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Nine Texas mayors wrote a letter to the states’ residents this week, urging them to wear masks. Coronavirus cases in Texas continue to surge and the number of hospitalizations has been climbing since late May.

“The virus is here,” says the letter, which San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg (I) shared Friday. “Infections are rising. Hospital capacity is filling up. This isn’t meant to scare you, but it is meant to be very honest. The virus doesn’t leave just because our collective urgency has gone away.”

“We’re not playing games or politics,” Nirenberg added.

As cases and hospitalizations rise in states across the South and West, new mask requirements are prompting faceoffs between officials who seek to require face coverings and those, particularly conservatives, who oppose such measures. Several studies this month support wearing masks to curb coronavirus transmission, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend their use as a protective measure.

Here are some significant developments:

  • The World Health Organization warned Friday that “the world is in a new and dangerous phase” as the global pandemic accelerates. The world recorded about 150,000 new cases on Thursday, the largest rise yet in a single day, according to the WHO. More than 8.5 million coronavirus cases and at least 454,000 deaths have been reported worldwide.
  • Case numbers hit record highs Friday in Florida, Arizona, Nevada and South Carolina as infections continue to surge in the South and West. Tulsa County in Oklahoma — where President Trump plans to hold a campaign rally Saturday — also hit a record high Friday.
  • The CDC said Thursday that the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus could rise to as high as 145,000 by July 11, meaning as many as 26,000 Americans could die in the next few weeks.
  • Brazil exceeded 1 million coronavirus cases Friday as the country continues to battle the world’s second-highest number of confirmed infections, after the United States. Deaths officially related to covid-19 are quickly approaching 50,000 in Brazil.
  • The Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected a legal bid to stop Trump’s Tulsa rally over health concerns. The rally, which is expected to draw 19,000 people to the BOK Center in Tulsa, could worsen the pandemic in the city.
  • Capt. Brett Crozier’s removal from command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after he questioned the Navy’s handling of the outbreak on his ship has been upheld by Navy leaders.

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June 19, 2020 at 10:01 PM EDT

Varying testing policies jeopardize college football season, experts say

Over the past few weeks, thousands of college football players have returned to campuses across the country for socially distanced workouts, medical treatment and, essentially, to serve as test subjects as college sports officials try to figure out how to have a football season in the middle of a pandemic.

In interviews and news releases, athletic directors have pledged the safety and well-being of their athletes and employees is paramount, and their covid-19 safety policies will take all possible precautions. But already there are signs some schools are risking outbreaks on their football teams, jeopardizing the upcoming season two months before it’s scheduled to begin, a Washington Post review has found.

Read more here.

By Will Hobson
June 19, 2020 at 9:46 PM EDT

Migrant farmworkers die in Canada, and Mexico wants answers

TORONTO — Each summer for the past five years, Aaron has traveled from his home in Mexico to Canada as one of the tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers who seed, tend and harvest the crops that keep the country fed. This year’s journey was unique.

Flights were limited. There were temperature screenings and questionnaires before he took off and after he landed. On arriving in British Columbia this month, he was checked into a hotel for a 14-day quarantine.

“I trust that everything will be fine,” said Aaron, a 31-year-old husband and father from Guanajuato state who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But in this year of the novel coronavirus, the precautions have not kept all of Canada’s migrant farmworkers safe. At least 600 have contracted the coronavirus, and at least two, both Mexicans, have died.

Read more here.

By Amanda Coletta
June 19, 2020 at 9:28 PM EDT

Texas mayors urge residents to wear masks: ‘We need to take this seriously’

Nine Texas mayors wrote a letter to the states’ residents this week, urging them to wear masks as coronavirus cases there continue to surge and the number of hospital patients swells.

“The virus is here,” says the letter, which San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg (I) shared Friday on Twitter. “Infections are rising. Hospital capacity is filling up. This isn’t meant to scare you, but it is meant to be very honest. The virus doesn’t leave just because our collective urgency has gone away.”

Daily case totals have been increasing in Texas since late May, and state health officials reported 3,454 new infections on Friday. They also announced 35 new deaths and 3,148 current hospitalizations, up from 2,947 on Thursday.

The mayors urged residents to continue social distancing, wash their hands frequently, wear face coverings in public, stay home when possible and avoid crowds.

“If we want the economy to open fully and stay open, if we want to send our kids back to school from pre-k to college, if we want to watch and play sports with people in the stands, if we want to attend cultural arts events like concerts and theatre, if we want banquets and parades in the fall, if we want our lives back as Texans, we need to take this seriously,” the mayors wrote. “Very seriously.”

In addition to the San Antonio mayor, the letter was signed by the mayors of Laredo, Houston, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Austin, Sugar Land, Lubbock and El Paso.

On Tuesday, Texas news outlets reported that the mayors of the state’s nine biggest cities asked Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to grant local officials the authority to “set rules and regulations” mandating masks in their cities. Abbott clarified to KWTX on Wednesday that despite his executive order barring punishments for not wearing a mask, local officials can tell businesses to require face coverings.

By Samantha Pell
June 19, 2020 at 9:16 PM EDT

Summer camp during coronavirus will look a little different

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — As the school year comes to an end amid an easing of stay-at-home orders, millions of U.S. parents face the nerve-racking decision whether to send their children to day care and summer camp. And they must do so without any clear data or large studies to guide them about the risks.

The Y, to its own surprise, has had few positive cases and no known outbreaks among its 1,000 locations and 40,000 children in care over the past three months.

Still, some states report worrisome numbers: 14 clusters in Maryland have been linked to child-care centers. But health officials in a half-dozen other states said they have seen no clusters in the centers. That forces parents to make choices on their own.

Read more here.

By Ariana Eunjung Cha
June 19, 2020 at 8:44 PM EDT

Navy upholds firing of aircraft carrier captain who pleaded for help with coronavirus

Navy leaders have upheld the firing of an aircraft carrier captain whose handling of a coronavirus outbreak raised concerns about the military’s vulnerability to the highly contagious disease and generated a personnel crisis for the Navy.

A two-month naval investigation concluded that the dismissal of Capt. Brett Crozier, who was fired in early April after a letter in which he warned of the risk the virus posed to his crew abroad the USS Theodore Roosevelt was made public, should not be reversed, Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of Naval Operations, told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday.

Gilday said the investigation had found Crozier made poor decisions as the number of crew members infected with the virus accelerated, saying that Crozier would not be eligible for future command but would face no further disciplinary action. Reuters first reported the result of the investigation.

Read more here.

By Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan and Paul Sonne
June 19, 2020 at 8:16 PM EDT

Oklahoma Supreme Court rejects legal bid to stop Trump’s Tulsa rally

TULSA — The Oklahoma Supreme Court Friday rejected an appeal of a lawsuit attempting to block President Trump from holding an indoor campaign rally Saturday in Tulsa that many feared could worsen the spread of coronavirus, paving the way for the event to go off as planned.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of local residents, business owners and a community center in the historically black neighborhood of Greenwood earlier this week had demanded that the arena adhere to social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or that the event be canceled. The Trump campaign has said it will take temperatures of supporters entering the 19,000-seat BOK Center and hand out masks, but face coverings are not required.

The plaintiffs had sought a temporary injunction against the ASM Global, the parent company of the entity that manages the BOK Center, “to protect against a substantial, imminent, and deadly risk to the community,” according to a copy of the complaint. Paul DeMuro, an attorney for the plaintiffs, had argued that it was “madness” to let the event proceed as new coronavirus cases in Tulsa are spiking.

The court said that the state's June 1 reopening plan allowed business owners to use discretion over social distancing measures, and they were not mandatory as the plaintiffs had asserted.

The ruling came as thousands of Trump fans and protesters poured into this city in advance of President Trump’s first campaign rally in months, and authorities had imposed a curfew Thursday night as fears of potential violence mingled with anxiety about a spike in new cases of coronavirus.

By Robert Klemko, Colby Itkowitz and Annie Gowen
June 19, 2020 at 8:10 PM EDT

Mask mandates gain traction in many of the biggest cities, counties in Arizona, Texas

A slew of the biggest cities and counties in Arizona and Texas have begun to mandate face masks after their Republican governors — facing mounting pressure — gave their blessing this week.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) on Wednesday reversed course to allow mask requirements, while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) clarified the same day to KWTX that local officials could tell businesses to mandate masks without running afoul of his executive order banning civil or criminal penalties for those who do not cover their faces in public.

With hospitalizations and new coronavirus infections rising in both states, cities and counties had been clamoring to take stronger measures.

By Friday, at least 20 cities in Arizona had moved to impose some kind of mask requirement, according to statements by mayors and other officials tracked by Fox 10. Some of the new rules apply to specific settings such as businesses and public buildings, while others are more expansive. The city council in Phoenix, the state capital, voted 7-2 on Friday to mandate face coverings for anyone who leaves their home and comes within six feet of someone outside of their household, with some limited exceptions.

Several Texas counties, including the two most populous — Harris County, which includes Houston, and Dallas County — are requiring businesses to mandate face coverings for staff and patrons in most situations. So is the state capital, Austin.

A Dallas County judge wrote in an order Friday that people age 10 and older “shall wear” a face covering in public places where it is difficult to keep six feet away from others. Consistent with the governor’s rules, however, there are no legal penalties for not following the recommendation.

By Hannah Knowles
June 19, 2020 at 8:07 PM EDT

New Jersey governor says officials will try to identify uncounted coronavirus deaths

New Jersey officials are starting to identify uncounted coronavirus-related deaths in the state and will soon begin to report the backlog of those fatalities, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced Friday.

At his daily coronavirus briefing, Murphy said the state will start releasing the new numbers next week. He did not mention whether officials would combine the previously uncounted deaths with the existing fatality total or keep them separate.

As of Friday, New Jersey had reported 12,835 deaths. The state has been among those hardest hit in the pandemic, but cases have been declining there since late April.

“We know that there are many others who have died throughout this pandemic who have not been counted, officially, among our covid-19-related fatalities,” Murphy said, referencing the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The governor said the deaths may not have initially been counted for “a number of reasons, including that a covid-19 test was never performed, even though the underlying symptoms and causes of death point to the fact that an individual did, in fact, have covid-19.”

While New Jersey is trying to identify coronavirus-related deaths, some states are trying to remove them from their fatality totals.

Washington state health officials have been counting the deaths of anyone who tested positive for the virus, but they said Wednesday that they will now only count fatalities where “covid-19 caused or contributed to the death.” On June 17, the state started removing deaths from the health department’s daily count.

By Samantha Pell
June 19, 2020 at 8:01 PM EDT

Black leaders in Tulsa are outraged by Trump’s rally during a pandemic

The historic church that once sheltered black Tulsans escaping one of the deadliest massacres in U.S. history has shut its doors for the Juneteenth holiday weekend, said the Rev. Robert Turner. It will provide only “essential services” such as feeding the hungry and serving people’s spiritual needs.

Hosting President Trump, he said, is not essential.

The president arrives in Tulsa Saturday for his first campaign rally since much of the nation locked down in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The event has drawn outrage from black Tulsans, who say it will stoke tensions — in a city still trying to make amends for the 1921 attack on a historic black community — during a weekend that celebrates freedom for enslaved black people and amid nationwide protests over racism in policing.

Read more here.

By DeNeen L. Brown
June 19, 2020 at 7:59 PM EDT

Brazil tops 1 million confirmed coronavirus infections, second only to U.S.

Brazil exceeded 1 million coronavirus cases Friday as the country continues to battle the world’s second-highest number of confirmed infections, after the United States.

Deaths officially related to covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are also quickly approaching 50,000, Reuters reported. Brazil has averaged 1,000 deaths and 25,000 new cases per day in the past week.

Experts, however, caution that the real number of infections and fatalities due to the coronavirus is probably far higher.

“That number of 1 million is much less than the real number of people who have been infected, because there is under-reporting of a magnitude of five to ten times,” Alexandre Naime Barbosa, a medical professor at São Paulo State University, told Reuters. “The true number is probably at least 3 million and could even be as high as 10 million people.”

Elsewhere in the world, Guatemala’s president replaced the country’s health minister on Friday amid pressure over his handling of the pandemic.

Former health minister Hugo Monroy had faced accusations that he was not spending enough to contain the outbreak, the Associated Press reported. Doctors at public health facilities have resorted to protests over allegedly unpaid salaries, while under-resourced hospitals have struggled to care for rising caseloads of patients, according to the AP.

Guatemala has reported roughly 11,800 cases and 450 deaths, according to a tracker maintained by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Peru, which this week overtook Italy as seventh in the world for confirmed cases, is probably heading toward its worst economic decline in a century, the country’s central bank reported Friday, according to Reuters. Peru has more than 240,000 confirmed cases — Latin America’s second highest — and has had more than 7,000 covid-19-related deaths.

By Miriam Berger
June 19, 2020 at 7:55 PM EDT

In big reversal, Trump administration agrees to disclose details about PPP loan recipients

The U.S. Small Business Administration and Treasury Department announced Friday that they would release a dataset showing which businesses received many taxpayer-funded Paycheck Protection Program loans, walking back an earlier stance that all of the business names would remain hidden because the Trump administration considered them proprietary.

The disclosures will pertain to firms that borrowed more than $150,000 as part of the program. Borrowers who obtained loans of less than $150,000 would not have their identities disclosed, the agencies said in a joint statement.

The Friday afternoon announcement came after several weeks of tense negotiations with congressional leadership, in which members of both parties pressed for some form of disclosure. The plan announced Friday would amount to a compromise in which most loan recipients will be made public while specific details would be obscured.

Read more here.

By Aaron Gregg
June 19, 2020 at 7:45 PM EDT

Iraqi hospitals become nexus of infection as coronavirus cases rise dramatically among doctors

BAGHDAD — On the front lines, Iraq’s doctors are contracting the coronavirus by the hundreds, as a rising wave of infections threatens to crush the country’s health-care system.

Medical staff who develop symptoms are tested and then ordered back to work, waiting a week for results, fearful that their continued presence is endangering colleagues and patients, hospital staff say. In laboratories that run coronavirus tests, staff are also falling ill.

“Our hospitals are meant to treat people. Instead, they’re breeding the infection,” said Abdulameer Mohsin Hussein, president of the Iraqi Medical Association, an independent body.

The total number of doctors with reported infections has jumped 56 percent since last week, raising the tally to 506 since the outbreak began in Iraq in March, according to the association. It estimates that the number of infected paramedics is even higher.

Read more here.

By Mustafa Salim and Louisa Loveluck
June 19, 2020 at 7:39 PM EDT

South Carolina reports record number of new cases and warns that young adults are increasingly contracting the virus

South Carolina health officials on Friday reported a record number of new coronavirus cases — a figure that surpassed 1,000 for the first time since the outbreak began.

The 1,081 infections announced Friday were an increase from Thursday’s 982 cases, which was then a record. The state also reported 18 new deaths and 660 current hospitalizations.

South Carolina’s health department warned that the virus is increasingly affecting young people. Of the 22,608 confirmed infections in the state, officials said 18.4 percent have been in people ages 21 to 30. Another 7 percent of cases have been in teenagers.

The number of new infections in people ages 21 to 30 has increased by roughly 414 percent since April 4, and the number of new cases in people ages 11 to 20 has increased by 966 percent, health officials said.

“The increase that we’re seeing serve as a warning that young adults and youth are not immune to covid-19,” Brannon Traxler, a physician consultant for the state health department, said in a statement. “They also tell us that younger South Carolinians are not taking social distancing seriously.”

By Samantha Pell
June 19, 2020 at 7:14 PM EDT

Pence’s sunny approach ignores possibility of dark days ahead, health experts warn

In early March, as the novel coronavirus made its devastation known, Vice President Pence declared that “the risk of contracting the coronavirus to the American public remains low.”

In April, as the virus’s death toll ticked upward, Pence said he hoped the pandemic would be “largely in the past” by early June.

And this week, with questions swirling about a potential surge in cases in parts of the country, Pence penned an op-ed with an optimistic headline: “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave.’ ”

The vice president has long been a happy warrior on behalf of President Trump. But for many public health experts, including some close to the administration, Pence’s Tuesday op-ed in the Wall Street Journal was cause for alarm — a 420-word opinion piece that, they fear, presents an overly rosy vision of a pandemic that has already killed at least 117,000 Americans — and indicative of the administration’s approach.

Read more here.

By Ashley Parker and Yasmeen Abutaleb