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

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that he authorized shutting off utility services at a home in the Hollywood Hills that’s been the site of raucous parties despite a ban on large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that he has authorized the shutdown of utilities at a home in the Hollywood Hills that has been the site of large parties during the pandemic. Hans Gutknecht/The Orange County Register via Associated Press

“Despite several warnings, this house has turned into a nightclub in the hills, hosting large gatherings in flagrant violation of our public health orders,” Garcetti said. “The city has now disconnected utilities at this home to stop these parties that endanger our community.”

The city did not identify the home’s address or the owner.

Garcetti announced earlier this month that he would ask the city’s Department of Water and Power to shut off service to houses and businesses hosting parties.

With bars closed in town, large house parties can become “superspreaders” of COVID-19, Garcetti said.

The announcement came days after an August 3 party at a mansion where hundreds of people gathered without masks or social distancing. The party ended in a shooting that killed a woman and wounded two other people.

Medical equipment shortages could last years without strategic plan, experts warn

Shortages of personal protective equipment and medical supplies could persist for years without strategic government intervention, officials from health care and manufacturing industries have predicted.

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“I am very concerned about long-term PPE shortages for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Officials said logistical challenges continue seven months after the coronavirus reached the United States, as the flu season approaches and as some state emergency management agencies prepare for a fall surge in COVID-19 cases.

Although the disarray is not as widespread as it was this spring, hospitals said rolling shortages of supplies range from specialized beds to disposable isolation gowns to thermometers.

“A few weeks ago, we were having a very difficult time getting the sanitary wipes. You just couldn’t get them,” said Dr. Bernard Klein, chief executive of Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California, near Los Angeles. “We actually had to manufacture our own.”

This same dynamic has played out across a number of critical supplies in his hospital. First masks, then isolation gowns and now a specialized bed that allows nurses to turn COVID-19 patients onto their bellies – equipment that helps workers with what can otherwise be a six-person job.

Testing supplies ran short as the predominantly Latino community served by Providence Holy Cross was hit hard by COVID, and even as nearby hospitals could process 15-minute tests.

“If we had a more coordinated response with a partnership between the medical field, the government and the private industry, it would help improve the supply chain to the areas that need it most,” Klein said.

Klein said he expected to deal with equipment and supply shortages throughout 2021, especially as flu season approaches.

“Most people focus on those N95 respirators,” said Carmela Coyle, CEO of the California Hospital Association, an industry group that represents more than 400 hospitals across one of America’s hardest-hit states.

She said she believed COVID-19-related supply challenges will persist through 2022.

Iowa governor’s push to reopen schools descends into chaos

IOWA CITY, Iowa — An aggressive push by Iowa’s pro-Trump governor to reopen schools amid a worsening coronavirus outbreak has descended into chaos, with some districts and teachers rebelling and experts calling the scientific benchmarks used by the state arbitrary and unsafe.

The clash in the Midwest has illustrated in condensed form the tension between science and politics — and between economic concerns and health fears — that has characterized the nation’s response to the outbreak from the White House on down. The virus has devastated the U.S. economy and killed over 170,000 Americans.

“We’re about to see a tragedy occur in the state. And there’s not a lot we can do about it. That’s frightening,” said Sara Anne Willette of Ames, a parent and former math tutor who runs a website tracking state infection data.

At issue is Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ mandate in July that districts offer at least 50% classroom instruction.

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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds listens to a question during a news conference on the state’s guidance for returning to school in response to the coronavirus outbreak in Des Moines in July 2020. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File

The conflict intensified Wednesday when the statewide teachers union announced a lawsuit challenging the governor’s ability to make such decisions for local districts. The Iowa City school board, which like many others had planned to start the year fully online, voted to join the lawsuit.

In her order, the governor said districts where 15% or more of coronavirus tests were positive over the prior 14 days can request permission to move to online instruction for two weeks at a time.

Health experts say Reynolds’ 15% threshold is not based on science and is three times higher than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests is safe. The surgeon general has recommended a 10% limit.

States and local districts have set widely varying thresholds for reopening schools, but Iowa’s is among the highest anywhere.

“They decided they wanted to open schools and then set the threshold, rather than deciding what’s safe and meeting that target. They did it backwards,” said Eli Perencevich, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Iowa.

By contrast, New York City says schools can reopen if positivity rates are below 3%. Arizona has put its rate at 7%.

Read the full story here.

Hawaii won’t allow tourists until at least October

Travelers that gambled on planning a trip to Hawaii for later this year may need to rethink their timing. The state has officially delayed its reopening to mainland travelers until at least Oct. 1.

The move replaces a program that was set to allow entry with a negative test on Sept. 1 and comes after a recent surge in coronavirus cases that prompted the state to impose quarantine restrictions on inter-island flights between Kauai, Hawaii Island and Maui.

All residents and non-tourist visitors will continue to be subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, according to guidelines.

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A police officer arrives to tell people to leave Waikiki Beach in Honolulu in March. AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File

Officials say any potential new reopening date will be announced in advance to allow the islands’ hospitality and tourism staff time to prepare for an influx of visitors. Democratic Gov. David Ige made the delay official in a news conference on Tuesday, stating that the state “will continue to monitor the conditions here in Hawaii as well as key markets on the mainland to determine the appropriate start date for the pre-travel [covid-19] testing program.”

This is the second time Hawaii has delayed its reopening to out-of-state travelers in 2020, with reopening plans announced in June originally being pushed back to September.

“We want to welcome back our visitors once our state is ready to do so in a safe manner that will hopefully avoid the need to backtrack in the future,” said Chris Tatum, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA). “Once we receive details on the process and requirements from the Department of Transportation and the DOH, we will share that information with the visitor industry.”

The state has also imposed tighter restrictions on gathering sizes in lieu of a broader shutdown. Hawaii’s current total covid-19 case count is at 5,349, with the highest daily spike in new cases hitting 354 on Aug. 13. The death toll is 41. In the early days of the pandemic, Hawaii was widely lauded for its low covid-19 rate and quick containment strategies, with 900 cases occurring before June.

“We cannot deny that Hawaii is seeing a surge in the positive covid-19 cases. … There are numerous clusters and wide community spread,” Ige said. “With the case count increasing the way it has, it would be very difficult to implement and start the pre-travel testing program on September 1.”

Pandemic is shifting how consumers use gig companies

NEW YORK — When ride-hailing heavyweights Uber and Lyft and delivery giants Grubhub and Instacart began making shared rides and meals available with a few taps on a smartphone, they transformed the way people work, travel and get food delivered to their homes.

But the pandemic shuffled the deck for the so-called gig economy as fear of contracting the coronavirus led many who once traveled in shared vehicles to stay home, and grocery delivery services struggled to keep up with demand from people who didn’t want to risk stepping into a store.

A new survey from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows how consumer attitudes about using ride-hailing and delivery services have changed. It also highlights a wealth divide, where Americans with higher incomes are able to utilize the services to help reduce their risk of infection.

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Instacart worker Saori Okawa loads groceries into her car for home delivery in San Leandro, Calif. on July 1. Okawa is one of an estimated 1.5 million so-called gig workers who make a living driving people to airports, picking out produce at grocery stores or providing childcare for working parents. AP Photo/Ben Margot

“People are worried. We know that,” said Dmitri Koustas, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School. “They’re worried about themselves and their families, and they’re concerned about the virus, and they’re also worried about workers.”

Among the people who used ride-hailing before the crisis, 63% said they have not taken a ride since March. At the same time, people with higher household incomes had more groceries delivered to their homes.

Those with household incomes about $100,00 a year were roughly twice as likely to have increased their use of grocery delivery services than those in households earning less, the survey found. Overall, the percentage of people using delivery services remained about the same since the pandemic began, with those increasing their use balanced out by those cutting back, in some cases because of cost.

In Auburn, New York, few grocery stores offer delivery, and those that do are more expensive, said Patricia McAvaney, 49, who is disabled and living on a fixed income of $920 a month. She’s not comfortable going to the grocery store, but feels she has no choice.

“I’m on a budget, so it’s really not feasible to get everything delivered from that store,” McAvaney said.

Many Americans have been uncomfortable with delivery services during the pandemic. About 6 in 10 say they are very comfortable picking up food from a restaurant, compared with about 3 in 10 using delivery. Roughly another 3 in 10 said they are uncomfortable getting food delivered.

Read the full story here.

Preservation solution for a saliva test for COVID-19 developed by a Utah company. Associated Press/Rick Bowmer

Coronavirus saliva tests are probably cheaper, faster and definitely less uncomfortable

Taking one of the latest coronavirus tests to gain federal approval is as easy as spitting.

SalivaDirect, developed by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health, was granted emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday and offers a more comfortable alternative to a nasal swab. Saliva can be collected in any sterile container.

As the United States grapples with building testing capacity to meet the growing demand brought on by people resuming school and work, officials have placed their hopes on several solutions including saliva testing. Since the test doesn’t require chemical reagents or swabs that have become scarce during the pandemic and offers a faster turnaround than the standard test, some believe it could offer the country a way to determine the spread of the virus quickly.

“Providing this type of flexibility for processing saliva samples to test for COVID-19 infection is groundbreaking,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn in a statement.

The Yale team’s research, which has not been peer-reviewed, was funded by the NBA. The league uses SalivaDirect to test asymptomatic players and staff in its bubble, a quarantined zone for teams at Walt Disney World in Florida. Comparing the results of saliva tests to the more common method, called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, the scientists found that the test was just as accurate.

Read the full story.

As high school football seasons are canceled, players move to states that plan to play

Brett Kuczynski stared at his phone for nearly an hour, agonizing over what to text teammates from his small Illinois school. Just weeks before his senior year was supposed to start, high school football in his home state had been canceled over concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, forcing Kuczynski into a decision his friends might not be able to fathom: He was moving to Florida, one of the pandemic’s hot spots, to pursue a major college football scholarship.

The movement of Kuczynski and other players mirrors the country’s fractured response to the pandemic: With more than a dozen states already canceling high school football this fall and more postponements potentially on the way, players from those states are moving to where the sport is allowed to go on, at least for now.

Thrall High School football players go through a practice in Thrall, Texas. Texas will play high school football this fall, but some of it will be delayed, fans will be limited and masks will be required as the state continues to fight a surge in new coronavirus cases. Associated Press//Eric Gay

They’re moving to Utah and Indiana, states where college seasons have already been canceled. They’re moving to Iowa, where school districts are in a standoff with their governor over how to safely hold classes. They’re moving to football hotbeds such as Georgia, where reportedly more than 850 high school athletes have tested positive for the virus since June, and to Florida, where a record number of coronavirus deaths were reported in August. The wave of transfers has families asking: Is the sacrifice for high school football worth the risk?

Drake University sends 14 students home for violating party ban

Drake University has sent home 14 students who disobeyed the Iowa college’s ban on parties, Dean of Students Jerry Parker said in a message to the campus community.

As colleges nationwide report clusters of coronavirus cases linked to parties both on and off campus, some are taking a tough stance on any rule breakers. Tulane University in New Orleans announced this summer that students hosting gatherings with 15 or more people could face suspension or expulsion, while Drake says that anyone who attends a party will be banned from campus for at least two weeks. That includes students living in dorms, who must relocate at their own expense. Hosts of off-campus parties will also potentially face consequences for violating the university’s Code of Student Conduct.

“If we are going to get through the fall semester, it will come down to our decisions and our actions,” Parker wrote. “I want to be crystal clear: we are serious and we will not hesitate to take the necessary actions to mitigate the potential spread of covid-19.”

Reports of college students packing bars and parties have sparked frustration in college towns across the country. On Tuesday, Duke University said that it was investigating seven instances of “flagrant misconduct and persistent noncompliance,” the News and Observer reported. The university’s office of student conduct has registered more than 100 reports of students violating safety protocol, administrators wrote in an email to undergraduates that was obtained by the paper. Those being investigated face a range of potential consequences that go as far as permanent expulsion.

Australian prime minister backtracks after saying COVID-19 vaccine would be ‘mandatory’

Australia has secured access to a potential COVID-19 vaccine that would be free for all citizens if it succeeds, said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. He initially said he would expect a successful vaccine to be “as mandatory as you can possibly make it‚” but he later backtracked.

The vaccine, developed by pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University, is already undergoing large-scale testing in several countries and showed promising results in early human trials. On Wednesday, Morrison said he hopes the vaccine will be available by early next year, and the government intends to make it free for all Australians.

In a radio interview on Wednesday morning, Morrison suggested a COVID-19 vaccine would probably be mandatory for most Australians, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “There are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds, but that should be the only basis. I mean, we’re talking about a pandemic that has destroyed the global economy and taken the lives of hundreds of thousands around the world,” he added.

Hours later, however, Morrison backtracked and said the vaccine would be encouraged but not mandatory. “We can’t hold someone down and make them take it,” he said, according to the Guardian.

Many details of the deal, such as pricing, haven’t yet been finalized. AstraZeneca said in a statement to Pharma in Focus that the company has signed a letter of intent with Australia, which is only the first stage in the process, the Guardian reported. The next step will involve determining if Australia’s biotech industry has the capacity to manufacture enough doses for the country’s roughly 25 million people. On Tuesday, Morrison said the goal is to manufacture the vaccine “under our own steam.”

Heathrow unveils a new, quick testing facility for travelers

LONDON — London’s Heathrow Airport, the U.K.’s busiest, has unveiled a new coronavirus testing facility that could sharply reduce the length of time people have to stay at home after arriving from countries on the government’s quarantine list.

Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye said testing will help avoid what he termed the “quarantine roulette” that many British travelers have faced over the past few weeks when countries like France and Spain were taken off the U.K.’s safe list.

The new facility has been set up by aviation services company Collinson and logistics firm Swissport at Heathrow’s Terminal 2. They say more than 13,000 tests will be available to passengers each day, with results within hours.

It is proposed that arrivals will then take a second test at home and will be able to leave their 14-day quarantine early if they pass both.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government was not in a position to back Heathrow’s plan but insisted that it was working with airports to find a way for coronavirus testing to reduce the quarantine period.

Finland tightens travel restrictions

HELSINKI — Finland says it will tighten travel restrictions and reintroduce and step up border checks for arrivals from 10 countries starting Monday due to the worsening pandemic situation in Europe and elsewhere.

The Finnish government says border checks will apply for passengers to and from Nordic neighbors Denmark, Iceland and Norway as well as Germany, Greece and Malta – all countries belonging to the European Union’s borderless Schengen area.

Outside the Schengen area, border checks will be stepped up for arrivals from Cyprus, Ireland, San Marino and Japan.

Passengers arriving to Finland from those countries are recommended to self-quarantine for 14 days. Travel in Finland’s border areas with Sweden and Norway is more relaxed.

Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo says Finland’s current coronavirus travel policies are among the tightest in the EU.

Border checks can be relaxed if a country records fewer than eight infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the past two weeks.

Pope Frances warns against vaccine priority for the rich

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is warning against any prospect that rich people would get priority for a coronavirus vaccine.

Francis says, “The pandemic is a crisis. You don’t come out of it the same — either better or worse.″ He added that “we must come out better.”

In remarks on Wednesday during his weekly public audience, he said that after the COVID-19 pandemic, the world can’t return to normality if normal means social injustice and degradation of the natural environment.

Said Francis: “How sad it would be if for the COVID-19 vaccine priority is given to the richest.”

He also said it would be scandalous if all the economic assistance in the works, most of it using public funds, ends up reviving industries that don’t help the poor or the environment.

Japan’s economy slammed by plunging exports

TOKYO — Japan’s exports in July plunged 19.2% from a year ago, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to slam the world’s third largest economy.

The Finance Ministry’s provisional numbers showed Japan’s imports in July fell 22.3%.

Exports to the U.S. especially suffered, declining 19.5% last month. They include plastic goods, iron and steel and computer parts. But Japan recorded its first trade surplus in four months on the back of a recovery in China.

Japan’s export-reliant economy has been ailing since the outbreak caused some plant production to be temporarily halted, squelched tourism and generally hurt economic activity.

Japan has never imposed a lockdown but has encouraged people to work from home, wear masks and social distance. Some stores have closed or shortened their hours.

Japan has had about 1,100 confirmed COVID-19 deaths among 57,636 cases. Worries are growing over a recent surge in infection, especially in Tokyo and other urban areas.

New Zealand gaining control of outbreak

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand appears to be gaining control over a coronavirus outbreak in Auckland after just five new community infections were reported Wednesday amid record levels of testing and contact tracing.

A sixth infection was found in a quarantined traveler who had returned from Qatar.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says 500 more military personnel would be deployed to quarantine hotels as the nation looks to reduce the number of private security guards it employs and tighten its border controls.

Health authorities have still not figured out how the outbreak began after the country went 102 days without the virus spreading in the community. The discovery of the outbreak last week prompted authorities to put the nation’s largest city into a two-week lockdown.

India continues to see a high number of fatalities

NEW DELHI — India reported 1,092 new fatalities from COVID-19 on Wednesday, its highest single-day total.

India has the fourth-most deaths in the world and the third-most cases, with over 2.7 million — including more than 64,000 new infections reported in the last 24 hours.

The actual numbers, like elsewhere in the world, are thought to be far higher due to limited testing.

Four of India’s 28 states now account for 63% of total fatalities and 54.6% of the caseload. The western state of Maharashtra and the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are the country’s worst-hit regions.

Another N.C. university  has COVID-19 cluster of cases

RALEIGH, N.C. — Health officials have identified a COVID-19 cluster at another North Carolina university.

A statement from North Carolina State University confirmed on Tuesday that Wake County health officials identified of COVID-19 cases at off-campus housing east of the Raleigh, North Carolina, campus.

The school said several people who have tested positive as part of this cluster have been identified, including some who are N.C. State students. Contact tracing has been initiated with direct communication to anyone known to have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, according to the school.

The school said reports indicated a party or some type of gathering was hosted at the location on or around Aug. 6. The notice said it was not known how many people were at the gathering, but encouraged anyone who attended to visit their personal healthcare provider or Student Health Services.

N.M. governor to consider whether to mandate future vaccine for certain groups

SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s too early to say whether a COVID-19 vaccine — once available — will be mandatory for certain people in New Mexico, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is indicating that health care workers, educators, nursing home residents and emergency responders could be among those required to be inoculated.

Acknowledging uncertainties about the availability and effectiveness of a vaccine, the Democratic governor said she expects a debate over mandating certain groups of people to accept the vaccine.

Her comments came during a recent briefing as pharmaceutical companies race to have a vaccine ready by early next year.

New Mexico has seen its daily COVID-19 case counts improve. On Tuesday, an additional 79 cases were confirmed, bringing the statewide total to nearly 23,580 since the pandemic began.

The governor’s administration has authority under a 2003 state law to issue vaccine orders during a declared public health emergency. The Albuquerque Journal reported that those who decline a vaccine for reasons of health, religion or conscience can be ordered to isolate or self-quarantine under the same law.


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