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An unpublished report by the White House Coronavirus Task Force dated Tuesday suggests that at least 18 hard-hit states — including California, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas — enact stricter measures such as mask requirements and increased testing. The report was first published by the Center for Public Integrity.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on Thursday sued to stop Atlanta from enforcing some of its coronavirus-related rules, including its recent mandate to wear a face covering in public.

The lawsuit alleges that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) lacked the authority to implement a mask requirement and that she must obey Kemp’s executive orders, including one signed Wednesday night that explicitly bans municipalities from enacting their own mask ordinances.

Here are some significant developments:

July 16, 2020 at 11:51 PM EDT

New Orleans’ Zion Williamson leaves NBA bubble for family medical emergency

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Zion Williamson, one of basketball’s brightest young stars, left the NBA’s Disney World bubble Thursday to attend to what the New Orleans Pelicans termed “an urgent family medical matter.”

In a statement, the Pelicans said that the 2019 No. 1 overall pick planned to return to the bubble. It’s not clear when Williamson, who has dazzled fans with highflying dunks since he was a high school phenom, will return.

“We fully support Zion’s decision to leave the NBA campus to be with his family,” Pelicans executive David Griffin said in a statement. “Out of respect for the Williamson family, we will have no further comment at this time.”

Read more here.

By Ben Golliver
July 16, 2020 at 11:33 PM EDT

New York bans sale of alcohol without food in bars, restaurants

New Yorkers that want to buy an alcoholic drink at a bar or restaurant must also buy food, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) announced Thursday, as part of a set of measures tightening restrictions on the state’s bars and restaurants.

While only establishments that serve food have also been allowed to sell alcoholic beverages, customers could previously limit their purchases to just beer, wine or liquor.

But after his office received 5,000 complaints recently about a lack of social distancing at bars in and near New York City, the new restrictions are meant to lessen the risk of exposure for customers and employees.

“If you’re not eating a meal, and you’re just drinking, then it’s just an outdoor bar and people are mingling and they’re not isolated at individual tables. And that’s what we’re seeing,” Cuomo said during a news conference, according to WSTM.

Any business that violates measures three times will be closed for business, he said, although particularly egregious violations can result in a bar or restaurant immediately losing its liquor license — or being forced to shut down.

A month ago, after flocks of people crowded shoulder-to-shoulder outside bars in New York City following the first phase of reopening, Cuomo issued a stern warning to residents and local officials about the dangers posed by such gatherings.

From the start of the pandemic through mid-June, his office received an “alarming” 25,000 complaints about health-safety violations, he said at the time, mostly calling out restaurants and bars in Manhattan and the Hamptons.

On Thursday, Cuomo added that he would be making a decision on whether New York City would enter Phase 4 of the state’s reopening process by Friday, though no indoor spaces — including malls — would be allowed to reopen.

By Teo Armus
July 16, 2020 at 10:43 PM EDT

1.3 million more workers file new unemployment claims last week

About 1.3 million workers filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week — the 17th straight week new claims exceeded 1 million as the coronavirus pandemic continues to drag down the economy.

Nearly 17.4 million workers were continually claiming unemployment insurance for the week ending July 4, the Labor Department said. Another 14.3 million people were claiming Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program newly created for self-employed or gig workers who are out of work at the moment, bringing the total number of people on all programs to 32 million unemployed.

Read more here.

By Eli Rosenberg
July 16, 2020 at 10:11 PM EDT

Angela Merkel is riding high as she steers Europe’s coronavirus recovery effort

BERLIN — Earlier this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been written off by many as a lame duck. Her coalition and party were beset by infighting, and speculation was rife that she would buckle to pressure to step aside before the end of her final term in 2021.

But a coolheaded and effective response to the coronavirus crisis has pushed Merkel’s approval ratings up as high as 86 percent within Germany. She is in a position of strength and confidence this week as she steers Europe’s effort to address what is predicted to be its deepest economic recession on record.

Merkel, who turns 66 on Friday during the European Union’s first in-person summit since the start of the pandemic, is “in the midst of her power,” said veteran German political scientist Hajo Funke.

Read more here.

By Loveday Morris
July 16, 2020 at 10:05 PM EDT

Pandemic proves good for one business — Netflix

Netflix said Thursday it gained 10.1 million subscribers worldwide in its most recent quarter, suggesting that the shutdowns resulting from the pandemic continue to be good for the streaming business.

Although the tally is smaller than the nearly 16 million subscribers Netflix added during the quarter that ended in March, it still reflects an at-home entertainment company that continues to do brisk business as firms that rely on old-fashioned public gathering struggle.

The figure in the United States — 2.9 million — is particularly notable, building on the 2.3 million Netflix added during the first quarter as the pandemic began. Before that quarter, growth in the United States had often shrunk to 1 million subscriber additions or fewer in many quarters.

Read more here.

By Steven Zeitchik
July 16, 2020 at 9:05 PM EDT

Washington governor enacts social gathering limits, says stay-home order cannot be ruled out

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Thursday announced a new 10-person limit for social gatherings in counties that are the furthest toward reopening and warned that he cannot rule out enacting another stay-at-home order this year.

Speaking at a news conference, Inslee said a rise in coronavirus cases, including a surge among young people, indicated that Washingtonians may not be following public health mandates. Counties in the third reopening phase, which allowed gatherings of up to 50 people, now must limit attendee numbers to reduce the spread of the virus, according to the new order.

Inslee warned that if people continue to gather and flout policies like the statewide mask mandate, cases will keep rising and the state may enact more rules.

“If each of us do not adhere to mask wearing, do not adhere to social distancing, do not adhere to these limitations on gatherings, today’s rollbacks may be a forerunner to additional rollbacks,” Inslee said. “We cannot rule out the possibility of another stay-home order this year and perhaps in the not too distant future.”

The governor warned that certain activities, including attending parties and dining in crowded restaurants, were “dangers” and said infections and deaths have emerged from “innocent social get-togethers.”

Inslee referenced a Seattle Times article from Thursday about a couple who “did everything right” until they hosted several friends, including at least one who was sick, in late June. Both became sick but recovered.

Washington reported 1,267 daily infections and six deaths on Thursday — the state’s second-highest day for new cases. The state has tallied 44,313 cases and 1,427 deaths since the pandemic began.

By Meryl Kornfield
July 16, 2020 at 8:41 PM EDT

Nationals exploring alternatives to Nats Park because of D.C.’s strict coronavirus regulations

The Washington Nationals are unsure if they will begin this season playing at Nationals Park because of municipal coronavirus protocols, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, and the team is actively exploring alternative sites — with Opening Day now only a week away.

The main reason for the uncertainty is that players, coaches and staff members have to self-isolate for 14 days if they are exposed to the novel coronavirus, per the city’s health protocols. D.C. is unwilling to bend that requirement for the Nationals, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation, and the team is now wary of its ability to compete under those guidelines.

The Nationals are scheduled to host the New York Yankees on July 23, the first game of MLB’s 60-game schedule for 2020. As of Thursday afternoon, the location of the matchup was still being determined. The Nationals are considering two alternate sites, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, including their Class A stadium in Fredericksburg, Va., and, to a lesser extent, their spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Read more here.

By Jesse Dougherty and Dave Sheinin
July 16, 2020 at 8:12 PM EDT

U.S. reports record number of daily coronavirus cases

The United States reported its highest daily coronavirus case count, surpassing 70,000 confirmed infections Thursday. The country’s previous record was 67,211.

The country also tallied 913 coronavirus deaths Thursday, the highest in more than a week. The nation has counted more than 3.5 million cases and 135,254 deaths since the pandemic began.

South Carolina, Florida and Texas reported single-day record deaths. The number of single-day reported deaths topped 100 in California, Florida and Texas, which were the states reporting the largest number of cases today.

Nebraska, Utah and Oregon each counted single-day case records. In 19 states, officials reported new highs for seven-day averages of daily reported coronavirus infections, while Nebraska tied with its record.

Washington state had not yet reported its case and death counts for Thursday.

By Meryl Kornfield and Jacqueline Dupree
July 16, 2020 at 7:49 PM EDT

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg criticizes White House in conversation with Fauci

During a virtual interview with Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was disappointed in the government’s response to the coronavirus, including its treatment of Fauci.

“We’re here in July, I just think it was avoidable and it’s really disappointing that we still don’t have adequate testing, that the credibility of our top scientists like yourself and the CDC is being undermined,” Zuckerberg said, “and that until recently, parts of the administration were calling into question whether people should even follow basic best practices like wearing masks.”

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, laid blame with states that did not precisely follow the guidelines for phased reopening and moved too quickly to “normalcy.” Other nations have fared better than the United States because they locked down almost all of the country and waited until new cases were in the double digits before reopening, as opposed to the tens of thousands in the United States, he said.

“There really is no reason why we’re having 40-, 50-, 60-thousand, other than the fact that we’re not doing something correctly,” Fauci said.

Fauci has urged a reset, encouraging state and local leaders to return to the first phase of reopening to start over and more rigorously encourage social distancing and face coverings.

“Let’s regroup. When you’re in a situation … where you should not have jumped over one of the checkpoints, consider pulling back and starting over again in accordance with the guidelines,” he said.

One key thing all leaders should do, Fauci said, is “recommend as strong as you possibly can to get people to wear masks.”

President Trump has refused to give a full-throated endorsement of mask wearing.

By Colby Itkowitz
July 16, 2020 at 7:46 PM EDT

Georgia governor sues to block Atlanta from enforcing mask mandate

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on Thursday sued to stop Atlanta from enforcing some of its coronavirus-related rules, including its recent mandate to wear a face covering in public.

The lawsuit alleges that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) lacked the authority to implement a mask requirement and that she must obey Kemp’s executive orders, including one that explicitly bans municipalities from enacting their own mask ordinances.

In a previous order, Kemp strongly encouraged — but did not require — face coverings and banned localities from implementing restrictions that were looser or more restrictive than the statewide rules. Atlanta was among more than a dozen cities and counties that defied Kemp to create mask rules anyway, saying the policy was necessary to contain the virus.

Before Kemp filed his lawsuit Thursday, Bottoms said in an online news conference that the governor’s new order would not stop Atlanta from enforcing its mask ordinance.

“I am not afraid of the city being sued and I’ll put our policies up against anyone’s, any day of the week,” she said.

Kemp’s lawsuit also asks the court to bat down Bottoms’s July 10 order that the city return to Phase 1 of reopening, which requires that people return to sheltering at home and that restaurants go back to offering just takeout and delivery.

By Marisa Iati
July 16, 2020 at 6:50 PM EDT

Unpublished White House report suggests harsher restrictions for hot spots

A 359-page unpublished report by the White House Coronavirus Task Force dated Tuesday suggests that at least 18 states enact stricter public health measures — including mandating masks, limiting gatherings to less than 10 people and ramping up testing in areas where coronavirus cases have spiked.

The document, published by the Center for Public Integrity on Thursday, recommends that states — including California, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas — toughen rules in hot spots and increase “community-led testing.” The task force also advises that several counties should shut down bars, nightclubs and gyms.

The color-coded report defines more than a dozen states as “red,” meaning more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people were reported last week.

The report specifically recommends that Georgia, Indiana and Minnesota mandate masks statewide, but the governors of those states have not ordered that measure as of Thursday. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has banned localities from requiring people to wear masks in public, even though other Republican governors have moved toward ordering mask mandates.

Alabama should also enforce statewide masking outside of homes, the report suggested. That state announced a face covering requirement on Wednesday.

In a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing last week, response coordinator Deborah Birx described and held up a report that appeared to be an earlier version of the one made public Thursday. She said the state-by-state report is updated weekly and sent to governors.

Kemp’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Center or The Washington Post.

By Meryl Kornfield
July 16, 2020 at 6:14 PM EDT

USA Today says Navarro opinion piece attacking Fauci did not meet standards

Facing intense criticism on social media, USA Today has admitted errors in an opinion piece written by a White House official that attacked Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious-disease expert, saying in a post-publication note attached to the piece that it “did not meet USA Today’s fact-checking standards.”

Published online Tuesday evening and in print on Wednesday, the opinion piece was authored by Peter Navarro, who heads the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, and was paired with the provocative headline: “Anthony Fauci has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”

On Wednesday evening, editorial page editor Bill Sternberg added a note that explained the piece’s origins as well as its mistakes.

Read more here.

By Jeremy Barr
July 16, 2020 at 5:42 PM EDT

Young farmers and farmers of color have been shut out of federal assistance during the pandemic

Across the country, young farmers, first-generation farmers and farmers of color say they have been left out of coronavirus relief for the agricultural industry, because of the federal government’s one-size-fits-all approach.

The oversight, which they say has left them on wobbly financial footing, threatens to cut off a promising growth area of small-scale farms and younger farmers against a wider backdrop of consolidation and aging of American agriculture.

The U.S. Agriculture Department’s most recent five-year census, released last year, found a surge in the number of farms under nine acres, which increased by about 22 percent from 2012 to 2017, as well as farmers and ranchers below the age of 35, whose numbers increased roughly 11 percent to about 285,000. (They’re thoroughly outnumbered by the 396,000 producers age 75 and older, however.)

Read more here.

By Laura Reiley
July 16, 2020 at 5:11 PM EDT

CDC extends no-sail order for cruises until Oct. 1

Cruises will not set sail from U.S. ports until at least Oct. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday.

The extension of the CDC’s no-sail order is the second since the restriction was put in place on March 14. The industry’s trade group, Cruise Lines International Association, said in June that its members would voluntarily suspend sailings until Sept. 15 or later, if necessary.

The CDC’s announcement comes as novel coronavirus cases have surged in several states from where cruises sail, including Florida, Texas and California.

Empty ships are docked at the port in Miami, the busiest cruise port in the world, as the county it is in has reported 75,425 infections — 19,464 since last week — according to data analysis by The Washington Post.

From March 1 to July 10, the CDC has counted nearly 3,000 cases of the coronavirus or coronavirus-like cases on cruise ships and tallied 34 deaths. Of 123 cruise ships on U.S. waters, 99 have reported infections, according to the CDC. The health agency said nine ships have ongoing outbreaks.

The purpose of the order is to limit the spread of the coronavirus among passengers and staff and throughout the United States as ships travel between U.S. ports and abroad.

By Meryl Kornfield