Virus Updates: States Pass COVID Liability Protections; DeJoy to Testify Before Senate

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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill canceled in-person classes for undergraduates just a week into the fall semester Monday. The decision came after clusters were discovered in dorms, a fraternity house and other student housing, the university said.

As the United States continues to see an increase in the number of coronavirus cases, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized a new, simpler saliva-based COVID-19 test developed by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health, NBC Connecticut reports.

Meanwhile, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that gyms can begin to reopen at 33% capacity, NBC New York reports. It's a big step for the state, which went from being the first major hotspot in the U.S. to having one of the lowest rates of infection.

However, a new report out Monday found that nursing home deaths jumped nearly 80% earlier this summer, driven by rampant spread across the South and much of the West. Long-term care facilities account for less than 1% of the U.S. population, but more than 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Nationwide more than 172,000 people have died from the coronavirus, and some 5.4 million people have been infected, according to a tally by NBC News.

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

Tennessee Is Latest State to Enact COVID-19 Liability Protections for Businesses, Schools

Gov. Bill Lee has signed into law sweeping protections for businesses, schools and nursing homes against coronavirus lawsuits.

Lee on Monday touted the legislation as “historic” and argued the law would protect businesses from “frivolous lawsuits.”

Under Lee’s leadership, Tennessee was one of the first states to begin reopening in late April after the Republican reluctantly issued a safer-at-home order that forced businesses to close.

Lee has since maintained he will not shut down the economy and has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate.

Nearly a dozen states have enacted similar legal liability protections that shield employers in their states from lawsuits related to COVID-19, including North Carolina, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Kansas.

Corporate liability protections has been a priority for Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The GOP's latest coronavirus relief proposal includes a bill giving businesses, schools and universities sweeping exemptions from lawsuits arising from inadequate coronavirus safeguards, according to a draft of the plan obtained by The Associated Press. It also promises to shield employers when customers and workers are exposed to coronavirus by moving lawsuits to federal court and limiting legal liability to acts of “gross negligence or intentional misconduct.”

Supporters say the plan protects businesses and other employers who adhere to public-health guidelines in good faith. Opponents argue it will permit wrongdoing to go unpunished.

Postmaster General to Testify Before Senate Panel on Friday

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy will testify before a Senate oversight hearing on Friday as the Trump administration scrambles to respond to a public backlash over mail delays and other problems, NBC News reported.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing will be the first chance for lawmakers to publicly question DeJoy, a Trump ally and a major Republican donor, "on the Postal Service delays that are causing massive disruptions across the country," said Gary Peters, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the panel.

DeJoy is also set to testify next Monday in the House, along with the chairman of the Postal Service board of governors.

Democrats and some Republicans say DeJoy’s actions have endangered millions of Americans who rely on the Postal Service for prescription drugs and other needs.

The Postal Service said it has stopped removing mailboxes and mail-sorting machines amid an outcry from lawmakers, and President Donald Trump denied he was slowing service.

House lawmakers are preparing an emergency vote to halt mail changes that Democrats warned could imperil the November election. House Democrats also approved $25 billion in a COVID-19 relief package but Trump and Senate Republicans have balked at additional funds for election security.

DeJoy, the first postmaster general in nearly two decades who was not a career postal employee, has pledged to modernize the money-losing agency to make it more efficient. He eliminated most overtime for postal workers, imposed restrictions on transportation and reduced of the quantity and use of mail-processing equipment.

An unlikely battlefield has emerged in an election season like no other: the U.S. Postal Service. President Trump is drawing sharp criticism for admitting he wants to block billions of dollars in funding for the Postal Service in order to limit mail-in voting during the pandemic.

Less Than Half of Americans Say They'll Get a Virus Vaccine, Poll Finds

Less than half of American adults say they would get a government-approved coronavirus vaccine if one becomes widely available, new data from the NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking Poll show, with the majority unsure about getting the vaccine or saying they're ruling it out entirely.

Forty-four percent of American adults say they would get the vaccine, with 22 percent saying they wouldn't and 32 percent saying they aren't sure, NBC News reports.

The differences in opinion are stark among demographic groups — a majority of Democrats, seniors, Asians, those making at least $100,000 and those with college degrees all say they would get a vaccine if it's approved by the government.

In every other demographic group polled, a majority say either that they aren't sure whether they would get an approved vaccine or that they wouldn't.

Read the full story here.

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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