kemp’s, and to require city officials to enforce “all provisions” of Kemp’s existing orders.

 

Delta will require maskless passengers to undergo screening or ‘reconsider travel’

Delta Air Lines passengers who refuse to wear masks will be required to complete a screening at the airport before boarding their plane, the carrier said.

The rule, which goes into effect Monday, appears to serve as the strictest enforcement mechanism yet for the airline’s requirement on face coverings, which had gone loosely enforced for months by Delta and many other companies.

Though most of the major U.S. carriers had required all passengers to cover their faces as early as May, a slew of incidents since then have indicated that rules were being ignored. Delta and two other airlines admitted their flight attendants had been told not to enforce the policy.

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A lone person works at the Delta airlines check-in desk at McCarran International airport in Las Vegas in April. AP Photo/John Locher, File

The company’s new screenings, which can take up to an hour, are aimed specifically at all those passengers who say they must travel but cannot cover their faces because of health conditions.

But the screenings are nonetheless a second resort: All customers are encouraged to wear a mask on board, Delta said, or to “reconsider travel” if a health condition gets in the way.

Passengers who do not apply for the screening will be required to cover their faces at every “touchpoint” at the airport, from check-in desks to jet bridges. The only exception made is during meals.

“Medical research tells us that wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to reduce the COVID-19 infection rate,” a spokesperson for the airline said in a statement to The Washington Post.

On its website, Delta warned that anyone who falsely claims a disability or health condition during the screening may be banned from flights until the airline’s mask requirement is lifted.

Last month, an industry trade group said U.S. airlines would begin asking travelers to submit to coronavirus health questionnaires at check-in.

Oxford coronavirus vaccine safe, promising, according to Phase 1 results

LONDON — An Oxford University group and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, who together are developing a leading vaccine candidate against the novel coronavirus, reported in a medical journal on Monday that their Phase 1 human trial showed their vaccine to be safe and that it stimulates the body to produce both antibodies and white blood cells to fight off infection.

The study of 1,077 volunteers was described as very promising. The report in the British medical journal The Lancet suggested that so far the vaccine appeared safe and was able to conjure a promising immune response.

At this early stage, the vaccine has not proven itself to protect people from infection or illness.

But with hopes soaring that vaccines will soon emerge to quiet the global pandemic, Britain and the United States have already ordered millions of doses of the Oxford vaccine.

Read the full story here.

Bahamas closes borders to U.S. tourists 

Less than three weeks after reopening its borders to international visitors, the Bahamas on Sunday announced that it is closing all of its airports and seaports to tourists from the United States, effective Wednesday.

Bahamasair, the country’s national carrier, will cease all outgoing flights to the United States immediately, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in a national address Sunday.

Outgoing commercial flights will still be permitted to accommodate visitors scheduled to leave the Bahamas after Wednesday, he said. Visitors from Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union will still be permitted to visit as long as they can show proof of a negative COVID-19 RT PCR test from an accredited laboratory taken within 10 days of their arrival. Also allowed under the new order: private international flights and charters and pleasure crafts.

“Regrettably, the situation here at home has already deteriorated since we began the reopening of our domestic economy,” said Minnis, who has been serving as the island nation’s acting health minister since May. “It has deteriorated at an exponential rate since we reopened our international borders.”

On Sunday, the Bahamas Ministry of Health registered 15 new cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, for a total tally of 153 cases, Minnis said. Of the total, 49 new infections have been recorded since the country’s borders fully reopened on July 1. And of that number, 31 have been registered on the island of Grand Bahama, which had been COVID-19 free for a little over two months and is still recovering from last year’s devastating hurricane.

Read the rest of the story here.

Putin backs postponing WWII commemoration

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has supported the idea to postpone until next year a mass event marking the 75th anniversary of the World War II defeat of Nazi Germany, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Immortal Regiment, a large-scale procession pf people carrying photographs of their relatives who died during the war, traditionally takes place in many Russian cities on May 9, Victory Day — the country’s most important national holiday.

This year, Putin postponed it till July 26 in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Last week organizers suggested postponing it again, saying social distancing contradicts the spirit of the procession during which people stand “shoulder to shoulder” next to each other. The president on Monday supported the idea, saying that “events like this can’t be carried out at any cost.”

Russia reported over 777,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 12,000 deaths as of Monday.

Britain signs deal to buy 90 million doses of experimental vaccine

LONDON — British officials say they have signed a deal to buy 90 million doses of experimental coronavirus vaccines being developed by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and others.

The British government said in a statement Monday that it had secured access to a vaccine candidate being developed by a Pfizer and BioNTech, in addition to another experimental vaccine researched by Valneva. Britain had previously signed a deal with AstraZeneca to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine being tested by Oxford University, which is expected to announce further results later Monday.

“Millions of people could be vaccinated against coronavirus,” the government statement said, citing the three different vaccines it has now invested in.

Although it is still unclear which if any of the vaccines will ultimately prove effective against the virus, Britain and other rich countries are already investing in the vaccines to ensure there is enough manufacturing capacity to deliver any successful candidate. Vaccines typically take years to develop and more than a dozen are in the early stages of testing globally.

South African hospitals feeling strain

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s health minister says “no one should be turned (away) at the gate” for coronavirus care as public hospitals come under growing pressure from the pandemic.

The country now ranks fifth in the world in virus caseload with more than 364,000 cases and makes up more than half the confirmed infections in Africa. Deaths have surpassed 5,000.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told reporters that “there’s never going to be a time there’s pressure on any hospital” and said the number of beds will be increased and private hospitals will help.

He visited a new field hospital in Johannesburg, the country’s epicenter, that is meant to hold patients who need less intensive care. Already it has 150 people in isolation, nine in quarantine and 20 on oxygen, the Gauteng provincial health department said.

Face masks now required in France

PARIS — Face masks are now required in France’s supermarkets, shopping malls, banks, stores and indoor markets to curb worrisome signs that the coronavirus is making inroads again.

The measure took effect Monday. A fine of $155 can be levied against those who don’t comply.

Masks were already required in museums, on public transport, in cinemas, places of worship and other enclosed spaces open to the public.

The list is now being expanded to include stores, government offices open to the public, banks and covered markets.

France has reported more than 30,000 COVID-19-related deaths, nearly half of them in retirement homes for older adults. France brought down infections with a strict two-month lockdown but is now seeing signs that the virus is making a comeback.

The health minister, Olivier Veran, said Monday that one new source of infections appears to be families getting together for the summer vacation.

India reports more than 40K new cases

NEW DELHI — India reported more than 40,000 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday, a record high for the country.

The 40,425 new cases raised India’s total to 1,118,043, including 27,497 deaths.

The ministry said late Sunday that India’s coronavirus fatality rate — currently at 2.49% — is “progressively falling” due to an effective containment strategy and aggressive testing.

A country of 1.4 billion people, India has been conducting nearly 10,000 tests per million people. More than 300,000 samples are being tested every day now, compared to just a few hundred in March, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research, India’s top medical research body.

With a surge in infections in the past few weeks, local governments in India have been ordering focused lockdowns in high-risk areas.

China says it made more than 5,000 arrests

BEIJING — China says it arrested 5,370 people for various forms of illegal activity related to the coronavirus pandemic between January and June.

More than 40% were charged with fraud, the state prosecutor’s office announced Monday on its official microblog. Another 15% were charged with obstruction of law enforcement, with others accused of producing and selling fake and shoddy goods, creating public disturbances and transporting and selling endangered species.

China has strengthened protection for wild animals following the emergence of the virus, which has been linked to a wet market in the city of Wuhan and is believed to have possibly originated among bats before jumping to humans via an intermediary species such as the anteater-like pangolin.

South Korea optimistic that outbreak is being brought under control

SEOUL, South Korea— South Korea has reported its smallest daily jump in local COVID-19 transmissions in two months as health authorities express cautious optimism that the outbreak is being brought under control.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday still reported 26 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 22 that were tied to international arrivals.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said during a virus briefing that the four local transmissions represented the first time that such infections came below 10 since May 19. He continued to plead for vigilance, encouraging people to avoid crowded places or even stay at home during the summer holiday period.

Officials consider imported cases as a lesser threat than local transmissions because the country is mandating COVID-19 tests and enforcing two-week quarantines on all people arriving from abroad.

Victoria still in midst of lockdown

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state recorded a third daily COVID-19 tally below a record 428 cases reported last week, but the state government leader said on Monday it was too early to tell what impact a second lockdown was having.

Since 428 cases were reported on Friday, Victoria has recorded 217, 363 and 275 cases on consecutive days.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews expected to know on Wednesday what impact a lockdown on Australia’s second-largest city Melbourne and the neighoring semi-rural Mitchell Shire were having. The six-week lockdown will be two weeks old on Wednesday.

“It is a wicked enemy, it is unstable and until we bring some stability to this, I don’t think we’ll be able to talk about a trend,” Andrews said. “I’m certainly much happier to be able to report a lower number than a high one.”

Victoria had conducted more than 1.3 million coronavirus tests among a population of 6.5 million, which represented one of the highest testing rates in the world, he said.

Most students in the lockdown regions returned to online schooling at home after an extended vacation.

A retired judge began an inquiry on Monday into breaches of hotel quarantine in Melbourne that have been blamed for most if not all the new virus spread. Australian citizens and permanent residents are required to self-isolate in hotels for 14 days when they return from overseas.

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, reported 20 news cases on Monday.

Kentucky records nearly 1,000 new cases

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear reported 979 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, a daily record that he said should be a “wake-up call” for the state’s citizens to abide by mask and social distancing restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.

The Democratic governor announced the new cases, including 30 involving children 5 years old or younger, in a news release on Sunday.

“I have faith and I have trust in the people of Kentucky,” Beshear said. “But today and in the days ahead we’ve got to do a whole lot better. We’re going to have to take some more action.”

Beshear said there were at least 23,161 coronavirus cases in Kentucky as of 4 p.m., including the new cases reported on Sunday. The state’s public health commissioner said efforts would be made to confirm the accuracy of the results with some of the laboratories that submitted them.

“We typically have limited reporting on Sunday which makes today’s record-setting number of positives particularly alarming,” said Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Department of Public Health.

Beshear also reported three new deaths, raising the total to 670 Kentuckians lost to the virus.


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