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Coronavirus-related deaths in the United States topped 1,300 on Tuesday, with Florida and Georgia recording their highest single-day death tolls since the start of the pandemic.

Here are some significant developments:
August 11, 2020 at 11:46 PM EDT

Many health-care workers don’t get new paid sick leave, report finds

A government watchdog has said the Labor Department “significantly broadened” an exemption allowing millions of health-care providers to avoid offering enhanced paid leave as part of the law Congress passed in March to help workers be able to take off if they get sick during the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act “to ensure American workers would not be forced to choose between their paychecks and the public health measures needed to combat the virus,” the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said in a report out Tuesday.

That paid-leave law requires employers to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to employees who are unable to work because of the coronavirus, but it exempts health-care providers on the front lines of fighting the virus, as well as companies with more than 500 employees.

But the OIG report noted that the move by the Labor Department to exempt a larger group of health-care providers from having to abide by the strengthened paid-leave law left far more than the agency’s estimate of 9 million health-care workers without a guarantee of paid sick leave.

Read more here.

By Eli Rosenberg
August 11, 2020 at 11:16 PM EDT

Facebook says it’s taken down 7 million posts for spreading coronavirus misinformation

Facebook said Tuesday that it took down 7 million posts pushing covid-19 misinformation from its main social media site and Instagram between April and June as the company tried to combat the rapid spread of dangerous information about the novel coronavirus.

The company also put warning notes on 98 million covid-19 misinformation posts on Facebook during that period — labeling posts that were misleading but not deemed harmful enough to remove.

Facebook and fellow big social media sites Twitter and YouTube have been scrambling to keep up with the flood of posts promoting fake cures or harmful speculation about the spread of the virus since early this spring. Facebook put policies in place to try to regulate covid-19 posts, but their moderation teams that monitor such posts have also been disrupted as offices remain closed.

Read more here.

By Rachel Lerman
August 11, 2020 at 10:42 PM EDT

Florida governor says he’d welcome players from conferences that have canceled fall sports

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is lobbying for players whose seasons have been postponed because of the novel coronavirus pandemic to join schools in his state that are on course to play in the fall.

DeSantis issued those remarks Tuesday during a college athletics roundtable at Florida State University in Tallahassee, before the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences announced they would be scrapping fall sports with the hope of salvaging the 2020-21 football season by delaying it until the new year.

After the meeting, Desantis told reporters that he asked school president John Thrasher and football coach Mike Norvell, “Hey, if some of these other conferences shut down, can we welcome their players to the state of Florida?”

“Not exactly sure how the NCAA rules work on that,” the governor continued. “But I can tell you: If there’s a way, we want you guys to be able to play, as well.”

Read more here.

By Des Bieler
August 11, 2020 at 10:01 PM EDT

South Dakota health officials watch for the coronavirus as motorcyclists descend

A crowd of hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts, in which the ratio of leather jackets to masks worn was astronomical, gathered Sunday in front of the stage at the Buffalo Chip campground in Sturgis, S.D. The band Smash Mouth was scheduled to perform, a rare concert at a time when many states are discouraging gatherings of 10 or more people, let alone hundreds or thousands.

The 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, at which officials expected a crowd of some 250,000 people, was happening anyway, and Smash Mouth’s lead singer, Steve Harwell, offered his thoughts on bringing people together even as health officials urge them to stay apart.

“We’re being human once again,” he said, before making an expletive-riddled declaration that amounted roughly to “disregard that covid-19 business!” The crowd cheered.

Read more here.

By Chelsea Janes
August 11, 2020 at 9:27 PM EDT

Omaha, the largest U.S. city without a mask mandate, finally adopts an ordinance

Before Tuesday evening, Omaha was the largest city in the nation that did not require residents to wear face coverings in public spaces.

But after a marathon meeting, the Nebraska city’s leaders unanimously adopted a mask mandate — the public policy tool that is perhaps the single easiest way to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The order comes after weeks of intrastate finger-pointing. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) has been a vehement opponent of mask requirements, even threatening to withhold federal money from local governments that implement them. The state attorney general shares the governor’s views, and in late July, when the county where Omaha sits came close to mandating masks, he challenged its authority and the county backed down.

Nearly two weeks later, members of the Omaha City Council reluctantly approved the order, lamenting that the county health department should have been the body enacting the mandate.

“Why are we here? Why is the city council making this decision?” asked council member Vinny Palermo, according to an Omaha World-Herald account. “Douglas County deals with health.”

Although public health experts overwhelmingly endorse mask-wearing as a simple and effective step, mandates remain divisive among political conservatives, some of whom complain that a requirement of any kind infringes upon their personal liberties. But experts say something had to change, with Omaha’s Douglas County leading the state in virus deaths and its infection rate above 100 new cases per day for nearly three weeks straight, according to data gathered and analyzed by The Washington Post.

“Thank you Omaha City Council for doing the right thing,” tweeted Angela Hewlett, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and one of the state’s leading voices in its pandemic response. She noted that her hospital has continued to see a crush of coronavirus cases.

“Let’s get control of this situation!” she wrote.

The mandate will expire Sept. 15, and exceptions include eating or drinking in bars and restaurants and working out in fitness centers.

According to the World-Herald’s tally, Omaha was the lone city among the country’s 100 largest without a state or local mandate.

By Reis Thebault
August 11, 2020 at 8:42 PM EDT

GOP congressional candidate hosts 300-plus at birthday party, forgoes face mask

More than 300 people attended a birthday party and campaign fundraiser hosted by a Republican congressional candidate in Maryland over the weekend, an event that sparked criticism from a political opponent and highlighted the challenges of campaigning in the middle of a pandemic.

Maryland Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington) celebrated his 50th birthday campaign-style Saturday, raking in around $50,000 for his bid against Rep. David Trone (D) in Maryland’s 6th District, he said.

But photos of the gathering at Antietam Recreation, a summer day camp in Hagerstown that also hosts group events, show crowds of people in close proximity underneath an outdoor pavilion and in a buffet line outside, with many not wearing face masks — including Parrott, who said he had one with him but “for the most part” chose not to wear it.

Read more here.

By Meagan Flynn
August 11, 2020 at 8:28 PM EDT

Biden VP pick Harris has clashed with Trump on handling of pandemic in minority communities

Before Sen. Kamala D. Harris was tapped as Joe Biden’s running mate on Tuesday, the California Democrat had pushed back against the president’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that Black and minority Americans have not been prioritized by the Trump administration’s public health response.

“People across the country are begging the president and his Republican boosters in Congress to approach these crises with the seriousness they deserve, recognize their missteps and work on behalf of the people who sent them to Washington,” Harris wrote in an opinion piece in USA Today in late July. “If they can’t, it’s time for them to move aside and let real leaders lead.”

The coronavirus has disproportionately impacted communities of color: Although Black Americans make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they represent 23 percent of coronavirus-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In June, Robert Redfield, the CDC director, apologized for a lack of more complete racial data and pledged in congressional testimony that subsequent reports would contain coronavirus data based on race.

Redfield’s remarks came after Harris introduced legislation, the Covid-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force Act, in April to address racial disparities that have emerged in coronavirus infections and deaths, and to create a Department of Health and Human Services task force to redirect crucial resources to vulnerable, virus-stricken communities.

Harris has also introduced legislation that would ban evictions for a year, combat maternal mortality during the pandemic and provide transparency by making public data on the companies receiving loans from the Paycheck Protection Program. In a CNN opinion piece, she and Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, wrote that large grocery retailers should reinstate hazard pay for front-line workers. She has also called for officials to answer why Trump said at his Tulsa rally that he had ordered testing to be slowed down.

“This weekend we surpassed 5 million coronavirus cases in the United States,” Harris tweeted the day before Biden’s news that she would join his ticket. “And there is still no adequate national testing strategy. Trump and his administration have failed Americans.”

In a Tuesday news briefing, Trump said Harris is “just about the most liberal person in the U.S. Senate,” seeming to overlook several other more liberal lawmakers, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

By Meryl Kornfield
August 11, 2020 at 8:03 PM EDT

U.S. deaths again surpass 1,000 as Florida, Georgia report new daily highs

Coronavirus-related deaths in the United States topped 1,000 Tuesday after a weekend lag, suggesting that the trend of four-digit single-day death tolls will continue for a fourth week.

Of the more than 1,332 deaths reported Tuesday, Florida and Georgia recorded their highest single-day death tolls since the start of the pandemic, with 277 and 122 coronavirus-related deaths respectively, according to a data analysis by The Post. Tuesday marked the first time Georgia has exceeded 100 deaths in a day and its highest reported seven-day average.

Texas and California also ranked among the deadliest counts, with 220 and 109 dead.

Wisconsin surpassed 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the state’s first reported death in mid-March.

Aside from Georgia exceeding its average death count, Puerto Rico and five states — Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia — tied for their highest seven-day death averages, which is considered a more accurate metric than daily figures. The country’s seven-day average for deaths was 1,052.

In 16 states and Puerto Rico, the seven-day death average as of Tuesday rose from the previous week, indicating a growing trend in more than a quarter of the country. Washington and North Dakota tied for the biggest increase in average deaths.

By Meryl Kornfield and Jacqueline Dupree
August 11, 2020 at 7:44 PM EDT

Israel brings new firepower to the coronavirus fight: The army

JERUSALEM — Israel, desperate to rein in a resurgent coronavirus outbreak, has called in the army to take over testing and contact-tracing operations, part of a major restructuring of its pandemic campaign that includes naming a "corona czar" intended to be insulated from political pressures.

The expanded role for the military will include the deployment of about 3,000 additional soldiers and civilian staff to aid in testing and contact-tracing programs, including the call-up of about 2,000 reservists, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman said.

“Operation Alon” will be led by a brigadier general of the IDF’s Home Front Command out of a base near the city of Ramla and will begin its work in the coming days, the spokesman said.

As of Tuesday, Israel had recorded more than 85,300 coronavirus cases and 619 deaths.

Read more here.

By Steve Hendrix
August 11, 2020 at 6:56 PM EDT

Trump administration makes $1.5 billion deal with Moderna for vaccine doses

The Trump administration said Tuesday that it had struck a $1.5 billion deal with biotech firm Moderna to deliver 100 million doses of its experimental coronavirus vaccine.

The announcement is another in a series of U.S. government contracts with manufacturers who are racing to produce a vaccine in record time. Moderna has begun a Phase 3 clinical trial with up to 30,000 people.

The Massachusetts-based company said last week that it would price its vaccine in the range of $37 per dose for smaller orders. But the deal announced Tuesday by the Department of Health and Human Services would set the price at $15 per dose.

The contract was made by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is part of HHS, and the Defense Department. The government Aug. 5 announced a deal for 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s experimental vaccine for $1 billion.

The administration has been pumping billions of dollars in subsidies to drug companies to help them develop vaccines and conduct clinical trials. Moderna has previously received nearly $1 billion in federal government money, and its RNA-based vaccine was developed by scientists at the National Institutes of Health.

The deal announced Tuesday will allow the government to purchase an additional 400 million doses.

“Today’s investment represents the next step in supporting this vaccine candidate all the way from early development by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, through clinical trials, and now large-scale manufacturing, with the potential to bring hundreds of millions of safe and effective doses to the American people,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a news release.

By Christopher Rowland
August 11, 2020 at 6:11 PM EDT

Texas prisoner who died of covid-19 named finalist for annual literature prize

The American Short Fiction magazine announced the selections Tuesday for its third annual literary award for incarcerated writers in Texas, including a finalist who died in April of covid-19 just before he could be alerted to the news.

Timothy Bazrowx, 63, died in a prison hospital at the John M. Wynne Unit in Huntsville after testing positive for the coronavirus, the magazine said in a statement announcing the winners and finalists for the Insider Prize. “This year’s award is marked, like so much in our world these days, by tragedy,” it read.

Novelist Justin Torres, who judged this year’s prize, selected Bazrowx’s essay “When Ponies Rule” as a finalist for the award. Bazrowx chronicled prison life for the Marshall Project, a criminal-justice-focused, nonprofit news organization, and was a prolific writer and essayist, writing three book-length memoirs, according to Marshall Project staffer Maurice Chammah, who along with his wife, Emily, runs the Insider Prize for American Short Fiction.

A month before his death, Bazrowx told Marshall Project reporters that “sickness runs like a crazy horse through a flower bed” inside the prison.

More than 800 people in state and federal prisons and local jails have died of covid-19 in the United States, according to the Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project run by the UCLA law school.

By Kim Bellware
August 11, 2020 at 5:06 PM EDT

With shelves empty, Dr Pepper says more soda is on the way

Fans of Dr Pepper will have to wait a while longer before the soft drink is fully restocked in grocery stores.

The brand addressed the soda shortage on Twitter, urging customers to “hang tight” as the company works with business partners to bring its soft drink back to shopping aisles and refrigerators.

“We know it’s harder to find Dr Pepper these days. We’re working on it — hang tight,” the brand said on Monday.

Parent company Keurig Dr Pepper was formed in 2018, with the merger of Dr Pepper Snapple Group and the coffee company Keurig Green Mountain. The combined business touts more than 125 brands of coffees, soft drinks, teas and waters and takes in more than $11 billion in annual sales.

This year, Dr Pepper introduced a new flavor to its brand umbrella, Dr Pepper & Cream Soda, as well as a diet version. The company confirmed in the tweet that the new flavor will be a permanent addition to its soft drink offerings.

While the pandemic has devastated parts of the economy and highlighted the danger that many Americans workers face in mass-production facilities, some businesses have thrived or have managed to maintained their operations. Keurig Dr Pepper projects that revenue will continue to grow for the rest of the year, citing its extensive distribution network and diverse product list. In its latest earnings report, the company increased net sales by 1.8 percent compared with the same period last year and generated profits of $298 million.

Consumption of Dr Pepper’s products has ballooned during the pandemic, according to the company’s earnings report, as many customers have shifted to remote work and school, and are consuming more of their meals and beverages at home. The surge in demand may help explain the soda shortage.

Earlier this year, some beer producers and smaller beverage companies faced a potential shortage of CO2, a key ingredient in the carbonization process.

Looking ahead, the company noted that potential government shelter-in-place orders would limit the movement of customers and access to their products, leading to more volatility in demand.

By Hamza Shaban
August 11, 2020 at 4:55 PM EDT

Lebanon reports record rise one week after deadly blast

One week after a blast devastated swaths of Lebanon’s capital, the country reported a record number of new covid-19 cases — 300 — in addition to seven related deaths.

Lebanon has reported more than 7,000 confirmed infections and 87 deaths since February. The country initially contained its outbreak, but after a spike in cases, the government ordered a return to restrictions in late July.

Then the blast at Beirut’s port last week rocked the city, leading immediate life-or-death considerations to supersede virus infection control. In a matter of seconds, the explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate killed at least 171 people, injured thousands, destroyed three major hospitals and left an estimated 300,000 residents homeless.

“The emergency in Beirut has caused many Covid-19 precautionary measures to be relaxed, raising the prospects of even higher transmission rates and a large caseload in coming weeks,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report on Monday, Reuters reported.

The World Health Organization has requested $15 million in emergency aid to cover immediate health needs in Lebanon. Only 47 percent of 55 primary health-care centers in Beirut can still provide complete routine care, a post-blast assessment found, according to Reuters.

Before Tuesday’s tragedy, Lebanon had already been grappling with a collapsing economy and political discontent compounded by the health crisis.

“Before the explosion, the public system was struggling to handle the increasing number of covid-19 cases,” Julien Raickman, Doctors Without Borders’ head of mission in Lebanon, said Tuesday. “Since then, there has been a very steep rise in reported covid-19 cases in Lebanon … On the night of the explosion, there was a huge influx of patients into health facilities across the capital, and infection and prevention measures could not be implemented properly, which eventually led to this increase” in cases.

By Miriam Berger
August 11, 2020 at 4:20 PM EDT

Idaho lawmaker says listening to experts on school closures is ‘elitist approach’

Some Republican lawmakers in Idaho want to strip public health districts of the authority to close schools, with the vice chairman of the state Senate Education Committee claiming that listening to experts while setting policy is “elitist.”

During a Monday meeting of the House-Senate education working group, IdahoEdNews.org reported, Vice Chairman Steven Thayn (R) cited fear of “totalitarianism.”

“What’s happening is we’re having a standardized approach by people saying we need to listen to the experts,” Thayn said, according to the news site. “Listening to the experts to set policy is an elitist approach. I’m fearful of an elitist approach. I am also fearful it leads to totalitarianism, especially when you say, ‘We are doing it for the public good.’”

He also said he was concerned about “letting a few fearful people control the lives of those of us that are not fearful.”

The working group is now asking that the state legislature consider the question of who is allowed to shutter schools when lawmakers meet later this month. Under current regulations, according to IdahoEdNews.org, health districts have that ability and can hand down quarantine orders.

Saying that school officials want to be allowed to make decisions without someone “looking over their shoulder,” House Education Committee Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby (R) proposed that public health districts serve only an advisory role. The authority to close schools would rest with school boards, the governor and the state Board of Education.

Another Republican legislator, Rep. Judy Boyle, motioned to do away with a part of Kerby’s proposal that would have let health districts quarantine or close schools to avoid spreading an infectious disease. Her motion was approved by a “divided House/Senate Education Working Group,” IdahoEdNews.org reported.

By Brittany Shammas