Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Labor day weekend; Trump on masks; jobs

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COVID-19 widespread testing is crucial to fighting the pandemic, but is there enough testing? The answer is in the positivity rates.

USA TODAY

President Donald Trump urged the nation “to be careful” over Labor Day weekend as health experts worry holiday gatherings — including a state fair in the virus hotspot of South Dakota — will fuel the spread of the virus.

In the weeks following the previous two summer holiday weekends — Memorial Day and the Fourth of July — positive tests climbed in the nation, according to Johns Hopkins University data. After peaking in mid-July, positive tests have been on a slow downward trend in the nation. Deaths peaked in the spring and have been slightly falling from a smaller second spike over the summer.

Hours after mocking Democratic opponent Joe Biden for wearing a mask, Trump asked Americans to keep their distance from each other as they celebrated the holiday, “wearing a mask whenever the distancing is not possible.”

The pivotal weekend comes amid more grim projections for the death toll of the virus. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine says more than 410,000 deaths are predicted by January if mask usage stays at current rates. If governments continue relaxing social distancing requirements, that number could increase.

Some significant developments:

  • The members of nine fraternities and sororities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been directed to quarantine themselves after 38 students tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Northeastern University dismissed 11 first-year students, without refunds, after they violated university COVID-19 protocols.
  • Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden confirmed Friday that he has been tested for COVID-19 and said he will continue to be tested “on a regular basis.”
  • Two-thirds of U.S. voters say they won’t try to get a coronavirus vaccine as soon as it becomes available and 1 in 4 say they don’t want to get it ever, according to a new USA TODAY/Suffolk poll.
  • The U.S. economy added 1.4 million jobs in August as businesses shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic continued to reopen and bring back workers.
  • At least 7,000 health workers worldwide have died after contracting COVID-19, according to human rights organization Amnesty International.

📈 Today’s numbers: A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Friday shows Montana and North Dakota set records for new cases in a week while West Virginia reported a record number of deaths. The U.S. has 6.2 million confirmed cases and over 188,000 deaths. Globally, there are 26 million cases and more than 876,000 people have died.

📰 What we’re reading: Schools play a pivotal role in U.S. vaccination efforts since laws require children to have certain immunizations to enroll and attend classes. But with schools increasingly starting online amid COVID-19, are many needed vaccinations are getting skipped?

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to the Daily Briefing.

Thousands of San Diego college students ordered to stay in their dorms

San Diego State University on Saturday announced a stay at home order for students living on-campus after San Diego County announced 120 new virus cases connected with the campus.

The move comes days after SDSU halted in-person classes for a month but kept on-campus housing open. The university, the third-largest in the state, has more than 35,000 students but as many as 2,600 students have been living on campus since the fall semester began Aug. 24. 

Since the beginning of the semester, there have been 184 cases at the university, according to San Diego County.

Among California’s 10 most populous counties, San Diego is the only one with virus cases low enough to meet state standards for reopening theaters, museums and gyms, and resuming indoor dining — all with limited capacity to provide for physical distancing. But on Friday, county health officials warned of a concerning of rise cases in the county which could not be entirely attributed to SDSU cases.

Judge upholds bar closures in Des Moines

A Polk County judge upheld Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ new round of bar closures Friday, refusing to issue a temporary injunction that would have allowed some Des Moines metro bars to reopen.

Judge William Kelly said in his decision that Reynolds’ Aug. 27 order was “not in violation of Iowa law and the statutes” under which she issued it. Echoing the state’s argument in a Wednesday hearing on the injunction request, Kelly emphasized the importance of public health in his explanation of the ruling.

“The worst (bar owners) could expect is losing revenues, possibly bankruptcy and going out of business, while the worst (the state of Iowa) could expect is widespread transmission of COVID-19 across the state, high numbers of deaths and long-term health consequences,” he wrote.

Earlier this week, White House health experts warned Iowa leaders that the state has the country’s steepest outbreak and suggested the state should close bars in 61 counties and test all returning college students.

– Katie Akin and Tony Leys, Des Moines Register

Nine UW-Madison fraternities and sororities quarantined

The members of nine fraternities and sororities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been directed to quarantine after 38 students tested positive for COVID-19, the university confirmed Friday.

UW-Madison and Dane County health officials told about 420 Greek life students to quarantine for at least 14 days. Violation of isolation and quarantine orders could result in a court order requiring the students to quarantine or a fine of up to $10,000, the university warned in a statement.

UW-Madison is also requiring every student who lives in one of the campus’ 38 chapter houses to be tested for COVID-19. There are about 1,500 students who live in such houses, out of 5,000 total members of Greek life organizations at the university. To date, 440 UW-Madison students have tested positive for COVID-19 at on or off-campus testing sites.

– Devi Shastri, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

At least 3 Mexican states run out of death certificates

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Mexico so hard that the governments of several states have run out of death certificates.

Officials said Friday that at least three states — Baja California, the State of Mexico and Mexico City — started running out about 15 to 20 days ago.

Authorities say a million new forms have been printed and are being distributed. The certificates are printed with special characteristics because falsification has been a problem in the past.

Mexico has suffered the fourth-highest leof COVID-19 deaths in the world. On Friday, the number of confirmed cases rose by 6,196 to 623,090, while deaths rose by 522 to 66,851. Cases in Mexico now appear to have plateaued and are no longer decreasing.

– The Associated Press

​Northeastern University dismisses students who violated COVID-19 policy

Northeastern University dismissed 11 first-year students after they were discovered together in a room at the Westin Hotel in Boston on Wednesday night, in violation of university and public health protocols that prohibit crowded gatherings, the school announced Friday. They will not receive refunds on their payments for the semester.

The students were part of a study-abroad experience for first-year students that had been modified due to COVID-19 and was, instead, hosting more than 800 students in two-person rooms at the Westin, less than one mile from campus. The gathering was discovered Wednesday night.

“Cooperation and compliance with public health guidelines is absolutely essential. Those people who do not follow the guidelines – including wearing masks, avoiding parties and other gatherings, practicing healthy distancing, washing your hands, and getting tested – are putting everyone else at risk,” Madeleine Estabrook, senior vice chancellor for student affairs at Northeastern, said in a statement.

Russia publishes virus vaccine results, weeks after approval

Russian scientists have belatedly published first results from early trials into the experimental Sputnik V vaccine, which received government approval last month but drew considerable criticism from experts, as the shots had only been tested on several dozen people before being more widely administered.

In a report published in the journal Lancet on Friday, developers of the vaccine said it appeared to be safe and to prompt an antibody response in all 40 people tested in the second phase of the study within three weeks. However, the authors noted that participants were only followed for 42 days, the study sample was small and there was no placebo or control vaccine used.

One part of the safety trial included only men and the study mostly involved people in their 20s and 30s, so it is unclear how the vaccine might work in older populations most at risk of the more severe complications of COVID-19.

— The Associated Press

Google gives employees extra holiday amid pandemic

Many months into the pandemic, Google is making Friday a one-time paid holiday for “collective wellbeing” and encouraging employees to enjoy a four-day holiday weekend, the company confirmed.

Google announced in July that employees would continue to work from home until summer of 2021.

Census response in poor, minority neighborhoods is undermined by coronavirus

Thousands of Black and Hispanic Americans could go uncounted in the nation’s census this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and other disruptions that discouraged households in poor and heavily minority neighborhoods from filling out their forms.

In 63% of census tracts, fewer people provided initial responses this year than in 2010, a USA TODAY analysis found. Response rates fell particularly in tracts with high concentrations of Black or Latino residents, large percentages of families qualifying for government benefits, or low levels of access to broadband internet.

People of color and poor families are undercounted every census. But COVID-19 delayed delivery of Census questionnaires for hard-to-reach populations during the spring quarantine and delayed operations since then to reach households that failed to respond.

– Theresa Diffendal

Economy added 1.4M jobs in August amid persistent outbreaks

The U.S. economy added 1.4 million jobs in August as businesses shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic continued to reopen and bring back workers, more than offsetting a fresh wave of layoffs by firms that have exhausted their federal loans.

The unemployment rate fell sharply to 8.4% from 10.2% in July, the Labor Department said Friday.

August’s payroll gains were healthy but mark the second straight monthly slowdown in hiring after employers added a record 4.8 million positions in June and 1.8 million in July. That’s a troubling sign considering the nation has recouped slightly less than half the unprecedented 22 million jobs wiped out in early spring as states closed down nonessential businesses such as restaurants, malls and movie theaters.

– Paul Davidson

7,000 health workers worldwide have died from COVID-19, NGO says

At least 7,000 health workers worldwide have died after contracting COVID-19, human rights organization Amnesty International said Thursday.

“For over seven thousand people to die while trying to save others is a crisis on a staggering scale. Every health worker has the right to be safe at work, and it is a scandal that so many are paying the ultimate price,” Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

At least 1,320 health workers are confirmed to have died in Mexico alone, the highest known figure for any country, the group said. The U.S. has seen the second-highest number of health care worker deaths, Amnesty International said, with more than 1,000 deaths.

US death toll will reach 410,000 deaths by January: IHME

More than 410,000 Americans will die of COVID-19 by Jan. 1, according to a model cited by top health officials and once used by the White House. 

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine predicts that number could exceed 620,000 if mask usage stays at current rates and governments continue relaxing social distancing requirements. Global deaths could reach 4 million by the end of the year in a worst case scenario, with a “most likely” scenario of 2.8 million. 

Daily deaths in December could be as high as 30,000.

“Looking at the staggering COVID-19 estimates, it’s easy to get lost in the enormity of the numbers,” said IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray. “The number of deaths exceeds the capacity of the world’s 50 largest stadiums, a sobering image of the people who have lost their lives and livelihoods.”

Murray said more lives could be saved if mask usage is near-universal and governments implement social distancing requirements.

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

  • On Facebook: There’s still a lot unknown about the coronavirus. But what we do know, we’re sharing with you. Join our Facebook group, Coronavirus Watch, to receive daily updates in your feed and chat with others in the community about COVID-19.  
  • In your inbox: Stay up-to-date with the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic from the USA TODAY Network. Sign up for the daily Coronavirus Watch newsletter
  • Tips for coping: Every Saturday and Tuesday we’ll be in your inbox, offering you a virtual hug and a little bit of solace in these difficult times. Sign up for Staying Apart, Together.

Contributing:  The Associated Press

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