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

HELENA, Mont. — A Montana county became the latest battleground in the debate over face masks after local residents pushed back against stricter rules in a virtual face-off with public health officials.

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A woman walks out of a liquor store past a sign requesting its customers to wear a mask Tuesday in Santa Monica, Calif. In some Western states, residents are pushing back as public health officials try to impose stricter mask rules. Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The scene in Gallatin County located near Yellowstone National Park echoed confrontations that have played out in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming where local officials imposed new mask rules and were met with fierce resistance from those citing Constitutional reasons against wearing them.

Mask opponents in Gallatin County sent hundreds of written comments and dominated a six-hour virtual hearing largely focused on whether to adopt a local mask mandate. That didn’t stop health officials from approving measures Friday that go further than a statewide rule issued by Democratic Montana Gov. Steve Bullock last week.

Some choked up as they spoke Friday. Two women said that wearing a mask triggers memories of sexual abuse they experienced as children, and that they have faced backlash for not wearing a mask in public. Bobbi Robinson, of Belgrade, said she has experienced panic attacks while grocery shopping with a mask.

“Having a mask on my face suffocates me just as the pedophile suffocated me,” Robinson said.

Both the statewide and local mandate include exemptions for those with medical conditions.

Health experts say masks can prevent the spread of the coronavirus by catching virus-containing respiratory droplets expelled when people exhale or cough. Face coverings are promoted as vital to the resumption of economic activity and the reopening of schools.

The Gallatin County mandate will require students in grades 6-12 to wear a face covering in all schools, including private schools. It also requires mask use on construction sites and in lines outside of businesses.

Friday’s meeting was held after an in-person meeting was canceled when members of the public refused to observe social distancing. Around 200 people gathered at the original meeting, which could only accommodate 100 people keeping distance, according to county officials. Some chanted, “my body, my choice” when the sheriff asked them to leave.

“Some people seemed more interested in disruption and hostility,” said Matt Kelley, Gallatin County health officer.

Massachusetts issues strict new rules on travelers to state

BOSTON — Travelers to Massachusetts, including residents returning home after out-of-state trips, face $500-per-day fines if they refuse to comply with a new executive order requiring them to quarantine for 14 days to control the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday.

The order that takes effect Aug. 1 comes at the height of the summer tourist season and not long before tens of thousands of college students typically flock to the state for the start of fall classes.

There are exemptions for people coming from low-risk states, which currently include New York, New Jersey, Maine and Hawaii, and for people who can prove they have had a negative COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours prior to arriving in Massachusetts, the Republican governor said at a news conference.

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Sightseers disembark following a ride on one of the iconic duck boats after tours resumed, Monday, July 13 in Boston. AP Photo/Steven Senne

There are also exemptions for people simply passing through the state, for people who commute across state lines for work, and for people traveling to Massachusetts for medical treatment or to comply with military orders.

Travelers and residents returning home must fill out a “Massachusetts Travel Form” that includes their contact information.

“Every traveler coming to Massachusetts, no matter where they are from, has a responsibility to keep COVID-19 out of the commonwealth,” Baker said.

Baker had previously issued guidance requiring out-of-state visitors to quarantine, but it had no penalty for violators.

The executive order is the result of an uptick in road traffic and airport traffic, including flights from hot spots Florida and California, state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said.

Airlines, passenger rail companies, bus companies, some travel agents, hotel companies and short-term rental companies have been informed of the rule and are expected to inform their customers, the governor said.

Birx warns Florida, Texas and California outbreaks ‘are essentially three New Yorks’

Almost three months since New York was at the peak of its outbreak, when it saw more than 500 single-day deaths, the United States is seeing the situation repeat itself as cases surge in Florida, Texas and California.

The three states combined recorded more than 500 deaths on Thursday; Florida and Texas also reached record highs for the weekly average of single-day deaths, according to data tracked by The Post.

“What we have right now are essentially three New Yorks with these three major states,” White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx said Friday during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show.

The United States recently surpassed 4 million cases as the outbreak intensifies in the south and west. Thursday’s nationwide total of new cases was 71,135, with the three hot-spot states alone accounting for more than a third of them.

“Today” show host Savannah Guthrie asked for Birx’s response to those who still doubt the virus’s threat and dismiss the crisis as overblown.

“It’s very serious,” Birx said. “And it’s very real.”

Fauci says he and his family are receiving ‘serious threats’ against their lives

As Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, helps to navigate the United States through its turbulent response to the coronavirus pandemic, his critics are targeting him with not only hate mail but death threats, he said on a Friday episode of CNN’s “The Axe Files.”

“It’s really a magnitude different now,” Fauci said, seeming somewhat bewildered by the level of vitriol. “Serious threats against me, against my family … my daughters, my wife — I mean, really? Is this the United States of America?”

Fauci now has a personal security detail assigned to him. Security around Fauci first increased in April after he faced a wave of threats as well as “unwelcome communication from fervent admirers,” The Post reported at the time.

Host David Axelrod noted that Fauci is no stranger to public health criticism; having done pioneering work on the AIDS crisis in the ’80s and ’90s, Fauci recalled protesters coming to his New York home and people writing letters calling him a “gay lover” and questioning why he would spend his time on the issue.

Fauci said he understands that people’s livelihoods have been hurt by shutdown measures, but called some of the reactions disturbing.

“As much as people inappropriately, I think, make me somewhat of a hero — and I’m not a hero, I’m just doing my job — there are people who get really angry at thinking I’m interfering with their life because I’m pushing a public-health agenda,” Fauci said.

Mandatory masks becoming the rule amid Europe’s virus uptick

ROME  — New rules on wearing masks in England came into effect Friday, with people going to shops, banks and supermarkets now required to wear face coverings, while Romania reported a record for daily infections and new cases nearly doubled in France.

Those in England can be fined as much as 100 pounds ($127) by police if they refuse. The British government had given mixed signals for weeks before deciding on the policy. Venues like restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers are exempt.

John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, says officers will be available as a last resort but that he hopes the public “will continue to do the right thing” to protect other citizens.

A small boy gets a ride on a bag at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany on Friday. Associated Press/Michael Probst

In Belgium, health authorities said a three-year old girl has died after testing positive for COVID-19 as new infections surged 89% from the previous week.

On Thursday, Belgian authorities beefed up restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus, including making masks mandatory in crowded outdoor public spaces. Belgium has been hard hit by the pandemic with 64,847 cases and 9,812 deaths recorded so far.

Overall, Europe has seen over 201,000 deaths in the pandemic, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll from coronavirus worldwide is much higher than all reported numbers, due to limited testing and other issues.

Read the full story.

South Texas county may send the sickest patients home to die as cases soar

Doctors in a Texas county that sits on the border with Mexico may be forced to send the sickest coronavirus patients home to die as its hospital fills beyond capacity, officials said this week.

Jose Vasquez, the Starr County health authority, said at a news conference this week that new guidelines put in place Thursday will allow medical workers to decide which patients should receive limited resources and which patients are too sick to treat.

Even after expanding its capacity to care for an influx of covid-19 patients, Starr County Memorial Hospital only has 29 intensive care unit beds, and it reported having 28 critically ill patients earlier this week. Some patients have been flown to hospitals farther away to receive treatment.

“The situation is desperate,” Vasquez said. “For all of those patients that most certainly do not have any hope of improving, they are going to be better taken care of within their own family in the love of their own home rather than thousands of miles away dying alone in a hospital room.”

View from the Starr County Texas town of Roma over the Rio Grande into Mexico. Carol M. Highsmith photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Starr County had implemented strict coronavirus restrictions during the early days of the pandemic. But cases began to rise swiftly when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) reopened the state, Vasquez said.

The county attributes the rise to social gatherings, including parties, July 4 celebrations and visits to movie theaters, restaurants and other public spaces.

A local judge said he is drafting a new stay-at-home order and urged county residents to take precautions, such as practicing social distancing and wearing masks in public.

“Unfortunately, Starr County Memorial Hospital has limited resources and our doctors are going to have to decide who receives treatment, and who is sent home to die by their loved ones,” Judge Eloy Vera said on Facebook on Wednesda

3-year-old Belgian girl dies after testing positive for coronavirus

BRUSSELS — Belgian health authorities say a 3-year old girl has died after testing positive for the coronavirus amid a surge of infections in the country.

The announcement Friday came a day after Belgium decided to reinforce restriction measures to slow the spread of the virus, including mandatory masks in crowded outdoor public spaces.

The girl suffered from several severe associated diseases, according to a statement released by health authorities. She is believed to be the youngest person to die from COVID-19 complications in Belgium after a 12-year-old passed away in March.

Belgium has been hard hit by the coronavirus, with 64,847 cases and 9,812 deaths.

The average infection rate has largely increased over the past two weeks and the number of new infections went up 89% from the previous week from July 14-20.

WHO official says immunity to the coronavirus must be 50-60% before any hope of herd immunity

LONDON — The chief scientist at the World Health Organization estimates that about 50% to 60% of the population will need to be immune to the coronavirus for there to be any protective “herd immunity” effect.

Herd immunity is usually achieved through vaccination and occurs when most of a population is immune to a disease, blocking its continued spread.

During a social media event on Friday, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said that studies done from some countries hit hard by COVID-19 show that about 5% to 10% of people now have antibodies, though in some countries, it has been as high as 20%.

She says: “As there are waves of this infection going through countries, people are going to develop antibodies and those people will hopefully be immune for sometime so they will also act as barriers and brakes to the spread.”

Other experts have estimated that as much as 70% to 80% of the population need to have antibodies before there is any herd immunity effect.

In the pandemic’s earlier stages, countries including Britain proposed achieving herd immunity as an outbreak response strategy. But Swaminathan pointed out that achieving this effect with a vaccine is much safer than letting the virus rip through the population.

She says that to achieve herd immunity through natural infection, you need to have several waves and you will see the morbidity and mortality that we see now.

New mask rules go into effect in England

LONDON — New rules on wearing masks in England have come into force, with people going to shops, banks and supermarkets now required to wear face coverings.

Police can hand out fines of 100 pounds ($127) if people refuse, but authorities are hoping that peer pressure will prompt compliance.

The move had been controversial, with the government offering mixed signals on the matter for weeks before coming up with a policy.

Guidance was issued Thursday, which says people should “assume” it is standard to wear a face covering when visiting a hospital, care home or community health care setting.

John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, says officers will be available as a last resort but that he hopes the public “will continue to do the right thing and wear face coverings in stores to help protect fellow citizens to minimize the spread of the virus.”

The are some exceptions to the new rules, with venues like restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers exempt.

Other exemptions to face coverings include children under 11, people with breathing problems and people who can’t wear a mask because of a disability.

Germany’s contract tracing app has teething problems

BERLIN — The German government says a new update to the country’s coronavirus tracing app has addressed a problem on many smartphones that reportedly resulted in some users receiving infection warnings late or not at all.

Germany’s Corona-Warn-App has been downloaded more than 15.5 million times since its launch last month. If someone using it tests positive for COVID-19, they can inform others who were in close proximity for at least 15 minutes that they, too, might be infected.

On Thursday evening, the Bild newspaper reported that automatic warning notifications didn’t work properly on some Android phones in the first five weeks because the app’s background update function switched off automatically to save power when the app wasn’t open.

The Health Ministry said Friday that the latest version of the app allows users to activate the background update function more easily.

South Korean baseball fans can return to the stands

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will allow baseball fans to return to the stands beginning Sunday as health authorities outlined a phased process to bring back spectators in professional sports amid the COVID-19 epidemic.

Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho also said fans will be allowed at professional soccer games starting on Aug. 1. However, professional golf tournaments will continue without galleries at least until late August, he said.

Both baseball and soccer teams will be initially allowed to sell only 10% of seats for each game and fans must register with smartphone QR codes for contract-tracing purposes if necessary. Fans will be banned from eating food and drinking beer, and discouraged from excessive shouting, singing and cheering during the game.

South Korea’s baseball and soccer leagues returned to action in May without fans in the stands. Seats have been covered with cheering banners, dolls or pictures of fans as teams tried to mimic a festive atmosphere.

South Korea reported 41 new virus cases Friday, 28 of them local infections and 13 from overseas. South Korea has been reporting roughly 20-60 cases every day since it eased rigid social distancing rules in early May.

Australian contact tracers to be aided by military

MELBOURNE, Australia — The premier of Australia’s COVID-19 hot spot, Victoria state, says the military will be used to bolster contact-tracing efforts.

Premier Daniel Andrews said Friday that if someone who is a newly diagnosed coronavirus case does not answer after being telephoned twice, soldiers will accompany a health official to the infected person’s home for a contact-tracing interview on the doorstep.

Anyone who is not at home will likely be fined for failing to home quarantine while awaiting a negative test result. Previously, failure to contact an infected person by phone was not followed up with a house call.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said all states and territories had eradicated community transmission except for the most populous, New South Wales and Victoria states.

“There will always be cases that come because Australia has not completely shut itself off from the world. To do so would be reckless,” Morrison said.

Victoria recorded 300 new cases on Friday and New South Wales seven, both declines from the previous day.

China continues to see clusters develop

BEIJING — Chinese officials have reported two confirmed coronavirus cases in a northeastern province as China continues to see infection clusters develop even though it has largely contained the virus in most of the country.

Authorities in Liaoning province have closed theaters, night clubs and indoor tourist attractions trying to stem further infections.

The Liaoning infections mark China’s latest cluster after one in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang earlier this month. That outbreak, focused on the regional capital of Urumqi, has infected dozens of people and officials have curbed travel and ordered widespread testing.

Elsewhere, China has largely contained the virus, with major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai opening up to increased economic activity and social interaction.


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