Coronavirus updates: CDC chief says masks could halt outbreak in 4-6 weeks; more stimulus checks possible; vaccine candidate shows promise – USA TODAY

The coronavirus outbreak surging across the nation could be controlled in 4-6 weeks if people were disciplined about wearing masks, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

While the comments from Robert Redfield and encouraging news about a top vaccine candidate were fueling some optimism Wednesday, struggling California was tightening restrictions on testing in an effort to improve turn-around time for results in overwhelmed labs. The state’s Department of Public Health released new guidelines that say people without symptoms and not in essential jobs won’t be prioritized for testing until results can be turned around in less than 48 hours. 

A USA TODAY study found almost half of all states are spiking at a faster rate than they had been in the spring. In Texas, officials once again reported a daily record-breaking number of 10,745 new cases on Tuesday. The previous record was 10,351 on Saturday. 

Starting Wednesday, Best Buy and most Starbucks stores will begin to require customers to wear a face masks.

Some recent developments: 

📈 Today’s stats: The U.S. has surpassed 3.4 million cases with over 136,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been 13.3 million cases and almost 580,000 deaths.

📰 What we’re reading: Not everyone wants to wear a mask. Several videos have shown confrontations, often violent, over face masks. Here’s the psychology behind why some people resist them, according to experts.

Redfield: ‘We could drive this epidemic to the ground’

Disciplined use of face coverings, social distancing and handwashing can shut down the pandemic that continues to strengthen across the nation, said Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Masks, he said at a press conference Tuesday in North Carolina, are our “major” defense against the spread of the virus. He also said that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence should wear masks to set an example. 

“If all of us would put on a face covering now for the next four weeks to six weeks, we could drive this epidemic to the ground in this country,” he said.

Some air conditioners could exacerbate spread of virus

While some public health experts had expected coronavirus transmission to wane in the summer as temperatures rise and the air becomes more humid, cases have actually jumped in some of the hottest and stickiest parts of the country. Engineers and ventilation experts say this may be in part due to residents escaping the heat and retreating indoors where heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems could exacerbate airborne transmission with unplanned air currents.

“The main way (air conditioning) can contribute to spreading coronavirus is by creating strong air currents that can move the droplets… and contribute to increase risk,” said William Bahnfleth, chair of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ Epidemic Task Force and professor at Penn State University.

–Adrianna Rodriguez

Stimulus checks possible in next aid package

Congressional leaders are hoping to have another coronavirus aid package ready by the end of the month, another tranche of funds to pile on to the stunning $3 trillion already passed to counter the pandemic and its sweeping impacts on the country. Republicans, Democrats and the administration still have significantly different ideas of what should be included in the next package, including who should get stimulus checks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has suggested that this time around the money should be distributed to people who earn $40,000 or less per year. A Democratic bill puts the cap at $75,000. Democrats also want to keep the $600 per week unemployment benefits bonus while Republicans are looking at other options.

Christal Hayes and Michael Collins

Hospitals told to bypass CDC with virus data

A new Trump administration directive requires hospitals reporting mandatory, virus-related data to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and send the information send directly to the Department of Health and Human Services. CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network had been the clearinghouse for data on items such as beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment. The CDC website describes the network as the nation’s most widely used healthcare-associated infection tracking  system. HHS says the new system will streamline data collection and that CDC will have access to the data. The directive was written days before four former CDC directors, in an op-ed published Tuesday by The Washington Post, sharply criticized the Trump administration for undermining the federal health agency and casting doubt on its scientific guidelines. 

“As of July 15, 2020, hospitals should no longer report the Covid-19 information in this document to the National Healthcare Safety Network site,” the new directive states.

California narrows testing priority as virus cases surge

With coronavirus cases rising fast, the state overhauled its guidelines Tuesday for which groups have priority when it comes to testing. The changes come as the state faces testing shortages and long wait times for results as new outbreaks pop up. The system is designed to help officials zero in on outbreaks spread among essential workers or by gatherings of family and friends. Here’s a look at the priority groups:

  • Tier One: Includes hospitalized patients with COVID-19 symptoms and those in close contact with confirmed cases. 
  • Tier Two: Includes other individuals with virus symptoms and those who live and work in skilled nursing facilities, residential care facilities for the elderly, correctional facilities, or homeless shelters. 
  • Tier Three: Includes retail, manufacturing, food services, public transportation and education workers. 
  • Tier Four: Includes those who are asymptomatic but believe they have a risk for being actively infected as well as routine testing by employers. 

About 7,800 people are testing positive a day in the Golden State, where 10,000 contact tracers are reaching out to people who have been in close contact with infected individuals. The state is testing about 107,000 people daily.

– Arlene Martinez

COVID-19: Fit people, not cities, are protected

The annual ranking of the fittest U.S. cities, out Tuesday, tracks with some of the cities that weathered COVID-19 better – but the reverse is also often true. The ranking underscores how cities can help or hinder residents’ opportunities to be physically active, lose weight and avoid chronic conditions including diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, which increase the risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19.  

“We know from research that physical activity can build a healthier immune system and overall wellness, which help minimize harmful effects of illness and disease,” said Barbara Ainsworth, chair of the American Fitness Index Advisory Board. “This pandemic shows the need to have local parks, trails and connected sidewalks in all neighborhoods that allow people to exercise safely.” 

– Jayne O’Donnell

Gov. Bill Lee says he won’t consider reclosing Tennessee’s economy 

While pleading with Tennesseans to wear masks — and affirming that doing so is not a political statement — Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday said bringing back restrictions that would once again hamper the state’s economy is still off the table.

“I’m not at any point considering closing the economy back down,” Lee said, noting there are “levers and options” to pull around expanding health care capacity.

Some other states, including Texas, have reverted back to previous phases of restrictions as coronavirus cases have continued to mount. Instead, the governor said members of hospital systems in Tennessee have indicated a desire to take the lead, ahead of the government, on solving capacity issues. Lee and Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said the state continues to have adequate capacity in hospitals. Piercey said during a bad flu season, the state’s hospital capacity could decrease to single digits. On Tuesday, the state reported as many 2,600 of 12,300 hospital floor beds remain available.

– Natalie Allison and Joel Ebert, Nashville Tennessean

France aims to open schools by fall

France is aiming to reopen all schools for the new academic year under as “normal” conditions as possible, President Emmanuel Macron announced Tuesday, despite lingering virus concerns from some parents and teachers. France gradually reopened schools in May and June as the country emerged from virus lockdown, and most children returned to class. While new infections prompted a few schools to close again, the vast majority stayed open until the school year wrapped up earlier this month.

“We have learned a lot” from that period, Macron said. “We developed a new way of teaching” to take the virus into account.

Schools adjusted schedules to keep children from mingling freely and kept students in one classroom instead of having them move around for different subjects. They were required to air out classrooms regularly, and masks were necessary for middle and high school students.

Best Buy to require shoppers wear masks in stores nationwide

Shoppers will need a mask to enter Best Buy stores nationwide starting Wednesday. The Minneapolis-based electronics retailer is the latest to add the requirement as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the nation. The coronavirus causes the disease COVID-19.

“This new requirement, which starts July 15, will help protect not only our shoppers and communities, but also the tens of thousands of Best Buy employees working to serve our customers each day,” the company said in a news release Tuesday. 

Best Buy says it will provide face coverings to shoppers who don’t have one and notes “small children and those unable to wear one for health reasons may enter without one.”

– Kelly Tyko

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate appears safe and provides some immunity

A candidate vaccine against COVID-19 developed by the federal government and Moderna, Inc., appears to be safe and to trigger an immune response, according to data released Tuesday from an early phase trial. But whether that immune response is enough to protect someone from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 remains unclear, according to several experts who reviewed the results. Moderna’s chief medical officer Dr. Tal Zaks said although the protective effect of their vaccine can’t technically be known yet, all indications are that mRNA-1273 will be safe and effective.

Zaks said the levels of protective antibodies produced by the trial participants were similar to those found in patients who had recovered from COVID-19, suggesting that the candidate vaccine provides the same protection as an infection. Animal studies also show that mRNA-1273 can protect mice against infection, he said, and trials in primates and Syrian hamsters are underway.

– Karen Weintraub and David Heath

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