In Brief: August 1, 2021

Florida breaks record with more than 21,000 new COVID cases

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida reported 21,683 new cases of COVID-19, the state’s highest one-day total since the start of the pandemic, according to federal health data released Saturday, as its theme park resorts again started asking visitors to wear masks indoors.

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The state has become the new national epicenter for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the U.S. as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted mandatory mask mandates and vaccine requirements, and along with the state Legislature, has limited local officials’ ability to impose restrictions meant to stop the spread of COVID-19. DeSantis on Friday barred school districts from requiring students to wear masks when classes resume next month.

The latest numbers were recorded on Friday and released on Saturday on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. The figures show how quickly the number of cases is rising in the Sunshine State: only a day earlier, Florida reported 17,093 new daily cases. The previous peak in Florida had been 19,334 cases reported on Jan. 7, before the availability of vaccinations became widespread.

The state reported 409 deaths this week, bringing the total to more than 39,000 since its first in March 2020. The state’s peak happened in mid-August 2020, when 1,266 people died over a seven-day period. Deaths usually follow increases in hospitalizations by a few weeks.

Mask guidance divides parents heading into new school year

HARTFORD, Conn. — With U.S. health officials recommending that children mask up in school this fall, parents and policy makers across the nation have been plunged anew into a debate over whether face coverings should be optional or a mandate.

The delta variant of the coronavirus now threatens to upend normal instruction for a third consecutive school year. Some states have indicated they will probably heed the federal government’s guidance and require masks. Others will leave the decision up to parents.

The controversy is unfolding at a time when many Americans are at their wits’ end with pandemic restrictions and others fear their children will be put at risk by those who don’t take the virus seriously enough. In a handful of Republican-led states, lawmakers made it illegal for schools to require masks.

In Connecticut, anti-mask rallies have happened outside Gov. Ned Lamont’s official residence in Hartford, and lawn signs and bumper stickers call on him to “unmask our kids.” The Democrat has said that he’s likely to follow the latest advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From wire sources

The CDC on Tuesday recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status. The agency cited the risk of spread of the highly contagious delta variant, even among vaccinated people.

Schumer: Senators will ‘get the job done’ on infrastructure

WASHINGTON — The Senate convened for a rare weekend session on Saturday, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer encouraging the authors of a bipartisan infrastructure plan to finish writing their nearly $1 trillion bill so that senators can begin offering amendments.

Several senators had predicted that the text of the bill would be ready for review late Friday or early Saturday, but it was not done when the Senate opened for business late in the morning. Nor was it ready when Schumer came to the floor in the early evening.

“I’ve been informed the group is working hard to bring this negotiation to a conclusion, but they need a little more time,” Schumer said. “I’m prepared to give it to them.”

Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier in the day he understood that completing the writing of such a large bill is a difficult project, but he warned that he was prepared to keep lawmakers in Washington for as long as it took to complete votes on both the bipartisan infrastructure plan and a budget blueprint that would allow the Senate to begin work later this year on a massive, $3.5 trillion social, health and environmental bill.

“The longer it takes to finish, the longer we will be here, but we’re going to get the job done,” he said.

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US memorials to victims of COVID-19 pandemic taking shape

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Ohio has planted a memorial grove of native trees to remember people who died of COVID-19, and governors and state lawmakers nationwide are considering their own ways to mark the toll of the virus.

Temporary memorials have sprung up across the U.S. — 250,000 white flags at RFK stadium in the nation’s capital, a garden of hand-sculpted flowers in Florida, strings of origami cranes in Los Angeles.

The process of creating more lasting remembrances that honor the more than 600,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus, though, is fraught compared to past memorial drives because of the politics.

Last year, a bill kickstarting a national COVID-19 memorial process died in Congress as the Trump administration sought to deemphasize the ravages of the pandemic.

States are a good place to start with monuments given the complexities involved in remembering the federal government’s early handling of the disease, said James Young, founding director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies.

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French police clash with anti-virus pass protesters in Paris

PARIS — Thousands of people protested France’s special virus pass with marches through Paris and other French cities on Saturday. Most demonstrations were peaceful, but sporadic clashes with riot police marked protests in the French capital.

Some 3,000 security forces deployed around Paris for a third weekend of protests against the pass that will be needed soon to enter restaurants and other places. Police took up posts along the Champs-Elysees to guard against an invasion of the famed avenue.

With virus infections spiking and hospitalizations rising, French lawmakers have passed a bill requiring the pass in most places as of Aug. 9. Polls show a majority of French support the pass, but some are adamantly opposed. The pass requires a vaccination or a quick negative test or proof of a recent recovery from COVID-19 and mandates vaccine shots for all health care workers by mid-September.

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Across the Alps, thousands of anti-vaccine pass demonstrators marched in Italian cities including Rome, Milan and Naples for the second consecutive week. Milan demonstrators stopped outside the city’s courthouse chanting “Truth! “Shame!” and “Liberty!” while in Rome they marched behind a banner reading “Resistance.” Those demonstrations were noisy but peaceful.

For anti-vaccine pass demonstrators in France, “Iiberty” was the slogan of the day. The marches drew some 204,000 people around the country. Some 14,250 people hostile to the pass protested in Paris, several thousand more than a week ago.

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