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The United States averaged more than 1,000 new coronavirus-related deaths for the ninth day in a row Tuesday, as fatalities remain high following a peak in new cases.

Daily new deaths had surged to near 3,000 in April before dropping, on average, through May and June. But with states reopening, the summer brought spikes in infection, concentrated at first in the South and West and now in the Midwest. As health officials predicted, an increase in deaths was not far behind.

More than 4.74 million cases and 153,000 deaths have been reported across the United States since the pandemic began. But the death toll “is what it is,” Trump said in an interview that aired Tuesday with “Axios on HBO.”

Here are some significant developments:
August 4, 2020 at 11:49 PM EDT

White House, Democrats agree to try and reach deal on aid by end of this week

By Seung Min Kim, Erica Werner, Carol D. Leonnig and Jeff Stein

The White House and Democratic leaders agreed to try and finalize a deal to address lapsed unemployment benefits and eviction restrictions by the end of this week and hold a vote in Congress next week, suddenly trying to rush stalled talks in the face of growing public and political unrest.

Senior White House officials said on Tuesday they made “very concrete offers” to Democrats related to unemployment benefits and eviction protections, and after days of bickering both sides now appear to be trying to move closer to a compromise.

The agreement on a timeline came in a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Read more here.

August 4, 2020 at 11:02 PM EDT

Nursing home companies accused of misusing federal money received hundreds of millions of dollars in pandemic relief

By Debbie Cenziper, Joel Jacobs and Shawn Mulcahy

For-profit nursing home providers that have faced accusations of Medicare fraud and kickbacks, labor violations and widespread failures in patient care received hundreds of millions of dollars in “no strings attached” coronavirus relief aid meant to cover shortfalls and expenses during the pandemic, a Washington Post analysis of federal spending found.

More than a dozen companies that received federal funding have settled civil lawsuits in recent years with the Justice Department, which alleged improper Medicare billing, forged documents, substandard care and other abuses.

The companies repaid the government a total of more than $260 million and nearly all are under active corporate integrity agreements with the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — the same agency that distributed the coronavirus relief payments. The five-year agreements require independent audits, employee training and other enhanced reporting protocols.

One nursing home provider is still embroiled in active litigation with the government, which has accused the company in federal court in Tennessee of putting elderly residents into unnecessary therapy services and delaying the release of patients to reap higher Medicare payments. SavaSeniorCare, whose homes received more than $65 million in pandemic relief aid, has denied wrongdoing.

All told, nursing home companies sued for Medicare fraud in recent years received more than $300 million in relief payments.

Read more here.

August 4, 2020 at 10:21 PM EDT

U-Va., in shift, will open online for undergraduates and start in-person classes after Labor Day

By Nick Anderson

The University of Virginia announced Tuesday it will delay the return of undergraduates about two weeks, a further sign of the tumult in higher education brought on by the rising threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

Previously, undergraduate students were invited to come this month to the Charlottesville campus known as the Grounds for a fall term with a mix of in-person, remote and hybrid classes.

Now, the term will start remotely for undergrads on Aug. 25, according to U-Va., and any face-to-face instruction they receive will begin after Labor Day. U-Va. leaders cited local and national increases in cases of the novel coronavirus.

The pathogen has killed more than 150,000 Americans, and many states are struggling to control outbreaks. About a third of undergraduates at U-Va. come from out of state.

Read more here.

August 4, 2020 at 9:29 PM EDT

Disney World reopening in Florida during pandemic has been disappointing, executives concede

By Steven Zeitchik

On a call with analysts Tuesday, Disney executives noted that fewer people have traveled to the reopened DisneyWorld than they had hoped, a reflection that while the theme park and Florida officials hoped for a quick return to business, average Americans were less enthusiastic.

Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said the “upside” of reopening its Orlando-area parks in mid July “is less than we originally expected given the surge of covid-19 in Florida.” Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who led the company’s theme park division before his promotion earlier this year, offered a similar assessment, noting the park has experienced a “higher-than-expected level of cancellations” as people decide not to travel to Orlando because of the virus.

The reopening was controversial because it came as coronavirus cases were increasing in Florida. California officials have ordered Disneyland to remain closed because of a surge in cases there.

Disney’s theme park revenue plunged 85 percent during the most recent quarter, from $6.58 billion to $983 million, with most of the company’s parks closed around the world.

Read more here.

August 4, 2020 at 8:59 PM EDT

MLB learns to improvise as baseball schedules become rough drafts

By Dave Sheinin

The Milwaukee Brewers finally held their home opener Monday night at Miller Park, the third day of August — either 130 days late or three days late, depending on whether your reference point is the original, pre-pandemic, 162-game schedule (March 26) or the truncated, 60-game one (July 31) that, in the age of coronavirus, serves more as a rough draft than an etched-in-stone document.

It didn’t go well. After a four-day layoff, the result of an outbreak among the St. Louis Cardinals that forced the postponement of the teams’ weekend series, the rusty Brewers — also playing for the first time without all-star center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who opted out in the wake of the Cardinals news — blew a two-run lead in the late innings and lost to the Chicago White Sox.

Total attendance, as in every game this season: zero.

In moments such as those, and in countless others across a sport teetering on the edge of crisis in its efforts to persist amid a global pandemic, it is difficult not to conclude the virus is winning, and every game played this season is simply staving off the inevitable decision to pull the plug once its assertion of dominance is complete.

Read more here.

August 4, 2020 at 8:14 PM EDT

Some elderly Missouri voters who made mistakes on absentee ballots were unable to vote Tuesday

By Michelle Lee

The absentee ballots of some elderly voters for Tuesday’s primary in St. Louis County, Mo., were rejected because of an error the voters made when signing their envelopes. Some of those voters were unable to rectify the signature problem because they did not have a ride to the polls or did not want to vote in person on Election Day because they feared exposure to the coronavirus, said Nancy Miller, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis.

This year, the St. Louis County Board of Elections mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters 60 years and older, so those in the vulnerable age population would not have to go to the polls in person. But some of these voters’ ballots were rejected because they did not properly fill out the affidavit section on the back of the envelope, she said. Some of the affidavit information was printed in small print or could be confusing to a voter who was filling it out for the first time, she noted.

The League of Women Voters was deputized by the county to contact voters whose ballots were rejected and give them an opportunity to visit the county office in person to verify their identity or give them the option to vote in person on Tuesday. While hundreds showed up in person in recent days to make sure their votes were counted, not all of those whose ballots were rejected were able to do so, Miller said.

Some of the elderly voters whose ballots were rejected lived in nursing homes and could not make sure their vote was counted for the election, she said.

“People who were very old did not drive or did not have a family member available, to take them up to remedy whatever they had not done correctly,” Miller said. “It was very frustrating because you really didn’t have a good solution for them.”

The county saw an increase in absentee voting this election and is looking into redesigning the ballot envelope to avoid this problem in November, Miller said.

The county has also experienced mail delays in recent weeks, with mail taking up to 24 days to arrive back at the county election board, compared with up to 10 days in previous years, Miller said.

August 4, 2020 at 7:29 PM EDT

Biden criticizes Trump for saying death toll ‘is what it is’

By Felicia Sonmez

Former vice president Joe Biden on Tuesday seized on President Trump’s recent remark that the coronavirus death toll “is what it is,” in the presumptive Democratic nominee’s latest shot at the president over his administration’s handling of the pandemic.

The 30-second video, shared on Twitter by Biden’s campaign, features an excerpt from Trump’s interview with Axios’s Jonathan Swan, who confronted the president over the fact that thousands of Americans are continuing to die from covid-19, the disease the virus causes.

“They are dying,” Trump said in the interview. “That’s true. And you — it is what it is.”

The video then plays Trump’s statement that “it is what it is” on a loop, juxtaposed against black-and-white images of doctors tending to patients, mask-clad relatives unable to embrace and rows of coffins lined up in a room.

August 4, 2020 at 6:40 PM EDT

U.S. averages 1,000 new deaths for the ninth day in a row

By Hannah Knowles and Jacqueline Dupree

The United States averaged more than 1,000 new coronavirus-related deaths for the ninth day in a row Tuesday, as fatalities remain high following a peak in new cases.

Daily new deaths had surged to near 3,000 in April before dropping, on average, through May and June. But with states reopening, the summer brought spikes in infections, concentrated at first in the South and West and now in the Midwest. As health officials predicted, a jump in deaths was not far behind.

Pressed on the new reality of “1,000 deaths a day” in an Axios interview that drew huge attention Tuesday, President Trump responded: “They are dying. That’s true. And you have — it is what it is.” The answer drew rebukes from Democrats who say Trump has given up on containing the virus.

Trump’s leading health advisers have warned the country is in a “new phase” of widespread infections that cannot be pinpointed to a hot spot such as a jail or nursing home. They’ve also reiterated recommendations such as universal mask-wearing and bar shutdowns that not all states have heeded.

“As a nation … we did not come down to a really good baseline,” Anthony S. Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease expert, said at a news conference this week. The country plateaued at 20,000 cases a day before “the big rebound,” he said.

Cases nationwide appear to be dropping now, but experts caution that a dip could be due to a testing backlog. The average number of reported single-day infections dropped below 60,000 Monday for the first time since July 12 and seems to likely to stay below that benchmark Tuesday, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. A few states have yet to report their Tuesday numbers.

Current covid-19 hospitalizations — which soared last month toward the peak of roughly 60,000 seen in April — are also dropping. The rolling-average number of patients hospitalized at one time, as reported by states, has declined over the past week for all but a few states.

August 4, 2020 at 5:55 PM EDT

Novavax coronavirus vaccine triggered promising immune responses

By Carolyn Y. Johnson

An experimental coronavirus vaccine being developed by the Maryland biotechnology company Novavax triggered promising immune responses in its early human safety trial in 131 healthy adults, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

Novavax, which has received $1.6 billion in federal funding through Operation Warp Speed, is developing a vaccine based on a synthesized fragment of the spike protein that dots the surface of the coronavirus and allows it to enter cells. The company is also testing an adjuvant, an ingredient used to sharpen the immune response.

Reactions to the vaccine were mostly mild and included headache, fatigue and muscle ache that lasted two days or less. Ten people had severe reactions. The vaccine triggered neutralizing antibody levels significantly higher than in patients who had been hospitalized with covid-19, according to a paper that has been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.

“The studies may indicate that protein-based vaccines might offer some advantages” compared with other vaccine technologies, said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, who is also working on a protein-based vaccine.

The company also announced data showing that the vaccine protected monkeys against infection, in both the lungs and nasal passages, suggesting it could quell transmission of the disease if it offers similar protection in people.

The ultimate test of Novavax’s vaccine will be a large, phase 3 trial designed to test how effective the vaccine is at preventing disease in people — and monitoring for safety problems.

The company has committed to deliver 100 million doses to the United States as early as late 2020.

August 4, 2020 at 5:23 PM EDT

Long-reluctant Mississippi governor mandates masks statewide for two weeks

By Hannah Knowles

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) on Tuesday became the latest once-reluctant leader to require face coverings statewide, requiring masks in schools and announcing a two-week mask mandate for people at public gatherings.

The governor defended his timing, saying at a news conference he believes now is “the exact time [a statewide rule] will have the most impact” as officials seek to safely reopen schools.

Reeves on Tuesday also issued an executive order delaying the start of the school year for “some 7th-12th [grade] schools in hot spots,” he wrote on Facebook. Research has suggested older students can spread the coronavirus similarly to adults, while young children are less likely to pass on infections.

Reeves had ordered mask requirements in many counties but remained skeptical of a sweeping mandate, even as pressure mounted on increasingly hard-hit southern states to enact and expand face covering rules.

Last month, shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out new reports underscoring face masks’ effectiveness, Reeves affirmed on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he did not view a statewide rule as necessary.

“If I believed that was the best way to save lives in my state, I would have done it a long time ago,” he said.

As Reeves changed course Tuesday, Mississippi had more than 1,000 current covid-19 hospitalizations, according to data tracked by The Washington Post, a sustained increase since early June when hospitalizations were hovering around 600. New daily cases recently peaked, as deaths trended up.

Reeves’s temporary expansion of the mask orders came the same day Ohio also joined the growing list of states mandating masks in schools with limited exceptions. Top federal health officials have called mask-wearing crucial to reducing the risks of reopening classrooms, but states and districts are plotting their own approaches.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) recently embraced a statewide mask mandate after previously limiting the requirements to certain counties. DeWine, an early proponent of strict statewide social distancing, said in the spring that he reversed course on requiring Ohioans to wear masks because people “were not going to accept the government telling them what to do.”

August 4, 2020 at 4:46 PM EDT

Michigan governor strengthens mask enforcement again

By Hannah Knowles

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) moved Tuesday to enforce more strictly her state’s mask mandate, telling officials to make carrying out covid-19 rules a “priority” and requiring them to consider violations as public health hazards that affect licensing.

While mask requirements have become common, with most states imposing some kind of mandate, leaders have taken different approaches to the sticky problem of enforcement. Whitmer is one of many officials — state and local — who have upped penalties as case numbers spike and health experts describe mask-wearing as key to slowing the coronavirus’s spread.

Whitmer mandated mask-wearing in many public spaces in April, but it wasn’t until July — when the pandemic was intensifying in many states — that she made violations a misdemeanor carrying a $500 fine.

While some governors have stopped short of imposing penalties for going without masks, many cities have made their own rules.

Enforcement often targets business: In Denver, authorities ticketed 20 businesses this past weekend for allegedly flouting public health orders such as mask requirements, according to the Denver Channel, which said the city also shut down five businesses for violations.

Whitmer has ordered stores to generally refuse service to people without masks. Now, if state departments or agencies learn of violations of coronavirus rules, they must take “appropriate steps” to address the issue, including suspending a license or halting the operations of a “food establishment,” according to Whitmer’s new executive directive outlining internal government policies.

A news release notes that the seven-day average of cases in Michigan has more than tripled from mid-June to late July.

“Without effective enforcement, Michigan will move backwards, causing individuals, businesses, and the economy to suffer,” the governor’s release states.

August 4, 2020 at 4:16 PM EDT

Cardinals report no new coronavirus cases and hope to resume play Friday

By Dave Sheinin

The St. Louis Cardinals reported no new positive tests for the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, a crucial step in their hopes of getting back on the field Friday following a week’s worth of postponements, after seven players and six staff members tested positive in the past five days.

The Cardinals have been shut down since Friday, when the outbreak was first reported, with series in Milwaukee and Detroit postponed, but could return to the field Friday night in St. Louis against the Chicago Cubs if another round of testing comes back negative on Wednesday.

Also Tuesday, the Cardinals revealed (with the players’ permission) that all-star catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong are among the players who have tested positive, with Molina writing in Spanish in an Instagram post that his diagnosis came “even after following the recommended prevention methods.”

Read more here.

August 4, 2020 at 3:45 PM EDT

World faces ‘generational catastrophe’ if school closures continue, U.N. chief warns

By Antonia Farzan and Siobhán O'Grady

The world is facing a “generational catastrophe” due to ongoing school closures, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned Tuesday, calling the coronavirus pandemic “the largest disruption of education ever.”

Allowing students to safely return to classrooms must be a “top priority” as countries get local transmission under control, Guterres said in a video message released early Tuesday morning.

A policy brief published alongside Guterres’s message emphasized that suppressing transmission of the virus is “the single most significant step” leaders can take toward reopening schools.

Read more here.

August 4, 2020 at 3:39 PM EDT

Georgia students forced to return to school for in-person classes because of ‘waiting list’ for online learning

By Kim Bellware

Nearly a third of students in one suburban Atlanta school district were required to return to the school for in-person learning over their families’ objections because of a waiting list for the district’s online learning alternative.

Classes resumed Monday for students in Paulding County, Ga., where masks and social distancing are encouraged but not required.

LaShanda Hambrick, a Paulding County parent who has children as well as nieces and nephews in the high school, called the waiting list “outrageous.” Hambrick told WXIA Channel 11 that during an open house on Friday, there were no social-distancing or mask requirements at the school; when she and her sister tried to register their children for the online academy, no spots were left.

“They’re telling me, as we’re on the waiting list, we’re highly encouraged to come to school,” Hambrick said. “They told me that if my daughter wasn’t there today, she would be withdrawn.”

The school told the station that parents who were waitlisted missed the registration deadline.

Anger about the district’s insufficient capacity for its online academy was compounded by the recent news that football players at one of the district’s high schools had tested positive for covid-19. Families at North Paulding High School received a letter from the principal the night before school started informing them that an unspecified number of players had contracted the virus, WSB Channel 2 reports.

As the start of the school year approaches, elected officials, educators and families nationwide are still tinkering with plans to resume during a pandemic — and without the safeguards of a vaccine, day-care options or a healthy economy.

Further complicating the school reopening debate is a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed that scores of children and staff members were infected at a Georgia sleep-away camp. The findings suggest that children of all ages are susceptible to infection and to spreading the virus to others.