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Several U.S. states see coronavirus infection spikes, Wall Street unnerved – Reuters

June 19th, 2020

(Reuters) – Troubling spikes in coronavirus infection rates were reported on Friday in several U.S. states, mainly in the South and West, a day before President Donald Trump was due to preside over an Oklahoma campaign rally that will be America’s largest indoor gathering in months.

FILE PHOTO: Claudia Clemente, MA, performs a test for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as a part of Valle del Sol’s testing at Tolleson Fire Department Station 161 in Tolleson, Arizona, U.S. June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Courtney Pedroza

Wall Street jitters over a resurgence in COVID-19 cases as states moved to reopen long-stifled commerce and ease social-distancing measures helped drive down major U.S. stock indexes, reversing earlier gains.

Experts say expanded diagnostic testing accounts for some, but not all, of the growth in cases – numbering at least 2.23 million nationwide on Friday – and that the mounting volume of infections was elevating hospitalizations in some places.

“Clearly the cases are rising rapidly. It’s not just a matter of testing more,” said Dr. Murtaza Akhter, an emergency room physician at Arizona hospitals, noting the lag time between a positive test and severe illness or death. “The real concern is what is coming up for us in the next week or two.”

He said the latest wave of cases has put Arizona’s major hospitals at or near capacity, and placed the Southwestern state on track to surpass New York at its peak on a per-capita basis.

More than 119,000 Americans have perished from COVID-19 to date, according to Reuters’ running tally.

Particularly alarming has been the upward trends several states are reporting in the percentage of positive tests among individuals who are screened, a metric experts refer to as the positivity rate.

The World Health Organization considers positivity rates above 5% to be especially concerning, and widely watched data from Johns Hopkins University shows 16 states with average rates over the past week exceeding that level and climbing.

Four were averaging double-digit rates – Arizona at 17%, Alabama at 12%, Washington state at 11% and South Carolina at 10%. The dozen others were led by Utah, Texas, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia, all averaging rates of 7.5% or higher.

Some of the latest daily figures were also disconcerting.

Arizona, where doctors and public health administrators have called for making face coverings mandatory in public, reported a record 3,246 new infections over the previous 24 hours, nearly twice those tallied on Wednesday. Its latest single-day positivity rate, from Thursday, stood at 18.6%.

In Phoenix, where the president is due to visit a church next Tuesday for a “Students for Trump” event, the city council voted at the mayor’s urging on Friday to mandate face coverings in most public places. That move came two days after Governor Doug Ducey issued an executive order allowing cities and counties to require face coverings.

Florida, one of the last states to impose stay-at-home restrictions and one of the first to begin lifting them, reported 3,822 new cases, a daily record. Its latest positivity figure was 10%, according to the state’s health department.

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“The situation in Florida and Arizona is really concerning,” William Hanage, an epidemiology professor at Harvard University, adding that the spike in cases was not just due to more testing but indicative of an “underlying outbreak of unknown size.”

Even if the growth in confirmed cases partly reflects transmission among younger people less likely to be hospitalized, those people could infect the elderly and other vulnerable individuals with underlying health conditions.

“The more community transmission there is, the larger the risk that it infects somebody who is vulnerable. There are quite a lot of old people in Florida and in Arizona,” Hanage said.

Another focus of concern was in Oklahoma, where the Trump campaign will hold a rally on Saturday at a 19,000-seat indoor arena in Tulsa, his first such event since lockdowns were imposed across much of the country in March.

Public health experts have warned that assembling thousands of shouting, chanting people inside the BOK Center and an adjacent convention hall poses the risk of creating a “super-spreader” event for the highly contagious coronavirus.

Rally organizers plan to hand out masks and hand sanitizer to attendees before they enter the venue, but they will not be required to maintain social distancing or wear face coverings. They also must sign a waiver promising not to sue Trump or the campaign if they contract the virus.

Trump supporters began lining up outside the arena well in advance. One of them, Randall Thom, 60, from Lakefield, Minnesota, said on Friday the United States needed to reopen.

“We can’t be afraid of this China virus or whatever you guys want to call it. I’m not afraid of it at all,” he said. “And I am so honored that President Trump wants to do a trade for us as citizens, you know, to give us our rights to be normal again.”

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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AMC Theaters reverses course on masks after backlash – Boston.com

June 19th, 2020

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The nation’s largest movie theater chain changed its position on mask-wearing less than a day after the company became a target on social media for saying it would defer to local governments on the issue.

AMC Theaters CEO Adam Aron said Friday that its theaters will require patrons to wear masks upon reopening, which will begin in mid-July. Customers who don’t wear masks won’t be admitted or allowed to stay.

“We think it is absolutely crucial that we listen to our guests,” Aron said. “It is clear from this response that we did not go far enough on the usage of masks.”

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Rival chain Regal followed AMC’s lead. Spokesman Richard Grover said Friday that moviegoers must wear masks in all its theaters as well.

AMC Theaters wasn’t the first to say it would defer to officials on the mask issue. That policy was identical to what Cinemark announced earlier this month. Cineplex Inc., which has a 75% box office market share in Canada, said they will leave it up to moviegoers to decide if they wear a face mask inside their theaters. Company spokeswoman Sarah Van Lange said they are taking the lead from public health authorities and provincial guidelines. She said employees will be required to wear masks.

Most major retailers require masks for customers only where local rules mandate it.

But the AMC plan hit a nerve for many on Thursday and #boycottAMC quickly became a trending topic on Twitter.

The outrage was further flamed by one of Aron’s comments in an interview with the Hollywood trade Variety that implied that taking a hard stance on mask-wearing was a political matter.

“We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” Aron said. “We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary.”

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He also said that he thought the “vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks” and that he planned to lead by example and would be wearing a mask himself.

The interview came on the same day that California started requiring people throughout the state to wear masks in most indoor settings and outdoors when distancing isn’t possible.

While public health officials say wearing a mask is important in helping stop the spread of COVID-19, not wearing one has become a political statement for people who say it violates their freedom or exaggerates the threat of the coronavirus. President Donald Trump has pushed back against masks, even as the virus has killed more than 100,000 Americans this year.

Earlier Friday, Alamo Drafthouse, which operates around 40 locations in the U.S. said that it would be requiring that guests wear masks at its theaters, with a caveat for eating and drinking. Those without masks, it said, would be given one. AMC plans to sell masks for $1.

Most indoor U.S. theaters have been closed since mid-March because of COVID-19. But both independent locations and major chains are readying to reopen within the next month.

AMC said it will open 450 of its U.S. locations on July 15, with the goal of having most of its theaters in operation by July 24 for the opening of Disney’s “Mulan” and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” the following week.

AP Business Writer Tali Arbel contributed from New York. Robert Gillies contributed from Toronto.

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Apple WWDC Starts on Monday. It Could Get Awkward for Tim Cook. – Barron’s

June 19th, 2020

Espionage charges against two Canadians proof soft diplomacy with China isn’t working: experts – National Post

June 19th, 2020

Article content continued

Saint-Jacques said the recent loss in Canadian courts was likely the catalyst for the criminal charges against Kovrig and Spavor.

“The Chinese must come to the conclusion that the extraction process will drag on for years and they decided to up the ante by launching the formal trial,” said Saint-Jacques.

Robert Malley, president of the International Crisis Group, the conflict resolution organization Kovrig works for, said the charges against him were “completely baseless” and “groundless.”

He said that Kovrig was “open and transparent” in his work, and Chinese officials have not provided any evidence to suggest otherwise.

“It’s deeply disappointing, but it’s wholly unsurprising,” Malley said. “From the very beginning, this has been a political case, not a legal one.”

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Many states continue to face record highs in coronavirus cases – CBS Evening News

June 19th, 2020

Nearly 25 states are reporting increases in their daily average number of coronavirus cases, while states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona are reporting record highs. The U.S. now has more than 2.2 million confirmed cases and nearly 119,000 deaths. Jamie Yuccas reports.

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Apple is under pressure over its App Store rules from the testy developers it will have to court at the upcoming WWDC – MarketWatch

June 19th, 2020

Apple Loop: New iPhone 12 Leaks, MacBook Pro’s Powerful Update, App Store Anger – Forbes

June 19th, 2020

Star Wars: Squadrons Everything You Need To Know – Release Date, VR Support, Gameplay Details, And More – UploadVR

June 19th, 2020

As coronavirus cases rise, so does Austin-area contingency planning – Austin American-Statesman

June 19th, 2020

As Texas saw its eighth consecutive day of record COVID-19 hospitalizations Friday, Austin-area officials began preparing for the possibility — considered remote but growing — that a field hospital might be needed to handle overflow patients.

The Austin Convention Center would be converted into an alternative care site if hospitals become overwhelmed, said former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, a key decision maker in local efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus,

“Here’s hoping we never need an alternative care site, but if we do, we are ready to stand one up,” Eckhardt told the American-Statesman.

The site would be able to treat up to 1,500 COVID-19 patients, scaling up in 100-person increments, an Austin/Travis County Emergency Operations Center spokesperson said.

After a Friday conference call with Austin-area hospitals, Eckhardt said the region is experiencing an unprecedented number of new coronavirus cases. While she was confident that local hospital systems are up to the challenge, Eckhardt said it made sense to be prepared if the situation worsened.

“All three of the (hospital systems) still, as of today, have plenty of capacity and staffing,” she said.

All three hospital systems told the Statesman on Friday that no hospital had reached its capacity for treating COVID-19, rejecting rumors to the contrary that circulated Friday via email and social media.

“While we currently have capacity in our hospitals to treat all patients, including patients diagnosed with COVID-19, we have the ability to quickly adapt to the needs of our patients and to the health care demands of our community should the need arise,” said DeVry Anderson, chief medical officer at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center.

The hospital systems and Austin Public Health would not provide specific hospital capacity numbers when asked.

The state reported Friday that 3,148 patients were in hospitals for COVID-19, the first time Texas crossed the 3,000 mark, and state health officials reported 3,454 new cases Friday.

The state’s positivity rate, the rolling seven-day number of positive cases divided by the number of tests, increased to 8.5%, a full percentage point higher than the day before.

Hospitals within a hospital

Hospital systems have created different ways to separate those infected with COVID-19 from other patients. All hospitals do initial screenings at the door, and then send COVID-19 patients to a designated area.

“While we have seen an increase in the number of cases recently, it is important to note that the vast majority of our patients — between 90% and 99% of those we treated in our hospitals since March — have been receiving care unrelated to COVID-19,” Baylor Scott & White said in a statement.

Ascension Seton has designated two hospitals — Dell Seton Medical Center and Seton Medical Center — as sites where it transfers all COVID-19 patients, freeing capacity at surrounding hospitals and making sure patients with coronavirus are at sites with higher levels of care and equipment. Those two hospitals still treat other patients in non-COVID-19-designated areas.

The concerns local hospitals had in February and March are not the same as now, Anderson said, adding that there has been time to establish procedures for isolating patients and to gather ventilators and personal protective equipment.

Anderson said St. David’s South Austin Medical Center has noticed a decrease in deaths due to COVID-19.

He attributed that to having access to plasma from donors who have already had the virus as well as two medications, an antiviral, remdesivir, and a steroid, dexamethasone, that are being studied with good initial results.

“We spent a lot of time ensuring that we got those,” Anderson said.

‘Still here and spreading’

Meantime, statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by more than 1,000 patients from one week ago.

Gov. Greg Abbott sought to quell concerns over hospitalizations Tuesday, reassuring Texans that hospitals around the state can handle the rising numbers.

The governor has continued to loosen restrictions that have allowed restaurants, bars and businesses to gradually reopen. On Friday, it was amusement parks and carnivals that were allowed to open at 50% capacity if they were in counties with more than 1,000 confirmed positive cases of the virus.

But Shelley Payne, director of the University of Texas’ LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease, said the state’s growing number of new COVID-19 cases indicates that officials should reconsider reopening the economy.

“The cases and hospitalizations have clearly increased over the last week, and I think that tells us that what we’ve been doing is not working, that we need to go back to having more stringent guidelines about mask use and other measures to reduce the spread of the virus,” Payne said.

READ MORE: Abbott seeks to reassure Texans as COVID-19 cases rise

Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said the increased infections this week have come “in a wide variety of venues,” including outbreaks in nursing homes, meatpacking plants and prisons.

The department also found additional cases because of relaxed social distancing at bars, beaches and other gatherings across the state, he said.

“It really underscores that COVID is still here and spreading in Texas, and people still need to be taking it seriously,” Van Deusen said.

The community can do basic things to preserve hospital capacity and stop the spread, but, Anderson stressed, people should not put off going to the hospital for other symptoms.

“Wear your mask, wash your hands, maintain appropriate social distancing, this will help us all out,” Anderson said.

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June 19 evening update: The latest on the coronavirus and Maine – Bangor Daily News

June 19th, 2020

Another 35 coronavirus cases have been detected in Maine, health officials said Friday.

There have now been 2,913 cases across all of Maine’s counties since the outbreak began here in March, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 2,878 on Thursday.

Of those, 2,586 have been confirmed positive, while 327 are likely positive, according to the Maine CDC.

No new deaths were reported Friday, leaving the statewide death toll at 102. Only two deaths have been reported so far this week.

So far, 328 Mainers have been hospitalized at some point with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Of those, 26 people are currently hospitalized, with 11 in critical care and five on ventilators.

Meanwhile, 23 more people have recovered from the virus, bringing the total recoveries to 2,323. That means there are 488 active and likely cases in the state, up from 476 on Thursday, according to the Maine CDC.

Here’s the latest on the coronavirus and its impact on Maine.

—“Two Dover-Foxcroft nonprofits that have been closed since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic — the Center Theatre and Piscataquis County Ice Arena — are bringing drive-in movies to the Piscataquis County seat beginning this Friday and Saturday with the showing of the 2019 film “Wonder Woman.” — Ernie Clark, BDN

—“The number of deaths per day from the coronavirus in the U.S. has fallen in recent weeks to the lowest level since late March, even as states increasingly reopen for business. But scientists are deeply afraid the trend may be about to reverse itself.” — The Associated Press

—“Health and social services officials told Maine lawmakers on Friday that the coronavirus has caused urgent financial problems as they asked for a share of roughly $1 billion in federal stimulus money to recover from the pandemic.” — Michael Shepherd, BDN

—“In a stunning reversal, the Navy has upheld the firing of the aircraft carrier captain who urged faster action to protect his crew from a coronavirus outbreak, the Navy’s top officer said Friday.” — The Associated Press

—“Homebound travelers desperate to venture out for the first time since the pandemic are confronting a vacation landscape this summer that may require coronavirus tests for the family and even quarantines. States from Maine to Hawaii are trying to strike a balance between containing the new coronavirus and encouraging out-of-state visitors to spend their cash on hotels, restaurants and other businesses.” — The Associated Press

— As of Friday evening, the coronavirus has sickened 2,215,587 people in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as caused 118,991 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

— Elsewhere in New England, there have been 7,800 coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts, 4,238 in Connecticut, 894 in Rhode Island, 331 in New Hampshire and 56 in Vermont.

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