Senate coronavirus aid; Los Angeles halloween; layoffs

Senate coronavirus aid; Los Angeles halloween; layoffs

The Senate failed to advance a slimmed-down coronavirus relief bill Thursday that senators on both sides had acknowledged was unlikely to muster the votes to pass the chamber.

The bill was defeated in a 52-47 vote, and one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted with Democrats in opposing the bill. 

The estimated $300 billion proposal, dubbed the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act, included bolstered unemployment benefits, funding for schools and liability protections for businesses and health care facilities. Its failure leaves little chance a stimulus bill will pass Congress before the November election.

Meanwhile, universities across the country also continue to contend with COVID-19 challenges. The University of Wyoming on Wednesday extended its fall return for the second time in a week, while the University of Wisconsin-Madison shifted to online education for two weeks.

Some significant developments:

  • More than 857,000 Americans filed first-time applications for unemployment insurance last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.
  • The race for a coronavirus vaccine to help end the pandemic has consumed the scientific community and created an escalating demand for an essential resource: monkeys.
  • Navajo Nation health officials on Wednesday reported zero deaths for the second time in three days. No deaths were reported on Monday for the first time since March.
  • President Donald Trump said he was publicly downplaying the coronavirus pandemic to not “create a panic,” according to an interview with veteran journalist Bob Woodward.
  • The U.S. government is halting its enhanced entry screening for certain international passengers at airports starting Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order mandating a face covering be worn at all times by athletes when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 6.3 million confirmed cases and more than 190,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Globally, there are almost 28 million cases and more than 904,000 fatalities.

📰 What we’re reading: Here’s what President Donald Trump told the public about COVID-19 versus what he told veteran Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward as early as February.

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak, state by state

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

Fauci: ‘We need to hunker down’ for the rest of the year

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, offered a word of warning to Americans as summer’s end approaches. 

Speaking at a virtual panel with doctors from Harvard Medical School, per NBC News, Fauci said that the fight against the coronavirus pandemic will only get more strenuous as the year reaches its close. He also cautioned against downplaying the severity of the virus, knowing “what’s ahead” if preventative measures are not met.

“We need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter, because it’s not going to be easy,” he said, adding that we cannot “look at the rosy side of things.”

Vice President Mike Pence heard early warning about seriousness of COVID

Vice President Mike Pence was at the January meeting at which President Donald Trump was warned about the severity of the novel coronavirus, he told Fox News Thursday.

“I was in the Oval Office the day that the team came in and briefed the president about what we perceived was happening in China,” Pence said, when asked if he had received the same briefing Trump had from National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien. “The team came in and laid the facts as we knew them on the table to the president.”

The Jan. 28 briefing included a “jarring” warning that the virus would be the “biggest national security threat” of Trump’s presidency, according to a new book written by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward.

– Maureen Groppe

Chancellor blocks students tweeting about lack of COVID protections

University of Missouri students reported that they were blocked by the school’s chancellor on Twitter this week after complaining about the lack of COVID-19 precautions on campus.

After an attorney threatened a lawsuit, Chancellor Mun Choi unblocked students, according to local outlets and Twitter.

In a letter sent to Choi, Texas lawyer and Mizzou graduate Christopher Bennett said the university’s top official had violated the First Amendment by blocking students from seeing or interacting with his tweets and could face legal action in the U.S. District Court if he didn’t unblock every student on Twitter.

– Elinor Aspegren

NFL returns to play amid COVID-19 pandemic

After an unquestionably unique spring and summer, the NFL is ready to take the field for the 2020 season. This year’s campaign kicks off Thursday night with the Kansas City Chiefs beginning their Super Bowl title defense at Arrowhead Stadium in a matchup with the Houston Texans. 

Thursday will serve as an important milestone for the league as it marks an official return to play amid the pandemic. Only one test out of 17,519 by players in the most recent round returned a positive COVID-19 result, but with its preseason schedule canceled, the league has not had to account for teams traveling until now. Arrowhead Stadium also will be one of the venues that will host fans in Week 1, as 22% of capacity (around 16,800 total) will be welcomed.

– USA TODAY Sports

New York City transit riders will face $50 fine for refusing mask

Riders who refuse to wear a mask while riding New York City’s public-transit system will face a $50 fine starting Monday. The fine applies to anyone riding New York City subway trains, buses or the Metro North and Long Island Rail Road commuter lines.

MTA President and CEO Patrick Foye announced the fine Thursday on a conference call with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sarah Feinberg, interim president of the NYC Transit Authority, who said it is meant to bolster compliance with the state’s mask mandate. Under Cuomo’s executive order, all riders are required to wear a mask while riding public transit as a way to limit the spread of COVID-19.

– Jon Campbell, New York State Team

Time running for airline workers as they look to October layoffs

The days are quickly counting down for thousands of pilots, flight attendants, gate agents and other airline workers who face the prospect of being laid off at the end of the month if Congress doesn’t come through with a new stimulus agreement.

Why the urgency? The Department of Transportation barred airlines that accepted stimulus money from laying off employees until at least Oct. 1, when $25 billion in payroll support protection money from the CARES Act expires.

On Thursday, the Senate failed to pass a slimmed-down GOP coronavirus relief package that didn’t allocate any aid for the airline industry. That leaves open the chance that airline funds could be included in a compromise measure with the House.

– Chris Woodyard

15% of cats in study test positive for COVID-19 antibodies

Nearly 15% of cats included in a Wuhan-based study tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, providing further evidence that the virus can infect the animals.

Researchers in Wuhan sampled 102 cats from shelters, pet hospitals and COVID-19 patient households from January to March and found that 15 tested positive for antibodies, including four abandoned cats, four cats from pet hospitals and three cats with patient owners, according to the study published this month in the journal Emerging Microbes & Infections.

None of the cats showed symptoms or had an active infection. The three cats owned by COVID-19 patients who tested positive for antibodies had the highest level of neutralizing antibodies – or ability to successfully block the infection. Two of those cats had detectable antibodies for 110 days.

Researchers said that while there is no evidence of transmission from cats to humans, humans can transmit the virus to cats, and cats may transmit the virus to other cats via respiratory droplets.

Scotland joins England on social gathering limit of 6 people

Scotland has joined England in limiting social gatherings to six people after a recent spike in coronavirus cases.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers the new regulations will start Monday, along with England, and apply to gatherings in and out of the home.

Scotland’s restriction is perhaps more onerous as it applies to a maximum of two households. In England, six individuals from six different households can meet.

– The Associated Press

FDA officials pledge to not rush COVID-19 vaccine amid political pressure

Senior members of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have joined a growing list of government officials, drug makers and public health experts who pledge they won’t compromise safety in the race for a coronavirus vaccine.

In a letter published Thursday in USA TODAY, eight top FDA officials and doctors affirmed the agency’s commitment that all “decisions will continue to be guided by the best science” and maintain independence from political forces.

The letter comes as the agency in recent weeks has faced criticism for approving convalescent plasma therapy for emergency use as a COVID-19 treatment based on flawed analysis.

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Another 857,000 workers file for unemployment as layoffs persist

Although the nation is partially recovering from its steepest-ever recession amid the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses continue to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers as they grapple with fewer sales and depleted federal aid.

More than 857,000 Americans filed first-time applications for unemployment insurance – a rough measure of layoffs – last week, up about 20,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The figures are not seasonally adjusted.

Over 55 million workers have filed for benefits over the past six months. While the weekly figures have trended down since peaking at 6.2 million in early spring, here’s some perspective: The previous all-time high for weekly claims on a non-seasonally adjusted basis was about 1 million during a recession in 1982.

– Paul Davidson

LA now just ‘recommends’ trick-or-treating not happen

One day after releasing guidelines banning trick-or-treating and other Halloween activities, health officials in Los Angeles walked back their rules on Wednesday. They now are just “recommending that trick-or-treating not happen this year,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

Halloween carnivals, festivals, live entertainment, haunted house attractions and gatherings with non-household members – even if they are conducted outdoors – are not permitted, the updated guidance says. Online parties, car parades, drive-in movies, themed meals at outdoors restaurants and more are recommended.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday that she does not “expect to see mass crowds trick-or-treating like we have in years past,” adding that, “It’s not safe for the children. It’s not safe for the adults.”

America is facing a monkey shortage as demand skyrockets for COVID-19 research, experts say

The race for a coronavirus vaccine to help end the pandemic has consumed the scientific community and created an escalating demand for an essential resource: monkeys.

Before drug companies call on human volunteers, monkeys are used in preclinical trials to test a vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. But with more than 100 vaccines in development around the world, there aren’t enough monkeys to go around.

“There is a shortage,” said Dr. Skip Bohm, associate director and chief veterinary medical officer of the Tulane National Primate Research Center. Read more.

– Adrianna Rodriguez

World may have entered ‘pandemic era’ driven by climate change

COVID-19 may only be the beginning of global pandemics – a future scenario in which climate change may also play a role. A recent study in the journal Cell said, written by Dr. Anthony Fauci and medical historian Dr. David Morens, argues that the world has “entered a pandemic era.” The study forecasts that pandemics could become more numerous.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but what we are seeing looks very much like an acceleration of pandemics,“ Morens told BuzzFeed News. Causes he cited include deforestation, urban crowding and wet markets for wild game.

Climate change has not stopped because of COVID-19, according to a United Nations report Wednesday. Emissions are heading in the direction of pre-pandemic levels following a temporary decline caused by the lockdown and economic slowdown, the report said.

Doyle Rice

Trump told reporter in February he was downplaying dangers of COVID-19

President Donald Trump acknowledged that he was publicly downplaying the coronavirus while privately admitting its severity to veteran Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward as early as February.

Trump told Woodward in an interview on Feb. 7 about how much “more deadly” COVID-19 would be than the flu, a startling juxtaposition from the president’s public remarks at the time and in the months since about COVID-19, its lethality and its spread. In Woodward’s book “Rage,” the journalist interviewed Trump 18 times and included audio recordings of their conversations.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said to Woodward on March 19, according to news outlets. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

– Savannah Behrmann

U.S. to drop COVID-19 screenings for some international passengers

The U.S. government is halting its enhanced entry screening for certain international passengers at airports starting Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The current system of temperature checks and screening for COVID-19 symptoms at 15 centralized airports will be dropped in favor of shifting responsibility to the individual passenger. Instead, the emphasis will be placed on pre-departure, in-flight and post-arrival health education; voluntary electronic contact information collection; and post-arrival recommendations for self-monitoring, including staying home for 14 days if arriving from a high-risk destination.

David Oliver

Donald Trump rally at Reno airport would break Nevada’s 50-person limit 

President Donald Trump may have to find a new home for planned weekend campaign rallies in Reno and Las Vegas after local officials warned the events would violate Nevada’s ban on gatherings of more than 50 people during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority confirmed it had sent a letter to rally organizers warning that Saturday’s planned 5,000-person event “may not proceed” after airport attorneys determined it would violate state and local COVID-containment directives.

“This has nothing to do with politics,” airport authority CEO Daren Griffin said in a statement. “The letter we sent is about directives and safety and not political campaigns.”

Earlier Wednesday, former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican, tweeted without evidence that Trump’s scheduled appearances at the Reno-Tahoe Airport and Las Vegas’ Cirrus Aviation were scrapped in an “outrageous” act of “partisan political retribution.” Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, later tweeted that his office had “no involvement” in the decision.

– James DeHaven, Reno Gazette Journal

What we’re reading

  • Daughter of Trump supporter who died of COVID: ‘The president is on record lying’
  • Learning pods help kids bridge social divide
  • Senior FDA career executives: We’re following the science to protect public health in pandemic
  • What it means when a vaccine trial is put on hold

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer mandates face coverings for sports

Most Michigan high school sports are getting a late start this fall, and now a new executive order will make sure you see sports like you’ve never seen before.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order mandating a face covering be worn at all times by “athletes training for, practicing for, or competing in an organized sports when the athlete cannot maintain six feet of social distance, except for occasional and fleeting moments.”

Swimmers are excluded from this order, but football, soccer and volleyball players are not. So, expect to see players on the field and on the sidelines wearing masks under their helmets when games begin Sept. 18. 

– Kirkland Crawford and Dave Boucher, Detroit Free Press

University of Wisconsin shifts to remote learning after COVID spike

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has paused in-person classes because of a spike in COVID-19 cases on campus. Starting Monday, classes will be held remotely. Officials canceled classes from Thursday to Saturday. “Unfortunately, our positive test rate among students continues to rise far too rapidly,” officials announced Wednesday in a news release.

There’s also been a “sharp” increase of confirmed cases in two residence halls, and officials have asked residents to quarantine for the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, the University of Wyoming extended the pause on its fall return until Monday. Officials said Wednesday that the extension will allow them “to gather additional data about the prevalence of COVID-19 infection among the UW community.” Last week, President Edward Seidel paused the university’s fall return after seven students tested positive for the virus on Sept. 2.

No COVID-19 deaths in Navajo Nation for second time in 3 days

Navajo Nation health officials reported zero deaths for the second time in three days on Wednesday.

The news comes after tribal health officials reported no additional deaths on Monday for the first time since March. Officials also reported 12 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections to 9,915. The death toll remains at 527. About 98,000 people have been tested as of Wednesday, and 7,100 have recovered, officials said. 

‘Wheel of Fortune’ makes COVID-19 era changes for 38th season

“Wheel of Fortune” fans are going to see some changes when the long-running game show returns for its 38th season on Monday. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, production of “Wheel” has been adjusted to accommodate safety protocols to slow the spread of coronavirus, according to a press release from the game show’s production company, Sony Pictures Television.

In addition to following local government guidelines and rigorous testing protocol for contestants, talent, staff and crew, the upcoming season of “Wheel of Fortune” will see the platform surrounding the wheel redesigned, allowing for contestants and host Pat Sajak to stand six feet away from each other. Players must spin the wheel using a personal “spinning cap,” which is a small cloth pocket that allows contestants to grip and spin the wheel without actually touching it.

– Charles Trepany

A spike in teacher deaths raises concerns as school year starts

Teachers in at least three states have died after bouts with the coronavirus since the dawn of the new school year, and a teachers’ union leader worries that the return to in-person classes will have a deadly impact across the U.S. if proper precautions aren’t taken.

AshLee Marinis, a 34-year-old special education teacher in Missouri, died after being hospitalized for three weeks. Elsewhere, a third-grade teacher died Monday in South Carolina, and two other educators died recently in Mississippi, which has reported 604 cases among school workers.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said schools need guidelines such as mandatory face coverings and strict social distancing rules to reopen safely. “If community spread is too high as it is in Missouri and Mississippi, if you don’t have the infrastructure of testing, and if you don’t have the safeguards that prevent the spread of viruses in the school, we believe that you cannot reopen in person,” Weingarten said.

– The Associated Press

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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Contributing: The Associated Press

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