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Coronavirus Live Updates: ‘Red Zone’ Warning for 18 U.S. States

2020-07-18 14:55:49
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With case counts rising, U.S. leaders push stricter measures.

Across the United States, leaders grappling with surging caseloads and a rising death toll have introduced new measures intended to curb the coronavirus outbreak’s severity, some in places where the virus had looked to be in retreat.

On Friday, for the second time, more than 70,000 coronavirus cases were announced in the United States, according to a New York Times database. A day earlier, the country set a record with 75,600 new cases, the 11th time in the past month that the daily record had been broken.

The outbreak is so widespread that 18 states have been placed in a so-called red zone because they have more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people per week, according to an unpublished report distributed this week by the White House coronavirus task force, which urged many states to take stricter steps to contain the spread.

The states — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah — constitute more than a third of the country.

The record for U.S. daily cases has more than doubled since June 24, when the country registered 37,014 cases, after a lull in the outbreak that kept the previous record, 36,738, standing for two months. Daily virus fatalities had decreased slightly until last week, when they began rising again.

Some of the states in the red zone are not following the unpublished report’s recommendations for curbing the spread.

With cases rising across Georgia, the report had some clear recommendations, including: “Mandate statewide wearing of cloth face coverings outside the home.”

But while Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Republican, said Friday that he believed that residents should wear face masks, he added that he would not require them to do so. And he is working to prevent local governments from issuing their own mask orders: He filed a lawsuit challenging the authority of leaders in Atlanta to require masks within their city’s limits.

“Now I know that many well-intentioned and well-informed Georgians want a mask mandate, and while we all agree that wearing a mask is effective, I’m confident that Georgians don’t need a mandate to do the right thing,” Mr. Kemp said Friday.

The report on the red zone was originally published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, and was later obtained by The New York Times.

The report called for mask mandates in Alabama and Arkansas, and those states’ governors, who are both Republicans, issued new orders this week. More than half of the United States now has some form of mask requirement in place.

Janitors say they have not been given enough resources, time or training to effectively fight the pathogen. They are often not told if someone has tested positive where they are working, making it difficult to protect themselves and others.

Cleaners have recently fallen ill across the country, from the University of Texas at Austin, to a Fox Entertainment lot in Los Angeles, to casinos in Mississippi. Interviews with dozens of workers, employers, cleaning company executives and union officials, as well as a review of records from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, reveal other glaring problems.

Airlines have tried to win back customers by raising sanitation standards, but pilots, flight attendants and cabin cleaners report that the efforts are still inadequate, with reused rags, unwiped tray tables and bathrooms that aren’t disinfected between flights.

“The only part of the passenger seats that was wiped down was the seat itself,” one pilot wrote in a union report last month. “Not the area that passengers touch constantly, such as seatbelts, window shades, arm rest, etc. Also, the entire plane was supposedly wiped down in less than 10 minutes.”

Many of the country’s more than two million custodians do their work at night, unseen, for minimum wage. Cleaning company executives and union officials say that standards have fallen in recent years as businesses have cut back on janitorial services.

At a luxury office tower in Miami, Martha Lorena Cortez Estrada resorted to bringing in her own Clorox and gloves and making her own masks. “Our brooms were worn out; we were mopping with just water and no disinfectant,” said Ms. Cortez, 58, who makes $8.56 an hour.

Several cleaners said they were expected to clean a space where someone infected may have been, but were not made aware of it.

National and local officials in China began organizing elaborate measures on Saturday for a potentially long fight against the pandemic in the country’s far western Xinjiang region while confirming 23 additional coronavirus infections there.

The government flew 21 lab technicians and their testing equipment on Saturday from three hospitals in Wuhan, where the virus emerged late last year, to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, state news media reported. All of Xinjiang’s officially confirmed cases this month were in Urumqi.

Residential compounds across the city were put under lockdown by Friday morning. The authorities have now imposed strict price controls on food and other necessities, and they have taken precautions to prevent any breakdown in water and electricity supplies, measures seemingly designed to reassure residents that they would be safe in their homes.

China Central Television reported on Saturday evening that Urumqi residents would be allowed to leave the city only if they could prove the journey was necessary. Residents would be required to take a coronavirus test, and receive a negative result, before traveling.

The 23 cases confirmed on Saturday included 12 that were asymptomatic. The new infections followed 16 cases confirmed on Friday and one on Thursday.

Xinjiang is the center of China’s broad crackdown on predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities, with as many as a million of them rounded up in barbed-wire camps with guard towers. The Chinese government has defended the camps as vocational training centers created to combat religious extremism, prevent terrorism and teach job skills.

In other news around the world:

  • Iran started enforcing new restrictions in Tehran on Saturday, banning large gatherings and closing cafes, gyms and some other facilities, as coronavirus cases surge in what health officials say is even worse than the first wave that hit the capital in March. The country has reported more than 270,000 confirmed cases, the 10th highest in the world, but President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that 30 million to 35 million people are “likely to be exposed to the disease in the coming months,” the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.

  • The authorities in Britain have temporarily suspended the release of the daily toll of deaths attributed to the coronavirus, in response to a request from the government after it raised concerns about accuracy. The authorities in England had been including all people who tested positive for the virus in their daily count, regardless of the cause of death — one analysis noted that the current standards would have included someone who tested positive for the virus three months ago and then “had a heart attack or were run over by a bus.”

  • In Australia, the state of Victoria reported 217 new cases on Saturday, after a record 428 cases on Friday.

  • European Union leaders, meeting together in person for the first time in the pandemic, held talks late into Friday and resumed on Saturday to try to negotiate a giant aid package for the bloc. No announcement is expected until the talks end.

Over the past couple of years, Mike Hill poured more than $3.5 million into renovating his Chevron gas station Blaine, Wash., and opening a Starbucks next door. People from British Columbia were crossing the border in droves to buy cheap gas and milk in Blaine. It seemed like a slam-dunk investment.

Then the coronavirus arrived. Now almost no one comes to Blaine anymore.

When the border between the United States and Canada closed to nonessential travel on March 21, the southbound traffic into Blaine — the busiest crossing between Washington and British Columbia — slowed to a trickle. In June, just 12,600 people entered the United States from British Columbia, down from 479,600 during the same month last year.

The economic impact on Blaine, a city of about 5,000, has been crippling. Beaches are now largely empty save for the rocks left by the receding tide. More than a dozen gas stations that once bustled with people heading elsewhere are quiet. The stores that handled mail-order goods for Canadians looking to avoid taxes are piled high with packages that their purchasers cannot pick up.

“We all felt like Blaine was finally going to hit its time,” said Mark Seymour, who works with his father, Steve Seymour, at their oyster farm and restaurant. “And then this happened.”

Canada has had about half as many coronavirus deaths per capita as the United States. The number of cases in Canada has been steadily declining since April, while cases in some states are surging.

“I’m not very optimistic at all,” Steve Seymour said during a recent interview at the family business, Drayton Harbor Oysters. “Why would they let us in?”

Early in the 20th century, tuberculosis ravaged American cities, taking a particular toll on the poor and the young.

In 1907, two Rhode Island doctors, Mary Packard and Ellen Stone, had an idea for mitigating transmission among children. Following education trends in Germany, they proposed the creation of an open-air schoolroom.

Their experiment was a success by nearly every measure — none of the children got sick. Within two years, there were 65 open-air schools around the country, either in buildings with large windows on every side or simply held outside.

Little of this sort of ingenuity has greeted the effort to reopen schools during the current public-health crisis. The Trump administration has insisted that schools fully open this fall, with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposing no plan for how to do that safely.

One of the few things we know about the coronavirus with any degree of certainty is that the risk of contracting it diminishes outside. A review of 7,000 cases in China recorded only one instance of fresh-air transmission. Yet there has been no concerted effort to move as much teaching as possible outdoors.

Almost daily, President Trump and leaders worldwide say they are racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine. But the repeated assurances of near-miraculous speed are exacerbating a problem that has largely been overlooked and one that public health experts say must be addressed now: persuading people to actually get the shot once it’s available.

No one knows exactly why Thailand has been spared the pandemic’s worst effects. Is it the social distancing embedded in Thai culture? The early adoption of face masks, combined with a robust health care system? Or perhaps the country’s relatively low rates of pre-existing conditions?

One thing is certain: Despite an influx of foreign visitors early in the year from countries badly hit by the coronavirus, Thailand has recorded fewer than 3,240 cases and 58 deaths. And as of Thursday, there had been no cases of local transmission for about seven weeks.

It didn’t always look so upbeat. In January, Thailand confirmed the world’s first case of the coronavirus outside China — in a tourist from Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the outbreak is believed to have begun.

Another wave of infections was set off by people arriving from Japan, Europe and the United States. But after a lockdown was enforced in March, shuttering businesses and schools, domestic transmissions subsided. All of Thailand’s recent cases have been among people who arrived from overseas.

The country’s tourism-dependent economy, though, has been battered.

In April, Thailand banned almost all incoming flights amid a tightening lockdown. Holidaymakers stopped coming to Bangkok, once the world’s most visited city. The Thai tourism and sports ministry estimates that 60 percent of hospitality businesses could close by the end of the year.

The country’s large population of migrant workers, many from neighboring Myanmar and Cambodia, is also hurting. While some people managed to make it home before the borders closed, others are stuck in Thailand with no wages from their jobs as hotel cleaners, kitchen hands and food stall operators.

“Now is when people want more help because it’s been so long and it’s not going to get better,” said Natalie Narkprasert, a founder of Covid Thailand Aid, a charity set up in the wake of the pandemic.

Ms. Natalie said she has been inundated by pleas from Thais with only a dollar or two left in their bank accounts.

How to plan a vacation in the midst of a pandemic.

Traveling these days requires lots of research, precision planning and a willingness to play by new and very stringent rules.

An order to cull almost 100,000 minks in Spain has put the spotlight on the extent to which farmed animals can infect humans with the coronavirus, or vice versa.

The culling was ordered on Thursday by the regional authorities of Aragón, in northeast Spain, after seven people linked to a local mink farm tested positive for the coronavirus. When minks at the farm were checked for the virus earlier this month, 87 percent of those tested produced positive results.

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