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239 Experts With 1 Big Claim: The Coronavirus Is Airborne – The New York Times

July 4th, 2020

The coronavirus is finding new victims worldwide, in bars and restaurants, offices, markets and casinos, giving rise to frightening clusters of infection that increasingly confirm what many scientists have been saying for months: The virus lingers in the air indoors, infecting those nearby.

If airborne transmission is a significant factor in the pandemic, especially in crowded spaces with poor ventilation, the consequences for containment will be significant. Masks may be needed indoors, even in socially distant settings. Health care workers may need N95 masks that filter out even the smallest respiratory droplets as they care for coronavirus patients.

Ventilation systems in schools, nursing homes, residences and businesses may need to minimize recirculating air and add powerful new filters. Ultraviolet lights may be needed to kill viral particles floating in tiny droplets indoors.

The World Health Organization has long held that the coronavirus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that, once expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes, fall quickly to the floor.

But in an open letter to the W.H.O., 239 scientists in 32 countries have outlined the evidence showing that smaller particles can infect people, and are calling for the agency to revise its recommendations. The researchers plan to publish their letter in a scientific journal next week.

Even in its latest update on the coronavirus, released June 29, the W.H.O. said airborne transmission of the virus is possible only after medical procedures that produce aerosols, or droplets smaller than 5 microns. (A micron is equal to one millionth of a meter.)

Proper ventilation and N95 masks are of concern only in those circumstances, according to the W.H.O. Instead, its infection control guidance, before and during this pandemic, has heavily promoted the importance of handwashing as a primary prevention strategy, even though there is limited evidence for transmission of the virus from surfaces. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says surfaces are likely to play only a minor role.)

Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, the W.H.O.’s technical lead on infection control, said the evidence for the virus spreading by air was unconvincing.

“Especially in the last couple of months, we have been stating several times that we consider airborne transmission as possible but certainly not supported by solid or even clear evidence,” she said. “There is a strong debate on this.”

But interviews with nearly 20 scientists — including a dozen W.H.O. consultants and several members of the committee that crafted the guidance — and internal emails paint a picture of an organization that, despite good intentions, is out of step with science.

Whether carried aloft by large droplets that zoom through the air after a sneeze, or by much smaller exhaled droplets that may glide the length of a room, these experts said, the coronavirus is borne through air and can infect people when inhaled.

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Updated 2020-07-05T03:43:48.256Z

Most of these experts sympathized with the W.H.O.’s growing portfolio and shrinking budget, and noted the tricky political relationships it has to manage, especially with the United States and China. They praised W.H.O. staff for holding daily briefings and tirelessly answering questions about the pandemic.

But the infection prevention and control committee in particular, experts said, is bound by a rigid and overly medicalized view of scientific evidence, is slow and risk-averse in updating its guidance and allows a few conservative voices to shout down dissent.

“They’ll die defending their view,” said one longstanding W.H.O. consultant, who did not wish to be identified because of her continuing work for the organization. Even its staunchest supporters said the committee should diversify its expertise and relax its criteria for proof, especially in a fast-moving outbreak.

“I do get frustrated about the issues of airflow and sizing of particles, absolutely,” said Mary-Louise McLaws, a committee member and epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

“If we started revisiting airflow, we would have to be prepared to change a lot of what we do,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea, a very good idea, but it will cause an enormous shudder through the infection control society.”

In early April, a group of 36 experts on air quality and aerosols urged the W.H.O. to consider the growing evidence on airborne transmission of the coronavirus. The agency responded promptly, calling Lidia Morawska, the group’s leader and a longtime W.H.O. consultant, to arrange a meeting.

But the discussion was dominated by a few experts who are staunch supporters of handwashing and felt it must be emphasized over aerosols, according to some participants, and the committee’s advice remained unchanged.

Dr. Morawska and others pointed to several incidents that indicate airborne transmission of the virus, particularly in poorly ventilated and crowded indoor spaces. They said the W.H.O. was making an artificial distinction between tiny aerosols and larger droplets, even though infected people produce both.

“We’ve known since 1946 that coughing and talking generate aerosols,” said Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne transmission of viruses at Virginia Tech.

Scientists have not been able to grow the coronavirus from aerosols in the lab. But that doesn’t mean aerosols are not infective, Dr. Marr said: Most of the samples in those experiments have come from hospital rooms with good air flow that would dilute viral levels.

In most buildings, she said, “the air-exchange rate is usually much lower, allowing virus to accumulate in the air and pose a greater risk.”

The W.H.O. also is relying on a dated definition of airborne transmission, Dr. Marr said. The agency believes an airborne pathogen, like the measles virus, has to be highly infectious and to travel long distances.

People generally “think and talk about airborne transmission profoundly stupidly,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“We have this notion that airborne transmission means droplets hanging in the air capable of infecting you many hours later, drifting down streets, through letter boxes and finding their way into homes everywhere,” Dr. Hanage said.

ImageDr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organization, at a recent news conference. “We don’t shy away from being challenged — it’s good for us to be challenged,” she said in an interview.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organization, at a recent news conference. “We don’t shy away from being challenged — it’s good for us to be challenged,” she said in an interview.Credit…Pool photo by Fabrice Coffrini

Experts all agree that the coronavirus does not behave that way. Dr. Marr and others said the coronavirus seemed to be most infectious when people were in prolonged contact at close range, especially indoors, and even more so in superspreader events — exactly what scientists would expect from aerosol transmission.

The W.H.O. has found itself at odds with groups of scientists more than once during this pandemic.

The agency lagged behind most of its member nations in endorsing face coverings for the public. While other organizations, including the C.D.C., have long since acknowledged the importance of transmission by people without symptoms, the W.H.O. still maintains that asymptomatic transmission is rare.

“At the country level, a lot of W.H.O. technical staff are scratching their heads,” said a consultant at a regional office in Southeast Asia, who did not wish to be identified because he was worried about losing his contract. “This is not giving us credibility.”

The consultant recalled that the W.H.O. staff members in his country were the only ones to go without masks after the government there endorsed them.

Many experts said the W.H.O. should embrace what some called a “precautionary principle” and others called “needs and values” — the idea that even without definitive evidence, the agency should assume the worst of the virus, apply common sense and recommend the best protection possible.

“There is no incontrovertible proof that SARS-CoV-2 travels or is transmitted significantly by aerosols, but there is absolutely no evidence that it’s not,” said Dr. Trish Greenhalgh, a primary care doctor at the University of Oxford in Britain.

“So at the moment we have to make a decision in the face of uncertainty, and my goodness, it’s going to be a disastrous decision if we get it wrong,” she said. “So why not just mask up for a few weeks, just in case?”

After all, the W.H.O. seems willing to accept without much evidence the idea that the virus may be transmitted from surfaces, she and other researchers noted, even as other health agencies have stepped back emphasizing this route.

“I agree that fomite transmission is not directly demonstrated for this virus,” Dr. Allegranzi, the W.H.O.’s technical lead on infection control, said, referring to objects that may be infectious. “But it is well known that other coronaviruses and respiratory viruses are transmitted, and demonstrated to be transmitted, by contact with fomite.”

The agency also must consider the needs of all its member nations, including those with limited resources, and make sure its recommendations are tempered by “availability, feasibility, compliance, resource implications,” she said.

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Aerosols may play some limited role in spreading the virus, said Dr. Paul Hunter, a member of the infection prevention committee and professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia in Britain.

But if the W.H.O. were to push for rigorous control measures in the absence of proof, hospitals in low- and middle-income countries may be forced to divert scarce resources from other crucial programs.

“That’s the balance that an organization like the W.H.O. has to achieve,” he said. “It’s the easiest thing in the world to say, ‘We’ve got to follow the precautionary principle,’ and ignore the opportunity costs of that.”

In interviews, other scientists criticized this view as paternalistic. “‘We’re not going to say what we really think, because we think you can’t deal with it?’ I don’t think that’s right,” said Don Milton, an aerosol expert at the University of Maryland.

Even cloth masks, if worn by everyone, can significantly reduce transmission, and the W.H.O. should say so clearly, he added.

Several experts criticized the W.H.O.’s messaging throughout the pandemic, saying the staff seems to prize scientific perspective over clarity.

“What you say is designed to help people understand the nature of a public health problem,” said Dr. William Aldis, a longtime W.H.O. collaborator based in Thailand. “That’s different than just scientifically describing a disease or a virus.”

The W.H.O. tends to describe “an absence of evidence as evidence of absence,” Dr. Aldis added. In April, for example, the W.H.O. said, “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.”

The statement was intended to indicate uncertainty, but the phrasing stoked unease among the public and earned rebukes from several experts and journalists. The W.H.O. later walked back its comments.

In a less public instance, the W.H.O. said there was “no evidence to suggest” that people with H.I.V. were at increased risk from the coronavirus. After Joseph Amon, the director of global health at Drexel University in Philadelphia who has sat on many agency committees, pointed out that the phrasing was misleading, the W.H.O. changed it to say the level of risk was “unknown.”

But W.H.O. staff and some members said the critics did not give its committees enough credit.

“Those that may have been frustrated may not be cognizant of how W.H.O. expert committees work, and they work slowly and deliberately,” Dr. McLaws said.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the W.H.O.’s chief scientist, said agency staff members were trying to evaluate new scientific evidence as fast as possible, but without sacrificing the quality of their review. She added that the agency will try to broaden the committees’ expertise and communications to make sure everyone is heard.

“We take it seriously when journalists or scientists or anyone challenges us and say we can do better than this,” she said. “We definitely want to do better.”

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Two-thirds of Canadians support closing businesses again if COVID-19 cases spike: survey – CTV News

July 4th, 2020

TORONTO — As scientists and policy-makers anticipate a second wave of COVID-19 later this year, a new survey suggests a majority of Canadians support closing non-essential businesses again if cases spike.

The new poll conducted by Nanos Research for CTV News surveyed 1,049 Canadians within the past week, and found that two-thirds of respondents support, or somewhat support, another round of business closures in the event of a significant rise in cases and hospitalizations.

Forty-two per cent of respondents said they support the closures, while another 28 per cent said they somewhat support them. About one in four Canadians oppose (16 per cent) or somewhat oppose (11 per cent) the idea.

Support for shutting down businesses during a second wave was strongest in Ontario (53 per cent) and weakest in Quebec (24 per cent). Those older than 55 — who are more susceptible to the virus — were more supportive of the closures, at 77 per cent, than younger Canadians aged 18 to 34, at 64 per cent support.

Businesses were hit hard in March when the pandemic forced many to shutter, leaving millions of Canadians without jobs.

To offset lost wages, the federal government has doled out monthly payments of $2,000 to more than 8 million Canadians without work through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) since April. As of July 3, more than $53.5 billion had been paid out.

In mid-June the federal government extended CERB by eight weeks, offering more time for workers looking for a job. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the government is looking for ways to incentivize returning to work rather than staying home and remaining on the program.

In recent months, business has slowly returned to normal as provinces expand their lists of which businesses are allowed to reopen.

Canada Masks 03

4-IN-5 SUPPORT MANDATORY MASKS

The poll also found that most Canadians support the mandatory wearing of masks in all public spaces, with 54 per cent in support and 25 per cent somewhat supportive. Nearly one in five respondents said they opposed (11 per cent) or somewhat opposed (nine per cent) mandatory face masks.

Support for mandatory face masks was highest in Ontario, at 65 per cent. While Ontario Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly rejected this idea, Toronto — which accounts for 12 per cent of Canada’s total caseload — recently made it mandatory to wear a face mask in all enclosed public spaces, such as grocery stores and public transit.

Ottawa’s mayor said he’d be open to a similar rule, if it’s supported by the city’s top doctor.

Support for mandatory masks in public was lowest in the Prairies, which still saw a majority of support at 68 per cent.

A group of Canadian doctors and scientists have been pushing for masks to be mandatory in all public spaces, saying the step is a simple and effective way to quash the outbreak. Many public transit authorities already recommend or require that passengers wear masks, including in Vancouver, Ottawa, Hamilton and Guelph.

Canada Masks 02

CANADIANS EXPECT A SECOND WAVE

The number of daily cases of COVID-19 has been steadily trending downward for months. For example, the country reported 286 new cases of COVID-19 on June 30, a sizeable drop from 772 new cases May 30.

But epidemiologists have been warning for months that, based on what is known about how coronaviruses spread, a second wave of cases is likely in the winter or fall.

This message appears to resone among Canadians. According to the Nanos poll, nearly nine in 10 Canadians say a second wave of COVID-19 infections in the next six months is likely (57 per cent) or somewhat likely (32 per cent). Just five per cent say it’s not likely, with three per cent saying it’s somewhat not likely.

METHODOLOGY

Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,049 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between June 28th and July 2nd, 2020 as part of an omnibus survey. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online. The sample included both land- and cell-lines across Canada. The results were statistically checked and weighted by age and gender using the latest Census information and the sample is geographically stratified to be representative of Canada.

Individuals randomly called using random digit dialling with a maximum of five call backs. The margin of error for this survey is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. This study was commissioned by CTV News and the research was conducted by Nanos Research.

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Deadly Brain-Eating Amoeba Confirmed in Florida – Daily Beast

July 4th, 2020

Health officials in Florida have sounded the alarm over the discovery of a rare, brain-eating amoeba in the county that encompasses Tampa and several other cities. The Florida Department of Health announced the news Friday that a person in Hillsborough County had suffered a confirmed infection of naegleria fowleri, a single-celled living amoeba that can lead to a dangerous infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis. Such an infection “destroys the brain tissue and is usually fatal,” health officials warned. The amoeba is usually found in lakes, rivers, and ponds, particularly when the water is warm. There have only been 37 confirmed cases of the amoeba since 1962, and health officials say the best way to prevent an infection is by “avoiding nasal contact with the waters, since the amoeba enters through the nasal passages.” Of the 143 documented cases of brain infection caused by naegleria fowleri in the U.S., only four people have survived. 

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Kanye West Sets Off July 4th Fireworks With White House 2020 Bid; “Power” Rapper Plans To Take On Trump & Biden – Deadline

July 4th, 2020

Kim Kardashian West has spent a fair amount of time at the White House the past few years, but now it looks likes she is seriously thinking about moving into the ultimate reality show as First Lady – at least if her husband has his way.

Kanye West let off a July 4th fireworks display of his own today by announcing that he is running for President this year.

Within minutes incumbent Donald Trump seemingly lost not just one, but two of his highest profile supporters as SpaceX founder Elon Musk also took to social media to give the ‘Power’ rapper his backing:

Whether or not, Ye will truly square off against the former Celebrity Apprentice host (who West once said was a “Superman” in an often bizarre 2018 Oval Office meeting) and former Vice-President Joe Biden in November, today’s declaration is not the first time the multiple Grammy winner has said he has eyes on the White House. Back in 2015, West told the MTV VMA Awards he would launch a Presidential race for 2020, in January 2019 the “Trump all day” fan teased a 2024 bid and just last November the Jesus Is King star asserted to a Fast Company corporate conference that he would be going for the ballot box in 2024.

Then again, with the possibility that West race could siphon votes off Biden to Trump’s advantage, to quote Kanye’s 2010 track Power: “No one man should have all that power/The clock’s ticking, I just count the hours.”

In that vein, today’s latest White House lunge by West comes less than a week after the multi-tasking artist dropped his first single of 2020 – the hard hitting and faith based Wash Us In the Blood …which would make one Hell of a campaign theme tune.

UPDATE 7:10 PM: And looks like Kim is totally on board BTW:

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Fortnite to Show We The People in Party Royale This Weekend – IGN

July 4th, 2020

Last Of Us Part 2 Voice Actress Reacts To Harassment and Death Threats – Screen Rant

July 4th, 2020

Trump assails foes, doesn’t mention U.S. coronavirus deaths in Fourth of July event – CBC.ca

July 4th, 2020

On a day meant for unity and celebration, U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to “safeguard our values” from enemies within — leftists, looters, agitators, he said — in a Fourth of July speech packed with all the grievances and combativeness of his political rallies.

Trump watched paratroopers float to the ground in a tribute to America, greeted his audience of front-line medical workers and others central in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and opened up on those who “slander” him and disrespect the country’s past.

“We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and the people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing,” he said. “We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children.

“And we will protect and preserve American way of life, which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America.”

He did not mention the dead from the pandemic. Nearly 130,000 are known to have died from COVID-19 in the U.S.

Trump and his wife, Melania Trump, watch a U.S. military aircraft flyover on Saturday. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Even as officials across the country pleaded with Americans to curb their enthusiasm for large Fourth of July crowds, Trump enticed the masses with a “special evening” of tribute and fireworks staged with new U.S. coronavirus infections on the rise.

But the crowds wandering the National Mall for the night’s air show and fireworks were strikingly thinner those the gathering for last year’s jammed celebration on the Mall.

Many who showed up wore masks, unlike those seated close together for Trump’s South Lawn event, and distancing was easy to do for those scattered across the sprawling space.

Trump did not hesitate to use the country’s birthday as an occasion to assail segments of the population that do not support him. Carrying on a theme he pounded on a day earlier against the backdrop of the Mount Rushmore monuments, he went after those who have torn down statues or think some of them, particularly those of Confederate figures, should be removed. Support has been growing among Republicans to remove Confederate memorials.

“Our past is not a burden to be cast away,” Trump said.

Pandemic surging across U.S.

Outside the event but as close to it as they could get, Pat Lee of Upper Dublin, Pa., or the two friends she came with, one a nurse from Fredericksburg, Va., whose only head gear was a MAGA hat.

“POTUS said it would go away,” Lee said of the pandemic, using an acronym for president of the United States. “Masks, I think, are like a hoax.” But she said she wore one inside the Trump International Hotel, where she stayed.

By the Second World War Memorial, the National Park Service handed out packets of five white cloth masks to all who wanted them. People were not required to wear them.

People are seen on the National Mall as Trump speaks during an event on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Another nurse, Zippy Watt from Riverside, Calif., came to see the air show and fireworks with her husband and their two daughters, one of whom lived in Washington. They wore matching American flag face masks even when seated together on a park bench.

“We chose to wear a mask to protect ourselves and others,” Watt said. She said her family was divided on Trump but she is “more of a Trump supporter. Being from southern Cali I see socialist tendencies. I’m tired of paying taxes so others can stay home.”

Trump’s guests were doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers and military members as well as officials from the administration, said Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary. He said the event was a tribute to the “tremendous courage and spirit” of front-line workers and the public in the pandemic.

Guests are seen on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

In many parts of the country, authorities discouraged mass gatherings for the holiday after days that have seen COVID-19 cases grow at a rate not experienced even during the deadliest phase of the pandemic in the spring.

Yet Trump continued to crave big crowds when it came to his events.

He opened the holiday weekend by travelling to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota for a fireworks display Friday night near the mountain carvings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. In stark words, he accused protesters who have pushed for racial justice of engaging in a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history.”

Even as he pushed ahead with celebrations, the shadow of the coronavirus loomed closer to him. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top fundraiser for the president and girlfriend of his eldest child, Donald Trump Jr., tested positive for the virus, Trump’s campaign said late Friday. Guilfoyle tweeted Saturday that she was looking forward to “a speedy recovery.”

In a presidential message earlier Saturday on the 244th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Trump acknowledged that “over the past months, the American spirit has undoubtedly been tested by many challenges.”

His Democratic rival, Joe Biden, said in a statement that the U.S. “never lived up” to its founding principle that “all men are created equal,” but today “we have a chance to rip the roots of systemic racism out of this country.”

Trump’s endorsement of big gatherings at the National Mall and at Mount Rushmore came as many communities decided to scrap fireworks, parades and other holiday traditions in hopes of avoiding yet more surges in infection.

Confirmed cases are climbing in 40 states, and the U.S. set another record Friday with 52,300 newly reported infections, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions that mass gatherings like the one scheduled for Washington present a high risk for spread of the virus. Yet Surgeon General Jerome Adams sidestepped when asked if he would caution a loved one against attending a large gathering. He said people should wear masks and otherwise make up their own mind.

WATCH | Independence Day celebrations a concern in U.S. where cases on the rise:

As new daily cases in the U.S. hit a record, concerns abound that July 4th celebrations will lead to an explosion of COVID-19 cases as people scoff at masks and physical distancing. 2:01

Trump has been aching to see the nation return to normalcy, and has been willing to push the envelope farther than many states and big city mayors are willing to go.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser said she didn’t have the right to shut down the holiday spectacle because it’s on federal land. But she warned the federal government about the dangers of such a large crowd and told her constituents: “Just because someone invites you to a party doesn’t mean you have to go.”

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Five countries want Apple to pay consumers more money to settle #Batterygate – PhoneArena

July 4th, 2020

Florida adds over 11,000 coronavirus cases in a single day – Global News

July 4th, 2020

Florida and Texas, two states that have emerged as the latest hot spots of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, both reported new single-day record increases in confirmed COVID-19 cases on Saturday — with nearly 20,000 additional infections combined.

For a second straight day, Texas also registered an all-time high in the number of people hospitalized with the highly contagious respiratory illness — 7,890 patients after 238 new admissions over the past 24 hours.

Read more: Trump addresses crowd at massive July 4 fireworks display amid COVID-19

By comparison, New York state — the U.S. epicenter of the outbreak months ago, reported just 844 hospitalizations on Saturday, far below the nearly 19,000 hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients at the peak of its coronavirus crisis.

During the first four days of July alone, a total of 14 states have posted a daily record increases in the number of individuals testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has killed nearly 130,000 Americans.

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5:41Three new COVID-19 deaths, long-term effects of surviving the virus, concerns about U.S. visitors

Three new COVID-19 deaths, long-term effects of surviving the virus, concerns about U.S. visitors

And in a further sign the virus is spreading, at least 18 states, including the three most highly populated — California, Texas and Florida — have posted ominous rates of infection as a percentage of diagnostic tests over the past two weeks.

The recent surge, most pronounced in Southern and Western states that were among the latest to impose mandatory business restrictions at the outset of the pandemic and the first to relax them, has alarmed public health officials ahead of weekend July Fourth holiday celebrations.

Read more: ‘People aren’t stupid’: Mike Pence’s U.S. coronavirus spin tests his credibility

The majority of Independence Day fireworks displays across the country have been canceled, as state and local authorities urged Americans to avoid large crowds, practice safe social distancing and wear face coverings while out in public.

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Florida’s confirmed coronavirus cases rose by a record 11,458 on Saturday, the state’s health department said, marking the second time in three days that its caseload jumped by more than 10,000 in 24 hours.

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The latest case numbers in Florida, which has yet to report statewide hospitalizations, surpassed the highest daily tally reported by any European county during the height of the coronavirus outbreak there.

1:54Coronavirus: England’s pubs, restaurants and hair salons reopen on ‘Super Saturday’

Coronavirus: England’s pubs, restaurants and hair salons reopen on ‘Super Saturday’

In Texas, meanwhile, the number of new cases rose by a record 8,258 on Saturday. North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alaska, Missouri, Idaho and Alabama all registered new daily highs on Friday.

Despite the rising number of infections, the average daily U.S. death toll has gradually declined in recent weeks, reflecting the growing proportion of positive tests among younger, healthier people less prone to severe illness when infected.

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OMINOUS SIGN OF VIRUS TRANSMISSIONS

Still, a growing number of states are reporting a troubling upward trend in the percentage of diagnostic tests that come back positive — a key indicator of community spread that experts refer to as the positivity rate.

The World Health Organization considers positivity rates above 5 per cent to be concerning, and widely watched data from Johns Hopkins University shows at least 18 states with average rates over the past two weeks exceeding that level and climbing.

Eleven states averaged double-digit rates over the past seven days – Arizona (26 per cent), Florida (18 per cent), Nevada (16 per cent), South Carolina (15 per cent), Alabama (15 per cent), Texas (14.5 per cent), Mississippi (14 per cent), Georgia (13 per cent), Idaho (11 per cent), Kansas (10 per cent) and Utah (10 per cent). That was up from four states with double-digit rates two weeks ago.

Read more: World breaks daily record for new coronavirus cases: WHO

Even in California, which led the nation with statewide workplace closures and stay-at-home orders issued on March 19, the positivity rate has crept up to an average of 7 per cent over the past week.

Against that backdrop, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez imposed an indefinite nightly curfew starting Friday and halted the reopenings of casinos and other entertainment venues. Earlier this week, Miami-Dade and neighboring Broward County, the state’s two most populous counties, required residents to wear face coverings in public.

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Arkansas on Friday joined a push toward mandating mask-wearing in public. Governor Asa Hutchinson authorized the state’s cities and towns to enact a “model ordinance” requiring face coverings.

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The move came a day after Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered face masks worn in most public places, reversing his stance following an alarming rise in infections.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to minimize the jump in confirmed cases as a function of greater testing and again this week predicted that the virus would “disappear.”

“If you test 40,000,000 people, you are going to have many cases that, without the testing (like other countries), would not show up every night on the Fake Evening News,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

© 2020 Reuters

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July 4th, 2020