US Virus Updates: Trump to Resume Daily Briefings; False Positives Found at Conn. Lab

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Top Republican leaders in Congress are expected to meet with President Donald Trump on Monday to discuss another virus relief package as the coronavirus continues to batter the United States and its economy.

Despite flickers of an economic upswing as states eased stay-at-home orders in May and June, the jobless rate remained at double digits with more than 1 million people filing for unemployment for 17 straight weeks. Now many households are facing a cash crunch and losing employer-backed health insurance coverage.

Meanwhile, Trump insisted again Sunday that the virus would "disappear," but the president's view did not at all match projections from the leading health professionals straining to halt the U.S.'s alarming caseloads and death toll.

"It’s not going to magically disappear," said a somber Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., last week during a visit to a hospital in his home state to thank front-line workers. McConnell will present a $1 trillion package, which he has been quietly working on for weeks, to the president on Monday.

The U.S. has topped 3.8 million coronavirus cases, with more than 141,000 deaths, according to a tally by NBC News.

Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:

Grocery Chain Winn-Dixie Reverses Policy, Will Require Masks

The parent company of Southern supermarket chain Winn-Dixie said Monday that it is reversing its policy and will now require customers to wear masks at its stores to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Southeastern Grocers Inc. said the requirement will go into effect next Monday. The company had initially rejected a mask mandate, saying it did not want to put its workers in the position of having to ban customers.

But in a statement, the company headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, said its position had “evolved" and it wanted to more clearly emphasize the importance of its customers', workers' and communities' safety. Still, the company said state and federal officials should be responsible for issuing mask requirements.

Trump to Resume Virus Briefings Amid Lagging Polls

President Donald Trump is set to once again take center stage in the government's coronavirus response after a White House debate over how best to deploy its greatest and most volatile asset — him — played out in public as his poll numbers falter.

One week after a campaign shake-up, the plan is for Trump to again become a regular public presence at the podium starting Tuesday as confirmed coronavirus cases spike nationwide.

Trump advisers have stressed the urgency of the president adopting a more disciplined public agenda in an effort to turn around his lagging poll numbers against Democratic rival Joe Biden.

His once-daily turns behind the White House briefing room podium largely ended in late April after the president’s off-the-cuff suggestion that injecting toxic disinfectant could help treat the coronavirus.

White House aides said the format, venue and frequency of the president's forthcoming appearances haven't been finalized. And it wasn't clear whether he would field questions or share the stage with others, including Vice President Mike Pence and Drs. Deborah Birx or Anthony Fauci.

But it all pointed to an apparent course-reversal. Trump for months had heeded aides who pushed for him to all but ignore the virus and instead focus on the economy and more politically advantageous terrain.

Testing Flaw at Conn. State Lab Leads to Dozens of False Positives

Ninety people who received positive COVID-19 results did not have the virus, according to the state Department of Public Health, NBC Connecticut reports.

The department said the state public health laboratory uncovered a flaw in one of the testing systems it uses to test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and 90 of 144 people tested between June 15 and July 17 received a false positive COVID test report. Many are nursing home residents.

State officials said the flaw has been reported to the manufacturer and the federal Food and Drug Administration and DPH has taken immediate steps to make sure the patients are notified.

Read the full story here.

White House to Resume Daily COVID-19 Briefings

The White House is reviving its public coronavirus task force briefings, and President Donald Trump will again take on a starring role.

Trump says he’ll lead a briefing at 5 p.m. Tuesday, his first since April 27.

The coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, briefed the public daily in March and April with Trump participating and dominating many of the televised sessions. But the briefings disappeared in late April after ratings began to slide and Trump mused about the possibility of using disinfectants inside the body to kill the virus.

Some of Trump’s closest advisers had publicly advocated for the return of briefings led by the president, who has slid against Democratic rival Joe Biden in recent polls.

The virus has killed at least 140,000 Americans and is surging again in much of the country.

Should Your State Reopen?

For states considering lifting quarantine measures, the official guidelines propose either a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases within two weeks or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests.

As shown below, when you compare yesterday’s new case count with that of two weeks ago, the number is often lower, simply because the counts fluctuate. Critics call the measures vague and ultimately because they aren’t binding, some states are choosing to reopen whether they meet the criteria or not.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

Facing Uncertain Fall, Schools Make Flexible Reopening Plans

With the number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths still rising, school districts around the U.S. are grappling with whether to bring students back to classrooms in the fall, and how to keep them and their teachers safe from the coronavirus if they do. 

Pressure is mounting in many areas to reopen classrooms. President Donald Trump has urged schools to bring children back to class in the fall and has threatened to cut off federal funding if they do not.

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that parents will have the option to choose all-remote learning when schools reopen this fall.

Texas is giving public schools permission to keep campuses closed for more than 5 million students well into the fall as the state scrambles to contain one of the largest resurgences of the coronavirus in the U.S. Under the new guidelines, Texas schools could hold online-only instruction for up to the first eight weeks of the school year. That potentially pushes a return to campus in some cities until November. 

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest public school system behind New York City, announced last week that all classes will be conducted virtually when they resume next month.

Cuomo Threatens to Reverse NYC Reopening Over Noncompliance

Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened Monday to roll back New York City's reopening if compliance and enforcement don't improve, NBC New York reports. Cuomo cited ongoing crowding among maskless young people that he says "has to stop."

New York City moved to what was supposed to be the final phase of its coronavirus reopening Monday, but with indoor service at restaurants and bars still banned, malls and museums shuttered and theaters still dark amid concerns about the virus spreading indoors.

Cuomo, though, said the city was not ready for indoor nightlife and he called on local governments Monday to dispatch police to disperse crowds that have been gathering outside some bars and restaurants offering outdoor dining and curbside pick-up of alcoholic beverages.

Cuomo said he understands people -- especially younger people --want to get out after all these months. But, he says, what he's seen "is just stupid."

Meanwhile, Chicago's mayor announced the city was reimposing several restrictions on bars, restaurants and other businesses over concerns with the spike of new COVID-19 cases, NBC Chicago reports.

“We have made so much progress here in Chicago in containing the spread of the virus, protecting our health system and saving lives, and in general, the virus remains under control locally. But we are again seeing a steady increase in new cases,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “While we aren’t near the peak of the pandemic from earlier this year, none of us wants to go back there, and we feel these restrictions will help limit further community spread.”

New Coronavirus Cases in Alaska Linked to Seafood Processors

An increase in Alaska coronavirus cases reported over the weekend appear to be linked primarily to seafood processing companies.

The state reported a record 121 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, including 36 nonresident seafood workers in the Aleutians West Census Area and 26 cases among a seafood processor’s employees in Juneau.

Alaska Glacier Seafoods Inc. worked with the Juneau city officials to test all of its 113 employees after nine employees tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

The 26 employees who tested positive are now isolating. Some test results are still pending, the city said in a statement.

The Alaska Division of Public Health is investigating and will notify and quarantine people as necessary. The exact number of residents and nonresidents among those infected was not immediately known.

CVS, Walmart, Walgreens Masks Requirements Goes Into Effect Monday

Starting Monday, Walmart, Sam's Club, Kohl's, CVS and Walgreens will require customers to wear face masks regardless of where cities or states stand on the issue.

The companies announced in recent weeks it would introduce such a policy, filling the role of states and the federal government that have failed to issue such mandates on an issue that has been highly politicized by President Donald Trump and many of his ardent supporters.

And they're not alone. A growing list of national chains already require customers to wear face masks or announced policies that will soon take effect. Publix Super Markets Inc. said that its rule will kick in on Tuesday at all 1,200 stores, while Kroger’s mask protocol will go into effect Wednesday, July 22. Target's face mask policy will go into effect Aug. 1.

Costco Wholesale Club was one of the first major retailers to require face coverings for customers at all of its stores. The policy went into effect in early May. Mask mandates at Starbucks and Best Buy began last week on July 15. Teen clothing chain American Eagle Outfitters and Apple also have mask mandates already in effect for customers for all of its stores.

Retailers have hesitated to make masks mandatory nationwide out of fear of angering some customers over what, even in a pandemic, has become a political issue.

They have been reluctant to put employees in the position of becoming enforcers. Confrontations with customers and store employees have played out in multiple incidents caught on video.

It was difficult to enforce such rules even in states that mandate face masks. However, the recent surge of new virus cases — particularly in Florida, California, Texas and Arizona — has left them with no choice, retail experts say.

Walmart and Sam's Club became the latest chains to mandate mask use in stores, joining Starbucks, Costco and Apple. Those stores require masks even in states where face coverings in public spaces are not mandatory.

GOP Leaders at White House for Talks on Next Virus Aid Package

The renewed surge of coronavirus cases has Congress considering what to do next. Top Republicans in Congress met Monday with President Donald Trump on the next COVID-19 aid package. 

The administration is stiffening its opposition to more testing money and interjecting other priorities, and that could complicate quick passage. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is prepared to roll out the $1 trillion package in a matter of days.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already passed a sweeping $3 trillion measure from Democrats. Congress is returning to session this week as the coronavirus crisis many had hoped would have improved by now has only worsened — and just as a federal $600-a-week boost to regular unemployment benefits is set to expire at the end of the month.

The package from McConnell had been quietly crafted behind closed doors for weeks and was expected to include $75 billion to help schools reopen, reduced unemployment benefits alongside a fresh round of direct $1,200 cash payments to Americans, and a sweeping five-year liability shield against coronavirus lawsuits.

Bahamas Will Close Its Borders to Most US Visitors

The Bahamas announced Sunday that it plans to close its borders to most international visitors, including those from the U.S., NBC News reported.

As part of the ban, flights and cruise ships from the U.S. will no longer be allowed into the Bahamas, Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said.

The nation hopes to curb an increase in cases that Minnis attributed to a recent spike in international travelers visiting the islands.

Private yachts and flights will still be allowed to enter, although the Bahamas' airline, Bahamasair, will be banned from flying to the United States, Minnis said.

Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union will be allowed to send commercial flights without passengers to the country of nearly 400,000 to pick up visitors and return them to their home countries, he said. The measure will go into effect Wednesday.

The Associated Press/NBC
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