In bid to reopen U.S. schools, Trump threatens their tax-exempt status

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, seeking to force school districts and universities to reopen despite the coronavirus, on Friday said the U.S. Treasury Department would re-examine their tax-exempt status and funding.

Trump already has threatened to cut their federal funding and sought to eject university students from abroad.

“Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education,” the Republican Trump wrote in a tweet on Friday likely to sit well with his conservative base.

He accuses Democrats of exploiting the pandemic for political purposes by refusing to reopen schools and businesses, even as health experts caution against the perils of easing restrictions too quickly.

“Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status and/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!”

Trump’s administration is pushing schools to relaunch in-person classes even as cases of the novel coronavirus surge in some of the country’s most populous areas, prompting some to roll back their plans to relax restrictions.

School administrators are weighing the risk to opening up their buildings to primary and secondary students and staff as U.S. cases have topped 3 million this week. Some universities have announced online-only instruction plans, while others weigh options such as school calendar changes.

Trump this week threatened to cut off federal funds for schools that do not open their doors.

On Monday the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said international students must leave the country if their schools only offered online classes this autumn, prompting lawsuits.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Howard Goller)

WHO reports record daily increase in global coronavirus cases, up over 228,000

(Reuters) – The World Health Organization reported a record increase in global coronavirus cases on Friday, with the total rising by 228,102 in 24 hours.

The biggest increases were from the United States, Brazil, India and South Africa, according to a daily report. The previous WHO record for new cases was 212,326 on July 4. Deaths remained steady at about 5,000 a day.

Global coronavirus cases exceeded 12 million on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, marking another milestone in the spread of the disease that has killed more than 555,000 people in seven months.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. police unions approved for millions in pandemic aid

By Reade Levinson and Chris Prentice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – At least six police unions qualified for a combined total of $2 million to $4.4 million in emergency U.S. government loans intended to help small businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus lockdown, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The unions represent about 110,000 law enforcement officers in Philadelphia, Houston, New York state, Michigan and 11 Southern states.

All told, the six approved loans make up a small fraction of the program’s $521 billion in lending across 4.9 million loans as of June 30. The data released on Monday does not specify whether the loans were disbursed or if the unions will qualify for loan forgiveness.

Intended to help small companies and non-profit organizations keep their work forces employed during the coronavirus crisis, the federal Paycheck Protection Program allows employers with 500 or fewer workers hurt by the economic fallout of the pandemic to apply for a forgivable government-backed loan.

The six police unions typically receive 90% of their revenue from membership dues, according to tax records reviewed by Reuters, and thus, barring layoffs, would not be hurting for cash. All six unions have work forces of their own, providing support to members. Their combined loan applications said they sought to retain 331 jobs.

Four forces with unions that received loans – the New York State Police, Philadelphia Police Department, Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office and Houston Police Department – told Reuters they had not laid off or furloughed any employees during the pandemic, so their unions’ dues collections should not have suffered any significant hits.

It is clear the loan program, overseen by the Small Business Administration (SBA), gave out funds with few limits on who would benefit, said Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.

“The onus was on the SBA to ensure we’re not just throwing public funds at entities that don’t need them,” she said. “It is common sense we’d prioritize the industries that need it most, and I don’t know that’s police unions right now.”

James Miller, spokesman for the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, said the union sought a loan in anticipation of potential revenue losses and possible layoffs amid prison closures. The union, which represents about 26,000 employees and retirees, qualified to borrow between $150,000 and $350,000.

“Based on current revenue projections for the remainder of the year, we anticipate returning the loan, as it is the prudent thing to do,” he said, in an email to Reuters.

The other police unions approved for loans did not return repeated emails and calls seeking comment.

Qualifying for a loan of between $1 million and $2 million was the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, which represents about 58,000 federal, state, county and municipal law enforcement officers in eleven states. The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 14,000 active and retired Philadelphia police officers and sheriff deputies, qualified to borrow between $350,000 and $1 million.

Authorized to borrow between $150,000 and $350,000 were the Police Officers Labor Council in Michigan, which represents about 350 sheriffs and police departments; the Houston Police Officers’ Union, which represents 5,300 Houston Police Department officers; and the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Home Association, a separate non-profit that maintains a lodge for union meetings.

The police unions were among at least 117 public and private sector unions that applied for loans through the program. The SBA did not release the names of recipients of loans less than $150,000.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, which represents about 900,000 members across industries including teaching, performing arts, hospitality, manufacturing and construction, said in an email Wednesday that it received $267,000 and plans to ask for loan forgiveness.

Many affiliate unions represent industries that have laid off members as a result of the coronavirus, Rick Bloomingdale, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO president, said in an email. Faced with declining dues, he said, the union decided to seek aid.

“We made the decision to apply for the loan to keep our people employed.”

(Reporting by Reade Levinson in London and Chris Prentice in Washington, D.C.)

Exclusive: Lonza expects EPA approval coming ‘very soon’ to make COVID-killing claims for disinfectants on surfaces

By Siddharth Cavale and Richa Naidu

(Reuters) – Lonza Group AG is in the “last step” of discussions with U.S. regulators for approval to claim that its formulation is effective in killing the novel Coronavirus on surfaces, an executive at the pharmaceutical and chemical giant told Reuters.

Earlier this week, Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc became the first company to win the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval to market two of its Lysol disinfectant sprays as household COVID-19 killers.

Reuters previously reported that Reckitt had procured a strain of the virus from an independent lab, for testing. The EPA’s approval allows Reckitt to claim that Lysol can kill the novel coronavirus, or the SARS-CoV-2, on surfaces.

Ernesto Lippert, Lonza’s vice president of strategic development and advocacy, told Reuters Thursday that it, too, obtained a strain of SARS-CoV-2 and had tested a range of its formulations in approved EPA labs. He said data shows that the products could indeed kill SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces.

“We are probably be going to be the second one after Reckitt Benckiser to have a range of our products with the actual claim against SARS-CoV-2,” Lippert said, adding that Lonza is in the “last step” of the process and that “EPA’s approval is going to be very soon.”

Reuters could not independently verify Lonza’s discussions with the EPA or the timing on a possible decision by the agency.

An EPA spokesperson said on Friday Lonza was one of several companies to have submitted laboratory data against SARS-CoV-2, but declined to elaborate on the approval timeline.

Lonza is one of a few big chemical companies, along with U.S.-based Stepan Co and Pilot Chemicals, which own chemical formulations that go into many household products. The formulations typically have been pre-tested and EPA- approved for use against a variety of pathogens. Lonza’s current clients include 3M and the maker of Pine Glo kitchen and bathroom cleaner.

The EPA in March issued new guidelines, allowing hundreds of smaller companies to quickly gain regulatory approval without subjecting their products to time-consuming testing.

Applicants with data showing their products are effective against “non-enveloped” viruses won expedited approval to market their products as potentially effective against SARS-CoV-2. The EPA considers “non-enveloped” viruses to be harder-to-kill than even SARS-CoV-2, which is an “enveloped” virus.

That easing of the rules coupled with the licensing means companies can go through an accelerated EPA vetting process than the previous time frame of six months to one year for approval.

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement late March that the move would allow the EPA to better protect public health by assuring the availability of surface disinfectants to use against the novel coronavirus.

“Supplemental registration is by far the easiest and quickest mechanism to get a product into the market,” said regulatory consultant Kevin Kutcel. “You just send a notification to the EPA and you can immediately get into the marketplace very, very quickly.”

Lonza’s Lippert said the company had a more than 110% spike in supplemental registrations of its formulations in the second quarter compared to the first quarter of the year. It also is currently reviewing 62 applications to license its formulas, most of which already are EPA-approved as effective against “non-enveloped” viruses.

“Normally regulators are pretty dogmatic about these things – they insist on all the testing and are pretty rigid,” said Michael Reynen, the former research head of Procter & Gamble’s surface care business in parts of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “But now the situation out there is pretty desperate.”

Consumer demand for cleaning and disinfecting products continues to soar.

“The Pope couldn’t have bought a bottle of Lysol last week if he wanted to, and now because of the EPA’s approval [of Lysol] it’ll be even harder,” said Josh Bloom, director of chemical and pharmaceutical sciences at consumer advocacy group American Council of Science and Health (ACSH).

Over the past five months, the EPA has approved nearly 750 products that license formulations as potentially effective against COVID, according to a list compiled by the American Chemistry Council trade group.

In late February, the list had only about 100 products, almost all from Lysol and Clorox. By June, the ACC list was comprised mostly of other brands licensing formulations from primary registrants Lonza, Pilot and Stepan, according to a Reuters analysis.

Stepan and Pilot were not immediately available to comment.

(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru and Richa Naidu in Chicago; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Edward Tobin)

Gilead says remdesivir reduced risk of death in COVID-19 patients, more studies needed

By Ankur Banerjee

(Reuters) – Gilead Sciences Inc. said on Friday additional data from a late-stage study showed its antiviral remdesivir reduced the risk of death and significantly improved the conditions of severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The company, which had initially released the data from the trial in April, said the finding requires confirmation in clinical trials.

Remdesivir has been at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19 after the intravenously administered medicine helped shorten hospital recovery times in a clinical trial.

Several countries have approved the use of the treatment in severe patients but there are concerns over supply of the drug, which is also being tested as an inhaled version.

Gilead said it analyzed data from 312 patients treated in a late-stage study and a separate real-world retrospective cohort of 818 patients with similar characteristics and disease severity as in the study.

Gilead’s late-stage study evaluated the safety and efficacy of five-day and 10-day dosing durations of remdesivir administered intravenously in hospitalized patients with severe manifestations of COVID-19, caused by the new coronavirus.

Dr. Susan Olender from Columbia University Irving Medical Center said in the Gilead statement that the analysis draws from a real-world setting and serves as an important adjunct to clinical trial data even as it is not as vigorous as a randomized controlled trial.

Findings from the analysis of its late-stage study showed that 74.4% of remdesivir-treated patients recovered by Day 14 versus 59.0% of patients receiving standard of care, the company said.

The mortality rate for patients treated with remdesivir in the analysis was 7.6% at Day 14, compared with 12.5% among patients not on remdesivir.

Gilead also said the rates and likelihood of recovery were lower in patients who received hydroxychloroquine as well as remdesivir compared with patients treated with remdesivir who did not receive hydroxychloroquine.

Gilead’s shares rose 2% to $76.21 in early trading.

(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; editing by Anil D’Silva and Maju Samuel)

WHO advance team on way to China to set up probe into virus origin

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – An advance team from the World Health Organization (WHO) has left for China to organise an investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus which sparked the global pandemic, a spokeswoman said on Friday.

The virus is believed to have emerged in a wholesale market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, since then closed, after jumping the species barrier from the animal kingdom to infect humans.

The two WHO experts, specialists in animal health and epidemiology, will work with Chinese scientists to determine the scope and itinerary of the investigation, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said, declining to name them.

“They have gone, they are in the air now, they are the advance party that is to work out the scope,” she told a briefing.

This would involve negotiations on issues including the composition of the fuller team, she added.

“One of the big issues that everybody is interested in, and of course that’s why we’re sending an animal health expert, is to look at whether or not it jumped from species to a human and what species it jumped from,” Harris said.

“We know it’s very, very similar to the virus in the bat, but did it go through an intermediate species? This is a question we all need answered,” she said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo have said it may have originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, although they have presented no evidence for this and China strongly denies it. Scientists and U.S. intelligence agencies have said it emerged in nature.

“If there was wrongdoing – and we may never know that for sure – it will be very hard to uncover,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C., told Reuters.

“The wet market was closed immediately. There is no independent record, evaluation or investigation of a potential zoonotic source, so it will be very hard to go back and piece together,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Michael Shields in Zurich; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Gareth Jones)

U.S. sets one-day record with more than 60,500 COVID cases; Americans divided

By Lisa Shumaker and Omar Younis

(Reuters) – More than 60,500 new COVID-19 infections were reported across the United States on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally, setting a one-day record as weary Americans were told to take new precautions and the pandemic becomes increasingly politicized.

The total represents a slight rise from Wednesday, when there were 60,000 new cases, and marks the largest one-day increase by any country since the pandemic emerged in China last year.

As infections rose in 41 of the 50 states over the last two weeks, Americans have become increasingly divided on issues such as the reopening of schools and businesses. Orders by governors and local leaders mandating face masks have become particularly divisive.

“It’s just disheartening because the selfishness of (not wearing a mask) versus the selflessness of my staff and the people in this hospital who are putting themselves at risk, and I got COVID from this,” said Dr. Andrew Pastewski, ICU medical director at Jackson South Medical Center in Miami.

“You know, we’re putting ourselves at risk and other people aren’t willing to do anything and in fact go the other way and be aggressive to promote the disease. It’s really, it’s really hard,” he said.

Stephanie Porta, 41, a lifelong Orlando, Florida, resident, said only about half the shoppers at her grocery store wore masks, though that was more than she saw two weeks ago.

“They’re trying to make everything seem normal, when it’s not. People are dying, people are getting sick. It’s insane,” she said.

Florida on Thursday announced nearly 9,000 new cases and 120 new coronavirus deaths, a record daily increase in lives lost. Governor Ron DeSantis called the rising cases a “blip” and urged residents not to be afraid.

“I know we’ve had a lot of different blips,” DeSantis said. “We’re now at a higher blip than where we were in May and the beginning of June.”

Florida is one of the few states that does not disclose the number of hospitalized COVID patients. But more than four dozen Florida hospitals reported their intensive care units reached full capacity earlier this week.

In Texas a group of bar owners sued Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, saying his June 26 order closing them down violates the state constitution, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday that keeping schools closed would be a greater risk to children’s health than reopening them.

California and Texas, the two most populous states, announced record increases in COVID deaths on Wednesday.

California has seen cases and hospitalizations surge, even though it imposed one of the strictest lockdowns. After several lawmakers and staffers at the state Capitol in Sacramento were infected, lawmakers said the legislature would not return from summer break until July 27.

Riverside University Health System, east of Los Angeles, expanded its 44-bed intensive care unit after it filled up with patients.

“It’s been very consistent every day in the last couple of weeks. Every day has been like a full moon,” Riverside emergency room physician Stephanie Loe said, referring to doctors’ beliefs that a full moon brings more patients to the emergency room.

Governors in California, Florida and Texas have either ruled out forced business closures and quarantines or called them a last resort. But Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned he would impose a new stay-at-home order in two weeks if the latest surge did not ease.

The rise in infections also weighed on the stock market Thursday on fears of new lockdowns, which would take a toll on the economic recovery. The Dow <.DJI> and the S&P 500 <.SPX> ended down about 1%.

(Reporting by Omar Younis in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani in Washington and Maria Caspani and Sinead Carew in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Daniel Wallis and Leslie Adler)

More migrants caught crossing U.S.-Mexico border despite pandemic restrictions

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Border Patrol detained roughly 30,000 migrants attempting to cross the southwest border with Mexico in June, a 41% increase from the previous month, even as sweeping coronavirus-related border restrictions instituted by President Donald Trump remain in place.

Roughly nine in 10 of those caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in June were single adults, according to statistics released on Thursday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The number of single adults from Mexico detained at the border is on pace to rise this year, a shift away from arrests of mostly Central American families and unaccompanied children in 2019.

Trump, a Republican, faces reelection on Nov. 3 and has made his efforts to restrict illegal immigration – including the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border – a focus of his 2020 campaign. His presumptive Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, would end the diversion of billions of dollars in military funding for wall construction.

As the coronavirus spread across the United States in March, the Trump administration restricted non-essential travel across the borders with Mexico and Canada to contain the disease. At the same time, the administration put in place health-focused rules that allowed U.S. border authorities to rapidly expel migrants caught trying to cross illegally, arguing they could bring the virus into the United States.

The number of migrants caught by Border Patrol – particularly families and unaccompanied children – plummeted in April as the new measures went into effect and countries in the region initiated lockdowns.

Despite gradual increases seen both in May and June, the crossings still remain far below last year, when arrests peaked in May at 133,000.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington D.C.; Editing by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Daniel Wallis)

New U.S. CDC school reopening guidelines promised after Trump complains

By Doina Chiacu and Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to issue new guidelines for reopening schools, Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday, after President Donald Trump criticized the agency’s recommendations as too expensive and impractical.

Trump, a Republican who is seeking re-election in November, accused Democrats of wanting to keep schools shut for political reasons and threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that do not reopen, despite a surge in coronavirus cases.

“I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Trump said on Twitter.

Flanked by top administration health and education officials, Pence said the CDC next week will issue a “new set of tools … to give more clarity on the guidance going forward.

“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence said at a White House coronavirus task force briefing at the Department of Education.

CDC Director Robert Redfield stressed that agency guidelines were not requirements.

“It would be personally very disappointing to me, and I know my agency, if we saw that individuals were using these guidelines as a rationale for not reopening our schools,” Redfield said.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the White House did not pressure the CDC to revise its recommendations.

The CDC has made a number of recommendations for schools, including testing for COVID-19, dividing students into small groups, serving packaged lunches in classrooms instead of cafeterias, and minimizing sharing of school supplies.

It has advised that seats be spaced at least six feet apart and that sneeze guards and partitions be put in place when social distancing is not possible.

Administration officials said local leaders would tailor their decisions on how schools reopen.

“Ultimately it’s not a matter of if schools should reopen, it’s simply a matter of how. They must fully open,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said.

States are responsible for primary and secondary education under the U.S. Constitution, but some have been holding off on deciding when and how to open schools, concerned about the resurgence of coronavirus across the country.

The U.S. outbreak has crossed the 3 million mark in confirmed cases, with a death toll of 131,336, according to a Reuters tally.

“The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” Trump said on Twitter.

Acknowledging that the lion’s share of school funding comes from states, Pence said that the administration would work with Congress to look for ways “to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back to school.”

“It’s time for us to get our kids back to school,” he said.

The federal government provides some supplementary funding for schools, including through congressional appropriations. With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, any effort to curtail funding is sure to face roadblocks.

McEnany said Trump is “looking at potential redirecting (of funding) to make sure it goes to the student and it is most likely tied to the student and not to a district where schools are closed.”

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said school re-openings were necessary for the U.S. economic recovery. Business and conservative groups have said parents need to get back to work.

On Tuesday, Trump said he would pressure state governors to open schools in the fall.

However, the surge in U.S. cases has raised concerns about the increased risk of children spreading the virus to vulnerable adults at home as well as to older teachers and school staff.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the federal government has no authority on schools and his state will announce its reopening plans in the first week of August.

In neighboring New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy said he planned to reopen state schools in the fall, but reserved the right to “tweak that if it means saving lives.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. families could use federal funds elsewhere if pandemic closes schools, DeVos says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration will not cut federal education spending but could allow families to use funds elsewhere if their school does not open amid the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. education secretary said on Thursday, a day after Trump threatened to cut funding.

“If schools aren’t going to reopen, we’re not suggesting pulling funding from education but instead allowing families … (to) take that money and figure out where their kids can get educated if their schools are going to refuse to open,” Betsy DeVos told Fox News in an interview.

It was unclear how the administration planned to redirect funding, which is directed by U.S. lawmakers. Any change in appropriations would face resistance in Congress, now split between Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, and President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, who control the Senate.

U.S. schools are scrambling to prepare for the upcoming academic year as the novel coronavirus outbreak continues to surge across the country, topping 3 million confirmed cases. Trump has called on schools to reopen but there is no federal plan to coordinate the effort.

Most public schools are run and funded by local governments, with supplemental funding from the federal government.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)