Hospitalizations continued to rise and ICU beds were quickly filling as the nation reached the brink of 3 million coronavirus cases Wednesday.
The stunning milestone will hit less than six months after the first confirmed case was reported January 21, in Everett, Washington. The virus has killed more than 130,000 Americans.
In California, hospitalizations are up 50% from two weeks ago. In Florida at least 56 hospital intensive care units have reached capacity. Some Republican senators said they won't attend the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville next month.
Still, opposition to tighter restrictions aimed at stemming the surge remained stiff. One Louisiana lawmaker compared the treatment of people who refuse to wear masks to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. And multiple movie chains have filed suit in New Jersey, demanding the right to reopen.
Here are some recent developments:A group of national movie theater chains filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy for not allowing them to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.New Zealand officials said they will press charges against a COVID-19 patient who escaped quarantine to go shopping.San Francisco has indefinitely delayed reopening plans for outdoor bars and indoor restaurants.
📈 Today's stats: The U.S. is nearing 3 million confirmed cases and more than 131,000 deaths, according to John Hopkins University data. Globally, there have been almost 12 million cases and more than 540,000 deaths.
📰 What we're reading: Hundreds of millions of dollars has gone to COVID-19 contractors accused of prior fraud. Those contracts range from masks and medical equipment to janitorial cleaning, video productions and even ferryboat services.
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WHO: Evidence 'emerging' of airborne transmission of virus
Evidence of airborne transmission of the coronavirus in "crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings... cannot be ruled out," said Benedetta Allegranzi, the World Heath technical lead for infection prevention and control. The acknowledgement comes days after 239 health experts, in an open letter to the international science community, urged their colleagues to take airborne transmission seriously as COVID-19 cases rise.
The World Health Organization had not recognized such transmission except in health care settings through “aerosol-generating procedures.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called airborne, person-to-person transmission over long distances "unlikely.” But Dr. Matthew Heinz, hospitalist at Tucson Medical Center in Arizona, said there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence "based on who I’m admitting and their described behavior.”
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Pandemic rewrites rules for scientific advancement
The methodical process of going from a scientific hypothesis to consensus can take years. But a pandemic waits for no scientist, and researchers have been sharing information openly and finding ways to innovate. Since December, more than 5,000 manuscripts related to COVID-19 research have been submitted to medRxiv and another preprint server, bioRxiv. Such online archives are where the first genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease.
"Science immediately reorganized itself in a purposeful way to address a global threat," James Bradner, president of the Institutes for BioMedical Research at Novartis, said in a webinar hosted by Chemical & Engineering News.
– Jordan Nutting, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Louisiana lawmaker equates COVID-19 mask mandates to Holocaust
A Louisiana lawmaker said people who refuse to wear masks during the coronavirus pandemic are being treated like Jews in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
Republican State Rep. Danny McCormick posted a Facebook video Tuesday railing against mask mandates as an assault on liberty, triggered by a mask mandate issued by Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins. In the video, McCormick shreds a surgical mask with a chainsaw, saying the "Constitution is being shredded before our very eyes."
"Government needed a villain," McCormick said in the video. "People who don't wear masks will be soon painted as the enemy just as they did to Jews in Nazi Germany. Now is the time to push back before it's too late. We can preserve America."
McCormick said his constituents are praising his post. "It's a tremendous response," he said in an interview with the USA TODAY Network. "The liberty message is strong. It's amazing more politicians don't take on the liberty movement because it's so popular."
– Greg Hilburn, Monroe (La.) News-Star
56 Florida hospital ICUs hit capacity
At least 56 intensive care units in Florida hospitals reached capacity Tuesday, according to data from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. Another 35 hospitals show ICU bed availability of 10% or less. The data comes as the state, now the nation's No. 1 hotspot for the virus, reports 7,361 new COVID-19 cases. Gov. Ron DeSantis refused Tuesday to say why his state has not begun reporting the daily COVID-19 hospitalization rate, the Miami Herald reported. On Monday, he said that the outbreak in Florida had "stabilized.”
As of yesterday, in total, over 16,400 Floridians have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, and over 3,800 have died.
– Elinor Aspegren
AMC, Cinemark, Regal file lawsuit against New Jersey to reopen theaters
Several national movie theaters chains – including AMC, Cinemark and Regal – filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy Monday for not allowing them to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit alleges that it is a violation of the theaters’ rights to free speech, equal protection and due process as other businesses have been allowed to reopen. The groups claim they have presented detailed safety plans to the state specifying how they would ensure the safety of patrons and employees.
“Rather than address these comprehensive safety proposals in any meaningful way, Defendants have chosen to continue to discriminate against movie theatres and to continue to require the closure of indoor movie theatres,” the suit claims.
San Francisco delays reopening of outdoor bars, indoor restaurants
Reopening plans for outdoor bars and indoor restaurants have been delayed in San Francisco as cases continue to rise in the city, Mayor London Breed announced. They were originally set to reopen on June 13.
"We know the pause on reopening is disappointing, but we cannot risk letting the virus get out of control," Breed said on Twitter. "We all need to do our part by wearing face coverings, keeping your distance from others, and getting tested so we can get to a place where we can safely resume reopening."
United Airlines: New quarantine rules are denting travel demand again
When New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced a 14-day quarantine for arriving travelers in late June amid a coronavirus surge in several Sun Belt states, the big question for the airline industry was whether it would stunt a nascent travel rebound. United Airlines answered the question with a resounding yes in a securities filing late Tuesday following an employee town hall. Less than a week after touting its plans to add 25,000 more flights in August due to an uptick in travel demand, the airline said it would pare back those plans. Instead of operating 40% of the flights it did in August 2019, it will operate just 35%.
The reason: "reduced demand to destinations experiencing increases in COVID-19 cases and/or new quarantine requirements or other restrictions on travel.''
– Dawn Gilbertson
Some senators will not attend GOP convention as cases in Florida spike
Several top Republican lawmakers said they would skip the Republican National Convention as coronavirus cases climb in Florida, where President Donald Trump is set to accept the party's nomination in August before a large crowd. The RNC backed out of Charlotte, North Carolina, last month and picked Jacksonville as the main site for the convention after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles wouldn't commit to allowing a full convention because of health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On a Monday conference call with local reporters, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, at age 86 the oldest Republican senator, said he would avoid the convention "because of the virus situation." A few other GOP lawmakers have announced they are deliberating or won't be attending the convention while not pointing back to coronavirus specifically.
New Zealand to charge patient who escaped quarantine to go shopping
New Zealand authorities say they will press charges against a coronavirus patient who escaped quarantine in Auckland and went shopping at a supermarket. Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the head of managed isolation and quarantine, said the 32-year-old man escaped through a fence at the Stamford Plaza hotel and was gone for just over an hour before returning. The man later tested positive for the virus. Webb said the man was a New Zealand citizen who’d recently returned from India and his actions were “completely unacceptable.” New Zealand has eliminated community transmission of the virus and is trying to contain cases at the border by placing new arrivals into a 14-day quarantine at various hotels. The supermarket has been closed for a deep clean.
Levi's cuts 15% of corporate workforce after sales drop due to pandemic
Levi Strauss & Co. is cutting about 15% of its corporate workforce worldwide because of a sharp decrease in sales due to the coronavirus pandemic, the company announced. The cut of 700 office jobs, which won't affect employees at stores or factories, will save the San Francisco-based jeans maker about $100 million a year. The company, also known as Levi's, said its revenues declined 62% because of the temporary store closures, which included many of the department stores that sell its jeans were also shut. It reported a loss of $363.5 million, after reporting a profit a year ago.
“We started the year with strong momentum, but the global pandemic and economic crises had a significantly negative impact on our second quarter results, as our stores and most wholesale doors were closed around the world," said CEO Chip Bergh.
– Kelly Tyko
More on the coronavirus from USA TODAY
Where a face mask is required: Many governors are instituting or renewing orders requiring people to wear face coverings in public as cases continue to rise. Is your state on the list? See it here.
Coronavirus Watch: We have a few ways for you to stay informed. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here, and come together and share the latest information about the coronavirus, coping with lifestyle changes and more by joining our Facebook group.
Where are states on reopening? Some are taking preemptive measures to postpone further phases of their reopening, while others have rolled back their phases to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. See the list.
Contributing: The Associated Press