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)

U.S. CDC reports 199,024 coronavirus deaths

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday reported 6,786,352 cases of the new coronavirus, an increase of 37,417 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 270 to 199,024.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by the new coronavirus, as of 4 pm ET on Sept. 20 versus its previous report a day earlier.

The CDC figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

Justice Ginsburg to be honored at U.S. Supreme Court, Capitol

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The body of late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last week at age 87, will lie in repose outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday so members of the public can pay their respects before she lies in state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday.

There has been an outpouring of public mourning for the iconic liberal justice, who became a pop culture icon in recent years, even as President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans who control the Senate seek to replace her with a conservative justice before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Crowds have gathered outside the court building, leaving flowers and other items in tribute, ever since her death on Friday from complications of pancreatic cancer.

A private ceremony will take place at the court on Wednesday morning, attended by Ginsburg’s family, friends and other Supreme Court justices, a court statement said on Monday. Some of Ginsburg’s former law clerks will serve as pallbearers and will be lined up on the court’s steps when the casket arrives.

Ginsburg’s casket will be placed outside, under the court’s portico, in a break from tradition prompted by coronavirus-related health concerns. Usually the casket of a dead justice is placed in the court’s Great Hall, where the public can view it.

On Friday, the casket will be placed in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a separate statement. A private ceremony will be held, Pelosi added.

Ginsburg will be interned at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in a private ceremony next week, the court statement said.

Trump said on Monday he will announce his pick to replace Ginsburg on the high court by the end of the week. If the Senate confirms his nominee, it would leave the court with a solid 6-3 conservative majority ahead of his Nov. 3 re-election bid.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Chris Reese and Will Dunham)

Trump says he will name Supreme Court pick by Saturday, urges quick vote

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday he will announce his U.S. Supreme Court pick by the end of the week, moving quickly to fill the seat of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg and cement a 6-3 conservative majority ahead of his Nov. 3 re-election bid.

The Republican president said he is looking “very seriously” at five candidates and would put forward his nominee on Friday or Saturday after funeral services for Ginsburg, who died of complications from pancreatic cancer on Friday at age 87.

Trump said the Republican-controlled Senate should hold a vote ahead of the election.

“The final vote should be taken frankly before the election. We have plenty of time for that,” Trump said on Fox News.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has prioritized confirming Trump’s judicial appointments, has said he would usher through a vote. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but two Republican senators – Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski – over the weekend said the chamber should not move forward with a Trump nominee before the election.

McConnell has time, as a new Congress will not be sworn in until Jan. 3. Democrats are hoping to win control of the Senate in the election.

Ginsburg’s death has upended the campaign season, giving Trump and his party an opportunity to strengthen its grip on a court whose decisions influence many spheres of American life including abortion, healthcare, gun rights, voting access, presidential powers and the death penalty.

Trump already has named two conservative justices to the high court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Trump has mentioned possible candidates in Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump named both of them to their current jobs. Trump on Fox also was asked about Judge Allison Rushing, who Trump appointed to the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year.

“I’m looking at five, probably four, but I’m looking at five very seriously. I’m going to make a decision on either Friday or Saturday,” Trump said.

‘A TERRIFIC WOMAN’

Asked about Lagoa, a conservative Cuban-American jurist from Florida, Trump said, “She’s Hispanic. She’s a terrific woman from everything I know. I don’t know her. Florida. We love Florida.” Florida is an election battleground state pivotal to Trump’s chances against Biden.

The court vacancy also has given Trump and his fellow Republicans a chance to steer the national discussion away from the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed almost 200,000 Americans and thrown millions of people out of work.

Democrats accused McConnell of hypocrisy for being eager to usher a Trump nominee to a confirmation vote. In 2016, he refused to even consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the court left by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, saying it would be inappropriate to do so during an election year.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington and Andrew Chung in New York; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and Jan Wolfe, Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

U.S. Justice Dept. weighs stripping federal funds from cities allowing ‘anarchy’

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Monday threatened to revoke federal funding for New York City, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, saying the three liberal cities were allowing anarchy and violence on their streets.

“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.

Spokespeople for the mayors’ offices in all three cities could not be immediately reached for comment.

Many cities across the United States have experienced unrest since the May death of George Floyd. In some cases the protests have escalated into violence and looting.

The federal government has mounted a campaign to disperse the racial justice protests, including by sending federal agents into Portland and Seattle and encouraging federal prosecutors to bring charges.

Last week, the Justice Department urged federal prosecutors to consider sedition charges against protesters who have burned buildings and engaged in other violent activity.

Monday’s threat to revoke federal funds was the government’s latest escalation in its quest to curb the protests.

It comes after President Donald Trump earlier this month issued a memo laying out criteria to consider when reviewing funding for states and cities that are “permitting anarchy, violence, and destruction in American cities.”

The criteria to make the president’s list include things such as whether a city forbids the police from intervening or if it defunds its police force.

In all three cities, the Justice Department said the leadership has rejected efforts to allow federal law enforcement officials to intervene and restore order, among other things.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Factbox: Latest on the worldwide spread of coronavirus

(Reuters) – Coronavirus infections slowed in Australia and New Zealand, while Britain said it was at a “tipping point” on COVID-19 as European countries mulled tightening restrictions to curb a sharp resurgence in cases.

EUROPE

* Britain is at a tipping point on COVID-19, health minister Matt Hancock said, warning that a second national lockdown could be imposed if people don’t follow government rules designed to stop the spread of the virus.

* The Czech government could declare a state of emergency if a recent spike in cases continues in the coming days, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said.

* Protesters in some poorer areas of Madrid that are facing a lockdown to stem a soaring infection rate took to the streets on Sunday to call for better health provisions, complaining of discrimination by the authorities.

* Russia reported 6,148 new cases on Sunday, the second straight day when the daily number of cases exceeded 6,000.

* French health authorities reported 10,569 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday, down from the previous day’s record increase of 13,498.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* Schools in Seoul and nearby areas resumed in-person classes for the first time in almost a month after daily cases dropped to the lowest levels since mid-August.

* Australia’s coronavirus hotspot of Victoria reported on Monday its lowest daily rise in infections in three months, although state Premier Daniel Andrews said there were no plans yet to ease restrictions sooner than expected.

* New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lifted all coronavirus restrictions across the country, except in second-wave hotspot Auckland, as the number of new infections slowed to a trickle.

AMERICAS

* The United States set a one-day record with over 1 million coronavirus diagnostic tests being performed, but the country needs 6 million to 10 million a day to bring outbreaks under control, according to various experts.

* Brazil and Argentina, Latin American nations seeking more time to commit to the global COVID-19 vaccine facility known as COVAX, said they intend to do so as soon as possible after missing Friday’s deadline.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* Morocco signed a deal with Russia’s R-Pharm to buy a COVID-19 vaccine produced under a license from Britain’s AstraZeneca, the health ministry said, as its total number of cases approached 100,000.

* Israel entered a second nationwide lockdown at the onset of the Jewish high-holiday season, forcing residents to stay mostly at home amid a resurgence in new cases.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* Moderna Inc said it was on track to produce 20 million doses of its experimental coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, while maintaining its goal of readying 500 million to 1 billion doses in 2021.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* British manufacturers see no evidence of a ‘V’-shaped recovery from the pandemic underway and many are planning to slash investment, a business survey showed.

(Compiled by Devika Syamnath and Alex Richardson; Edited by Shounak Dasgupta)

U.S. to surpass grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths

By Sangameswaran S

(Reuters) – The death toll from the spread of coronavirus in the United States was approaching over 200,000 lives on Monday, more than double the number of fatalities in India, the country reporting the second-highest number of cases in the world.

The United States, on a weekly average, is now losing about 800 lives each day to the virus, according to a Reuters tally. That is down from a peak of 2,806 daily deaths recorded on April 15.

During the early months of the pandemic, 200,000 deaths was regarded by many as the maximum number of lives likely to be lost in the United States to the virus.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield recently told Congress that a face mask would provide more guaranteed protection than a vaccine, which would only be broadly available by “late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”

The CDC currently predicts that the U.S. death toll will reach as high as 218,000 by Oct. 10.

The University of Washington’s health institute is forecasting coronavirus fatalities reaching 378,000 by the end of 2020, with the daily death toll skyrocketing to 3,000 per day in December.

Over 70% of those in the United States who have lost their lives to the virus were over the age of 65, according to CDC data.

The southern states of Texas and Florida contributed the most deaths in the United States in the past two weeks and was closely followed by California.

California, Texas and Florida – the three most populous U.S. states – have recorded the most coronavirus infections and have long surpassed the state of New York, which was the epicenter of the outbreak in early 2020. The country as a whole is reporting over 40,000 new infections on average each day.

As it battles a second wave of infections, the United States reported a 17% increase in the number of new cases last week compared with the previous seven days, with deaths rising 7% on average in the last, according to a Reuters analysis.

Six out of every 10,000 residents in the United States has died of the virus, according to Reuters data, one of the highest rates among developed nations.

Brazil follows the United States in the number of overall deaths due to the virus, with over 136,000 fatalities.

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O’Brien)

Taiwan scrambles jets as 18 Chinese planes buzz during U.S. visit

By Ben Blanchard and Yew Lun Tian

TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Taiwan scrambled fighter jets on Friday as 18 Chinese aircraft buzzed the island, crossing the sensitive mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, in response to a senior U.S. official holding talks in Taipei.

China had earlier announced combat drills and denounced what it called collusion between the island, which it claims as part of its territory, and the United States.

U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit, the most senior State Department official to come to Taiwan in four decades – to which China had promised a “necessary response.”

The U.S. State Department has said Krach, who arrived in Taipei on Thursday afternoon, is in Taiwan for a memorial service on Saturday for former President Lee Teng-hui, who was revered by many on the island and internationally as the father of Taiwan’s democracy.

But Beijing has watched with growing alarm the ever-closer relationship between Taipei and Washington, and has stepped up military exercises near the island, including two days of large-scale air and sea drills last week.

With a U.S. presidential election looming in November, Sino-U.S. relations are already under huge strain from a trade war, U.S. digital security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan said 18 Chinese aircraft were involved on Friday, far more than in previous such encounters and entered its southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

“Sep. 18, two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighters, four J-10 fighters and four J-11 fighters crossed the mid-line of the TaiwanStrait and entered Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ,” the defense ministry said in an English-language tweet.

Combat aircraft from both sides normally avoid passing through the Taiwan Strait mid-line.

“ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defense missile system to monitor the activities.” The ROCAF, Taiwan’s air force, has scrambled frequently in recent months in response to Chinese intrusions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led the Trump administration’s rhetorical offensive against China, accused Beijing of bluster when asked about the Chinese activity.

“We sent the delegation to a funeral, and the Chinese have apparently responded by military blustering. I’ll leave it at that,” he told a news conference on a visit to Guyana.

In a statement, the Pentagon said it was another example of China using its military as a tool of coercion.

“The PLA’s aggressive and destabilizing reactions reflect a continued attempt to alter the status quo and rewrite history,” a Pentagon spokesman said, using an acronym for China’s People’s Liberation Army.

The ministry showed a map of the flight paths of Chinese jets crossing the mid-line.

Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper said Taiwanese jets had scrambled 17 times over four hours, warning China’s air force to stay away. It also showed a picture of missiles being loaded onto an F-16 fighter at the Hualien air base on Taiwan’s east coast.

‘REASONABLE, NECESSARY ACTION’

In Beijing, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Friday’s maneuvers, about which he gave no details, involved the People’s Liberation Army’s eastern theater command.

“They are a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ren said.

He said Taiwan was a purely internal Chinese affair and accused its ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of stepping up “collusion” with the United States.

Trying to “use Taiwan to control China” or “rely on foreigners to build oneself up” was wishful thinking and futile. “Those who play with fire will get burnt,” Ren said.

Taiwan’s presidential office urged China to exercise restraint, and urged the Taiwanese not to be alarmed, saying the military had a grasp on the situation.

Government officials in Taiwan, including President Tsai Ing-wen, have expressed concern in recent weeks that an accidental military encounter could spark a wider conflict.

Hu Xijin, editor of China’s widely read state-backed Global Times tabloid, wrote on his Weibo microblog that the drills were preparation for an attack on Taiwan should the need arise, and that they enabled intelligence-gathering about Taiwan’s defense systems.

“If the U.S. secretary of state or defense secretary visits Taiwan, People’s Liberation Army fighters should fly over Taiwan island, and directly exercise in the skies above it,” he added.

Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the mid-line last month while U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar was in Taipei, and last week China carried out two days of large-scale drills off Taiwan’s southwestern coast.

The United States, like most countries, has official ties only with China, not Taiwan, though Washington is the island’s main arms supplier and most important international backer.

This week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations had lunch with Taiwan’s top envoy in New York. China’s U.N. mission said it had lodged “stern representations” over the meeting.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Additional reportnmg by David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

In Wisconsin, Trump announces $13 billion in farm aid

By Steve Holland and P.J. Huffstutter

MOSINEE, Wis. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump announced a new round of pandemic assistance to farmers of about $13 billion at a campaign rally in Wisconsin on Thursday night, delivering aid to an important sector in a crucial battleground state.

“Starting next week my administration is committing an additional … $13 billion in relief to help farmers recover from the China virus, including Wisconsin’s incredible dairy, cranberry and ginseng farmers who got hurt badly,” Trump said, referring to the novel coronavirus virus.

Wisconsin is known for its milk and cheese industries, which have been hard hit by both the White House’s trade policies and the COVID-19 pandemic – but the amount of assistance to farmers weeks before the vote was unexpected.

Trump spoke in Mosinee, a rural town in the central part of Wisconsin, as state officials reported 2,034 new coronavirus cases, a record one-day increase.

The new aid program – which the agriculture department is expected to release details about on Friday – is tapping into the $14 billion in additional Commodity Credit Corporation funds that Congress agreed to prepay as part of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to four sources familiar with the matter.

Farmers are expected to be allowed to start applying for the new program on Monday, the sources said.

How much certain crops will receive is not known, but the program is set to make direct payments to producers of meat, dairy, grain, vegetables and other products, the sources said.

The payments will be designed similarly to an earlier aid package: calculated based on yields of crops and the impact the coronavirus pandemic had on the price of the commodities.

Trump in April announced a $19 billion relief program to help U.S. farmers cope with the impact of the virus, including $16 billion in direct payments to producers and mass purchases of meat, dairy, vegetables and other products.

That came on the heels of $28 billion in trade aid given to the farm sector over 2018 and 2019. A government watchdog agency said on Monday the 2019 aid favored farmers from the U.S. Southeast, primarily those growing crops like cotton or sorghum, over those in other parts of the country.

China’s demand for U.S. corn and soybeans has been strong in recent weeks, boosting prices, and it is also importing more meat amid a potential food supply gap.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and P.J. Huffstutter; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Eric Beech; Editing by Tom Brown and Aurora Ellis)

White House to announce $11.6 billion aid for Puerto Rico: Fox News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House plans to announce an $11.6 billion aid package for Puerto Rico, focused on the territory’s energy and education systems, to help the island recover from the devastation brought by 2017’s Hurricane Maria, Fox News reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources.

Puerto Rico was already struggling financially before the deadly hurricane struck three years ago, and filed a form of municipal bankruptcy for the commonwealth in 2017 to restructure about $120 billion of debt and obligations.

Since then, the U.S. commonwealth has been hit by more hurricanes, earthquakes, the coronavirus pandemic and political upheaval, and has been the target of increased federal scrutiny into its use of U.S. aid. A large portion of its financial distress was linked to the territory’s power utility.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; editing by Susan Heavey and Jonathan Oatis)