The latest on the coronavirus pandemic around the U.S. and the world.

WASHINGTON — With talks on emergency coronavirus aid having stalled out, both sides played the blame game Thursday rather than make any serious moves to try to break their stalemate. Official Washington is emptying, national politics is consuming the airwaves and the chasm between the warring sides appears too great for now.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressed the case for funding for the U.S. Postal Service, rental assistance, food aid and rapid testing for the virus at her weekly press event, blasting Republicans as not giving a damn and declaring flatly that “people will die” if the delay grinds into September.

“Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gave a damn,” Pelosi said when asked if she should accept a smaller COVID-19 rescue package rather than endure weeks of possible gridlock. “That isn’t the case.”

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Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walk out of a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during negotiations on a coronavirus relief package Aug. 7. Talks have since stalled, leaving Americans without aid from the federal government. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

All of the chief combatants have exited Washington after a several-day display of staying put as to not get blamed for abandoning the talks. The political risk for President Trump is continued pain in U.S. households and a struggling economy – both of which promise to hurt him in the September campaign. For Democrats, there is genuine disappointment at being unable to deliver a deal but apparent comfort in holding firm for a sweeping measure instead of the few pieces that Trump wants most.

At the White House, Trump suggested that one main holdup is the amount of money Democrats want for cash-strapped states and cities, which he dismissed as “bailouts.” It’s a view shared by top Republicans.

A modest Trump administration overture on Wednesday to restart talks generated nothing but stepped-up carping and accusations of bad faith.

Read the full story here.

Georgia governor to drop lawsuit over Atlanta mask mandate

Brian Kemp

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp looks on during a coronavirus briefing in Atlanta on July 17. Associated Press/John Bazemore

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday said he’s dropping a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta in a dispute over the city’s requirement to wear masks in public and other restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kemp had sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the City Council to block them from implementing restrictions at the local level, even as case counts and hospitalizations in the state soared.

The Republican governor argued that local governments can’t impose measures that are more or less restrictive than those in his statewide executive orders, which have strongly urged people to wear masks but not required them.

He has sought to block local governments from issuing orders requiring that masks be worn, but several cities, including Atlanta, have done it anyway.

In addition to mandating masks, Bottoms, a Democrat, made statements in July indicating that the city would return to Phase One of its reopening plan, meaning that people would have to return to sheltering at home and restaurants would have to return to takeout and delivery only. She later said those statements were recommendations, not legal orders, and that Kemp did not understand what she was doing.

A statement sent out by Kemp’s office on Thursday said the lawsuit is being dropped because of Bottoms’ “concession regarding the city’s Phase One roll-back plan and following her refusal in mediation to further negotiate a compromise.” A spokeswoman for Georgia’s attorney general declined to comment.

Bottoms responded with a statement of her own.

“From the start of this pandemic, my only goal has been to help save lives,” she said. “While it is unfortunate that the Governor seeks to intentionally mislead the people of our state by issuing a woefully inaccurate statement regarding our good faith negotiations and the City’s reopening recommendations, I am grateful that this lawsuit has been withdrawn and the time and resources of our city and state can be better used to combat COVID-19.”

Georgia has had more than 228,000 confirmed cases of the virus, according to data released Thursday by the state Department of Public Health. At least 4,538 people have died in Georgia after contracting the virus.

Face masks with valves or vents do not prevent spread of coronavirus, CDC says

Of all the three-word phrases that this pandemic has popularized – “flatten the curve,” “six feet apart” – perhaps none has resonated as deeply as “wear a mask.” (Or, as Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, put it back in late June: “Everyone should just wear a damn mask.”)

It’s one of the simplest and most effective ways to curb the spread of the coronavirus and save lives.

But, as a burgeoning number of advisories makes clear, not every mask is helpful.

In guidance updated late last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against wearing masks with exhalation valves or vents, a type of face covering made for hot and dusty construction work that has become a popular pandemic accessory because of its seemingly high-tech design.

MTkang/Shutterstock

“The purpose of masks is to keep respiratory droplets from reaching others to aid with source control,” the agency’s guidance reads. “However, masks with one-way valves or vents allow air to be exhaled through a hole in the material, which can result in expelled respiratory droplets that can reach others. This type of mask does not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others.

“Therefore, CDC does not recommend using masks for source control if they have an exhalation valve or vent.”

3M, which makes valve masks for construction work, illustrates on its website how they work: inhaled air is filtered through the fabric part of the mask, and hot, humid exhaled air goes out through the valve. The system may be what you want when tearing out a kitchen for remodeling, but the valve defeats the purpose when you’re trying to slow the spread of a virus.

Public health experts recommend mask-wearing to prevent respiratory droplets from spreading into the air when you exhale, speak, cough or sneeze, and the valves allow those droplets through.

Medical masks, you’ll notice, do not have valves.

The CDC recommends simple cloth masks instead. A few layers of cotton prevent most of the potentially infectious respiratory droplets from escaping into the air around you, and they are also much cooler than the form-fitting N95 masks.

Read the full story here.

COVID-19 death toll rivals fatality rate during 1918 flu epidemic

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 two peak months of the flu epidemic and the first 61 days of the current outbreak.

The H1N1 flu pandemic eventually killed 50 million people a century ago, 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, according to a tally kept by The Washington Post.

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This undated photo provided by Georgia Tech alumnus Andy McNeil shows a Georgia Tech home game during the 1918 college football season. The photo was taken by Georgia Tech student Thomas Carter, who would receive a degree in Mechanical Engineering. The 102-year-old photo could provide a snapshot of sports once live games resume: Fans packed in a campus stadium in the midst of a pandemic wearing masks with a smidge of social distance between them on concrete seats. Thomas Carter via AP

“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 Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who led the team that conducted the data review.

(The AIDS epidemic has killed more than 700,000 people in the United States since it began in 1981.)

There were 31,589 deaths from all causes in New York during the peak period of the flu epidemic, about the same as the 33,465 tallied in the 61 days after the first death on March 11 of this year, the analysis shows.

New York in 1918 had a population of 5.5 million people, so the death rate of 287 per 100,000 person-months was greater than the 202 of the current covid-19 pandemic. Person-months is a way of measuring the number of deaths in a population during a specific period of time.

Read the full story here.

Outbreaks hit newly reopened school districts across the South

Southern states such as Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas and Texas have some of the earliest back-to-school start dates in the country. Parents, educators and elected officials in other regions are watching these early districts closely for signs of outbreaks, and cues on whether it’s safe to send teachers and students back into classrooms nationwide.

So far, the news isn’t great.

It’s particularly bad in Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp (R) declined to issue an order requiring masks in schools, and photos showed little social distancing in hallways in the first week of class. As of Tuesday, more than 900 students and staff in the Cherokee County School District have been ordered to quarantine after school officials reported nearly 60 students and staff had tested positive for COVID-19.

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Elementary school students use hand sanitizer before entering school for classes in Godley, Texas on Aug. 5. Associated Press/LM Otero

Days after a photo went viral showing students packed into a hallway at North Paulding High School in suburban Atlanta, the district confirmed at least 35 new infections, according to WXIA-TV, which obtained a letter sent to parents.

In central Georgia, people in at least seven schools in the Houston County School District had tested positive for covid-19 as of late Wednesday, the Macon Telegraph reported.

In Louisiana’s Livingston Parish, at least 150 students and staff have been forced to quarantine after positive cases emerged there, according to the Advocate.

Schools that opened even earlier have seen similar outcomes: A Mississippi school that resumed classes the first week of August reported one infected student; within two weeks, 116 of their peers were sent home to quarantine.

6 coronavirus cases detected in Alaska town where nearly everyone lives in the same building

Nearly all 280 full-time residents of Whittier, Alaska, live in one building, which also houses the grocery store, pharmacy, post office and police department. So the news that six members of one family tested positive for the coronavirus this week immediately set off alarm bells.

“Everyone shares a common ventilation system that is barely working,” city manager Jim Hunt told CNN on Wednesday. “That’s why it’s been like a fire — all hands on deck.”

The six people who tested positive all live in Begich Towers, the 14-story apartment building that was originally built as a military base and now houses 80 percent of the town’s population. (The other 20 percent lives in another, slightly smaller condo building, according to the Anchorage Daily News. There are no single family-homes in Whittier.) The Eastern Aleutian Tribes, who operate a local health clinic, said Monday the family has been placed in isolation.

Begich Towers where most of the roughly 280 residents of Whittier, Alaska live. City of Whittier, Alaska

Even before many coronavirus cases were reported in Alaska, Whittier residents realized their town was uniquely vulnerable. Begich Towers was closed to visitors, and only one family was allowed inside elevators or the laundry room at a time, the ADN reported. Some unsuccessfully argued the one-way tunnel that connects Whittier to the outside world should be shut down.

Typically a popular destination for cruise ships, Whittier has had fewer visitors than usual this summer. But the start of the shrimp fishing season brought an end to the village’s winter isolation, and 11 seasonal workers at a local seafood processing plant tested positive for covid-19 in June. None of those workers lived in Begich Towers, but some had come into contact with building residents, who then had to quarantine, according to the ADN.

Hunt told CNN on Wednesday the town will probably bring back many of its earlier restrictions and is offering free testing to all residents.

Study says 6% of England infected, led by London

LONDON — Researchers at Imperial College estimate that 6% of England’s population — or 3.4 million people — have been infected by COVID-19, a figure far higher than previous findings.

The estimate is based on a study of 100,000 randomly selected volunteers who used home finger-prick tests to find antibodies for the virus that causes COVID-19.

The study, which covers infections through the end of June, found that London had the highest infection rate at 13%. Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups were two to three times more likely to have had COVID-19 than white people.

The nationwide estimate is much higher than the number of reported cases posted by Johns Hopkins University, the main reference for monitoring the disease. As of Thursday, it listed 270,971 cases throughout England.

UN says 43% of schools don’t have hand washing facilities

JOHANNESBURG — The United Nations estimates that 43% of schools around the world don’t have access to water and soap for basic hand-washing.

The new report comes as countries wrestle with when and how to safely open schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report by the World Health Organization and UNICEF says more than one-third of the 818 million children around the globe who lacked basic hand-washing facilities at their schools last year are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The report says authorities must balance health concerns with economic and social ones in deciding on opening schools, and it notes the negative effects that long closures have on children.

The report also says one in three schools around the world have limited or no drinking water service.

African CDC says more people have been infected than data indicate

JOHANNESBURG — The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a continent-wide study has begun into antibodies to the coronavirus after evidence indicated that more people have been infected than official numbers show.

Director John Nkengasong told reporters the study will include all African countries, but the ones showing interest to start in the coming weeks are Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Nigeria and Morocco.

That’s after surveys in Mozambique found antibodies in 5% of households in the city of Nampula and 2.5% in the city of Pemba. And yet Mozambique has just 2,481 confirmed cases.

Nkengasong says, “What is important is far fewer people are coming down with the disease. How many people are infected and asymptomatic on our continent? We don’t know that.”

Africa’s young population, with a median age of 19, has been called a possible factor.

Bhutan imposes first nationwide lockdown

THIMPU, Bhutan — The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has imposed its first nationwide lockdown due to a virus infection in a returning traveler who had been released from quarantine.

The government issued a stay-at-home order for its approximately 750,000 people, and all schools, offices and commercial establishments were closed.

The government’s statement said the lockdown would be enforced from five to 21 days “to identify and isolate all positive cases, immediately breaking the chain of transmission.”

The 27-year-old Bhutanese woman returning from Kuwait tested negative in mandatory quarantine for arriving travelers. But between her discharge from quarantine and her positive test result Monday, she is believed to have traveled extensively in Bhutan.

The tourism-dependent country closed its borders to foreign travelers in March after an American tourist was hospitalized with COVID-19. Bhutan’s 113 reported infections were all quarantined travelers, except for one with conflicting test results.

Melbourne infections decline

MELBOURNE, Australia — The coronavirus outbreak centered in Australia’s second-largest city showed a decline in new infections Thursday, though the state’s leader urged continued vigilance.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said there were 278 new infections and eight new deaths, down from around 700 daily at the peak of the outbreak.

Daniels said the lower numbers indicate the lockdown restrictions in Melbourne are working but urged people to stay the course.

“We would just caution against any Victorian thinking that we aren’t in the midst of a real marathon,” Daniels said. “This is an endurance race, and we need to stay the course on this. We need to be as vigilant each and every day.”

Meanwhile, neighboring New South Wales state, which includes Australia’s largest city Sydney, recorded 12 new cases and one death.

Seattle’s school board votes to begin year with remote teaching

SEATTLE — The Seattle school board has voted unanimously to begin the academic year with remote teaching only.

The Seattle Times reports the state’s largest school district approved the plan Wednesday.

The remote learning plan passed with a wide-ranging amendment from school board members that directs the superintendent to explore creating outdoor classes. It also reinforces teaching of Black studies and curricula developed by Indigenous communities.

But the district’s plans are far from set because it is still bargaining with the teachers union. Those discussions will set the parameters for how teachers spend their time and for the support the district will provide in an online learning environment.


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