Major American universities are scrapping or delaying plans for in-person classes during the upcoming fall semester after outbreaks on campus alarmed administrators, with Notre Dame and Michigan State walking back their reopening plans Tuesday, one day after the University of North Carolina did the same.
Here are some significant developments:
People “in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving” the spread of the coronavirus, the World Health Organization’s top official for the Western Pacific region, Takeshi Kasai, said Tuesday. “Many are unaware they are infected,” he added.
Seeking to enforce self-quarantine rules, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) on Tuesday ordered hotels and short-term rentals to deny rooms to travelers from a list of 31 states plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands unless they fill out a questionnaire.
As many companies look to remote work even beyond the pandemic, Amazon said it would double down on office-based work, adding some 3,500 jobs in new office space across a number of locations. The company expects an eventual return to its offices.
Business leaders say they are unlikely to implement Trump’s payroll tax order
By Tony Romm
Auto part suppliers, clothing sellers, retailers, restaurants and a torrent of top businesses signaled Tuesday they are unlikely to implement President Trump’s order deferring payment of workers’ payroll taxes, threatening an early blow to a policy the White House has touted as a major form of economic stimulus.
Roughly 30 industry groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, described Trump’s executive action as potentially “unworkable,” stressing in a letter to the administration and top congressional leaders that technical and logistical challenges are likely to prevent them from passing any extra income back to their employees as the president intended.
“Therefore, many of our members will likely decline to implement deferral, choosing instead to continue to withhold and remit to the government the payroll taxes required by law,” the groups wrote.
As stock prices touch record high, economy trails behind
By David J. Lynch
VBI Vaccines has lost money in each of the four years it has been listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange and last month told investors not to expect that to change anytime soon. Yet, since its mid-March low amid the pandemic-related shutdown, the company’s share price has rocketed by more than 400 percent.
The jump comes even as VBI’s candidate for a vaccine for the coronavirus remains in the earliest stage of development, trailing well behind alternatives from bigger and better-known rivals that already are being tested on humans.
At first glance, VBI looks like a perfect example of how the stock market has become detached from the reality of a bruised and battered U.S. economy. But a closer look at the company and the broader stock market suggests that Wall Street is neither a proxy for the real economy nor a financial casino entirely divorced from the lives of everyday Americans.
How Trump was able to shape the Postal Service board to enact a new agenda
By Lisa Rein
Sen. Elizabeth Warren called on the Postal Service’s governing board Monday to oust Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and roll back the cost-cutting moves Democrats warn are designed to sabotage mail-in voting.
“That’s why we have a board of governors,” Warren (D-Mass.) told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “We need them to just get rid of Louis DeJoy and say, all those mailboxes they took out, all those [mail] sorting machines they took out, the no-overtime policy . . . we’re done.”
It is highly unlikely to happen. DeJoy, the North Carolina businessman and Trump campaign donor who arrived in June to make sweeping cuts to postal operations, was appointed by a board that is now controlled five to one by loyalists to President Trump. “We just got the board,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.
After years without a voting quorum, Trump was able to reshape the once-obscure Postal Service Board of Governors in three years into a behind-the-scenes powerhouse that is setting his priorities in motion, possibly for years to come.
Not much looks normal at Washington’s training camp — except for the football
By Les Carpenter
On Tuesday morning, the first day the Washington Football Team could begin training camp in full, its players did what football players do. They tackled and blocked and pushed and did plenty of other things that would seem to be inappropriate in a pandemic.
Quarterbacks shouted out signals. Defenders called their coverages. Enough spittle had to linger in the air to make everyone pause. And for all the attempts the NFL has made to make sure the novel coronavirus does not seep into its football teams, Washington’s players did not social distance. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the sidelines during team drills, the way they have their entire football lives.
By the end of the first practice, it was clear that we should know within a week whether this dream of having a season is actually possible. Because no matter how much any NFL team tries to create social distance, sealing its practice facility in an invisible bubble, the very essence of football makes distancing impossible.
What’s the difference between absentee and mail-in voting?
By Michelle Ye Hee Lee
President Trump has repeatedly attacked voting by mail as a less secure method than absentee voting, claiming without evidence that it will lead to rampant fraud and creating confusion about whether there is a difference between those practices.
The bottom line: Some states prefer one term over the other, but both “absentee voting” and “mail-in voting” refer to the method of using the mail to deliver ballots to voters. Regardless of the term used in your state, all ballots delivered to voters by mail are verified before they are counted.
Pandemic places alarming pressure on transgender mental health
By Alyssa Fowers and William Wan
The surgery was supposed to be a turning point.
Brenda Emery spent a year preparing for the vaginoplasty. To save up for it, she took jobs in food service straight out of college and moved in with her mother. She talked at length to therapists and medical experts to make sure the procedure to modify her lower body was what she really wanted as a transgender woman.
After the surgery, Emery hoped, she would be fully comfortable in her own body. Finally, she could pursue dreams of working in local theaters that had been put on hold to save money. So this March, she quit her restaurant job and prepared to travel from her home in the Maryland suburbs to New York for the procedure.
Then came the novel coronavirus, halting all non-emergency surgeries.
“I just felt numb. I didn’t know how to process it,” Emery, 26, said. Her surgery got rescheduled for May, only to be canceled again. Unemployed and unsure whether the procedure would still happen, Emery spent her days in bed, grappling with anxiety, sadness and frustration. “It felt like I put my whole life on hold.”
Even as the coronavirus has upended lives throughout the country, it has taken a deep toll on the transgender community, a population that has long struggled with higher rates of mental illness and poor medical care because of discrimination and abuse.
Don’t rush to close schools when cases appear, Florida education chief tells districts
By Valerie Strauss
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and his administration are doubling down on opening schools during the coronavirus pandemic and keeping them open even when cases are diagnosed.
On a phone call with school district superintendents late last week, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran urged them to be “surgical” when dealing with coronavirus cases, as opposed to “sweeping” — and told them not to close a school without calling state officials first to discuss it.
“Before you get to that point of closing a classroom or closing a school, we want to have that communication with you because we want to be as surgical as possible,” Corcoran said, offering to provide specific names and numbers of officials who could take a call.
Travelers miss flying so much that they’re taking ‘flights’ to nowhere
By Shannon McMahon
When a virtual-reality experience called First Airlines started offering faux flights in the Ikebukuro neighborhood of Tokyo in 2017, you could have said it was ahead of its time. Three years later, in the grips of a global pandemic that has grounded the vast majority of flights, Tokyo’s business travelers are leaning on the VR experience for a taste of international travel without leaving their city.
“I often go overseas on business, but I haven’t been to Italy,” one local businessman, who tried the experience recently, told Reuters. “My impression was rather good because I got a sense of actually seeing things there.”
First Airlines calls itself the world’s “first virtual aviation facility,” with equipment and small touches that make its indoor spaces feel like an actual airport and airplane, even when your supplied VR headset isn’t on.
The University of Notre Dame will halt in-person teaching for at least two weeks, starting Wednesday, in an effort to contain a rapid increase in coronavirus cases at the outset of the fall semester.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the Catholic university in South Bend, Ind., announced the shift in remarks to students Tuesday, eight days after the term began.
Jenkins said the number of confirmed cases this month has risen to 147, up from the previously published count of nearly 60.
Jenkins said off-campus gatherings were driving most of the infections.
"Students infected at those gatherings passed it on to others who in turn passed it on to a further group, resulting in the positive cases we have seen,” he said.
Michigan State University also announced Tuesday it will shift to remote learning when classes resume for the fall semester.
Samuel L. Stanley Jr., the school’s president, asked undergraduate students who planned to live on campus to stay home and continue with online instruction. In a statement, the president called on students living off campus to “consider staying in your home communities if that is a safer place for you.”
The East Lansing, Mich. university, which had nearly 40,000 undergraduate students last fall, is set to begin remote undergraduate classes on Sept. 2.
Stanley cited what’s happening at “other institutions as they re-populate their campus communities.” “It has become evident to me that, despite our best efforts and strong planning, it is unlikely we can prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19 between students if our undergraduates return to campus,” Stanley said.
Both announcements come a day after the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also switched abruptly to remote instruction after convening for face-to-face teaching.
'How do you sleep at night?’: CNN’s Anderson Cooper thrashes MyPillow CEO over dubious coronavirus drug
By Jeremy Barr
Even by the somewhat raucous standards of cable news, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper’s interview with pillow company executive Mike Lindell on Tuesday afternoon was particularly tense.
During the segment, which launched an avalanche of commentary on social media, Cooper challenged the MyPillow founder on his support of a plant extract, oleandrin, which he has been lobbying the Trump administration to approve as a possible therapeutic for coronavirus.
Cooper likened Lindell to a “snake oil salesman” and asked, “How do you sleep at night?”
Almost 80 teachers leave jobs in Salt Lake County over coronavirus concerns
By Brittany Shammas
As the first day of school approaches in Salt Lake County, Utah, at least 79 teachers have resigned or retired because of concerns over the coronavirus spreading in schools, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
But in Salt Lake County, where the number of coronavirus infections is highest, teachers told the Tribune they do not think that enough is being done to protect them. The teachers’ departures follow rallies at the state Capitol demanding stricter reopening requirements.
“The thought of going back into the classroom to teach was just so incredibly stressful,” teacher Jan Roberts told the newspaper. “I couldn’t risk making any of my students sick or getting sick myself.”
Her district, the Granite School District, has seen the highest number of teachers leave, with 32 quitting and 12 retiring, the Tribune reported. Most students there will attend school four days a week, with few opportunities for teachers to work remotely. A district spokesman told the newspaper that the school board does not anticipate changes “unless something significant occurs that would detract from our ability to open in that fashion.”
Teachers have left their jobs over coronavirus concerns in other areas of the country as well. Others have staged protests. One Arizona district that planned to reopen Monday was forced to cancel all classes after more than 100 teachers refused to show up, saying reopening metrics had not been met, the Arizona Republic reported.
U.S. stocks hits record high, ending shortest bear market in history
By Hamza Shaban and David J. Lynch
Defying the coronavirus pandemic’s mounting human and economic toll, stocks closed Tuesday at a record high, bringing an end to the shortest bear market in U.S. history.
After notching three consecutive weeks of gains, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed at 3,389, gaining 0.2 percent on the day. The finish capped a remarkable comeback from the March plunge that slashed 34 percent off the previous record, set Feb. 19, as the pandemic tightened its grip on the country.
Investors Tuesday brushed aside worries about the nation’s continuing struggle to contain the pandemic, focusing instead on signs of strength in the housing and retail sectors. Housing starts in July rose 22.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of nearly 1.5 million, the Commerce Department said. Permits also rose sharply for both single- and multifamily dwellings.
Lebanese struggling to rebuild after blast to enter 2-week virus lockdown
By Loveday Morris
BEIRUT — Lebanon’s government announced a two-week lockdown and curfew on Tuesday as the country, still reeling from the devastating explosion at a Beirut port two weeks ago, suffers from a surge in cases of the novel coronavirus.
The lockdown will begin at 6 a.m. Friday and go to Sept. 6, the Interior Ministry said. Gyms, restaurants and shops other than grocery stores have been ordered to close.
There will be a nightly 12-hour curfew, beginning at 6 p.m. Road traffic will be prohibited, but reconstruction and relief related to the port explosion will be allowed to continue. The blast, caused by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, killed at least 170 people and devastated parts of the capital.
Infections among Lebanon’s 6.8 million people climbed to a record 456 cases on Monday, putting additional strain on the country’s health-care system after the port blast destroyed or severely damaged four hospitals.
Maine wedding reception led to an outbreak, health officials say
The agency said that 18 of the cases were wedding reception guests at the Big Moose Inn, while the other six were people who had close contact with them. Health officials define an outbreak as three or more cases that are epidemiologically linked — meaning patients have been exposed to infection, and there’s a plausible chain of transmission.
The Maine CDC said it is still investigating and communicating with the hospitality facility about how the reception followed state requirements for social gatherings, which ban more than 50 people from convening indoors. Approximately 65 people had attended the early-August celebration, the agency said.
The agency will also continue to investigate and contact-trace any person who was present at the reception, including guests, staff and other people who came into close contact with either group.
Those who attended the event and are experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus are encouraged to contact a medical provider before seeking care.
Maine reported 16 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, bringing the state’s total number of confirmed cases to 4,213, according to data tracked by The Washington Post.