Monday, October 26, 2020

School cases, deaths database; 9/11 light display back on

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With Washington talks on emergency coronavirus aid having stalled, both sides are playing the blame game Thursday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted Republicans for not giving “a damn.” (Aug. 13)

AP Domestic

As schools across the nation struggle to find a safe way to educate students in-person, a Kansas teacher has dedicated herself to tracking school closings, cases and deaths in a budding national database.

“I was seeing a lot of articles about schools that were opening up and issues already happening on Day 1,” Alisha Morris, who teaches theater in Kansas’ Olathe School District said. “As I was researching, I thought, oh my gosh, this is happening all over.”

The project comes amid a torrent troubling news about the prospects of safely reopening schools.

Experts have expressed skepticism that schools’ attempting to head off outbreaks using routine symptom screenings will have success. Nurses have described keeping kids safe at school an “uphill fight.” And — despite President Donald Trump’s push to open all schools — half of the Defense Department’s schools in America will not open for in-person learning.

Meanwhile, Trump has unleashed a barrage of attacks on “universal” mail voting, as many states have put new emphasis on early voting by mail because many voters may not want to go to the polls in person because of the pandemic. However, Only nine states and the District of Columbia so far plan to automatically send ballots to all voters.

Here are some significant developments:

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has 5.3 million confirmed infections and more than 169,000 deaths. Worldwide, there have been more than 768,000 deaths and more than 21.2 million cases, according to John Hopkins University data.

📰 What we’re reading: Some people are listening to health experts, while others ignore them. What does that mean for the future of COVID-19 in America? The psychology behind following rules, explained.  

Birx: ‘Wear a mask inside, outside, every day’

Trump’s top coronavirus adviser used a visit to Kansas to urge people to wear masks regardless of where they live.

“What’s really important for every Kansan to understand is that this epidemic that we have been seeing this summer is both urban and rural,” Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said Saturday. “So we are really asking all communities, whether you are urban or rural communities, to really wear a mask inside, outside, every day.

“You can’t tell who’s infected,” Birx said. “Much of the spread is asymptomatic. I know we all want to believe that our family members cannot be positive. They are.”

Annual light display honoring victims of 9/11 is back on

The annual light display honoring victims of 9/11 is back on, officials announced Saturday, saying New York health officials will supervise this year’s tribute to ensure workers’ safety amid concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This year it is especially important that we all appreciate and commemorate 9/11, the lives lost and the heroism displayed ‎as New Yorkers are once again called upon to face a common enemy,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

The announcement came days after the National September 11 Memorial & Museum canceled the Tribute in Light over concerns the coronavirus might spread among crews creating twin columns of light to represent the World Trade Center in the Manhattan sky.

School district cancels classes after teachers refuse to show up

A school district outside Phoenix voted to return to in-person classes on Monday but has been forced to reverse course after pushback from staff.

J. O. Combs Unified School District announced Friday afternoon that it would not open at all on Monday because too many teachers refused to show up.

Superintendent Gregory A. Wyman in a statement said the district had received an “overwhelming response” from staff indicating that they did not feel safe returning to classrooms with students.

“Due to these insufficient staffing levels, schools will not be able to re-open on Monday as planned,” Wyman wrote. “At this time, we do not know the duration of these staff absences, and cannot yet confirm when in-person instruction may resume.”

– Lorraine Longhi, Arizona Republic

Language barriers, fear hinder COVID-19 contact-tracing

Only a handful of contact tracers working to slow COVID-19 in 125 communities near Chicago speak Spanish, despite significant Hispanic populations. Churches and advocacy groups in the Houston area are trying to convince immigrants to cooperate when health officials call. And in California, immigrants are being trained as contact tracers to ease mistrust.

The crucial job of reaching people who test positive for the coronavirus and those they’ve come in contact with is proving especially difficult in immigrant communities because of language barriers, confusion and fear of the government.

The failure of health departments across the U.S. to adequately investigate coronavirus outbreaks among non-English speakers is all the more fraught given the soaring and disproportionate case counts among Latinos in many states. Four of the hardest-hit states – Florida, Texas, Arizona and California – have major Spanish-speaking populations.

– The Associated Press

Two senior Trump appointees to depart CDC, reports say

Two senior Trump-appointees departed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, according to reports from Politico and CNN. Kyle McGowan, the chief of staff, and Amanda Campbell, the deputy chief of staff, both voluntarily left the agency to start a consulting firm, according to the reports.

The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

– Grace Hauck

FDA approves cheap COVID-19 saliva test

A saliva-based COVID-19 test developed by researchers at Yale in partnership and funding from the NBA and National Basketball Players Association was approved on Saturday for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Called SalivaDirect, the test uses saliva samples to detect COVID-19.

“Providing this type of flexibility for processing saliva samples to test for COVID-19 infection is groundbreaking in terms of efficiency and avoiding shortages of crucial test components like reagents,” FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn said in a statement.

Researchers have been looking for a COVID-19 test that is less invasive than the nasopharyngeal swabbing method and less expensive which can lead to widespread testing and make up for shortages of other testing methods. This is the fifth saliva-based test authorized by the FDA.

Anne Wyllie, assistant professor and associate research scientist at Yale School of Public Health, said she expects labs to charge about $10 for the test.

– Jeff Zillgitt

Postal Service warns it may not be able to meet state deadlines for returning ballots

The U.S. Postal Service is warning that it may not be able to meet many state deadlines for returning early voting ballots for the November election. The issue is arising as states gear up for an expected avalanche of early ballot requests by voters fearful of going to the polls in person because of the pandemic.

The warnings, blamed on USPS changes this summer to limit overtime and increase efficiency, have gone out to almost every state, notably including such as Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona.

The warning letters to state election officials, first reported by The Washington Post, prompted immediate questions from the League of Women Voters and suspicion from the American Postal Workers Union that the warnings were politically motivated.

– Kevin McCoy, Donovan Slack and Katie Wedell

Screening kids is not enough to keep COVID-19 from schools, experts say

A child returning to school this fall might go through the following morning routine: their parent checks them for COVID-19 symptoms, they take a socially distanced bus ride, and a faculty member, like a school nurse, conducts a final screening at the school entrance before letting them through the door.

As students return to class, many school districts have introduced routine symptom screenings into their reopening plans. But their effectiveness and feasibility in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in schools remain unclear.  

Screenings are limited for a variety of reasons, including that the novel coronavirus shares many symptoms with common illnesses like the flu and not everyone with COVID-19 will have symptoms, said Adam Karcz, director of infection prevention at Indiana University’s Riley Hospital for Children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t recommend universal health screenings or COVID-19 testing at schools because of these limitations. 

—Tiana Woodard, Indianapolis Star

People who recover from COVID-19 don’t need to get tested or quarantine for 3 months, CDC says

People who have had COVID-19 within the past three months and come in close contact with someone who is actively infected do not need to quarantine, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“People who have tested positive for COVID-19 do not need to quarantine or get tested again for up to 3 months as long as they do not develop symptoms again,” the new guidance says. “People who develop symptoms again within 3 months of their first bout of COVID-19 may need to be tested again if there is no other cause identified for their symptoms.”

But antibodies may begin to decline sooner than that. A June study in the journal Nature found that antibodies may begin to decrease within 2 to 3 months after infection.

“This science does not imply a person is immune to reinfection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the 3 months following infection,” CDC spokesperson Jason McDonald said in a statement. “The latest data simply suggests that retesting someone in the 3 months following initial infection is not necessary unless that person is exhibiting the symptoms of COVID-19 and the symptoms cannot be associated with another illness.”

Study hints, can’t prove, survivor plasma fights COVID-19

Mayo Clinic researchers reported a strong hint that blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors helps other patients recover, but it’s not proof and some experts worry if, amid clamor for the treatment, they’ll ever get a clear answer.

More than 64,000 patients in the U.S. have been given convalescent plasma, a century-old approach to fend off flu and measles before vaccines. It’s a go-to tactic when new diseases come along, and history suggests it works against some, but not all, infections.

There’s no solid evidence yet that it fights the coronavirus and, if so, how best to use it. But preliminary data from 35,000 coronavirus patients treated with plasma offers what Mayo lead researcher Dr. Michael Joyner on Friday called “signals of efficacy.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp says cities can now enforce mask mandates

After bitter battles with municipalities over mandatory mask ordinances, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has yielded to local city’s demands. Kemp is expected to sign an executive order on Saturday that allows cities like Savannah, Atlanta, Augusta and Athens to enforce the mask mandates that the governor had previously insisted had no power.

Until Friday, Kemp had strongly encouraged people to wear masks. He’d filed a lawsuit against Atlanta Mayor Kesha Lance Bottoms to drop her local mandate, but earlier this week Kemp dropped that suit.

Under the order, first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the ordinances for businesses will only be applicable if the owner agrees to it. Kemp also said people must be given a warning before being issued a citation. Kemp has not gone as far as making masks a statewide mandate.

– Rana L. Cash, Savannah Morning News

What we’re reading

New York to allow museums, aquariums, more to open

Bowling alleys, gyms, museums and other low-risk indoor cultural venues will soon be allowed to open in New York with strict COVID-19 rules, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday.

Bowling alleys will be allowed to open Monday, being limited to 50% of occupancy capacity and forced to follow other rules, such as bowlers must have a face covering and every other lane will remain closed. Food and alcohol service will also be limited to wait service, reports USA TODAY Network’s New York State Team.

Museums, aquariums and other low-risk indoor cultural venues will be allowed to open in New York City on Aug. 24 with various COVID-19 restrictions, including operating at 25% occupancy capacity. In upstate communities, museums and other indoor venues opened previously.

The opening date and rules for gyms will be revealed on Monday, Cuomo said.

– David Robinson, New York State Team

Canada-US border closed for another month

The Canada-U.S. border will remain closed to nonessential travel for at least another month, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in a statement Friday, a day after Mexico announced a similar measure for its border with the United States. The land border restrictions aimed at controlling the coronavirus pandemic were first announced in March and have been renewed monthly. 

Essential cross-border workers such as health care professionals, airline crews and truck drivers are still permitted to cross. Americans and Canadians returning to their respective countries are exempted from the border closure.

– The Associated Press

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Communities of color are dying at higher rates from the novel coronavirus than white Americans. Here’s how structural inequities play a role.

USA TODAY

More COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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Contributing: The Associated Press

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