Some states pause reopening as virus cases near record high

NEW YORK — The coronavirus crisis deepened in Arizona on Thursday, and the governor of Texas began to backtrack after making one of the most aggressive pushes in the nation to reopen, as the daily number of confirmed cases across the U.S. closed in on the peak reached during the dark days of late April.

While greatly expanded testing probably accounts for some of the increase, experts say other measures indicate the virus is making a comeback. Daily deaths, hospitalizations and the percentage of tests that are coming back positive also have been rising over the past few weeks in parts of the country, mostly in the South and West.

In Arizona, 23% of tests conducted over the past seven days have been positive, nearly triple the national average, and a record 415 patients were on ventilators. Mississippi saw its daily count of confirmed cases reach record highs twice this week.

“It’s not a joke. Really bad things are going to happen,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi’s health officer.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, whose state was among the first to reopen, put off lifting any more restrictions and reimposed a ban on elective surgeries in some places to preserve hospital space after the number of patients statewide more than doubled in two weeks. Some Arizona hospitals also halted elective surgeries. Nevada’s governor ordered face masks be worn in public, Las Vegas casinos included.

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US health officials estimate 20M Americans have had virus

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials estimate that 20 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus since it first arrived in the United States, meaning that the vast majority of the population remains susceptible.

Thursday’s estimate is roughly 10 times as many infections as the 2.3 million cases that have been confirmed. Officials have long known that millions of people were infected without knowing it and that many cases are being missed because of gaps in testing.

The news comes as the Trump administration works to tamp down nationwide concern about the COVID-19 pandemic as about a dozen states are seeing worrisome increases in cases.

The administration also looks to get its scientific experts back before the public more as it tries to allay anxieties about the pandemic while states begin reopening. Since mid-May, when the government began stressing the need to get the economy moving again, the panel’s public health experts have been far less visible than in the pandemic’s early weeks.

Twenty million infections means that about 6% of the nation’s 331 million people have been infected.

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AP-NORC poll: Support for restrictions, virus worries wane

WASHINGTON — After months of steady progress, new confirmed cases of COVID-19 climbed to near record levels in the U.S. this week. Experts blame a nation that’s become complacent, and a new poll finds evidence to back them up: Support for measures to slow the virus’ spread has declined from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

To be sure, the June survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that many Americans never fully embraced the reopening effort now underway in many states. A majority of Americans still have concerns about contracting COVID-19, and significant shares still support the kinds of public health restrictions that states have rolled back.

“I believe that everything is being lifted a little bit too early,” said Tamela Andrews, 51, who recently moved to New Orleans. “There are certain people who are following the rules, trying to keep the virus down ... but there’s a lot of people that’s not.”

The survey finds that what was once unified opinion about the pandemic has eroded over the past two months. Half of Americans now favor stay-at-home orders, down from about 6 in 10 one month ago and 8 in 10 in April. And about 6 in 10 favor limits on how many people can gather together, down from about 7 in 10 one month ago and about 8 in 10 in April.

In April, 78% of Americans said they were at least moderately worried that they or a family member might be infected with the virus, but that figure declined to 68% in early June. Those saying they are very or extremely worried is also down, from 43% in April to 32% this month.

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Dueling Trump-Biden events offer contrasting virus responses

LANCASTER, Pa. — A presidential campaign that has largely been frozen for several months because of the coronavirus took on a degree of normalcy on Thursday when President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden swung through critical battleground states presenting starkly different visions for a post-pandemic America.

Touring a shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin, Trump insisted the economy is “coming back at a level nobody ever imagined possible.” But in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Biden warned that “no miracles are coming” and slammed Trump’s handling of the virus.

“Amazingly, he hasn’t grasped the most basic fact of this crisis: To fix the economy we have to get control over the virus,” Biden said. “He’s like a child who can’t believe this has happened to him. His whining and self-pity.”

With just over four months remaining until the election, the contrasting styles of Trump and Biden are increasingly on display. The president is itching to move past an outbreak that has dashed the economy and killed more than 125,000 people. Biden, meanwhile, is seeking to present himself as a competent and calming leader ready to level with the nation about the hardships that may be required to emerge from the current turmoil.

Beyond knocking Trump’s leadership, Biden spent much of Thursday defending the Obama administration’s signature health care law and decrying what he said was a White House-led effort to dismantle it via a court challenge. It was part of a larger Democratic effort to refocus the 2020 election on health care, an issue that helped the party retake the House last cycle and one it hopes will resonate with even more voters amid the pandemic.

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U.S. officials change virus risk groups, add pregnant women

NEW YORK — The nation’s top public health agency on Thursday revamped its list of which Americans are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness, adding pregnant women and removing age alone as a factor.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also changed the list of underlying conditions that make someone more susceptible to suffering and death. Sickle cell disease joined the list, for example. And the threshold for risky levels of obesity was lowered.

The changes didn’t include adding race as a risk factor for serious illness, despite accumulating evidence that Black people, Hispanics and Native Americans have higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death.

Agency officials said the update was prompted by medical studies published since CDC first started listing high-risk groups. They sought to publicize the information before Independence Day weekend, when many people may be tempted to go out and socialize.

“For those at higher risk, we recommend limiting contact with others as much as possible, or restricting contacts to a small number of people who are willing to take measures to reduce the risk of (you) becoming infected,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield.

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House passes sweeping police overhaul after Floyd’s death

WASHINGTON — The House approved a far-reaching police overhaul from Democrats on Thursday, a vote heavy with emotion and symbolism as a divided Congress struggles to address the global outcry over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gathered with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on the Capitol steps, challenging opponents not to allow the deaths to have been in vain or the outpouring of public support for changes to go unmatched. But the collapse of a Senate Republican bill leaves final legislation in doubt.

“Exactly one month ago, George Floyd spoke his final words — ‘I can’t breathe’ — and changed the course of history,” Pelosi said.

She said the Senate faces a choice “to honor George Floyd’s life or to do nothing.”

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is perhaps the most ambitious set of proposed changes to police procedures and accountability in decades. Backed by the nation’s leading civil rights groups, it aims to match the moment of demonstrations that filled streets across the nation. It has almost zero chance of becoming law.

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Colorado reexamines Elijah McClain’s death in police custody

DENVER — The Colorado governor on Thursday ordered prosecutors to reopen the investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man put into a chokehold by police who stopped him on the street in suburban Denver last year because he was “being suspicious.”

Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order directing state Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate and possibly prosecute the three white officers previously cleared in McClain’s death. McClain’s name has become a rallying cry during the national reckoning over racism and police brutality following the deaths of George Floyd and others.

“Elijah McClain should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern,” Polis said in a statement.

He said he had spoken with McClain’s mother and was moved by her description of her son as a “responsible and curious child ... who could inspire the darkest soul.”

Police in Aurora responded to a call about a suspicious person wearing a ski mask and waving his arms as he walked down a street on Aug. 24. Police body-camera video shows an officer getting out of his car, approaching McClain and saying, “Stop right there. Stop. Stop. ... I have a right to stop you because you’re being suspicious.”

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Race relations in Wisconsin capital are a tale of 2 cities

MADISON, Wis. — In this college town that considers itself a bastion of progressive politics and inclusion, race relations are really a tale of two cities.

Demonstrators who toppled statues of figures with no racist history this week say they went after the sculptures because they wanted to shatter a false narrative that the state and the city support Black people and racial equity.

“The crowd at large was absolutely conscious of the political motivations,” protester Micah Le told The Associated Press in a text, referring to the statue of the Civil War abolitionist Hans Christian Heg and another sculpture of a woman with her arm outstretched that honors the state’s “Forward” motto.

“People who didn’t already know about the racist pro-Columbus, anti-indigenous history of the ‘Forward’ statue are learning about it now. Since the Heg statue came down, folks are learning that slavery continued after the Civil War in the form of the (prison) system, hence why the statue was meaningless,” Le said.

It is also possible that demonstrators were simply looking to join with others across the nation in erasing Confederate figures and did not understand the statues’ symbolism. But despite Wisconsin’s progressive history — the state fought for the Union during the Civil War and was one of the first to ratify women’s suffrage — data suggests racism is as prevalent here as anywhere in America.

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Pandemic takes a bite, Chuck E. Cheese files for bankruptcy

Chuck E. Cheese - where kids could be kids while parents nursed headaches - is filing for bankruptcy protection.

The 43-year-old chain, which drew kids with pizza, video games and a singing mouse mascot, was struggling even before the coronavirus pandemic. But it said the prolonged closure of many outlets due to coronavirus restrictions led to Thursday’s Chapter 11 filing.

CEC Entertainment Inc. has reopened 266 of its 555 company-operated Chuck E. Cheese and Peter Piper Pizza restaurants as restrictions ease, but it’s unclear how willing parents will be to host birthday parties and other gatherings. The Irving, Texas-based company said it will continue to reopen locations and offer carryout and delivery while it negotiates with debt and lease holders.

CEC and its franchisees operate 734 restaurants in 47 states and 16 countries. Franchised locations aren’t included in the bankruptcy filing, the company said.

CEC listed nearly $2 billion in debt and $1.7 billion in assets in its bankruptcy petition, which was filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in southern Texas.

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Liverpool clinches league title, ends 30-year drought

LIVERPOOL, England — The 30-year wait is over. Liverpool is champion of England again.

Liverpool clinched its first league title since 1990 on Thursday, ending an agonizing title drought without the players even having to take the field.

Instead, the Premier League crown was secured when Chelsea beat second-place Manchester City 2-1, a result that means City can no longer catch Liverpool with seven games remaining.

For the city of Liverpool, this has been a party three decades in the making, and even the restrictions caused by the coronavirus failed to prevent fans from gathering to celebrate outside Anfield.

Only a few dozen supporters were outside the stadium as the final whistle blew at Stamford Bridge. But hundreds more quickly arrived, setting off flares and fireworks, waving flags and singing “Allez, Allez, Allez” on the steps of the stadium.

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