‘Anyone can get it,’ Trump supporters shocked at diagnosis, unwavering in support

By Ernest Scheyder and Nick Brown

WARREN, Ohio/BANGOR, Penn. (Reuters) – As Americans digested the news on Friday that President Donald Trump had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, some of his backers expressed surprise that he hadn’t been safe from infection and said their support for him was not diminished.

“It was shocking,” said Maranda Joseph, 43, of Warren, Ohio, who has 12 Trump flags in her front yard festooned with skeletons and other Halloween decorations. “To see he has it wakes you up a bit. Anyone can get it, even the president.”

Trump tweeted early Friday morning that he and his wife, Melania, had tested positive after a whirlwind campaign week in which he visited seven states and debated with his Democratic rival in the November election, Joe Biden.

The Republican has played down the risks of the virus and COVID-19 disease that has killed more than 207,000 Americans, drawing criticism for his erratic messaging and recent resumption of campaign rallies where his supporters often are crowded together and don’t wear masks.

Officials in Minnesota and New Jersey – two of Trump’s stops this week – urged anyone who had attended his events to be tested.

Joseph, a homemaker, said she thinks more people should wear masks at future Trump rallies, though she added that she would attend one herself once the president recovers.

“People with compromised immune systems should stay home,” she said.

Some in Warren expressed skepticism that Trump even has the virus, citing Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s positive test earlier this year before he tested negative later the same day.

“There’s so many false positives out there. Has Trump had a second test yet?” asked Sharon Tice, 70, who sells Trump T-shirts and other memorabilia. “But if he does have it, it could influence the way he sees things.”

Some Republicans said the diagnosis could actually help the President.

“Trump will prove to the American people that you can survive COVID,” said Cathy Lukasko, auxiliary chair of the Trumbull County, Ohio, Republican Party.

More than 7.2 million infections have been reported in the United States since the pandemic began seven months ago.

Lukasko was running the party’s offices on Friday without a mask, handing out signs for Trump and local Republican candidates.

“This might be a nice little break for him,” she said.

The reactions reflected a longstanding pattern – Americans are largely settled in their views on Trump. A Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Thursday showed that Biden holds a 9 point lead over Trump heading into the November election, the same margin in six of the last seven national polls, a period of time that has seen the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Tuesday night’s chaotic debate.

In Bangor, Pennsylvania, Trump supporter Jack Cooper, a 70-yaer-old retired electrician, said the president was paying the price for underestimating the virus’s dangers. He said, however, that would not stop him for voting for Trump again.

“He’s getting a taste of his own medicine,” said Cooper, who lives in a crucial swing district. “He was fooling around without a mask in big crowds. It’s like bringing a pit bull into a big crowd — something is gonna happen.”

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Nick Brown, writing by Scott Malone; editing by Grant McCool)

Some U.S. colleges stick to in-person reopening in pandemic despite doubts, pushback

By Jan Wolfe and Catherine Koppel

(Reuters) – Many U.S. universities are revamping campuses to resume in-person classes despite COVID-19, requiring students to be tested, wear masks and socially distance, but some college town residents and critics say schools are putting profits before public safety.

Tulane University, a private college in New Orleans, plans to reopen on Aug. 19 to as many as 13,000 students. Before students move in to dormitories, they must report to an “Arrival Center” at a city hotel “where they will be guided through two days consisting of COVID-19 testing and orientation sessions” according to Tulane’s published guidance.

Maintenance workers at Tulane and other colleges are fitting auditoriums and classrooms with signage for social distancing. Students are being asked to wear masks, and at Tulane, those who host parties or gatherings with more than 15 people could face expulsion, the college said.

Rice University in Houston, Texas has contracted for 60,000 COVID-19 tests, and has bought temporary structures and open-sided tents for classes and meeting space.

Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, will require that students enter into a “behavioral compact” aimed at stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 162,000 people in the United States and infected over five million.

Tulane president Michael Fitts said enrollment has been largely unaffected by the pandemic.

“The interest in sort of the classic, undergraduate, on-ground experience has never been stronger,” he said.

While college presidents like Fitts say public health is paramount, some industry experts point to schools’ powerful financial motivation to be on campus and in residences because of auxiliary revenue from services such as dining halls, bookstores, and vending machines.

“I don’t think it’s only about money – but it leads with money,” higher education researcher Jeff Selingo said. “Their entire business model, including their financial stability, is predicated on bringing people together in close proximity.”

HYBRIDS

Some colleges, however, are lowering the number of people allowed on campus to reduce risk of contagion, offering hybrids of in-person and online learning or altering the academic year’s structure.

When the novel coronavirus shook the world back in March, U.S. colleges almost uniformly shut down, dormitories emptied and classes moved online.

“What we are seeing this fall is a million different scenarios,” Selingo said.

In late May, about two-thirds of U.S. colleges and universities said they were planning to resume in-person instruction in the fall, according to data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education. That number declined to about 50 percent as of late July.

Johns Hopkins University, a research institution in Baltimore, Maryland, is one of several schools that abandoned plans to have students return to campus.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic is worsening,” Johns Hopkins President Ronald Daniels said in an Aug. 6 letter. “We have concluded that returning in person would pose unacceptable risks.”

Cornell, which has about 23,000 students, has said that in-person classes actually will result in fewer coronavirus cases than a virtual semester.

Thousands of students live off-campus, and many have indicated they will return to Ithaca even if classes are online, Cornell president Martha Pollack said in an Aug. 5 letter.

Resuming campus life makes it easier to monitor and test those students, wrote Pollack, who declined to be interviewed for this article.

Students, for example, will have to fill out a daily online health assessment as part of a behavioral compact and will face penalties, including suspension, for misleading the school.

Still, Cornell’s plan has drawn objections from some Ithaca residents. Ri Bornstein, an artist and administrative assistant, said townspeople have kept the virus under control by acting responsibly and that some students who already have returned to campus are not.

“Cornell is saying people will act appropriately, but then I look outside and see frat parties,” Bornstein said.

“They are enacting the plan that’s about the most possible profit for them,” he asserted, saying Cornell’s modeling seems questionable and self-serving.

Pollack’s letter said that the reopening plan was driven by science, not financial considerations.

Pollack said that while there could be more than a thousand coronavirus cases during the coming semester, online learning would result in several thousand infections, according to statistical modeling done by Cornell data scientist Peter Frazier.

“As we all have learned, there are no perfect solutions to this deeply imperfect situation,” she said. “All we can do is strive our hardest for the best solutions we can find.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Catherine Koppel; editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)

Georgia judge recuses herself at hearing over Atlanta’s face mask mandate

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – A Georgia judge recused herself on Tuesday about an hour before a hearing on Governor Brian Kemp’s lawsuit seeking to stop Atlanta’s mayor from enforcing a requirement that people in the state’s largest city wear masks in public.

In a one-page order, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Ellerbe did not provide a reason for what was described as a “voluntary recusal.”

A spokesman for the court said a statement was expected later in the day. There was no immediate comment from the governor’s office or the office of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Earlier this month, Kemp barred local leaders from requiring people to wear masks to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Even so, several Georgia cities, including Democratic-led Atlanta, Savannah and Athens, have defied the governor’s order and kept local mandates in place.

The governor’s office filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Bottoms and the Atlanta city council, arguing that local officials lack the legal authority to override Kemp’s orders.

“Kemp must be allowed, as the chief executive of this state, to manage a public health emergency without Mayor Bottoms issuing void and unenforceable orders which only serve to confuse the public,” the 16-page complaint reads.

Tuesday’s hearing was on an emergency motion by the governor’s office to have the court lift Atlanta’s mask requirement while the lawsuit works its way through the court system.

The governor’s office has not yet filed lawsuits against the other mayors.

Americans are divided over the use of masks even as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continues to rise in many parts of the country, including Georgia. The United States has more than 3.8 million recorded cases and more than 140,900 deaths in the pandemic.

The divide is largely along political lines, with conservatives more likely than liberals to call the rules a violation of their constitutional rights.

President Donald Trump told Fox News on Friday he did not believe in implementing a national mask mandate.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Franklin Paul, Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis)

Florida sets one-day record with over 15,000 new COVID cases, more than most countries

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – Florida reported a record increase of more than 15,000 new cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours on Sunday, as the Trump administration renewed its push for schools to reopen and anti-mask protests were planned in Michigan and Missouri.

If Florida were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for the most new cases in a day behind the United States, Brazil and India, according to a Reuters analysis.

Florida’s daily increases in cases have already surpassed the highest daily tally reported by any European country during the height of the pandemic there. It has also broken New York state’s record of 12,847 new cases on April 10 when it was the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

The latest rise was reported a day after Walt Disney World in Orlando reopened with a limited number of guests who were welcomed with a host of safety measures, including masks and temperature checks.

Anti-mask activists in several states, including Florida and Michigan, have organized protests against local mandates, arguing that the measures infringe upon individual freedom.

Coronavirus infections are rising in about 40 states, according to a Reuters analysis of cases for the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks. Nationally, the United States has broken global records by registering about 60,000 new cases a day for the last four days in a row, according to a Reuters tally. Hospitalizations and positive test rates are also rising in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.

Florida reported a record amount of testing, with nearly 143,000 results announced on Sunday compared with an average of 68,000 for the prior seven days.

TRUMP DONS MASK

Facing a battered economy as he seeks re-election in November, President Donald Trump has pressured states to reopen shuttered businesses and schools.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Sunday that her department did not have its own safe reopening plans to promote, and each school district and state must devise their own plans based on their local coronavirus infection rates.

Health officials have pleaded with the public to wear masks to limit the spread of the virus, but the issue has become politically divisive in the United States unlike many other countries that have seen far lower rates of infection and death.

Seven months into the pandemic, Trump wore a mask for the first time in public when he visited a Washington D.C.-area military medical center on Saturday. He had previously refused to wear a mask in public or ask Americans to wear face coverings, saying it was a personal choice.

Many Americans still refuse to wear a mask, which health experts say help stop transmission of the virus that has killed more than 134,000 Americans.

Anti-mask activists organized a protest on Saturday at a grilled cheese restaurant and bar in Windermere, Florida, which is in Orange County about 12 miles (19 km) from Walt Disney World.

The restaurant, 33 & Melt, has become a focal point of tension after owner Carrie Hudson said she was not requiring customers to wear masks. County officials have mandated the use of masks in public since June 20.

During Saturday’s protest, no customers wore face coverings inside the restaurant. Agents from the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco arrived during the rally and served Hudson with a warning, according to a video.

“This is a virus that is very well contained,” said one of the demonstrators, anti-mask activist Tara Hill. “Everyone is responsible for their own health care decisions … We want our choices respected as well.”

In addition to a record 15,000 new cases on Sunday, more than four dozen hospitals in Florida reported that their intensive care units are full due to a surge in COVID-19 patients.

Hundreds were expected to attend a demonstration at the Michigan state capitol on Sunday afternoon, according to a Facebook event, to protest against Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order that everyone must wear a mask in public, except when outdoors and able to maintain social distance.

Protesters were also planning to gather outside city hall in Springfield, Missouri on Monday, where the city council was due to vote on a mask mandate in response to rising cases and a more than fourfold increase in Greene County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last month.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borters in New York and Octavio Jones in Windermere, Florida; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

‘A recipe for disaster,’ U.S. health official says of Americans ignoring coronavirus advice

By Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON Reuters) – A spike in U.S. coronavirus infections is fueled in large part by people ignoring public health guidelines to keep their distance and wear masks, the government’s top infectious disease official said.

A daily surge in confirmed cases has been most pronounced in southern and western states that did not follow health officials’ recommendations to wait for a steady decline in infections for two weeks before reopening their economies.

“That’s a recipe for disaster,” Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN in an interview broadcast on Monday.

“Now we’re seeing the consequences of community spread, which is even more difficult to contain than spread in a well-known physical location like a prison or nursing home or meatpacking place,” Fauci told the cable channel in the interview, which was recorded on Friday.

More than 2.5 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the United States and more than 125,000 have died of COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes, according to a Reuters tally. The U.S. tally is the highest in the world while the global death toll in the pandemic surpassed half a million people on Sunday.

California ordered some bars to close on Sunday, the first major rollback of efforts to reopen the economy in the most populous U.S. state, following Texas and Florida ordering the closure of all their bars on Friday. Arizona and Georgia are among 15 states that had record increases in cases last week.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday pressed Americans to adopt face masks during a trip to Texas and wore one himself, a sharp turnaround for the administration. Republican President Donald Trump has refused to cover his face in public.

Pence and other top health officials were expected to visit Arizona and Florida later this week.

In places where cases are soaring, U.S. health officials are also considering “completely blanketing these communities with tests,” Fauci said, to try to get a better sense of an outbreak.

They would either test groups, or “pools,” of people or have community groups do contact tracing in person rather than by phone. Contact tracing involves identifying people who are infected and monitoring people who may have been exposed and asking them to voluntarily go into quarantine.

Fauci said that he was optimistic that a vaccine could be available by year’s end but that it was unclear how effective it would prove to be, adding that no vaccine would be 100% effective and citing challenges to achieve so-called herd immunity.

The top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, on Monday stressed individual actions to stop the spread of the virus, deflecting criticism from Democrats and some health experts that Trump botched the prevention effort.

“You can’t say the federal government should do everything, and then say the federal government can’t tell the states what to do,” McCarthy told CNBC. “The governors have a big responsibility here but every American has a responsibility. They should wear a mask.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Howard Goller)