Virus Updates: US Reaches 3.5M Cases; McConnell Has ‘Total' Confidence in Fauci

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The United States on Wednesday reached more than 3.5 million cases of the coronavirus and over 138,000 deaths, according to a tally by NBC News.

In another grim milestone, Florida, a major coronavirus hotspot in the U.S., surpassed its daily record of virus-related deaths when it recorded 132 on Tuesday, NBC Miami reported.

Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Louisiana, another virus hotspot, on Tuesday. Prior to his arrival, the state's attorney general announced he'd tested positive for the virus. Appearing at Louisiana State University, the Republican vice president described the nation as "in a much better position today to deal with the pandemic" even as virus cases continue to climb. He also urged schools to reopen calling it a critical step in reopening the country.

Admiral Brett Giroir, HHS’s assistant secretary for health, also expressed optimism about getting children back into school physically, calling the risks to them "very small." He said data from the U.S. and from other countries suggest, "though not definitive, that small children have very little chance of spreading it among themselves or to other people."

Looking ahead, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday said that the co-occurrence of the influenza virus and the coronavirus in the fall and winter could lead to "one of the most difficult times" in American public health.

In a glimmer of hope, Moderna, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company, aims to begin its final phase of testing for its virus vaccine July 27, NBC News reports. It's the first to announce an estimated start date for phase 3 trials in the United States.

Here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.:

McConnell Says He Has 'Total' Confidence in Fauci

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Wednesday said he has "total" confidence in Dr. Anthony Fauci.

McConnell told reporters during an event in Shelbyville, Kentucky, that Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, both of whom are key members of the White House coronavirus task force, are experts the United States can "depend on."

"The pandemic hit, and we, like all of you, had never seen anything like this before. We're not totally certain of what to do other than to turn to the health care experts that we can depend on and that's Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx," McConnell said in his opening remarks.

When asked by a reporter what his level of confidence is with Fauci, McConnell simply said: "total."

Texas Sets Record for Cases With Nearly 10,800

Texas set a record for confirmed new coronavirus cases in a single day with nearly 10,800.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott mandated face coverings this month. Some Texas sheriffs have said they won’t enforce the order.

But Abbott has increasingly emphasized face coverings as the way out of avoiding another lockdown, which he has not ruled out.

“If we were two shut down for two weeks, as some people are asking, once we open back up you would then see things begin to spread again,” Abbott told Houston television station KTRK on Wednesday. “Until there are medications to slow the spread of the coronavirus, there is only one thing that can slow the spread and that is by people adopting the use of wearing a face guard of some sort whenever they go out.”

Coronavirus and the Brain

Doctors are starting to learn more about how COVID-19 can effect the brain, causing some patients to suffer from confusion or even delirium. In some cases the neurological symptoms were the first signs of their infection.

Alabama to Require Face Masks as Coronavirus Surges in State

Alabama will begin requiring face masks in public as health officials try to quell a surge of new coronavirus cases that are filling up hospitals, Gov. Kay Ivey said Wednesday.

In an announcement made a day after the state reported a pandemic-high of 40 deaths in a single day, officials said masks would be required starting Thursday afternoon for anyone older than 6 who's in public and within 6 feet (2 meters) of someone who's not a relative.

The rule, which makes exceptions for people who have certain medical conditions, are exercising, or performing certain types of jobs, will last through July 31, meaning it is set to expire before most public schools reopen. But other health orders have been extended to fight COVID-19, the illness caused by the new virus.

Ivey said statistics showing a precipitous rise in confirmed coronavirus cases in Alabama over the past two weeks “just do not lie.”

“We’re almost to the point where our hospital ICUs are overwhelmed," Ivey told a news conference at the Capitol.

Oklahoma Gov. Stitt Tests Positive for COVID-19

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Wednesday that he’s tested positive for the coronavirus and that he is isolating at home.

The first-term Republican governor has backed one of the country’s most aggressive reopening plans, has resisted any statewide mandate on masks and rarely wears one himself.

Stitt attended President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa last month, which health experts have said likely contributed to a surge in coronavirus cases there.

Oklahoma also has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19, with nearly 22,000 confirmed positive cases in the state and 428 total deaths.

Walmart, Sam's Club Announces Mask Requirement for All Customers Nationwide

Walmart and Sam's Club will start requiring that all customers wear a face covering when shopping at any of their locations nationwide.

The retailer announced the new policy Wednesday and said it will take effect July 20. Walmart said about 65% of its approximately 5,000 stores and clubs  are in areas where there’s already some kind of government mandate for face coverings.

Citing recent spikes in coronavirus cases around the country, Walmart said "this is a simple step everyone can take for their safety and the safety of others in our facilities."

Walmart and Sam's Club locations will now have a "health ambassador" reminding customers of the mask requirement and to work with those who show up without a face covering to try and find a solution. The company said it's currently considering different solutions for customers, but did not provide details. Sam's Club members will be given a complimentary masks if they do not have one.

"We know it may not be possible for everyone to wear a face covering," the company said in a statement. "Our associates will be trained on those exceptions to help reduce friction for the shopper and make the process as easy as possible for everyone."

Walmart and Sam's Club join a growing list of companies making face coverings a requirement.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents Walmart, Target, Best Buy and other major retail chains, has urged all governors nationwide to mandate face coverings. The group said the patchwork of local mandates have created confusion leading to conflicts between customers and store employees.

Here are some dos and don'ts when it comes to wearing a mask, explained by some of history's most famous paintings.

Coronavirus Outbreak Upending Insurance Premiums, Copays for Next Year

The coronavirus pandemic is upending the U.S. health coverage market in unexpected ways, forcing some insurers to issue refunds to customers this year and complicating the models they use to set the prices for next year’s premiums and copays, CNBC reports.

While insurers have had to shell out more money to cover coronavirus treatments, more and more people are reducing spending by putting off all but the most vital medical care. The sharp drop in elective medical procedures — like routine cancer screenings and wellness checkups — has cut spending so much that it’s skewing projections for next year’s plans.

Some insurers, including Anthem, UnitedHealth Group and Humana, have given members money back in some cases through premium rebates and waived copays on doctor visits. That's because the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to spend at least 85% of premiums on medical claims.

But researchers warned if most of the care deferred this year gets pushed into 2021, medical costs could balloon by 10% above pre-coronavirus levels next year, which would make for the highest rate of medical-cost inflation since 2007.

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White House Distances Itself From Navarro Op-ed Criticizing Fauci

The White House says an opinion piece by its trade adviser that’s critical of Dr. Anthony Fauci is the adviser’s opinion “alone.”

Alyssa Farah, White House director of strategic communications, tweeted Wednesday the piece by trade adviser Peter Navarro “didn’t go through normal White House clearance processes and is the opinion of Peter alone.”

Farah adds President Donald Trump “values the expertise” of the medical professionals advising the administration. But Trump has also broken with Fauci and publicly accused him of making “mistakes” in his public guidance about combating the virus.

USA Today published Navarro’s piece. It outlines the ways Navarro says he has disagreed with Fauci, who is the leading U.S. expert on infectious diseases and serves on the White House coronavirus task force.

Navarro had shared his views with some reporters and the column comes as allies of Trump, including others inside the White House, have been waging a campaign to discredit Fauci.

On Wednesday, Trump told reporters he has "a very good relationship" with Fauci and that "we're all on the same team."

“He made a statement representing himself,” Trump said of Navarro. “He shouldn’t be doing that.”

Hospitals Told to Send Coronavirus Data to Washington, Not CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will "no longer control" the coronavirus data collection system from hospitals across the nation, a spokesman for U.S. Health and Human Services confirmed Tuesday night.

The New York Times reported earlier Tuesday that the administration had ordered hospitals to bypass the CDC and send all COVID-19 patient information to a central database in Washington beginning Wednesday, raising concerns from health experts that it will be politicized or withheld from the public.

Michael Caputo, assistant secretary for public affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement to NBC News that it would be a faster system.

He said that the CDC has about a one-week lag in reporting hospital data.

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Governor, Miami-Dade Mayors Say County at ‘Critical Moment' in Coronavirus Fight

A group of Miami-Dade mayors and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came together Tuesday to discuss how the county can better fight the recent surge in coronavirus cases, NBC Miami reported.

"I think it's really important as we're at this critical moment here that we're able to turn this in a better direction," DeSantis said during the meeting with the mayors, which included Miami-Dade's Carlos Gimenez, Miami's Francis Suarez, Miami Beach's Dan Gelber, Miami Gardens' Oliver Gilbert and Doral's Juan Carlos Bermudez.

The meeting came as Miami-Dade added more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, with more than one-fourth of people who were tested testing positive over the past two weeks. The county's coronavirus dashboard showed ICU bed capacity at 108%.

"Dade right now is the place where we're seeing the most spread and then obviously the most clinical consequences," DeSantis said.

There was broad agreement that the next week or so will determine whether additional business closures or restrictions will be needed.

The Associated Press/NBC
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