Please Note

The Washington Post is providing this important information about the coronavirus for free. For more free coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter where all stories are free to read.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 nearly broke its all-time record on Wednesday, falling 5.8 points short — about two-tenths of a percent — of matching the record close from February.

Here are some significant developments:
August 12, 2020 at 11:32 PM EDT

The pandemic is bringing change to what we’ll see from Hollywood

Across the entertainment industry, casts and crew are starting to return to work after a five-month hiatus, cranking up production under tight controls that have altered how sets operate.

But the real impact will be on what we see on screens as producers look for ways to film safely.

Crowd scenes are a no-go. Real-world locations will be limited. On-screen romance will be less common, sometimes restricted to actors who have off-screen relationships. And independent films — that tantalizing side dish in the U.S. entertainment meal — could be heavily scaled back.

Read more here.

By Steven Zeitchik
August 12, 2020 at 10:35 PM EDT

Which college football teams and conferences have canceled?

The 2020 college football season is in jeopardy after the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences announced their schools will not play this fall. Two other conferences in the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision have also decided against playing a fall season, casting more doubt on the sport’s autumn plans.

The novel coronavirus, which has killed at least 160,000 people in the United States, shuttered college sports in March, canceling the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and abruptly ending many athletes’ careers.

Schools and their leagues prepared for a return to competition this fall, and football players arrived on campus in June for voluntary workouts. But as the season approached, and the nation had yet to contain the virus, decision-makers worried about whether they could safely hold a season. The Big Ten and Pac-12 decided too much uncertainty still exists. So did two FBS conferences outside the Power Five. Now the other six FBS conferences must decide how and if they will proceed toward the 2020 season.

Here’s what you need to know.

By Emily Giambalvo
August 12, 2020 at 9:39 PM EDT

California’s lack of PPE cost the state money and residents their lives, study finds

The pandemic was still young when leaders and public health officials came to a terrifying realization: The nation didn’t have enough personal protective equipment to go around. The severe shortage left health-care workers vulnerable, forcing them to reuse, jury-rig or go without masks, gloves and gowns.

Now, a new case study of California’s preparedness aligns with experts’ worst fears about the dangers of a dearth of PPE: More than 17,000 essential workers in the state were estimated to be infected because they didn’t have the proper equipment, and more than 250,000 health-care professionals received unemployment benefits in the pandemic’s early months, according to a report by University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health and its Labor Center.

“It is likely that dozens of deaths among essential workers could have been avoided with proper use of PPE had an adequate stockpile been in place prior to the pandemic start,” the researchers concluded.

The study bolsters the case that the country’s most populous state should amass a large reserve of PPE for future pandemics to guard against the shortages California has faced while fighting the coronavirus.

In addition to the avoidable deaths, such a stockpile would be fiscally wise, the study argues. California paid health-care workers — out of jobs, in part, because of inadequate PPE — about $93 million in unemployment per week, the analysis found. Had they been at work, the state would have saved money, and health-care access would have been improved, the researchers said.

California also had to pay a premium for the masks and other supplies it purchased at peak pandemic prices — sometimes marked up by as much as 1,100 percent, the report said. Had the state stocked up when prices weren’t surging, savings would have been staggering.

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered his health department to build up a supply of 100 million N95 masks and 200 million surgical masks in anticipation of a surge in new virus cases in the fall. A bill in the state Senate would also establish a new longterm stockpile for the crises to come, something California cut off funding for in 2011 under then-Gov. Jerry Brown, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“We do not know when the next pandemic or health emergency will arise that will require PPE,” the UC Berkeley researchers wrote, “but it will come.”

By Reis Thebault
August 12, 2020 at 9:03 PM EDT

More than 200 aviation companies double-dipped into federal pandemic payroll aid

At least 202 aviation companies double-dipped into federal programs designed to prop up struggling businesses during the coronavirus pandemic — to the tune of about $1 billion, according to a Washington Post review of federal data.

The companies include a Chicago catering firm under investigation by Democrats in Congress for laying off almost 900 workers this spring; an Ohio aircraft maintenance business that closed an office and put 52 people out of work just days after securing a loan of at least $5 million under one of the programs; and a Wisconsin airline that has warned of hundreds of temporary layoffs come fall.

Earlier this month, the office of the new Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery, a government watchdog, questioned the practice of letting companies benefit from both programs, saying it “was not obvious” why airlines in particular would need help twice over and that it planned to monitor the issue.

Read more here.

By Ian Duncan and Lori Aratani
August 12, 2020 at 8:28 PM EDT

Postal Service could halt special treatment of ballots, congressional Democrats warn

Congressional Democrats intensified calls on Wednesday for more oversight of the U.S. Postal Service and the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, after the agency warned states that longstanding classification practices for ballots and other political mailings may not be enough to ensure timely delivery for the November election.

Postal officials advised the nation’s secretaries of state to use high-priority first-class postage, which costs 55 cents an item, on election mail rather than the third-class, or bulk, rate of 20 cents typically used.

USPS General Counsel Thomas Marshall informed state leaders that, depending on their respective deadlines for requesting an absentee ballot and casting a vote through the postal system, sending election items as bulk mail may cause voters to miss crucial cutoff points. Bulk mail delivery takes three to 10 days, according to the Postal Service, while first-class mail delivery takes two to five days.

Read more here.

By Jacob Bogage
August 12, 2020 at 8:01 PM EDT

U.S. officials report nearly 1,500 deaths, highest total since mid-May

The United States logged nearly 1,500 deaths due to the novel coronavirus Wednesday, a harsh signal that the pandemic remained out of control here despite fairly stable average case numbers and death tolls in the past few days.

The 1,493 deaths reported by health officials across the country were the most fatalities tallied since mid-May, excluding a day in June when New Jersey announced more than 1,800 backlogged deaths. Nationwide, the seven-day average of newly reported deaths has remained above 1,000 for 17 consecutive days after rising steadily for most of July, according to The Washington Post’s tracking.

In the past four weeks, the seven-day average death total has more than doubled in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas and more than tripled in Washington state. The same average has declined the most, relative to its previous number, in Arizona and Massachusetts.

Texas reported 324 new deaths Wednesday, the state’s highest single-day fatality toll with the exception of July 27, when a change in methodology prompted officials there to announce 675 deaths.

In Georgia, the average number of new deaths set a record for the third straight day, with 67 fatalities. The state’s single-day death toll was 105, the second day in a row that it exceeded 100 and Georgia’s second-highest total of the pandemic.

Georgia’s average daily case count was also increasing slightly after reaching a high on July 24, falling for several days and then starting to rise again this week. State health officials announced 3,565 new infections Wednesday.

Health officials in California reported 11,645 new cases of the virus as they continued to catch up on announcing the results of roughly 300,000 tests that were backlogged because of a technical glitch. Of Wednesday’s new infections, officials said 5,433 were from the past day and another 6,212 were part of the backlog.

By Marisa Iati and Jacqueline Dupree
August 12, 2020 at 7:35 PM EDT

NBA and NHL, ensconced in their bubbles, remain virus-free, while MLB season is imperiled

Improbably, hundreds of professional athletes in three cities at opposite ends of North America are making like it’s early February, playing games — good games — and staying sheltered from the still-raging pandemic that cut their seasons short this spring. At least, so far.

This week, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League announced their sports were coronavirus-free, an early and encouraging sign that their “bubble” approaches to safely restarting play have been effective. In both leagues, the bubbles are self-contained compounds where players, coaches and referees live, train, play and recreate, attended to by the supporting casts of essential workers necessary to feed, entertain and clean up after them.

On Wednesday, the NBA said 342 players have been tested for the coronavirus at the league’s Disney World bubble in Kissimmee, Fla., and none has tested positive. Two days earlier, the NHL made a similar announcement: Between the league’s pair of bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto, 7,245 tests have been administered — enough to test each team’s 52-person party every day — and none has come back positive.

Those victorious declarations may have stung for the other major sports league attempting an audacious mid-pandemic season.

Major League Baseball, which had already cut its calendar by more than half to 60 games, has been beset by new infections, forcing the postponement of nearly 30 games since the league began play on July 23. There have been team outbreaks and individual rule-breakers, and the league has tightened its health measures. Roughly two dozen players have refused to play, citing safety concerns.

The key difference between league restarts is a foundational one: The MLB has no bubble. The league has made several concessions to the coronavirus, including playing a shortened season in empty stadiums and restricting travel to a respective team’s region. But it hasn’t been enough.

As the NHL and NBA celebrated this week, ESPN reported that the MLB has had “preliminary discussions” about holding its playoffs — if the season is able to progress that far — inside some type of bubble.

Other pro sports — including the WNBA, Major League Soccer and the upstart Premier Lacrosse League — have also restarted play inside a bubble, to varying degrees of success.

By Reis Thebault
August 12, 2020 at 6:24 PM EDT

Face masks with valves or vents do not prevent spread of coronavirus, CDC says

Of all the three-word phrases this pandemic has popularized — “flatten the curve,” “six feet apart” — perhaps none has resonated as deeply as “wear a mask.” It’s one of the simplest and most effective ways to curb the spread of the coronavirus and save lives.

But, as a burgeoning number of advisories makes clear, not every mask is helpful.

In guidance updated late last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against wearing masks with exhalation valves or vents, a type of face covering made for hot and dusty construction work that has become a popular pandemic accessory because of its seemingly high-tech design. The agency’s guidance reads in full:

The purpose of masks is to keep respiratory droplets from reaching others to aid with source control. However, masks with one-way valves or vents allow air to be exhaled through a hole in the material, which can result in expelled respiratory droplets that can reach others. This type of mask does not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others. Therefore, CDC does not recommend using masks for source control if they have an exhalation valve or vent.

3M, which makes valve masks for construction work, illustrates on its website how they work: inhaled air is filtered through the fabric part of the mask, and hot, humid exhaled air goes out through the valve. The system may be what you want when tearing out a kitchen for remodeling, but the valve defeats the purpose when you’re trying to slow the spread of a virus.

Public health experts recommend mask-wearing to prevent respiratory droplets from spreading into the air when you exhale, speak, cough or sneeze, and the valves allow those droplets through.

The CDC recommends simple cloth masks instead. A few layers of cotton prevent most of the potentially infectious respiratory droplets from escaping into the air around you, and they are also much cooler than the form-fitting N95 masks.

A recent study also suggested that people should avoid the newly popular neck gaiters, which are made of thin, stretchy material. Researchers at Duke University found that those coverings may be worse than not wearing a mask at all, because they break up larger airborne particles into a spray of little ones more likely to linger longer in the air.

By Reis Thebault and Angela Fritz
August 12, 2020 at 6:19 PM EDT

White House clarifies limits of jobless aid plan as talks with Congress dim

President Trump’s senior aides acknowledged Tuesday that they are providing less financial assistance for the unemployed than the president initially advertised amid mounting blowback from state officials in both parties.

On Saturday, Trump approved an executive action that he claimed would provide an additional $400 per week in expanded unemployment benefits for Americans who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

By Tuesday, senior White House officials were saying publicly that the maneuver guarantees only an extra $300 per week for unemployed Americans — with states not required to add anything to their existing state benefit programs to qualify for the federal benefit.

Read more here.

By Jeff Stein, Tony Romm and Erica Werner
August 12, 2020 at 5:42 PM EDT

No handshakes. A bad economy. These car salesmen shifted tactics — and succeeded.

GLEN MILLS, Pa. — Mike McVeigh had been selling cars for 16 years — honing skills that he feared were already a lost art — when the virus hit. He was 46 and out of a job. His boss at David Dodge furloughed the sales staff after all nonessential businesses in Pennsylvania closed in late March.

A month later, he was called back to work. But everything had changed. A once-booming economy was in tatters. Everyone wore masks. The showroom was closed to customers. Test drives were solo affairs. Deals needed to be done mostly online. No one wanted to get too close to anyone else.

The covid-19 pandemic caused tens of millions of people to lose jobs and thousands of businesses to close, including, initially, almost a quarter of those working for auto dealers. But the workers and companies that survived often discovered it was not back to business as usual. And that included the business of selling cars — perhaps the ultimate handshake deal in a suddenly socially distanced world.

Read more here.

By Todd Frankel
August 12, 2020 at 5:07 PM EDT

Grocery workers say morale is at an all-time low: ‘They don’t even treat us like humans anymore’

This spring, for the first time, Angel Manners found purpose and pride at the supermarket where she has worked the past decade. Customers praised her as a hero for putting herself at risk during the pandemic. Bosses boosted her hourly pay by $2. Suddenly, her job was essential. Nearly five months in, and it is all gone.

“We’ve lost our hazard pay, and people are quitting every day,” said Manners, 43, who processes vendor deliveries at a Meijer store in northern Kentucky. “Those of us who are left are really stretched thin — working so much harder for $11.50 an hour.”

Grocery workers across the country say morale is crushingly low as the pandemic wears on with no end in sight. Overwhelmed employees are quitting mid-shift. Those who remain say they are overworked, taking on extra hours, enforcing mask requirements and dealing with hostile customers. Most retailers have done away with hazard pay even as workers remain vulnerable to infection, or worse. Employees who took sick leave at the beginning of the pandemic say they cannot afford to take unpaid time off now, even if they feel unwell.

Read more here.

By Abha Bhattarai
August 12, 2020 at 4:39 PM EDT

S&P 500 mounts comeback to nearly beat its all-time high

The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index nearly broke its all-time high on Wednesday, almost matching the record close from February, before the coronavirus hammered the United States.

The striking comeback for the benchmark index marks a dramatic rise from the lows of March, when stocks in every sector tumbled with alarming speed as the virus spread across the country and local governments urged Americans to shelter at home, sending the economy into a tailspin.

The S&P 500 gained 46.66 points, or 1.4 percent, by the end of the trading day. The index missed its record of 3,386 by about six points, or about 0.2 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average increased more than 289.93 points, or 1.05 percent, by the closing bell. The tech-heavy Nasdaq, which recently notched a record, rose 229.42 points, or 2.13 percent.

The S&P’s upward climb, like other rallies in recent months, offers a stark contrast in economic signals.

Joblessness remains at historically high levels, with more than 30 million Americans receiving some kind of unemployment assistance. The U.S. economy shrank by a stunning 9.5 percent from April through June, in what was the fastest quarterly rate drop in modern record-keeping. And corporations have suffered staggering losses as many American consumers have stayed home, abandoned travel and curtailed retail spending.

But investors are eyeing the months ahead and looking to 2021 — when corporate earnings and economic activity may show clearer signs of recovery and when unemployment is projected to fall below 10 percent. In the coming weeks, they are also anticipating another round of emergency government relief — even though Democratic leaders have said the White House has refused to meet them halfway in negotiations, and President Trump has attempted to bypass Congress and make dramatic changes to tax and spending policy through executive actions.

By Hamza Shaban
August 12, 2020 at 4:38 PM EDT

WHO and American Dental Association disagree over delaying routine dental care

The World Health Organization is recommending that routine, nonessential dental care be delayed until community coronavirus transmission rates have been sufficiently reduced, or until national or local officials suggest otherwise.

In newly released interim guidance, which quickly prompted a rebuttal from the American Dental Association, the WHO noted that dentists and dental hygienists work in proximity to patients’ faces for extended periods of time.

“Their procedures involve face-to-face communication and frequent exposure to saliva, blood, and other body fluids and handling sharp instruments,” the WHO said. “Consequently, they are at high risk of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 or passing the infection to patients.”

Also of concern: aerosol-generating procedures, which release minuscule floating particles. They are widely used in dental settings and include ultrasonic cleaning and polishing as well as surgical tooth extraction and implant placement, the WHO said.

The American Dental Association responded with a statement saying it “respectfully yet strongly disagrees” with the global health organization.

“Oral health is integral to overall health. Dentistry is essential health care,” wrote Chad Gehani, president of the dental association. “Dentistry is essential health care because of its role in evaluating, diagnosing, preventing or treating oral diseases, which can affect systemic health.”

After urging dentists to postpone care that is neither urgent nor an emergency, the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided guidance on how routine care could resume. The recommendations included stepping up use of personal protective equipment and reducing visitors in the waiting room.

WHO dental officer Benoit Varenne said during a news briefing that the likelihood of the novel coronavirus spreading through aerosol particles is unknown and called for further study of the matter, Reuters reported.

“It’s open to question, at least,” he said. “This means that more research is needed.”

In a study published last week, researchers from the University of Florida found live virus in aerosols 6.5 feet to nearly 16 feet away from patients hospitalized with covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The research has not yet been peer-reviewed.

By Brittany Shammas
August 12, 2020 at 3:45 PM EDT

Jordan closes land border with Syria amid spike in cases

Jordan said Wednesday it would temporarily close its land border with Syria amid rising concerns that the novel coronavirus is spreading fast in its war-torn neighbor.

Jordan’s interior minister said the decision to shut the Jaber crossing for a week followed a surge in virus cases among travelers at the border, Reuters reported. Jordan confirmed 12 positive cases Wednesday and 13 on Tuesday among people tested after passing from the Syrian side. Jordanian officials said most of the infections were detected among truck drivers.

Jordan’s Prime Minister Omar Razzaz called the surge a “source of concern” on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Jordan has kept its land borders with Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian territories largely closed to traffic except for commercial goods since March, when it imposed a strict lockdown throughout the country.

Since some travel restrictions inside Jordan were lifted, humanitarian workers and analysts have warned that cases in Syria are starting to spike. The implications are extremely grave, as Syria’s health-care infrastructure is in tatters after nine years of war that has decimated the country’s economy and forced millions to flee. In recent months the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, has regained most of the territory lost when its bloody crackdown on anti-government demonstrators in 2011 spiraled into a civil and regional war.

Syrian rebels now retain just one main area in northwestern Syria along the border with Turkey, where covid-19 cases have also been confirmed.

Syria watchers, however, have questioned the official figures being provided by the Syrian government to the World Health Organization, which they say account for only a fraction of infections and fatalities.

A recent report by the publication Syria in Context found that covid-19 “in government-controlled areas of Syria is now out of control and overwhelming the limited capacities of the war-torn country’s health care sector.”

The authors continued, “As it becomes increasingly clear that the virus is far more prevalent than is being reported, an urgent increase in supplies and a radical change in approach to mitigating the outbreak, as well as increased transparency, are needed to prevent the growing catastrophe.”

By Miriam Berger