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The Trump administration’s covid-19 response coordinator acknowledged Tuesday that the country was not prepared for the spread of the disease among young Americans — a key factor in recent spikes of infection across several states.

On a video conference hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank, Deborah Birx, the physician who oversees the White House pandemic response, said leaders in states that were not hard-hit early on “thought they would be forever spared through this,” and when they reopened their economies, they didn’t expect a surge in cases spurred by a cohort of mostly millennials.

The United States has reported 29 consecutive days of record-high average infections, led by Texas, Florida, Georgia and California. Hospitalizations continued to climb in the South and West on Tuesday, with patients filling intensive care units and federal health officials moving to shore up testing in hot spots. More than 128,000 people have died in the U.S. from the coronavirus.

Here are some significant developments:

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July 7, 2020 at 11:18 PM EDT

Four takeaways from the PPP loans to media companies

Data released this week detailing recipients of the Paycheck Protection Program — intended to help small businesses keep employees on the payroll during the pandemic — provide a glimpse into the breadth and depth of hurt to the news media industry, which has experienced a staggering number of layoffs and furloughs over the past few months.

Forbes Media, the Texas Tribune, the Daily Caller and dozens of other newspapers, magazines and digital media outlets across the country collected loans through one of the government’s largest economic stimulus packages ever.

The program and who exactly is receiving aid intended for small businesses have been the subject of intense public interest — bolstered in small part by the revelation of larger companies, including publicly traded firms, receiving millions.

By Elahe Izadi and Jeremy Barr
July 7, 2020 at 11:07 PM EDT

N.H. governor says Trump rally will be safe, but he ‘will not be in the crowd’

President Trump’s supporters who plan to attend his Saturday campaign rally at the airport in Portsmouth, N.H., will not be required to wear masks despite concerns that large crowds could spread the novel coronavirus in one of the few states with declining case numbers.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said at a news conference Tuesday that he believes the event will be safe. Campaign staff will provide hand sanitizer and strongly encourage attendees to wear a mask provided when they arrive at the event. Still, Sununu said he will not mingle with the crowd to be “extra cautious” about his own exposure to the virus.

“I will not be in the crowd of thousands of people, I’m not going to put myself in the middle of a crowd of thousands of people …” he said. “I have to be extra cautious as the governor. I try to be extra cautious for myself, my family.”

Despite his personal concerns, he defended the decision not to require masks, pointing to other large gatherings, including recent protests, that did not inspire orders to mandate wearing one.

“To have a mask order for one and not the other isn’t fair,” he said.

Although some officials in Portsmouth have pushed for stricter precautions at the rally, its mayor has stood by the decision to give attendees a choice and said the city could not enforce an order requiring masks.

“I don’t know how I would enforce it,” Mayor Rick Becksted told New Hampshire Public Radio.

Concerns that the rally could spread the virus follow reports that six staffers who attended a Trump rally in Tulsa last month tested positive for the virus hours before the event.

By Katie Shepherd
July 7, 2020 at 10:32 PM EDT

Nationals restart workouts as testing concerns ripple through baseball

And then the Washington Nationals were back again, for a full-squad morning workout that included grounders, pop flies — the sort of drills that feel from a much simpler time.

But Tuesday wasn’t simple for the Nationals. Right now, nothing is.

On Monday, Washington shut down Nationals Park amid concerns over baseball’s coronavirus testing model. Like teams around the sport, the Nationals had yet to receive results from testing on Friday. Like the Houston Astros and the St. Louis Cardinals, they paused summer training until those results came. Then General Manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement: “Major League Baseball needs to work quickly to resolve issues with their process and their lab. Otherwise, Summer Camp and the 2020 season are at risk.”

That was still true Tuesday morning, when dozens of players squeezed onto the field.

Read more here.

By Jesse Dougherty
July 7, 2020 at 10:15 PM EDT

Florida invited the nation to its reopening — then it became an epicenter

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As the coronavirus savaged other parts of the country, Florida, buoyed by low infection rates, seemed an ideal location for a nation looking to emerge from isolation. The Republican National Convention moved from Charlotte to Jacksonville, the NBA eyed a season finale at a Disney sports complex near Orlando and millions packed onto once-empty beaches.

Weeks later, the Sunshine State has emerged as a coronavirus epicenter. Nearly 1 out of every 100 residents is infected with the virus, hospital intensive care units are full or filling up and big-name visitors who chose Florida for their first post-isolation events are now mired in questions and controversies about safety.

Amid escalating infections, Florida, once held up by President Trump as a model for how to manage the novel coronavirus, is faring poorly. Residents worry the situation will get much worse. Florida is now one of a handful of states whose spiking numbers are driving a major resurgence of the virus in the United States, which is approaching 3 million cases.

Read more here.

By Cleve Wootson, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Lori Rozsa
July 7, 2020 at 9:50 PM EDT

Sheriff on new Ohio face-covering mandate: ‘I am not the mask police’

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) on Tuesday said the state’s Department of Health will mandate face coverings in seven counties with spiking coronavirus cases designated as “Red Alert Level 3,” which indicates the areas have a high risk of exposure and spread.

Butler County is one of those seven — and in response to the health department’s order, county Sheriff Richard K. Jones said Tuesday that his department would not enforce it, WLWT5 reported.

“I can tell you this — I am not the mask police. I am not going to enforce any mask-wearing. That is not my responsibility. That is not my job. People should be able to make those choices themselves,” the sheriff said during a news conference Tuesday, according to the station.

He added: “I’m not a scientist, but I want you to know the police are busy … Don’t call 911 because someone is not wearing a mask. If the health departments want to control who is not wearing a mask, let them put a little yellow light on their car and they can stop people and go in.”

Other counties at Red Alert Level 3 include Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Huron, Montgomery and Trumbull, according to DeWine’s office.

Under the new mandate, Ohioans in these counties must wear masks in any indoor location that is not a residence, when using ride-share or public transit and if they are unable to socially distance while outdoors.

Jones is far from the only sheriff to scoff at mask requirements. As The Post previously reported, sheriffs in Washington, Nevada, Texas, California and North Carolina have rebelled against mask mandates, some calling them “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

By Michael Brice-Saddler
July 7, 2020 at 9:34 PM EDT

Education groups: Trump should not ‘brazenly’ push schools to reopen

The new push by Trump administration officials for schools to reopen amid a spike in coronavirus cases drew a sharp rebuke Tuesday from the National Education Association and five other groups representing parents and educators.

In a joint statement, the groups said that “public school educators, students and parents must have a voice in critical conversations and decisions on reopening schools,” warning that the president “should not be brazenly making these decisions.”

The groups — which include the NEA as well as the National Parent Teacher Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Administrators of Special Education, the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education — argued that the Trump administration has “zero credibility” on the issue of reopening due to its “vacuum of leadership” throughout the pandemic.

“The White House and the CDC have offered at best conflicting guidance for school reopening, and today offered little additional insight,” the groups said.

“Without a comprehensive plan that includes federal resources to provide for the safety of our students and educators with funding for Personal Protective Equipment, socially distanced instruction, and addressing racial inequity, we could be putting students, their families, and educators in danger,” the statement continued.

By Felicia Sonmez
July 7, 2020 at 9:14 PM EDT

Bars closed again in Tennessee’s biggest county, which includes Memphis

The most populous county in Tennessee, which includes Memphis, is reversing parts of its reopening, joining the state capital of Nashville — and state and local governments around the country facing coronavirus spikes — in re-closing bars.

Starting Wednesday, bars in Shelby County must close until further notice, the county health department announced Tuesday. Restaurants must shut down each evening by 10 p.m.

Announcing the new measure, county health department director Alisa Haushalter said the local positivity rate — the share of coronavirus tests taken that are coming back positive — has pushed above 12 percent, well over what health officials want to see.

“We anticipate two weeks from now we’re going to have a significant number of cases that will be very difficult to manage from a hospital perspective and from a public health perspective,” she said at a news conference.

Shelby County recently mandated that people wear masks in public.

Nashville and its surrounding county, Tennessee’s second-largest, also renewed some restrictions on business. Officials there announced ahead of the Fourth of July weekend that bars would have to shutter, while restaurants, barber shops and other establishments would have to operate at reduced capacity.

“Contact tracing in Nashville and Davidson County has connected the origin of multiple clusters of COVID-19 infections to bars and restaurants, affecting employees, musicians, and patrons,” read the order from the top public health official for the metropolitan area. “The large number of patrons in close proximity creates an environment conducive to spread, and crowds are often not being managed for compliance with appropriate social distancing.”

By Hannah Knowles
July 7, 2020 at 8:45 PM EDT

Texas schools will allow remote learning for the upcoming academic year

As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations reached new highs in the state, the Texas Education Agency on Tuesday released guidance for the upcoming school year that says it will offer both in-person learning and remote learning, and that it will leave it up to parents to decide.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement that the health and safety of students and staff is his priority, which “is why the guidance laid out today will provide flexibility to both parents and districts to make decisions based on the ever-changing conditions of this public health crisis.”

The agency’s guidance says parents can choose to keep their children home for remote learning ahead of the first grading period but will be able to switch to in-person schooling before each new grading period during the year. Masks will be required in schools, and “all students, teachers, staff, and visitors coming to campus must be screened before being allowed on campus.”

Texas on Tuesday reported 10,028 new coronavirus cases, another single-day record for the state. Nearly 600 more people were reported hospitalized in the state on Tuesday, according to Washington Post tracking, bringing current coronavirus-related hospitalizations to a record of nearly 9,300.

Parents and teachers in the United States have been anxiously awaiting news from their districts about the upcoming school year. The Trump administration this week is pushing for all schools to reopen, arguing that they can do so with protections in place for particularly vulnerable students and staff. “Nobody should hide behind CDC’s guidance” to avoid reopening schools, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday.

Florida’s top school official issued a sweeping executive order on Monday requiring all schools in the state to reopen their buildings for in-person instruction for the coming school year, even as coronavirus cases in the state continue to rise.

Moriah Balingit and Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report.

By Angela Fritz
July 7, 2020 at 8:40 PM EDT

Texas Republicans will hold in-person convention next week, ignoring pleas of Houston mayor

The head of Texas’s Republican Party said Tuesday that he will not cancel the group’s in-person convention, slated to bring more than 6,000 people to Houston next week, ignoring pleas from the city’s mayor to hold a virtual event instead.

“We have taken every precaution we can, within reason, to make sure our convention is a model for all future large events in this pandemic,” James Dickey, the state party chair, said in a video address.

Dickey shrugged off the “outside pressure” from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, who asked the party to reconsider its plans in an effort to stop the spread of the virus, which is surging in the city. Dickey accused Turner of “trying to shame us and our sponsors.”

Turner said Monday that he wrote a letter to state Republican Party leaders asking them to call off the convention scheduled for July 16 to 18.

“If they are going to host an in-person convention, they must follow the governor’s guidelines, including wearing a face mask and maintain social distancing,” Turner wrote Monday on Twitter. “I do not think it is wise or prudent to hold a convention of 6,000 or more.”

Health inspectors will be dispatched to monitor the convention, Turner said, and they will be authorized to shut down the event if attendees do not follow social distancing protocols.

But Dickey said the state Republican Party’s executive committee voted to proceed despite the mayor’s entreaty. Attendees will be required to wear face masks, he said, but only when they can’t be six feet apart. And, he assured, the party would “protect your rights.”

A virtual convention will still be the party’s “backup plan” in case of emergency.

Virus patients have rushed to hospitals in Houston and across the state, and the demand for intensive care unit beds and ventilators has soared in recent weeks. Texas has reported more than 200,500 infections — more than 40,500 in the past week alone. The virus has killed at least 2,655 people in the state.

By Katie Shepherd and Reis Thebault
July 7, 2020 at 8:24 PM EDT

Trump’s attacks on mail voting are turning Republicans off absentee ballots

President Trump’s relentless attacks on the security of mail voting are driving suspicion among GOP voters toward absentee ballots — a dynamic that is alarming Republican strategists, who say it could undercut their own candidates, including Trump himself.

In several primaries this spring, Democratic voters have embraced mail ballots in far larger numbers than Republicans during a campaign season defined by the coronavirus pandemic. And when they urge their supporters to vote by mail, GOP campaigns around the country are hearing from more and more Republican voters who say they do not trust absentee ballots, according to multiple strategists. In one particularly vivid example, a group of Michigan voters held a public burning of their absentee ballot applications last month.

The growing Republican antagonism toward voting by mail comes even as the Trump campaign is launching a major absentee-ballot program in every competitive state, according to multiple campaign advisers — a delicate balancing act, considering what one strategist described as the president’s “imprecision” on the subject.

Read more here.

By Amy Gardner and Josh Dawsey
July 7, 2020 at 8:00 PM EDT

CDC recommends that voters consider alternatives to casting ballots in person

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that voters consider alternatives to casting their ballots in person during upcoming elections, as states expand absentee and early-voting options for November amid fears of spreading the coronavirus.

The guidance was issued with little fanfare on June 22 and suggested that state and local election officials take steps to minimize crowds at voting locations, including offering “alternative voting methods.” President Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that one popular alternative — mail-in ballots — promotes widespread voter fraud.

Voters who want to cast ballots in person should consider showing up at off-peak times, bringing their own black ink pens or touch-screen pens for voting machines, and washing their hands before entering and after leaving the polling location, the guidance said. Workers and voters alike, it said, should wear face coverings.

Read more here.

By Michelle Lee
July 7, 2020 at 7:44 PM EDT

Birx says U.S. underestimated levels of community spread spurred by young people

The Trump administration’s covid-19 response coordinator acknowledged Tuesday that the country was not prepared for the spread of the disease among young Americans — a key factor in recent spikes of infection across several states.

On a video conference hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank, Deborah Birx, the physician who oversees the White House pandemic response, said leaders in states that were not hard-hit early on “thought they would be forever spared through this,” and when they reopened their economies, they didn’t expect a surge in cases spurred by a cohort of mostly millennials.

“None of us really anticipated the amount of community spread that began in, really, our 18-to-35-year-old age group,” Birx said. “And I think this is an age group that was so good and so disciplined through March and April. But when they saw people out and about on social media, they all went out and about. And so we right now have really significant cases in people under 45.”

Earlier Tuesday, Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said the country’s declining mortality rate is due in part to rising infections in young people, who aren’t as likely to die from the virus as the elderly. But, Fauci warned, that doesn’t mean the consequences aren’t serious.

Indeed, younger patients have accounted for a widening share of all coronavirus hospitalizations. Those aged 18 to 49 made up about 27 percent of hospitalizations in early March, but that number grew to 35 percent by late June, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures show.

“It’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death,” Fauci said.

By Reis Thebault
July 7, 2020 at 7:31 PM EDT

Texas sees sharp decline in tax revenue as virus surge unleashes more budget uncertainty

A surge in coronavirus cases threatens to arrest the country’s early economic recovery, leaving Texas and other hard-hit states staring down another round of massive revenue losses that could imperil their budgets.

The new infections, particularly in parts of the South, have left some state leaders with no choice but to begin reclosing some businesses and encouraging residents to stay home once again. Much as the shutdowns this spring slowed consumer spending to a trickle, these efforts to stave off the pandemic could deliver a second financial blow to local governments already struggling to salvage their economies while protecting public health.

The stakes have been on display in Texas, which witnessed a $650 million drop in tax revenue collected in June, according to data released Wednesday by state budget officials, which includes sales mostly made in May.

Read more here.

By Tony Romm
July 7, 2020 at 7:00 PM EDT

White House presses for schools to reopen in fall

President Trump on Tuesday dialed up the pressure on state and local authorities to reopen schools, even as coronavirus cases spike, accusing officials who keep them closed as being motivated by politics.

Trump said in-person education was essential for the well being of students, parents and the country as a whole, and he vowed to keep up the pressure on governors to open buildings.

“We want to reopen the schools,” Trump said. “We don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons. They think it’s going to be good for them politically, so they keep schools closed. No way.”

Read more here.

By Laura Meckler