New U.S. COVID-19 cases rise 17% in past week, deaths up 5%

(Reuters) – The weekly number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States rose last week for the first time after falling for eight straight weeks, an increase that health experts attributed to schools reopening and parties over the Labor Day holiday.

New cases rose 17% to about 287,000 for the week ended Sept. 20, while deaths rose 5.5% to about 5,400 people after falling for the previous four weeks, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports.

Thirteen states have seen weekly infections rise for at least two weeks, up from nine states the previous week, according to the Reuters tally. In Arizona, new cases doubled last week.

On average, more than 776 people a day died from COVID-19 last week, with deaths rising in Arkansas, Kansas and Virginia.

After weeks of declining test rates, an average of 812,000 people a day were tested last week. The country set a record of testing over 1 million people on Saturday.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 fell for a seventh week to 5.0%, well below a recent peak of nearly 9% in mid-July, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

However, 26 of the 50 states still have positive test rates above the 5% level that the World Health Organization considers concerning. The highest positive test rates are in the Midwest at over 16% in Idaho, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Graphic by Chris Canipe; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

White nationalism upsurge in U.S. echoes historical pattern, say scholars

By Katanga Johnson and Jim Urquhart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The first Black woman is on a major party presidential ticket, Americans of all races are showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and at the same time white nationalists are ramping up recruiting efforts and public activism.

That nationwide backing for America’s stated goal of equal rights for all has been met by a rise in hate-related activities is part of a decades-long pattern in the United States, six scholars and historians say – any expansion of civil rights for a minority group leads to a rise in intolerance.

“Each wave of civil rights progress brings us a little closer to real equity, but there will always be backlash from those who feel threatened by that progress,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of research with the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University in Washington. People who feel vulnerable to change become “eager to recruit and radicalize support to slow things down, even if by use of violence or radicalized propaganda,” she said.

After the first Black president, Barack Obama, was elected in 2008, the number of hate groups “ballooned,” Miller-Idriss said, just as Ku Klux Klan activity grew again after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Ed. decision desegregating schools, and during the 1960’s civil rights movement. Backlashes happened after women got the right to vote, and as LGBTQ rights expanded, too.

One of the things that makes this moment so heated is there’s been a bigger embrace by politicians, businesses and white people in general supporting racial justice movements than in the past, historians and civil rights experts said.

America rests on the “great social challenge of creating a successful harmonious, multiracial democracy,” said Simon Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP). The backlash against that accelerated during the Black Lives Matter protests and “is both a political one and a violent, social one,” he said.

Protests against excessive use of force by police and racism swept the United States, and the world, this summer after a Black man, George Floyd, died on May 25 while a white Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer kneeled on his neck.

The latest police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Aug. 23 has sparked more protests that have sometimes become violent.

Two white nationalist groups, who want an independent state for whites, told Reuters their numbers are also increasing, which Reuters could not independently confirm. The National Socialist Movement Corporation and the ShieldWall Network said many of the new prospects reject the Black Lives Matter protesters mainly out of fear the demonstrations will impose on their freedoms, such as the right to bear arms.

“I’ve got guns. I’ve got a lot of bullets and an armor, too. And if people come down my street looking for trouble, I am going to fight it,” Burt Colucci, self-described commander of the Corporation, said a prospective recruit told him in a recent phone call.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has documented 3,566 “extremist propaganda incidents” and events in 2020, compared to 2,704 in the same period of 2019. Almost 80% of this year’s cases involve white nationalist ideology, the civil rights advocacy organization found. Anti-Semitic incidents and plots and attacks of terrorism among others made up the rest, the ADL said.

MARCH IN WASHINGTON

Patriot Front, a white nationalist group, marched in Washington in February, and flyers and leaflets advertising the group have been found on college campuses from Arizona to Vermont in recent months. White nationalist groups posted messages on Facebook this summer advocating bringing guns to Black Lives Matter protests, and staged demonstrations in Florida and Pennsylvania in July.

While the ethnic and racial diversity of the United States is growing, whites remain a majority, about 60% of all Americans, according to Pew Research Center analysis published a year ago.

One-third of eligible voters in the Nov. 3 elections, in which Senator Kamala Harris of Jamaican and Indian parentage is running on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s ticket, will be non-white, according to Pew, up from one-quarter in 2000.

Most Americans say they embrace diversity, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll last year about race, society, and their political engagement. Sixty-three percent said the statement “I prefer to live in a community with people who come from diverse cultures” reflects their point of view.

Among registered Democrats, that affirmative answer jumped to 78%, while among Republicans it dropped to 45%.

In the election campaign, Biden has accused President Donald Trump of stoking divisions. The Trump campaign has said that the president “works hard to empower all Americans.”

‘HEAR THE RAGE’

“I’ve never seen the country so divided – not only divided, but charged, on all sides,” said Billy Roper of the Arkansas-based white nationalist organization, ShieldWall Network.

America has been at similar crossroads before, though, the scholars and historians interviewed by Reuters say.

The Ku Klux Klan, founded at the end of the U.S. Civil War, is the oldest and most violent of white extremist organizations, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) civil rights advocacy group. The KKK, bent on reversing the federal government’s progressive policies during the period known as Reconstruction, used violence against Black people in Southern states, particularly to deny them the newly-won right to vote.

Women’s voting rights, granted in 1920, coincided with a rise of the word “bitch” in newspapers around the country, Representative Pramila Jayapal said recently on the floor of the House of Representatives because, she contends, voting “was just a little too much power for too many men across the country.”

During the early years of the civil rights movement, a number of monuments honoring the war heroes of the Confederacy, the slavery-supporting states that lost the Civil War, were erected in the South, according to a SPLC report.

At least 780 monuments remained in public places in the South and elsewhere in the United States as of February 2019, the report said, among other Confederate symbols that are deeply divisive. Of those monuments, 604 were dedicated before 1950, but 28 others were unveiled from 1950 to 1970 and 34 after 2000.

National legalization of gay marriage in 2015 contributed to a powerful resurgence in conservative politics and legal challenges to LGBTQ rights, advocates said.

Colucci says his group has seen an uptick in calls and emails after racial justice protests and growing corporate and public support for Black Lives Matter and other groups.

“Some of those e-mails, I mean, you could just hear the rage,” he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Katanga Johnson in Washington and Jim Urquhart; Additional reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Heather Timmons and Grant McCool)

‘Rare, dangerous’ heat wave to hit California, U.S. West

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – A record heat wave with temperatures of up to 125 Fahrenheit (49 Celsius) was set to punish California starting on Friday as another extreme weather event raised risks of more forest fires and rolling blackouts.

The “deadly heat wave” of “rare, dangerous and very possibly fatal” temperatures was forecast across Southern California for the U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend, the National Weather Service (NWS) in Los Angeles said.

Record or excessive heat was also expected in Nevada and western Arizona with “brutal” temperatures set to peak on Sunday and continue into Monday, the service said.

“There is a high risk for heat illness along with heightened fire weather concerns,” the NWS Los Angeles office reported, forecasting record high temperatures on Saturday and Sunday.

Climate scientists blame human activities for a two to three degree Fahrenheit rise in average temperatures in California since the early 20th century and say extreme wet-dry cycles are creating abundant parched vegetation to supercharge wildfires.

The long weekend’s heat event is expected to be hotter than the one in mid-August that helped trigger the second and third largest forest fires in California history that are still burning.

Death Valley in California’s Mojave desert recorded one of the hottest air temperatures ever on the planet of 130F on Aug. 17, and highs of around 124F were expected there on Sunday, the NWS said.

The California power grid asked power generators to delay any maintenance until after the weekend to prevent blackouts like the two nights of rolling outages seen in mid-August as residents cranked up their air conditioning.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Tom Brown)

Military helps worn-out nurses, sicker patients in California COVID-19 effort

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – All day long, as Air Force nurse Major Pinky Brewton cares for patients struggling to breathe in California’s COVID-19 ravaged San Joaquin Valley, fears for her family simmer underneath her cool exterior.

Once back in her Stockton hotel room, seeing her seven-year-old on Facetime, the relief is overwhelming.

“He’s breathing!” Brewton said. “That’s the first thing I see as a nurse. How well is my son breathing?”

Over the past two weeks, the U.S. Department of Defense has sent nearly 200 medics and logistics experts to the Valley. The military has also sent nearly 600 personnel to Texas, where a surge in COVID-19 cases is crushing hospitals along the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere in the state.

The teams of nurses, doctors and technicians work extra shifts, treating sicker-than-usual hospital patients. Many are so weak from oxygen deprivation they can barely eat.

In the San Joaquin Valley agricultural region, intensive care units overflowed as cases surged earlier this summer. In some counties, as many as 28% of test results were positive.

At Dameron hospital in Stockton near the state capital of Sacramento, every nurse was soon deployed on a new COVID-19 floor, said Jennifer Markovich, the facility’s chief nursing officer.

“There wasn’t a slow ramp up. In the space of two weeks we just saw a significant increase in patients … and really started to see those staffing needs really escalate.”

CHAPLAINS, MENTAL HEALTH EXPERTS

When staffing agencies lacked healthcare workers, the hospital turned to the state, Markovich said. Under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brewton’s team of 20 military nurses and respiratory therapists came on board in mid-July.

About 160 Air Force medical staff have been sent to California so far, with about 100 in San Joaquin Valley, coordinated by 25 U.S. Army logistics experts trained in responding to nuclear, chemical and biological attacks.

Chaplains and mental health experts were added to relieve stress in a system stretched to its limits.

The teams, mostly stationed at Travis Air Force Base north of San Francisco, were easily absorbed into the rotations and work cultures of the Valley hospitals, said Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Gassman, who commands the California teams.

“It’s not like we have any Air Force tents that are set up outside,” Gassman said. “We are truly jumping into the staff in each of these hospitals to help support in any way, shape or form that we can.”

In addition to five hospitals in the San Joaquin Valley, military teams have also been deployed to the Los Angeles area and Rancho Mirage in Riverside County east of Los Angeles.

COVID-19 cases in California began climbing after Memorial Day, which health officials attributed in part to family gatherings without masks or physical distancing measures. Statewide, cases have topped 500,000, and over 9,000 Californians have died.

California, Texas, Florida and Arizona are among several hotspot U.S. states for a second wave of coronavirus cases.

FRAGILE HOSPITALS

In the San Joaquin Valley, a perfect storm of cultural, political and economic issues led to a crush of cases in a fragile rural and smaller-city hospital system.

The region is heavily Latino, a group making up 39% of California’s population but accounts for 56% of COVID-19 infections and 46% of deaths in the most populous U.S. state. Agricultural businesses that have not provided protective equipment to workers, or implemented social distancing or rules requiring masks has led to increased infections. Large family gatherings and multi-generational households have led to fast and deadly transmission, often to vulnerable older relatives.

The Valley, which includes the oil drilling and agricultural area around Bakersfield, and farmlands around Fresno, is generally more conservative than the rest of the state, and many local and congressional leaders have opposed rules requiring masks and social distancing.

The resulting toll is stark. As of Friday, only 20 intensive care unit beds were available for new patients in all of San Joaquin County, which has a population of nearly 800,000.

“The first thing I saw were really, really sick patients,” nurse Brewton said, describing her first day at Dameron. “The acuity of these patients are far more than what we see on a typical medical floor.”

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Bill Tarrant and Richard Chang)

COVID-19 outbreak in hard-hit U.S. states may be peaking, Fauci says

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A coronavirus surge in Florida, California and a handful of other hard-hit states could be peaking while other parts of the country may be on the cusp of growing outbreaks, the top U.S. infectious diseases official said on Tuesday.

A spike in cases in Florida, along with Texas, Arizona and California this month has overwhelmed hospitals, forced a U-turn on steps to reopen economies and stoked fears that U.S. efforts to control the outbreak are sputtering.

“They may be cresting and coming back down,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” program regarding the state of the outbreak in several Sunbelt states.

Fauci said there was a “very early indication” that the percentage of coronavirus tests that were positive was starting to rise in other states, such as Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky.

“That’s a surefire sign that you’ve got to be careful.”

He urged the states with rising positivity rates to act quickly now to prevent a surge and other states to reopen carefully following guidelines established by U.S. officials and health experts.

Fauci has become a lightning rod for some supporters of President Donald Trump who accuse the 79-year-old health official of exaggerating the extent and severity of the U.S. outbreak and playing down possible treatments.

Trump, who is seeking a second term in the White House in the Nov. 3 election, retweeted a post accusing Fauci and Democrats of suppressing the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus. The post included a link to a video of a group discounting the need for face masks.

A Twitter spokesman confirmed that tweets with the video were in violation of the company’s COVID-19 misinformation policy, and the tweets shared by Trump were deleted.

In his interview with ABC, Fauci defended his work to protect Americans’ health.

“I have not been misleading the American public under any circumstances,” he said.

RISING TOLL

The number of people in the United States who have died of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, rose to 148,446 on Monday, with more than 4.3 million confirmed cases, according to the latest Reuters tally.

Florida had 191 coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours, the highest single-day increase since the start of the epidemic, its state health department reported on Tuesday.

Texas became the fourth state with more than 400,000 total cases, joining California, Florida and New York in the grim club. But in a glimmer of hope, Texas’ current hospitalizations due to COVID-19 fell on Monday, according to its state health department.

The rise in deaths and infections has dampened early hopes that the country was past the worst of the economic fallout in March and April when lockdowns brought business activity to a near standstill and put millions out of work.

The U.S. Congress on Tuesday was locked in difficult talks over another coronavirus aid package to help American families and businesses recover from the crisis.

In late March, as the economy was beginning to crater, Congress passed a $2.3 trillion stimulus package that included enhanced unemployment benefits to blunt the pain of lockdowns that were being adopted to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Senate Republicans announced on Monday a $1 trillion coronavirus aid package hammered out with the White House, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell touted as a “tailored and targeted” plan to reopen schools and businesses, while protecting companies from lawsuits.

But the proposal sparked immediate opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats decried it as too limited compared with their $3 trillion proposal that passed the House of Representatives in May. Some Republicans called that one too expensive.

The Republican proposal would give many Americans direct payments of $1,200 each, provide billions in loans to small businesses and help schools reopen. But it would slash the current expanded unemployment benefit from $600 per week in addition to state unemployment to $200 per week. The enhanced unemployment benefit expires on Friday.

The supplemental benefit has been a financial lifeline for laid-off workers and a key support for consumer spending.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Daniel Trotta, Patricia Zengerle and Lisa Shumaker; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Howard Goller)

Why COVID-19 is killing U.S. diabetes patients at alarming rates

By Chad Terhune, Deborah J. Nelson and Robin Respaut

(Reuters) – Devon Brumfield could hear her father gasping for breath on the phone.

Darrell Cager Sr., 64, had diabetes. So his youngest daughter urged him to seek care. The next day, he collapsed and died in his New Orleans home.

The daughter soon learned the cause: acute respiratory distress from COVID-19. His death certificate noted diabetes as an underlying condition. Brumfield, who lives in Texas and also has type 2 diabetes, is “terrified” she could be next.

“I’m thinking, Lord, this could happen to me,” she said of her father’s death in late March.

She has good reason to fear. As U.S. outbreaks surge, a new government study shows that nearly 40% of people who have died with COVID-19 had diabetes.

Among deaths of those under 65, half had the chronic condition. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed more than 10,000 deaths in 15 states and New York City from February to May.

Jonathan Wortham, a CDC epidemiologist who led the study, called the findings “extremely striking,” with serious implications for those with diabetes and their loved ones.

A separate Reuters survey of states found a similarly high rate of diabetes among people dying from COVID-19 in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

Ten states, including California, Arizona and Michigan, said they weren’t yet reporting diabetes and other underlying conditions, and the rest did not respond – rendering an incomplete picture for policymakers and clinicians struggling to protect those most at-risk.

America’s mortality rates from diabetes have been climbing since 2009 and exceed most other industrialized nations. Blacks and Latinos suffer from diabetes at higher rates than whites and have disproportionately suffered from COVID-19.

“Diabetes was already a slow-moving pandemic. Now COVID-19 has crashed through like a fast-moving wave,” said Elbert Huang, a professor of medicine and director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Chronic Disease Research and Policy.

Keeping diabetes under control – among the best defenses against COVID-19 – has become difficult as the pandemic disrupts medical care, exercise and healthy eating routines.

The high price of insulin has also forced some people to keep working – risking virus exposure – to afford the essential medicine. And as the country grapples with an economic crisis, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and their employer-sponsored health insurance.

Much of this could have been anticipated and addressed with a more comprehensive, national response, said A. Enrique Caballero, a Harvard Medical School endocrinologist and diabetes researcher.

Top health officials should have done more to emphasize the threat to people with diabetes and assuage their fears of hospital visits, he said, while also focusing more on helping patients manage their condition at home.

Policymakers had ample warning that COVID-19 posed a high risk for diabetes patients. In 2003, during the coronavirus outbreak known as SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, more than 20% of people who died had diabetes.

In 2009, during the H1N1 flu pandemic, patients with diabetes faced triple the risk of hospitalization.

Most recently in 2012, when the coronavirus Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, emerged, one study found 60% of patients who entered intensive care or died had diabetes.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has unearthed previously unknown complications because it has lasted longer and infected many more people than earlier coronavirus epidemics, said Charles S. Dela Cruz, a Yale University physician-scientist and Director of the Center of Pulmonary Infection Research and Treatment.

Doctors warn that the coronavirus pandemic may indirectly lead to a spike in diabetes-related complications – more emergency-room visits, amputations, vision loss, kidney disease and dialysis.

“My fear is we will see a tsunami of problems once this is over,” said Andrew Boulton, president of the International Diabetes Federation and a medical professor at the University of Manchester in England.

‘ONE BIG PUZZLE’

Researchers have scrambled for months to unravel the connections between diabetes and the coronavirus, uncovering an array of vulnerabilities.

The virus targets the heart, lung and kidneys, organs already weakened in many diabetes patients. COVID-19 also kills more people who are elderly, obese or have high blood pressure, many of whom also have diabetes, studies show.

On the microscopic level, high glucose and lipid counts in diabetes patients can trigger a “cytokine storm,” when the immune system overreacts, attacking the body. Damaged endothelial cells, which provide a protective lining in blood vessels, can lead to inflammation as white blood cells rush to attack the virus and may cause lethal clots to form, emerging research suggests.

“It’s all one big puzzle,” said Yale’s Dela Cruz. “It’s all interrelated.”

Many of their vulnerabilities can be traced to high blood sugar, which can weaken the immune system or damage vital organs. COVID-19 appears not only to thrive in a high-sugar environment but to exacerbate it. Recent evidence suggests the virus may trigger new cases of diabetes.

David Thrasher, a pulmonologist in Montgomery, Alabama, said up to half of COVID-19 patients in his local hospital ICU have diabetes. “They are often my most challenging patients,” he said, and the immune system response may be a big reason why.

‘DIABETES BELT’

The pandemic has ripped through several southern states with some of the nation’s highest diabetes rates. A Reuters examination of state data found that nearly 40% of COVID-19 deaths were people with diabetes in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia. Much of this area lies within what the CDC calls the “diabetes belt.”

Alabama has the highest percentage of adults with diabetes at 13.2%, or more than 550,000 people, CDC data show. Diabetes patients accounted for 38% of the state’s COVID-related deaths through June, officials said. Karen Landers, Alabama’s assistant state health officer, said she is particularly heartbroken at the deaths of diabetes patients in their 30s and 40s.

Medical professionals in these states say they struggle to keep patients’ diabetes under control when regular in-person appointments are canceled or limited because of the pandemic.

Sarah Hunter Frazer, a nurse practitioner at the Medical Outreach Ministries clinic for low-income residents in Montgomery, Alabama, said diabetes is common among her COVID-19 patients. With clinic visits on hold, she stays in touch by phone or video chat. If a problem persists, she insists on an outdoors, face-to-face meeting. “We meet them under a shade tree behind the clinic,” Frazer said.

In similar fashion, doctors at the University of North Carolina stepped up their use of telemedicine to reach at-risk rural patients. Despite those efforts, John Buse, a physician and director of the university’s diabetes center, said he’s certain some foot ulcers and dangerously high blood sugars are being missed because people avoid health facilities for fear of the virus.

‘UNDER CONTROL’

Many diabetes patients with severe or deadly cases of COVID-19 were in good health before contracting the virus.

Clark Osojnicki, 56, of Stillwater, Minnesota, had heard early warnings about the risks of the coronavirus for people with diabetes, said his wife, Kris Osojnicki. But the couple didn’t think the admonitions applied to him because his glucose levels were in a healthy range.

“He was incredibly active,” she said.

On a Sunday in mid-March, Osojnicki jogged alongside his border collie, Sonic, on an agility course for dogs inside a suburban Minneapolis gym. Three days later, Osojnicki developed a fever, then body aches, a cough and shortness of breath. He was soon in the hospital, on a ventilator. Clark, a financial systems analyst, died April 6 from a blood clot in the lungs.

Osojnicki is among 255 recorded deaths in Minnesota of people with COVID-19 and diabetes mentioned on their death certificate as of mid-July, according to state data. The records describe people who died as young as 34.

WORKING FOR INSULIN

For years, the skyrocketing cost of insulin has fueled much of the national outrage over drug prices. Early in the pandemic, the American Diabetes Association asked states to eliminate out-of-pocket costs for insulin and other glucose-lowering medications through state-regulated insurance plans.

But no state has fully followed that advice, the ADA said. Vermont suspended deductibles for preventive medications, like insulin, starting in July. Other states ordered insurers to make prescription refills more available but didn’t address cost.

Robert Washington, 68, knew his diabetes put him at risk from COVID-19. When his employer, Gila River’s Lone Butte Casino in Chandler, Arizona, reopened in May, he decided to keep working as a security guard so he could afford insulin.

Washington’s supervisors had assured him he could patrol alone in a golf cart, said his daughter, Lina. But once back at work, he was stationed at the entrance, where long lines of gamblers waited, most without masks, Robert told his daughter.

“He was terrified at what he saw,” Lina said.

He tested positive for the virus in late May and was admitted to the hospital days later. He died from complications of COVID-19 on June 11, his daughter said.

A week after Washington’s death, the casino again closed as COVID-19 cases exploded in the state. The casino did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s hard to accept he is gone. I have to stop myself from wanting to call him,” said Lina, a sports anchor and reporter at a Sacramento, California, TV station. “A lot of these deaths were in some way preventable.”

(Reporting by Chad Terhune, Deborah J. Nelson and Robin Respaut; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

With U.S. under coronavirus siege, Chicago cracks down, Florida cases soar

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – The city of Chicago reimposed some coronavirus restrictions on Monday and the state of Florida reported more than 10,000 new cases for the sixth day in a row, as the pandemic showed few signs of abating in the United States.

In a rare ray of hope, New York state reported the fewest hospitalizations from the coronavirus in four months and New York City entered a new phase of reopening on Monday, but the progress, in the very city and state that were once the epicenter, was eclipsed by the grim news nearly everywhere else.

Metrics for the country have grown worse including a rising number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations along with rates of positive test results. The virus has killed 140,000 people in the United States and infected some 3.7 million, both figures leading the world.

Florida reported 10,347 new cases on Monday, the sixth day in a row the state has announced over 10,000 new infections. Another 92 people died in Florida, increasing the state’s death toll to 5,183.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced new restrictions due to take effect on Friday including a ban on indoor service at bars and shutdown of personal services such as shaves and facials that require the removal of masks.

“While we aren’t near the peak of the pandemic from earlier this year, none of us wants to go back there,” Lightfoot said in a statement.

The city of Los Angeles is on the brink of issuing a new stay-at-home order and at least 14 states have reported record hospitalizations so far in July, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina and Texas.

Meanwhile, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing for schools to reopen in a few weeks and resisting a federal mandate that people wear masks in public, part of what New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called an “incompetent” federal government response.

“I’ve said to the president from Day One: This virus does not respond to politics,” Cuomo told a news conference. “The solution is medicine and science.”

WHITE HOUSE BRIEFINGS RESUME

The country remained “totally unprepared,” Cuomo said, as other states lagged in testing, contact tracing, and personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses.

“Their mistake was they listened to the president,” Cuomo said, while also blasting “stupid and reckless” people in his own state who persistently gather in large groups.

On Monday Trump, under fire over his administration’s response to the surging virus, said he would on Tuesday resume holding news briefings on the pandemic after a lengthy hiatus.

White House debate has centered on whether Trump should risk doing daily briefings after he was mocked for musing that people might inject household disinfectants as a way to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

Last Friday Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters she favored a return of the briefings, which she said had bolstered his approval ratings.

New York state, where the virus took hold early this year before spreading to other states, recorded only eight deaths on Sunday while the total number of people hospitalized for the disease fell to 716, the fewest since March 18, Cuomo said.

However a Reuters analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project showed cases rose by more than 5,000 in the past week, the first week-over-week increase since April, breaking a 13-week streak of declines.

New York City entered a new phase on Monday that will allow low-risk outdoor activity, entertainment at 33 percent capacity and professional sports events. But Major League Baseball’s Yankees and Mets will start their seasons in empty New York City ballparks, indoor dining in restaurants is still prohibited, and bars are subject to social distancing rules.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Maria Caspani, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Howard Goller)

Three states in U.S. South report record rises in COVID-19 deaths

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Alabama, Florida and North Carolina reported record daily increases in COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, a trio of grim milestones that follows the first nationwide increase in fatalities since mid-April as some U.S. states rushed to reopen.

The number of new cases reported daily began rising about six weeks ago, especially in southern and western states such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, which have been quick to lift restrictions meant to control the spread of the virus.

New coronavirus cases rose in 46 of 50 U.S. states last week over the previous week, according to a Reuters analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project. So far in July, 28 states have reported record daily increases in new cases.

With more than 3.3 million cases, the United States ranks first in the world in cases per capita along with Peru. With more than 135,000 deaths, the United States ranks seventh in fatalities per capita among the 20 countries with the most cases.

Florida on Tuesday reported 133 new COVID-19 deaths, raising the state’s death toll to more than 4,500. Its previous record increase was 120 on July 9. Alabama reported a record increase of 40 deaths and North Carolina 35 deaths, bringing each state’s total to over 1,100.

The rising cases and deaths have left educators from California to Wisconsin opting for online learning rather than a return to classrooms when the school year begins in a few weeks.

Schools from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Fort Bend County, Texas, joined California’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, in announcing plans to keep teachers and students from the close contact that classrooms demand.

The decision puts the districts at odds with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to withhold federal funds or remove tax-exempt status if they refuse to reopen classrooms, even though most schools are financed by state and local taxes.

Trump’s campaign views the reopening of classrooms, enabling parents to get back to work, as a key to economic recovery and a boost to his re-election chances on Nov. 3.

New York state plans to reopen its schools in areas where the daily infection rate is below 5% of all COVID tests. The state has averaged an infection rate of about 1% for several weeks and is one of only four states where cases fell last week, according to a Reuters analysis. New York City, where social distancing and mask wearing are widely practiced, recently reported no new COVID deaths in a 24-hour period for the first time since March.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday added Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin to the state’s quarantine list. Travelers arriving in New York from a total of 22 U.S. states are now required to quarantine for 14 days.

Florida still plans for its schools to resume in-person learning in August. The state recorded over 9,000 new cases on Tuesday, down from 12,000 on Monday and a record increase of 15,000 on Sunday.

Teachers in Loudoun County, Virginia, protested outside school headquarters on Monday with one woman fully enclosed in a white lab suit and face shield holding a sign that said, “Our new school uniform.” To keep physically distant, the teachers honked their car horns in unison, according to a video.

Faculty members were protesting against a school board plan for hybrid instruction that would include two days of in-person teaching, according to local media.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Howard Goller)

Moderna expects to start late-stage COVID-19 vaccine trial on July 27

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Moderna Inc said on Tuesday it plans to start a late stage clinical trial for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate on or around July 27, according to its listing for the phase 3 study at clinicaltrials.gov.

Moderna said it will conduct the trial at 87 study locations, all in the United States.

The experimental vaccine will be tested in 30 states and Washington, D.C. Around half of the study locations are in hard-hit states like Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, Arizona and North and South Carolina.

The United States has reported record numbers of new coronavirus cases in recent days, with much of the surge coming from those states.

The federal government is supporting Moderna’s vaccine project with nearly half a billion dollars and has chosen it as one of the first to enter large-scale human trials.

Tensions between the company and government scientists contributed to a delay of the trial launch, Reuters reported earlier this month.

Shares of Moderna rose about 2.5% on Nasdaq at midday.

(Reporting by Michael Erman, Editing by Franklin Paul and Richard Chang)

Climate change, COVID-19 stoke wildfire’s economic risk, Fed says

(Reuters) – Wildfires threaten the economy of the western United States to a greater extent than the rest of the country, and the coronavirus pandemic and climate change will only make that worse, according to research from the San Francisco Fed on Monday.

Some 52% of economic output in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington originates in counties with elevated wildfire hazard, putting the economies of the region in jeopardy as wildfires become more frequent and more destructive, the researchers found. By 2040 that proportion will have risen to 56%, they estimate. By comparison, about 25% to 30% of the Southeast’s economy faces elevated wildfire risk.

The states together account for a bit more than one-fifth of U.S. economic output.

“The portion of real output produced in (the counties of these states) with elevated exposure increases from $2.1 trillion in 2018 to $4.0 trillion in 2040 in the baseline scenario,” the researchers wrote in the regional Fed’s latest Economic Letter. The economic output under particular wildfire threat rises to $4.4 trillion under a more severe climate change scenario, they said.

Wildfire risk is a combination of the likelihood of a big fire happening – which climate scientists have shown has been rising as the planet warms – and the economic destruction, in terms of lives and livelihoods destroyed that it could cause.

The coronavirus pandemic is increasing the latter risk because the fiscal pinch to states and local governments from the drop in sales tax and other revenue means cuts to wildfire suppression and prevention spending, the researchers said.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Tom Brown)