August cases; Usain Bolt; American Airlines; FDA on plasma

August cases; Usain Bolt; American Airlines; FDA on plasma


Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the UN, praises the efforts of President Trump while being critical of former Vice President Joe Biden.

Associated Press

New COVID-19 cases are down about 20% since early August, but deaths remain alarmingly high, with nearly 1,000 Americans a day still dying from the virus.

That’s according to data from Johns Hopkins University. A closer look at testing reveals similarly mixed news: Positive tests rates are falling but less tests are being done.

A growing awareness of how the virus spreads and more mask-wearing are likely helping curb the number of new cases, experts say. But reopening schools and universities continues to be a confounding challenge.

Most universities are unlikely to be able to reopen safely, said A. David Paltiel, a professor at Yale’s School of Public Health, who recently built a mathematical model to track the spread of the virus on college campuses. He found scenarios in which universities can open safely, he said, but “it’s an incredibly high bar. It’s probably one that most universities can’t reach.”

Some significant developments:

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 5.7 million confirmed infections and 177,000 deaths. Worldwide, there have been more than 814,000 deaths and 23.7 million cases, according to John Hopkins University data

📰 What we’re reading: USA TODAY’s expert panelists, increasingly optimistic about the prospect of a readily available vaccine, are concerned about who will get it first, how doses will be shipped, and what messages the government must send so Americans trust getting one.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to the Daily Briefing.

10,000 Penn. prison inmates apply for pandemic unemployment benefits

About 10,000 state prison inmates in Pennsylvania fraudulently applied for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic, prosecutors said in announcing charges Tuesday against 33 people.

“These 33 defendants represent, truly, the tip of the iceberg, and we are seeing unemployment fraud on an unprecedented scale,” U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said at a news conference in Pittsburgh.

Investigators recently were able to cross-check a list of state inmates against those who applied for pandemic unemployment benefits and found about 10,000 matches, Brady’s office said. Along with applications by county and federal inmates, Brady said, he believes the total cost of the fraud in Pennsylvania is approaching a quarter-billion dollars.

Those charged this week, including some who have not yet been arrested, are a mixture of inmates and people outside jail. They face charges that include theft, conspiracy, filing or helping to file a fraudulent federal benefits application and lying to investigators.

Lawsuit challenges Wisconsin governor’s mask mandate

Wisconsin’s statewide mask mandate should be immediately ended because Gov. Tony Evers didn’t have the legal authority to order it, three western Wisconsin residents represented by a conservative law firm argue in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

It’s the first legal challenge to the mask order Evers issued to help slow the spread of the coronavirus after cases began to spike again in mid-June. Evers issued the order on July 30, it took effect Aug. 1, and is set to run until Sept. 28. The order requires everyone age 5 and older to wear a mask while indoors, except at home. Violators could be fined $200.

The three plaintiffs are represented by the conservative law firm the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback accused Republicans and their allies of trying to prevent the governor from keeping people healthy and safe.

The lawsuit contends that the legal challenge is about Evers’ authority, not whether the state should act to slow the spread of COVID-19 or whether there can be a mask mandate. If Evers wanted to enact a mask mandate, he could have done so with the Legislature’s approval, not by issuing an executive order, said Rick Esenberg, president of the law firm bringing the challenge.

Border wait times surge in El Paso amid ‘nonessential’ travel crackdown

Cross-border commuters reported more than four-hour wait times at international bridges, with some waits as long as eight hours, over the weekend as U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed inspection lanes and increased scrutiny to discourage nonessential travel.

Border restrictions issued by the Department of Homeland Security in March already prohibit crossing for tourism or recreation. In practice, Mexican nationals who hold a B1/B2 tourist card have been barred from crossing to the United States, while U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents have been permitted to return stateside.

As economies on both sides of the border have opened in recent weeks, border crossings have increased.

– Lauren Villagran, El Paso Times

FDA chief apologizes for overstating plasma’s effect on virus

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn on Tuesday apologized for overstating the life-saving benefits of treating COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma.

Scientists and medical experts have been pushing back against the claims about the treatment since President Donald Trump’s announcement on Sunday that the FDA had decided to issue emergency authorization for convalescent plasma, taken from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus and rich in disease-fighting antibodies. The announcement raised suspicions that it was politically motivated to offset critics of the president’s handling of the pandemic.

Hahn had echoed Trump in saying that 35 more people out of 100 would survive the coronavirus if they were treated with the plasma. That claim vastly overstated preliminary findings of Mayo Clinic observations.

– Matthew Perrone and Deb Riechmann, Associated Press

American Airlines to lay off 17,500 workers

American Airlines warned in July that it would have to lay off up to 25,000 flight attendants, pilots and other front line workers this fall due to the steep decline in travel brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The final number came in lower thanks to voluntary employee exits and leaves but the figure is still staggering: 17,500 workers. That is in addition to 1,500 management and administrative workers already laid off.

The only thing that will stop the layoffs, the company said, is an extension of the payroll protection program the government approved earlier this year to support key industries until travel demand returned. Travel demand hasn’t returned in sufficient numbers, however, and airline unions are fighting to extend the payroll protection, and thus any layoffs, through March 31. 

– Dawn Gilbertson

Global tourism lost $320 billion in 5 months, UN says

The global tourism industry has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, with $320 billion lost in exports in the first five months of the year and more than 120 million jobs at risk, the U.N. chief said Tuesday.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a policy briefing and video address that tourism is the third-largest export sector of the global economy, behind fuels and chemicals, and in 2019 it accounted for 7% of global trade. “It employs one in every 10 people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more,” he said.

But the U.N. chief said that in the first five months of 2020, because of the pandemic, international tourist arrivals decreased by more than half and earnings plummeted.  Guterres said this has been a “major shock” for richer developed nations “but for developing countries, it is an emergency, particularly for many small island developing states and African countries.”

– Associated Press

Florida university suspends fraternities after off-campus parties that broke COVID-19 rules

Two fraternities at Florida Gulf Coast University have been suspended after allegedly throwing large, off-campus parties Friday night, ignoring the school’s new COVID-19 health and safety rules. 

School officials were made aware of the events held by Sigma Chi and Phi Delta Theta fraternities, which were allegedly “not compliant with the university’s COVID-19 health and safety measures for crowd size, masks and social distancing,” said Susan Evans, chief of staff for the Fort Myers-based university. 

The two organizations are now cut off from normal activities, including holding meetings and recruitment efforts, until adjudicated through the process outlined in the student code of conduct.

Last week, the university re-opened to in-person classes. The university has about 15,000 students enrolled in fall courses, which are being offered in a variety of virtual and face-to-face options.

– Pamela McCabe, Fort Myers News-Press

Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt tests positive for COVID-19

Eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt has tested positive for COVID-19, a top Jamaican public health official confirmed in a news conference Monday night. The sprinter previously said in a statement on social media Monday that he took a COVID-19 test on Saturday, one day after celebrating his 34th birthday, and was waiting on the result.

“I’m trying to be responsible, so I’m going to stay in and stay away from my friends,” Bolt said in the message, which he posted early Monday afternoon. “I’m having no symptoms (but) am going to quarantine myself.”

Nationwide News Network, a Jamaican radio station, first reported that Bolt had tested positive Monday morning.

Bolt is the latest notable athlete to contract COVID-19, which has infected more than 23 million people worldwide, according to data from the World Health Organization. Jamaica has recorded 1,529 cases of COVID-19 to date.

– Tom Schad

At least 6 states trying to track outbreaks from the 10-day Sturgis bike rally

The hundreds of thousands of bikers who attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally may have departed western South Dakota, but public health departments in multiple states are trying to measure how much and how quickly the coronavirus spread in bars, tattoo shops and gatherings before people traveled home to nearly every state in the country.

From the city of Sturgis, which is conducting mass testing for its roughly 7,000 residents, to health departments in at least six states, health officials are trying to track outbreaks from the 10-day rally which ended on Aug. 16. 

An analysis of anonymous cell phone data from Camber Systems, a firm that aggregates cell phone activity for health researchers, found that 61% of all the counties in the U.S. have been visited by someone who attended Sturgis, creating a travel hub that was comparable to a major U.S. city.

Health departments in four states, including South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wyoming, have reported a total of 81 cases among people who attended the rally. South Dakota health officials said Monday they had received reports of infections from residents of two other states — North Dakota and Washington. The Department of Health also issued public warnings of possible COVID-19 exposure at five businesses popular with bikers, saying it didn’t know how many people could have been exposed. Read more. 

– Stephen Groves, Associated Press

COVID-19 and the RNC: Republicans defend Trump’s pandemic response

Republicans defended President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and slammed Joe Biden on Monday during the first night of a GOP convention.

In a series of videos and remarks, some of them live and others taped, Republicans touted the president’s response to the coronavirus, promised to lift the economy back to pre-pandemic levels and generally attempted to present the election as a choice between Biden and Trump rather than as a referendum on the president’s last four years.

Trump plans to appear every night of the mostly virtual four-day virtual Republican National Convention. After Monday’s kickoff in Charlotte, North Carolina, most of the GOP convention will take place in Washington, D.C., at and around the White House, as well as by video.

– Courtney Subramanian, Maureen Groppe, Ledyard King, John Fritze, David Jackson, William Cummings

Louisiana governor: Do not throw a hurricane party

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says please just don’t to Louisiana residents thinking of planning a hurricane party.

“Hurricane parties are never a good idea, and they’re an absolutely horrible idea during COVID. There’s multiple dangers there,” Edwards said in a press conference Monday. “And I would say rather than doing that, they need to spend their time preparing for this particular hurricane.” 

Laura, projected to be a hurricane at landfall, is approaching the Gulf coastline. Health officials advise against gatherings of large groups of people to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

– Daniella Medina, Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser

Tuesday numbers: Record deaths, cases across the US

A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Monday shows three states set records for new cases in a week while two states had a record number of deaths in a week. New case records were set in Kansas, North Dakota and South Dakota, and also Guam. Record numbers of deaths were reported in Arkansas and Wyoming.

– Mike Stucka

Inaccurate results from rapid COVID-19 tests raise concerns about mass screening

Dozens of people who took quick-result coronavirus tests at a Manchester, Vermont, clinic in July were told they had the virus, only to be informed days later that more accurate lab tests concluded they didn’t.

But last week, Quidel, the company that makes the rapid antigen test used by the clinic, stood by the original results. The top executive said it’s “highly likely” his company’s test was correct, and the state of Vermont’s conflicting lab-based test was “at risk of providing inaccurate results.”

As companies and universities create their own strategies to widely test employees and students – even those with no symptoms of COVID-19 or no known exposure to the virus – experts warn such confusion over conflicting results is inevitable. Read more.

– Ken Alltucker

Colleges need COVID-19 tests to reopen. Some don’t have much of a plan.

What the pandemic means for California’s firefighters

Leaders battling blazes across the West say they’re holding their own, despite the pandemic. Some adjustments to COVID-19 are proving more effective than previous tactics. But as more fires erupt in California and elsewhere, first responders are bracing for a long battle that will force them to revamp time-tested strategies on the fly.

“We’re building the bridge as we cross it,” said George Geissler, Washington state forester and deputy supervisor for wildfire.

Like many states, California’s strategy this year involves an aggressive early response, trying to squelch fires quickly in the hopes that will prevent some from becoming large blazes. The fewer massive fires, the fewer large camps will be required, lessening COVID-19 risk. Read more from Pew/Stateline.

NFL’s Miami Dolphins want 13,000 fans in the stadium for Sept. 20 game

Fifteen of the NFL’s 32 teams have so far ruled out spectators to start the season, but the Miami Dolphins won’t be joining them.

The Dolphins are one of at least eight teams hoping to have a limited number of spectators, allowing up to 13,000 socially distancing fans to attend their home opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 20. The same plan will be followed for the University of Miami’s home opener against UAB at the Dolphins’ stadium on Sept. 10.

Crowd size will be about 20% of the stadium’s 65,326-seat capacity, with the limitation imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Groups of spectators will be spaced 6 feet apart.


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KFC scraps use of ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ in its ads amid coronavirus pandemic

Fried chicken chain KFC is suspending the slogan “It’s Finger Lickin’ Good” after 64 years because use of the slogan “doesn’t feel quite right.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the steps people can take to protect themselves from spreading COVID-19 is washing hands often, and keeping hands away from your mouth, nose and eyes.

KFC said the slogan will not go away forever. The chain said they will bring it back “when the time is right.”

– Brett Molina

JFK, LaGuardia airports to get COVID-19 testing sites for incoming travelers

New York will set up COVID-19 testing sites for incoming passengers at its two largest airports as part of the latest effort to stop travelers from bringing the coronavirus to the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday the sites slated for John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in Queens, saying it will allow the state to more quickly determine whether incoming travelers have the virus at the center of a global pandemic.

“We’re actually setting up testing sites at our airports. We’ll be able to do faster testing of people coming in, including hospital staff,” Cuomo said Monday at a news conference on Long Island.

Cuomo did not offer details on when the testing will be rolled out, what the cost for inbound travelers will be or what happens when someone tests positive. The USA TODAY Network has reached out to his office and the Port Authority for specifics about the plan.

– Jon Campbell, New York State Team

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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Contributing: The Associated Press

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