VIDEO-Coronavirus live updates: U.S. covid cases nearing 3.5 million, Georgia Gov. Kemp nullifies Atlanta mask mandate - The Washington Post

Please Note

The Washington Post is providing this important information about the coronavirus for free. For more free coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter where all stories are free to read.

With the total number of reported U.S. coronavirus infections rapidly approaching 3.5 million, Walmart, Kroger, Kohl’s, Alabama, Montana and the city of Tulsa came out in favor of mandatory face coverings Wednesday, suggesting that science was beginning to prevail over partisan debate.

But Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) issued a Wednesday-night order nullifying all local mask mandates — including one in Atlanta — and a Utah county commission meeting had to be postponed after anti-mask protesters caused it to devolve into chaos.

As the heated debate over mask-wearing continued, nearly 66,000 new cases were reported nationwide Wednesday. The seven-day average of new U.S. infections has trended upward for 37 consecutive days, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. And hospital capacity in some hard-hit states is running low as officials scramble to keep their expanding outbreaks from spinning even further out of control.

Here are some significant developments:

Sign up for our coronavirus newsletter | Mapping the spread of the coronavirus: Across the U.S. | Worldwide | Which states are reopening | Has someone close to you died of covid-19? Share your story with The Washington Post.

July 16, 2020 at 6:46 AM EDT

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp forbids cities, counties from requiring masks as coronavirus surges in the state

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has encouraged but not required mask-wearing. (Michael Holahan/AP)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed an executive order Wednesday night explicitly banning cities from enacting their own mask mandates, even as the state experiences a sharp rise in coronavirus cases and other Republican governors are turning to mask orders to try to quell the surge.

Kemp’s order voids existing mask mandates in more than a dozen cities or counties, while also extending other coronavirus social-distancing restrictions statewide.

The governor had previously tried to ban cities and counties from passing any coronavirus restrictions that went further than Georgia’s guidelines. But many cities, including Atlanta, defied him by passing mask mandates anyway, arguing it was essential to flatten the curve. Kemp’s new order “strongly encourages” masks.

Read more here.

By Meagan Flynn

July 16, 2020 at 6:33 AM EDT

Spain holds state memorial ceremony for coronavirus victims amid concerns over new outbreaks

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez leaves a white rose next to a cauldron during a state ceremony to honor the 28,400 victims of the coronavirus crisis as well as public servants who have been fighting on the front lines against the pandemic in Spain, on July 16, 2020, at the Royal Palace in Madrid. (Fernando Alvarado/AFP/Getty Images)

Spain held a state memorial ceremony on Thursday for the more than 28,000 people in the country who died of the coronavirus, amid concerns over new outbreaks in the country, including in Catalonia.

As one of Europe’s most affected nations, Spain had already declared 10 days of national mourning in May.

King Felipe VI led the memorial at the royal palace in the capital, Madrid, on Thursday, a ceremony that featured an orchestra and speeches.

Among the roughly 400 guests were relatives of victims as well as health workers. But the selection of participants was also perceived as a signal by the Spanish government that the pandemic should result in more international cooperation rather than unilateral national actions.

Among those present at the event were World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The European Union was criticized early in the pandemic for being ill-prepared and too slow in its efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, but Spain and other countries hope that the E.U. will play a key role in the economic recovery phase.

By Rick Noack

July 16, 2020 at 6:13 AM EDT

France will require masks in public next week, prime minister says

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Prime Minister Jean Castex wear protective face masks at annual Bastille Day ceremonies in Paris, July 14, 2020. (Pool New/Reuters)

France will required people to wear masks while inside most public spaces beginning next week, pushing up the start of nation’s mask mandate by nearly two weeks.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the change in plans Thursday, the Associated Press reported. Earlier this week, President Emmanuel Macron had set the new policy to start on Aug. 1, but the timeline was accelerated after outbreaks in the nation’s northwest Mayenne region.

Public health officials ordered people in some areas of that region to begin wearing masks in closed public spaces, including shops, on Thursday, according to Reuters. French Health Minister Olivier Véran called the virus’s spread in the Mayenne prefecture “problematic” during an interview with France Inter radio.

French officials have already required people to wear masks on public transit, in high schools and in buildings where social distancing is not feasible. The new mask mandate will expand the locations where face coverings must be worn to include more public spaces, including stores and restaurants.

More than 210,500 people have been infected and 30,123 have died in France since the start of the pandemic.

By Katie Shepherd

July 16, 2020 at 5:54 AM EDT

Britain has kept unemployment low during the pandemic, but that could change

A pedestrian passes the Houses of Parliament in London. (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Unemployment in Britain has remained low during the coronavirus pandemic, according to new government data released Thursday, but that may not be the case for long.

The number of employees on British payrolls fell by nearly 650,000 people between March and May — the sharpest drop since the government began tracking payroll data in 1971, according to the Guardian newspaper. But Britain’s Office for National Statistics said the national unemployment rate has remained unchanged, hovering at a historic low of 3.9 percent.

Those seemingly contradictory statistics reflect the fact that Britain has been paying 80 percent of furloughed workers’ wages during the pandemic as part of its Job Retention Scheme. While those employees have vanished from payrolls, they aren’t considered unemployed.

That could soon change. The government plans to end the job-protection program and stop paying furloughed workers’ salaries in October, and many companies have indicated that their furloughs will actually turn out to be permanent job cuts.

Analysts have warned that the low employment rate masks the dismal truth about the state of the nation’s economy. Yael Selfin, KPMG chief economist for Britain, told Reuters that the newly released data “represented the calm before the storm” and that the true impact of the recession won’t be felt for months.

“It’s clear that we’re in the middle of a severe economic downturn,” British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said Thursday.

By Antonia Farzan

July 16, 2020 at 5:31 AM EDT

China’s economy bounces back more quickly than expected from coronavirus

BEIJING — China’s economy has recovered rapidly from coronavirus shutdowns and has started to grow again, figures showed Thursday, leading analysts here to crow that the country was best-in-class at dealing with the pandemic.

This was clearly a dig at the United States — where the virus is spreading aggressively and the economy is suffering — though China’s statistics are often thought to be massaged for political reasons.

Indeed, President Xi Jinping said in a letter released Thursday that China was dealing with the pandemic and making progress on his top two economic goals. China is “striving for a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and eradicating poverty,” Xi wrote, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Read more here.

By Anna Fifield

July 16, 2020 at 5:12 AM EDT

Nearly 1 in 3 Florida children screened have tested positive, according to state data

A sign warning about the spread of coronavirus disease is seen in Miami Beach, Florida, U.S. July 14, 2020. (Zachary Fagenson/Reuters)

Nearly 1 in 3 Florida children screened for the novel coronavirus have tested positive, according to data published by the state, spurring fears about the virus’s little-understood impact on young people and asymptomatic spread.

Alina Alonso, Palm Beach County’s health department director, raised concerns at a county commission meeting Tuesday about potential long-term effects on children that may not have emerged yet.

More than 17,073 children have tested positive for the virus in Florida by July 9, according to the state’s data. At least 213 have been hospitalized with coronavirus-related symptoms, and four children have died. Thousands of others have not shown any symptoms at all, but doctors still have concerns for those infected kids.

“They are seeing there is damage to the lungs in these asymptomatic children. … We don’t know how that is going to manifest a year from now or two years from now,” Alonso said, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Is that child going to have chronic pulmonary problems or not?”

In a few rare cases, children have developed inflammatory symptoms that doctors believe stem from a covid-19 infection. Florida has reported 13 cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children with the virus, with more than half of those diagnoses occurring in children younger than 14.

Asymptomatic spread is another concern, as children are less likely to report symptoms than older adults.

Across the state, 31 percent of the 54,022 children who have been screened for the virus or its antigens tested positive. The number of positive cases in juveniles has jumped considerably since June 26, when the state was reporting that 7,197 children had tested positive.

By Katie Shepherd

July 16, 2020 at 4:50 AM EDT

Bangladesh hospital owner allegedly faked thousands of coronavirus test results before trying to flee country

Members of Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion arrested hospital chairman Mohammad Shahed on Wednesday. (-/AFP/Getty Images)

The owner of two Bangladesh hospitals falsified thousands of coronavirus test results before attempting to flee the country disguised in a burqa, AFP reports.

Fraudulent test certificates are a growing problem in Bangladesh, which has seen an uptick in new coronavirus cases this month. According to the Dhaka Tribune, some office workers seek out forged documents so that they can claim to have tested positive and get time off. More worrying are the people who pay for fraudulent documents deeming them to be virus-free so that they can travel, visit hospitals, or work at the country’s many garment factories.

Multiple criminal syndicates — made up of hospital staff as well as graphic designers — are profiting from the scam, the Tribune reported. They target people waiting in long lines to get tested, and also advertise heavily on social media. The faked documents cost the equivalent of between $47 to $94 in U.S. currency.

Mohammad Shahed, the hospital owner arrested Wednesday, is one of more than a dozen people to be detained as government authorities crack down on the scam. According to AFP, the 42-year-old had been the subject of a nine-day manhunt. He was caught when he attempted to cross a river and sneak across the border to India while concealed in a woman’s religious garb.

A police spokesman told the AFP that Shahed’s hospitals issued 10,500 coronavirus test results, “out of which 4,200 were genuine.” The remainder, totaling more than 6,000 certificates, “were given without conducting tests.”

Widespread distrust of test results from Bangladesh could hurt migrant workers seeking jobs abroad as some countries begin reopening their borders, Shakirul Islam, a migrant rights advocate, told AFP. A number of Bangladeshis who tested positive upon arriving in Rome last week had certificates claiming that they were negative, he said.

Bangladesh has reported nearly 194,000 coronavirus cases to date, a number widely believed to be an undercount.

By Antonia Farzan

July 16, 2020 at 4:47 AM EDT

WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne opens up about her health

Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne during a game between against the Connecticut Sun in on June 29, 2019. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Mystics intend to pay Elena Delle Donne despite the WNBA denying its reigning MVP a medical exemption to opt out of the league’s 22-game season, according to Mike Thibault, the team’s coach and manager.

Two days after a WNBA-appointed panel of doctors denied an exemption to Delle Donne, who has battled Lyme disease for 12 years, the player penned “An Open Letter About My Health” that detailed the measures she takes to fight the disease and some of her frustrations with the league for denying her a medical exemption amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I take 64 pills a day, and I feel like it’s slowly killing me,” she wrote of the regimen she follows to fight the disease. Delle Donne’s doctor and the Mystics’ team physician both submitted reports to the league on her behalf that stated she was immunocompromised, Delle Donne wrote.

Read more here.

By Kareem Copeland and Ava Wallace

July 16, 2020 at 4:01 AM EDT

The first governor to contract the coronavirus was also among the most cavalier about it

The coronavirus pandemic has for the first time infected one of the nation’s governors. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) says he was “pretty shocked” to have that distinction.

But Stitt has also been among the most cavalier about the threat posed by the virus.

The most visible example of Stitt’s attitude toward the virus came last month, when he encouraged President Trump to hold a rally in Tulsa even as health officials balked. Stitt then attended the rally while, like the vast majority of people there, declining to wear a mask.

My response to those folks, the naysayers, is: When is the right time?" Stitt said to critics of the rally. “The coronavirus is in the United States, it’s in Oklahoma, we have to take precautions. But we have the freedoms to stay at home, you have the freedoms to come to this rally.”

Read more here.

By Aaron Blake

July 16, 2020 at 3:40 AM EDT

Arena Stage pins hopes on a five-play in-person season beginning in January

Andhy Mendez and Marian Licha in Eduardo Machado's “Celia and Fidel,” before Arena Stage shut down production in March. (Margot Schulman/Arena Stage)

Will Jan. 22, 2021, be a banner day for Arena Stage? Or just another notation in a datebook of dashed hopes? That’s the date the company has set for reopening its Mead Center for American Theater, and for the first performance of its first show since the pandemic shutdowns.

That performance will be the world premiere of Eduardo Machado’s Cuba-set “Celia and Fidel,” which had to shutter in March even before the reviews could appear. It is to be the first of five productions — including two new musicals — that Arena will roll out between January and August if health officials and the vicissitudes of a hard-to-contain disease are favorable.

And that of course is a gargantuan IF.

Read more here.

By Peter Marks

July 16, 2020 at 3:26 AM EDT

‘In the middle of a pandemic, they’re selling beans?’: Critics swipe at Trump over Goya Oval Office photo

After President Trump posted a photo that showed him beaming behind a spread of Goya-brand food products, his critics lashed out over what they saw as a frivolous distraction amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

The push back was particularly heated on CNN, where hosts Chris Cuomo and Anderson Cooper both took Trump to task over the image.

“Thumbs up. Orange. Grinning like he won a prize,” Cooper deadpanned during his Wednesday segment on “Anderson Cooper 360.” “137,000 Americans dead and this is our self-proclaimed wartime President’s answer to it.”

The president and his family have been irritating their opponents by encouraging people to buy the food brand Goya, which received backlash after CEO Robert Unanue praised Trump last week. Some also raised concerns that recent social media posts by Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump may have violated ethics rules that bar federal employees from using their positions to endorse private companies.

Cooper called the photo “ridiculous” as the producers showed it alongside an audio clip of Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, giving a grave warning about the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic Wednesday.

Cuomo took a much more aggressive tone on CNN Wednesday evening.

“You tell me how a president, in the middle of a pandemic, has time for this bulls---,” Cuomo said. “On your dime, in the middle of a pandemic, they’re selling beans? Are you kidding me?”

Several other critics joined the chorus on social media Wednesday, including politicians, journalists and commentators. The Lincoln Project, a super-PAC created by anti-Trump Republicans that has been running ads opposing Trump, sided with Cuomo. Former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norm Eisen, who is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, suggested the post was meant to distract from the “countless Covid deaths Trump has caused.”

Trump’s Instagram post had more than 1.2 million likes by early Thursday morning. The president also tweeted support for Goya multiple times, including early Wednesday morning.

By Katie Shepherd

July 16, 2020 at 3:00 AM EDT

India reports record death toll as cases continue to surge

People wait in line at a testing site in Hyderabad, India, on Wednesday. (Mahesh Kumar A/AP)

The third-worst coronavirus outbreak in the world is growing even more dire. India reported a record 606 deaths on Thursday, along with 32,695 new infections. The number of cases detected since the pandemic began is rapidly approaching 1 million, though shortfalls in testing mean that number is widely thought to be an undercount. Only the United States and Brazil have higher caseloads.

About a dozen Indian states have re-instituted lockdowns in high-risk areas, the Associated Press reported. Goa, a popular tourist destination known for its beaches, is the latest to shut down for a second time. Two weeks after welcoming back travelers, the state is seeing an influx in new cases and has enacted a nightly curfew while also announcing a three-day lockdown over the weekend.

More than 40,000 people in Goa have been fined for not wearing masks, while many others have failed to follow social distancing guidelines, Pramod Sawant, the state’s chief minister, said on Wednesday.

As India’s outbreak continues to spiral out of control, the Indian Medical Association has warned about the growing toll on doctors. At least 99 doctors have died of covid-19, and their fatality rate is more than three times the national average, the organization said.

At the start of the outbreak in March, India instituted the largest lockdown in the world, slowing the spread of the virus, but after two months the government had to roll back many of the restrictions because of the devastating economic consequences on the country.

By Antonia Farzan

July 16, 2020 at 2:25 AM EDT

Tennessee governor masked up to attend largest sporting event since the pandemic’s start

Fans attend the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on July 15 in Tennessee. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The governor of Tennessee joined a crowd estimated to include at least 20,000 NASCAR fans inside the Bristol Motor Speedway to watch Wednesday’s All-Star Race in Bristol, Tenn.

“I applaud Bristol for taking the necessary precautions to keep fans safe while also enjoying the return of live sports in Tennessee,” Gov. Bill Lee (R), who said he would be wearing a mask at the race, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday evening.

The $1.1 million race was probably the largest sporting event since the start of the pandemic, ESPN reported, with at least 20,000 spectators spread across the speedway’s stadium seating. Photos of the crowd shows groups of attendees sitting several feet apart from one another, with some wearing masks but others barefaced in their seats.

The Bristol Motor Speedway said it would sell enough tickets to fill less than 25 percent of its seats to allow for social distancing. Fans were encouraged to wear masks and stay at least six feet away from others, among other precautions. Ticket holders agreed to a liability waiver that said they were “voluntarily assuming all risks of exposure to COVID-19.”

New coronavirus cases are on the rise in Tennessee, which has reported 69,061 cases and 783 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The state’s most populous county, which includes Memphis, re-closed bars on July 8, following closures in Nashville about a week earlier. Sullivan County, where Bristol is located, reported three of its five deaths and 112 of its 290 coronavirus cases in the past week.

Twenty-four-year-old Chase Elliott, the sport’s most popular driver, won the race by .418 seconds.

By Katie Shepherd

July 16, 2020 at 2:05 AM EDT

InStyle magazine puts Fauci on the cover

The roster of celebrities who have graced the cover of InStyle includes Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Alba, Reese Witherspoon and Taylor Swift.

And now, Anthony S. Fauci.

The nation’s top infectious-disease expert sat for an extensive interview with the women’s fashion magazine — a staple at nail and hair salons — that was published Wednesday. Along with it, InStyle released a “special digital cover” featuring a socially distanced portrait of Fauci lounging by a pool.

Though a government scientist might not seem like an obvious choice to follow in the footsteps of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, Fauci has grown a cult following ever since the pandemic arrived stateside. His face has already been emblazoned on prayer candles and throw pillows, so it makes sense that a fashion magazine would be next. And while there are many theories about how Fauci became a meme, one commonly cited explanation is his willingness to give interviews to less-than-traditional outlets such as the Barstool Sports podcast — many of which reach an audience that’s less inclined to follow the latest developments on CNN.

In the interview with CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell that accompanies the photo shoot, Fauci describes himself as an apolitical, conflict-averse person and says that it has been “stressful” to be pitted against President Trump. But despite the growing hostility from the White House, he’s not concerned about being fired because “with all due modesty, I think I’m pretty effective.”

By Antonia Farzan

July 16, 2020 at 1:21 AM EDT

Using stolen identities, fraudsters filed 47,500 fake unemployment claims in Maryland

Maryland uncovered 47,500 fraudulent unemployment claims attempting to collect $501 million in benefits, Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday, part of a nationwide scam seeking billions in federal cash.

Hogan (R) said the “massive and sophisticated criminal enterprise” was detected over the July 4 weekend. Maryland’s discovery, he said, led federal authorities to related scams in “at least” 12 other states.

The governor said none of the fraudulent claimants in Maryland received payments, but a small number of legitimate people in need had their benefits frozen during the investigation.

He said those people’s benefits will be reinstated, but he could not estimate how many people were affected.

Read more here.

By Erin Cox

July 16, 2020 at 12:43 AM EDT

American Airlines says as many as 25,000 employees could be furloughed

American Airlines planes are parked at the gate at Reagan National Airport in April. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

American Airlines said Wednesday that despite receiving billions in government support, it is sending notices to 25,000 employees that they could be furloughed come Oct. 1.

The announcement is the second this month from a major U.S. carrier, and it is a further sign of the toll the novel coronavirus has taken on the airline industry. United Airlines notified nearly 36,000 of its employees last week that they could be furloughed come October. It is likely that other carriers may soon take similar action.

“We hate taking this step, as we know the impact it has on our hardworking team members,” Doug Parker, the airline’s chief executive, and Robert Isom, American’s president, wrote in a letter to employees.

The number of American employees facing layoffs is nearly 30 percent of the carrier’s U.S.-based workforce.

Read more here.

By Lori Aratani

July 16, 2020 at 12:42 AM EDT

Virginia High School League plans for a fall without football

Westfield’s Trent Reimonenq breaks up a second-half pass intended for Madison’s Joey Jorgenson on Oct. 11. (Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)

There will be no public high school football in Virginia this fall as the Virginia High School League is moving forward with three options for scheduling a modified sports season in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

With fall approaching and the number of coronavirus cases in the country rising, including in Virginia, the executive committee voted Wednesday to delay the start of the sports season — though the format is still under discussion.

The VHSL plans to make its final decision among the three options July 27.

Read more here.

By Jake Lourim

July 16, 2020 at 12:42 AM EDT

As the coronavirus crisis spins out of control, Trump issues directives — but still no clear plan

President Trump has vowed that the nation’s schools must reopen for the fall semester, but neither he nor his administration has detailed a plan for how to do so safely.

And with case numbers spiking from coast to coast and fears mounting of additional outbreaks this fall and winter, Trump’s most clearly articulated plan to end the covid-19 pandemic is to predict the virus will “just disappear” and to bank on a vaccine being ready “very, very soon.”

While most developed countries have managed to control the coronavirus crisis, the United States under Trump continues to spiral out of control.

There is no cohesive national strategy, apart from unenforced federal health guidelines. Instead, the administration is offering a patchwork of solutions, often in reaction to outbreaks after they occur.

Read more here.

By Philip Rucker, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Ashley Parker