Coronavirus updates: Mississippi hospitals running out of beds; unemployment up; US hits 4 million cases

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As the United States surpassed 4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday, debate over the next stimulus bill heated up, with Republicans promising another round of $1,200 bonus checks and money for schools while Democrats dug in to protect the $600 weekly unemployment benefit bonus.

The bonus grew more relevant as the Labor Department reported 1.4 million people filed initial applications for benefits last week, the first weekly increase in four months. Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, said the numbers show that failing to extend the weekly bonus would be “unconscionable.” 

“Families will be evicted from their homes, poverty will soar, children will go hungry, businesses will shutter and the economy will tank,” Stettner said.

Major League Baseball’s opening day finally arrived, the virus-shortened season kicking off almost four months late and minus fans in the stands. The Washington Nationals, last year’s World Series champs, were hosting the venerable New York Yankees. The equally venerable Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert,  tossed out the ceremonial first pitch.

Here are some significant developments:

    Unemployment claims rise for first time since March: 1.4 million more people filed for jobless benefits for the first time last week. In little more than four months, a staggering 52.7 million have sought unemployment aid for the first time.Why a dramatic uptick in cases? President Donald Trump is blaming it on protests, summer holidays, and migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, even though his own advisers have also attributed the surge to some states’ early reopenings. Early successof COVID-19 vaccine candidates fuels optimism, but experts warn “a lot has to go right.”

📈 Today’s stats: The U.S. surpassed 4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday. And the daily national death toll surpassed 1,000 for the second straight day and hospitalizations were again peaking. The Johns Hopkins University data dashboard reported 1,195 U.S. deaths Wednesday, high by standards of recent weeks but still only half of the daily toll during the outbreak’s deadly peak in the spring. The Covid Tracking Project, however, showed almost 60,000 people are currently hospitalized, less than 200 short of the highest totals from April. 

📰 What we’re reading: Many colleges plan for an in-person, masks-on, socially distant fall semester. What if students contract COVID-19 outside class?

Our live blog is being updated throughout the day. Refresh for the latest news, and get updates in your inbox with The Daily Briefing. 

Marine assigned to Trump’s helicopter unit tests positive for coronavirus

A Marine assigned to the military unit that flies Marine One tested positive for coronavirus but did not have direct contact with President Donald Trump or his presidential helicopter, the Marine Corps said Thursday. 

“The Marine, who had been in Bedminster, New Jersey, prior to Trump’s travel there, did not have direct contact with Marine One, the president’s helicopter,” the Marine Corps said in a statement. 

“The Marine is asymptomatic. Contact tracing is being conducted with the White House, and Marines who may have had contact with the infected Marine have been removed from the unit,” the statement read. 

The aircraft in the presidential unit are being sanitized and Trump’s weekend trip to his golf club in Bedminster on Friday is not expected to be affected. 

– Courtney Subramanian, Tom Vanden Brook and John Fritze

‘Wear a damn mask,’ urges Mississippi hospital amid surge of patients

After repeatedly warning that hospitals in Mississippi are filling up, the leader of the University of Mississippi Medical Center took to Twitter Thursday with blunt language to tell residents what they can do to help slow the spread of the virus.

“Wear a damn mask. Wash your hands. It is not a big deal. It is not political. Just do it,” reads a slide with UMMC branding  tweeted by Dr. LouAnn Woodward. 

The hospital is struggling to find beds for patients with all kinds of illnesses due to the surge, according to the slide.

On Friday, State Department of Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said eight major medical centers in Mississippi had no ICU beds. He said one patient had to be sent to an out-of-state hospital.

— Joel Shannon, USA TODAY; Wilton Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger

Trump cancels Jacksonville portion of Republican convention planned for August

President Donald Trump said Thursday he is cancelling the Jacksonville portion of the Republican National Convention that had been planned next month because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The timing for this event is not right,” Trump said. “There’s nothing more important than keeping our people safe.” 

Trump said that he would hold a speech of some kind to formally accept his party’s nomination for president. The move is a significant blow to the campaign, which had hoped to use the convention to reset his presidential campaign.

– John Fritze, Courtney Subramanian and Michael Collins

US hits 4 million cases of COVID-19

The U.S. hit the latest bleak milestone Thursday in the historic and deadly pandemic: 4 million confirmed cases of infections.

And experts agree the number of cases is actually much greater — potentially 10 times higher than what’s been reported, according to federal data. 

Meanwhile, almost 150,000 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus as the nation continues to lead the world for most cases and deaths.

“We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in a Facebook Live interview July 6. “And I would say, this would not be considered a wave. It was a surge, or a resurgence of infections superimposed upon a baseline.” 

– Khrysgiana Pineda

Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant dies after testing positive for COVID-19

A Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant died after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month in California, following an employee training at the airline’s headquarters.

Hawaiian Airlines President & CEO Peter Ingram told employees in an internal memo distributed on Tuesday that Jeff Kurtzman, a senior Los Angeles-based flight attendant, died this week.

He had been a part of the airline since 1986, “and over the past three decades had become well known to his in-flight colleagues for his passion for discovering new places, people and cultures; his terrific sense of humor and knack for easy conversation; and his caring heart,” Ingram wrote in the memo, obtained by USA TODAY.

– David Oliver

Hours before opening night, Nationals star Juan Soto tests positive for COVID-19

Major League Baseball’s prime-time return amid the COVID-19 pandemic was dealt an unsettling blow when one of its greatest young stars tested positive before he could take the field in 2020.

Juan Soto, the Washington Nationals’ dazzling 21-year-old outfielder, was omitted from the opening-day roster after a positive test for COVID-19, general manager Mike Rizzo confirmed Thursday, just hours before the defending World Series champions opened the season with a nationally-televised game against the New York Yankees.

Rizzo says Soto is asymptomatic after taking the test Tuesday and receiving the results Thursday morning, and says no other Nationals will be unavailable for the opener due to contact tracing ramifications.

– Gabe Lacques

GOP to reveal $1T stimulus plan; Dems back $600 weekly jobless bonus

Senate Republicans were scrambling Thursday to finalize a $1 trillion coronavirus relief package that will include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks and additional funding to help schools recover from the pandemic.

GOP leaders and the White House said late Wednesday that they had agreed on key parts of the legislation, which will serve as a starting point for negotiations with Democrats, who have already passed their own bill in the House.

But Republicans are still struggling to put the finishing touches on the package. Congress and the White House are under pressure to clinch a deal on a fresh pandemic aid package; a federal program of expanded unemployment benefits is set to run out within days.

One item that will be missing from the GOP plan is President Donald Trump’s demand for a payroll tax cut. Republicans abandoned that proposal even though Trump had suggested he might not sign any bill that doesn’t include it.

Michael Collins

Iowa health officials draw scrutiny over meatpacking plant outbreak

The first confirmed coronavirus outbreak at an Iowa meatpacking plant was far more severe than previously known, with more than twice as many workers infected than the state Department of Public Health told the public, newly released records show. 

The department said in May that 221 employees at the Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Columbus Junction tested positive. But days earlier, Tyson officials told Iowa workplace safety regulators that 522 plant employees had been infected, documents show. The discrepancy adds to mounting questions state officials face about public information during the pandemic. 

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the number of infections announced by the state appeared to reflect only the first round of testing. “Coordinating facility-wide testing and obtaining results is a complex process that takes time,” he said.

Moms with COVID-19 can safely breastfeed newborns, study suggests

Mothers with COVID-19 may be able to stay in the same room with their newborns after birth and not transmit the virus if certain precautions are taken. Researchers observed 120 babies born to mothers with COVID-19 and found no cases of transmission during childbirth or after two weeks of breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact, according to the small study published Thursday in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

“We know that skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding are important both for mother-infant bonding and for long-term child health,” said Dr. Patricia DeLaMora, who co-led the study from the Weill Cornell Medicine-New York Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital. “Our findings suggest that babies born to mothers with COVID-19 infection can still benefit from these safely.”

Adrianna Rodriguez

Parent company of Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, shuttering 1,600 stores

The parent company of Lane Bryant, Ann Taylor and the Justice brand is the latest in a line of retail corporations battered by the pandemic to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. New Jersey-based Ascena Retail Group, which also operates Ann Taylor Loft, Catherines, Lou & Grey and Cacique, plans to “reduce their store fleet from approximately 2,800 stores to approximately 1,200 stores,” the company said in court records Thursday. The planned closures are a 56% “reduction in the total store fleet.”

Brooks Brothers, Lucky Brand, J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, Sur La Table and J. Crew have all filed for Chapter 11 since May. As many as 25,000 stores could shutter this year as businesses continue to feel the impacts of the pandemic, according to a report from Coresight Research.

– Kelly Tyko

Middlemen banking billions off COVID-19 products

Middlemen seeking to profit from the pandemic have sprung up overnight to score billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 contracts, their stake as small as a mailbox rental or virtual office subscription. Some simply buy it from a manufacturer and resell it directly to the government at a steep markup. Global demand for personal protective equipment has attracted hundreds of construction, financing and technology companies to supplying health care products. One in 10 federal COVID-19 vendors are government contracting newcomers.

“It’s clearly opportunism,” said Benjamin Brunjes, an assistant professor at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. “People are aware that there’s a huge amount of new money, and they’re taking a slice.” 

Josh Salman, Nick Penzenstadler, and Dak Le

Fauci to hurl first pitch in the season of COVID-19

Dr. Anthony Fauci, arguably the most prominent figure in the COVID-19 crisis, joins the World Series champion Washington Nationals on the mound Thursday at Nationals Park as baseball kicks off its 60-game regular season. From Brooklyn, Fauci grew up a Yankees fan but says he roots for both teams since moving to the D.C. area. He’s worn a Nats-themed mask to testify before a House Committee with other members of the coronavirus task force.

“Dr. Fauci has been a true champion for our country during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout his distinguished career,” the team said in a statement. “It is only fitting that we honor him as we kick off the 2020 season and defend our World Series Championship title.”

Analis Bailey

‘Cuomo Chips’ won’t cut it as a food order in New York bars

Sorry, bars and restaurants: You can’t get around New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s food-with-alcohol order by offering a bag of “Cuomo Chips” or a few pieces of cheese. The State Liquor Authority updated its guidance to provide more clarity on Cuomo’s order, which prevents bars and restaurants from serving alcoholic beverages to patrons who don’t order food first. The order, issued last week, is meant to keep patrons in their seats and not congregating in groups around a bar or in an outdoor dining space. After bars began offering $1 chips and similar items as the food, the State Liquor Authority stepped in. Now the food must be “sandwiches, soups or other foods, whether fresh, processed, precooked or frozen.”

– Jon Campbell

USA TODAY panel of experts: We’re almost halfway to an available vaccine

Propelled by encouraging results from early experiments, the clock has ticked forward one hour since June in USA TODAY’s countdown to a vaccine against COVID-19. For July, the hands sit at 5 a.m., our panel of experts estimates. Midnight is the starting point of the pandemic in the U.S., and noon is the time a vaccine will be widely available to Americans. The panel includes experts in medicine, virology, immunology, logistics and supply chain issues.

“These first steps simply mean that we haven’t fallen at the first hurdle,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director of immunization education with the Immunization Action Coalition. “That doesn’t change the number of hurdles ahead.”

Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub

Florida, Texas among states with deadliest weeks 

A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Wednesday shows 12 states set records for new cases over a seven-day period while six states had a record number of deaths over the period. New case records were set in Alaska, California, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. Record numbers of deaths were reported in Florida, Idaho, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

In Florida, the week’s death toll was 824, more than twice the number of any week during the spring COVID-19 surge. Still, Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to press for in-classroom learning when schools open, some in less than three weeks. DeSantis stressed that young people face the least risk from the virus. 

“It is our kids who have borne the harshest burden of the controlled measures instituted to protect against the virus,” DeSantis said Wednesday.

Michael Stucka

Remote learning gaining momentum as back-to-school season approaches

As COVID-19 cases rise in most states, the prospect of in-person learning this fall at the country’s major school districts is becoming increasingly remote. Eleven of the top 15 school systems by enrollment are already planning to start the fall semester online or implement a hybrid of in-person and online classes, according to Education Week magazine’s reopening tracker. In all, 11 of the 15 largest U.S. school systems are in communities adding COVID-19 cases at more than three times the rate they were in the two weeks ending May 1.

Among colleges, the Chronicle of Higher Education is tracking the reopening plans of more than 1,200 institutions. The findings: About half of universities plan to reopen, a third are proposing a mix of online and in-person classes, and 11% have committed to fully online learning.

Elinor Aspegren and Chris Quintana

1.4 million jobless claims filed, first increase since March

After slowly dropping for over four months, the number of Americans filing new unemployment claims pushed higher last week, the Labor Department reported. More than 1.4 million Americans filed initial applications for unemployment insurance last week. That’s far below the record 6.9 million who sought assistance in late March, but higher than the 1.3 million who filed claims the week before. The latest figure reverses the slow but steady slide that had occurred for 15 weeks in a row.

– Charisse Jones

More COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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