Years of underinvestment in public health infrastructure left the United States “unprepared” for the coronavirus pandemic — the country’s greatest public health crisis in 100 years — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said during an interview with WebMD on Wednesday. At least 163,000 people in the U.S. have died of covid-19 as of mid-August.
AMC Theaters, the country’s largest movie theater chain, announced it will resume operations Aug. 20 after a five-month shutdown, selling tickets for 15 cents.
With talks on a new coronavirus relief bill essentially dead, the Republican-controlled Senate adjourned through Labor Day. The Democrat-controlled House is already out of session, and the two parties were hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars apart when talks collapsed last week.
Four top attorneys with Maryland Legal Aid were fired last month after sending a letter to their boss that pushed back against plans to reopen the offices during the pandemic. The letter requested additional staffing to fill vacancies and more flexibility for parents of young children and for staffers with health risks.
A week after raising the concerns, Anita Bailey, Blake Fetrow and John Marshall, who worked as chief attorneys in Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, respectively, and Lisa Sarro, a supervising attorney in Anne Arundel County, were fired, according to current and former attorneys with the pro bono law firm.
More than 125 former employees of Legal Aid have called on the leadership to reinstate the four attorneys.
A 10-year-old girl in Indiantown, Fla. had just logged on to Warfield Elementary’s Tuesday-morning Zoom class when her teacher noticed something wrong in her livestream. There was cursing, a commotion and then what seemed to be a “domestic altercation," police later said.
The teacher quickly muted the girl to shield other students who were logging on. Moments later, she saw the girl throw her hands over her ears. Then the screen went dark.
Off screen, police said, an argument between the girl’s mother and her ex-boyfriend escalated to violence as Donald J. Williams, 27, shot and killed Maribel Rosado Morales, 32.
The increase in deaths in New York City during the early months of the covid-19 pandemic rivals the death toll there at the peak of the 1918 flu pandemic, according to an analysis published Thursday.
The comparison, published online in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, found that the number of deaths from all causes was roughly equal during the first two months of the coronavirus outbreak and the flu epidemic’s two peak months, a century ago.
The 1918 pandemic eventually killed 50 million people, about 675,000 of them in the United States. The current pandemic has claimed at least 746,000 lives worldwide, about 162,000 of them in the United States.
“For anyone who doesn’t understand the magnitude of what we’re living through, this pandemic is comparable in its effect on mortality to what everyone agrees is the previous worst pandemic,” said Jeremy S. Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who led the team that conducted the data review.
As Texas struggles to beat back a surge in coronavirus infections, its testing positivity rate has risen dramatically.
Faced with a question about that increase, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told reporters on Thursday that the Texas Department of State Health Services was investigating potential reasons for it. Decreased testing is probably a significant factor, he said.
Texas’s positivity rate rose from 12 percent on July 30 to about 25 percent on Tuesday, state data show. It then fell to 16 percent for Wednesday, the latest day for which the statistic is available, in an update that the Austin American-Statesman reported was announced hours after the news conference.
Abbott, a Republican, told reporters that the decline in testing partly resulted from the end of some surge-testing operations in July that caused a “very abundant number of tests that were done” in some regions. Demand for testing has also dropped in the past few weeks, he added.
“We do have abundant testing capacity,” Abbott said. “We have far more daily testing capacity than there are tests being undertaken.”
State officials are developing ways to encourage residents to seek testing, Abbott said. He added that the number of tests is likely to rise in the near future — although he noted that the increase will be partly linked to surge testing in Houston, which has been particularly hard hit.
The number of molecular tests, like polymerase chain reaction tests, conducted in Texas each day peaked at about 66,400 in late July before falling to 28,300 tests on Tuesday, according to state data. Tests increased significantly to 40,900 on Wednesday.
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European countries rushed to house the homeless as the covid-19 hit. Advocates worry the changes won’t last.
As the novel coronavirus advanced on Europe in March, authorities in England accomplished in 48-hours what advocates for the homelessness had urged for years: The government housed nearly all of the country’s rough sleepers, or homeless people living in the streets.
“These are unusual times, so I’m asking for an unusual effort,” Louise Casey, the head of Westminster’s response to covid-19 and rough sleeping, wrote at the time in an email to local authorities, the Guardian reported.
In days, 15,000 people were set up in empty hotels and private lodgings as streets and shelters cleared, under a national directive implemented locally. Amid orders to stay home, similar efforts saw differing degrees of success across Europe, where homelessness has increased by 70 percent over the past decade, despite the continent’s robust welfare systems.
Even amid the pain the virus has wrought, it has opened a rare opportunity to reshape homelessness policies, advocates in Europe told The Post. With no end to the pandemic in sight, many experts say the homeless need ongoing help finding long-term accommodations, rather than one-off meals and temporary rooms.
Whether some of the new measures stick remains to be seen.
When the coronavirus outbreak accelerated in the United States in March, houses of worship across the country closed their doors and rushed to figure out how to minister to their members virtually.
Although 94 percent of worship spaces have maintained at least some restrictions, the pastor of a nondenominational megachurch in suburban Los Angeles took a different approach: welcoming thousands of members on Sunday to an intentional repudiation of the state’s social distancing restrictions.
“I’m so happy to welcome you to the Grace Community Church peaceful protest,” Pastor John MacArthur told his congregation from the pulpit. He was met with thunderous applause.
MacArthur, an author, speaker and radio evangelist, estimated to CNN that 6,000 or 7,000 people have attended his church’s services since the building reopened in late July after shuttering in mid-March. California health officials require that houses of worship cap attendance at 25 percent or 100 people, whichever is lower.
Live-streamed video from the church’s July 26 service shows tightly packed pews and few face masks.
In a blog post titled “Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church,” MacArthur defended what he saw as the church’s duty to stay open. He took that argument a step further Wednesday by suing officials from the state, Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles over their restrictions on indoor worship, arguing that they favored protesters who gathered outside in large numbers this summer to advocate racial justice, the Christian Post reported.
“California first lifted restrictions on gatherings that occurred outdoors — blessing after-the-fact the illegal conduct of the ‘George Floyd’ protestors,” the lawsuit says. “California then banned singing in worship services and then shut them all down — unless they could modify their services to operate identically to the now-legal protests.”
Los Angeles County filed its own lawsuit against the church, seeking to force its leaders to comply with emergency health orders. In a news release, county officials said they were suing “reluctantly” and always try to resolve compliance issues amicably before resorting to legal action.
State and city officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on MacArthur’s lawsuit against them.
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Virus still menaces small Texas county after its lone hospital narrowly avoided disaster
In late July, as coronavirus cases in Texas were soaring, officials in a remote border county issued a dire warning: The region’s sole hospital had become so overwhelmed with patients that it would soon start turning away those least likely to survive.
Fortunately for Starr County and its 65,000 residents, help arrived just in time. State emergency officials delivered much-needed medical supplies, and a Veterans Affairs hospital 230 miles north in San Antonio agreed to take in enough patients to avert disaster.
But three weeks later, with hospitalizations declining, Starr County’s pandemic woes are far from over, Judge Eloy Vera, the county’s top elected official, said Thursday. Infections remain high. Unemployment has shot up to 20 percent. Families are struggling to pay bills, he said, and the county’s three funeral homes are full.
“We’re in a very different situation than the rest of the country,” Vera told The Washington Post. “It’s not only the disease but the implications that it carries for a community like ours. We’re extremely economically deprived.”
Vera said his fears about the hospital overflowing have given way to concerns about federal relief funds drying up at the end of the year. Without another infusion of money, he said, Starr County will have a hard time providing assistance to small businesses and residents struggling to make ends meet as the pandemic stretches on.
Most locals were wearing masks and taking other health precautions after the crisis at Starr County Memorial Hospital last month, Vera said. The prospect of making life-or-death decisions about who received care reverberated around the nation, highlighting how hospitals in rural areas were especially ill-equipped to deal with influxes of patients.
“We were really scared that those decisions would have to be made,” Vera said. “I think we’re better prepared now. We have more resources and contacts who can come in to help. Our citizens also realize that this is a very serious virus.”
Still, even a minor shift in the pandemic’s trajectory could have outsize consequences in the area.
Starr County has some of the worst reported infection and death rates in the entire Southwest, according to tracking by The Post. To date, at least 23 people in Starr County are confirmed to have died of the coronavirus, with 45 suspected deaths pending certification.
“If you look at it on a bar graph, that’s pretty insignificant” compared with hard-hit urban areas, Vera said. “But to us, it is very significant.”
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Trump attacks Biden’s call for a nationwide mask mandate
From inside the White House briefing room, Trump slammed Biden over his declaration that there should immediately be a nationwide three-month mask mandate to slow the pandemic.
“[Biden] wants the president of the United States, with the mere stroke of a pen, to order over 300 million American citizens to wear a mask. … He thinks it’s good politics, I guess,” Trump said.
Biden said in his remarks earlier in the day that governors need to mandate the use of masks.
“I trust the American people and their governors very much. I trust the American people, and the governors want to do the right thing to make the smart decisions,” Trump said during a White House coronavirus briefing. “Joe doesn’t, Joe doesn’t. Joe doesn’t know too much.”
Trump accused Biden of “playing politics from the sidelines” and called the former vice president’s plan “regressive,” “anti-scientific” and “very defeatist.”
Biden calls for a nationwide mask mandate, starting immediately
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called Thursday for an immediate nationwide mask mandate that would require everyone in the country to wear masks when outside for the next three months.
Doing so will save the lives of at least 40,000 people, he said in brief remarks in Delaware that followed a lengthy briefing on the coronavirus crisis.
“Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months at a minimum,” Biden said, emphasizing each word. “Every governor should mandate it.”
Biden described this simple act as a civic responsibility, comparing it with giving blood or donating food to those in need. Although masks can be uncomfortable, he said, they are key to getting life back to normal, including reopening schools and businesses.
“Be a patriot. Protect your fellow citizens,” Biden said. “Step up. Do the right thing.”
Biden noted that the virus has killed more than 160,000 people in the United States and that “it didn’t have to be this way.” He said President Trump should have acted sooner and more aggressively.
“I hope we learned our lesson, I hope the president has learned a lesson,” Biden said.
After Biden’s short remarks, his newly announced running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), praised the call to action and amplified it, a role she is expected to play often in the weeks ahead.
“That’s what real leadership looks like,” Harris said. “We just witnessed real leadership.”
Their statements took less than eight minutes, and the two did not answer any of the questions reporters shouted at them as they concluded.
Georgia’s Gov. Kemp drops lawsuit against Atlanta mayor over mask requirement
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has dropped a lawsuit he filed against the city of Atlanta after he and the city’s Democratic mayor clashed over mask requirements and other pandemic-related restrictions.
Kemp sued Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in July after she returned the city to Phase 1 restrictions and ordered masks to be worn in public amid a surging rate of new infections in the metro area. Kemp argued that Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council did not have the authority to impose measures that were any more or less restrictive than the statewide orders.
Critics say that Kemp’s position that the state orders supersede city-level decisions undermines local control, a principle conservatives have long championed. Kemp’s battle with Bottoms and other Democratic mayors whose similar restrictions he has also opposed has political overtones: Kemp is a steadfast supporter of President Trump and has refused to impose a mask mandate despite a surge in new cases since mid-June, while Bottoms is an ally of former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Kemp dropped the lawsuit after a “stalemate in negotiations” with Bottoms, he said in a statement Thursday. He vowed to address the issue with a new executive order on Sunday after his current order expires.
The governor said his lawsuit was meant to “stop the shuttering of local businesses and protect local workers from economic instability.”
Bottoms responded to Kemp’s decision by quoting the feminist writer Audre Lorde, signaling she was prepared to continue her battle with the governor.
U.S. stocks come close but fall short of record high
U.S. stocks came close to making financial history Thursday, soaring toward record highs before slipping in late day-trading.
The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has been on a remarkable turnaround since late March, when equities markets got hammered by the economic calamity of the coronavirus pandemic.
The benchmark index — which offers a broader measure of the stock market than the Dow Jones industrial average — has been flirting with its February record of 3,386.15 for several trading days. It briefly topped that level Thursday before falling back.
The ferocity of the rebound has been underpinned by massive financial support from the federal government, said Nicole Tanenbaum of Chequers Financial Management, allowing investors to look toward an eventual recovery. “Economic data, while still at dire levels, is starting to show signs of stabilization, which, combined with a better-than-expected earnings season, is further fueling investor optimism despite an incredibly uncertain backdrop,” she said.
In the final hour of trading Thursday, the S&P 500 edged down 6.9 points, or 0.2 percent, to 3,373.43. The Dow gave up 80.12 points, or 0.29 percent, to end at 27,896.72, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index, which recently set its own record, advanced 30.26 points, or 0.3 percent, to 11,042.50.
With talks on a new coronavirus relief bill essentially dead, the Senate on Thursday adjourned through Labor Day. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said senators would be called back to vote in the event of a breakthrough on the matter.
But with the House already out of session — and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) set to return to her home state next week — the Senate’s adjournment was the latest sign that the negotiations that collapsed Friday are not likely to come back to life. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke by phone Wednesday but got nowhere.
The two parties were hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars apart when talks collapsed last week and disagreed on many issues — including funding for election systems and the U.S. Postal Service, which President Trump has declared several times this week he will not support.
McConnell and Pelosi engaged in another round of finger-pointing Thursday about who was to blame for the inaction.
“Republicans have been waiting and trying to pass bipartisan relief literally for weeks,” McConnell said on the floor before adjourning the chamber. “I would hope our Democratic colleagues would let the Senate act sometime soon.”
Pelosi noted at a news conference that the House passed a $3.4 trillion relief bill in May and that Republicans waited weeks to start negotiating. The GOP struggled to coalesce around an opening offer of $1 trillion and never wanted to go as high as $2 trillion — which Democrats viewed as the minimum possible size of a bill.
Asked when she might next talk to Mnuchin, Pelosi replied, “I don’t know. When they come in with $2 trillion.”
For the next several weeks, the Senate will meet only for regularly scheduled “pro forma” sessions, during which no legislative business is conducted.
Mexico and Argentina reach deal for vaccine production
MEXICO CITY — Mexico and Argentina announced a deal to produce an initial batch of 150 million to 250 million doses of the AstraZenica vaccine against the coronavirus and distribute them in Latin America, with manufacturing potentially starting in early 2021, officials said Thursday.
The vaccine is in the final stages of clinical trials, making it one of the most advanced of scores of candidates being studied to battle the disease.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Thursday that the deal was significant because “instead of the vaccine coming and being distributed in more than a year, it will be moved up six or seven months.” He said the results of the Phase 3 clinical trials were expected in November. Assuming that the vaccine is deemed safe and effective, production would begin in the first few months of 2021, said Sylvia Varela, the representative of AstraZenica in Mexico.
The vaccine will be “universal and free,” Ebrard said.
Under the deal, an Argentine biotechnology company, mAbxience, will produce the active substance in the vaccine, and it will be finished by the Mexican firm Liomont. The agreement was reached with a donation from the Carlos Slim Foundation, established by the Mexican billionaire. The amount of the contribution was not disclosed. Latin America is the epicenter of the pandemic, with more than a quarter of all global cases.