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California’s health department announced Thursday that the state’s roughly 40 million residents must cover their faces in “most settings outside the home." California embraced especially strict measures the same day it reported record-high new coronavirus infections.

Meanwhile, mask mandates continue to generate controversy around the country. The governor of Nebraska said any local government that requires masks in its offices and courts would not get federal coronavirus funding allocated by the Cares Act. However, the mayor of Orange County, Fla., announced plans to sign an executive order that requires every person to wear a mask starting Saturday.

Novel coronavirus caseloads continue to surge across the South and West. Arizona announced 2,519 new cases on Thursday morning, Florida announced 3,207, and California reported 4,084. All are new highs. Coronavirus hospitalizations in Arizona have doubled since Memorial Day, with public data showing inpatient beds across the state at 85 percent capacity.

Oklahoma reported a huge spike in new coronavirus cases on Thursday as the Trump campaign prepared for a Saturday rally in Tulsa. There are 450 new confirmed cases in Oklahoma, the state reported, the highest one-day total since its previous record, set Wednesday, of 259 cases.

So far, more than 116,000 people are reported to have died of the virus in the United States, with more than 2.1 million cases diagnosed.

Here are some significant developments:

  • President Trump called coronavirus testing “overrated” and suggested in a recent Wall Street Journal interview that some people wear masks not as a health precaution but to signal their disapproval of him.
  • In a video interview with The Washington Post, Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said it’s too early to start talking about the second wave because the first one hasn’t ended yet.
  • The NFL season is in jeopardy, Fauci said on CNN. “Unless players are essentially in a bubble … it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” he said. Elsewhere, 13 players from the University of Texas tested positive for the virus.
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will begin testing a “completely voluntary” mobile app that will alert people if they’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus. The worldwide coronavirus death toll has passed 448,000, while nearly 8.4 million cases have been reported.

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June 18, 2020 at 11:31 PM EDT

Vermont borders states with major covid-19 outbreaks, but you won’t find it there

IRA, Vt. — Months into the pandemic, Vermont’s governor says the state is “the envy of the nation,” with little more than 1,100 confirmed covid-19 infections and 56 deaths.

Perhaps most remarkable is that Vermont has been relatively spared the effects of the disease even though a huge swath of the nation’s cases are mere hours from its borders; neighboring New York and Massachusetts have approximately half a million confirmed cases between them, and more than 37,000 deaths.

Vermont had feared the coronavirus would ravage its large elderly population, and colleges drained hockey rinks for emergency bedspace. But emergency room visits are down, hardly anyone is hospitalized, and until Thursday the state had not recorded a virus-related death since May 28.

Read more here.

By Maria Sacchetti
June 18, 2020 at 10:59 PM EDT

Blood plasma from people who recovered is a safe covid-19 treatment, study says

A large study of 20,000 hospitalized covid-19 patients who received transfusions of blood plasma from people who recovered concluded that the treatment was safe and suggested that giving it to people early in the disease may be beneficial.

The treatment, called convalescent plasma, is based on a century-old idea in medicine that has been used against measles, influenza and Ebola. People who recover from an infection have virus-fighting antibodies floating in their blood, and transfusions of their plasma — the clear liquid after blood cells are removed — may give recipients’ immune systems an assist in fighting off the virus.

The study, published Thursday in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, is the largest analysis yet of an experimental treatment rapidly deployed in the early weeks of the pandemic through a grass roots effort by physicians. What started as a proposal in a medical journal rapidly drew more than 2,000 medical institutions into a collaborative effort to work out the logistics of collecting and deploying the plasma.

The results are encouraging but also highlight the difficulty of conducting conclusive studies in the midst of a global pandemic — and add to a body of inconclusive and sometimes conflicting evidence about the approach.

Read more here.

By Carolyn Y. Johnson
June 18, 2020 at 10:36 PM EDT

Video evidence emerges of anti-black discrimination in China over coronavirus fears

In the face of an invisible and deadly enemy, fears and deep-rooted biases often take over. This bore out in the reaction of some communities to the novel oronavirus, a swift and highly contagious disease.

In the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, the African population — one of the largest in Asia — and black residents said they were targeted by local officials in a crackdown over unfounded fears that Africans were a high-risk population for the spread of the disease.

After interviewing people in Guangzhou, reviewing videos, speaking with experts and collaborating with researchers, the Fact Checker video team was able to identify what appears to be a chaotic effort from officials in Guangzhou to target Africans and the larger black community over coronavirus fears.

Read more here.

By Sarah Cahlan and Joyce Lee
June 18, 2020 at 10:10 PM EDT

Tulsa arena asks Trump campaign for detailed health plan ahead of Saturday rally

The managers of the arena in Oklahoma where President Trump plans to hold a controversial campaign rally requested on Thursday that the Trump campaign provide a detailed written plan outlining “health and safety” measures ahead of the event to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to a statement from the venue.

The rally is planned for Saturday evening at the BOK Center, a 19,000-seat venue in downtown Tulsa. According to the arena management’s statement, the campaign has already said it will offer masks, hand sanitizer and temperature checks to everyone who attends. The statement added that facility staffers will be tested for the coronavirus and that the venue will be “cleaned and disinfected repeatedly throughout the event, with special emphasis on high-touch areas.”

Read more here.

By Josh Partlow, Colby Itkowitz and Annie Gowen
June 18, 2020 at 9:25 PM EDT

Orange County sheriff again says he won’t enforce mask order

After mounting public outrage, the new health director of Orange County, Calif., last week peeled back an order that required people to wear face masks in public spaces, saying it was only to bring the county in line with state-level guidance, which at the time did not have a face mask requirement.

But the freedom from masks in Orange County didn’t last long.

On Thursday, California’s health department announced that the state’s approximately 40 million residents must cover their faces in “most settings outside the home,” as it reported record-high new coronavirus infections.

Now the Orange County sheriff is saying he will not enforce the statewide order. It’s not the first time he has refused.

Sheriff Don Barnes told news radio station KNX on Thursday that it is “each person’s responsibility to wear a face covering” but “not law enforcement’s responsibility to enforce it.”

The debate over face coverings in Orange County reached a fever-pitch in the past week, with groups that support and oppose a mandate to wear masks confronting each other.

About 25 Orange County union leaders met outside the county administration building on Tuesday to call on health officials to reinstate the county-level order, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The group was met with a group of anti-mask protesters chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, these masks have got to go.” Luis Aleman, a project lead for the Orange County Labor Federation, told the Times that protesters screamed at speakers and tried to strike them with their signs.

The battle over face masks in Orange County began in May, and tensions have only heightened. The county’s top health officer abruptly resigned last week after weeks of harsh attacks, and a death threat, over her mask requirements.

By Angela Fritz and Samantha Pell
June 18, 2020 at 9:06 PM EDT

With 70-game proposal, players’ union closes gap with MLB, but deal for season remains elusive

The Major League Baseball Players Association on Thursday delivered to MLB a proposal for a season of about 70 games, a move that narrows the gap between the sides to just 10 games and about $250 million in total salaries and brings the sport — at least in theory — within reach of a deal to start the pandemic-delayed 2020 season on July 19.

The reality, however, is more complex — and the acrimony between the sides as intense as at any point in this months-long saga.

The union’s offer, first reported by ESPN, comes one day after MLB proposed a 60-game season and, for the first time, agreed to pay players full, prorated shares of their salaries — a sticking point in earlier talks. The MLB offer would result in players earning a total of $1.51 billion, while the union’s offer equates to $1.76 billion.

Read more here:

By Dave Sheinin
June 18, 2020 at 9:01 PM EDT

AMC plans to reopen theaters July 15, with restrictions and a lot of cleaning

AMC Theatres has a plan to bring people back to the movies in time for a few summer blockbusters.

AMC will reopen about 450 of its U.S. locations on July 15 and the 150 remaining theaters in time for the release of Disney’s “Mulan” and Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” later in the month.

This month, the company acknowledged in public filings that it was being financially crushed by the pandemic, with the possibility of bankruptcy on the horizon. States’ guidelines have only recently started allowing theaters to reopen.

AMC has released a plan it says will keep customers and employees safe, which includes keeping theater capacity below 30 percent in the first phase of reopening. It will block out every other row of seats in the non-reclining theaters, AMC said in a news release. It will also block off one seat between each party in reserved, reclining seating in theaters.

In addition to seating limitations, AMC says, it will disinfect the theaters between each show, provide hand sanitizer and wipes to moviegoers and implement routine cleaning of high-trafficked surfaces such as door handles and hand rails.

The company will require its employees to wear masks while they are in the theaters, it says, but it will not ask customers to wear masks unless it is required by local officials.

Face masks can significantly reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which is more transmissible indoors, where air circulation tends to be poor, than outdoors. Studies have shown that virus traces can linger in the air, though it remains unclear whether such aerosols are infectious.

AMC says it worked with the Clorox Company and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to devise its reopening plan.

By Angela Fritz
June 18, 2020 at 7:55 PM EDT

Florida gun shop owner won’t let customers wear masks

Alex Shkop, a West Palm Beach, Fla., gun shop owner, says he doesn’t allow people to wear masks in his store, despite the rising number of coronavirus cases in the state.

In an interview with CNN, Shkop said gun stores are particularly prone to theft, and they use video surveillance to prevent it and track down the culprits if it happens. But with masks, would-be thieves are completely unidentifiable.

“Ultimately, if somebody stole a sweater, that is one thing, but if somebody stole a gun somebody could be killed with it,” he told the Palm Beach Post.

Shkop also noted a Florida statute that he said prohibits people from wearing masks while carrying firearms. But a review of Florida’s mask laws by the Sun Sentinel shows that it’s not illegal to wear a mask in the state unless the wearer intends to commit a crime. Neither the statute Shkop referenced nor the one that supersedes it mentions anything about firearms.

Shkop said “he has received hate mail” about his no-mask policy, which has made him more cautious about people wearing face coverings, the Palm Beach Post reported.

He told CNN that if a customer wants to wear a mask in his store, they can call in advance and let them know they are coming. Shkop said it is optional for his employees to wear masks because they have to talk to customers and, he said, masks make that difficult.

“But again, if they are going to make it mandatory, as a rule, we will definitely comply,” he told CNN.

One of the store’s customers said he was surprised by the rule and told WPTV that he would be cautious about shopping there, given the uptick in infections.

“I would at least stick my head in the door," Robert Cruz told WPTV, "and if there was a lot of people, I wouldn’t go in.”

By Angela Fritz
June 18, 2020 at 7:34 PM EDT

Want to top the box office during a pandemic? Film for free on Zoom and then rent out a theater.

Eric Tabach, an actor and YouTuber, messaged his friend Christian Nilsson in May with an intriguing question: With virtually every theater shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic, could they top the box office if they somehow released a new movie?

Nilsson, a New York-based filmmaker, hatched a plan. Now, just a month later, the 20-something former BuzzFeed colleagues have joined the ranks of Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Christopher Nolan with a box-office-topping movie to their names.

With an official haul of $25,488, their 29-minute horror flick “Unsubscribe” — shot at no cost and entirely on Zoom — led the national charts on June 10, according to Box Office Mojo, among the industry’s premier revenue trackers.

Read more here.

By Tim Elfrink
June 18, 2020 at 7:17 PM EDT

13 football players at University of Texas test positive for coronavirus

Thirteen University of Texas football players have tested positive or are presumed positive for the coronavirus, including two students who tested positive last week, the university said Thursday in a news release.

The players are self-isolating, as are 10 asymptomatic student-athletes, the university said. University officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on how the news of the additional cases will affect preseason plans. Voluntary workouts for football players began this week.

The school said all players were being tested and have received coronavirus safety training.

As college athletes resume training in the wake of loosened government restrictions, athletic programs across the country are reporting coronavirus infections, including Texas Tech in Lubbock, the University of Houston, Auburn University in Alabama and Florida State University in Tallahassee.

In response to the pandemic, Southern Methodist University and Ohio State University are requiring at least some of their athletes to sign waivers to protect the schools from being sued by the athletes or their families if they get sick. Athletes at SMU cannot work out without a waiver, Forbes reported.

Though the pandemic has trimmed the earliest weeks of summer training, the UT football team has not been idle: Several players were among those who marched along with members of the Austin Police Department to the state capitol in Austin on June 4 during a protest sparked by the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.

The football players were also among the UT student athletes who called on the university to make racially inclusive changes, including renaming campus buildings whose namesakes held racist views, boosting diversity in the athletic department Hall of Fame and replacing the school’s unofficial fight song, “The Eyes of Texas,” which has roots in the school’s old minstrel shows.

By Kim Bellware
June 18, 2020 at 6:28 PM EDT

Britain says ethnic minority communities may get priority access to vaccine

Britain’s ethnic minorities may get priority access to a future coronavirus vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a news briefing Thursday at 10 Downing Street.

Hancock said a decision would be made in the future and current guidance is that priority would be given to front-line health workers, people older than 50, and people with heart or kidney disease.

“As we learn more about the virus, we’ll continue to take into account which groups may be particularly vulnerable, including, for example, those from ethnic minority backgrounds,” Hancock said.

Research shows that the coronavirus has disproportionately affected Britain’s ethnic minorities, prompting opposition leaders to call for an investigation.

A study released this week by the government body Public Health England found that age-standardized diagnosis rates for black ethnic groups in England were more than twice that of white ethnic groups. Meanwhile, people from a Bangladeshi ethnic group were twice as likely to die as someone from a white ethnic background.

The report included racism and discrimination among the possible reasons for the gap, noting that “racial discrimination affects people’s life chances and the stress associated with being discriminated against based on race/ethnicity affects mental and physical health.”

Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the council of the British Medical Association, told the BBC this week that more than 90 percent of doctors who have died during Britain’s outbreak were from a BAME background — an official term that refers to Black, Asian and minority ethnic.

By Adam Taylor
June 18, 2020 at 6:24 PM EDT

Oklahoma reports huge spike in new cases two days before Trump rally

Oklahoma reported a huge spike in new coronavirus cases on Thursday as the Trump campaign prepared for a Saturday rally in Tulsa.

There are 450 new confirmed cases in Oklahoma, the state reported; the highest one-day total since its previous record, set Wednesday, of 259 cases. The state has been on an upward trend in infections for just over a week.

Infections in Tulsa County make up 120 of the state’s Thursday total, and Oklahoma County, where Oklahoma City is located, reported 107 of the new cases.

Despite the worrying upward trend, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted Thursday that President Trump’s upcoming campaign rally in an indoor arena in Tulsa will be “a safe opportunity to congregate.” Local health officials have called on the campaign to cancel it.

“We are leading on that,” McEnany told Fox News’s “Fox & Friends.” “There will be hand sanitizer. There will be masks handed out. There will be precautions taken, so we believe that this is a safe opportunity to congregate, to really celebrate the great things that President Trump does each and every day in this administration.”

By Angela Fritz and Jacqueline Dupree
June 18, 2020 at 5:51 PM EDT

Masks now mandatory in parts of Texas, Arizona, Florida and other states as infections surge

As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to reach record highs in several Southern and Western states, officials are turning to mandatory mask-wearing in hopes of slowing the spread of infections.

California will now require its roughly 40 million residents to cover their faces in “most settings outside the home,” the state health department announced Thursday, the same day it reported record-high new coronavirus infections.

The mayor of Orange County, Fla., announced he plans to sign an executive order that requires every person to wear a mask starting Saturday. “We do not want to experience another shutdown in our community,” Mayor Jerry Demings said at a news conference. Most of the Disney World resort is located in Orange County.

In Arizona, where the number of covid-19 patients requiring hospitalization has nearly doubled since Memorial Day, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) gave local officials the authority to introduce their own rules for mandatory mask-wearing on Wednesday. Many of the state’s largest cities, including Phoenix and Tucson, now plan to make masks compulsory.

The mayors of nine major Texas cities — including Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth — want to be granted similar latitude. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has banned local governments from imposing any penalties on people who fail to wear masks in public. Texas reported 2,947 people were hospitalized with covid-19 on Thursday, a record high.

Oregon has also seen a sharp uptick in coronavirus infections and deaths since Memorial Day. Gov. Kate Brown (D) on Wednesday made mask-wearing compulsory in seven counties in the greater Portland region, where approximately 55 percent of the state’s population lives.

Several Southern cities, including Fayetteville, Ark., and Memphis, have introduced similar requirements this week. In Montgomery, Ala., Mayor Steven Reed (D) issued an executive order requiring face coverings after the city council voted down a similar ordinance.

By Antonia Farzan, Hannah Knowles and Angela Fritz
June 18, 2020 at 5:42 PM EDT

Conservative activist banned from American Airlines after refusing to wear a mask

A group of U.S. airlines this week began “vigorously” enforcing face-covering policies after reports of travelers not being held to the safety standard. A conservative activist has come down on the wrong side of that enforcement and is now banned from American Airlines for his refusal to wear a mask on board, as long as the mask policy is still in place.

On Wednesday, Brandon Straka posted on Twitter about an interaction onboard an American Airlines flight from LaGuardia to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. After a flight attendant asked Brandon Straka whether there was a reason he wasn’t wearing a mask, he said he replied: “Sanity.”

Astead Herndon, a politics reporter for the New York Times, was on the same flight, and posted about a “mutiny” that was happening over a passenger who refused to wear a mask. Straka’s refusal began to agitate other passengers, who also told him to wear a mask. After some back-and-forth, Straka was given an ultimatum: If you don’t want to wear a mask, you can leave the plane.

“He wasn’t forcibly removed; he simply left,” Herndon said, noting Straka may not have realized a reporter was documenting the scene. “I was right next to him for the whole interaction. It wasn’t as dramatic as he made it out to be.”

In an email, the airline said it had “thoroughly reviewed an incident on June 17 involving one of our customers, Brandon Straka. As a result of this review, Mr. Straka will not be permitted to fly American, as he failed to comply with our stated policy and crewmember instructions.”

By Drew Jones