Postmaster General to delay USPS changes; cases surge in South Korea; urinals may shoot ‘plumes’ of particles

Christel Deskins

The World Health Organization is dashing hopes of those who think enough people around the globe are being infected by the coronavirus to create “herd immunity,” which could stop the spread. A researcher says we’re still a long ways off from that point in which enough people have antibodies from the […]

The World Health Organization is dashing hopes of those who think enough people around the globe are being infected by the coronavirus to create “herd immunity,” which could stop the spread.

A researcher says we’re still a long ways off from that point in which enough people have antibodies from the virus that it can halt the spread before vaccines become available, the Daily Mail reported. The big problem at the moment is younger persons, those in the 20s, 30s or 40s, with mild or no symptoms of COVID-19 who are unknowingly spreading it.

Another way to slow the spread: wear masks in public restrooms. Flushing a urinal can create an “alarming upward flow” of particles, which are present in human feces and urine, according to a new study.

The government’s response to the coronavirus, meanwhile, remains a political football. A woman whose father died from the coronavirus blamed President Donald Trump and his administration in a fiery speech during the first night of the four-day Democratic National Convention.

Some significant developments:

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has 5.4 million confirmed infections and more than 170,000 deaths. Worldwide, there have been more than 774,000 deaths and more than 21.9 million cases, according to John Hopkins University data.

📰 What we’re reading: New coronavirus cases are emerging at schools. How much you know depends on where you live.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to the Daily Briefing.

COVID-19 headed toward being third leading cause of death in US

COVID-19 is on track to become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. this year, following only heart disease and cancer, the National Safety Council reported Tuesday. If it comes to pass, it would mark the first time since 2016 that preventable deaths, including fatal drug overdoses, auto accidents and falls, held the third-place position, the council said.

With the number of deaths attributed to the coronavirus now topping 170,000 in the U.S., the total has already blown past the 167,127 lives lost to preventable accidents two years ago, according to the council.

“In a little more than six months, COVID-19 has claimed more lives than accidental drug overdoses, motor vehicle crashes and falls combined during 2018,” the council said in a statement.

Postmaster General to delay initiatives until after election

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said Tuesday that he is going to suspend his efforts to make reforms at the U.S. Postal Service that led to fears by Democrats that mail-in ballots, considered critical this election year, could be delayed.

In a statement, he said that the management initiatives aimed at reducing the operation’s losses were “raised as areas of concern as the nation prepares to hold an election in the midst of a devastating pandemic. To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”

DeJoy, a North Carolina business executive who has been a large GOP contributor, was under fire for reductions that aimed at reducing the postal service’s losses, attributed in part to the effects of COVID-19. He had been scheduled to appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Friday. 

President Donald Trump has been a critic of mail-in voting. Democrats have raised fears that DeJoy’s initiatives could slow mail delivery, meaning some ballots might not be delivered in time to meet deadlines in some states to be counted for the presidential election.

Democrats said slowing mail delivery also has greater implications than just ballots. Americans “rely on the Postal Service for prescriptions, running their small businesses, voting and other crucial purposes,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the committee. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told Politico that DeJoy succumbed to pressure in the decision to delay his initiatives. “They felt the heat,” she said. “And that’s what we were trying to do, to make it too hot for them to handle.”

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut expand quarantine list

Alaska and Delaware were added to the list of 31 states, plus the territories of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, that require 14-day quarantine periods upon arrival in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.

The list is aimed at preventing infections from those traveling from states that have high COVID-19 infection rates. Visitors have to fill out a questionnaire if they arrive by air or stay at hotels and New York City has random checkpoints at its borders.

“We’ve gone from one of the nation’s worst infection rates to one of its best and have an infection rate below 1% for the 11th straight day — but that’s no excuse for getting complacent as we add two more states to our travel advisory,” Cuomo said in a statement. 

–Joseph Spector and Jon Campbell,

Masks in restrooms? Urinals may shoot ‘plumes’ of coronavirus particles

Wearing a mask in public restrooms should be mandatory during the pandemic, researchers say, because there’s increasing evidence that flushing toilets – and now urinals – can release inhalable coronavirus particles into the air.

The coronavirus can be found in a person’s urine or stool, and flushing urinals can generate an “alarming upward flow” of particles that “travel faster and fly farther” than particles from a toilet flush, according to a study published in the journal Physics of Fluid Monday.

Researcher Xiangdong Liu and a team from Yangzhou University in China simulated urinal flushing using computer models and estimated that, within just five seconds of flushing, virus particles could reach a height of more than 2 feet off the ground.

“Urinal flushing indeed promotes the spread of bacteria and viruses,” Liu said.

– Grace Hauck

71 of 82 counties in Mississippi have COVID-19 cases in schools

COVID-19 cases in Mississippi’s schools are on the rise as 71 of the state’s 82 counties have seen positive school cases, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Monday.

Dobbs said 245 teachers and 199 students have tested positive in Mississippi. Those positives have led to 589 teachers and 2,035 students being placed in quarantine, too. However, many schools have yet to reopen to in-person learning.

Dobbs said most students that have tested positive caught the virus outside of campus, and “brought it with them.” 

As schools continue to reopen, Gov. Tate Reeves said testing would be expanded for teachers, even if they are not symptomatic, and emergency telehealth services would be offered at schools for students covered under Medicaid, which could be an option for about half of Mississippi school campuses, Reeves said. 

– Luke Ramseth, Mississippi Clarion Ledger

South Korea imposes new restrictions as cases surge

South Korea, heralded for its response in slowing the spread of the coronavirus within its borders, is imposing new social distancing measures as it aims to curb a new surge of cases.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in a televised address Tuesday that the new restrictions in Seoul were inevitable given that an outbreak there could lead to a nationwide surge. 

Large public gatherings will be banned and churches and nightspots shut down in Seoul as well as nearby Gyeonggi province and the city of Incheon. South Korea tallied 246 new cases Tuesday, bringing its five-day total to 959. Chung didn’t say for how long the measures would be in place.

WHO: Young people driving pandemic; don’t hope for herd immunity

Officials at the World Health Organization raised new alarms Tuesday that young people unaware of their infection are increasingly driving the spread of COVID-19 and the world is nowhere near herd immunity.

People in their 20s, 30s and 40s may be unaware they have an active case if their symptoms are mild or not present, but they are making up a greater share of the infected population, posing a risk to more vulnerable populations as they can still spread the virus, officials warned Tuesday.

“The epidemic is changing,” said Takeshi Kasai, the WHO’s Western Pacific regional director, per Reuters.

Others at the WHO briefing warned that the world population was still a long ways away from reaching herd immunity, the point at which enough of the population has antibodies to stop the spread of the virus.

WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said Tuesday that we should not live “in hope” of achieving herd immunity, adding, “This is not a solution and not a solution we should be looking to.”

Are temperature best screening tool?

Temperature checks are one of the primary ways institutions use to screen for COVID-19 symptoms, but public health experts have said in recent days they are an imperfect tool.

“We have found at the NIH, that it is much much better to just question people when they come in and save the time, because the temperatures are notoriously inaccurate, many times,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said last week at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Fauci said his temperature has read as high as 103 degrees when he came inside on a hot day but did not have a fever.

“If you’re using signs and symptoms as a basis for moving ahead, it’s like the fire department waiting until a house has burned down before springing into action,” David Paltiel, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, told NBC News.

In addition to being an unreliable tool, the checks are limited by the fact that many people may have asymptomatic cases or have an active case but not yet developed a fever.

Cuomo writing book on leadership during COVID-19 era

New York has the most deaths in the nation from COVID-19, but now has among the lowest infection rates in the nation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is writing about it.

Crown, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, announced Tuesday that it will publish a new book Oct. 13 by the Democratic governor, titled “AMERICAN CRISIS: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Random House billed Cuomo’s book as a “revealing, behind-the-scenes account of his experience leading New York State through the COVID-19 epidemic.”

– Joseph Spector, New York State Team

Trump, Arden spar over New Zealand’s new cases

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hit back against her U.S. counterpart’s criticism of new COVID-19 cases in New Zealand, calling President Donald Trump’s comments “patently wrong.”

Trump said Monday that New Zealand was seeing a “big surge” in virus cases after “it was like front page, they beat it.”

Arden, however, was critical of Trump’s characterization of the new case count.

“I think for anyone who’s following COVID and its transmission globally will quite easily see that New Zealand’s nine cases in a day does not compare to the United States’ tens of thousands,” she told reporters.

New Zealand, with a population of 5 million, added 13 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, while the U.S., with a population of about 330 million, added more than 35,000 cases on Monday, Johns Hopkins University data shows. Throughout the pandemic, New Zealand has also reported just 22 virus deaths compared to more than 170,000 in the U.S.

Some good news: National Zoo is on baby panda watch

Months after the pandemic kept visitors away for months, the National Zoo is getting a bit of good news in the form of a pregnancy.

Mei Xiang, a 22-year-old giant panda in the nation’s capital, is pregnant and could give birth any day this week, zookeepers on baby watch said.

“We need this! We totally need this joy,” zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said. “We are all in desperate need of these feel-goods.”

Mei has successfully given birth to three cubs before, but zookeepers are cautiously optimistic as panda births are inherently tricky and Mei’s age could complicate matter further. 

In China: Partiers pack Wuhan water park; state-owned company says vaccine will be ready by end of year

Thousands of partygoers, many without masks, packed a water park in Wuhan over the weekend as life returns to a new normal in the epicenter where the new coronavirus first appeared late last year.

The AFP reported that many crammed into pools in yellow rubber dinghies or waded in the water for an electronic music festival at the park.

Meanwhile, a major state-owned pharmaceutical company in China said it would have a coronavirus vaccine commercially available before the end of the year.

The vaccine would require two shots less than a month apart and cost less than $140, Liu Jingzhen, the chairman of SinoPharm, told a Chinese Communist Party newspaper. Liu told the paper that he had been injected with the vaccine.

DNC convention: Woman whose father died of COVID-19 blames Trump

The opening night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention was unlike others before it. Performers and speakers gathered virtually, coming to Americans’ living rooms from states across the nation amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

And COVID-19 was a major topic throughout the night. A woman whose father voted for President Donald Trump, but who also died from COVID-19, offered blistering criticism of the president’s management of the health crisis.

“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life,” Kristin Urquiza said. “The coronavirus has made it clear that there are two Americas: the America that Donald Trump lives in and the America that my father died in.”

Former first lady Michelle Obama, who headlined the first day of speeches, also said that Trump badly mishandled the pandemic, which has cost more  than170,000 lives and left millions unemployed. Obama added that Trump lacks the judgment and moral compass needed to lead the country through the crisis.

– Christal Hayes

Texas tops 10K deaths, trailing only New York, New Jersey and California

Texas surpassed 10,000 coronavirus deaths Monday, a staggering figure health experts say likely undercounts the actual toll of the virus in the Lone Star State. Only New York, New Jersey and California rank above Texas in total COVID-19 deaths.

“It’s a tough milestone, but I’m glad to see the state making progress in many areas,” Dr. Mark McClellan, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s medical advisers on reopening the state’s economy, told the Austin American-Statesman of the USA TODAY Network. “There’s still a long way to go, though.”

He added that state officials should increase access to COVID-19 testing and work to further decrease new cases to help health care professionals manage the virus. 

A USA TODAY analysis as of Tuesday also found that new weekly case records were set in Hawaii, Kansas, Guam and Virgin Islands. Record numbers of deaths were reported in North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Puerto Rico.

– Nicole Cobler, Austin American-Statesman; Mike Stucka, USA TODAY

FDA flags accuracy issue with TaqPath, a widely used coronavirus test

Potential accuracy issues with a widely used coronavirus test could lead to false results for patients, U.S. health officials warned.

The Food and Drug Administration issued the alert Monday to doctors and laboratory technicians using Thermo Fisher’s TaqPath genetic test. Regulators said issues related to laboratory equipment and software used to run the test could lead to inaccuracies. The agency advised technicians to follow updated instructions and software developed by the company to ensure accurate results.

The warning comes nearly a month after Connecticut public health officials first reported that at least 90 people had received false positive results for the coronavirus. Most of those receiving the false results were residents of nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

Thermo Fisher said the company was working with FDA “to make sure laboratory personnel understand the need for strict adherence to the instructions for use.”

First US coronavirus cases in mink found at 2 Utah farms

Officials on Monday confirmed the first U.S. cases of mink infected with the coronavirus following outbreaks in Europe. Five infected mink have been identified at two large farms in Utah, the Department of Agriculture announced. Testing began after the farms reported unusually high mortality rates among the small animals raised for their fur prized in coats and other clothing.

The Utah mink farms have also reported cases among workers. Infected humans can spread the virus to animals during close contact, but there is no current evidence that animals spread the disease to humans, authorities said. Officials are investigating how the disease spread to the farms.

The impacted farms in Utah have been quarantined to stop the spread of the virus. The state is one of the top mink breeders in the country, said state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor. 

More than 1 million minks were killed on Dutch farms with outbreaks to prevent the spread of the disease. There are no similar plans in Utah, Taylor said.

UNC students try to make sense of coronavirus cancelations

First they came to campus, ready to begin classes after the University of North Carolina said the coronavirus would not stop in-person learning here. Then, after just one week, the virus took hold. And regular classes were halted, leaving students to face yet another state of confusion caused by COVID-19.

Chapel Hill on Monday became the first major university to pivot to online classes after reopening in person. The reversal took one week. Since the university started courses in person Aug. 10, it has reported at least four clusters of outbreaks of COVID-19 in student living spaces. Undergraduate courses will go remote Wednesday, and the university said it will reduce the density in its dorms.

Students at Chapel Hill, the majority wearing masks when possible, jogged, ate dinner with friends and planned their next steps on Monday evening. That’s where things got confusing. The announcement earlier in the day had an air of inevitability, multiple students told USA TODAY.

– Jordan Culver

Florida tourism falls by 60.5% amid ongoing coronavirus pandemic

Florida’s vital tourism industry suffered an estimated 60.5% drop in visitors as the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard during the second quarter, with international travel off more than 90%.

And the outlook remains dim for the state following the decline of nearly 20 million visitors from April through June. The tourism industry must combat ongoing negative perceptions of Florida’s handling of COVID-19, international travel bans, people slow to return to entertainment venues and double-digit unemployment.

During the second quarter, roughly 13 million people – almost all traveling from other states – came to Florida as businesses were shut down in April and amid harried reopening efforts in May and June, according to numbers posted Sunday by the Visit Florida tourism-marketing agency.

– Jim Turner, News Service of Florida

‘A step back’: Nursing home cases reach all-time high, report says

A new report finds that coronavirus cases in nursing homes have surged to a new weekly high, and the CEO of the industry association that sponsored the study warned “we’ve definitely taken a step back.”

The report by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living found 9,715 COVID-19 cases during the week of July 26, based on an analysis of the most recent federal data available. The figures edged the previous high of 9,421 cases in the last week of May.

Nearly 4 in 5 of coronavirus infections were at facilities in Sunbelt states, where total nursing home cases nearly tripled since mid-June, according to the report.  Deaths are on the upswing with 1,706 COVID-19 fatalities during the week ending July 26, a 22% increase from the previous week, but still well below the 3,130 deaths reported in the last week of May. 

Community spread and slow testing turnaround that delays identifying the virus in vulnerable homes remain persistent problems, said Mark Parkinson, CEO of both the association and the center. “Unfortunately, we’ve definitely taken a step back,” Parkinson said. 

– Ken Alltucker

More COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

On Facebook: There’s still a lot unknown about the coronavirus. But what we do know, we’re sharing with you. Join our Facebook group, Coronavirus Watch, to receive daily updates in your feed and chat with others in the community about COVID-19.  

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Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID news: Postmaster general halts USPS changes; Cuomo book

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