Virus Updates: Oklahoma Sorority House Reports 23 Cases; Mayors Call for Guaranteed Income

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The national death toll from the virus that has upended the way Americans live and wrecked the economy surpassed 170,000 over the weekend, and the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases topped 5.4 million, NBC News figures showed.

Texas reached 10,000 coronavirus deaths this weekend.

Meanwhile, Florida eclipsed the 9,000 death mark two days after Gov. Ron DeSantis raised eyebrows by repeating an awkward metaphor that likened the state’s efforts to reopen schools in the middle of a pandemic to the 2011 Navy SEALs operation greenlighted by President Barack Obama that killed Osama Bin Laden.

The U.S. has logged the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the last two weeks, most of them in Southern and Sun Belt states that began reopening in May and June at Trump’s urging, despite warnings from public health experts that the coronavirus was cresting.

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

Oklahoma State Sorority House Reports 23 Positive Coronavirus Cases

A group of sorority sisters are quarantined together after their chapter reported 23 positive coronavirus cases at Oklahoma State University, NBC News reports.

The outbreak was at an off-campus sorority house at the university’s Stillwater location, detected by rapid-antigen testing done at an off-campus clinic, according to a statement from Oklahoma State University on Saturday. The university and Payne County Health Department are monitoring the chapter and performing contract tracing.

“Due to the nature of this situation, the entire chapter house is in isolation or quarantine and will be prohibited from leaving the facility,” the school said. “One member of the sorority who lives elsewhere is among those who tested positive and will also remain in isolation.”

Greek life has been a source of numerous coronavirus cases in the last few weeks as the nation debates the reopening of schools for in-person learning. Fraternity rush parties at the University of Mississippi were linked to a spike in cases throughout the state by health officials in June. At least 40 people contracted the virus at the University of Southern California’s fraternity row last month, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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Although schools are busy adding safety precautions as students prepare to return, there are steps parents can implement themselves before their kids leave home. One Medical’s Dr. Navya Mysore, a family physician, shared her recommendations with LX News.

Pandemic Spurs Mayors Across the Country to Call for Guaranteed Income

As the pandemic decimates the bank accounts of American families, mayors across the country are proposing guaranteed income experiments, or universal basic income, as a simple, scalable and equitable solution for both families and local economies reports NBC News.

The March stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, they say, showed that giving direct cash to people works. The $1,200 checks from the federal government that many Americans received, the Paycheck Protection Program—which helped employers make their payroll —and the $600 weekly unemployment assistance payments kept many people afloat. But that assistance was limited and weekly checks expired at the end of July. In their absence, these mayors believe the need for universal income has become more urgent and could help address racial disparities that COVID-19 has exacerbated.

Led by Mayor Michael Tubbs of Stockton, California, a coalition of 16 city leaders from across the country announced Mayors for Guaranteed Income in June, an initiative meant to show the merits of a monthly check. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed on, as did Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto and others.

Tubbs told NBC’s “TODAY” show in June that a guaranteed income is a step toward “abolishing poverty.” But the money, unlike a universal basic income, would only go to those in need, not to everyone regardless of wealth. The city of Stockton has been piloting a program for around 18 months, providing $500 a month to 125 people. During the pandemic, about 45 percent of that money went to food, Tubbs said. Much of the rest went to providing other essentials for the family, like rent. While the mayors’ joint venture was in the works before the pandemic, they believe the pandemic and protests only strengthened their case.

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Oklahoma High School Student Knowingly Went to Class With Coronavirus, Officials Say

School officials in Oklahoma say a student knowingly attended classes with the coronavirus on the first day of school, thinking it was safe to do so because he was asymptomatic, NBC News reports.

The student at Westmoore High School in Moore, just south of Oklahoma City, was “under the understanding that since they were asymptomatic ... they did not need to quarantine for the full 14-day-period,” school officials told NBC affiliate KFOR on Friday.

The Moore Public Schools Administration did not respond to requests for comment by phone or email to NBC News on Sunday, but said in a letter to parents that school nurses have “completed tracing within our school to identify students and staff who may have been potentially exposed to the virus through close contact.”

The student was identified following an anonymous tip on Thursday, the first day of classes for the school, according to KFOR. The parents of the child told the school they had “miscalculated” the end of their child’s quarantine and thought it was safe to send him to school.

Moore schools announced that another student also tested positive for the virus, and 22 students who came in contact with the two students are now quarantining.

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In Kansas Visit, Dr. Birx Urges Use of Masks

Trump’s top coronavirus adviser used a visit to Kansas to urge people to wear masks regardless of where they live.

“What’s really important for every Kansan to understand is that this epidemic that we have been seeing this summer is both urban and rural,” Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force said Saturday. “So we are really asking all communities, whether you are urban or rural communities, to really wear a mask inside, outside, every day.”

She also stressed that people should socially distance and not have gatherings while in Kansas City, Kansas, for a meeting with Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, as well as community and state health officials at KU Medical Center, The Kansas City Star reports.

“You can’t tell who’s infected,” Birx said. “Much of the spread is asymptomatic. I know we all want to believe that our family members cannot be positive. They are.”

Birx said when communities start seeing a rise in positive cases, leaders need to close the bars, restrict indoor dining, decrease social gatherings and ensure there’s a mask mandate.

“We have been doing that across the South and we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in cases where the population has followed those guidelines,” she said.

Manhattan's Light Display Marking 9/ll Back on

New York's annual light display honoring victims of 9/11 is back on, officials announced Saturday. They say health officials will supervise this year’s tribute to ensure workers’ safety amid concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that it is especially important this year to commemorate the lives lost and heroism displayed in the Sept. 11 attacks “as New Yorkers are once again called upon to face a common enemy.”

The announcement came days after the National September 11 Memorial & Museum canceled the Tribute in Light over concerns the coronavirus might spread among crews creating twin columns of light to represent the World Trade Center in the Manhattan sky.

Alice Greenwald, president and CEO of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, thanked former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Cuomo and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation “for their assistance in offsetting the increased costs associated with the health and safety considerations around the tribute this year.”

“This year, its message of hope, endurance and resilience are more important than ever,” she said in a statement.

Powerful Southern Leagues Aim to Forge on With Fall Football

While other conferences have conceded the fall to COVID-19, the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 are holding out hope they can play a shortened season with uncertain national championship prospects.

From Oklahoma to Alabama to South Carolina, a number of states don’t have NFL teams and college football is king. Weddings and other events are planned around game days and states practically standstill for showdowns like Alabama-Auburn and Oklahoma-Texas.

“It’s so deeply rooted here and part of the culture of social life, tailgating and all that,” said Charles Reagan Wilson, professor emeritus at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.

The Pac-12, Big Ten and some lower-profile leagues won’t play football this fall because of the pandemic. ACC teams? They are already practicing in preparation for a Sept. 12 start and the SEC and Big 12 are going ahead, too, with conference openers set for Sept. 26.

Still, powerhouse Alabama and other SEC teams head into Monday’s practices knowing college football is still on for them, but not guaranteed.

“That’s the only mood I feel like is going around is we don’t know if we’re playing and we really want to play,’” Alabama tailback Najee Harris said Friday. He then talked about his younger teammates.

“We try to tell them don’t go to parties, but like it’s kind of hard to tell somebody not to go to a party in college,” he said. “We understand it, but we’re kind of just telling them, ’If you do go to a party, like make sure you guys are overly safe.'"

Study Hints, Can't Prove, Survivor Plasma Fights COVID-19

Mayo Clinic researchers reported a strong hint that blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors helps other patients recover, but it’s not proof and some experts worry if, amid clamor for the treatment, they'll ever get a clear answer.

More than 64,000 patients in the U.S. have been given convalescent plasma, a century-old approach to fend off flu and measles before vaccines. It's a go-to tactic when new diseases come along, and history suggests it works against some, but not all, infections.

There’s no solid evidence yet that it fights the coronavirus and, if so, how best to use it. But preliminary data from 35,000 coronavirus patients treated with plasma offers what Mayo lead researcher Dr. Michael Joyner on Friday called “signals of efficacy.”

There were fewer deaths among people given plasma within three days of diagnosis, and also among those given plasma containing the highest levels of virus-fighting antibodies, Joyner and colleagues reported. The problem: This wasn’t a formal study.

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The Food and Drug Administration is reportedly nearing a decision to issue an emergency use authorization to use convalescent plasma for treating coronavirus patients. Unfortunately, the supply of plasma is running low.

Judge Upholds NY's COVID Quarantine

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit by an Arizona woman who claimed New York’s 14-day quarantine requirement for travelers from hotspot coronavirus states infringed on her “fundamental right to travel.”

U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd on Tuesday became at least the second federal judge to rule against challenges to the quarantines first ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June.

Cynthia Page filed the suit last month, claiming it unfairly stopped her from visiting Brooklyn and helping friends pack up belongings in a house they were preparing to sell. Page plans an appeal.

US-Canada Border to Stay Closed for Another Month

The Canada-U.S. border will remain closed to non-essential travel for at least another month.

The statement Friday by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair came a day after Mexico announced a similar measure for its border with the United States. The land border restrictions aimed at controlling the coronavirus pandemic were first announced in March and have been renewed monthly.

Many Canadians are concerned about a reopening. Canada has flattened the epidemic curve, reporting 9,000 deaths and 123,000 cases. The U.S. leads the world in confirmed deaths and cases.

Essential cross-border workers such as health care professionals, airline crews and truck drivers are still permitted to cross. Americans and Canadians returning to their respective countries are exempted from the border closure.

Canada sends 75% of its exports to the U.S. and about 18% of American exports go to Canada.

New Jersey Gov. Says Election Will Be Done Mostly by Mail

New Jersey will move to a nearly all-mail election this November, following the model the state used in its July primary, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday.

Murphy, a Democrat, said during an interview with CNN that all voters would get a ballot, but it's not clear if people who aren't registered will get an application to register. New Jersey previously had no-excuse mail-in voting.

“It doesn't matter what party you're in, everybody gets a ballot,” Murphy said.

The development comes a day after Republican President Donald Trump acknowledged that he's starving the United States Postal Service of cash to make it harder to process millions of mailed-in ballots.

Joe Biden's presidential campaign accused Trump of trying to "sabotage" the Postal Service.

Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah — relied on mail-in ballots even before the coronavirus pandemic raised concerns about voting in person this coming November.

The governor of Pennsylvania, meanwhile, asked his state's Supreme Court to extend deadlines for mail-in ballots to be received after the Postal Service warned in a letter that Pennsylvania voters should mail in their ballots a week before the deadline for to be received and counted.

And Vice first reported, and NBC News confirmed, that the Postal Service is removing sorting machines around the country without an official explanation.

Read more about the latest political accusations over mail-in voting here.

Retail Sales Rise for 3rd Month, But Slowdown Likely

Americans increased their retail purchases by 1.2% in July, with solid gains in appliances and clothing, restoring sales to their level before the viral pandemic erupted in March.

Sales at retail stores and restaurants have now risen for three straight months, after enormous plunges in March and April, when the pandemic suddenly shuttered businesses and paralyzed the economy.

Still, much of that spending has been fueled by government relief spending that had put more money in people’s pockets but has since expired.

With Americans’ overall income likely shrinking, economists expect a potential drop in spending and a weakening of economic growth. 

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