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The State Department lifted its blanket international travel advisory, almost five months after first urging Americans against traveling around the world amid the pandemic. The United States will revert to issuing recommendations on a country-specific basis.

Here are some significant developments:
August 6, 2020 at 11:44 PM EDT

MLS to resume season, allow fans in some markets, commissioner says

MLS will resume the regular season in home markets and, in some cases, welcome fans into stadiums, Commissioner Don Garber said Wednesday night.

In a taped interview on Fox Sports, Garber confirmed what people behind the scenes have been saying for several weeks: that the first-flight men’s soccer circuit will resume in-market matches after the MLS is Back Tournament finishes in the Orlando area.

“We will get back to our markets,” Garber said. “We’ll be announcing our schedule soon. We are going to be able to play with fans where we can and not play with fans in most of our markets.”

Local health guidelines would dictate which stadiums could open to small numbers of spectators. The second-division USL Championship and third-tier League One have been using the same approach for a few weeks.

Read more here.

By Steven Goff
August 6, 2020 at 11:07 PM EDT

NFL players have had 56 positive coronavirus tests since training camps opened, union says

The NFL Players Association announced that there have been 56 positive tests among NFL players for the novel coronavirus since the opening of teams’ training camps last week, in the first set of results released publicly since the NFL and its players’ union put their testing program into effect.

The NFLPA said the results were through Wednesday. The figure, if 56 different players are involved, represents about 2 percent of the approximately 2,600 players on training camp rosters for the 32 NFL teams.

Neither the NFL nor the NFLPA immediately responded to requests for comment on the testing results. One person familiar with the sport’s testing program said the league had been going through its data to account for the possibility of multiple positive tests by a single player, and it was not clear whether the results released by the NFLPA accounted for that.

Read more here.

By Mark Maske
August 6, 2020 at 10:25 PM EDT

Coronavirus surprise: Remittances to Mexico rise during pandemic

MEXICO CITY — It was an intuitive prediction, supported by virtually every expert who had studied the subject: As the coronavirus pandemic caused the global economy to tumble, remittances to Mexico and Central America would crash.

It turns out the forecast was wrong.

Instead of collapsing, remittances to Mexico were up year-over-year in five of the first six months of 2020. In June, payments to El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras also increased compared to the same period in 2019, after a dip earlier this year.

In March, the month the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, remittances to Mexico topped $4 billion — a record.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, what happened here?’ ” said Jonathan Heath, deputy governor of Mexico’s central bank. “It’s the exact opposite of what we were expecting.”

Read more here.

By Kevin Sieff
August 6, 2020 at 10:17 PM EDT

Ohio Gov. DeWine tests negative after testing positive

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) announced late Thursday that he tested negative for the coronavirus after sharing earlier in the day that he had tested positive.

DeWine’s initial screening in Cleveland, ahead of his planned meeting with President Trump, was an antigen test, while the test he took later in the day was done via the polymerase chain reaction method, which is used more commonly than the screening required before having contact with Trump.

“These [antigen] tests represent a new technology to reduce the cost and improve the turnaround time for COVID-19 testing, but they are quite new,” according to a statement from DeWine’s office. “We do not have much experience with antigen tests here in Ohio.”

“We will be working with the manufacturer to have a better understanding of how the discrepancy between these two tests could have occurred,” the office added.

While PCR tests are considered more reliable, the wait time to receive results is longer than antigen tests, which can be run in minutes.

DeWine and his wife will also be tested Saturday to ensure they have not become infected, according to his office.

By Meryl Kornfield
August 6, 2020 at 9:51 PM EDT

Virus keeps spreading as schools open, frightening parents and alarming public health officials

COLUMBUS, Miss. — Even before President Trump admonished his top coronavirus adviser for saying the country was entering a "new phase" of widespread infection, patients at Mississippi's only Level 1 trauma hospital were already on a wait for ICU beds.

Mississippi, now experiencing the country’s highest rate of positive tests, is emblematic of the pandemic’s new reality. The virus is no longer principally an urban problem: It is present throughout every state, and those infected often don’t know it, leading to what top public health officials call “inherent community spread.”

“My fear is if we don’t see some decline in hospital caseloads, we’re going to be really, really challenged when we’re faced with increased caseloads due to schools reopening,” said Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association. “I hope I’m wrong but I don’t know of any biological reason I’ll be wrong.”

Read more here.

By Sarah Fowler, Anne Gearan and Rachel Weiner
August 6, 2020 at 9:19 PM EDT

With one decision, doctors saved three lives

On a bright October day last fall, Ebony Brown-Olaseinde and her husband, Segun Olaseinde, found out that their longtime dream had finally been realized: They were going to be parents. After three years spent trying to conceive, they had succeeded through in vitro fertilization — and they soon learned that their twins, a boy and a girl, were due in June 2020.

By the beginning of March, Ebony, 40, an accountant in Newark, was feeling grateful that her high-risk pregnancy had progressed so easily. Segun, 43, an operations manager for UPS, couldn’t wait to be a father. Ebony’s doctors told the couple that she’d reached an important milestone: At 24 weeks pregnant, their twins were viable, more likely to survive if they arrived early.

That was one week before the World Health Organization formally declared the coronavirus pandemic. Ten days after that, Ebony suddenly began feeling short of breath.

"The doctor said, ‘Listen, you’re going to go and get intubated,’ and I remember saying to him, ‘Please, just don’t take the babies out. Please, let them mature more,’” she said.

Read more here.

By Caitlin Gibson
August 6, 2020 at 8:44 PM EDT

White House, Democrats meet on relief plan after days of acrimony

White House officials and top congressional Democrats convened critical talks Thursday on a coronavirus relief bill, as acrimony over the contentious negotiations spilled into public view and President Trump threatened to act on his own, without Congress.

Heading into the evening meeting in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said that he hoped to come to agreement with Democrats on the overall pricetag of the legislation. If not, Meadows said, “There becomes very little incentive, very little incentive to have further conversations.”

“Compromise has to have a dollar sign in front of it,” Meadows said.

Read more here.

By Erica Werner, Jeff Stein and Paul Kane
August 6, 2020 at 8:08 PM EDT

Scientist says coronavirus vaccine may be publicly available by summer 2021

Vaccine scientist Peter Hotez on Thursday disputed President Trump’s assertion that the much-anticipated coronavirus vaccine will be publicly available by Election Day.

Trump has expressed optimism about when the vaccine will be ready and said Thursday that it may be available for the American public by Nov. 3. But Hotez, a professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, estimated in a CNN interview that the vaccine probably won’t be safe by then and that people may begin to receive immunization in the third quarter of 2021.

“It takes time to show that these vaccines actually work in people, as they do in laboratory animals, and that they are safe,” Hotez said. He approximated that several vaccines will be made available but that it will take a year to gather safety data and obtain regulatory approval.

“I say that with some confidence,” Hotez said, noting that his team is working on a vaccine.

Hotez called his timeline “conservative.” He added that even accounting for a statement by infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci that a vaccine could be available by the first half of 2021, neither estimation would meet Trump’s Nov. 3 date.

Former U.S. surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Thursday that “it’s very dangerous at this point to give specific dates” for when the vaccine would be publicly available.

“We can’t sacrifice our standards, because if we do, it not only hurts people, but it’s going to damage people’s faith in vaccine efforts,” Murthy said.

By Meryl Kornfield
August 6, 2020 at 7:37 PM EDT

DeSantis: Shutting down school sports ‘not an option’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Thursday that he will not halt high school sports over coronavirus fears, as professional sports leagues take drastic new precautions or acknowledge that outbreaks of infection could escalate to the point of ending their seasons.

“To just say the lights are going to go off on the football field or the volleyball court — that’s just not an option,” DeSantis said at a Thursday roundtable at the University of North Florida, surrounded by former star athletes and coaches from his state.

While many school districts have scrapped in-person instruction after surges of infection, Florida has pressed ahead, ordering all public schools to give students the option of returning to physical classrooms this fall. DeSantis used the roundtable to make the case for also keeping student sports — an unavoidable source of personal contact. Speakers praised school athletics as key to many kids’ personal development.

Putting every high school athlete in “an NBA-style bubble” is “just not feasible,” DeSantis said. But he pointed to European soccer as a model for isolating and testing athletes to manage any infections that arise.

“What I would not do is just if one person gets ill … then shut down everything else,” the governor said. If others are fine, he said, “you got to just keep going.”

Florida’s coronavirus situation has not improved like Europe’s, however. The European Union saw new coronavirus infections drop dramatically, while new cases in the United States dipped and then rocketed again. New U.S. deaths relative to population soared last month to more than 10 times the numbers in the E.U.

Elsewhere in the United States, school sports are being pushed back. In California — another large state where coronavirus cases shot to new heights this summer — the body overseeing high school athletics postponed its seasons until at least December.

By Hannah Knowles
August 6, 2020 at 7:03 PM EDT

Trump administration blasts Maryland for lagging other states in nursing home inspections

The federal government criticized Maryland for what it called a “failure” to implement mandatory inspections related to the pandemic at its 227 nursing homes, where nearly 5,000 residents have tested positive for the virus and 1,133 have died.

In a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan (R), the Trump administration said all but three states in the country had met the federal deadline of sending inspectors to check for infection-control violations at all licensed skilled nursing facilities by July 1.

Not only did Maryland miss the deadline, the letter said, it “ranks last and far behind the other States” having inspected only 55 percent of its nursing homes by the end of July.

Read more here.

By Rebecca Tan
August 6, 2020 at 6:29 PM EDT

‘We cannot stop people’: 250,000 are expected at a South Dakota motorcycle rally

Coronavirus deaths have risen. Health officials are still warning against even small gatherings. States with relatively low spread are ordering visitors from hot spots to self-quarantine.

But come Friday, about 250,000 people from across the country are still expected to start descending on a roughly 7,000-person community in South Dakota for one of the biggest motorcycle rallies in the world, a tradition so deeply rooted that Sturgis calls itself the City of Riders.

The mayor of Sturgis says there’s not much to do but encourage “personal responsibility,” set up sanitation stations and give out masks — though face coverings won’t be required.

“We cannot stop people from coming,” Mayor Mark Carstensen said Thursday on CNN.

Worried residents, however, say officials should have canceled the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in a state where Republican Gov. Kristi L. Noem resisted stay-at-home orders and mask rules. A city survey found that more than 60 percent of Sturgis residents wanted the event postponed, the Associated Press reported.

“This is a huge, foolish mistake,” Sturgis resident Linda Chaplin warned city counselors, according to the AP. “The government of Sturgis needs to care most for its citizens.”

“My grandma is absolutely terrified because she has diabetes and is in her 80s and has lupus,” another resident told CNN. “If she gets it, it’s a death sentence.”

But the 10-day event in South Dakota’s Black Hills is hugely important to the local economy, bringing in $1.3 million in city and state tax revenue alone last year, according to the Argus Leader. Officials decided that the event would go on.

Noem said on Fox News on Wednesday that the state has successfully held other large gatherings, including Trump’s July 4 weekend speech at Mount Rushmore.

“We hope people come,” Noem said of the motorcycle rally. “Our economy benefits when people come and visit us.”

Speaking Thursday to CNN, Carstensen said that “it’s been a difficult decision” and noted that the city will be expanding a program to deliver supplies to the homes of those worried about the virus.

There are no quarantine recommendations for bikers from hot-spot states, the mayor said, adding that visitors have already been flocking to the Black Hills.

By Hannah Knowles
August 6, 2020 at 5:27 PM EDT

Shipt shoppers complain tipping glitches are cutting into pay

When her regulars abruptly stopped tipping, Erika, a Shipt delivery driver in Georgia, knew something was amiss.

Some customers told her the option disappeared from their app. Others sent images showing $30 or $40 gratuities, but when Erika logged into her account, she found zeros. It took weeks, she says, for the company to sort it out and turn over more than $100 in tips — nearly a day’s wages. Hundreds of her colleagues have recounted similar experiences.

“I’m working 40, 50 hours a week doing deliveries, and now I’m having to spend all of this time chasing down tips that I earned,” said Erika, who asked to be identified by her first name out of fear of losing her job. “We’re just as essential as in-store employees, but we’re not being treated that way.”

Gig workers who handle in-store shopping and home delivery say they make most of their money through customer gratuities, and the recent disruptions reflect the emerging two-tier employment system at Shipt’s parent company, Target. Although Shipt deliveries helped drive much of the retailer’s record growth during the coronavirus crisis, its workforce is not guaranteed a minimum wage, sick leave or other benefits afforded Target employees, who start at $15 an hour and collected $200 bonuses early in the pandemic.

Read more here.

By Abha Bhattarai and Nitasha Tiku
August 6, 2020 at 4:31 PM EDT

Utah governor to allow localities to mandate masks

Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) on Thursday cleared the way for local governments in the state to mandate masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus but stopped short of issuing a statewide requirement called for by public health advocates, hospital associations and some state lawmakers.

The governor said local officials now need only inform the state health department if they want to issue mask requirements.

“I come from local government and I believe that’s where the rubber meets the road,” Herbert said in a statement. “One size fits all approaches are often ineffective. We respect regional differences and needs.”

Herbert has been outspoken in his support for wearing masks and has reportedly mulled a statewide mandate for weeks, saying recently, “We have the constitutional authority to mandate this.” He has ordered face coverings in state buildings and required them for students, faculty, staff and visitors in all K-12 schools and buses.

In mid-July, he criticized people who packed into a public meeting to demand exceptions to the requirements for schools. “I think the experts will tell us that’s kind of a foolish action,” Herbert said. “People get caught up in almost a mob mentality.”

But he has faced fervent opposition from some pockets of the state’s population who view masks as an infringement on their civil liberties. One county commissioner compared the governor’s approval of a mask mandate in Salt Lake City to Nazism.

Leaders in the state legislature have also objected to a statewide mask requirement. “In Utah, we prefer to encourage people to do the right thing rather than issuing mandates and demanding compliance,” Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson (R) told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Officials from the state’s biggest hospitals have pleaded with the governor for a statewide face-covering rule, warning in July that Utah was “headed for a disaster” without one.

Coronavirus cases and deaths in Utah swelled in July, according to The Washington Post’s tracking. The state has reported about 43,000 infections and 330 deaths.

By Derek Hawkins
August 6, 2020 at 3:58 PM EDT

State Department lifts blanket international travel advisory after nearly five months

The State Department lifted its blanket international travel advisory Thursday, almost five months after first urging Americans against overseas travel due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the department will revert to issuing recommendations on a country-specific basis.

The department cited “health and safety conditions improving in some countries and potentially deteriorating in others” in its decision to alter the advisory system and said the change in method will allow travelers to make “informed decisions” based on the situation in specific countries.

“We continue to recommend U.S. citizens exercise caution when traveling abroad due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic,” the statement said.

While the United States may be lifting its blanket advisory for overseas travels by Americans, other countries are currently restricting American citizens from entry due to the scale of the pandemic outbreak in the United States, which now has more than 4.8 million cases of the virus — far more than any other country in the world.

The original U.S. advisory, issued on March 19, encouraged American travelers to “arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period” if they were in “countries where commercial departure options remain available.”

At the time, much was still unknown about the spread of the coronavirus. Cases were on the rise in several hotspots around the globe, and as travel restrictions went into place and demand for air travel plummeted, many airlines canceled once-popular flight routes. Travelers from around the world were left scrambling to return to their home countries. Many people, including U.S. citizens, found themselves stuck in countries they were only visiting on a short-term basis.

By Siobhán O'Grady