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Coronavirus updates: USPS scrapped plan to send 650M masks to Americans; public still split on COVID-19 vaccine; Las Vegas bars to reopen

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/18/2020 Jessica Flores and Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY
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With the U.S. approaching 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and worldwide infections topping 30 million, Texas and Nevada are set to ease restrictions for some businesses beginning this weekend.

In Texas, which is close to becoming the second state with 700,000 cases, Gov. Greg Abbott is authorizing some businesses — including restaurants, retail stores, gyms and museums — to open up to 75% capacity starting Monday. Bars, however, must remain closed.

a building with a bird in the water: A face mask left in Roemerberg square, that is usually crowded by tourists, in Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Probst) ORG XMIT: PFRA130 © Michael Probst, AP A face mask left in Roemerberg square, that is usually crowded by tourists, in Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Probst) ORG XMIT: PFRA130

In Nevada, public health officials are allowing bars in and around Las Vegas to reopen on Sunday after being closed for six months.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. public is still divided over whether to get COVID-19 vaccine one it becomes available, with nearly half saying they wouldn't get vaccinated in a Pew Research Center survey. 

Some significant developments:

  • A drafted announcement that was never sent illustrates how the United States Postal Service had planned to send 650 million masks to Americans during the early parts of the pandemic, the Washington Post reports
  • India is on track to pass the U.S. as the most infected country in the world. Health officials on Friday reported another 96,000 cases in the past 24 hours, pushing India's total to 5.2 million.
  • Wynn Las Vegas reported almost 500 positive COVID-19 cases among employees since the resort reopened in June.
  • New York City pushed back its start date for most students to return to elementary, middle and high school classrooms – again.
  • Attorney General William Barr drew criticism Thursday after calling lockdown measures aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 the worst infringement on civil liberties other than slavery. 
  • More than 790,000 Americans filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 6.6 million cases and 197,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Globally, there have been more than 30 million cases and 946,000 fatalities. New case records were set in six states: Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data. Record numbers of deaths were reported in Kansas, North Dakota and Puerto Rico.

📰 What we're reading: Where are we on a COVID-19 vaccine? Experts say we're over halfway there, but we need more data to make sure it will be safe.  

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak, state by state

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

Nearly half of school employees in high risk group for COVID-19, study says

While students may be in the group that poses the least risk for COVID-19 infection, a study says nearly half of school employees potentially have the highest risk.

According to a pre-print study to be published in Health Affairs, between 42% to about 51% of all school employees meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition for being at increased risk for COVID-19.

The CDC says that underlying health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and older age put people into the highest risk groups.

The results align closely with a recent survey by the Education Week Research Center that said 43% of teachers have reported having a physical condition that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19.

USPS scrapped plan to send 650M masks to Americans, document reveals

A plan by the United States Postal Service to send 650 million masks to Americans at the start of the pandemic was scrapped, according to a document obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight through the Freedom of Information Act.

The announcement, which was first reported by the Washington Post on Friday, was drafted but never sent. USPS said in the plan that first shipments of masks were expected to reach U.S. households at an unspecified date in April.

The document demonstrates how the Postal Service’s role in the pandemic response may have been more involved than initially reported this spring.

Nearly half of US public say they wouldn’t get a COVID-19 vaccine: Pew study

Even after government agencies and pharmaceutical companies pledged their independence in the race to find a vaccine for the coronavirus, Americans are still divided over whether they would get vaccinated.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, nearly half of U.S. adults (49%) say they definitely or probably would not get vaccinated at this time. Intent to get a COVID-19 vaccine has fallen by 21% since May.

While intent to get a vaccinated has declined across all major political and demographic groups, some differences remain. Just 32% of Black adults say they would definitely get a vaccine compared with 52% of white adults, 56% of Hispanics and 72% of Asian Americans.

The national survey was conducted Sept. 8-13 among more than 10,000 U.S. adults.


Video: New school year | Look up vaccine exemption rates (KENS-TV San Antonio)

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Las Vegas bars, taprooms, breweries will be allowed to reopen on Sunday

After a six-month shutdown due to COVID-19, Nevada officials announced bars, taprooms and breweries can reopen Sunday night in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. Nevada's COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force on Thursday unanimously approved the county's plan to reopen drinking businesses throughout the Las Vegas Valley.

Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick told the task force that bar owners are committed to following health and safety protocols. State biostatistician Kyra Morgan revealed the COVID-19 positivity rate dropped from 8.6% to 7.8% between Monday and Thursday. The World Health Organization's recommends that rate should be no higher than 5%.

– Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette Journal

Utah governor considers statewide mask mandate amid COVID-19 surge 

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he is considering a statewide mask mandate and planning expanded coronavirus testing in response to what he called an alarming spike of infections in the state.

The state counted 911 new confirmed cases on Thursday, a new record for any single day. The rolling average of daily new cases has increased by about 54% over the past two weeks, according to state data, and has jumped to 661 per day this week compared to 381 per day last week.

“We are taking this spike and the magnitude of it very seriously,” Herbert told reporters.

Herbert, a Republican, has urged residents to wear masks for months but has stopped short of implementing a statewide mandate. He has instead allowed counties to decide if they needed bans.

– Kaitlyn Bancroft, The Spectrum & Daily News (St. George, Utah)

India's coronavirus case count increases by 96K over 24 hours

India’s coronavirus cases jumped by another 96,424 infections in the past 24 hours, showing little sign of leveling.

The Health Ministry on Friday raised the nation’s total past 5.21 million, or about 0.37% of its nearly 1.4 billion people. It said 1,174 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 84,372 fatalities, but experts say India's death toll may be a significant undercount.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his birthday on Thursday made a fresh appeal to people to wear masks and maintain social distance as his government chalked out plans to handle big congregations expected during a major Hindu festival season beginning next month.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott relaxes limit restrictions on businesses; bars must stay closed

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that he would allow businesses to expand pandemic limits on capacity in most of the state, citing a decline in coronavirus hospitalizations.

The order allows businesses operating at 50% capacity to move to 75% starting Monday. That includes restaurants, retail, office buildings, manufacturing, gyms, libraries and museums. Bars remain closed under the order, although some have been able to reopen by selling more food than alcohol.

“Without vaccines available, containing COVID is a challenge, but Texans have already shown that they are up to that challenge,” Abbott said at a Capitol news conference. “As we go about the process to continue to contain COVID, we will also continue to work to open up Texas.”

And Abbott is allowing hospitals in much of the state to resume elective surgeries, effective immediately. Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities may resume visitations next Thursday, as long as there are no outbreaks at those facilities.

– Nicole Cobler, Austin-American Statesman

Survey: 751 Arizona teachers have resigned or retired since school began

There are fewer teachers than ever in Arizona classrooms, according to a new survey from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association. 

Just a few weeks into the school year, about 28% of teacher positions in the state remained vacant compared with 21% vacant last year, the data shows, which means about 3 in 10 classrooms are not led by a qualified teacher. Schools have had to fill those open positions with long-term substitute teachers or others without teaching qualifications. 

Teachers across the state have said COVID-19 adds to the pressure to quit, especially when faced with the threat of returning to the classroom amid the pandemic. Some medically vulnerable teachers are particularly worried about contracting the virus while around students. Arizona school districts had about 6,145 open positions this year — 1,728 remain vacant, compared with 1,443 in 2019. 

– Lily Altavena, Arizona Republic

Moderna says vaccine trial results could come in November

Moderna, one of the companies leading the effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, announced Thursday it could have enough clinical trial results as soon as November to confirm the effectiveness of its candidate vaccine.

Results of the vaccine’s effectiveness will be presented to an independent review committee after 53 people in the trial contract COVID-19, and again after 106 and 151 infections. Half the participants are getting a placebo and half the active vaccine, called mRNA-1273.

Statistically, if the vaccine is effective 75% of the time, it should take only 106 infections in both groups to prove its effectiveness, Dr. Jacqueline Miller, Moderna’s senior vice president of infectious disease development, told company investors on Thursday. ­­At that point, which will likely come in November, Moderna could apply for an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin distributing the vaccine.

The FDA has said a vaccine must be at least 50% effective to win federal approval, but the companies developing vaccines have said they are aiming for at least 60% and hopefully even higher effectiveness. Moderna had originally predicted that it might take until May 2021 to prove its vaccine’s effectiveness, but pushed up that timeline because participants joined quickly, the COVID-19 infection rate remained high around trial sites and the company was able to start the trial earlier than originally expected.

– Karen Weintraub

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus updates: USPS scrapped plan to send 650M masks to Americans; public still split on COVID-19 vaccine; Las Vegas bars to reopen

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