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Coronavirus patients are pouring into hospitals in hot spots such as Florida, Arizona, California and Texas, and virus hospitalizations are setting records almost daily in those states. The influx is straining intensive care units, which are expanding to add new beds and installing special airflow systems to reduce the spread within the hospitals.

But as the pandemic rages in new epicenters in the United States, the Trump administration is increasingly sidelining its own health experts in pivotal decisions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is coming under intense pressure from President Trump and his allies, who are downplaying the dangers in a bid to revive the economy ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Here are some significant developments:

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July 9, 2020 at 11:16 PM EDT

NFL preseason game protocols: no jersey swaps, sideline mask recommendation

The NFL has not decided how many preseason games will be played next month, or even if they will be played at all. But the league has sent a set of game-day protocols to teams — with coronavirus-related procedures — in case games are played.

Those provisions include recommendations for wearing masks on teams’ benches during games, social distancing measures within locker rooms, and prohibitions on postgame jersey swaps between players.

The league told teams, via an accompanying memo from the NFL Management Council, that the game-day protocols had “been finalized with the NFL Players Association.” That didn’t prevent individual players from taking to social media to question the measures.

“This is a perfect example of NFL thinking in a nutshell,” San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman wrote on Twitter. “Players can go engage in a full contact game and do it safely. However, it is deemed unsafe for them to exchange jerseys after said game.”

Read more here.

By Mark Maske
July 9, 2020 at 10:49 PM EDT

Kentucky is latest state to make masks mandatory

Kentucky is the latest state to require all residents to wear face coverings in public amid a rising number of infections.

Warning that the state was at risk of becoming another hot spot, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said Thursday that 333 new cases had been reported over the previous 24 hours. If residents refuse to follow the mask ordinance, there’s a risk that businesses will have to shut down again, he said.

“To folks that say, ‘We’re not Arizona, we’re not Florida, we’re not Texas’ … they weren’t at one point either,” Beshear told reporters at a news conference. “All of these states thought they had everything under control.”

The mask mandate goes into effect Friday, and will apply to stores, restaurants and other indoor spaces, as well as outdoor settings where social distancing is impossible. It includes exceptions for children and people with medical conditions.

Hours after Beshear’s announcement, a circuit court judge issued a temporary restraining order targeting future executive orders, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported. The ruling blocked restrictions for agritourism businesses such as distilleries and farmers markets, and also requires Beshear to provide more information about why an emergency order is necessary.

Beshear on Thursday criticized the ruling as “dangerous and devastating,” asserting that the lawsuit was politically motivated and promising to appeal it at a higher court.

By Antonia Farzan
July 9, 2020 at 10:38 PM EDT

Texas high school football in doubt after Dallas schools leader’s comments

As coronavirus cases continue to surge in Texas, the state could also be facing the unthinkable: no high school football in the fall.

That is at least according to Michael Hinojosa, the Dallas Independent School District Superintendent, who told MSNBC on Thursday morning that he has significant doubts the sport will be able to be played this season amid the pandemic.

“That’s a true contact sport, I don’t see how we can pull that off. There’s been some discussion of moving it to the spring, but we’ll have to wait and see. I don’t, I seriously doubt that we can pull that off,” Hinojosa told MSNBC reporter Garrett Haake.

Read more here.

By Roman Stubbs
July 9, 2020 at 10:20 PM EDT

Alabama GOP lawmaker says he wants to see more people get covid-19

Alabama Sen. Del Marsh (R), dismissing concerns Thursday about the state reporting 2,100 coronavirus cases, its highest single-day count, advocated for more people to be infected as a way to increase public immunity.

“I’m not concerned, so much, [about] the number of cases,” Marsh told reporters. “Quite honestly, I want to see more people because we start reaching an immunity if more people have it and get through it.”

Alabama was among six states Thursday that reported record highs for daily cases, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.

Marsh added that elderly and those with preexisting conditions should be protected, and he doesn’t want more deaths, but he said there are “ample” hospital beds available.

Doctors continue to study the disease, and the long-term effects on the heart and brain of those who survive are unknown, even if people suffered few symptoms or were completely asymptomatic.

“The big lingering question is what happens to people who survive covid,” Isaac Solomon, a neuropathologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, previously said. “Is there a lingering effect on the brain?”

The idea of widespread immunity for those who have survived is also not certain, according to experts. There have been early reports out of South Korea and China that some survivors have tested positive after recovering from the virus. The presence of coronavirus antibodies may not lead to immunity.

By Kareem Copeland
July 9, 2020 at 9:55 PM EDT

Pandemic shutdowns saved thousands of animals from becoming roadkill, report suggests

Covid-19 has taken more than a half-million human lives. A new report says it may have saved the lives of thousands of wild animals, if only temporarily.

As states across the country enforced stay-at-home orders from early March to mid-April, road traffic decreased by about 70 percent in California, Idaho and Maine, researchers found. At the same time, the number of car crashes involving deer, bears and other large mammals also dropped across all three states.

Maine recorded 44 percent fewer roadkill victims, according to the report from the University of California at Davis. California’s deaths-by-bumper dropped 58 percent for mountain lions, and 21 percent overall. If a similar drop occurred across the United States, where some estimates suggest as many as 1 billion wild animals are killed by vehicles each year, about 200 million creatures’ lives would be spared annually.

Read more here.

By Jason Bittel
July 9, 2020 at 9:40 PM EDT

Big Ten moves all fall sports, including football, to conference-only schedules

The Big Ten announced Thursday that fall sports teams, including football, will play only conference opponents. The Big Ten is the first Power Five conference to announce an adjustment to its college football season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ivy League announced Wednesday that it will not hold sports during the fall semester, becoming the first Division I conference to suspend its football season this year.

The Big Ten’s decision also affects men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country and field hockey. Decisions about other sports, the conference said, will continue to be evaluated.

Read more here.

By Emily Giambalvo
July 9, 2020 at 9:25 PM EDT

MLB flew Dominican players to the U.S. for restart, but didn’t test them for coronavirus first

Multiple players who took one of two Major League Baseball-chartered flights from the Dominican Republic to Miami on July 1 have since tested positive for the coronavirus, according to several people with knowledge of the situation. Players and staff members were not tested before boarding the planes, according to six people with knowledge of the travel logistics, lending more skepticism to baseball’s restart plan.

When asked Thursday if players were tested before the charter flights from the Dominican Republic, an MLB spokesman noted that those who traveled to summer training domestically were not administered a coronavirus test before flying. The spokesman added that tests are harder to come by in the Dominican Republic than in the United States, and said “shipping saliva samples from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. was not possible due to governmental restrictions.”

Among the players who traveled on the charter flights and tested positive is Minnesota Twins first baseman Miguel Sanó, whose medical information was revealed by the Twins last Saturday. Six Washington Nationals players — Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Wander Suero, Fernando Abad, Luis Garcia and Joan Adon — were on the flights and are now isolating in Washington. One tested positive for the coronavirus during intake screening on July 2, according to people with knowledge of the results, while the rest remain in quarantine out of caution. That player was one of two Nationals who tested positive for the virus during the intake screening process. Both are asymptomatic.

Read more here.

By Jesse Dougherty
July 9, 2020 at 9:05 PM EDT

U.S. schools hope to reopen for 56.6 million K-12 students

In just a matter of weeks, tens of millions of children will start a new school year, and what that will look like has become the nation’s thorniest political and epidemiological issue. School officials have to figure out how to resume schooling while limiting the risks to children, their teachers, school staffers and their communities.

This pivotal moment in the pandemic comes as scientists are still trying to understand precisely how the virus affects children and how children affect the spread of the virus. This dicey decision point has generated tension between President Trump and his own public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with Trump saying the CDC is “asking schools to do very impractical things” to allow classes to resume.

The reopening of schools is likely to be halting and improvisational. It could be marked by setbacks. There is no proven strategy for the remobilization of 56.6 million K-12 students amid a pandemic like this one.

Read more here.

By Joel Achenbach, Laura Meckler and Chelsea Janes
July 9, 2020 at 8:50 PM EDT

First confirmed case reported in war-torn northwestern Syria

The first confirmed coronavirus case in war-torn northwestern Syria was reported Thursday, following months of Syrians and aid agencies warning that the virus could overrun the last main opposition-held part of the country, where millions of displaced people live in densely packed camps with little health-care access.

The Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU), a local Syrian NGO, reported that the patient is a doctor at the Bab al-Hawa Hospital near the border with Turkey. The man isolated himself on July 5 after showing symptoms and, following a positive test result, his contacts will be tested. He reportedly lives across the border in Gaziantep, Turkey, and travels frequently to Syria for work. On his most recent trip, he had traveled to northern Aleppo before arriving in Idlib, according to the Syrian American Medical Society.

The news comes one day before the U.N. Security Council Resolution on cross-border access for humanitarian aid is set to expire, after Russia and China blocked its renewal. The resolution enables aid to move into Syria from Turkey via two crossings, Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam, the latter of which is at risk of closing.

Russia is aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who after nine years of fighting has beaten back Syrian rebel groups in all but one main area, northwestern Syria. Blocking the resolution’s extension is seen as a win for Assad and a loss for the Syrian opposition and Turkey, which supports some of the rebels and opposes the Syrian president.

The political impasse could affect efforts to fight the virus.

“The cross-border mechanism is a vital lifeline for millions of Syrians, including some 3 million, the majority of whom are women and children, in the northwest of the country,” Tue Jakobsen, who manages CARE’s humanitarian aid operations in the region, said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to have catastrophic consequences for the extremely vulnerable population of Northwest Syria.”

“More than ever,” Jakobsen said, “it is essential that the massive, ongoing cross-border operation in the Northwest of the country continues to assist civilians fully and to ramp up preventative measure to curb the spread of COVID-19.”

By Miriam Berger
July 9, 2020 at 8:35 PM EDT

Michigan governor says she won’t reopen schools until it’s safe to do so

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) on Thursday pushed back against President Trump’s call for states to allow schools to reopen, declaring that she will make her decision based on safety rather than on politics.

“I want to make this clear ⁠ — I will not send our kids and our education workforce into our schools unless it is safe to do so, plain and simple,” Whitmer tweeted Thursday night. “I have made decisions based on science and facts to keep Michiganders safe since the beginning, and won’t stop now.”

The tweet from Whitmer, a vocal Trump critic, came as the president has increased pressure on schools at all levels to hold in-person classes this fall, threatening to cut off their funding if they refuse.

Earlier on Thursday, Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said his office will provide new “reference documents” next week for teachers, parents and caregivers. However, he emphasized that those documents did not amount to a revision of the existing federal guidelines.

“CDC provides guidances, they’re not requirements,” Redfield said in an interview Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

By Felicia Sonmez
July 9, 2020 at 8:33 PM EDT

U.S. deaths increased this week, suggesting fatalities could be catching up to recent surge in cases

Coronavirus-related deaths reported in the United States have trended slightly upward in recent days, mirroring levels last seen in early June, according to Washington Post tracking.

The United States reported more than 800 deaths from the virus for three consecutive days this week, including 929 on Tuesday, potentially signaling that death totals are catching up with recent spikes in new cases.

Prior to this week, the U.S. death toll from the virus had gradually trended downward, with the exception of June 25, when New Jersey authorities added more than 1,800 probable deaths to the state’s totals.

While the country continues to grapple with daily record-setting numbers of infections and hospitalizations in some states, deaths have not risen at a corresponding rate. But Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist, told Congress on June 23 that the death toll would likely rise in the coming weeks.

“Deaths always lag considerably behind cases,” Fauci told Congress last month.

In June, Nicholas G. Reich, associated professor of biostatistics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, predicted “rises in covid-19 deaths over the next month in many of the states that are seeing upticks in cases, like Texas, California, Florida and others, even though the deaths have been either steady or declining in recent weeks.”

By Michael Brice-Saddler
July 9, 2020 at 8:20 PM EDT

‘We are begging’: Mississippi health officials warn of untenable hospital conditions

Mississippi health experts on Thursday put out a dire warning, local news reported: The state’s five largest medical institutions have run out of space in their intensive care units, and as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise, state health officer Thomas Dobbs laid things out bluntly — “Mississippi hospitals cannot take care of Mississippi patients.”

Dobbs was one of several experts who issued a plea to anyone who would listen Thursday morning, the Mississippi Free Press and other outlets wrote. Dobbs added that hospitals are “stretched thin” and said the state is on pace to mirror New York City, which emerged as an early pandemic hot spot.

Health officials in Mississippi have reported more than 700 additional cases per day since July 1, according to the Free Press, up from an average of nearly 400 in June. The state’s issues mirror those of much of the country, as doctors warn of diminishing supplies of personal protective equipment and hospitals teeter on the brink of full capacity.

“We are speaking for the health-care workforce of the state of Mississippi. We are begging, and we are asking the people of Mississippi to get on board with us,” said LouAnn Woodward, the University of Mississippi Medical Center vice chancellor for health affairs, according to the Free Press. “We went from shelter-in-place to wide open, whether official or not official.”

The news outlet notes that some Mississippi leaders have called on their governor to issue a statewide mask mandate. Some counties have implemented one, while in others officials have pushed back on the notion.

“Do I want us to have to have mandates to wear masks? Of course not,” Woodward reportedly said, adding that she supports people having the freedom to make their own decision. “However, if that is what it takes for the people of this state to realize we are serious and this is a major safety issue, then I support a mandate.”

By Michael Brice-Saddler
July 9, 2020 at 8:05 PM EDT

Texas emergency management chief who prioritized PPE for workers dies of covid-19 and leukemia

A southern Texas county is mourning the loss of its emergency coordinator, David Prasifka, a man who friends and family said prioritized the safety and well-being of others — particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Prasifka, the 58-year-old emergency chief for Atascosa County, died on Saturday after receiving back-to-back diagnoses of leukemia and later, covid-19, according to his obituary in the Pleasanton Express.

As the county emergency coordinator, Prasifka’s broad role was to look out for the safety of first responders. Those who knew him recalled how the pandemic seemed to change him, prompting him to become “overwhelmingly serious” as he put in long hours and commuted sometimes hundreds of miles to secure PPE for his local EMS, hospital workers and essential staff.

Atascosa Judge Robert Hurley worked with Prasifka on the county’s pandemic response, CNN reported.

“We probably had more [testing sites] in our county than any other that are our size, at least in our area of Texas, and he ran them personally,” Hurley said, telling CNN there was “no question” that Prasifka helped to save lives. “We had extremely low numbers for a county our size until they opened the bars and beaches back up.”

By Kim Bellware
July 9, 2020 at 7:51 PM EDT

Bolivia’s interim president is the latest world leader to test positive

Bolivia’s controversial interim president Jeanine Áñez tested positive for the novel coronavirus, she announced Thursday on Twitter, making her at least the fifth world leader ⁠ — and third from Latin America ⁠ — to confirm her status as a carrier.

In a video posted to her official account, Áñez said “many” other members of her governing team had also tested positive. She said she still felt “strong” and would be quarantined for 14 days.

“Together with all my team, we have been working for Bolivian families all this time,” she said. “Given that last week, many of them were positive for the coronavirus, I did the test and I am also positive.”

Her announcement came days after her health minister also tested positive, and as Bolivia ⁠ — one of South America’s poorest nations ⁠ — is struggling to cope with a surging outbreak. In recent weeks, the nation has witnessed repeated days with new cases topping 1,000, with total confirmed cases now standing at 42,984 in a country of 11.3 million. In the city of Cochabamba, residents have protested a slow government response as overwhelmed funeral homes have forced some families to keep dead bodies in their homes for up to seven days.

Áñez, a 53-year-old right-wing senator and religious conservative backed by the Trump administration, assumed power last year in a political deal with opposition parties, the Catholic Church and the European Union, following the flight from the country of the socialist ex-president Evo Morales amid accusations of election fraud. She has since backed out of a pledge not to stand as a candidate in Bolivia’s presidential elections, now scheduled for Sept. 6. Her fiercely anti-socialist administration also stands accused by human rights groups and the political opposition of unleashing a wave of repression against journalists, political opponents and judges.

Áñez is at least the fifth world leader to test positive for the virus. This week, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro ⁠ — a coronavirus skeptic ⁠ — announced he was confirmed to have the coronavirus. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was treated in intensive care in April; he has since recovered. Guinea-Bissau’s prime minister, Nuno Gomes Nabiam, tested positive in April. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was hospitalized last month. He announced last week that he was leaving the hospital and resuming work.

By Anthony Faiola