The latest on the coronavirus pandemic

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Amy Woodyatt, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 2:18 a.m. ET, August 22, 2020
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2:39 p.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Florida judge expected to rule next week on whether physical schools should reopen

From CNN’s Rosa Flores and Sara Weisfeldt 

After two days of witness testimony, closing arguments in the temporary injunction hearing in the Florida Education Association v. Gov. Ron DeSantis were presented Friday, bringing the virtual court proceeding to a close.

Florida Judge Charles Dodson instructed the parties in the case to provide him with briefs, no more than 15 pages long, by 5 p.m. today. 

The details of the case: The lawsuit was filed on July 20 by the FEA, the largest teacher’s union in Florida, in an effort to stop the implementation of the emergency order issued by Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, which requires school districts to reopen for in-person instruction five days a week.

The FEA argued that the emergency order is “arbitrary and capricious” and therefore in violation of the state’s constitution. The teachers union said the decision to reopen schools safely should be up to local school boards and should not be arbitrarily made by the governor and the education commissioner, who decided that all schools should be ready to reopen by Aug. 31.

They also said that the reopening time-table should be based on recommendations by medical experts, who say the positivity rate should be 5% or lower and no county in Florida has less than 5% positivity rate. Not following the emergency order, the FEA argued, results in losing funding. 

Attorneys representing DeSantis agreed that “there’s no question” that failing to follow the emergency order results in a reduction of funding. 

The governor’s lawyers went on to argue that the governor and the state’s education commissioner have a duty, under the Florida constitution, to provide students with a high quality education.

What's next: Dodson said yesterday, he plans to review the briefs over the weekend and make a ruling early next week.

2:46 p.m. ET, August 21, 2020

CDC director highlights Rhode Island's success at reopening childcare centers

From CNN's Andrea Kane

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield testifies at a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on Capitol Hill on July 31 in Washington, D.C.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield testifies at a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on Capitol Hill on July 31 in Washington, D.C. Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images

Rhode Island’s successful reopening of childcare centers is an example of how to limit the spread of Covid-19, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a briefing on Friday.

Redfield’s comments coincided with the early release of an analysis in the CDC’s weekly report about Covid-19 transmissions during June and July after Rhode Island reopened childcare programs. It found that possible secondary transmission was identified in only four of the 666 programs that had been allowed to reopen.

“I wanted to highlight this report, because it's likely that the limit spread of Covid-19 in this instance was due to the adherence of the child care program requirements and the efforts by the state health department to rapidly investigate and respond to these cases,” Redfield said. “This is like other instances that we've highlighted as an example, and a testimony to the important role that everyone can play in slowing the spread of Covid-19 in their communities: wearing masks consistently and correctly, staying six feet away from each other, staying home when you're sick, and washing your hands frequently."

The CDC analysis documented what happened when Rhode Island reopened childcare programs on June 1, after a nearly three-month closure, through the end of July.

When childcare programs reopened, the state was experiencing low transmission relative to other US states, but community transmission of the virus increased during the last two weeks of July.

During that time, there were at least 33 confirmed and 19 probable infections. Of the confirmed and probable cases, 30 were children and 22 were adults, including 20 teachers and two parents. Three-quarters of the cases occurred in mid to late July, when incidence in the state was increasing.

1:36 p.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Teachers don't need formal essential worker designation, CDC director says

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he didn’t think that teachers needed to be officially declared essential workers.

“I think they didn’t need to be formally recognized as critical infrastructure workers, because in fact, I think we all know they are,” Redfield said at a news conference Friday.

Vice President Mike Pence confirmed Friday that the administration had designated teachers essential workers. He said this means, in part, that like doctors and law enforcement officers, teachers may continue to work even after exposure to a confirmed case of Covid-19, provided they remain asymptomatic. This designation is part of the administration’s aggressive campaign to pressure districts to bring students back this fall.

Redfield said infected teachers should be isolated and not be in the classroom.

“I do think it's very important to have a well thought out, step-by-step approach to a single case versus whether there's multiple cases in the same classroom, whether there's multiple cases in multiple classrooms, and to work for the schools to then respond to those in a measured way,” Redfield said.

Local communities should decide when it is safe to open schools, he said. And schools should follow CDC guidelines on removing and isolating anyone with a coronavirus infection in doing the appropriate contact tracing and cleaning.

“In order for schools to reopen and stay open, we have to have the confidence of teachers that it's safe for them to go back and do their job,” Redfield said. “I always said I want to reopen these schools, because it's in the best public interest of K through 12 so as I mentioned, but it's got to be done safely and sensibly, it’s got to be flexible and it's got to be done in concert with teachers and parents and students decisions having confidence in that reopening.”

3:00 p.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Lebanon nightly curfew now in effect as country records highest daily case increase

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and Karen Smith

Lebanese security force officers man a checkpoint to verify the compliance with restrictions on the first day of a reinstated lockdown to combat a surge in Covid-19 cases on August 21 in Beirut, Lebanon.
Lebanese security force officers man a checkpoint to verify the compliance with restrictions on the first day of a reinstated lockdown to combat a surge in Covid-19 cases on August 21 in Beirut, Lebanon. Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images

As Lebanon’s latest curfew went into effect Friday evening, the country reported 628 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours.

This is a new daily high for the number of infections recorded since the beginning of the pandemic, the country’s Ministry of Public Health said.

The latest recorded cases brings the country's total case count to 11,580. There were also three new fatalities recorded in the last 24 hours, raising the national death toll to 117, the ministry said.

A new daily countrywide curfew went into effect on Friday starting from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. local time. This daily curfew is part of the latest lockdown restrictions. All but essential businesses must remain closed during the curfew.

Lebanon has seen the number of new Covid-19 cases more than double since the Beirut port blast on Aug. 4 which killed at least 180 people, wounded around 6,000 people and displaced approximately 300,000 people.

2:55 p.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Public schools in Boston will start academic year remotely

From CNN’s Nakia McNabb

An empty classroom is seen inside the Mildred Avenue K-8 School building on July 9 in Boston.
An empty classroom is seen inside the Mildred Avenue K-8 School building on July 9 in Boston. David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Public schools in Boston will start the year remotely on Sept. 21 with a phased in approach to returning students to the classroom, Mayor Marty Walsh said Friday. 

“This approach will give us time to assess health data before every single step with the Boston Public Health Commission," he said. "It will allow us to address learning needs and opportunity gaps in person and in providing extra help for students learning online. In every step families have a choice whether to opt into a hybrid learning system or stay fully remote."

The mayor also explained why the city made the decision to start the school year remotely.

“We feel this is the best approach to educate our children. It created a staggered approach for students to return to the classroom in a safe and careful way. It’s the best way to tackle the opportunity gaps in our city,” Walsh said.

As of yesterday, Boston had 31 new cases of Covid-19 for a total of 15,018 cases.

1:27 p.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Fighting Covid-19 now is both easier and harder than it was in 1918, WHO says

From CNN’s Amanda Watts

World Health Organization officials meet on August 21 in Geneva, Switzerland.
World Health Organization officials meet on August 21 in Geneva, Switzerland. World Health Organization

It’s both easier and more difficult the fight the coronavirus pandemic than it was to battle the 1918 influenza pandemic, World Health Organization officials said Friday.

“With more connectedness, the virus has a better chance of spreading,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing. “But at the same, we have also technology to stop it, and the knowledge to stop it,” he added. 

“We have a disadvantage — globalization, closeness, connectedness — but an advantage of better technology.” 

The 1918 flu pandemic took just under two years to pass, Tedros said. He said he hopes to finish this pandemic in “less than two years.”

After that, the H1N1 strain that killed tens of millions of people joined the regular, seasonal mix of influenza viruses. 

“It took three waves to infect most of the susceptible individuals, then settled down probably into a seasonal pattern,” Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO executive director of Health Emergencies Program. “Very often” a pandemic virus will settle into a seasonal pattern over time, he said. 

“But this virus is not displaying a similar wave-like pattern,” Ryan said

Instead of passing in waves that offer respites, coronavirus can be suppressed with strict measures but rebounds quickly, Ryan said. “Clearly, when the disease is not under control, it jumps straight back up,” he said. 

But the 1918 flu passed and so will this pandemic, he said.

“Human beings are resilient. We are a resilient species and we will get through this,” Ryan said.

3:06 p.m. ET, August 21, 2020

WHO will soon issue guidance on masks for children

From CNN’s Amanda Watts

Students wear face masks while attending school on August 12  in Dortmund, Germany.
Students wear face masks while attending school on August 12 in Dortmund, Germany. Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

The World Health Organization and UNICEF will be issuing guidance on the use of masks in children, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO infectious disease epidemiologist, said during a Friday briefing. 

Van Kerkhove said the guidance will be broken up by age range. The guidance will be for decision makers and educators “about when and where masks can be used.” 

Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO executive director of Health Emergencies Program, said “masks are a great tool” especially in the context of schools. But he warns they should not take the place of other public health measures.  

Ryan said getting kids back to school is a “complex equation,” and wearing masks is just one part of it. 

“The wearing of masks is not an alternative to social distancing. It’s not an alternative to hand washing. It’s not an alternative to decompressing class sizes. It’s not an alternative to all of the other measures,” he said.

“In fact it would decrease the benefits of masks if people closed physical distance, don’t wash their hands," Ryan added.

Van Kerkhove said the guidance should be issued in the coming days, if not sooner.

 

1:11 p.m. ET, August 21, 2020

SEC expands Covid-19 protocols ahead of season college football season

From CNN's Dan Kamal

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey attends a press conference in Nashville on March 12.
Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey attends a press conference in Nashville on March 12. Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

The Southeastern Conference has announced expanded Covid-19 protocols for fall athletics, adding new cardiac evaluations and a third weekly test during weeks of competition. 

Initially, the SEC had mandated a cardiac evaluation following isolation for those athletes who tested positive. Now, the conference’s task force is expanding cardiac evaluation by requiring a troponin level, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram and a medical evaluation by a physician before an athlete can return to activity.

In addition, the SEC – at the recommendation of its medical guidance task force – will implement a third weekly rapid diagnostic test for athletes competing in sports with a high risk of close contact. 

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey release a statement:

“We remain vigilant in monitoring the trends and effects of Covid-19 as we learn more about the virus, and this cardiac evaluation enhances the effectiveness of the protocols already in place.
We are confident in our institutions’ ability to provide a healthy environment supported by rigorous testing and surveillance. Our student-athletes have indicated their desire to compete and it is our responsibility to make every effort to deliver a healthy and medically sound environment for providing that opportunity.”

The 14 members of the SEC have committed to honoring the scholarship of any student-athlete who opts out of playing in the fall of 2020 due to Covid-19 concerns.

12:43 p.m. ET, August 21, 2020

More New York Mets games postponed due to Covid-19 concerns

From CNN's David Close and Homero DeLaFuente

A New York Mets batting helmet is seen in the dugout on March 8 before a spring training game in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
A New York Mets batting helmet is seen in the dugout on March 8 before a spring training game in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Major League Baseball has announced two additional New York Mets games have been postponed due to Covid-19 concerns.

The team’s weekend home set versus the New York Yankees is off — which means four Mets games in total have now been postponed.

With two members of the Mets organization testing positive for coronavirus, the league says it wants to allow more time for additional testing and contact tracing before the team takes the field again. 

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball has released its latest Covid-19 testing figures from the past week, revealing 0.05% samples are new positives — an increase of .02% from the previous week.

The report, announced in conjunction with the players union, does not indicate which players tested positive.

Seven of the 12,485 samples were new positives: three players and four staff members.