U.S. COVID-19 deaths surpass 190,000; Iowa and South Dakota emerge as new hotspots

By Anurag Maan

(Reuters) – Coronavirus deaths in the United States topped 190,000 on Wednesday along with a spike in new cases in the U.S. Midwest with states like Iowa and South Dakota emerging as the new hotspots in the past few weeks.

Iowa currently has one of the highest rates of infection in the nation, with 15% of tests last week coming back positive. Nearby South Dakota has a positive test rate of 19% and North Dakota is at 18%, according to a Reuters analysis.

The surge in Iowa and South Dakota is being linked to colleges reopening in Iowa and an annual motorcycle rally last month in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Kansas, Idaho and Missouri are also among the top 10 states for positive test rates.

New coronavirus infections have fallen for seven weeks in a row for the United States with a death rate of about 6,100 per week from COVID-19 in the last month.

On a per capita basis, the United States ranks 12th in the world for the number of deaths, with 58 deaths per 100,000 people, and 11th in the world for cases, with 1,933 cases per 100,000 residents, according to a Reuters analysis.

U.S. confirmed cases are highest in the world with now over 6.3 million followed by India with 4.4 million cases and Brazil with 4.2 million. The U.S. death toll is also the highest in the world.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had forecast last month that the U.S. death toll will reach 200,000 to 211,000 by Sept. 26.

The University of Washington’s health institute last week forecasted that the U.S. deaths from the coronavirus will reach 410,000 by the end of the year.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Explainer: Why COVID-19 can run rife in meatpacking plants

(Reuters) – Meat-processing plants around the world are proving coronavirus infection hotspots, with an outbreak at a factory in Germany leading to Guetersloh becoming on Tuesday the first area in the country to be ordered back into lockdown.

More than 1,500 workers at the Guetersloh plant tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, while outbreaks have also hit meat and poultry plants in Britain in recent days.

In many rural parts of the United States, meatpacking plants have been the main source of infection. On April 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep such factories open, warning of a potential threat to the U.S. food supply.

The meat industry is particularly susceptible to coronavirus infections because of the nature of the work: intense physical labor conducted indoors at close proximity to other workers.

“Their work environments – processing lines and other areas in busy plants where they have close contact with coworkers and supervisors – may contribute substantially to their potential exposures,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says of meatpacking workers.

The CDC maintains a list of recommendations for factories, including steps to keep workers apart such as staggered arrival times and breaks, supplying workers with masks and hand sanitizer and making sure tools are disinfected.

It says factories should take workers’ temperatures on arrival and send those with fevers home.

Conditions on the factory floor itself are also not the only issue. Meatpacking workers often share transportation and housing once their shifts are over.

In Germany, for example, many are migrants from poorer EU countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, often housed in large dormitories where the virus can spread.

“Some of these factories have on-site or nearby accommodation where there are several people in each dormitory, they may be transported on a bus to the site of work, and they will be indoors together all day,” said Michael Head, an expert in global health at England’s University of Southampton.

In the United States, by the end of May, the UFCW labor union estimated that at least 44 meatpacking workers had died of COVID-19, and that at least 30 meatpacking plants had to be temporarily shut down, impacting more than 45,000 workers and contributing to a 40% reduction in pork slaughtering capacity.

(Reporting by Peter Graff; Additional reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Pravin Char)

Coronavirus crisis stoking anti-Semitism worldwide: report

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The coronavirus crisis is stirring anti-Semitism around the world, fuelled by centuries-old lies that Jews are spreading infection, researchers in Israel said on Monday.

The findings, in the annual report on Anti-Semitism Worldwide by the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University, showed an 18% rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2019 over the previous year.

In the first few months of 2020, far-right politicians in the United States and Europe and ultra-conservative pastors have seized upon the health crisis and its resulting economic hardship to foster hatred against Jews, the researchers said.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant rise in accusations that Jews, as individuals and as a collective, are behind the spread of the virus or are directly profiting from it,” said Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress.

“The language and imagery used clearly identifies a revival of the mediaeval ‘blood libels’ when Jews were accused of spreading disease, poisoning wells or controlling economies,” he said during the report’s release.

Kantor said that as unemployment soars due to lockdowns to contain the coronavirus, “more people may seek out scapegoats, spun for them by conspiracy theorists”.

He called on world leaders to address the problem of growing extremism “already at our door”.

Severe and violent incidents against Jews worldwide rose to 456 in 2019 from 387 in 2018, and seven Jews were killed in anti-Semitic attacks last year, the report found.

In 2019, 122 major violent incidents against Jews were reported in Britain, followed by 111 in the United States, 41 in France and Germany and 33 in Australia, according to the findings.

Kantor said there had been a consistent rise in anti-Semitism over the least few years, especially online, and in mainstream society, politics and media.

He said the increased use of social media during the health crisis could facilitate the spread of conspiracy theories, “providing simplistic answers for the growing anxiety among the general public”.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

House on edge ahead of $2.2 trillion coronavirus vote

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Armed with hand sanitizer and discouraged from using elevators, members of the U.S. House of Representatives aimed to quickly pass a sweeping $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill on Friday, though it was unclear if they would be forced to delay a day.

Leadership of the Democratic-controlled chamber and top Republicans aimed to pass the largest relief measure that Congress has ever taken up in a voice vote, one of the fastest methods the chamber has, and pass it on to Republican President Donald Trump for his signature.

There could be opposition. Republican Representative Thomas Massie said he opposed the bill, and was uncomfortable with the idea of allowing it to pass on a voice vote, rather than in a formal call recording how each House member voted, which could delay the vote until Saturday.

The Capitol has laid out special procedures because of the coronavirus to minimize the threat of infection. Members are barred from sitting next to one another and would be called from their offices alphabetically for the vote. They will be required to use hand sanitizer before entering the chamber and encouraged to take the stairs, rather than use elevators, to better maintain social distancing.

While most of the House’s 430 current members are in their home districts because of the coronavirus outbreak, several are expected to travel to Washington for a vote around 11 a.m. EDT(1500 GMT).

On a call with fellow Democrats on Thursday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged House members not to do anything to delay the unprecedented economic aid package the Republican-led Senate backed by a unanimous 96-0 vote on Wednesday night.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who helped craft the package, also urged lawmakers to pass it quickly.

“This is the time that we want to see the government and that states all come together and execute on the largest financial package in the history of time,” he said on Fox Business Network.

The rescue package – which would be the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress – will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks if the House backs it and Trump signs it into law.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

VOICE VOTE SOUGHT

The rare but deep, bipartisan support in Congress underscored how seriously lawmakers are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.

Pelosi said House leaders were planning to fast-track the rescue plan by passing it via a voice vote on Friday. She had said that if there were calls for a roll-call vote, lawmakers might be able to vote remotely as not all would be able to be in Washington.

It was unclear whether Massie would block the measure.

“I’m having a real hard time with this,” Massie, an outspoken fiscal conservative, said on 55KRC talk radio in Cincinnati.

Democratic Representative Dean Phillips asked Massie on Twitter to let his colleagues know if he intended to delay the bill’s passage “RIGHT NOW so we can book flights and expend about $200,000 in taxpayer money to counter your principled but terribly misguided stunt.”

The United States surpassed China and Italy on Thursday as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 82,000, and the death toll reached almost 1,200.

The Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle; writing by Patricia Zengerle and Andy Sullivan; editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Italian coronavirus cases seen “10 times higher” than official tally

By Crispian Balmer and Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – The number of coronavirus cases in Italy is probably 10 times higher than the official tally, the head of the agency collating the data said on Tuesday as the government readied new measures to force people to stay at home.

Italy has seen more fatalities than any other country, with latest figures showing that 6,077 people have died from the infection in barely a month, while the number of confirmed cases has hit 64,000.

However, testing for the disease has often been limited to people seeking hospital care, meaning that thousands of infections have certainly gone undetected.

“A ratio of one certified case out of every 10 is credible,” Angelo Borrelli, the head of the Civil Protection Agency, told La Repubblica newspaper, indicating he believed as many as 640,000 people could have been infected.

After four weeks of steep increases in deaths and cases, the growth rate has eased since Sunday, raising hopes that the most aggressive phase of the contagion might be over.

“The official numbers of the last two days indicate a slowdown in the epidemic,” said Giorgio Gori, the mayor of Bergamo, a small city in the northern region of Lombardy that has suffered the heaviest death toll in the country.

“I am being cautious because I do not want to delude myself, but at the same time I have a lot of hope that two whole weeks of lockdown plus increasingly restrictive measures are producing results,” he told a group of foreign reporters.

The government has shut down all non-essential business until April 3 and the cabinet was due to meet later on Tuesday to tighten the screws still further, including hiking fines for people violating the shutdown to up to 4,000 euros ($4,300) from a maximum 206 euros at present.

VENTILATORS

The new directive under review, seen by Reuters, would also give the government the option to extend parts of the lockdown to July 31.

Gori said he did not see how business could remain shuttered for much longer, but indicated that the government might look to extend restrictions on those who have proved most vulnerable to the virus, especially the elderly.

The Civil Protection Agency said the biggest difficulty facing the country was a shortage of masks and ventilators – a problem that has dogged the health system since the contagion first surfaced in Lombardy on Feb. 21.

Underscoring the problem, the regional governor of Veneto, Luca Zaia, ordered the confiscation of ventilators at veterinaries, saying they could be converted to human use.

With other countries looking to hoard their own medical supplies, a consortium of Italian textile and fashion companies have converted their production lines and will soon be able to produce half the required amount of masks.

“(This) will give our system the ammunition that we need in order to fight this war and avoid our total dependence on imports,” Domenico Arcuri, the national commissioner for the emergency, told reporters.

The government has said a number of industrial sectors, including medical suppliers, must keep operating during the crisis, but there is growing unhappiness amongst some unions who think the prescribed list of strategic concerns is too wide.

Workers in the metal, chemical, textile, rubber-plastic and paper industries are expected to go on strike on Wednesday, alarming the government, which is holding talks with unions to try to stave off the stoppages.

“The last thing that Italy can allow itself is industrial conflict in a situation of national emergency,” deputy Economy Minister Antonio Misiani told SkyTG24 television.

(Additional reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Giulia Segreti in Rome and Valentina Za and Elvira Pollina in Milan, and Riccardo Bastianello in Veneto; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Thai navy SEAL who took part in cave rescue dies after year-long infection

BANGKOK (Reuters) – A Thai navy SEAL who took part in the dramatic rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in northern Thailand last year has died from a blood infection he contracted during the operation, the Royal Thai Navy said on Friday.

Petty Officer Beiret Bureerak had been receiving treatment, but his condition worsened, the navy said in a statement.

Another rescuer, former navy diver Sergeant Saman Kuman, died during the rescue operation.

Wild Boars Academy’s coach Ekapol Chanthawong and 12 boys had gone to explore the Tham Luang caves in Chiang Rai province on June 23, 2018, when a rainy-season downpour flooded the cave system and trapped them underground.

They survived for nine days on water dripping from rocks before they were discovered. Volunteers from abroad joined the rescue effort, which ended on July 10 when the boys and their coach were all brought out safely.

(Reporting by Jiraporn Kuhakanand Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush taken to hospital in Maine

FILE PHOTO - Former United States President George H. W. Bush is brought into the auditorium where his son Former United States President George W. Bush speaks about his new book titled "41: A Portrait of My Father" at the George Bush Presidential Library Center in College Station, Texas November 11, 2014. REUTERS/Bob Daemmrich/Pool/File Photo

(Reuters) – Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, 93, was taken to a hospital in Maine on Sunday after experiencing low blood pressure and fatigue, a family spokesman said on Twitter.

Bush, the oldest living former U.S. president, will likely remain at Southern Maine Health Care for a few days for observation, said the spokesman, Jim McGrath.

“The former president is awake and alert, and not in any discomfort,” McGrath wrote on Twitter.

FILE PHOTO - Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush arrives on the field to do the coin toss ahead of the start of Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons in Houston, Texas, U.S., February 5, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif/File Photo

FILE PHOTO – Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush arrives on the field to do the coin toss ahead of the start of Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons in Houston, Texas, U.S., February 5, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif/File Photo

Bush was hospitalized in Texas last month for treatment of an infection that spread to his blood, and stayed there for nearly two weeks. He was admitted to the hospital a day after he attended the funeral of his wife, Barbara, the former first lady who died on April 17. The couple had been married for 73 years.

On Saturday, Bush attended an American Legion event in Kennebunkport, Maine to mark the upcoming Memorial Day with military veterans and his former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, according to a post on Bush’s official Twitter feed.

Bush is the father of former Republican President George W. Bush, who served two terms from 2001 to 2009, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. lawmaker wounded in shooting has surgery for infection: hospital

FILE PHOTO - Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) is pictured sitting at the controls in the drilling shack on BP's Thunder Horse Oil Platform in the Gulf of Mexico, 150 miles from the Louisiana coast, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jessica Resnick-Ault

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, who was shot and wounded during a baseball practice last month, has undergone surgery to treat an infection and remains in serious condition, the hospital said on Thursday.

Scalise, the No. 3 Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, had been readmitted to MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s intensive care unit because of concerns about the infection, the hospital said on Wednesday night.

Scalise, 51, tolerated the latest surgery well and remained in serious condition, the hospital said in a statement on Thursday.

A gunman opened fire on Scalise and other Republican lawmakers as they practiced on June 14 in a Washington suburb for a charity baseball game. Scalise, from Louisiana, was shot in the hip.

Scalise had been improving in recent weeks following surgeries to repair internal organs and broken bones.

Gunman James Hodgkinson, 66, had a history of posting angry messages against Republican President Donald Trump. He died after being wounded by police at the Alexandria, Virginia, ballpark.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Outbreak of hantavirus infections kills three in Washington state

A micrographic study of liver tissue seen from a Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) patient seen in this undated photo obtained by Reuters, July 6, 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Handout via REUTERS

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – Five people have been stricken with the rare, rodent-borne hantavirus illness in Washington state since February, three of whom have died, in the state’s worst outbreak of the disease in at least 18 years, public health officials reported on Thursday.

The three fatal cases also mark the highest death toll from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in Washington state during a single year since the respiratory ailment was first identified in the “Four Corners” region of the U.S. Southwest in 1993.

The disease has been found to be transmitted to humans from deer mice, either through contact with urine, droppings, saliva or nesting materials of infected rodents or by inhaling dust contaminated with the virus.

Victims in the latest outbreak were men and women ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s from four counties across the state, said David Johnson, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Health.

The first diagnosed case this year was in February and the most recent was last month, when the infection killed a resident of Spokane County in the eastern part of the state near Washington’s border with Idaho. Three of the five cases, including another one that proved fatal, were confirmed in the Puget Sound region of King and Skagit counties.

The only common factor among those infected by the disease, which typically kills more than a third of its victims, is that they were all exposed to infected mice, Johnson said.

The last time five confirmed hantavirus cases were diagnosed in Washington state in a single year was in 1999, although just one of those proved fatal, Johnson said.

Washington has reported 49 of the 690 hantavirus cases tallied nationwide from 1993 to January 2016, ranking fifth among 10 Western states that account for the bulk of all documented infections, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

Eighteen infections with four deaths were reported nationally in 2015. The year before, the CDC counted 35 cases, of which 14 were fatal.

The most highly publicized hantavirus outbreak occurred in 2012, when 10 visitors to Yosemite National Park in California were diagnosed with the infection, three of whom died, prompting a worldwide alert. All but one of those were linked to tent cabins later found to have been infested by deer mice.

(Editing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Paul Tait)

Republican lawmaker Steve Scalise’s condition worsens after June shooting

FILE PHOTO: House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol, hours before an expected vote to repeal Obamacare in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Representative Steve Scalise, shot and wounded during a baseball practice last month, developed an infection and was readmitted to an intensive care unit, MedStar Washington Hospital Center said on Wednesday.

Scalise, the No. 3 Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, had been improving in recent weeks following surgeries to repair internal organs and broken bones.

The hospital, which downgraded his condition to “serious” from “fair,” said it would provide another update on Thursday.

A gunman opened fire on Scalise and other Republican lawmakers as they practiced on June 14 in a Washington, D.C., suburb for a charity baseball game. Scalise, from Louisiana, was shot in the hip.

Gunman James Hodgkinson, 66, had a history of posting angry messages against Republican President Donald Trump. He died after being wounded by police at the Alexandria, Virginia, ballpark.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Howard Goller)