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Confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed 2.5 million on Sunday as a crushing new wave of infections continued to bear down throughout the country’s South and West. Across the nation, 40,587 new daily cases were reported.

Florida, Texas and Arizona are emerging as the country’s latest epicenters after reporting record numbers of new infections for weeks in a row. Positivity rates and hospitalizations have also spiked. On Sunday, Arizona (3,857) and Georgia (2,225) hit new one-day case highs.

Global cases of covid-19 exceeded 10 million, according to a count maintained by Johns Hopkins University, a measure of the power and spread of a pandemic that has caused vast human suffering, devastated the world’s economy and still threatens vulnerable populations in rich and poor nations alike.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Sunday downplayed concerns about Florida’s rising number of new coronavirus cases and attributed the state’s numbers to young people flouting social distancing rules.
  • As cases surge in parts of the United States, testing centers have been overwhelmed with an influx of patients, leading to long wait times and huge lines.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday the wearing of masks should be mandatory nationwide during the pandemic.
  • A record surge in new cases is the clearest sign yet of the historic failure in the United States to control the virus — exposing a crisis in governance extending from the Oval Office to state capitals to city councils.
  • The faltering response in the United States remains a subject of global shock and fascination, with one prominent French virologist saying Sunday the situation was “explosive.”

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June 29, 2020 at 8:53 AM EDT

Fauci says vaccine may not cause herd immunity because of effectiveness level and people who won’t get it

The fact that an eventual vaccine for the novel coronavirus may be only 70 to 75 percent effective and the likelihood that many people will not receive it make the United States unlikely to achieve herd immunity, Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, told CNN.

“The best we’ve ever done is measles, which is 97 to 98 percent effective,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in the interview that aired Sunday as part of the Aspen Ideas Festival. “That would be wonderful if we get there. I don’t think we will. I would settle for [a] 70, 75 percent effective vaccine.”

About 70 percent of U.S. residents say they plan to get a coronavirus vaccine if it’s free and available, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this month. About two-thirds said the same in a CNN poll.

CNN asked Fauci whether a vaccine that is 70 to 75 percent effective and given to two-thirds of the country would create herd immunity, in which a large enough portion of a population is immune to the virus so that it is unable to spread.

“No — unlikely,” he responded.

Fauci also told CNN that contact tracing is going poorly in the United States, in part because many communities are trying to do it by phone. About half of people who answer such calls don’t want to talk to anyone in a position of authority, he said. He recommended that contact tracers do their work in person.

Asymptomatic transmission also makes contact tracing difficult, Fauci added. He said 20 to 40 percent of people carrying the virus may not have symptoms.

“So the standard classic paradigm of identification, isolation, contact tracing doesn’t work, no matter how good you are, because you don’t know who you’re tracing,” Fauci told CNN.

By Marisa Iati
June 28, 2020 at 11:17 PM EDT

NBA’s Rudy Gobert contracted the coronavirus in March. He still can’t smell properly.

It’s been more than three months since Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert contracted the novel coronavirus and he still hasn’t come to his senses. Literally.

The two-time NBA defensive player of the year told the French newspaper L’Equipe that even though he quickly recovered from the virus, he still hasn’t completely regained his sense of smell.

“The taste has returned but the smell is still not 100 percent,” Gobert said in quotes published by the paper Wednesday. “I can smell the smells but not from afar. I spoke to specialists who told me it could take up to a year.”

Gobert told the paper he still feels “strange things” but doesn’t know if that’s attributable to lingering effects from the virus or the time that has elapsed since he last played a game.

Read more here.

By Jake Russell
June 28, 2020 at 10:13 PM EDT

Texas judge leading coronavirus response begins self-quarantine after possible exposure

A Texas judge leading the coronavirus response in the county that houses Houston is self-quarantining after a member of her office tested positive last week.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement that she and her staff may have been exposed on June 22 and will quarantine for 14 days. Hidalgo, who leads the county’s emergency management office, has not displayed any symptoms, the statement said.

“The reality of it is, there are thousands of residents across Harris County that are increasingly finding themselves in the same position I am in today,” Hidalgo said. “There are rising numbers of residents testing positive for this virus, and more and more requiring hospitalization.”

Texas is among several states experiencing an upswing of new coronavirus cases. Harris County leads the state with nearly 10,000 more total cases than the next county, Dallas, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. The five days with the state’s highest new-case totals have all come in the past five days.

Harris County recently introduced a rating system to measure the pandemic’s danger there, and its first day showed a rating one step below “severe.” Level 1 warns of a “severe and uncontrolled level” of the virus and indicates that “outbreaks are present and worsening.” Residents are asked to minimize contact with others whenever possible and to stay at home except to retrieve essential items.

By Kareem Copeland
June 28, 2020 at 9:43 PM EDT

Maryland orders Prince George’s lab without proper certification to stop doing coronavirus tests

The Maryland Health Department has ordered a Prince George’s County lab that had been processing coronavirus specimens collected at pop-up clinics to cease operations, saying the facility does not have the proper certification.

In an order issued Saturday, Secretary Robert R. Neall of the Maryland Health Department issued an order requiring the Advanced Pain Medicine Institute, which has offices in Greenbelt, to immediately stop all collection and processing of coronavirus tests.

The order was issued after the department received a complaint about test sites operated in coordination with the lab, the state said in a release. An investigation determined the lab did not have the proper certification to perform coronavirus tests. It also found that some patients had problems obtaining their test results.

Read more here.

By Ian Duncan
June 28, 2020 at 8:57 PM EDT

Families of those lost in one of Maryland’s deadliest nursing home outbreaks grieve and celebrate their lives

The families of those who died amid one of Maryland’s deadliest nursing home coronavirus outbreaks gathered Sunday to cry, to laugh and to hug one another in a memorial service they said they hoped would ensure that their loved ones are not forgotten.

They sat in front of 46 crosses at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in La Plata and took turns remembering the residents of Sagepoint Senior Living, less than two miles away. Sometimes speaking through masks, they told stories of grief — of not being able to see their loved ones in their final moments and not being ready to say goodbye — but also of better times.

Throughout the service, where families brought photographs and drawings of the dead, there were stories about the connections formed between residents who called Sagepoint home.

Read more here.

By Rachel Chason
June 28, 2020 at 8:04 PM EDT

Choir at Pence event in Texas did not wear masks while singing

Dozens of members of a choir performed without masks Sunday at an event where Vice President Pence spoke, despite warnings from public-health officials that singing in groups can spread the novel coronavirus.

Although the choir members wore masks during the speeches, they removed them to sing, according to a pool report from the event in Dallas. An NBC News reporter in attendance said there was space between the choir members, but probably not six feet.

The choir sang the national anthem and the anthems of each branch of the military, encouraging veterans to stand during their corresponding song, the pool report said.

Neither a spokesperson for Pence nor a spokesperson for the church immediately responded to requests for comment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that singing “may contribute to transmission of Covid-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.” The agency warned of “superspreader” events after a choir practice in Washington state in March, where an infected choir member passed the virus to 52 other people, two of whom died.

Coronavirus cases have been rising rapidly in Texas, and the state’s seven-day average of new infections set a record Sunday.

Masks were “strongly encouraged,” but not required, for attendees of the event in Dallas. A pool reporter estimated that two-thirds of the audience members were wearing face coverings.

Pence wore a mask when he arrived at the event, called “Celebrate Freedom Sunday,” but removed it before he spoke. In his remarks, he praised Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s leadership during the pandemic and vowed to protect the health of the state’s residents.

“Working with your governor, we will put the health of the people in the Lone Star state first, and every single day we’ll continue to reclaim our freedom and our way of life,” Pence said.

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

By Marisa Iati
June 28, 2020 at 7:01 PM EDT

Nationals set 60-player pool for season shortened by pandemic

It’s all subject to change, for so many reasons, but the Washington Nationals have a list of 60 players who could participate in a 2020 season shortened by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The deadline to submit their club player pool was 4 p.m. Sunday. The club player pool, its official name in Major League Baseball’s operations manual for 2020, is an extension of the active and 40-man rosters a team uses in a normal season. Because there will almost certainly be no minor league games this summer, MLB asked teams to choose who could be added to the 40-man roster throughout a tentative 60-game schedule.

The Nationals’ current 40-man roster is at 38 players, after the club announced Sunday that infielder Adrián Sanchez has been placed on the 60-day injured list with a torn right Achilles’ tendon. That means they chose 22 non-40-man roster players for the pool, a list highlighted by infielder Luis García and right-hander Jackson Rutledge, a pair of top prospects. It is likely that Washington will fill the final two 40-man roster spots before the regular season, which is set to begin July 23 or 24.

Read more here.

By Jesse Dougherty
June 28, 2020 at 5:57 PM EDT

California governor shuts down bars in several counties as rolling average case total hits high

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is reversing the reopenings in some areas of the state as new coronavirus cases continue to rise there.

Newsom announced Sunday that he has ordered bars to close in Los Angeles, Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, San Joaquin and Tulare counties. He also recommended that they close in Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Riverside, San Bernardino, Stanislaus and Ventura counties.

California is in the second stage of its reopening, and the health department created a 14-page document with guidelines for restaurants, bars and wineries. Meanwhile, the state’s highest 11 days of new cases all have come in the last 11 days, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. The state’s seven-day rolling average of confirmed cases set a record Sunday for the 12th day in a row.

The Walt Disney Co. has scrapped plans for a July 17 reopening of its California theme parks because of the uptick in coronavirus infections. Parks at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida are still set to open in mid-July.

California initially had success at containing the virus because of aggressive stay-at-home mandates, compared with the East Coast. That has changed in the past several weeks, and last week Newsom ordered people to wear face masks in all indoor and outdoor public areas.

“As we phase in — in a responsible way — a reopening of the economy, we’ve made it abundantly clear that we anticipate an increase in the total number of positive cases,” Newsom told an audience in Oakland two weeks ago.

By Kareem Copeland
June 28, 2020 at 5:25 PM EDT

Pence encourages wearing masks, praises Abbott during Texas visit

Vice President Pence on Sunday implored Americans to wear face masks, practice social distancing and stay away from seniors to protect them amid a surge in coronavirus infections that has pushed the national case total past 2.5 million.

“Wear a mask wherever it’s indicated or wherever you’re not able to practice the kind of social distancing that would prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Pence said at an event with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

On Friday, the state scaled back reopening measures as severely ill patients continued to overwhelm some hospitals. Texas set a record for coronavirus-related hospitalizations for the 16th straight day on Saturday, with 5,523 patients being treated.

Pence had words of praise, though, for Abbott.

“I also want to commend the governor for your decisive action,” he said. “Reopening this economy, which began in early May, is a tribute to your leadership and the steady progress in putting Texas back to work is something every Texan can be proud of. But with the development of these new cases … we’re grateful, Governor, that you’ve taken the steps that you’ve taken to limit the kind of gatherings and meeting in certain places in communities that may well be contributing to the community spread that we’re seeing.”

At the event, Abbott expressed confidence that Texas could open businesses while containing the virus.

“But it does require all Texans to go back to those strategies that we mastered: wearing a face mask, sanitizing your hands, keeping a safe distance. And remembering this. … If you don’t need to get out, there’s no reason to go out at this particular time.”

By Felicia Sonmez
June 28, 2020 at 5:02 PM EDT

Fla.’s DeSantis attributes new cases to young people ignoring social distancing

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Sunday downplayed concerns about Florida’s rising number of new coronavirus cases, saying the younger people leading the infection count are at a lower risk of hospitalization or death.

“Today, we are in a very good state,” he told reporters at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Fla.

Florida tallied 8,530 new cases on Sunday, down from the record of 9,585 set Saturday. The state has totaled 141,075 infections and 3,419 deaths since the pandemic began.

Sunday marked the 21st straight day that the state’s seven-day average of new cases, seen as a more reliable indicator of the virus’s impact than daily totals, hit a new high.

Although critics have blamed the surge on DeSantis’s decision to reopen the state in early May, the governor on Sunday attributed the numbers to young people flouting social distancing rules. He said about 20 percent of people who recently tested positive were ages 25 to 34.

“They’re going to do what they are going to do,” DeSantis said.

Public-health experts warn that young people are still at risk of serious complications from the virus and can spread the pathogen to more vulnerable people. Jason Foland, a pediatrician at Ascension Sacred Heart, said at the news conference that people also should not disregard the potential that younger coronavirus patients could die.

“The common misconception about coronavirus is the notion that the virus only affects older populations or that it is only older people who are at risk of dying,” Foland said. “That’s simply not the case. We’ve seen younger people contract the virus and die from it, as well.”

By Meryl Kornfield
June 28, 2020 at 4:36 PM EDT

College students are angry and anxious as they await news about the fall

One after another, colleges and universities in recent weeks have announced plans for operating a fall term in the shadow of a disease that has killed more than 120,000 Americans. Social distancing, face masks, housing limits, virus screening and combinations of in-person and online teaching will be the new normal on these campuses.

But some schools are holding out, struggling to piece together a plan to bring students back safely. Princeton and Yale universities have warned that they won’t set plans until early July.

Georgetown University President John DeGioia sent students a 28-paragraph advisory on June 9. It assured students that the university was immersed in the details of how to reopen during the extraordinary public health crisis. Skeptics, however, found it lacking in hard information.

Read more here.

By Nick Anderson and Lauren Lumpkin
June 28, 2020 at 3:55 PM EDT

Two Florida counties close beaches for Fourth of July weekend, citing surge in cases

At least two Florida counties plan to close their beaches over the Fourth of July weekend, citing concerns that beachgoers will not social distance and that large gatherings could worsen the state’s growing coronavirus outbreak.

In the past 24 hours, Florida has confirmed more than 8,500 cases of the novel virus.

Dale V.C. Holness, mayor of Broward County, announced Sunday that beaches will be closed from Friday through next Sunday. Carlos Gimenez, mayor of Miami-Dade County, said Friday that county beaches will be off limits starting this Friday and ending July 7 and warned that he would consider extending the closure if infections continue to rise.

“I have decided that the only prudent thing to do to tamp down this recent uptick is to crack down on recreational activities that put our overall community at higher risk,” Gimenez said in a statement.

He added that he had seen businesses flouting rules intended to protect people from catching the virus.

“If people are not going to be responsible and protect themselves and others from this pandemic, then the government is forced to step in and restore common sense to save lives,” Gimenez said.

Police plan to enforce the rules in Miami-Dade, with violators facing fines and jail time. Holness said that beaches in Broward County risked being “overrun” if they stayed open because beaches in Miami-Dade would be closed, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

The Sentinel also reported that Palm Beach County is considering following Broward and Miami-Dade’s lead. Citing closures in other areas of Florida, Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner told the newspaper that “to allow our beaches in Palm Beach County [to] open during that time period would [be] highly irresponsible.”

By Siobhán O'Grady
June 28, 2020 at 2:50 PM EDT

Washington governor chastises Trump for not encouraging masks and for defending rebel monuments

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) slammed President Trump for not promoting masks as a measure to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and for dividing the country over race in an interview Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Citing racial tensions in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis, Inslee criticized Trump’s focus on protesters who have defaced Confederate monuments, saying the president was distracting from the pandemic that has killed more than 123,000 people in the United States.

“We need a president who will care more about living Americans and less about dead Confederates,” Inslee told host John Dickerson.

Inslee also said Trump shouldn’t have called for his supporters to “liberate Michigan,” arguing that it put Americans further at odds with local officials’ public health measures.

“Donald Trump is for masking up like George Wallace was for integration,” Inslee said, referring to the former Alabama governor’s infamous speech calling for segregation.

Washington state as of Friday has required people to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces and outside when they are unable to maintain a six-foot distance from others.

Inslee also condemned Vice President Pence’s recent suggestion that the country had overcome the virus. Pence also spoke on “Face the Nation,” saying the United States is in “a much better place” because 34 states are not experiencing an increased positivity rate in testing.

“When I heard the vice president talk about how things are just hunky-dory, it’s just maddening,” Inslee said. “The situation is critical in many places across the United States, and all the happy talk and wishful thinking in the world is not going to wash that away.”

The country recorded more than 44,000 new cases on both Friday and Saturday, setting single-day records.

By Meryl Kornfield
June 28, 2020 at 1:43 PM EDT

Texas Medical Center quietly removes ICU data from website after reporting beds were full

The Houston-based Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical complex, quietly deleted data on current and projected intensive care unit capacity from its website, shortly after reports that beds were 100 percent full set off alarms about its ability to handle the surging numbers of coronavirus patients.

The abrupt removal, which happened without public explanation, came days after Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered Houston hospitals to stop performing lucrative elective surgeries as the state faced record numbers of hospitalizations, raising questions about whether the information had been scrubbed for political reasons.

Representatives from the Texas Medical Center did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment on the decision Sunday.

As infections have spiked in the state, the Texas Medical Center has published an array of data on the outbreak in the greater Houston area, including regular updates on its ICUs. Late last week, the figures showed that the medical center had hit “sustainable surge capacity” and was on pace to reach “unsustainable surge capacity” by mid-July.

Officials sparred over the information after it was reported by news outlets and shared by public health experts on social media.

“We’re at the edge of a cliff,” tweeted state Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston).

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) responded by noting that 27 percent of people in the ICU beds were coronavirus patients. “Quit trying to scare people,” he wrote.

By Sunday morning, the data had been removed, though some of it was preserved in Web archives.

In a news conference last week, Texas Medical Center leaders said they believed their updates on ICU capacity sent the wrong message to the public.

“I think the Texas Medical Center’s purpose was to really urge people to do the right things in the community, and do so by talking about capacity, but really ended up unintentionally sounding an alarm bell too loudly,” Houston Methodist President Marc Boom said. “We clearly do have capacity.”

By Derek Hawkins