February 28, 2024


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Cuomo takes heat over nursing home deaths; California tightens restrictions; New York sends testing teams to Atlanta

11 min read

Much-needed pandemic help was on its way to Atlanta on Tuesday while Californians joined a lengthening list of Americans facing tighter restrictions in the face of the rapidly burgeoning coronavirus crisis.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday in a joint conference with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms that his state would send testing and contact tracing teams to the city.

“Mayor Bottoms, we’ve been watching you and what you’ve been going through,” Cuomo told Bottoms. “Anything we can do for you, for the city, we stand ready.”

But Cuomo, lauded globally for efforts that flattened the curve in New York, was taking heat back home for his administration’s report that appeared to off-load blame for thousands of deaths at nursing homes in the state.

In California, Los Angeles and San Diego public schools announced they will begin the school year online-only. And Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered fitness centers, churches, malls and other public areas closed in 30 counties.

In Florida, experiencing nation’s biggest surge in new cases, Gov. Ron DeSantis blamed expansion in testing. 

“We have to address the virus with steady resolve. We can’t get swept away in fear,” DeSantis said Monday at a news conference. “We have to understand what is going on, understand that we have a long road ahead.”

Some recent developments: 

  • The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced a Mexican man died of COVID-19 in Florida.

  • California Gov. Newsom ordered statewide closures Monday, including indoor restaurant operations and all bars.

  • Hawaii extended its quarantine to Sept. 1, delaying its plan to allow out-of-state travelers to visit the island by one month.

  • Face masks are required in about 3,700 U.S. Walmart locations. The CEO says a national mask mandate is “something on our minds.”

📈 Today’s stats: The U.S. has surpassed 3.3 million cases with over 135,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been 13.1 million cases and over 573,000 deaths.

📰 What we’re reading: Los Angeles and San Diego schools are going online-only in the fall. Will other districts’ reopening plans defy President Donald Trump and do the same?

Pandemic threatens shopping malls, ‘changing the face of America’

Just when many shopping malls had finally figured out how to adapt to the era of digital retail, the coronavirus pandemic is upending everything. Malls had turned to dining, entertainment, fitness and personal services – a pivot that was supposed to help them survive the Amazon age. But now they face mall anchor J.C. Penney struggling to avoid liquidation, smaller retailers closing or requesting rent relief, and venues like theaters still temporarily shut down due to COVID-19. The result: anywhere from 1 in 4 malls to 1 in 2 could go out of business altogether, analysts projected.

Half the nation’s malls could be shut down “if we can’t stop the bleeding,” Coresight  Research CEO Deborah Weinswig told USA TODAY. “That ends up changing the face of America.”

Nathan Bomey, Kelly Tyko

The soaring costs of elections: ‘We are holding a back sale for our democracy’

The coronavirus pandemic has tacked on hundreds of millions of dollars in unexpected costs to this year’s election. Dozens of interviews with local election clerks, state officials and advocates by USA TODAY Network, Columbia Journalism Investigations and the PBS series FRONTLINE reveal the country’s patchwork election system is fraying. And a proposal to provide states an additional $3.6 billion in federal money to support cratering election budgets has yet to be voted on by the U.S. Senate. One Chicago nonprofit donated $6.3 million to five Wisconsin cities to help with their elections costs.

“Local jurisdictions are literally relying on philanthropy to help pull off this election,” said Nathaniel Persily, an election law professor with Stanford Law School. “It’s like we are holding a bake sale for our democracy.”

– Pat Beall, Catharina Felke and Elizabeth Mulvey, USA TODAY Network and Columbia Journalism Investigations

Cuomo takes heat after state report on nursing home deaths

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo defended a state Health Department report that declined to blame thousands of nursing home deaths on a controversial Cuomo administration directive requiring facilities to take in COVID-19 patients. The report instead suggested workers and possibly visitors unwittingly spread the virus.

Cuomo said “ugly politics” were behind “this political conspiracy that the deaths in nursing homes were preventable.” Some experts are less certain. Charlene Harrington, a professor emerita of nursing and sociology at the University of California at San Francisco, said it appeared the “Department of Health is trying to justify what was an untenable policy.”

The Health Department, early in the crisis, had ordered nursing homes to admit “medically stable” coronavirus patients discharged from hospitals that were overwhelmed by patients. More than 6,000 nursing home residents died. ProPublica reported that New York’s nursing homes suffered a larger percentage of deaths relative to its total nursing home population than several states that did not have such a policy.

Third immigrant in ICE custody dies of COVID-19

A Mexican man being held in U.S. immigration custody in Florida died shortly after testing positive for the coronavirus, officials said Monday. 

Onoval Perez-Montufa, 51, died Sunday afternoon at a Palm Beach County hospital, according to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement news release. He had tested positive for COVID-19 on July 2 at the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven, which is west of Lake Okeechobee. Medical staff at the facility began treating him a day earlier after he complained of shortness of breath.

Perez-Montufa initially entered ICE custody June 15 following his release from federal prison in Massachusetts, where he had served 12 years for cocaine distribution. He was in ICE custody pending his removal to Mexico.

A Salvadoran man died in May after testing positive for coronavirus at a San Diego, California, ICE facility. A Guatemala man died later that month at a Lumpkin, Georgia, facility.

Trump responds to question about Arizona teacher who died: ‘Schools should be opened’

In a news conference Monday, President Donald Trump was asked about Kimberly Lopez Chavez Byrd, an Arizona teacher who died after teaching a summer school class. Trump responded by saying schools should reopen. 

Byrd’s summer school class was virtual, but she and two other teachers in the Hayden-Winkelman School District shared a classroom while they taught. All three teachers contracted COVID-19. Byrd died after she was admitted to the hospital. 

In Monday’s briefing, a reporter asked Trump, “What do you tell parents, who look at this, who look at Arizona where a school teacher recently died teaching summer school, parents who are worried about the safety of their children in public schools?”

The president did not address Byrd’s death. He responded, “Schools should be opened. Schools should be opened. Those kids want to go to school. You’re losing a lot of lives by keeping things closed. We saved millions of lives while we did the initial closure.” 

– Lily Altavena, Arizona Republic

Will Florida schools reopen?: COVID-19 separated this school board member from her preemie. She plans to vote against reopening.

New York to deploy COVID-19 testing and contact tracing teams to Atlanta

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state will send testing and contact tracing teams to Atlanta as the city’s COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

“Mayor Bottoms, we’ve been watching you and what you’ve been going through,” Cuomo told Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in a joint video conference Monday. “Anything we can do for you, for the city, we stand ready.”

Bottoms responded: “Thank you Governor, and that’s exactly what we need assistance with. Testing that gets people results very quickly, and also the contact tracing because we know that’s extremely important for us to help slow the spread.”

New York was once the nation’s epicenter of the pandemic. On Sunday, New York City health officials reported that no one died from the virus in the city on July 11. Gov. Cuomo said Monday that air travelers from states with high rates of COVID-19 must provide their local contact information or face a penalty of up to $2,000.

Hawaii extends its quarantine until Sept. 1

Hawaii is delaying its plan to allow out-of-state visitors to return to the vacation hot spot by a month due to an increase in coronavirus cases in the state and on the mainland U.S.

In late June, the governor’s office announced that travelers could visit Hawaii beginning Aug. 1, no quarantine required, by presenting a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of boarding. Without one, passengers arriving from the mainland would have to strictly quarantine for 14 days, a policy in place since March that has scared away most tourists and decimated Hawaii’s tourism industry.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige said at a news conference late Monday that the program won’t begin until Sept. 1, a decision he said was not taken lightly.  “We have always said that we will make decisions based on the health and safety of our community as the highest priority,” Ige said.

Dawn Gilbertson

Milwaukee proposes re-opening schools with online learning

Tens of thousands of students who attend Milwaukee public schools would start the school year online and gradually return to the classroom once the threat of the coronavirus has subsided, under a $90 million plan proposed by the administration on Monday. MPS school board members are expected to take up the proposal at a special board meeting Thursday.

The plan calls for students to return via virtual platforms on Aug. 17 or Sept. 1, depending on their school calendar. The online phase is projected to last 30 to 45 days, after which students would alternate two days in school and three online at home, and then fully return to classes once that was deemed safe.

“We would continue to monitor the health situation and the risk criteria … based on the number of positive cases and deaths,” said Marla Bronaugh, MPS’ chief communications and school performance officer.

Milwaukee County, which has had more than 14,000 cases and at least 359 deaths — most of those in the city of Milwaukee — has been deemed high-risk by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

– Annysa Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Oregon set to limit group gatherings

Oregon is set to ban indoor social gatherings of more than 10 people and require people to wear face coverings outdoors, Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday. The two mandates go into effect Wednesday.

Starting Wednesday, face coverings will be required outdoors if they cannot remain 6 feet apart from others or if they are with people that they don’t live with. The social gathering limit does not apply to churches and businesses, Brown said.

No changes to SEC football schedule as conference continues wait-and-see approach

The Big Ten and Pac-12 decided last week to nix their nonconference football games and limit member institutions a conference-only schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic. The SEC is making no such move – at least as of now.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said Monday the conference will continue to take a wait-and-see approach with hopes of having more information to make a decision later this month.

“It is clear that current circumstances related to COVID-19 must improve and we will continue to closely monitor developments around the virus on a daily basis,” Sankey said. “In the coming weeks we will continue to meet regularly with campus leaders via videoconferences and gather relevant information while guided by medical advisors. We believe that late July will provide the best clarity for making the important decisions ahead of us.”

– Blake Toppmeyer, Knoxville News Sentinel

Walmart CEO says national face mask mandate is ‘something on our minds’

Could Walmart soon require shoppers nationwide to wear masks in all of its stores? The retail giant’s CEO Doug McMillon didn’t rule out the idea Monday during an interview on the Bloomberg’s online television show, “Leadership Live with David Rubenstein.”

McMillon said masks are currently required in about 3,700 of its more than 5,000 U.S. locations “where either governor or someone else has mandated it.”  

“We don’t currently, as we’re doing this interview, mandate that in our other stores but that’s obviously something that’s on our minds,” McMillon said.

More companies are making face coverings a requirement as viral videos of shoppers’ tirades and confrontations over being asked to wear them during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kelly Tyko

Arizona sees record number of COVID-19 ICU patients

Arizona reported a record number of COVID-19 patients using ventilators and in ICU beds. The state Department of Health Services said 671 COVID-19 patients were on ventilators and 936 were in intensive care as of Sunday. Hospitals were hovering around 90% capacity as the state ranks first in the U.S. for new per capita cases over the past two weeks.

The state became one of the nation’s coronavirus hot spots in May after Gov. Doug Ducey relaxed stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. Last week, Ducey closed gyms and bars and capped restaurants at half of their capacity but declined to shut down indoor dining entirely or issue a statewide mandate on masks.

Ducey said the state will increase testing, with a focus on low-income areas of Phoenix as many people report difficulty finding tests. The state also is paying for a private lab to greatly increase its daily capacity as people have experienced waits of up to a week or more for test results.

Michigan partygoers test positive for COVID-19 after July 4th lake bash

Michigan health officials are calling for attendees of two Fourth of July parties to monitor themselves for symptoms after partygoers tested positive for COVID-19.

Several attendees of a Fourth of July party at Torch Lake Sandbar in northern Michigan tested positive for COVID-19, while more than 40 cases in Saline, Michigan, are linked to a holiday house party. 

The state health department is asking anyone who attended the party at Torch Lake to monitor themselves and seek testing if symptoms develop and self-quarantine. Because those who tested positive could not identify all potential contacts for exposure, the health department went public to alert those who attended the event.

“This situation reminds us of how important it is to take precautions such as avoiding large gatherings whenever possible especially without social distancing and masking,” Michigan health officer Lisa Peacock said in a statement.

– Meredith Spelbring, Detroit Free Press

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

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19: California restrictions; NY sends testing teams to Atlanta

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