ORLANDO, Fla. — Stricken by the coronavirus pandemic, Walt Disney Co. revealed Tuesday it is laying off 28,000 U.S. employees, including some at Walt Disney World.

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One of the normally bustling entrances to the Disneyland resort is vacant due to the coronavirus closure in Anaheim, Calif., in March. The Walt Disney Co. said Tuesday that it planned to lay off 28,000 workers in its parks division in California and Florida. Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said the layoffs are happening as the virus has hurt business, and because California has not lifted restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.

“We have made the very difficult decision to begin the process of reducing our workforce at our Parks, Experiences and Products segment at all levels,” D’Amaro said in a news release.

Disney did not provide a breakdown of how many employees are losing their jobs at Disney World and Disneyland. No notice of mass layoffs has been filed with the state of Florida, according to online records.

Of the 28,000 employees, about 67 percent are part-time employees, D’Amaro said, adding the cuts will affect executive, salaried, and hourly jobs.

At one point, the Disney empire of theme parks was closed around the world from the coronavirus pandemic, costing the company $2 billion last financial quarter. But as a company, Disney has generated $50 billion in profit over the past five years.

Disney World reopened in mid-July after a shutdown dating back to mid-March. Last week, D’Amaro held a virtual news conference with the news media to put pressure on the California government to lift the restrictions, saying tens of thousands were dependent on the theme parks for jobs.

In a letter to employees, D’Amaro called the layoffs “the only feasible option.”

“For the last several months, our management team has worked tirelessly to avoid having to separate anyone from the company. We’ve cut expenses, suspended capital projects, furloughed our cast members while still paying benefits, and modified our operations to run as efficiently as possible, however, we simply cannot responsibly stay fully staffed while operating at such limited capacity.

As heartbreaking as it is to take this action, this is the only feasible option we have in light of the prolonged impact of COVID-19 on our business.”

COVID-19 cases rising among U.S. children as schools reopen

After preying heavily on the elderly in the spring, the coronavirus is increasingly infecting American children and teens in a trend authorities say appears driven by school reopenings and the resumption of sports, playdates and other activities.

Children of all ages now make up 10 percent of all U.S cases, up from 2 percent in April, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported Tuesday. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that the incidence of COVID-19 in school-age children began rising in early September as many youngsters returned to their classrooms.

About two times more teens were infected than younger children, the CDC report said. Most infected children have mild cases; hospitalizations and death rates are much lower than in adults.

Dr. Sally Goza, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the rising numbers are a big concern and underscore the importance of masks, hand-washing, social distancing and other precautions.

“While children generally don’t get as sick with the coronavirus as adults, they are not immune and there is much to learn about how easily they can transmit it to others,’’ she said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

Connecticut to use rapid COVID-19 tests in schools

HARTFORD, Conn. — Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday that Connecticut expects to receive about 1 million new rapid tests for the new coronavirus from the federal government and will use them to help make sure schools stay open.

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Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday that Connecticut expects to receive about 1 million new rapid tests for the new coronavirus from the federal government and will use them to help make sure schools stay open. John Minchillo/Associated Press

Lamont said the state is expecting to receive 69,000 of the tests next week. He said they also will be used in settings such as nursing homes, day care centers, prisons, and for the state’s rapid-response team to deal with any virus outbreaks.

“It compliments all the testing we’re doing right now — the PCR testing in nursing homes, vulnerable populations,” Lamont said. “It’s just one more arrow in our quiver.”

The tests will come from a previously announced national supply of 150 million ordered from Abbott Laboratories. The company’s rapid test, the size of a credit card, is the first that does not require specialty computer equipment to process. It delivers results in about 15 minutes.

Lamont said the tests can be given to students and teachers who may have symptoms or may have come in contact with the virus, eliminating the need for them to quarantine or for their schools to close.

Lamont said the tests could also be used by athletic teams to prevent the further cancelation of high school sports seasons.

The governor also announced that Connecticut will be using a new contact tracing telephone app developed by Google and Apple. The program will keep track of who comes in close contact with the phone and notify those people automatically should the user be diagnosed with COVID-19.

Lamont said the companies are taking privacy concerns into consideration and promised the data would be anonymous and not used for any other purpose.

“Anonymity is really important,” Lamont said. “Because it’s not simply a matter of this being available, it is 10 times more effective if 10 times more people feel comfortable having this app on their smart phone.”

NFL’s Titans report 8 positive tests; both Tennessee and Minnesota suspend in-person activities 

The NFL says the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings are suspending in-person activities after the Titans had three players test positive for the coronavirus, along with five other personnel.

The league said Tuesday that both clubs are working closely with the NFL and the players’ union, including their infectious disease experts, on tracing contacts, more testing and monitoring developments.

The Titans (3-0) are scheduled to host the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0) on Sunday, and the NFL says all decisions will be made with health and safety the primary consideration.

Read the full story here.

NYC elementary schools reopen in big back-to-school test

NEW YORK — Hundreds of thousands of elementary school students are heading back to classrooms Tuesday as New York City enters a high-stakes stage of resuming in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic, which is keeping students at home in many other big U.S. school systems.

Twice delayed, the elementary school reopening comes over objections from school principals who said the city’s complicated, changing plans put them in a staffing bind.

Meanwhile, officials are worried about recent spurts in virus cases in some city neighborhoods after a summer of success at keeping transmission fairly stable in the city as a whole.

“It’s a big moment for the city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on cable news station NY1 Monday night. With in-person learning for middle and high school students scheduled to begin Thursday, he noted, “as many as half a million kids could be in school in the course of this week.”

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Students wear protective masks due to COVID-19 as they arrive for classes at the Immaculate Conception in The Bronx borough of New York on Sept. 9. After being delayed AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

With over 1 million public school students, New York City initially had a more ambitious timeline than many other big U.S. school systems for bringing children back to schoolhouses this fall. Families have the option of choosing all-remote learning, and a growing number are doing so — 48% as of Friday, up from 30% six weeks earlier, according to city Education Department statistics.

Other students are already back in the city’s virus-altered version of in-person school, learning sometimes in classrooms and sometimes at home.

Pre-kindergarteners and some special education students began showing up Sept. 21 as online instruction began for the rest of the student body.

Students were originally due back Sept. 10. But the start date was pushed back, repeatedly, after the city teachers’ union said it wasn’t safe to open schools because of outdated ventilation systems, an insufficient number of school nurses and other issues. At one point, the United Federation of Teachers threatened to strike.

The union was still pressing for changes as recently as Friday, when the city agreed to let more teachers work from home when instructing students remotely, rather than having to come in to school to conduct online classes.

Read the full story here.

As COVID deaths hit 1 million, scientist says toll may be double

The world officially recorded 1 million deaths from COVID-19 in one of the most sobering milestones of the pandemic, but the real tally might be almost double that.

Actual fatalities from the worst outbreak in a century may be closer to 1.8 million — a toll that could grow to as high as 3 million by the end of the year, according to Alan Lopez, a laureate professor and director of the University of Melbourne’s global burden of disease group. The coronavirus’s rapid spread and ability to transmit in people who show no signs of the disease have enabled it to outrun measures to accurately quantify cases through widespread diagnostic testing.

“One million deaths has meaning by itself, but the question is whether it’s true,” Lopez said in an interview before the tally was reached. “It’s fair to say that the 1 million deaths, as shocking as it sounds, is probably an underestimate — a significant underestimate.”

Even in countries with sophisticated health systems, mortality is difficult to accurately gauge. Tens of thousands of probable COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. weren’t captured by official statistics between March and May, a study in July found, frustrating efforts to track and mitigate the pandemic’s progression.

The dearth of accurate data undermines the ability of governments to implement timely strategies and policies to protect public health and promote economic recovery. If the mortality from COVID-19 reaches 3 million as Lopez predicted, it would rank the disease among the world’s worst killers. An undercount in deaths could also give some people a false sense of security, and may allow governments to downplay the virus and overlook the pandemic’s burden.

India has confirmed more than 6 million COVID-19 cases but accounts for only about 95,000 of the 1 million reported deaths worldwide, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. The country, which has the highest number of infections after the U.S., lacks a reliable national vital statistics registration system to track deaths in real time. Meanwhile, in Indiana in the U.S. researchers found that although nursing home residents weren’t routinely tested for the virus, they represented 55% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.

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Worldwide death toll from coronavirus eclipses 1 million

NEW DELHI — The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus eclipsed 1 million on Tuesday, nine months into a crisis that has devastated the global economy, tested world leaders’ resolve, pitted science against politics and forced multitudes to change the way they live, learn and work.

“It’s not just a number. It’s human beings. It’s people we love,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a professor of medical history at the University of Michigan who has advised government officials on containing pandemics and lost his 84-year-old mother to COVID-19 in February.

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Cemetery workers place the coffin containing the remains of Jose de Arimateia, 65, who died from COVID-19 complications, into a niche at the municipal cemetery in Nova Iguacu, Brazil. The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus has eclipsed 1 million. Associated Press/Silvia Izquierdo, file

“It’s our brothers, our sisters. It’s people we know,” he added. “And if you don’t have that human factor right in your face, it’s very easy to make it abstract.”

The bleak milestone, recorded by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of Jerusalem or Austin, Texas. It is 2-1/2 times the sea of humanity that was at Woodstock in 1969. It is more than four times the number killed in the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

Even then, the figure is almost certainly a vast undercount because of inadequate or inconsistent testing and reporting and suspected concealment by some countries.

And the number continues to mount. Nearly 5,000 deaths are reported each day on average. Parts of Europe are getting hit by a second wave, and experts fear the same fate may await the U.S., which accounts for about 205,000 deaths, or 1 out of 5 worldwide. That is far more than any other country, despite America’s wealth and medical resources.

Read the full story here.

Cuomo warns of hot spots throughout New York

NEW YORK — Coronavirus is rising fast again in New York –  and a handful of neighborhoods are by far getting hit the hardest.

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said of the spike in coronavirus cases in a handful of neighborhoods, “We need to get to the bottom of these clusters.” Hans Pennink/Associated Press

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a sharp increase in positive tests for coronavirus, especially in hot spots in Brooklyn, Orange County, Rockland County and the Southern Tier.

“It’s Yom Kippur and we honor that, but whether you are Jewish, Catholic or Muslim, public health is public health, and I have no issue,” Cuomo said.

The state recorded an overall 1.5 percent positive test rate Sunday, which is more than a 50 percent increase over previous recent daily rates. Brooklyn had a shocking 2.6 percent daily positive test rate. Orange and Rockland counties were even higher.

The top 10 ZIP codes in the state had an average 15 percent positivity rate. That includes an alarming 17 percent rate in 11219 in Brooklyn, namely Borough Park. Upstate Spring Valley clocked in at an eye-popping 30 percent, and Kiryas Joel had 22 percent.

Even though the ZIP codes represent just 2 percent of the state’s population, they contributed 25 percent of the entire state’s new positive cases.

“We need to get to the bottom of these clusters,” Cuomo said grimly.

The governor went on to suggest that targeted enforcement efforts would aim to quickly limit the increases, whether they are tied to religious events or lack of compliance with regulations requiring mask-wearing and social distancing.

“These rules apply to all religious gatherings and all events equally,” he said.

He said if the numbers keep heading the wrong way, the state will have to crack down on mask-wearing rules and gatherings of all kinds, even though he conceded that many people will chafe at the increased enforcement.

Cuomo said he suspects Labor Day gatherings may have also played a role in the spiking positive test rates as well as the start of universities, colleges, high schools and elementary schools.

Cuomo pointed out that New York is still a relative bright spot in the nation and the world, which is experiencing a major upturn in the pandemic as the weather turns cooler in the Northern Hemisphere.

WHO to roll out faster COVID-19 tests for poorer nations

GENEVA — The World Health Organization announced Monday that it and leading partners have agreed to a plan to roll out 120 million rapid-diagnostic tests for the coronavirus to help lower- and middle-income countries make up ground in a testing gap with richer countries — even if it’s not fully funded yet.

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said of the tests, “These tests provide reliable results in approximately 15 to 30 minutes, rather than hours or days, at a lower price with less sophisticated equipment.” Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via Associated Press

At $5 apiece, the antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests received a WHO emergency-use listing last week. The program initially requires $600 million and is to get started as early as next month to provide better access to areas where it’s harder to reach with PCR tests that are used often in many wealthier nations.

The rapid tests look for antigens, or proteins found on the surface of the virus. They are generally considered less accurate — though much faster — than higher-grade genetic tests, known as PCR tests. Those tests require processing with specialty lab equipment and chemicals. Typically that turnaround takes several days to deliver results to patients.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the program as “good news” in the fight against COVID-19.

“These tests provide reliable results in approximately 15 to 30 minutes, rather than hours or days, at a lower price with less sophisticated equipment,” he said. “This will enable the expansion of testing, particularly in hard-to-reach areas that do not have lab facilities or enough trained health workers to carry out PCR tests.”

“We have an agreement, we have seed funding and now we need the full amount of funds to buy these tests,” he said, without specifying.

Dr. Catharina Boehme, chief executive of a non-profit group called the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, said the rollout would be in 20 countries in Africa, and would rely on support of groups including the Clinton Health Initiative. She said the diagnostic tests will be provided by SD Biosensor and Abbott.

Peter Sands, the executive director of the Global Fund, a partnership that works to end epidemics, said it would make an initial $50 million available from its COVID-19 response mechanism. He said the deployment of the quality antigen rapid diagnostic tests will be a “significant step” to help contain and combat the coronavirus.

CDC’s credibility is eroded by internal blunders and external attacks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was created to stop deadly pathogens. It battled malaria and polio. It helped eradicate smallpox. It sent intrepid disease doctors to Africa to fight Ebola. Over the course of seven decades, it became the world’s most admired public health agency.

The CDC had been preparing for decades for this moment – the arrival of a virus rampaging across the planet, inflicting widespread death and suffering.

But 2020 has been a disaster for the CDC.

The agency’s response to the worst public health crisis in a century – the coronavirus pandemic – has been marked by technical blunders and botched messaging. The agency has endured false accusations and interference by Trump administration political appointees. Worst of all, the CDC has experienced a loss of institutional credibility at a time when the nation desperately needs to know whom to trust.

This harsh assessment does not come from political or ideological enemies of the CDC. It comes from the agency’s friends and supporters – and even from some of the professionals within the agency’s Atlanta headquarters.

“Since late February, the CDC has lost massive amounts of credibility,” said Jody Lanard, a physician who worked for nearly two decades as a pandemic communications adviser consulting with the World Health Organization.

With a budget just under $8 billion, the nation’s chief public health agency is responsible for everything from investigating disease outbreaks to figuring out how best to prevent the leading causes of death in the United States, such as heart disease and cancer.

“It’s been a terrible year for the CDC,” said Ross McKinney Jr., chief scientific officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges. “There’s no question that their credibility and effectiveness have been damaged by a combination of external threats, leadership that has been perceived to be ineffective and mistakes they have made internally.”

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Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing at the Department of Education July 8, in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

Career staff members remain proud of the expertise, talent and professionalism that the agency can bring to bear in a crisis. But they see the agency’s situation clearly. One veteran researcher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record, said Friday that morale is at an all-time low.

CDC Director Robert Redfield, appointed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in 2018, is a well-known AIDS researcher who had never led an organization so large and complex. While his credentials are solid, he does not cut an effective, confidence-inspiring figure on television. He often speaks in a monotone, his eyes frequently closed.

President Trump directly contradicted the CDC chief this month after Redfield testified to Congress that a coronavirus vaccine would not be widely distributed until the middle of next year, similar to what other top officials have said. Trump said Redfield was “confused.”

Read the full story here.


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