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The latest on the coronavirus pandemic

US Covid-19 deaths rise as states consider reopening schools
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What you need to know

  • An unpublished report prepared for the White House coronavirus task force recommends 18 states — including hard-hit California and Florida — roll back reopening measures.
  • California announced that schools in most counties, representing 80% of the state’s population, wont re-open for in-person classes in the fall.
  • In Texas and Arizona, morgues are filling up and officials are bringing in coolers and refrigerated trailers to store bodies.
  • Other countries are struggling with spikes as well. Brazil surpassed 2 million cases as the virus rages through Latin America, and India topped 1 million cases on Friday.

Our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic has moved here.

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Death row inmate gets temporary reprieve from execution due to Covid-19

Gov. Bill Lee at a news conference in Nashville, Tennessee, on July 1.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued a temporary reprieve to a death row inmate Friday, citing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Harold Wayne Nichols was convicted of raping and killing Karen Pulley in 1988. Before the reprieve was announced, Nichols was scheduled to be executed on August 4.

“I am granting Harold Wayne Nichols a temporary reprieve from execution until December 31, 2020, due to the challenges and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lee wrote on Twitter.

Some context: Nichols’ legal team had asked the Tennessee Supreme Court for a stay of execution due to coronavirus. “The pandemic has necessitated numerous restrictions which curb the activities of Mr. Nichols’ legal team,” it said in the petition. However, the state’s high court unanimously denied the request on June 4.

Lee’s order does not state a specific reason why the execution should be delayed as a result of the pandemic.

Colombia reports record number of Covid-19 deaths for second consecutive day

Soldiers patrol a neighborhood in Bogota, Colombia, on July 13.

Colombia’s health ministry reported a record 8,934 new coronavirus cases on Friday – taking the country’s total number of infections to 182,140 since the pandemic began.

The ministry reported another 259 related deaths, also a record. Colombia’s death toll now stands at 6,288.

The rising case numbers come as President Ivan Duque resists calls to impose a total lockdown in the country’s most affected areas.

Ex-Trump economist says White House was warned of potential pandemic disaster in September

Tomas Philipson in Washington, DC, on February 24.

Former Trump administration economist Tomas Philipson said on Friday that his team alerted the White House about the dangers of a looming pandemic about three months before Covid-19 is believed to have made its way into the United States.

Philipson served three years as acting chairman of the administration’s Council of Economic Advisers before stepping down in June to resume his teaching role at the University of Chicago. Philipson acknowledged testing positive for Covid-19 less than a month before his White House departure, according to The Wall Street Journal.

On Friday, he told CNN’s Poppy Harlow that he co-authored and published a CEA report titled “Mitigating the Impact of Pandemic Influenza through Vaccine Innovation” that warned a pandemic disease could kill as many as half a million Americans and cause up to $3.79 trillion in damage to the US economy.

To note: Previously, President Donald Trump has insisted that no one could have foreseen or prevented the coronavirus outbreak, but Harlow pointed out on Friday that Philipson’s 41-page report was presented to senior White House officials last September.

“You guys told them at the highest levels of the White House last year this could happen,” she said.

Philipson acknowledged the report was presented to Trump or his top officials. “The White House is fully aware of what CEA puts out,” he said.

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"Alarming outbreak" of Covid-19 at federal law enforcement training facility

A coronavirus outbreak has spread through a federal law enforcement training facility in South Carolina, prompting the national employees union to call for a halt to training.

At least 23 students and faculty have tested positive at Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston, where Customs and Border Protection personnel were training, according to the National Treasury Employees Union.

On Friday, the union – which represents thousands of CBP employees – officially requested that the agency immediately send home any employees in training, as well as test employees for Covid-19 prior to the departure.

“The FLETC Charleston facility is no longer safe for trainees under the current circumstances,” said union National President Tony Reardon in a statement to CNN, adding that the union learned of the “alarming outbreak” earlier this week. 

Some context: The outbreak comes amid increased concern about exposure for federal frontline employees and a spike in coronavirus cases in the southern United States. As of Thursday, 1,426 CBP employees have tested positive for Covid-19 and eight have died as a result of the virus, according to the agency. 

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A Customs and Border protection officer checks her phone in the terminal at Dulles International airport in Dulles, Virginia on March 17, 2020. - The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak has transformed the US virtually overnight from a place of boundless consumerism to one suddenly constrained by nesting and social distancing.The crisis tests all retailers, leading to temporary store closures at companies like Apple and Nike, manic buying of food staples at supermarkets and big-box stores like Walmart even as many stores remain open for business -- albeit in a weirdly anemic consumer environment. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

'Alarming outbreak' of Covid-19 spreads through DHS training facility

More than half of this Texas prison's 1,798 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus

The Federal Bureau of Prisons reported on Friday that 1,072 inmates have tested positive for Covid-19 in Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution in Texas.

The facility is a low-security institution with an adjacent minimum-security satellite camp and a detention center. It has a total population of 1,798 inmates, according to its website

The Federal Bureau of Prisons stated on its website that it began additional testing of asymptomatic inmates to assist in “slowing transmissions within a correctional setting.”

This expert is optimistic an "effective" coronavirus treatment will be available within 3 months

Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health, wears a protective mask during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in Washington, DC, on July 2.

The director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, said he’s “optimistic” an “effective treatment” for Covid-19 will be available in two to three months.

“There is a lot of progress in therapeutics,” Collins told CNN Friday. “We have two proven drugs – remdesivir and dexamethasone, both proven in rigorous randomized control trials, which is the only way you really know if something works.”

What are they: Remdesivir is an antiviral drug that has been shown to reduce the amount of time people are ill with Covid-19. Dexamethasone is a steroid that may reduce the rate of deaths among seriously ill patients.

“And we’re in the process of starting, just in the very near future, clinical trials on other compounds – for instance, anticoagulants,” Collins said.
“We know that people who get very sick, there’s something that happens, the blood clots start forming and we could probably help them a lot if we tried to block that. And, maybe most exciting for therapeutics in my view, the use of monoclonal antibodies derived from people who have survived, who have made these antibodies that help them recover, and those can now be turned into products and those trials will get started very soon as well.
“I’m optimistic, without being able to be confident completely, that we’ll have something maybe as soon as two or three months from now, in terms of an effective treatment.”

What about a vaccine? Collins is also optimistic about the development of a successful vaccine by the end of the year. 

“The first vaccine trial, as you probably heard, building on very successful preliminary data, will get started around about July 27 all across the southern part of the country where the virus is spreading and we’re going to find out whether it works by asking 30,000 people to join,” he said.

Collins says if one of the vaccine trials is successful, there will be “tens of millions of doses ready to go by the end of 2020, the end of the calendar year.”

“That’s never been done before at this speed. We’re not compromising on the safety. We’ll be sure that they work, but if it does, we’ll be ready to go … as soon as possible,” he added.

But Collins said he’s worried about what he sees as some Americans’ skepticism of vaccines, adding that it’s important for everyone to get the vaccine when it’s available.

“One of the things I’m worried about is there’s a lot of skepticism in America about the vaccine and something like 25% of people say I’m not sure I would take that vaccine,” he said. 
“It’ll be really critical to do that if we’re going to develop the level of herd immunity across the country so that this doesn’t come roaring back the next time, the next fall, the next summer. We won’t know.”

How Dr. Deborah Birx's political skills made her the most powerful person on the coronavirus task force

As the relationship between Dr. Anthony Fauci and President Donald Trump publicly disintegrated over the past few months, Dr. Deborah Birx – Fauci’s former mentee – solidified her standing inside the White House, to the point that sources familiar with the situation say she has essentially taken charge of running the task force day to day. 

Birx spearheaded the administration’s recent decision to have hospitals send information on coronavirus patients to a new federal database, a source involved with the process told CNN, bypassing the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency Birx has often complained about to colleagues. She has also been a forceful advocate for the President’s push to reopen schools, forming a working group to create new guidance after the President criticized the CDC’s initial recommendations, calling them “too tough” and “expensive.” 

Birx’s forward-facing role as a public health expert masks an ambitious political chameleon, whose staying power in numerous administrations during her three decades in government has come at no small cost to her management style and her notoriety among peers, according to interviews with more than a dozen people who have worked with her, including current and former administration officials.

Birx’s rise inside the Trump administration has surprised many of her former colleagues, given her past as an Obama appointee. It’s also tainted her reputation among some public health experts who view her as having sold out to a chaotic, poorly managed response that has put Trump’s political fortunes over the health and safety of Americans. 

“Her reputation is finished,” a former State Department colleague said, mentioning specifically the moment in April when, with Birx sitting nearby, Trump talked about using disinfectant as a cure for the coronavirus. “It’s one thing to be disagreeing on policy, but you’re a medical doctor and you’re going to sit in room with this President who says you can inject yourself with bleach?”
“I feel she has signed her fate in blood with these guys,” the person added. “She’s a Trumper now.”

Birx did not respond to requests for comment from CNN about her relationship with the President or her motivations for continuing in the role as he continues to push back against the advice of her medical counterparts.

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Georgia reports 28 new coronavirus-related deaths

The Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) reported 3,908 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the state on Friday.

The GDPH also reported 28 new coronavirus-related deaths today, as well as 301 additional hospitalizations. 

Georgia has reported a total of 135,183 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 3,132 Covid-19-related deaths. 

"We’re certainly not winning" the battle against coronavirus, NIH director says

Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN that the US is “certainly not winning the battle against coronavirus” but could get it under control.

“What happened was we had the terrible outbreaks in March and April, particularly in New York. And a lot of hard work got done, a lot of people were sent home to shelter in place and people learned about social distancing and wearing masks,” Collins said. “There were these phases that were supposed to be followed with various benchmarks along the way and unfortunately some of those just got skipped.”

The United States is setting records with daily new cases of coronavirus and inching closer to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s prediction of 100,000 Covid-19 cases a day.

“We shouldn’t feel hopeless here and we know what works,” Collins said. “We know that if we could, as Americans, agree to take those recommendations to heart, that we would keep our masks on when we’re outside, we’d stay more than six feet apart from each other and we would avoid indoor gatherings where there’s a big chance of spread, we wash our hands and all that, then we could implement what we know has worked.” 

Fauci reiterates that a coronavirus vaccine could be available by this winter

The nation’s leading infectious disease expert is “cautiously optimistic” that the country could have a vaccine against the new coronavirus by the end of 2020 or the start of 2021. 

“When you’re dealing with vaccines, you can’t guarantee things,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told PBS Newshour today. “But you can say, based on the science and the way things are going, that I’m cautiously optimistic that we can meet that projection that we made —  that I made — months ago. And that is, I’ll repeat it, that by the end of this calendar year and the beginning of 2021.”

Fauci told PBS that the vaccine won’t be available to hundreds of millions of people “on day one,” but it will be available quickly because production of doses will have started for the major vaccine candidates before the trials show they work.

NIH director says he would refuse to fire Fauci if asked

Dr. Anthony Fauci is a “national treasure” and more knowledgeable about infectious diseases than anybody on the planet, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health and Fauci’s boss, told CNN on Friday.

Collins’ comments come as members of the Trump administration have spent the past week trying to discredit Fauci, who is director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“There is nobody I know on this planet who is more knowledgeable about infectious disease and has had more experience, over 50 years of his career and for 35 of which leading infectious disease for NIH, nobody comes close,” Collins said. “He’s a national treasure.”

Collins said he has no idea why the administration has tried to discredit Fauci.

“I’m not sure I can answer that question, given how important the information he is sharing,” Collins added.

Collins said he’s glad the President said this week that he has a good relationship with the scientist and hopes “we can continue to get things back on an even keel.”

Some context: Trump recently retweeted a comment with the hashtag “Fire Fauci,” causing worry and concern that the administration might attempt to terminate Fauci, who, as a federal civil servant, cannot be fired by the President.

Collins had said before he would not fire Fauci if ordered to do so and he reiterated that sentiment again today on CNN.

“I could not imagine doing something of that sort, no,” Collins said. “I really hope that this kind of circumstance never comes to pass and I’m not sure that it’s a helpful conversation to have, but I certainly would defend the contributions and the remarkable character of Tony Fauci.”

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Brazil reports nearly 35,000 new coronavirus cases

Transport professionals from Sorocaba, Brazil being tested for Covid-19 on Wednesday, July 15.

Brazil’s health ministry reported 34,177 new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the country’s total to 2,046,328.

The health ministry also reported 1,163 new Covid-19 deaths, raising the country’s death toll to 77,851.

The new cases come as the virus migrates to regions in Brazil, particularly its south and interior, which had avoided the worst of the pandemic earlier in the outbreak.

Miami Beach announces evening curfew for entertainment district

An employee at the Clevelander bar and restaurant on Ocean Drive stacks chairs after they shut down due to public health concerns caused by COVID-19 on Monday, July 13, 2020, in Miami Beach, Florida.

Nighttime partying at many Miami Beach hot spots is being suspended due to coronavirus.

The city has announced a curfew beginning Saturday for most of its entertainment district, running each night from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. ET.

Businesses in the district will be required to close to all in-person customers by 8 p.m. each night, although restaurants can continue to offer delivery services. Curfew in the rest of the city begins at 10 p.m.

The order will be in effect for at least a week. In addition to the curfew, a large portion of Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive is being closed to vehicle traffic throughout the day, with only pedestrians allowed.

Peru reports nearly 4,000 new coronavirus cases

Peru’s health ministry reported 3,951 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, bringing the country’s total to 345,537.

The ministry also reported 184 new Covid-19 deaths, raising the country’s death toll to 12,799.

Peru’s outbreak is the second-worst in Latin America and the Caribbean, following that of Brazil.

There are 36 coronavirus cases linked to a football team practice in Kentucky

Governor Andy Beshear

There are 36 coronavirus cases linked to a Kentucky football team’s practice in a weight room, Gov. Andy Beshear said during a news conference Friday.

Beshear said 18 players, three coaches and 15 family members have tested positive following the practice.

The governor would not say where the cases occurred.

“I want to give you one example of community impact that occurred in one of our counties in just one football team, just one football team related to a weight room where masks were not being worn,” Beshear said. “And remember, if you’re inside, you’re six feet apart. You’re not six feet apart, it can be a real problem. And I’m sure that this team tried their best but one football team out of the weight room 18 players, three coaches and then that infected 15 extra family members.”

The state reported the third highest single-day coronavirus case increase on Friday, with 531, Beshear added.

There are now a total 21,605 cases statewide, the governor said.

Eight new deaths were reported Friday for a total of 653 coronavirus deaths statewide, the governor said.

Miami to drop warning for people failing to adhere to mask mandate

People in Miami, Florida, will no longer get a warning when they fail to wear a mask in public starting Monday. 

Mayor Francis Suarez said the new order will require a fine for the first offense of the city’s mask order. The fine starts at $50 and increases with every additional offense. 

At the same time, Suarez said the city does not intend to return to a full stay-at-home order – at least not yet.

“We are consulting with Miami-Dade County and with all the cities,” Suarez said.

Texas reports a record high 174 new Covid-19 deaths

Medical workers from New York wearing handle test samples at temporary testing site for COVID-19 in Higher Dimensions Church on Friday July 17, in Houston, Texas.

Texas reported 174 new Covid-19 related deaths on Friday, a record single day high, surpassing Thursday’s record of 129 deaths in a single day. 

The total number of Covid-19 related deaths in the state is now 3,735.

Texas reported 10,256 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 307,572 . 

To note: These figures were released by the Texas Health and Human Services, and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project.

Lockdowns should be coordinated across countries and states to slow the spread of Covid-19

To eliminate the spread of the novel coronavirus, governments should synchronize lockdowns, a new model shows.

The model, published Friday in the journal Science, found that when intermittent lockdowns were synchronized across Europe, half as many lockdowns were needed to end community transmission all across the continent.

Nick Ruktanonchai, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, ran 1,200 simulations. To create the models, Ruktanonchai and his team used data from mobile phones provided by Vodaphone and Google that can show contact rates between people, in combination with different intervention scenarios.

The details: When the team ran a scenario that synchronized four cycles of three-week long lockdowns in all the countries in Europe, Covid-19 spread was eliminated 90% of the times.

When the lockdowns weren’t synchronized, community spread of the disease was eliminated only 5% of the time. When lockdowns are lifted early or unevenly, people interact and the disease spreads. 

The authors argue this information is generalizable to other parts of the world, including the United States. They believe national governments should coordinate pandemic preparedness efforts moving forward.

Mississippi governor says 11 counties may be added to mask mandate next week