Virus Updates: Trump Continues Push to Reopen Schools; ‘No Evidence' Mask Leads to Infection

While deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. are mounting rapidly, public health experts are seeing a flicker of good news: The second surge of confirmed cases appears to be leveling off.

Scientists aren’t celebrating by any means, warning that the trend is driven by four big, hard-hit places — Arizona, California, Florida and Texas — and that cases are rising in close to 30 states in all, with the outbreak's center of gravity seemingly shifting from the Sun Belt toward the Midwest.

Some experts wonder whether the apparent caseload improvements will endure. Nor is it clear when deaths start coming down. COVID-19 deaths do not move in perfect lockstep with the infection curve, for the simple reason that it can take weeks to get sick and die from the virus.

The future? “I think it’s very difficult to predict,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's foremost infectious-disease expert.

The U.S. topped 153,000 deaths and nearly 4.5 million coronavirus cases Thursday, according to a tally by NBC News.

Over the past week, the average number of deaths per day in the U.S. has climbed more than 25%, from 843 to 1,057. Florida on Thursday reported 253 more deaths, setting its third straight single-day record. The number of confirmed infections nationwide has topped 4.4 million.

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

Trump Pushes to Reopen Schools, Says Closures Will Probably Cause ‘More Death’

President Donald Trump on Thursday continued his push for schools to reopen as fall approaches regardless of the state of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, adding that keeping schools closed “is causing death also.” 

Trump called on Democrats to work with Republicans to pass the latest coronavirus relief bill, which currently includes $105 billion to help schools reopen for in-person learning in the fall. Democratic leadership has criticized the bill for leaving out key aid measures Democrats included in the $3 trillion relief package they passed in May. 

In his call to reopen schools, Trump reiterated that the risk of Covid-19 patients becoming severely sick and dying from the disease falls with age. However, an underlying illness such as diabetes and obesity increases the risk of dying from Covid-19 in patients of all ages, including the very young, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has warned. Children in the U.S. have previously been infected with Covid-19 and some have been hospitalized and even died.

“The lower they are in age, the lower the risk,” Trump said Thursday at a news briefing in the White House. “We have to remember that there’s another side to this. Keeping them out of school and keeping work closed is causing death also. Economic harm, but it’s causing death for different reasons, but death. Probably more death.”

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Wisconsin Governor Becomes Latest to Mandate Masks

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday issued a statewide mask mandate amid a spike in coronavirus cases, setting up a conflict with Republican legislative leaders who oppose such a requirement and successfully sued earlier to kill a “safer at home” order, NBC Chicago reported.

The Democrat Evers declared a new public health emergency, after his initial one expired in May, and ordered the wearing of masks for anyone age 5 and up starting on Saturday for all enclosed spaces except a person’s home. The new order also applies to outdoor bars and restaurants, except when people are eating or drinking.

Anyone who violates the order would be subject to a $200 fine. It is slated to run until Sept. 28.

Wisconsin has had more than 51,000 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus and 911 deaths as of Wednesday. That death count is the 28th-highest in the country overall and the 35th highest per capita at nearly 16 deaths per 100,000 people. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has gone up by 90, an increase of more than 11%.

More than 30 other states have mandated face coverings in some cases.

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Phillies Cancel All Activity at Ballpark After More COVID-19 Infections

Two more Phillies staff members tested positive for coronavirus Wednesday, and all activity at the Phillies' ballpark has been canceled "until further notice," the team said in a brief statement Thursday, NBC10 reported.

One staff member who tested positive Wednesday is a member of the coaching staff. The other is a member of the home clubhouse staff.

That brings the total number of positive cases for the Phillies staff to three. Over the weekend, a staff member who works in the visiting team's clubhouse tested positive, a Phillies spokeswoman said,

No players have tested positive so far, the Phillies said in the Thursday statement.

The coronavirus outbreak, which started with cases at the Miami Marlins, has threatened not only the shortened Major League Baseball season, but pro sports in general. Baseball was among the first major sports to return to play.

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Trump Floats November Election Delay, But Can't Change Date on His Own

President Donald Trump, lagging in the polls and confronted by fresh evidence of an economic collapse and an escalating public health crisis, on Thursday suggested delaying the Nov. 3 presidential election as he pushed unsubstantiated allegations that increased mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic will result in fraud.

It was the first time Trump publicly raised the idea of pushing back the balloting. Shifting the election is virtually impossible, but the mere suggestion of delay was extraordinary in a nation that has held itself up as a beacon to the world for its history of peaceful transfer of power, including during the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II and marked another bracing attempt by Trump to undermine confidence in the American political system.

President Donald Trump suggested in a tweet on Thursday that the 2020 elections should be delayed. But he can't make that decisions as it requires an act of Congress.

The date of the presidential election — the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in every fourth year — is enshrined in federal law and would require an act of Congress to change, including agreement from the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Regardless, the Constitution makes no provisions for a delay in the end of Trump's term — noon on Jan. 20, 2021.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in an interview with Kentucky NBC affiliate WNKY, said the election date would not change.

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Former GOP Presidential Candidate Herman Cain Dies After Battling COVID-19

Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has died after battling the coronavirus. He was 74. A post on Cain's Twitter account on Thursday announced the death.

Cain had been ill with the virus for several weeks. It’s not clear when or where he was infected, but he was hospitalized less than two weeks after attending President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June.

Former GOP presidential hopeful and business executive Herman Cain had died at the age of 74.

The former pizza company executive has been an outspoken backer of the president and was named by the campaign as a co-chair of Black Voices for Trump.

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FDA Commissioner: No Medical Evidence Masks Lead to COVID-19 Infection

Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and a member of the coronavirus task force, said Thursday there is no medical evidence that wearing a face covering may lead to a coronavirus infection, a suggestion made by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tx., who tested positive Wednesday for COVID-19.

Gohmert, who often shunned wearing masks and was known to vote on the House floor without one, said in an interview with NBC affiliate KETK that COVID-19 may have somehow got trapped in his mask and led to him becoming infected with the disease.

Asked about Gohmert's remarks, Hahn told TODAY show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie that "we don't have any medical evidence that that's the case."

Medical experts say masks are one of the best ways to prevent transmission of the virus, which is thought to mainly spread through people who are in close contact. Hahn reiterated the efficacy of face masks, saying “we have the power to slow the spread of this virus.”

"Getting the message out is the most important thing here," Hahn said. "We just need to be consistent in what we're saying, these common-sense measures, to the American people."

Hahn also addressed claims made by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready for distribution by the end of the year. Hahn said that while it's "possible," he emphasized that the FDA is "not going to cut corners on this" in order to fulfill that timeline.

"We're going to look at those data and make the right decision for the American people," he added.

The process to develop a safe, effective vaccine typically takes a decade; some have taken longer. Under the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, multiple COVID-19 vaccines are being developed simultaneously with a goal of delivering 300 million safe and effective doses by January 2021.

A poll in May by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that only about half of Americans said they would be willing to get a coronavirus vaccine, citing safety as a primary concern. One in five said they would refuse and 31 percent were uncertain.

US Economy Shrank at Record-Breaking Rate; 1.4M Seek Jobless Aid

The U.S. economy shrank at a dizzying 32.9% annual rate in the April-June quarter — by far the worst quarterly plunge ever — when the viral outbreak shut down businesses, throwing tens of millions out of work and sending unemployment surging to 14.7%, the government said Thursday.

The Commerce Department’s estimate of the second-quarter decline in the gross domestic product, the total output of goods and services, marked the sharpest such drop on records dating to 1947.

The previous worst quarterly contraction, a 10% drop, occurred in 1958 during the Eisenhower administration.

The job market, the most important pillar of the economy, has been severely damaged. Tens of millions of jobs vanished in the recession. More than 1.4 million laid-off Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, further evidence of the devastation the coronavirus outbreak has unleashed on the U.S. economy. So far, about one-third of the lost jobs have been recovered, but the resurgent virus will likely slow further gains in the job market.

Florida Seta Another Record for Deaths With 253, Passes 461K Cases

Florida's coronavirus-related deaths increased by a new record of 253 residents Thursday, the third day in a row the state set a single-day record for virus-related deaths, NBC Miami reported.

The 253 deaths come a day after the state confirmed 216 COVID-related deaths on Wednesday. Florida reported 186 deaths on Tuesday.

July has been the deadliest month in the state with 42% of deaths confirmed this month.

On Wednesday, Miami-Dade County schools announced they will begin the school year with all online learning. The start of school was also pushed back a week – until Aug. 31.

How Coronavirus Has Grown in Each State — in 1 Chart

This chart shows the cumulative number of cases per state by number of days since the 50th case.

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

Father, Son With COVID-19 Forced to Quarantine in Hawaii

A father and his teenage son with COVID-19 were forced to quarantine by authorities in Honolulu this week, authorities said.

The teenager, allegedly "in violation of the COVID quarantine restriction," was spotted by a Honolulu Police Department officer on patrol Tuesday morning at a shopping center, police said in a statement Tuesday.

"The teen's father came to [a] shopping center shortly thereafter, and both males were detained," the department said.

The duo was then taken to a facility for a period of forced quarantine, police said.

State of Hawaii Department of Health director Bruce Anderson told NBC affiliate Hawaii News Now that it was the first time in 20 years he had to use a special order to force people to stay at an isolation facility.

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UCLA Reports 153 Cases of COVID-19 in Community

As of Wednesday, 153 people among the UCLA campus community have reported confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the university, the Westwood-based institution of higher learning said in a statement.

"Consistent with the protocols for infectious disease response, anyone identified within our campus community as being at risk of exposure from these individuals will be notified if they need to be isolated or tested," the school said.

The university pointed to the increased availability of testing for COVID-19 to help reveal more cases on campus and in local communities. The school urged people to keep distance from others, wear a mask and wash hands regularly, NBC Los Angeles reported.

The Ebb and Flow of New Coronavirus Cases and Deaths

The graphs below illustrate the distribution of new coronavirus cases and deaths in the U.S. While New York accounted for the lion’s share of new cases and deaths in March and April, its numbers have declined in May as some states have increased. Hover or tap to see new daily cases and deaths across the country. States with the most are ordered top to bottom.

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

The Associated Press/NBC
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