Coronavirus daily briefing: Over half of states in U.S. see a daily decline in cases

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The coronavirus pandemic altered life as humans knew it in 2020, and as much of the world starts to examine how and when to resume daily activities, it’s clear that there are many challenges to overcome before normal daily life can resume in full.

The outbreak, which originated in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, officially became a pandemic in March. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, has infected millions worldwide and killed hundreds of thousands, but more than 1 million have recovered from the ferocious disease. Health experts are conducting a frantic race to develop a vaccine while also performing vital research into the behavior of the virus, what factors may inhibit its spread and other possible symptoms it may cause.

The contagion triggered much of the world to shelter indoors and practice social distancing. Severe damage has been done to the global economy, which has caused experts to issue bleak economic predictions that harken back to the days of the Great Depression. With much of life on pause over the past several months, government officials around the world are facing the difficult choice of reopening economies while the threat of a second wave lingers for later in 2020.

May 15, 9:50 p.m.

J.C. Penney filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted business for the already struggling retail chain. The Associated Press reported that it is the forth major retailer to fall victim to the pandemic, following Neiman Marcus, J.Crew and Stage Stores. In order to sustain business amid bankruptcy, the company will be closing some of their stores, however it is not clear how many will close, USA Today reported. “The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for our families, our loved ones, our communities, and our country,” J.C. Penney CEO Jill Soltau said. “As a result, the American retail industry has experienced a profoundly different new reality, requiring J.C. Penney to make difficult decisions in running our business to protect the safety of our associates and customers and the future of our company.”

May 15, 8:40 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has announced that the COVID-19 outbreak has peaked in the Commonwealth. This announcement comes on the same day that 13 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania moved from the red to yellow phase, including Allegheny County. The southwestern Pennsylvanian counties will be ending stay-at-home orders and moving into an aggressive mitigation stage. The Pennsylvania Department of Health stressed the importance of maintaining efforts to keep the counties moving in the right direction by continuing social distancing and wearing masks in public to prevent a resurgence of cases. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday that on May 22, 12 more counties will move from the red to yellow phase of reopening.

May 15, 7:30 p.m.

House democrats are attempting to pass a second coronavirus relief package on Friday worth $3 trillion. If passed by the Senate, the package would be the largest emergency spending bill in U.S. history, CNBC reported. The proposal includes increasing testing capacity, more money for local and state governments, hazard pay for essential workers, stimulus checks for Americans and a temporary deduction of the cap on state and local tax deductions. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Thursday that President Donald Trump is against the proposal, but not against an additional coronavirus relief bill.

May 15, 6:15 p.m.

Los Angeles County beaches reopened Wednesday but with a handful of new rules as people emerge from their homes. Beachgoers are required to keep moving at the beaches — walking, running or swimming. Sunbathing, picnics and volleyball games are prohibited at the moment. And, of course, masks are required. Parking lots, piers and a 22-mile bike path that connects the beach to several others remain closed. Similar restrictions have been placed on other reopening beaches in Hawaii, and beaches in Florida and New Jersey are enforcing occupancy limits.

May 15, 5:10 p.m.

New COVID-19 cases are now declining in 28 states. More than half the states in the U.S. are now seeing daily decreases in new COVID-19 cases. Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Colorado are among states that are seeing a decline, despite reopening earlier than most. Texas, however, has seen a dramatic increase in cases since reopening on May 1, with a 20% to 30% increase since reopening, CNN reported. Seven states are still seeing increases in their day to day increase in cases, and 15 states remain steady. The U.S. has reported over 1.4 million cases of the virus so far, according to research from Johns Hopkins University.

May 15, 4:05 p.m.

The bee population is buzzing in Rome, Italy, after months of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Italian Apiculture Federation keeps a colony of bees on the roof of the Carabinieri command’s headquarters as a beekeeping project as, in general, bees in cities tend to be healthier than those in the countryside. This is due to less problems with chemicals that kill insects and would kill bees. “During the quarantine period, this visibly increased and the bees have been very healthy. They have found a very large amount of nectar and pollen, so many colonies are growing, and producing a lot of honey,” head of the Italian Apiculture Federation Raffaele Cirone told AFP. Cirone stressed that although he is not worried about the bees today, we must still work to preserve and protect them.

May 15, 3:19 p.m.

With fears of air travel growing amid the pandemic, new numbers show there is a 92% decrease in the amount of travelers who have gone through TSA checkpoints on May 14, 2020 compared to exactly one year ago, according to TSA Public Affairs spokesperson Lisa Farbstein. On May 14, 2019, over 2.5 million people traveled through TSA checkpoints while on May 14, 2020, only saw just over 230,000. Even with the huge decrease, this was still the busiest day for air travel since March 25. Farbstein also said in a tweet that TSA’s mission remains, “to protect the nation’s transportation systems, the agency must guard against insider threats, including those evolving from changes at transportation venues resulting from COVID-19.”

May 15, 3:05 p.m.

Southwest Airlines will not deny boarding to travelers who refuse to wear face coverings. A memo sent out to employees from the company asked that they handle situations where a customer refuses to wear face coverings with “empathy and respect.” Southwest official policy states that customers must wear a face mask in situations where social distancing is not possible, however the memo sent out to employees instructs them to inform customers of the policy, but not enforce it, NBC 12 reported. “We will not deny boarding solely based on a customer’s refusal to wear a face covering,” the memo stated.

The decision from Southwest comes in contrast to many other airlines, who have made policies requiring all passengers wear face coverings. JetBlue was the first major airline to require face coverings, ABC news correspondent Gio Benitez reported. “When you’re in an airline seat even when you’re keeping the middle seat free, you’re not going to be 6-feet away from someone,” Robin Hayes, the CEO of JetBlue, told CBS News. Other airlines, such as Delta, soon followed suit in enforcing face coverings.

May 15, 2:27 p.m.

The number of U.S. adults that are isolating has declined for the fifth week in a row, according to a study released by Gallup. At it’s peak on April 5, 75% of U.S. adults were isolating themselves. Last week, only 58% are reported to be isolating. This is the lowest level since March 22 which was before most states had issued stay-at-home orders. One cause for this decline is the expiration of many stay-at-home orders and other states easing restrictions. The study also found that women are more likely to be social distancing than men. The weekly survey is conducted by a web survey to a random sample of over 4,000 U.S. adults.

May 15, 1:48 p.m.

NASCAR is set to return this weekend with the first race since the season was put on pause in early March due to the coronavirus. The weekend activities at Darlington Raceway will be much different than races earlier in the year to help limit the potential spread of COVID-19. No fans will be allowed to attend the race, drivers and crew members will have their temperatures checked when arriving at the track and everyone will need to wear a mask (although drivers can remove it when they suit up and get into their cars). Sunday’s race is also being called The Real Heroes 400 to honor health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Dry weather is in the forecast for Sunday’s race, but hot and sunny conditions could be a factor that the drivers and teams will need to take into consideration.

May 15, 1:03 p.m.

Cats are capable of infecting other cats with the new coronavirus, researchers have discovered. But whether they can infect humans remains an open question that scientists are still investigating. A report published this week in The New England Journal of Medicine spelled out the results of a study that was prompted by reports of humans infecting cats with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Cats that were infected with the virus were co-mingled with other cats that were healthy. Within five days, the healthy cats were all infected, the researchers found. “There is a public health need to recognize and further investigate the potential chain of human–cat–human transmission,” the researchers wrote, adding, “This is of particular importance given the potential for SARS-CoV-2 transmission between family members in households with cats while living under ‘shelter-in-place’ orders.”

May 15, 12:25 p.m.

How quickly can germs spread in a restaurant? A viral video from Japan uses a black light to demonstrate how germs from just one person can be dispersed across an entire restaurant. In the video clip, one person has his hands coated in paint that is only visible under UV light before he sit down to dine with 9 other people. At the end of the meal, a black light illuminates the room and shows the shocking results. Everyone in the room appeared to have the UV light-sensitive pain on their hands, utensils, napkins, and even some with it on their faces. If the paint was replaced with the novel coronavirus, everyone in the room might have been exposed and would have to enter self-isolation for 14 days. This simulation shows how important it is to avoid touching your face and to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently.

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