July 16 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Steve George, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 12:24 AM ET, Fri July 17, 2020
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5:18 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020

Savannah mayor in response to suspension of local mask mandates: "Our order still stands"

Mayor Van Johnson
Mayor Van Johnson CNN

Savannah, Georgia, Mayor Van Johnson said he was "furious" and "at a loss for words" when he heard Gov. Brian Kemp was suspending all local government mask mandates despite the rise in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state.

"Not only are we fighting coronavirus on one hand, it appears as if we're fighting our state on the other hand. It made absolutely no sense to me," Johnson told CNN on Thursday.

Some context: Kemp's executive order voids masks mandates imposed by some local governments. It also extended the state's public emergency and said face coverings are "strongly encouraged," but not required.

Savannah was the first city in Georgia to mandate masks, Johnson said.

He said he will continue to enforce the mask mandate in the city saying, "our order still stands."

"This just really handcuffs us and it's really not the time to be fighting each other. We should be focused on fighting this virus," Johnson said.

He said he has heard from business owners that they appreciate the mask mandate because it provides them with legal cover to refuse service to someone who won't wear a mask.

But, Johnson said the most important reason why masks are so important, is because they are a proven way to stop the spread of the virus.

"We're going to do all we can to make sure we protect our citizens. This is what this is all about. It has nothing to do with politics. It's about protecting our folks," he said.

Watch here:

4:42 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020

Masks, closing indoor bars and other measures can avert more shutdowns, HHS official says

From CNN's Jen Christensen

Widespread mask use and staying out of crowded bars and restaurants can help avert the need to close down communities again to stop the spread of coronavirus, a senior Health and Human Services Department official said Thursday.

Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said communities can act when cases of the virus start to spike.

“In the hot zones, we really need like almost 90% of people to be wearing masks out in the public when they’re interacting with other people,” Giroir said at an HHS briefing.

Giroir added that areas with a high number of new cases also need to close indoor bars and limit restaurant dining capacity to 25%.

“We know that 50 to 60 to 70% in some areas are traced to a single bar, and then the secondary spread from that. Being indoors in close quarters over a long period of time is just a recipe for spread,” Giroir said.

Outdoor seating with appropriate distancing is “probably safe,” even when cases are spiking in areas. Staying out of crowds is essential, he said.

“If we have that degree of compliance with these simple measures, our models say that’s really as good as shutting it down,” Giroir said. “These simple facts can really shut down the outbreak without completely shutting down your local area.”

4:31 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020

The US is better equipped to deal with Covid-19 now, HHS official says

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Admiral Brett Giroir
Admiral Brett Giroir Kevin Lamarque/Pool/AP/FILE

Admiral Brett Giroir, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Thursday that even with a giant surge in coronavirus cases, the US is better equipped to handle outbreaks than when the pandemic first started.

Better testing and better treatments have both improved the outlook, Giroir said at a briefing hosted by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Giroir said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention teams are on the ground in every state and HHS has sent special Covid response assistance teams to hotspots to help with testing and mitigation. 

On testing: He said the country also now has enough testing in place that can quickly show when there is a new outbreak so that public health staff and local leaders can intervene. Parts of the country have reported long lines and several days delays in people getting test results, but Giroir characterized those problems as an “outlier.” 

“Even in the large commercial labs, and we follow this every single day, there may be an outlier that’s 10 days or 12 days, we can’t deny that that happens,” Giroir said. He said wants test results back as fast as possible, but a three-day turnaround time is “very reasonable.” 

Commercial labs have said they are backed up, with results often taking as long as seven days to turn around.

“I’m never going to say that I’m happy with any turnaround time, Giroir said. “We’ll continue to work to improve that as we move forward," he later added.

Giroir added that tests alone cannot stop the pandemic. 

“You cannot test your way out of this, no matter where you are. Testing is important, but you’ve got to close the bars in a hot zone, limit restaurant seating, please wear a mask in public, avoid public gatherings of greater than 10 or 25 or whatever it is in your local area without appropriate protections,” Giroir said. “The way to fix the “testing problem” is by fixing the virus problem. These go hand-in-hand.” 

4:37 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020

New Hampshire to give $25 million in Covid-19 aid to state universities and community colleges

From CNN's Hollie Silverman

Gov. Chris Sununu
Gov. Chris Sununu Pool

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced $25 million in additional aid for state universities and community colleges in the state in response to Covid-19 on Thursday.

Sununu said state universities will receive $19 million to help universities support their coronavirus response as students return to campus in the fall. The funding will be used for costs associated with testing, personal protective equipment and additional supplies needed to respond to the health crisis.

The university system already outlined their anticipated costs and requested funding from the state, Sununu said. 

New Hampshire will also give $6 million to community colleges to help with tuition support for new and existing students whose ability to attend may have been impacted by Covid-19, the governor said.

4:28 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020

Pennsylvania releases new guidance for school reopenings

From CNN's Evan Simko-Bednarski

When schools in Pennsylvania reopen, face coverings will be mandatory, but the extent of in-person instruction in the state will be dependent on Covid-19 data, Health Secretary Rachel Levine and Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said during a joint call on Thursday.

"There's no-one-size-fits-all approach to opening every school in the state," Rivera said. 

While reopening plans are being developed on the municipal level, the state is set to release guidelines for reopening on Thursday. Those guidelines will include a heavy emphasis on face coverings, as well as guidance on hygiene, distancing, considerations for staff or students with chronic conditions, and the monitoring of potential Covid-19 symptoms, Levine said.

When asked if the state could overrule any municipal decision to reopen, neither Levine nor Rivera answered directly.

Levine said that the state would "do everything we need to do to protect the public health." Rivera said data would drive any future decisions.

Levine said that taking steps now to limit the spread of the disease would make for the safest environment in which to reopen schools in the fall.

"There are things that people can do right now to actually help our kids get back to the classroom," she said. 

The state's guidelines include a requirement that parents screen students for symptoms at the start of each school day, open school bus windows when the weather allows, staggered class times, one-way hallway travel, and six feet of distance between students whenever possible.



4:15 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020

Experts say reopening schools safely will be hard, but that should not be a deterrent

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

Des Moines Public Schools custodian Cynthia Adams cleans a desk in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School, Wednesday, July 8, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Des Moines Public Schools custodian Cynthia Adams cleans a desk in a classroom at Brubaker Elementary School, Wednesday, July 8, in Des Moines, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall/AP/FILE

Implementing necessary safety measures to reopen schools will be hard but necessary, a panel of public health experts said Thursday.

“We don't think that hard should necessarily be a deterrent, but certainly we acknowledge the resources that schools will need in order to do this, and this is where federal support is absolutely necessary,” said Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Nuzzo stressed the importance of physical spacing in the classroom, even potentially using outdoor classrooms for as long as weather will allow, noting that countries that are colder than the US have implemented this strategy. 

The senior scholar said promoting hygiene will be key – supplying students and staff with soap and hand sanitizer and encouraging them to use it often. She said students should be checked for symptoms daily, and schools should have extra masks on hand for students who do not bring their own.

Anita Cicero, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said creative approaches, such as using toys as physical distancing markers or making fun masks, could help younger children adhere to important safety measures. 

Grouping young children and those with underlying health conditions in “bubbles” to limit interaction upon their return to school, Cicero and Nuzzo suggested during the briefing, hosted by Johns Hopkins.

Nuzzo said that transportation may require some creative solutions such as carpooling within designated bubbles, using vans or implementing staggered start times.

4:14 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020

Georgia reports more than 3,400 new Covid cases and 13 deaths today

From CNN’s Dianne Gallagher and Jason Morris 

The Georgia Department of Public Health reports at least 3,441 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the state on Thursday.  

The Health Department also reports 13 new coronavirus deaths today, as well as at least 244 additional hospitalizations – a drop from the approximately 417 hospitalizations reported on Wednesday. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Georgia has reported a total of at least 131,275 confirmed Covid-19 cases and approximately 3,104 Covid-19-related deaths.

4:03 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020

Only 2 US states have reported no Covid-19 deaths in the past week 

From CNN’s Brandon Miller and Haley Brink

The only two states in the US that did not record a death in the past week are Vermont and Alaska, according to CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

Vermont has recorded 56 deaths attributed to coronavirus, the last of which was recorded on June 18. A majority of Vermont’s total deaths, 33, occurred in the month of April.

Alaska has recorded a total of 17 deaths, the last of which was recorded on July 7.

During the last seven days, the states with the most recorded deaths are California with 657 deaths and Florida with 632 deaths.

3:58 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020

Georgia governor avoids questions about order stopping local mask mandates

From CNN’s Dianne Gallagher and Jason Morris

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signs House Bill 521 at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Thursday, July 16, in Marietta, Georgia.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signs House Bill 521 at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Thursday, July 16, in Marietta, Georgia. Mike Stewart/AP

As he left a bill signing event, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp did not answer questions shouted to him about his new executive order extension that prevents local authorities from issuing mask mandates.

The governor’s office said Kemp would be talking about the executive order, as well as other Covid-19-related topics, at an 8 a.m. news conference tomorrow.

Kemp's press secretary Cody Hall did tell CNN this in a text:

"For months now, the Governor’s executive orders have prohibited local mandates that were less or more restrictive than the statewide order. The order signed yesterday only continues that standard. The Governor continues to strongly encourage the use of masks and hopes that local officials will begin enforcing the existing guidelines on social distancing, large gatherings, and business regulations that have been in place for months."

Some background: Kemp yesterday suspended all local government mask mandates despite the rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in his state.

Under the executive order the Republican governor extended the state's public emergency and said face coverings are "strongly encouraged," but not required. The executive order voids masks mandates imposed by some local governments as Covid-19 cases tick up in cities across the state, already claiming over 3,000 lives.