Virus Updates: Fauci ‘Not Pleased' With US Outbreak; Biden Calls for Nationwide Mask Mandate

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The accuracy of the coronavirus case count in the United States is being called into question after officials reported that a two-week drop in the number of new daily cases could be attributed to a decline in testing, CNBC reported Wednesday. Last week, the country recorded an average of 52,875 new cases every day, down 19% from July 28 – but testing also saw a 12% decline in the same period.

Also Wednesday, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo delayed the start of schools across the state by two weeks to "give schools a little more time to be ready."

Meanwhile, in West Virginia, confirmed cases have tripled in the past seven weeks, surpassing the 8,000 mark total on Wednesday, while the numbers of deaths have shot up 66%.

And in Florida, the sheriff of Marion County said his deputies won’t be allowed to wear face masks except under some conditions, and neither will visitors to the sheriff’s office. Florida, which had some of its most deadly days since the start of the pandemic this week, has more than 550,000 cases statewide.

The virus shows no signs of easing, with more than 5.2 million infections and more than 167,000 deaths, according to a tally from NBC News.

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

Fauci on US Coronavirus Outbreak: ‘I’m Not Pleased With How Things Are Going’

White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said he is not pleased with the current state of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States.

U.S. public health officials are beginning to see a “disturbing” uptick in the rate of coronavirus tests that come back positive in some regions of the nation, Fauci said during a National Geographic panel moderated by ABC News Correspondent Deborah Roberts, which aired on Thursday.  “Bottom line is, I’m not pleased with how things are going.”

“We certainly are not where I hope we would be, we are in the middle of very serious historic pandemic,” he added.

The U.S. has the worst outbreak in the world with more than 5 million infections and at least 166,000 deaths as of Thursday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. On Wednesday, the U.S. recorded more than 1,500 deaths caused by Covid-19, marking the deadliest day for the country since the end of May.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has previously warned about a potential increase in Covid-19 cases brewing in states like Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana, which have reported an uptick in the so-called positivity rate, or the percentage of tests that are positive.

While some states are beginning to see an uptick, outbreaks in California, Florida, Texas and Arizona are improving and are “having now, less deaths, less hospitalizations, less cases,” Fauci said.

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Biden Calls for Nationwide Mask Mandate

Joe Biden is calling for a nationwide protective mask mandate, citing health experts’ predictions that it could save 40,000 lives from coronavirus over the next three months.

”Wearing the mask is less about you contracting the virus,” Biden said. “It’s about preventing other people from getting sick.”

The Democratic presidential candidate also responded to those who push back against such mandates.

“This is America. Be a patriot. Protect your fellow citizens. Step up, do the right thing.”

“Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months at a minimum — every governor should mandate mandatory mask wearing," Biden declared.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said at a press briefing that his administration was sending 125 million reusable masks to school districts across the nation. He urges Americans to wear masks but has opposed the idea of a national requirement and declined to wear one for months. He has worn one on occasion more recently.

On Thursday he again dismissed critics who say he was too slow to react to the pandemic in the U.S., saying on Fox Business Network that “nobody blames me.”

WHO: Russian Vaccine Not in Advanced Test Stages

The World Health Organization says the vaccine approved by Russia this week is not among the nine that it considers in the advanced stages of testing.

WHO and partners have included nine experimental COVID-19 vaccines within an investment mechanism it is encouraging countries to join, known as the Covax facility. The initiative allows countries to invest in several vaccines to obtain early access, while theoretically providing funding for developing countries.

“We don’t have sufficient information at this point to make a judgment” on the Russia vaccine, said Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to WHO’s director-general. “We’re currently in conversation with Russia to get additional information to understand the status of that product, the trials that have been undertaken and then what the next steps might be.”

This week, President Vladimir Putin announced Russia had approved a coronavirus vaccine that has yet to complete advanced trials in people and claimed, without evidence, the immunization protects people for up to two years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday. The long-term effects and safety of this possible vaccine remain unclear and some who have been given it have experienced fever.

2nd ICE Detainee in Georgia Dies From COVID-19 Complications

A diabetic Costa Rican man in federal immigration custody has become the second detainee in Georgia to die from COVID-19 complications after being held at a detention center that has reported more than 150 coronavirus cases.

Jose Guillen-Vega, 70, died Monday night at a Columbus hospital, according to a news release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The preliminary cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest, secondary to complications of the coronavirus disease," officials said Wednesday. He had been hospitalized since Aug. 1.

County Coroner Sybil Ammons said Guillen-Vega also suffered from diabetes and hypertension, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Guillen-Vega was awaiting deportation and housed at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin. The facility has seen six deaths in the last three years, including one other death connected to COVID-19, according to immigrant rights advocates. Stewart detainee and Guatemala native Santiago Baten-Oxlaj, 34, died from the virus in May. The detention center had 154 confirmed coronavirus cases among detainees as of Tuesday.

Coronavirus Detected on 'High-Touch' Surfaces Across Los Angeles County

The virus that causes COVID-19 has been found on "high-touch" surfaces across Los Angeles County, including shopping carts and public bathroom doors, according to an NBC4 I-Team investigation.

The I-Team swabbed 75 high-touch surfaces across LA County using a COVID-19 swab test made by Phylagen, a San Francisco-based company, and designed to help businesses, offices and schools identify surface contamination.

Over three days, the I-Team collected samples from shopping carts, equipment at gyms, self-checkout screens at stores, crosswalk buttons, ATMs and public bathrooms.

They found 11 surfaces, or 15% of the swabbed samples, were contaminated with the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, the swab test doesn't specify whether the virus was "live" — that is, capable of infecting a person — at the time of swabbing or if it was genetic fragments that aren’t infectious.

The gym equipment, the self-checkout screens at retail stores and the crosswalk buttons that the I-Team swabbed all turned up clean.

But at a supermarket in Arleta, a shopping cart, a handle to the ice cream freezer, and a handle to the bread case in the bakery section tested positive for the virus. At LAX, an escalator in Terminal Four also showed the presence of the virus.

Most of the businesses where the I-Team found evidence of the virus say they disinfect surfaces frequently and follow CDC guidelines. Medical experts tell the I-Team that consumers must take steps to protect themselves when they are out in public.

"It's so important after you go to the store, use hand sanitizer or when you get home wash your hands, because that will protect you from becoming infected," said UCLA's Dr. Tim Brewer.

Read the full story here.

Campus Police Shut Down Party With 400 People at East Carolina Univ.

About 20 parties, including one with nearly 400 people in attendance, were shut down at a university in North Carolina during the school's opening weekend, campus police said.

The parties, which violate the state’s ban on large gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, were held last week and over the weekend at East Carolina University, Lt. Chris Sutton of the university’s police department told McClatchy News Wednesday.

Nearly 5,500 students began moving into their dorm rooms at the school last Wednesday, the school said. Classes started at the university on Monday. Students were not required to be tested for the virus before returning to campus, but “encouraged” to do so by school officials, the news outlet reported.

The number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases among students has tripled in the last week, with 28 students and two staffers reporting infections the week of Aug. 2-8.

US Jobless Claims Fall Below 1 Million for First Time Since March

The number of laid-off workers applying for unemployment aid fell below 1 million for the first time since the pandemic intensified in March, though applications remain at an extraordinarily high level.

The Labor Department said that applications fell to 963,000, the second straight drop, from 1.2 million the previous week.

The decline suggests that layoffs are slowing, though last week’s figure is still above the pre-pandemic record of just under 700,000.

All told, fewer people are also continuing to receive state jobless aid. That figure dropped to 15.5 million, from 16.1 million the previous week.

Read the full story here. 

Virus-Proofing NFL Facilities Is a Tall, Masked Task

New York Times sports reporter Ken Belson discusses the significant hurdles the NFL faces in bringing back the game in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, as players voice concerns.

Like the defense stiffening at the goal line late in the fourth quarter, the NFL has implemented a wide array of health protocols designed to keep the virus from wrecking the 2020 season for this cultural institution that was a $16 billion business before the pandemic.

"There are so many steps along the way. You’ve got to fill out your questionnaire on our app when you wake up in the morning," Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "Then when you come in, you sanitize your hands, do your temperature check, get your COVID tests, put on your lanyard, grab your tracker. So there’s just a lot of things that have now been added to your routine."

Daily testing, naturally, is the fulcrum of this aggressive virus-proofing around team facilities. NFL Network reported that, of 109,075 coronavirus tests conducted on players, coaches and team employees through Tuesday, the rate of positive tests has been 0.46% overall and 0.81% for players.

The bulk of the virus-proofing protocols are uniform across the league, with each team applying its own twists to fit the facility.

There's almost no end to the precautions that can be taken. Narrow hallways have become one-way paths. Couches have been removed. Even shower heads in the locker room have been taken out to increase spacing. Electric static sprayers are being used for surface disinfecting. Seating capacity in meeting rooms has been significantly reduced.

Read the full story here.

'Impossible': School Boards Are at Heart of Reopening Debate

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.

Thousands of school boards nationwide are tackling a simple but hefty question — do we return to school amid a pandemic? — with no right or even good answers, in the face of inconsistent testing and a near-constant increase in confirmed coronavirus cases.

Behind that question is pressure. Pressure from teachers and bus drivers and janitors, scared to return to work but in need of a paycheck. Pressure from parents and guardians, who need to return to their own jobs but fear for their children's safety. Pressure from a president who declares on Twitter “OPEN THE SCHOOLS!!!” but whose administration provides little tangible guidance for doing so.

In Rock Hill, South Carolina, everyone has an opinion. The district has more than 17,000 students, and that means about 17,000 proposals on how to go back to school, trustees say, only half-joking.

“We have an impossible decision to make. And we still have to make it," trustee Helena Miller said from a tiny box on Zoom at the board's July meeting.

There's been plenty more to resolve: Should classes be delayed until after Labor Day? How do kids get to school with buses at half-capacity for social distancing? What about masks and protective equipment? Should students have drama or orchestra if there are no public performances? What will student athletes do in a place like Rock Hill, known for sending football stars Jadeveon Clowney and Stephon Gilmore to the NFL?

Rock Hill's strategy was very democratic. The board officially listened to eight committees, some made up of dozens of parents and business or community leaders. Each member spent dozens of hours in emails and informal discussions with people in and around their city of about 75,000 people. The trustees in Rock Hill agree that their work during the pandemic has been the hardest of their tenure.

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