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The coronavirus pandemic’s surge across the Sun Belt continued Wednesday as thousands of new cases in Florida and Arizona pushed the total number of confirmed infections in the United States past 3 million, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. The U.S. coronavirus death toll has surpassed 128,000.

The milestone came as president Trump and senior administration officials made a concerted effort Wednesday to downplay recommendations of their own health experts as they ramped up pressure on states to reopen schools, characterizing the move as key to the nation’s recovery.

Here are some significant developments:

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July 8, 2020 at 11:25 PM EDT

Ryder Cup will move to 2021 so that fans can be on the course

It was becoming hard to find anyone who wanted to play the Ryder Cup without fans on the course, hooting and hollering as only a Ryder Cup gallery can. Rory McIlroy came out against it, as did Brooks Koepka. Seth Waugh, chief executive of the PGA of America, said in April that “it’s hard to imagine one without fans.”

The powers that be finally have accepted that a Ryder Cup without fans is not a Ryder Cup at all. On Wednesday, the PGA of America announced that this year’s match-play contest between a team of Americans and a team of Europeans will be postponed until 2021 because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s Ryder Cup was scheduled to be held Sept. 25-27 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. It now will be held Sept. 24-26, 2021, at the same course. The Presidents Cup, which is held during Ryder Cup off years, will be moved to 2022 at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, and the tournaments will alternate from there.

Read more here.

By Matt Bonesteel
July 8, 2020 at 11:05 PM EDT

Financial relief programs for D.C.-area renters affected by pandemic

The June jobs report showing more than 14.7 million people out of work indicates how many Americans may be struggling to pay for essentials such as food and shelter. While some eviction and foreclosure moratoriums and mortgage forbearance programs have been in place, the federal government, the District, Maryland and Virginia are developing new protections and relief programs to help tenants and landlords.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency announced last week that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are extending forbearance agreements to multifamily-property owners with forbearance agreements for up to three months at a time, for a total of six months. This means that landlords can put their mortgage on pause if they are experiencing a pandemic-related hardship and have a loan backed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.

Read more here.

By Michele Lerner
July 8, 2020 at 10:44 PM EDT

Stanford to discontinue 11 sports programs following 2020-21 academic year

In the weeks after the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports in the United States, college athletic departments began preparing for lost revenue. They braced for a drop in donations because of the uncertain economy, the loss of student fees that help subsidize their departments and the harrowing prospect of what the balance sheet might look like if football cannot be played this fall.

As athletic directors across the country faced their departments’ unknown futures, they began cutting teams. The stream of lost sports started with wrestling at Old Dominion, and dozens of others followed. The trouble finally reached the Power Five conferences Wednesday when Stanford announced it would discontinue 11 programs following the 2020-21 academic year.

The school will cut men’s volleyball, wrestling, field hockey and men’s and women’s fencing, as well as six programs that are not NCAA-sponsored championship sports — lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash and synchronized swimming.

Read more here.

By Emily Giambalvo
July 8, 2020 at 10:25 PM EDT

S.F. mayor says she attended event with someone ‘who was aware that they had tested positive’

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Wednesday that she was exposed to the coronavirus at an event attended by someone “who was aware that they had tested positive” for the coronavirus.

Breed said she consulted with the city’s health authorities and has taken a virus test. She’s awaiting the results and is “practicing strict masking and social distancing practices, and limiting any public events for the next 10 days.”

“I know people want to be out in public right now, but this disease is killing people,” Breed said on Twitter. “It’s simply reckless for those who have tested positive [to] go out and risk the lives of others. I cannot stress this enough: if you test positive, it’s on you to stay home and not expose others.”

Breed’s announcement came the day after city leaders paused reopening. The public health director said San Francisco was averaging more than three times the target number of new cases per day.

The mayor’s office declined to specify the event where Breed was exposed. Communications Director Jeff Cretan said there is no indication that the infected person intended to harm Breed or other attendees — something the Justice Department said could be treated as an act of terrorism.

“There is no reason to believe the individual was intentionally trying to infect anyone but it was reckless nonetheless,” Cretan told The Washington Post. “People who are diagnosed are supposed to isolate at home.”

By Reis Thebault
July 8, 2020 at 10:07 PM EDT

People in Atlanta must now wear face masks as single-day case totals rise quickly

As infections spread rapidly in Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) on Wednesday instituted a requirement that nearly everyone in the city wear a mask in public.

Bottoms’s executive order mandates that people cover their noses and mouths when they are inside buildings that are open to the public or outside in an area where it isn’t possible to maintain social distance from others. There are exceptions for people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask, children younger than 10 and others with specific circumstances.

The new rule conflicts with Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s statewide order, which says that people are “strongly encouraged,” but not required, to wear masks and that municipalities cannot enforce orders that are “more or less restrictive” than the state’s mandate. Regardless, several other municipalities have implemented mask requirements, beginning with Savannah in late June, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Bottoms told the newspaper that she is requiring face coverings because of rising case numbers, especially in minority communities, and that she noticed that the state had not stopped other municipalities from enforcing their mask mandates.

The seven-day average of new cases in Fulton County, where Atlanta is the seat, has risen steadily since mid-June, according to Washington Post tracking. The average on Wednesday was 297, up from 175 on this day last week.

By Marisa Iati
July 8, 2020 at 9:40 PM EDT

The U.S. economy added 4.8 million jobs in June, but fierce new headwinds have emerged

The U.S. economy added a record 4.8 million jobs in June, according to federal data released Thursday, but a surge in new infections and a spate of new closings threatens the nascent recovery.

Two key federal measurements showed the precarious place the economy finds itself in three and a half months into the pandemic as the country struggles to hire back the more than 20 million workers who lost their jobs in March and April.

While companies have continued to reopen, a large number of Americans are finding their jobs are no longer available. The unemployment rate in June was 11.1 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said, down from a peak of 14.7 percent in April but still far above the 3.5 percent level notched in February.

The Congressional Budget Office on Thursday said the coronavirus pandemic gave such a shock to the labor market that it would not fully recover for more than 10 years.

Read more here.

By Eli Rosenberg
July 8, 2020 at 9:15 PM EDT

Life in the WNBA bubble is a mixed (and mostly fruitless) bag

The WNBA moved into a bubblelike setting in Bradenton, Fla., this week in the buildup to its abbreviated 22-game season amid the coronavirus pandemic. While other leagues opted for settings in Disney World near Orlando, the WNBA decided on IMG Academy, an elite boarding school with a focus on sports.

The early reviews have been decidedly mixed, and many of them have been aired on social media, much to the league’s embarrassment.

The issues appear to center on lodging and food accommodations. There are three locales for players to stay, and players were able to request staying alone in a hotel room or with roommates in a villa. Some players are housed in the Lodge at IMG, where ESPN’s Kayla Johnson posted pictures of an unappetizing meal, bug traps between mattresses, rodent traps in a shoddy-looking laundry room and what appeared to be a worm on the floor in one of the rooms.

Read more here.

By Kareem Copeland
July 8, 2020 at 8:47 PM EDT

Austin doctor issues dire warning: Texas is like the Titanic, ‘on a collision course with a viral iceberg’

Texas these days looks a lot like the RMS Titanic, circa April 1912, warned an Austin doctor working the front lines — the state’s equivalent of a boiler room on the ill-fated ship.

“The crew’s effort to slow and turn the ship were futile,” John Abikhaled, president of the Travis County Medical Society, said in a dire video address Wednesday. “We all know what happened next.”

If it doesn’t correct its course soon, there could be disastrous consequences, he said.

“If covid-19 hospitalizations continue to double at the current rate, in less than three weeks, our health-care system’s capacity to care for patients will be exceeded,” Abikhaled said, cautioning that doctors and nurses will be “overwhelmed.”

“Texas is on a collision course with a viral iceberg,” he added, “but we don’t have to sink.”

The video amounts to a blaring alarm bell sounded by the head of a group that represents more than 4,000 physicians in and around the Texas capital, where cases have surged to record highs in recent days.

The state has become a new hot spot — largely, experts say, because its leaders rushed to lift social distancing guidelines — and its death rate has been rising steadily since late June.

“In Texas, if the pandemic continues unabated, our death count will start to look like New York’s body count of over 31,000,” Abikhaled said.

Overrun hospitals mean “terrible decisions will have to be made about who receives care, and who does not,” he said. “None of us in the medical community want to be forced to make those decisions.”

The only way to slow things down, Abikhaled said, is to stick to the basics: wear masks in public, practice social distancing and stay away from large gatherings.

“We’ll have to do this for a while,” he said. “No one knows for how long, but we can do it. We must do it.”

By Reis Thebault
July 8, 2020 at 8:42 PM EDT

Retail workers are being drawn into the culture war over masks

It’s been nearly a week since the city of Mobile, Ala., began requiring masks in public. But inside the discount store where Kae Palmer works, not much has changed.

Most shoppers still come in without face coverings. Workers are quick to remove masks when they’re not on the sales floor. Palmer worries about her health but doesn’t feel like there’s much she can do about it. Corporate guidance, she says, has been, “Just serve the customer and don’t talk about their lack of a mask.”

Like millions of other retail and service workers, she has been pulled into the front lines of a growing culture war between those who are willing to wear masks and those who aren’t. Mixed messaging and politicization have turned a public health safeguard into a lightning-rod issue. As a result, workers have been berated, even assaulted, by aggressive anti-maskers.

“State and local governments have taken different approaches, but they all have one thing in common: They leave business owners and employees to change people’s behavior at a time when tempers are already running high,” said Lindsay Wiley, director of the Health Law and Policy Program at American University’s Washington College of Law. “Retail workers — who are already at great risk because they’re being exposed to people all day — have now also been put in the position of asking people to mask up.”

Read more here.

By Abha Bhattarai
July 8, 2020 at 8:16 PM EDT

U.S. sets infections record, tops 60,000 cases for first time as Calif. numbers soar

The number of novel coronavirus cases reported in the United States on Wednesday surpassed 60,000 for the first time, in a sobering reminder of the pandemic’s toll.

The nationwide total of 62,751 infections eclipsed the country’s previous record by more than 5,000.

In addition, the seven-day average case total has increased for 30 days straight. Wednesday’s average, 52,648, was up by more than 9,200 since one week ago, according to Washington Post tracking.

California hit several highs of its own. Health officials reported 11,694 single-day cases — setting a record not just for that state, but for any state. New York had previously reported the most cases in one day, with 11,571 cases on April 15.

Current virus-related hospitalizations in California also reached a high of 7,705 patients, up 206 from Tuesday. The number of patients in the state’s intensive care units declined slightly to 1,976.

West Virginia, Tennessee and Utah also set single-day case records, while 13 states reached seven-day new case average highs.

Texas health officials announced 98 new deaths, an increase of 38 from its previous record. The seven-day new death averages in South Carolina, Tennesse, Texas and Utah also surpassed previous highs.

By Marisa Iati and Jacqueline Dupree
July 8, 2020 at 8:10 PM EDT

In November, Maryland will have ‘a normal election’ despite pandemic

Maryland will conduct November’s election as a “normal” affair, Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday, opening every precinct and early-voting center while arming election workers with protective equipment to limit spread of the novel coronavirus.

Hogan (R) did not endorse a proposal to mail ballots to every voter, as the state did for its June 2 primary. He said he will ask the Board of Elections to instead send an application to vote by mail to all eligible voters, part of an effort to reduce how many people need to vote in person.

His directive selects an option that election officials had previously discarded as unworkable because of logistical challenges.

But the governor said he hopes the approach will spread out crowds by giving people multiple avenues to cast a ballot.

Read more here.

By Erin Cox
July 8, 2020 at 7:28 PM EDT

Coronavirus vaccine trials are seeking volunteers

A network of more than 100 clinical trial sites at hospitals and medical clinics across the United States will take on the unprecedented challenge of testing covid-19 vaccines and other preventive treatments, federal officials announced Wednesday.

The Covid-19 Prevention Trials Network, which knits together existing federal clinical trial infrastructure developed largely to test HIV vaccines and treatments, launched with a website for volunteers to join the roster of people to be considered when the first trials begin later this month.

The scientific effort to develop a covid-19 vaccine will depend crucially on tens of thousands of volunteers, in a gargantuan scientific, medical and logistical undertaking, with the aim of providing “substantial quantities of a safe, effective vaccine by January 2021,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

Testing a vaccine is a conceptually simple idea, but it is a careful and methodical process that unfolds through a phased system of trials that grow progressively larger. Early clinical trials, some of which have reported encouraging results, assess the right dose of the vaccine and monitor for any safety concerns in dozens or a few hundred patients. But the ultimate test of these vaccines will be large trials designed to test whether they are effective at preventing or reducing the severity of disease.

Read more here.

By Carolyn Y. Johnson
July 8, 2020 at 7:20 PM EDT

America is running short on masks, gowns and gloves. Again.

Health-care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic are encountering shortages of masks, gowns, face shields and gloves — a frustrating recurrence of a struggle that haunted the first months of the crisis.

Nurses say they are reusing N95 masks for days and even weeks at a time. Doctors say they can’t reopen offices because they lack personal protective equipment. State officials say they have scoured U.S. and international suppliers for PPE and struggle to get orders filled. Experts worry the problem could worsen as coronavirus infections climb, straining medical systems.

“A lot people thought once the alarm was sounded back in March surely the federal government would fix this, but that hasn’t happened,” said Deborah Burger, a California nurse and president of National Nurses United, a union representing registered nurses. Like many health-care workers, Burger blamed the Trump administration for the lack of equipment, noting the administration has insisted the responsibility falls to state and local officials, with the federal government playing only a supporting role.

The specter of equipment shortages comes as other issues that plagued the country’s early response to the pandemic return: surging cases, overwhelmed hospitals, lagging testing and contradictory public health messages. But the inability to secure PPE is especially frustrating, health-care workers say, because it is their main defense against catching the virus.

Read more here.

By William Wan
July 8, 2020 at 6:46 PM EDT

What it could cost to reopen schools with covid-19 safety measures

The San Diego Unified School District has come up with a plan for the fall: It will now reopen school buildings for all students who want to come full time, five days a week. But, its leaders say, the district needs more emergency funding from Congress to promise this for the entire 2020-2021 academic year.

If that money doesn’t come — and soon — in-school learning would last for only half of the school year, said John Lee Evans, president of the San Diego school board. Then all students would return home for remote learning for the second part of the year. To stay open for the whole year and employ protective measures against the spread of covid-19, the district needs about $50 million from Congress, he said in an interview.

President Trump is now saying that he may cut funding for districts that don’t do what he wants: reopen schools full time. He tweeted as much Wednesday, saying: “In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!

If he were to favor with funding districts that reopen full time, that could help San Diego, which is planning to do just that. But many if not most districts are planning a hybrid model for the fall, which would entail students learning for a few days in school and a few days remotely at home each week.

Read more here.

By Valerie Strauss