Virus Updates: New Guidelines on Reopening Schools; Health Care Workers Advised to Reuse PPE

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The total cases of the coronavirus in the United States are over 3 million, according to a tally from NBC News. There have been more than 132,000 confirmed deaths as a result of COVID-19.

And, as many states battle outbreaks, hospitals are facing a shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE. Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who is in charge of coronavirus-related supplies for the White House, told Congress last week that more than one-fourth of the states have less than a 30-day supply.

Meanwhile, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday the nation’s schools must reopen this fall and be "fully operational," despite the continuing climb in cases. Health and education officials argued at a White House roundtable that keeping students out of school for the fall semester would pose greater health risks than any tied to the coronavirus.

Among those pushing for a fall reopening was the chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the agency's school guidelines are “very tough & expensive."

Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:

Trump Admin Plans to Block Asylum Seekers By Citing Public Health Risk of COVID-19

The Trump administration has proposed a new rule that would allow it to deny asylum to immigrants who are deemed a public health risk.

The soon-to-be-published rule would let the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice block immigrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. based on "potential international threats from the spread of pandemics," according to a notice announcing it Wednesday.

The rule would apply to immigrants seeking asylum and those seeking "withholding of removal" — a protected immigration status for those who have shown they may well face danger if returned to their home countries, NBC News reports.

Pence: US Will Advise Health Care Workers to Reuse PPE

After a national nursing union and a doctors association warned this week that personal protective equipment was in short supply again as the virus resumes its rapid spread and the number of hospitalized patients climbs, Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. government will issue guidance encouraging front-line health care workers to reuse PPE.

Pence, speaking at White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Wednesday, claimed that PPE supplies remain “very strong” but the Trump administration will be encouraging healthcare workers “to use some of the best practices” to “preserve and reuse” face masks and other protective equipment.

In general, supplies of protective gear are more robust now, and many states and major hospital chains say they are in better shape. But medical professionals and some lawmakers have cast doubt on those improvements as shortages begin to reappear.

“We’re five months into this and there are still shortages of gowns, hair covers, shoe covers, masks, N95 masks,” said Deborah Burger, president of National Nurses United, who cited results from a survey of the union's members. "They’re being doled out, and we’re still being told to reuse them.”

Pence pointed to flattening rates of positive coronavirus tests in the hard-hit Sun Belt states of Arizona, Florida and Texas and called for Americans to “keep doing what you’re doing.”

But the head of the White House task force said that Americans in states that have seen a recent spike in cases need to do more to clamp down on gatherings in order to stem spread of the virus.

Dr. Deborah Birx said that in addition to closures of bars, ceasing indoor dining and wearing face coverings Americans in hot spots should stop holding or cut down on the size of gatherings they hold in their homes.

Here are some dos and don'ts when it comes to wearing a mask, explained by some of history's most famous paintings.

Pence: CDC to Issue Additional Guidance on Reopening Schools

Hours after President Donald Trump tweeted that the CDC's guidelines to reopen schools are too "tough and expensive," Vice President Mike Pence announced Wednesday the agency would be releasing new guidance on schools next week.

School districts across the United States are struggling with how to safely reopen as the coronavirus continues to surge in some states.

Current CDC guidance recommends that students and teachers wear masks whenever feasible, spread out desks, stagger schedules, eat meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria and add physical barriers between bathroom sinks.

Speaking at a coronavirus task force briefing at the U.S. Department of Education, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said the agency's coronavirus guidelines are not intended to be used as "a rationale to keep schools closed."

"Remember it's guidance; it's not requirements. And its purpose is to facilitate the reopening," Redfield said, noting that there are a "variety of unique circumstances" for different schools and districts should heed the advice of local and state health officials.

Redfield urged schools to find ways to reopen while minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York City schools can’t accommodate all their students at any one time while also maintaining social distancing. He announced Wednesday that most students will return to their physical classrooms two or three days per week and learn online the rest of the time. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has previously criticized the idea of a hybrid plan, saying that families should be able to count on having their children in school five days a week.

Pence stressed that "it's time to get our kids back to school," and cited recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which said that keeping students at home can lead to social isolation and prevent schools from identifying learning deficits, abuse, depression and other issues.

Asked what kind of support the federal government will give to states, Pence said, "whatever support they need to get kids back to school, we will make sure they have it."

But across the country, state and local health officials are again reporting shortages of critical personal protective equipment, long lines at testing sites and going more than a week without receiving a diagnosis. Some testing sites are also reporting running out of kits as testing is ramped up.

Pence urged health workers to "preserve and reuse" their PPE supplies.

Trump Threatens to Cut Federal Aid If Schools Don't Reopen

President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to withhold federal money if schools don’t reopen in the fall, and he lashed out at federal health officials over school reopening guidelines that he says are impractical and expensive.

Taking to Twitter to voice his frustration, Trump argued that countries including Germany, Denmark and Norway have reopened schools “with no problems.” He also repeated his claim that Democrats want to keep schools closed for political reasons, not because of any risks associated with the coronavirus.

“The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election,” Trump said, “but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”

He did not immediately say what funding he would cut off or under what authority he had to make the move.

Trump made the comments a day after launching an all-out effort pressing state and local officials to reopen the nation’s schools and colleges this fall.

Educators, child experts and parents are debating the pros and cons of reopening schools in time for the fall semester, as the coronavirus shows no signs of stopping for certain regions of the country.

Nearly Half the Employees at an Arizona ICE Detention Center Have Tested Positive for COVID-19

Nearly half the employees at an Arizona ICE detention center have tested positive for COVID-19 with a guard dying of the disease, and according to two employees and 14 migrants, a shortage of staff has left detainees in their cells without access to showers, laundry and other necessities, NBC News reported.

CoreCivic, the company contracted to run the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, said 127 of about 300 total CoreCivic employees at Eloy have tested positive since the start of the pandemic, although some have recovered and are back to work. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not publicly report the number of contract employees infected, so it was not previously known how many staff members at Eloy had contracted the virus.

"There is fear in our staff. How can you work in a place where you fear for your life or fear for your family?" one of the workers asked recently on condition of anonymity.

ICE reports that 222 immigrants held in Eloy have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic, and immigrant rights groups have sued to see that more migrants are released out of concern that they could become infected. The population of the facility shifts constantly, but it can hold 1,500 detainees.

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California Northern Counties Beginning to Feel COVID-19 Bite

Some of California’s northern counties, which saw few cases of the coronavirus and were the first to begin reopening their economies, are cracking down again as the state’s rising tide of infections hits home.

Supervisors in Yolo County, near Sacramento, passed a measure on Tuesday that allows fines of up to $10,000 for businesses that don’t follow state and local health orders such as banning indoor dining areas and requiring clients to wear masks.

An increase in confirmed cases of more than 200% in the last four weeks “necessitates an increase in enforcement,” board chairman Gary Sandy said in a statement.

Sutter and Yuba counties allowed restaurants, hair salons, churches and movie theaters to reopen in early May. But on Tuesday, health officials told supervisors that both could wind up on the state’s watch list of counties that have seen troubling rises in infection rates, raising concerns that hospitals might be overwhelmed.

In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed announced a delay to the scheduled return of indoor dining due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the city. They were scheduled to reopen on July 13, NBC Bay Area reported.

Should Your State Reopen?

For states considering lifting quarantine measures, the official guidelines propose either a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases within two weeks or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests.

As shown below, when you compare yesterday’s new case count with that of two weeks ago, the number is often lower, simply because the counts fluctuate. Critics call the measures vague and ultimately because they aren’t binding, some states are choosing to reopen whether they meet the criteria or not.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

Ravens Quarterback Cancels Florida Event Amid Virus Surge

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has canceled his annual “Funday with LJ” event in Florida due to surging coronavirus cases in the state and strict gathering limits.

Jackson's third annual event was set to be held Saturday and Sunday in his hometown of Pompano Beach, Florida, but a spokesperson told news outlets Tuesday that the event was canceled.

Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited in Pompano Beach due to pandemic. Instead of allowing a few people to attend the event, Jackson decided to cancel it.

Jackson shared a flyer of the event on Instagram Monday, advertising flag football and water slides. It also said adults must wear face masks and waivers must be signed for children to participate.

The event was scheduled to start a week after Florida reported a single-day record of 11,445 cases.

Connecticut Gov. Announces No New Virus Deaths for 'First Time in Months'

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Connecticut increased by 14 since Monday, but the state is reporting no new coronavirus-related deaths for the "first time in months," Governor Ned Lamont announced at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm paid to worry," the governor said when talking about the hospitalizations increasing. "I would worry if I saw our admissions in our hospitals going up and that's why you saw hospitalizations going up. That's not what happened. We've added between about 20 and 30 new COVID cases a day into our hospitals. That's consistent. That's been consistent for the last few weeks. What is happened is there are many fewer discharges. It's not something I worry about, just something I note to you."

According to the state Department of Health, 5,745 tests have been administered since yesterday, and just 57 new cases were reported. Lamont said the state's positive test percentage remains around one percent, NBC Connecticut reported.

Miami-Dade Reverses Course, Will Allow Gyms and Fitness Centers to Stay Open

A day after ordering gyms to close in the county, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez reversed course, saying fitness centers can stay open with certain safety precautions in place.

Gimenez announced the decision on Twitter after a meeting with medical experts and the county's Wellness Group.

Gyms and fitness centers can remain open but anyone doing activities inside must wear a mask, while people outside must stay 10 feet apart.

Gimenez announced a number of closures on Monday, including closing restaurants to indoor dining, as well as closing ballrooms, banquet facilities, party venues and short-term vacation rentals, NBC Miami reported.

The Ebb and Flow of New Coronavirus Cases and Deaths

The graphs below illustrate the distribution of new coronavirus cases and deaths in the U.S. While New York accounted for the lion’s share of new cases and deaths in March and April, its numbers have declined in May as some states have increased. Hover or tap to see new daily cases and deaths across the country. States with the most are ordered top to bottom.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

The Associated Press/NBC
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