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Arizona, among the latest epicenters of the novel coronavirus in the United States, saw another record high in hospitalizations on Monday. Because of the surge, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) ordered bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks there to close for at least 30 days, effective Monday night.

The governors of Oregon and Kansas announced Monday that they will mandate face coverings for state residents. Jacksonville, Fla., where President Trump plans to pack a convention hall to accept the Republican nomination for reelection, also made mask-wearing mandatory.

The news comes as the global community marked yet another grim milestone Sunday, with the confirmed worldwide death count from the novel coronavirus surpassing 500,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Here are some significant developments:

  • The director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned Monday that although the outbreak began six months ago, it is far from over. “We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives,” he said. “But the hard reality is this is not even close to being over.”
  • The Trump administration said Monday that it has coronavirus under control, but a resurgent outbreak in Sun Belt states continued to worsen.
  • A coronavirus mutation has spread across the world, and scientists are trying to understand why. The mutation doesn’t appear to make people sicker, but a growing number of scientists worry that it has made the virus more contagious.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday passed the first significant expansion of the Affordable Care Act since its birth a decade ago, forcing Republicans to go on the record about healthcare during the pandemic.
  • Gilead Sciences, the maker of remdesivir, the first covid-19 treatment found to have worked in clinical trials, said it will charge U.S. hospitals $3,120 for the typical patient with private insurance.
  • The chief executives of some the nation’s largest companies expect the economic fallout from the pandemic to extend through 2021, and nearly a third of them say the harm will last even longer.

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June 29, 2020 at 11:24 PM EDT

Texas bar owners sue governor over emergency shutdown orders

A group of Texas bar owners are suing Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for ordering their businesses to shut down as the state continues to see record numbers of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Surging caseloads prompted Abbott to reintroduce some coronavirus-related restrictions on Friday, including requiring businesses that make most of their profits from alcohol to close down. But restaurants are allowed to stay open, so long as their dining rooms are kept at 50 percent capacity. To some bar owners, that distinction feels unfair. Brandon Hays, the co-owner of several Dallas bars, told the Dallas Morning News on Monday that while he didn’t want to create a public health hazard, “it just doesn’t seem fair to single us out and shut down bars, specifically.”

More than 30 bar owners have signed on to the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in Travis County District Court, according to the Texas Tribune. The complaint notes that other businesses ranging from nail salons to tattoo parlors are allowed to remain open and argues that the governor overstepped his authority when he issued Friday’s executive order. Abbott’s office has yet to comment on the litigation.

Texas allowed bars to reopen at half capacity in late May, and Abbott on Friday acknowledged that doing so had been a mistake. “If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars, now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting,” he told KVIA.

By Antonia Farzan
June 29, 2020 at 11:12 PM EDT

Country singers criticize Chase Rice for concert in front of hundreds

Country singer Chase Rice played his first in-person concert in months on Saturday night and appeared thrilled to do so. “We back,” he wrote in an Instagram story with a smiley-face sunglasses emoji, accompanied by video of hundreds of people singing along to his recent hit, “Eyes on You.”

But on social media, many were horrified to see images of a packed crowd, with no masks and no social distancing — especially as the concert took place in Tennessee, which is experiencing a significant spike in coronavirus infections. As the videos started circulating on Twitter, other country singers took the unusual step of calling out Rice by name.

“Imagine being selfish enough to put thousands of people’s health at risk, not to mention the potential ripple effect, and play a NORMAL country concert right now. @ChaseRiceMusic,” Kelsea Ballerini tweeted to her 1 million followers. “We all want (and need) to tour. We just care about our fans and their families enough to wait.”

Read more here.

By Emily Yahr
June 29, 2020 at 10:27 PM EDT

Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross among first MLB players to opt out of 2020 season

Veteran first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and starting pitcher Joe Ross of the Washington Nationals were among the first group of Major League Baseball players who have chosen to opt out of playing in 2020 because of coronavirus concerns — although with players set to begin reporting for mandatory virus testing this week ahead of Friday’s opening of “summer camps,” they almost certainly will not be the last.

The announcements from Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Leake, then Ross and Zimmerman — none of whom are known to have medical concerns that would qualify them as “high risk,” which would ensure they still are paid for 2020 — came in a span of several hours Monday afternoon and reflected concern among some players that the risk of playing baseball amid a pandemic may not outweigh the rewards in all cases.

“After a great deal of thought and given my family circumstances — three young children, including a newborn, and a mother at high risk — I have decided not to participate in the 2020 season,” Zimmerman, 35, said in a statement Monday. “I cannot speak for anyone else, but given the unusual nature of the season, this is the best decision for my family, and I truly appreciate the [Nationals’] understanding and support.”

Read more here.

By Dave Sheinin
June 29, 2020 at 9:50 PM EDT

Trump administration says the epidemic is under control despite surges in the South and West

The Trump administration said Monday that it has the coronavirus epidemic under control in the United States, but a resurgent outbreak in Sun Belt states continued to worsen — and Jacksonville, Fla., where President Trump plans to pack a convention hall to accept the Republican nomination for reelection, made mask-wearing mandatory.

The World Health Organization warned that the outbreak is far from over and a grim milestone passed Sunday, with the confirmed worldwide death count from the novel coronavirus surpassing 500,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Over the weekend, the number of coronavirus cases reported worldwide soared past 10 million.

U.S. deaths are approaching 125,000 and the total number of coronavirus cases reported topped 2.5 million amid worsening outbreaks in Florida, Texas and Arizona.

Read more here.

By Anne Gearan, Brittany Shammas and Lateshia Beachum
June 29, 2020 at 9:29 PM EDT

This coronavirus mutation has taken over the world. Scientists are trying to understand why.

When the first coronavirus cases in Chicago appeared in January, they bore the same genetic signatures as a germ that emerged in China weeks before. But as Egon Ozer, an infectious-disease specialist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, examined the genetic structure of virus samples from local patients, he noticed something different. A change in the virus was appearing again and again.

This mutation, associated with outbreaks in Europe and New York, eventually took over the city. By May, it was found in 95 percent of all the genomes Ozer sequenced. At a glance, the mutation seemed trivial. But the location was significant, and its ubiquity is undeniable. Of the approximately 50,000 genomes of the new virus that researchers worldwide have uploaded to a shared database, about 70 percent carry the mutation, officially designated D614G but known more familiarly to scientists as “G.”

“G” hasn’t just dominated the outbreak in Chicago — it has taken over the world. Now scientists are racing to figure out what it means.

The scramble to unravel this mutation mystery embodies the challenges of science during the coronavirus pandemic. With millions of people infected and thousands dying every day around the world, researchers must strike a high-stakes balance between getting information out quickly and making sure that it’s right.

Read more here.

By Sarah Kaplan and Joel Achenbach
June 29, 2020 at 9:27 PM EDT

U.S. airlines will ask travelers to answer health questions at check-in

U.S. airlines will require passengers to answer health questions before boarding, including whether they have experienced coronavirus symptoms or have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus, the industry’s leading trade group said Monday.

Major U.S. carriers, including American, Delta and United, are implementing the health acknowledgment policy as an “additional level of protection during the pandemic,” Airlines for America said.

Travelers should expect to be asked to fill out the health questionnaire when they check in, the trade group said. Besides questions about their health, passengers will be asked to commit to wearing face coverings at airports and on planes.

“Passengers who fail or refuse to complete the health acknowledgment may be deemed unfit to travel and each carrier will resolve the matter in accordance with its own policies,” Airlines for America said. The measure is expected to remain in place through the public health crisis.

Nicholas E. Calio, the trade group’s president and chief executive, said in a statement that the health assessments are one step in a “multilayered approach to help mitigate risk and prioritize the well-being of passengers and employees.”

Airlines and airports in recent months have adopted new strategies for combating the novel coronavirus. In some airports, travelers have their temperatures checked upon arrival, and all major airlines are enforcing the use of face coverings.

With the health questionnaires, airlines seek assurance from passengers that they are not experiencing symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, cough, loss of taste or smell, chills, muscle pain or sore throat.

Passengers will also be asked to acknowledge whether they have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus or had symptoms in the past 14 days.

Other carriers enforcing the health acknowledgment policies are JetBlue Airways and Alaska, Hawaiian and Southwest airlines.

By Luz Lazo
June 29, 2020 at 9:13 PM EDT

Report: About 30 U.S. personnel at Kuwaiti air base contract virus

About 30 U.S. troops who operate alongside Kuwaiti counterparts at Ahmad al-Jaber Air Base have contracted the coronavirus in recent weeks, according to Military.com.

The base houses a number of U.S. Central Command personnel, according to the report.

“This cluster developed over time, and we believe social distancing and contact tracing measures has limited the size of that cluster,” a U.S. Central Command official said in a statement to Military.com.

The official said that the infections have not impacted daily operations at the base and that personnel continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines, frequent hand-washing and wearing masks when social distancing is not possible.

“Our top priority, first and foremost, is the health and welfare of our personnel,” the official said in the statement. “Any individual who shows possible COVID-19 symptoms or who tests positive for the virus immediately receives the best possible medical care, and that care continues for as long as necessary.”

According to the Pentagon’s coronavirus data, there have been 17,116 cumulative coronavirus cases within the Defense Department as of Monday: 11,770 military, 1,666 dependents, 2,551 civilians and 1,129 Defense Department contractors. In the military alone, 290 people have been hospitalized, 5,928 have recovered and there have been three reported fatalities.

By Samantha Pell
June 29, 2020 at 8:53 PM EDT

NBA’s Atlanta Hawks to open State Farm Arena for early voting starting in July

After Georgia experienced a number of issues in this month’s primary election, the Atlanta Hawks are stepping up to help alleviate the concerns of local voters. The National Basketball Association team announced Monday that it is making its home, State Farm Arena, available as the state’s largest-ever polling site in a partnership with Fulton County.

On July 20, voters will be able to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines as they cast their ballots early for the Georgia general primary runoff election on Aug. 11. Voters will also be able to access the venue for November’s general election. The team says parking will be free for voters and more than 1,500 spaces will be made available.

Fulton County was hit particularly hard by the disorganization that plagued the state’s primary election on June 10. Voters waited in long lines for hours, the result of reduced polling locations, a lack of proper training on new voting machines and an inability to process a large number of mail-in ballot requests amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“When our ownership group purchased the Hawks & State Farm Arena five years ago, we were clear that we felt it was our responsibility to make sure the organization was an important civic asset to the city of Atlanta,” Hawks and State Farm Arena owner Tony Ressler said in a statement. “Utilizing State Farm Arena and our incredible staff to make the arena an accessible and vital polling site in an important election year is a fulfillment on that promise.”

By Jake Russell
June 29, 2020 at 8:30 PM EDT

L.A. County shuts down beaches for holiday weekend

Citing a record number of coronavirus cases, Los Angeles County on Monday closed all beaches for the entire Fourth of July weekend.

“We cannot risk having crowds at the beach this holiday weekend,” County Supervisor Janice Hahn said on Twitter. Violators face $1,000 fines. The closures, which are in effect Friday through Monday, also include piers and bike paths.

With more than 10 million residents, L.A. County is the most populous in the country. On Monday, it reported a high for new cases (2,903), surpassing 100,000 since the pandemic began in March. The positivity rate is almost 9 percent.

More than 1,700 covid-19 patients are hospitalized in the county, a 30 percent increase since early in the month.

County beaches, which include Malibu, Venice and Manhattan beaches, have operated with restrictions. Volleyball and other sports, as well as group gatherings, have been prohibited. Masks and social distancing, except within a family, have also been required.

Later on Monday, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told Fox Los Angeles that his department would not enforce the county’s order.

“We were not consulted on the beach closure and will only assist our beach cities in closing parking lots and traffic enforcement on [Pacific Coast Highway],” Villanueva told the network. “In regards to enforcing the beach closure, we will not be enforcing it because we are ‘Care First, Jail Last.’ ”

By Steven Goff
June 29, 2020 at 8:22 PM EDT

CDC finds high rate of infection among quarantined inmates in Louisiana

Inside a Louisiana prison, nearly three-quarters of isolated inmates with exposure to the novel coronavirus tested positive for it, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, highlighting the prevalence of infection in correctional facilities, even among quarantined people.

Among 98 incarcerated and detained people who were tested, 71 were infected, the CDC and the Louisiana Department of Health found. The results were based on three tests conducted between May 7 and May 21.

The investigation also found that about one-fourth of the people with positive test results had previously tested negative during the first and second tests, according to the research summary published Monday. The CDC found that 45 percent of the infected people did not report any symptoms at the time of the test, underscoring the challenge of screening for sick people when many are asymptomatic.

With close living quarters and inconsistent access to soap and disinfectant, U.S. prisons have become hot spots for the coronavirus. Thousands of inmates have fallen ill, and people released from prison and the guards who work there increase the risk of exposing the broader community.

The CDC said that testing inmates in a series as opposed to a one-off test can identify sick people who would otherwise not be identified through screening for symptoms alone. “Serial testing, particularly for close contacts of patients, is important for complete identification of cases and prompt public health response in congregate settings,” the agency said.

Public health experts have criticized prisons and jails as institutions at high risk of spreading the virus, which has led to calls to release inmates to prevent further outbreaks.

By Hamza Shaban
June 29, 2020 at 8:16 PM EDT

Hospitalizations rise as seven states hit record highs, eight states see at least 25 percent rolling average increase

Average current coronavirus hospitalizations in seven states this week are at least 25 percent higher than their seven-day average a week ago, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.

Texas, which is fast emerging as the country’s latest epicenter after reporting record numbers of new infections for weeks in a row, reported 5,913 hospitalizations on Monday, a record high.

The state saw a 61.9 percent increase of its seven-day average of covid-19 inpatients compared with June 22, as the state’s hospital beds continue to fill. On Monday, the state reported a rolling average of 5,036 patients in hospitals, compared with a 3,110 average on June 22.

In Arizona, another coronavirus hot spot in the country, the state again hit a new high for hospitalizations on Monday (2,721). It’s rolling seven-day average increased by 36.2 percent as of Monday, reporting a rolling average of 2,424 patients, compared with its 1,780 average last week.

On Monday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) ordered all bars, nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters and water parks to close for at least 30 days because of the coronavirus.

The other five states seeing increases in their seven-day averages of currently hospitalized patients are: Nevada, South Carolina, Montana, Georgia and California. Seven states also reached record highs in current hospitalization numbers: Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama, Utah and Tennessee.

With hospitalizations still rising in multiple states, the week-to-week rolling average for new coronavirus-related deaths has also increased in eight states: Oklahoma, Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida.

Arizona has seen a 66.7 percent change in its rolling average for new deaths, with an average of 21 last week, compared with an average of 35 this week. Similarly, in Virginia, the state averaged 10 deaths per day last week, which increased to 17 this week.

Overall, the United States reported 33,903 new daily cases on Monday. Case report numbers are almost always their lowest of the week on Mondays because of weekend delays in reporting.

By Samantha Pell and Jacqueline Dupree
June 29, 2020 at 7:39 PM EDT

Amid spike in cases, Arizona orders bars, gyms, theaters to close for 30 days

With coronavirus cases rising sharply, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) ordered bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks to close for at least 30 days, effective Monday night.

“This will help relieve stress on our health care system and give time for new transmissions to slow,” he wrote on Twitter, adding: “We must be clear-eyed. The next few weeks will be hard. But these steps combined with stepped-up compliance with public health guidance can make a difference, and we’re grateful to Arizonans for their cooperation. Stay home. Wear a mask. Be responsible.”

Ducey also announced that organized events of more than 50 people are prohibited, and he urged residents to “celebrate the 4th of July responsibly this weekend, including by staying home, avoiding larger gatherings and wearing a mask if you do go out.”

Ducey said schools would not open until at least Aug. 17. They typically open in early August.

Arizona reported more than 7,600 new cases over the past three days and on Monday hit a new high for hospitalizations, with 2,721.

Last week, Ducey criticized eight bars and nightclubs in Scottsdale for not following social distancing guidelines. Some restaurants have voluntarily closed or decided to return to takeout service because of coronavirus risks and the rise in cases, ABC 15 reported.

“We’re not going back to normal anytime soon,” Ducey said.

By Steven Goff
June 29, 2020 at 7:31 PM EDT

Oregon and Kansas governors mandate masks in public spaces

Amid fears of spikes in coronavirus cases, the governors of Oregon and Kansas announced Monday that they will mandate face coverings for state residents.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said people in the state must wear face coverings in indoor public areas, a requirement already mandated in eight counties. The statewide order goes into effect Wednesday.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) said her order will go into effect Friday for people in “public spaces.” Additional details will be announced Thursday, she said.

Brown’s announcement comes three days after an Oregon Health Authority report estimated that daily coronavirus cases could increase 20 percent.

“Reopening comes with the risk of seeing an increase in covid-19 cases beyond our health systems’ capacity to test, trace and isolate them,” Brown said in a statement. “Over the last month, we have seen the disease spread at an alarming rate in both urban and rural counties.”

Oregon’s confirmed cases have grown almost every day since May 30 and include a record high of 278 cases on June 16. On Saturday, there were 276 cases. The death rate has remained relatively low: 204 overall and no more than five in a single day since early May.

Dean Sidelinger, an Oregon state epidemiologist, said in a conference call Friday that the “latest model provides us with a sobering reminder that we all need to guard against continued spread, especially as we continue to reopen and the weather gets warmer.”

Meanwhile, Kansas reported 905 cases over the weekend and six deaths. Overall, 271 have died since March.

“The evidence could not be clearer: Wearing a mask is not only safe but it is necessary to avoid another shutdown,” said Kelly, who cited a “significant increase” from clusters where masks were not worn.

“This doesn’t change where you can go and what you can do,” she said. “It just means if you are around other people, you must wear a mask.”

Counties in Kansas have the power to overturn the directive, the Kansas City Star reported.

By Steven Goff
June 29, 2020 at 7:01 PM EDT

R.I. joins other states in requiring visitors from hot spots to quarantine

Following the lead of other Northeast governors, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) announced Monday that visitors from states with a 5 percent or higher positivity rate in coronavirus testing must quarantine for 14 days, unless they have tested negative within 72 hours.

The order will affect people arriving from 23 states and Puerto Rico as Rhode Island enters the typically busy summer tourist season. On Tuesday, the state will enter Phase 3 of its economic reopening, but with stricter guidelines than initially planned.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut issued similar guidelines last week for visitors from states with positivity rates of 10 percent or higher.

“The story across the country is a very different story from the story we are seeing in Rhode Island,” Raimondo said at a news conference in Providence.

Rhode Island’s positivity rate is 2.04, the 12th lowest among states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The state has seen a steady decline in cases since a peak in late April but reported 19 deaths on Monday, its highest in two weeks.

By Steven Goff