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The United States could get the spread of the novel coronavirus “under control” within a matter of weeks if everyone wore face coverings, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said Tuesday.

He said masks — which can act as a barrier for respiratory droplets that can be propelled into the air an infected person coughs, shouts or sneezes — are among the most effective measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Redfield said he was “saddened” that the wearing of masks has become politicized.

“I think if we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control,” Redfield said.

Here are some significant developments:

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July 15, 2020 at 12:20 AM EDT

With babies due, two Washington Capitals prepare to enter, and leave, the NHL bubble

Washington Capitals center Lars Eller thought long and hard about returning to play amid the coronavirus pandemic, weighing the pros and cons with a good chunk of his thoughts concerning family.

Eller’s wife, Julie, is pregnant with the couple’s second child and is expected to give birth Aug. 8, the day the Capitals are scheduled to play the Boston Bruins in the team’s last game of the round-robin tournament in Toronto. On Aug. 11, the first round of the playoffs is scheduled to begin. That’s where the stress and complications arise.

Family continues to be at the forefront of all conversations as players return to the rink, and decisions are being made with great care. Under the NHL’s protocols, players will be able to leave the hub cities and come back under certain circumstances, including the birth of a child. When they return, they will have to isolate and test negative for the virus for four consecutive days before being cleared to play.

Winger Carl Hagelin has a similar situation, with the birth of his second child expected in September.

Read more here.

By Samantha Pell
July 15, 2020 at 12:20 AM EDT

Big banks prepare for protracted recession, report drastic drop in profits

The recession triggered by the coronavirus will be deeper and longer than initially expected, according to three big banks that reported drastic tumbles in quarterly profits Tuesday.

Instead of a quick economic recovery at the end of this year, JPMorgan Chase now expects the recession to be “much more protracted,” said the bank’s chief financial officer, Jennifer Piepszak.

The banks’ more pessimistic outlooks come as millions of people remain out of work, thousands of small businesses close their doors forever and some states begin to shut down for a second time to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Read more here.

By Renae Merle
July 14, 2020 at 11:26 PM EDT

Florida cutting hundreds of unemployment call center workers

Florida’s unemployment call centers will lose hundreds of workers this week, local media reported, a cut that is likely to further cripple a system already struggling to keep up with demand.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the state’s unemployment claims, confirmed to WTLV TV that it had ended its contracts with two vendors responsible for hiring customer service representatives.

The state agency is still working to process hundreds of thousands of the more than 3 million unemployment claims filed in Florida since mid-March, according to its online dashboard.

While DEO did not immediately say how many customer service positions would be lost, WTLV reported that the number is in the hundreds. The phone lines manned by these workers already have extraordinarily long wait times, some Floridians say.

The department will continue to fund more than 3,000 customer service representatives, it said in a statement to WTLV, and is prioritizing vendors who can provide fully trained representatives more familiar with Florida’s unemployment system.

“Vendors who are not providing as high quality services will not continue to provide services at this time,” the department said in a statement to the station.

After the onset of the pandemic prompted mass layoffs and led a record number of Floridians to seek unemployment benefits this year, DEO hired additional call center employees to staff the state’s CONNECT system

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has described the system as a “jalopy,” according to WTVT TV, but said state authorities were making “a lot of great progress” in getting unemployment benefits checks out to applicants.

By Teo Armus
July 14, 2020 at 11:11 PM EDT

Arlington Public Schools switch to remote learning for fall, reversing course

In a surprise move, Arlington Public Schools are scrapping a plan to offer in-person and virtual learning this fall and will instead require the system’s 28,000 students to start the school year 100 percent online.

The district’s superintendent, Francisco Durán, announced the switch in an email to families Tuesday afternoon, citing a recent increase in coronavirus cases nationwide. He also wrote that he is proposing that the school system push back the start of the school year by about a week to give teachers and administrators more time to prepare.

Durán will formally present both suggestions to the school board this week. The board will vote on the delayed start, but the decision to go all-virtual is not subject to board approval, according to school spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Read more here.

By Hannah Natanson
July 14, 2020 at 10:53 PM EDT

NFL players’ union asks whether training camps in hot spots should open

As concern grows about the NFL’s ability to stage a full and on-time season, the NFL Players Association is questioning the viability of opening teams’ training camps later this month in areas of the country experiencing explosive growth in the number of novel coronavirus cases.

“We have one question that encapsulates it all: Does it make sense for the NFL to open up training camps in ‘hot spot’ cities right now?” a person familiar with the NFLPA’s views said Tuesday.

Most NFL teams are scheduled to report to training camps July 28. The league has considered a variety of coronavirus-related contingencies, but consistently has said it is planning to stage a full season beginning as scheduled on Sept. 10, with teams playing games in their own stadiums, hopefully in front of some fans. The NFL has sent detailed health protocols to teams but continues to negotiate some key details of its plan with the NFLPA, including the frequency by which players will be tested for the virus.

Read more here.

By Mark Maske
July 14, 2020 at 10:34 PM EDT

Virginia, Maryland governors take action as cases tick upward in D.C. region

The greater Washington region’s largest daily caseloads of the past month have occurred in the past five days, prompting the governors of Maryland and Virginia to take actions Tuesday to halt its spread.

The seven-day average of cases in the District, Maryland and Virginia increased for an eighth consecutive day Tuesday, jumping to 1,421, on a par with the region’s daily average a month earlier. The average for the three jurisdictions had tumbled to 907 in late June, but a reversal in that trend has shown no signs of slowing.

Hoping to stave off the coronavirus spikes seen in other states, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) wrote a letter to local leaders across the state, pressing them to enforce social distancing and mask requirements in bars and restaurants. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ordered state inspectors to start making unannounced visits to restaurants and retail establishments across the state, with plans to revoke business licenses if customers are not wearing masks.

Read more here.

By Dana Hedgpeth, Antonio Olivo, Erin Cox and Ovetta Wiggins
July 14, 2020 at 10:14 PM EDT

Promises of a vaccine in near future do the public a ‘grave disservice,’ says CEO of pharma giant Merck

The promise has come from the Trump administration’s politicos and infectious-disease experts alike: There will be a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year or by early 2021, a timeline so fast that the White House came up with a name for the project that seemed ripped from a comic book — Operation Warp Speed.

But Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co., one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, said such vows ignore the country’s troubled history of breakneck vaccine development and can undermine important public health measures.

“When people tell the public that there’s going to be a vaccine by the end of 2020 … they do a grave disservice to the public,” Frazier said in a video interview with Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School. “I think at the end of the day, we don’t want to rush the vaccine before we’ve done rigorous science. We’ve seen in the past, for example, with the swine flu, that that vaccine did more harm than good. We don’t have a great history of introducing vaccines quickly in the middle of a pandemic. We want to keep that in mind.”

Frazier added: “When we do tell people that a vaccine’s coming right away, we allow politicians to actually tell the public not to do the things that the public needs to do like wear the d--- masks. Okay? We were so unprepared for this pandemic. It’s not even funny on so many levels.”

Merck, one of the leading vaccine producers, announced in May that it would develop and manufacture two covid-19 vaccines and an experimental antiviral treatment. The company publicized its plans months after some of its competitors, and Frazier said that when a vaccine is ready, Merck is committed to “broad, equitable, affordable access” to the drug “no matter where you are in the world.”

Anthony S. Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has tempered Trump’s “warp speed” pledge slightly, saying in May that a vaccine could be ready in 12 to 18 months. On Tuesday, Fauci said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the state of vaccine development, citing positive early reports from one drug’s trials and other promising candidates.

“I think we’re in a pretty good place when it comes to vaccines,” Fauci said.

By Reis Thebault
July 14, 2020 at 9:52 PM EDT

Navarro says Fauci ‘has been wrong about everything’ in critical editorial

Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro wrote a scathing article Tuesday questioning the guidance of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci — the latest of continued attacks from the White House against one of its own public health experts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Citing instances when he disagreed with the advice from Fauci, Navarro wrote in USA Today that “when you ask me whether I listen to Dr. Fauci’s advice, my answer is: only with skepticism and caution.”

The opinion article echoes Trump’s comments during a Fox News interview Thursday with Sean Hannity, where he said Fauci “is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.” Fauci hasn’t spoken with Trump since June, The Washington Post reported.

While White House officials have undermined Fauci before, the article by Navarro marks one of the most public attacks by a high-ranking official thus far.

White House aides previously circulated talking points questioning past statements Fauci has made about the coronavirus, which Navarro repeated in the article.

Among the criticisms listed by the White House officials and Navarro is that Fauci didn’t urge caution when the cases were first reported in China in January, that he gave varied advice on face masks and that he has said that he didn’t believe there was concrete scientific evidence to support that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment against the coronavirus.

In the article, Navarro argues that his disputes with Fauci are evidence that the infectious-disease expert shouldn’t be trusted, especially because he discounted the “falling mortality rate” as an insufficient measure to “help guide the pace of our economic reopening.”

By Meryl Kornfield
July 14, 2020 at 9:16 PM EDT

Nearly all residents of a Montana assisted-living center fall ill after facility initially declined free testing

Nearly all the residents of a Montana facility that cares for people with dementia and other memory problems have tested positive for the coronavirus, and eight have died, after the facility initially refused free testing offered by the state.

The outbreak in Canyon Creek Memory Care in Billings, Montana’s largest city, has infected 55 of 59 residents and 36 employees, the Associated Press reported. Yellowstone County, where the facility is located, has tallied 557 total cases, according to state data.

The infections come after Canyon Creek initially refused to test its residents, Gov. Steve Bullock (D) said at a news conference last week, where he announced a requirement that assisted-living facilities accept the state’s offer of free testing.

“The purpose of this rule is to help prevent what’s happened at Canyon Creek,” Bullock said.

The operator of the facility, Koelsch Communities, did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment, but a company spokesperson told AP that it turned down testing residents after three with symptoms were isolated and then tested negative in April and May.

AP reported that some Montana facilities’ administrators cited the invasiveness of a nasal swab test and other precautions that were already in place as reasons for declining testing.

When 43 Canyon Creek residents had tested positive, the operator posted on its website that the community was under quarantine.

“We have been working with local health departments in each of these communities and continue to follow our heightened sanitation and protection protocols that continue to help us stem the spread of the virus,” Koelsch Communities said on its website.

Montana National Guard personnel and staffers from the Billings Clinic, a nonprofit health center, went to the facility to help with treating the infected residents, the Billings Gazette reported this week.

By Meryl Kornfield
July 14, 2020 at 8:44 PM EDT

With Texas leading the way, United States sets another new record for daily infections

For the 36th consecutive day, the United States set a record for the average number of cases reported, with the country’s three largest states spurring the surge.

On Tuesday, Texas reported 10,745 infections — a new single-day high. In the past week alone, the state has recorded more than 64,000 cases and 607 deaths, according to data gathered and analyzed by The Washington Post. Meanwhile, the number of people battling the virus in hospitals has also climbed every day for more than two weeks.

Leaders in some of the state’s most populous metropolitan areas, such as Houston and Dallas, have criticized state and federal responses and lobbied for stricter public health measures.

“Covid-19 is a virus that continues to run rampant in our city,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned Monday. “The numbers just continue to go up, and we are not in control of this virus.”

California and Florida, large states that have become hot spots in recent weeks, continue to average more than 8,000 new cases per day. Florida was among the 17 states to hit a new high in average cases reported on Tuesday.

A dozen states are reporting record numbers of virus hospitalizations, a worrying sign that a spike in serious health outcomes has indeed followed the rush of new cases. And, as experts predicted, the reported number of deaths is also rising in several states. Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Nevada and Utah all reported record numbers of fatalities.

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Tuesday that he expects the death rate to increase in coming weeks — but not to the levels they reached in April and May.

“We will likely see more deaths as people get hospitalized, but I doubt it will go up to the extent we’ve seen before,” Fauci said at a Georgetown University event.

Still, he predicted, “this is a pandemic of historic proportions. It’s something that, when history looks back on it, will be comparable to what we saw in 1918,” when influenza killed tens of millions worldwide.

“That was the mother of all pandemics and truly historic,” Fauci said. “I hope we don’t approach that with this, but it does have the makings of possibly approaching that in seriousness.”

By Reis Thebault and Jacqueline Dupree
July 14, 2020 at 8:20 PM EDT

Mexico proposes travel restriction extension through late August

Mexico has proposed extending an agreement with the United States to restrict nonessential travel along the border for another 30 days to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Mexican Embassy in Washington.

The measures set on March 21 would be extended to Aug. 21, Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Relations said Tuesday on Twitter. At the same time, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a decision about the border reopening would be announced later this week, the Associated Press reported.

While the U.S. case count has spiked since June, Canada has effectively flattened the curve. Case increases in Southern California, Arizona and Texas near the border have raised concerns in Mexico about transmission of the virus by people coming from the United States.

Adjusted for population, Canada has reported 297.7 cases per 100,000 people, and Mexico has tallied 241.2 cases per 100,000. The United States has counted 1,042.1 cases per 100,000 people.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that Mexico’s governors were concerned that Americans were still traveling freely into the country with few security measures in place. In response to concerns, the Mexican government announced that it would implement temperature checks for travelers coming from the United States.

Meanwhile, the number of Mexican migrants detained in June by U.S. authorities along the border rose by 40 percent.

By Meryl Kornfield
July 14, 2020 at 7:55 PM EDT

Dallas County ends testing partnership with federal government after delays, lack of resources

The second-largest county in America’s second-largest state has said that it can no longer count on the federal government to provide the resources it needs to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the Texas county of 2.7 million people will assume full responsibility for coronavirus testing starting on Wednesday, ending its partnership with the federal government after months of pleading for more testing supplies and faster turnaround in results.

Parkland Hospital and Health System, the county’s public health provider, will take over testing operations to achieve faster results, Jenkins said. “If the federal government can’t do it, we’ll do it,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Texas is one of the hardest hit states in the country, where coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are spiking. Dallas County is averaging more than 1,300 new cases of the virus per day, and a high proportion of positive test results among tests administered indicates that far more are probably infected.

Epidemiologists say the Trump administration’s failure to deliver sufficient testing resources has facilitated the crisis, with testing delays too severe in many places to implement contact tracing and other measures to stop the spread.

The climbing case numbers and demand for tests have also exacerbated existing wealth disparities, including in Dallas County, where Jenkins said residents with private health insurance have been able to access testing at a facility in the north of the county — and receive their results in two days — while poorer residents who rely on the testing site contracted through the federal government in the south of the county have to wait eight to 10 days for results.

“That’s unacceptable,” Jenkins said. “Eight to 10 days does more harm than good” because the people using that testing site can’t afford to stay home from work for that long while they wait for results. But every day an infected person spends on the job, interacting with family and going about daily routines means that they are probably infecting other people — so many, experts say, that they become impossible to trace.

By Abigail Hauslohner
July 14, 2020 at 7:30 PM EDT

Gov. DeSantis faces skepticism and concern from roundtable of Miami-Dade mayors as outbreak surges

As Florida broke records again for single-day hospitalizations and deaths from covid-19 Tuesday, bipartisan mayors in South Florida gathered for a roundtable discussion with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), where they critiqued the state’s response to the virus and expressed concerns over the lack of cohesive messaging.

The mayors discussed an array of issues, ranging from whether police should enforce social distancing and mask orders to how counties with a “crowd economy” — ones heavy with industries such as hospitality and nightlife — can weather prolonged shutdowns.

Though the gathering was mostly genial, a clear skepticism was evident among the mayors as several questioned the transparency and previous decisions by DeSantis’s office. The governor has consistently downplayed the severity of the outbreak, even as new infections surge, and is pushing for schools to reopen in the fall.

Juan Carlos Bermudez, the Republican mayor of the city of Doral, pointed to a difference in messaging from the state health department when it comes to data such as the number of infections.

“Sometimes when our constituents ask a question, ‘Why is this number different on this website than from that website?’ I think that causes a lot of angst among residents,” Bermudez said.

The group was at times clearly at odds with DeSantis, who is pushing for schools to reopen. Several mayors acknowledged the importance of in-person learning but said families are still worried it’s unsafe amid the state’s surging outbreak. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (R) warned DeSantis that they were running out of time to turn the state’s situation around.

“If things do not improve, quickly, over the next week or two, I think we’re going to be under a significant amount of pressure to [shut down],” Suarez said.

One of DeSantis’s more vocal critics was absent from the meeting. Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández, a Republican leading Miami-Dade’s second-largest city, told the Miami-Herald that DeSantis’s staff denied him entry, saying he wasn’t invited.

By Kim Bellware
July 14, 2020 at 7:17 PM EDT

Fauci is ‘cautiously optimistic’ about vaccines, encourages public to listen to experts

The country’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, delivered a sober warning — punctuated by glimmers of optimism and his typical pragmatism — to a virtual audience of college students Tuesday, weighing in on vaccine development, conflict with the World Health Organization and school reopenings.

Appearing via Zoom at the Georgetown University event, Fauci said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the state of vaccine development, citing positive early reports from one drug’s trials and other promising candidates.

“I think we’re in a pretty good place when it comes to vaccines,” Fauci said.

He said he’s hopeful that in 12 to 18 months, the world will have an effective vaccine and enough immunity through recovery that people won’t “have to worry about getting infected.”

Responding to a student’s question about the United States’ rocky relationship with the WHO, Fauci said, “they are an imperfect organization. They have made mistakes. But I would like to see the mistakes corrected and for them to be much more in line with the kinds of things that we need.”

“I hope this kind of tension between the United States and the WHO somehow or other ultimately gets settled in a favorable way,” Fauci added without elaborating. “Because the world does need a WHO for outbreaks like this.”

Fauci’s appearance comes after days of being sidelined by the Trump administration, which has strayed from the advice of its scientists and public health experts.

Speaking generally about the din of misinformation and partisan politics, Fauci advised Americans to “trust respected medical authorities” over other sources.

“I believe I’m one of them, so I think you can trust me,” he said with a laugh. “I would stick with respected medical authorities who have a track record of telling the truth.”

Fauci said school reopenings will probably depend on geography and the spread of the virus locally. He said the country must balance the need to keep children in school with health concerns about kids and teachers.

His most animated moment came when he was asked about what young people can do to help control the pandemic.

“I don’t want to sound preachy about it,” he began. Increases in infections and hospitalizations among younger Americans shows that some have adopted a blasé attitude, he said: “ ‘It doesn’t matter to me, I’d rather be there sipping my margarita at a bar in a crowd.’ ”

But, he added, “Everybody has a place and a role in getting this outbreak under control, and your not caring whether you get infected or not is not a good way to get the outbreak under control. … They don’t mean to be part of the problem, but, inadvertently, they are part of the problem.”

By Reis Thebault