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As Europe experiences a resurgence of coronavirus cases that appears to be driven primarily by young people, health authorities worry that crowded house parties could become super-spreader events for thousands of returning college students. On Thursday, Purdue University suspended 36 people who attended an off-campus party, officials at Syracuse University warned that a massive gathering “may have done damage enough to shut down campus,” and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill switched to online learning amid an eruption of infections.

Here are some significant developments:
  • Vice President Pence said he “couldn’t be more proud” of President Trump’s leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, and said during a “Good Morning America” appearance that if Democratic nominee Joe Biden had been in charge, the losses — 171,000 dead and counting under the current administration — would have been worse.
  • Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told lawmakers Friday that ensuring the safe and timely delivery of election mail was his “sacred duty,” disputing accusations his controversial cost-cutting agenda was politically motivated even as he reiterated his intention to execute it after the November election.
  • Californians are facing duel crises now, as wildfires, still raging largely out of control across a large swath of the state, force tens of thousands of people from their homes during a similarly uncontrolled pandemic.
  • The holiday shopping season is poised to begin earlier than ever — as soon as October — as retailers look to offset the disruptions the coronavirus pandemic has wrought on delivery times, in-person shopping and consumer spending power.
  • The Standard & Poor’s 500 index finished a trailblazing week by setting another record high, placing an exclamation point on a stunning turnaround in the face of an ongoing public health crisis.
  • At least 41 schools in Berlin have reported coronavirus cases among students or staff, less than two weeks after classes there fully resumed Aug. 10, officials confirmed to the Berliner Zeitung newspaper on Thursday.
August 21, 2020 at 10:33 PM EDT

Wildfire smoke in California may increase coronavirus risk, experts say

By Meryl Kornfield

The scientific community is in consensus: Wildfire smoke can trigger increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that may also include the coronavirus, which is worrying as the virus and fires plague the western United States.

“The overlap of the COVID-19 pandemic with wildfire season in the United States complicates public health response to wildfire smoke,” the agency wrote in guidance issued earlier this year.

The double whammy of the coronavirus and wildfires may cause more people to need to be hospitalized, furthering the strain on an already fatigued health system, Jahan Fahimi, the emergency department director at the University of California at San Francisco, told The Washington Post.

The smoke can also lead to increased hospitalizations for other non-respiratory symptoms, such as heart attacks, Fahimi said.

“If you have areas where they already have constrained resources, the increased influx of patients with respiratory or other wildfire-related complications, including trauma injury because people are forced to evacuate, can cause an even further overwhelming of the health-care system,” Fahimi said.

In addition, vulnerable people, such as those with respiratory illnesses, are in danger of more severe covid-19 symptoms and sensitivity to smoke.

While cloth masks help reduce the transmission of the coronavirus, they aren’t as effective at protecting against wildfire smoke exposure. An N95 mask is the most effective against both, but most people would be best suited to use a medical mask, Fahimi said.

August 21, 2020 at 10:26 PM EDT

Testing site closures due to California wildfires will undermine pandemic response, expert says

By Meryl Kornfield

As wildfires have burned across northern California, local officials hold out hope social distancing measures will maintain the state’s recent downward trend in coronavirus cases.

Dozens of lightning-sparked wildfires ignited the evacuations of tens of thousands of Californians, forcing people to travel to other areas or stay in community shelters, which can exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus, experts say.

The poor air quality caused by the fires forced at least one outdoor coronavirus testing site in Alameda County to close and San Joaquin County outdoor testing sites to shut down at noon, county spokeswoman Krista Dommer told The Washington Post. Dommer said indoor testing sites would remain open.

Emily Crawford, a microbiology and immunology professor at the University of California at San Francisco, has already seen a drop in samples sent to her testing lab. Limitations on testing can hamper efforts to identify cases early and isolate infected people, Crawford told The Washington Post.

“Unfortunately, I think that combined with the fact that there are sadly people who are displaced and will need to go and stay with friends or stay in other communities, that’s going to facilitate spread,” Crawford said. “It’s a double hit.”

The closures of outdoor testing sites may worsen how the pandemic disproportionately impacts people with less health-care access, Crawford said.

State and local officials have urged residents in areas with poor air quality to stay indoors, as fumes from the wildfires are dangerous to breathe in, especially for vulnerable people.

While the restriction may limit the spread of the virus, it also keeps people from participating in activities normally held outdoors, where the risk of catching the coronavirus is lower, Crawford said.

Officials said they prepared for fire season in advance considering the pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said the evacuation centers he toured Thursday “demonstrably exampled” social distancing.

“You come into these centers and you see marked where people have to socially distance, and the congregate meals are done as individual meals,” Newsom said in a press briefing Friday. “And you see temperature checks before anyone walks in.”

The state’s seven-day average for new infections declined in the past week, falling to 7,037 cases Friday. California has totaled more than 650,000 confirmed cases since the first reported case at the end of February.

August 21, 2020 at 10:00 PM EDT

Iowa cuts four sports, becoming the first Big Ten school to ax programs during the pandemic

By Chuck Culpepper

Four sports that had spanned a combined 328 years at the University of Iowa suffered discontinuation on Friday, trimmed from another athletics budget ailing from the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In an open letter, the university president and athletic director of a program in an especially stormy year announced the end of the men’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming and men’s tennis programs at the end of the 2020-21 academic year. It signaled the end of programs that had begun, respectively, in 1922, 1917, 1974 and 1939, according to Iowa media guides. It happened on the same day some Big Ten football parents, including those of some Iowa players, marched at the Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont, Ill., hoping to restore an autumn football season the conference canceled last week after recommendations from a medical advisory board.

August 21, 2020 at 9:40 PM EDT

Can you get coronavirus via secondhand smoke? The smell is a warning sign.

By Angela Fritz

The primary way the novel coronavirus spreads, according to health experts, is through close contact with people who are infected. Being in proximity with someone who has the coronavirus exposes you to the respiratory droplets emitted when the person coughs, sneezes or even speaks.

What if you’re close enough to smell someone’s secondhand smoke, or pass through a cloud of smoke on your way into a store? Does that expose you to the coronavirus, if the smoker happens to be infected?

There is little evidence to suggest the smoke itself could be carrying the coronavirus, but researchers and physicians say that merely being able to smell someone’s cigarette is a warning sign you’re breathing air that was just in someone else’s lungs.

Read more here.

August 21, 2020 at 9:20 PM EDT

What the coronavirus can teach us about fighting climate change

By Sarah Kaplan

Will the Covid-19 pandemic change people’s attitudes and trust towards climate change science?

— Anna Baranova, Toronto

The cartoon flashed across Katharine Hayhoe’s social media timeline in mid-July: Two doctors in lab coats scrutinize a box labeled “covid-19 science" while one says to the other, “As long as we just provide the FACTS to the American people.” Next to them, a pair of climate scientists are clutching their stomachs and laughing themselves to tears.

Hayhoe, a climate researcher at Texas Tech University, had to laugh, too. She is all too familiar with the limits of facts when people don’t want to face them.

August 21, 2020 at 9:00 PM EDT

There’s never been a better time to take an architecture road trip

By Shannon McMahon

The summer of 2020 has unquestionably been the summer of the American road trip. Thanks to the coronavirus’s impact on plane, train and bus travel — and paired with record-low gas prices — 97 percent of vacations taken this summer were forecast to be in cars, according to AAA.

Booking sites are also seeing Americans heavily considering domestic road trips, with booking site Skyscanner seeing a 56 percent monthly increase in the number of U.S. users searching for rental cars. And an August Skyscanner survey on road trips found that over 30 percent of respondents want to drive more than 1,000 miles on a road trip.

Where are all those long-haul road trippers headed? An INRIX and AAA analysis of traffic trends across the country this summer shows that while some more-populated states are seeing incredibly reduced traffic numbers, remote areas are seeing normal, pre-pandemic levels of summer traffic flow, even as fewer people are traveling.

August 21, 2020 at 8:30 PM EDT

Looking for respite from the coronavirus, these Israelis sought peace in nature

By Kenneth Dickerman

Israel has had relatively few coronavirus cases when compared to, say, the United States. After initially beating back cases beginning in March, with a low of about 10 new cases a day in mid-May, the country has recently seen a resurgence in cases.

According to The Washington Post, Israel has recently responded to the resurgence by bringing in the army to help fight the virus. The changes related to using the military as opposed to the country’s Ministry of Health to manage the resurgence, according to The Post, “are part of a major reboot of the national covid-19 strategy, as Israel has plummeted from a pandemic success story to suffering the highest per capita morbidity rate in the world.”

As of this writing, Johns Hopkins puts the number of confirmed cases at 97,969 and deaths at 781. And although the numbers are relatively low (actually, any number of deaths is too high), they have created an economic fallout in the country that has caused social unrest. And with that, Israelis have turned to different methods of trying to find solace in a sea of chaos. Photographer Daniel Rolider’s project “A Piece of Sky Remains” introduces us to some of the Israelis who have sought refuge in nature.

August 21, 2020 at 8:00 PM EDT

Rhode Island’s successful reopening of child-care programs shows ‘there is a path,’ CDC director says

By Lena H. Sun

As schools and child-care programs reopen in parts of the United States, a federal study published Friday found that child-care programs that resumed operation at a time of low community spread and that followed strict protocols, including universal masking for adults were successful at limiting new cases of coronavirus.

The study of Rhode Island child-care centers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is evidence that child-care centers and schools can safely reopen despite the pandemic, said CDC Director Robert Redfield.

“When things are done with vigilance, in partnership with the public health community, that you can in fact … be able to reopen child care and not have significant secondary transmission,” Redfield said during a briefing Friday with reporters.

August 21, 2020 at 7:45 PM EDT

Boris Johnson is splitting the check with millions of Britons who dare to dine out

By William Booth and Karla Adam

LONDON — They say there's no free lunch. But in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is willing to split the check — for the entire country.

In an audacious (panicky?) scheme designed to save the country’s flagging hospitality industry and tempt people fearful of the coronavirus out of their home-bunkers, the British government is offering half-off on fish and chips — and everything else on the menu, sticky toffee pudding included.

When the program was announced a few weeks ago, many were skeptical. They smelled not English sausage on the grill, but desperation, while Britain plunged into deep recession, the worst in Europe.

But the “Eat Out to Help Out” campaign, as it is officially known, has been wildly popular. In its first two weeks, the government has subsidized more than 35 million meals at 85,000 participating eateries.

August 21, 2020 at 7:15 PM EDT

California wildfires send evacuees scrambling toward another threat: Covid-19

By Heather Kelly

Californians are facing duel crises now, as wildfires, still raging largely out of control across a large swath of the state, force tens of thousands of people from their homes during a similarly uncontrolled pandemic. People who have been told for months to stay in and avoid others are now fleeing to different cities, filling hotels and trying to maintain some semblance of social distancing at makeshift shelters, as officials find urgent relief efforts complicated by the ever-present threat of the novel coronavirus.

“It’s just added an extra layer,” said Rylan Hunt, an overnight supervisor at the Civic Auditorium, which filled up two nights ago as the need to space people six feet apart in tents drove down capacity.

August 21, 2020 at 6:51 PM EDT

Student paper: ‘Don’t make us write obituaries’

By Lateshia Beachum

Don’t make us write obituaries” and “Blame Admin” are the latest blistering stances campus editorial teams are printing as their colleges and universities reopen for in-person instruction during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The editorial board for the Observer, the student-run newspaper for the University of Notre Dame, St. Mary’s College and Holy Cross College, said culpability for coronavirus outbreaks is shared.

“The blame for this does not lie with just one party,” the Observer editorial staff wrote Friday.

August 21, 2020 at 6:30 PM EDT

A cruise in Italy denied a family re-embarkation after they broke the ‘social bubble’

By Shannon McMahon

When the MSC Grandiosa set sail from Genoa, Italy, on Sunday — with only citizens of Europe’s Schengen-area countries and below its 70 percent capacity limit — it became the first ship in MSC’s fleet to return to cruising since spring coronavirus lockdowns halted cruising in Europe. But it wasn’t long before the cruise line’s stringent covid-19 guidelines were breached by a family on a shore excursion in Naples, which MSC says led to them denying those passengers reentry to the liner.

“In line with our health and safety protocol, developed to ensure health and well-being of our guests, crew and the communities we visit, we had to deny re-embarkation to a family who broke from their shore excursion [Tuesday] while visiting Naples,” an MSC Cruises spokesperson said in an email. “By departing from the organized shore excursion, this family broke from the ‘social bubble’ created for them and all other guests, and therefore could not be permitted to re-board the ship.”

MSC says the health and safety standards for shore excursions are the same as those on board: frequent sanitizing, social distancing, health screenings and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks. To board an MSC Cruises liner, passengers must complete “a temperature check, medical review of a health questionnaire and an antigen covid-19 swab test,” the cruise line said in a statement.

August 21, 2020 at 6:00 PM EDT

Her mom didn’t have covid-19. But isolation seemed to be killing her.

By Rachel Chason

Dena Ducane had to make a decision, but every option felt wrong.

She had pulled her mother, Rhoda Dobrovich, out of a memory-care facility in Santa Fe after watching her grow despondent during weeks without visitors. At home with Dena, Rhoda stopped crying and started smiling again. But visitors were still barred from long-term care facilities in New Mexico because of the novel coronavirus. There was no end in sight to what Dena had thought was a temporary situation, and on this summer night, Rhoda had fallen out of bed, again. So Dena checked for injuries, lifted her mother back onto the twin mattress set up three inches from her own bed, and considered the possibilities.

For approximately 2.5 million elderly Americans in long-term care, the threats posed by the coronavirus are twofold: rampant deaths and an unprecedented era of isolation.

August 21, 2020 at 5:39 PM EDT

Sturgis rally linked to seven cases in Nebraska, 15 in Minnesota

By Antonia Farzan and Paulina Firozi

Nearly two dozen cases of the novel coronavirus linked to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, including one hospitalization, have been found across two more states.

At least seven cases linked to the event have been found in Nebraska, health officials said Thursday, according to the Scottsbluff Star-Herald. In Minnesota, state officials said 15 people who attended the 10-day gathering in South Dakota earlier this month have tested positive, including a resident who has been hospitalized, the Star Tribune reports.

The rally drew hundreds of thousands of people and is being closely watched as one of the largest events to take place during the pandemic. The rally raised concerns that maskless crowds at packed bars and concerts could lead to a massive super-spreader event, with attendees returning home and bringing the virus with them. Two weeks since the rally began and five days after it ended, it’s not yet clear if that is the case, and experts say the event’s impact may never be fully known.

So far, South Dakota health officials have identified two people — a tattoo parlor employee and a bar patron — who may have infected others during the rally. An employee who worked during the rally at a bar near Mount Rushmore that is popular with bikers also tested positive, prompting a public health alert.

As of Thursday, South Dakota said it had tallied fewer than 25 cases with links to the event. The Rapid City Journal reported that 22 of those positive tests belonged to people who were visiting from out of state.

The seven cases in Nebraska’s Panhandle Public Health District, which covers 12 counties in the western part of the state, involve local residents “who went to Sturgis, and that was the point of exposure,” Paulette Schnell, health director for Scotts Bluff County, told the Star-Herald.

Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota’s director of infectious diseases, told reporters that those who tested positive visited multiple areas and bars, and the infections can’t be linked to one location, according to the Star Tribune.