Virus Updates: Dems Blame Trump for Virtual Convention; Gyms to Reopen in NY

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The national death toll from the coronavirus surpassed 170,000 over the weekend, and the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases topped 5.4 million, according to a tally by NBC News.

In Oklahoma, a high school student diagnosed with the coronavirus went to school, under the incorrect belief it was safe to do so because they were asymptomatic – several of the high school's students are now in quarantine. Meanwhile, at Oklahoma State University, an entire sorority house is now in isolation after 23 of its members got the virus.

Over the weekend, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force Dr. Deborah Birx traveled to the Midwest, urging people to wear masks. She also called on leaders to close the bars, restrict indoor dining, decrease social gatherings and ensure there’s a mask mandate when positive cases begin to rise.

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

Gov. Cuomo: NY Gyms Can Reopen at 33% Capacity

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that gyms can reopen in New York as early as Monday, Aug. 24 and no later than Sept. 2 -- a boon for fitness aficionados who have had their workout routines disrupted for the last five months, NBC New York reports.

Capacity will be capped at 33% to start, though if that proves problematic, the state says it will dial that number back. Health mandates like facial coverings, proper air ventilation, sign-in forms, screening at the door (like temperature checks) and social distancing are required. It will be up to individual localities to determine whether gyms can hold indoor classes, Cuomo said.

Local health departments also must inspect each gym before or within two weeks of reopening, which is why he extended the timeline into September. Mayor Bill de Blasio didn't address gyms at his daily briefing, which preceded Cuomo's. Inspecting the thousands of gyms in the five boroughs in a week may be a tall order, though. The state is expected to release complete guidelines later Monday.

"The gyms are going to say these are difficult guidelines. And they are. Gyms are one of the areas where you have to be very careful -- and we know that," Cuomo said. "If it's not done right, it can be a problem. It is an area of concern -- that's why we went slow on it and that's why we focused on it."

Read the full story here.

Wisconsin Dems Say Trump's Bumbling Cost Them Convention

Wisconsin Democrats are marking the start of the Democratic National Convention by blaming President Donald Trump for botching the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

They say that has forced them to cancel the in-person gathering that would have brought about 50,000 people to Milwaukee. Instead, when the convention starts on Monday night it will be delivered virtually, with speakers offering prerecorded or live comments online.

State Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler says the Republican president's failure to adequately respond to the pandemic is why Democrats had to move to an all-virtual event. Trump’s Wisconsin campaign spokeswoman hasn't responded to a request for comment.

Wisconsin Democrats tried to put a positive spin on the situation during an online “Welcome to Wisconsin” convention kick-off event Monday morning.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett noted the beautiful weather that would have greeted delegates had the convention gone as initially planned.

Barrett said from his home: “I wish you were here spending all of your money, but you can come back any time. We will leave the lights on.”

The Democratic National Convention kicks off tonight with a speech by former first lady Michelle Obama. Events are being held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Educators Feel Trapped Between Bad Options as School Year Begins

Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, talks about the risks of bringing kids back to school prematurely as cases of coronavirus in her school district continues to climb.

As schools open around the country, many educators sounded trapped between bad options: either return to facilities they don't feel are safe during an alarming national wave of new cases and deaths or return to remote learning, which they fear would leave students falling further behind, NBC News reports.

"I'm torn, because teachers do the magic in the classroom, and you're right there to help the kids, but for me it's not worth the risk," said Mary Walther, a high school German teacher in Phoenix, Arizona.

Walther gave her district high marks for having prepared its online-only reopening plan in advance, but she has also had to play unofficial IT consultant for teenagers and teachers alike in the first week as they work out the kinks. A colleague called her crying asking her to help set up an older computer.

A teacher at a private school in Brooklyn, New York, who asked that her name not be used for fear of retaliation, said pressure from parents to reopen this semester had created tensions with staff members who were more reluctant to return. While she's glad to be teaching young students in person again, she's worried that it's "virtually impossible" for them to follow social distancing rules.

"I know it is extremely negative thinking, but I don't feel appreciated by the parents who demanded we get back to work during a pandemic with seemingly zero regard for how we felt about it," she said. "I feel as if teachers are the sacrificial guinea pigs."

Read the full story here.

Saliva-Based COVID-19 Test Developed by Yale Scientists Authorized for Emergency Use by FDA

A saliva-based COVID-19 test developed by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health was granted an emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), NBC Connecticut reports.

The test, called SalivaDirect, is simpler, less expensive and less invasive than nasopharyngeal swabbing. So far, testing has shown similar outcomes to that of swabbing, according to Yale.

“With saliva being quick and easy to collect, we realized it could be a game-changer in COVID-19 diagnostics,” Anne Wyllie, assistant professor and associate research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, said in a statement.

The research was funded by the NBA, National Basketball Players Association, and a fast grant from the Emergent Ventures at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Federal Virus Money Slow to Trickle to Local Public Health

It was not until Aug. 5 — months after Congress approved aid for the pandemic — that Minneapolis Health Commissioner Gretchen Musicant's department finally received $1.7 million, the equivalent of $4 per Minneapolis resident.

“It’s more a hope and a prayer that we’ll have enough money,” Musicant said.

Since the pandemic began, Congress has set aside trillions of dollars to ease the crisis. A joint Kaiser Health News and Associated Press investigation finds that many communities with big outbreaks have spent little of that federal money on local public health departments for work such as testing and contact tracing. Others, like in Minnesota, were slow to do so.

For example, the states, territories and 154 large cities and counties that received allotments from the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund reported spending only 25% of it through June 30, according to reports that recipients submitted to the U.S. Treasury Department.

KHN and the AP requested detailed spending breakdowns from recipients of money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund — created in March as part of the $1.9 trillion CARES Act — and received responses from 23 states and 62 cities and counties. Those entities dedicated 23% of their spending from the fund through June to public health and 7% to public health and safety payroll.

An additional 22% was transferred to local governments, some of which will eventually pass it down to health departments. The rest went to other priorities, such as distance learning.

So little money has flowed to some local health departments for many reasons: Bureaucracy has bogged things down, politics have crept into the process, and understaffed departments have struggled to take time away from critical needs to navigate the red tape required to justify asking for extra dollars.

Virus Pandemic Reshaping Air Travel as Carriers Struggle

In a bid to survive, airlines are desperately trying to convince a wary public that measures like mandatory face masks and hospital-grade air filters make sitting in a plane safer than many other indoor settings during the coronavirus pandemic.

It isn’t working.

Surveys indicate that instead of growing comfortable with air travel, more people are becoming skeptical about it. In the United States, airline bookings have stalled in the past month after slowly rising — a reaction to a new surge of reported virus infections.

Globally, air travel is down more than 85% from a year ago, according to industry figures.

The implications for the airline industry are grave. Several leading carriers already have filed for bankruptcy protection, and if the hoped-for recovery is delayed much longer, the list will grow.

The four largest U.S. airlines lost a combined $10 billion from April through June. Their CEOs say they will survive, but they have lowered their expectations for a rebound.

“We were all hoping that by the fall the virus might run its course,” said Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly. “Obviously, that has proven to be dead wrong.”

The Associated Press/NBC
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