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

NEW YORK — Racial disparities in the U.S. coronavirus epidemic extend to children, according to two sobering government reports released Friday.

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Health care workers prepare a COVID-19 test sample for a self-administered test at a center in Miami last month. Racial disparities in the U.S. coronavirus epidemic extend to children, according to two government reports released Friday. David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP

One of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports looked at children with COVID-19 who needed hospitalization. Hispanic children were hospitalized at a rate eight times higher than white kids, and Black children were hospitalized at a rate five times higher, it found.

The second report examined cases of a rare virus-associated syndrome in kids. It found that nearly three-quarters of the children with the syndrome were either Hispanic or Black, well above their representation in the general population.

The coronavirus has exposed racial fractures in the U.S. health care system, as Black, Hispanic and Native Americans have been hospitalized and killed by COVID-19 at far higher rates than other groups.

Meanwhile, the impact of the virus on children has become a political issue. President Trump and some other administration officials have been pushing schools to reopen, a step that would allow more parents to return to work and the economy to pick up.

On Wednesday, Facebook deleted a post by Trump for violating its policy against spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. The post featured a link to a Fox News video in which Trump says children are “virtually immune” to the virus.

Read the full story here.

Georgia school reverses suspension of teen who shared photo of packed hallway

A Georgia high school has lifted the suspension of at least one student who shared images of her crowded high school hallway jammed with mostly maskless peers, according to the student and her mother.

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In this photo posted on Twitter, students crowd a hallway on Tuesday at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga. The district says it is encouraging mask use, but isn’t requiring it. Twitter via Associated Press

Lynne Watters told The Washington Post on Friday morning that North Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga., had ended her daughter’s suspension.

“The principal just said that they were very sorry for any negative attention that this has brought upon her, and that in the future they would like for her to come to the administration with any safety concerns she has,” Watters said in a text message. “[The principal confirmed that she will have no disciplinary action on her record and she can return to school on Monday.”

Her daughter, Hannah Watters, 15, was one of at least two North Paulding High School students who were suspended earlier in the week when she and another student shared images and video of the school’s crowded interior on the first and second days of its first week back in session.

Hannah tweeted her news Friday morning, thanking everyone who supported her. She said that she could return to school Monday.

Watters said her daughter would be more than happy to work with the school’s administration moving forward.

It’s unclear if the other student had his suspension removed.

Read the full story about Georgia here.

Harleys everywhere, masks nowhere, as South Dakota rally draws thousands 

STURGIS, S.D. — Thousands of bikers poured into the small South Dakota city of Sturgis on Friday as the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally rumbled to life despite fears it could lead to a massive coronavirus outbreak.

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Thousands of bikers rode through the streets for the opening day of the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle rally Friday in Sturgis, S.D. Stephen Groves/Associated Press

The rally could become one of the largest public gatherings since the pandemic began, with organizers expecting 250,000 people from all over the country to make their way through Sturgis during the 10-day event. That would be roughly half the number of previous years, but local residents — and a few bikers — worry that the crowds could create a “super-spreader” event.

Many who rode their bikes into Sturgis on Friday expressed defiance at the rules and restrictions that have marked life in many locales during the pandemic. People rode from across the country to a state that offered a reprieve from coronavirus restrictions, as South Dakota has no special limits on indoor crowds, no mask mandates and a governor who is eager to welcome visitors and the money they bring.

Bikers rumbled past hundreds of tents filled with motorcycle gear, T-shirts and food. Harley-Davidson motorcycles were everywhere but masks were almost nowhere to be seen, with an Associated Press reporter counting fewer than 10 in a crowd of thousands over a period of several hours.

For Stephen Sample, who rode his Harley from Arizona, the event was a break from the routine of the last several months, when he’s been mostly homebound or wearing a mask when he went to work as a surveyor.

“I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to be cooped up all my life either,” he said.

Still, Sample, who is 66, feared what could happen if he caught COVID-19 at the rally. He said he was trying to avoid indoor bars and venues, where he felt the risk of infection was greater. But on the opening day of the rally, he said he ate breakfast at an indoor diner.

As Sample weighed the risks of navigating the crowds, the same thrill-seeking that attracted him to riding motorcycles seemed to win out.

“I think we’re all willing to take a chance,” he said.

Read the full story about Sturgis here.

Ohio governor tests negative for virus after first testing positive 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday after testing positive earlier in the day before he was to meet with President Trump, according to a statement from his office.

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Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and his wife, Fran, walk into their residence after he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the day Thursday in Bexley, Ohio. A different kind of test later showed him to be negative. Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

His wife, Fran DeWine, also tested negative, as did staff members. They underwent a different type of test in Columbus; one considered to be more accurate than the rapid-result test which showed DeWine to be positive for COVID-19 just ahead of a planned meeting with Trump in Cleveland.

The conflicting results underscore the problems with both kinds of tests and are bound to spur more questions about them. Many people in the U.S. can’t get lab results on the more accurate version for weeks, rather than the few hours it took the governor to find out.

The governor and first lady plan to undergo another test Saturday, according to the statement.

DeWine, an early advocate among Republicans of wearing masks and other pandemic precautions, said he took a test arranged by the White House in Cleveland as part of standard protocol before he was to meet Trump at an airport. He had planned to join the president on a visit to the Whirlpool Corp. plant in northwest Ohio.

Instead, he received the news he tested positive, called his wife, and returned to central Ohio where he took the other test that showed him to be negative.

The positive result from the first test was “a big surprise to our family,” DeWine said at a late afternoon news conference broadcast from his porch on his farm in Cedarville in southwestern Ohio, where he planned to quarantine for 14 days.

Dewine, 73, said he didn’t know how he would have contracted the coronavirus and that he’s already been spending much of his time at his farm, keeping his distance from family members and staff.

DeWine said he feels fine with no symptoms. His only health concern is asthma he’s had since he was a teenager, for which he uses an inhaler daily.

He said he’d already received some “not nice texts” Thursday from people claiming the news proves that mask-wearing is pointless.

“The lesson that should come from this is that we’re all human, this virus is everywhere, this virus is very tough,” DeWine said before the negative result. “And yes you can contract it even when you’re being very, very careful and even when you’re wearing a mask.”

But, the governor said, “the odds are dramatically better” of avoiding a positive test if people wear a mask.

Trump offered DeWine his best wishes and said “he’ll be fine” in remarks after arriving at the airport, where he was greeted by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who tested negative.

Health officials struggle to keep politics, vaccines separate in public eye

WASHINGTON — Federal health officials, worried about shaky confidence in a possible coronavirus vaccine, this week launched a public campaign to try to reassure Americans that regulators won’t clear any vaccine that isn’t vetted for safety and effectiveness. But President Donald Trump immediately demonstrated the difficulty of divorcing the issue from politics by asserting Thursday that a vaccine might be available “right around” Nov. 3, or Election Day.

Top Food and Drug Administration officials, in published articles and interviews, said they would approve a vaccine only after rigorous review and would consult an outside advisory committee – something that lawmakers and nongovernment scientists have been clamoring for. Agency officials insisted decisions will be based “solely on good science and data.” They got backup from Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, who told Reuters the FDA won’t be swayed by political considerations. He has said a vaccine might be ready by early next year.

But Trump, who has a history of leaning on, and sometimes abusing, government scientists, told Geraldo Rivera on Thursday: “I’m rushing it. I am. I’m pushing everybody.” He said he was focused on saving lives, not on winning the election.

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FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, seen here with President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in April, insists vaccine decisions won’t be affected by politics. Associated Press/Alex Brandon

As officials race to stop the pandemic, they are increasingly worried that public skepticism could spur a substantial number of people to reject a vaccine, undermining the nation’s ability to return to some semblance of normal life. To try to counter those concerns, lawmakers and health experts are demanding the FDA adhere to stringent standards and be as open as possible in considering any vaccine.

But the FDA’s efforts to convince the public the agency will make sound, data-driven decisions have been complicated by the White House’s politicization of health and science issues, from the wearing of face masks and school reopenings to its advocacy of unproven treatments such as hydroxychloroquine. The FDA has itself played a role; it was roundly criticized for initially authorizing the anti-malarial drug that was touted by Trump for covid-19. It subsequently reversed the decision.

Bioethicists said that while the FDA’s effort to strengthen public faith in a vaccine is an important first step, the administration’s top scientists and regulators need to go further.

“You can’t have too many voices checking this decision – either to go or not go – given the crucial role that vaccines are going to play, given the political stakes and given the rising distrust of vaccination,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “It’s people worrying they’re going too fast, saying, ‘I don’t trust Trump, I don’t trust this whole process. ‘ There’s a huge number of people that are just not going to accept whatever FDA says as adequate.”

Illinois school district institutes dress code for remote learning, with no pajamas allowed

Remote learning theoretically has one major advantage for students: freedom from dress codes. But not in Springfield, Ill., where school district officials say that pajamas are off-limits for online instruction.

Students enrolled in virtual learning can’t be in bed while classes are happening, and ideally should be seated or a desk or a table, Springfield Public Schools’ handbook says. They should have their Web cameras turned on and focused on their faces, “not another part of the room.” And they should still comply with the districtwide dress code, which bans “extremely baggy” clothing, pants with holes above the knee, slippers, hats and pajama pants.

While some parents agree that wearing school-appropriate clothes could help children get in the right mind-set for learning, others have questioned the district’s priorities. “I made the decision for my kids to be at home and I don’t really see how any district can come in and say what my kid can’t wear in my house,” Elizabeth Ballinger told WCIA. “I think they have enough to worry about as opposed to what the kids are wearing. They need to make sure they’re getting educated.”

Teachers don’t necessarily disagree. Aaron Graves, the president of the Springfield Education Association, told the station that “the whole pajama thing is really at the bottom of our priority scale.” Making sure that children get a comprehensive education “whether they’re in their pajamas or tuxedo is really what’s important,” he said.

The district told WCIA that the policy will be enforced on a case-by-case basis, with potential consequences ranging from a conference with the student or their parents to a timeout.

Georgia teens suspended for sharing photos of crowded school hallways, most without masks

At least two North Paulding High School students who shared images of their jam-packed hallway full of their mostly maskless peers have been suspended, and the principal has warned other students about what could happen if they do the same.

North Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga., about an hour’s drive from Atlanta, was thrust into the national spotlight earlier this week when pictures and videos surfaced of its crowded interior on day one and two of its first week back. The images, which showed a sea of teens clustered close together with no face coverings, raised concerns over how the district is handling reopening schools during a global pandemic.

Facing a fierce online backlash, Paulding County Schools Superintendent Brian Otott told parents and guardians in a letter that the images “didn’t look good.” But he argued that they lacked context about the 2,000-plus student school, where masks are a “personal choice.”

Hannah Watters, 15, wore a mask as she captured the inside of her school. On Wednesday, she ended up with a five-day suspension for violating the district’s student code of conduct, BuzzFeed News reported. The rules bar students from using social media during the day or using recording devices without permission from an administrator.

“Not only did they open, but they have not been safe,” Watters told BuzzFeed News. “Many people are not following CDC guidelines because the county did not make these precautions mandatory.”

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In this photo posted on Twitter, students crowd a hallway, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga. The 30,000-student suburban Paulding County school district in suburban Atlanta resumed classes Monday with 70% of students returning for in-person classes five days a week, days after the principal at North Paulding announced some members of the football team had tested positive for COVID-19. The district says it is encouraging mask use, but isn’t requiring it. Twitter via Associated Press

The teen, who said she’d never before run afoul of the code of conduct, told the news outlet that she understood she broke the rules. But she also viewed her punishment as overly harsh.

Another anonymous student told BuzzFeed News that he too faced disciplinary action for the same reasons.

On Wednesday, Principal Gabe Carmona warned students about “consequences” if they copied Watters and the other student, according to audio obtained by CBS 46.

“Anything that’s going on social media that’s negative or alike without permission, photography, that’s video or anything, there will be consequences,” he told students over an intercom announcement.

Read the full story here.

‘We cannot stop people.’ 250,000 are expected at a South Dakota motorcycle rally.

Health officials are still warning against even small gatherings, and states with relatively low spread are ordering visitors from hot spots to self-quarantine.

But come Friday, about 250,000 people from across the country are still expected to start descending on a roughly 7,000-person community in South Dakota for one of the biggest motorcycle rallies in the world, a 10-day extravaganza so deeply rooted that Sturgis calls itself the City of Riders.

The mayor of Sturgis says there’s not much to do but encourage “personal responsibility,” set up sanitation stations and give out masks – though face coverings won’t be required.

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This Aug. 2, 2019 photo shows Heavy traffic on legendary Main Street in Sturgis, S.D., South Dakota, which has seen an uptick in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, is bracing to host hundreds of thousands of bikers for the 80th edition of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. More than 250,000 people are expected to attend the Aug. 7 to Aug. 16 rally in western South Dakota. (Jim Holland/Rapid City Journal via AP) Jim Holland/Rapid City Journal via Associated Press

“We cannot stop people from coming,” Mayor Mark Carstensen said Thursday on CNN.

Worried residents, however, say officials should have canceled the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in a state where Republican Gov. Kristi Noem resisted stay-at-home orders and mask rules – and last month welcomed another mass event, President Donald Trump’s Fourth of July weekend speech at the foot of Mount Rushmore. A city survey found that more than 60 percent of Sturgis residents wanted the event postponed, the Associated Press reported.

“This is a huge, foolish mistake to make to host the rally this year,” Sturgis resident Linda Chaplin warned city counselors earlier this summer, as a debate raged, according to the AP. “The government of Sturgis needs to care most for its citizens.”

Read the full story.

Hong Kong offers free testing for all residents

HONG KONG — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says the semi-autonomous Chinese city will offer free coronavirus testing for all its 7.5 million residents beginning in two weeks.

Lam says such universal testing will help gauge the level of transmission in the community, find those who may be carrying the virus but not showing symptoms and reassure the public.

She told reporters, “Put simply, anyone in the community who wants to do a test can take the test. We won’t care if they come from high-risk groups or not.”

Lam says tests would be carried out in a manner to avoid lines and maintain social distancing. Lam’s government has already cited such concerns as the reason for postponing elections for the city’s Legislative Council originally scheduled for September in what the opposition camp called a political move.

Hong Kong has been struggling to contain a new outbreak that has seen it adding around 100 new cases per day. The city has registered more than 3,800 cases with 46 deaths..

Two schools in Germany close, days after opening, because of virus

BERLIN — Officials in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have shut down two schools after new cases of coronavirus were confirmed only days after the northeastern German state became the country’s first to resume classes.

The dpa news agency reported Friday that a high school in Ludwigslust was shuttered after a teacher tested positive for the virus and a primary school in Graal-Mueritz was closed after a student was confirmed to have COVID-19.

The sparsely populated state has been Germany’s least affected by the pandemic, with 910 positive tests for COVID-19 and 20 virus-related deaths among its 1.6 million residents.

Schools fully reopened on Monday with no mask or distancing requirements, but with children divided into fixed groups for classes in an effort to compartmentalize possible outbreaks.

The development raises concerns as Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, prepares to send its 2.5 million students back to school next week. It has the country’s strictest guidelines, including a mask requirement at all times in school buildings.

Experts urge Spanish government to investigate why the country was hit so hard

MADRID — A group of 20 leading Spanish experts in public health and epidemiology are urging the government to undertake “an independent and impartial evaluation” of why the coronavirus pandemic has hit Spain so hard.

Spain is the western European country with most COVID-19 cases — 309,855, Johns Hopkins University figures show.

The Spanish scientists said in a letter published in the Lancet medical journal Friday that the government should appoint a panel of Spanish and foreign experts to evaluate what has happened.

They said potential explanations include lack of pandemic preparedness, a slow official response, an aging population and funding cuts in the public health system.

Swiss government makes deal with vaccine maker

GENEVA — The Swiss federal government has struck a deal with Moderna to supply Switzerland with 4.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine if the U.S. biotech firm successfully develops one.

The Federal Office of Public Health says the agreement aims “to guarantee Switzerland early access to the vaccine of Moderna” and is one of the first such deals by any government with the company.

An office statement on Thursday says the government wants to ensure that the Swiss population has rapid access to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. At the same time, it says Switzerland is supporting multilateral projects for the fair distribution of a future vaccine.

The Moderna deal would make it possible to vaccinate 2.25 million people, because expectations are that two doses would be needed, it said.

The Swiss government is also in talks with other vaccine companies and has already allocated 300 million Swiss francs (nearly $330 million) for purchases of COVID-19 vaccine. It did not specify the value of the Moderna deal.

Number of cruise ship passengers testing positive rises

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The number of people on a Norwegian cruise ship who have tested positive for the coronavirus has risen to 62.

Following the outbreak on the MS Roald Amundsen, the ship’s owner halted all cruises on Monday and Norway closed its ports to cruise ships for two weeks.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that during its two journeys last month, a total of 41 crew members and 21 passengers have tested positive. All the infected passengers are registered as living in Norway.

The cruise liner often acts like a local ferry, traveling from port to port along Norway’s west coast. Some passengers disembarked along the route and authorities fear they may have spread the virus to local communities.

Norwegian broadcaster NRK said Friday that Bent Martini, the ship owner Hurtigruten’s chief operating officer who was traveling on the infected ship when it docked in Tromsoe, had been temporarily discharged. It was not clear whether he tested positive.

Judge orders immigration officials to conduct weekly tests in California detention center

SAN FRANCISCO — A U.S. federal judge has ordered immigration officials to conduct weekly coronavirus testing for more than 100 men held at a California detention center.

Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco issued the temporary restraining order Thursday.

A lawyer tells the San Francisco Chronicle that nearly two dozen inmates and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield.

The judge says ICE has deliberately avoided universal testing out of concern that the agency would have to implement troublesome safety measures.

The Chronicle says ICE didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.


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