Brazil President Bolsonaro tests positive; biotechs Novavax, Regeneron say drugs almost ready

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro said Tuesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, and the U.S. coronavirus death toll has surpassed 130,000. But two U.S. pharmaceutical companies say they are closing in on drugs that could treat or even prevent COVID-19 within a few months.

A $450 million federal contract awarded Regeneron Pharmaceuticals could help get initial doses of their drug out by summer’s end, the company said. Another company, Novavax, claimed a $1.6 billion contract and said if testing goes well it hopes to deliver 100 million vaccine doses as early as late 2020.

The news comes as confirmed cases surge across most of the U.S.; Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country is “still knee-deep in the first wave of this.” Arizona is one hot spot: The state surpassed 100,000 cases Monday, and more than 62,000 of the 101,441 reported cases involve people younger than 44, state officials said.

In Florida, another hot spot, the fall semester begins next month for public schools. The state’s education chief ordered school boards to “open brick and mortar schools” at least five days a week for every student.

Here are some recent developments:

  • Caesars Entertainment told its employees in an email Monday that they could be fired for not wearing a face mask.

  • Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said FEMA denied multiple requests for a mega-COVID-19 testing site as they’ve done in other cities.

  • Florida state officials are ordering all school to reopen in August “at least five days per week for all students.”

📈 Today’s stats: The U.S. has seen almost 3 million confirmed cases and more than 130,000 deaths, according to John Hopkins University data. Globally, there have been 11.6 million cases and almost 540,000 deaths.

📰 What we’re reading: Hundreds of millions of dollars has gone to COVID-19 contractors accused of prior fraud. Those contracts range from masks and medical equipment to janitorial cleaning, video productions and even ferryboat services.

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Brazil President Bolsonaro tests positive

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly downplayed the pandemic while numbers in his nation have soared, said Tuesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19. Bolsonaro, 65, was tested Monday after developing a cough and other symptoms. He confirmed the test results Tuesday while wearing a mask and speaking to reporters in capital Brasilia.

“I’m well, normal. I even want to take a walk around here, but I can’t due to medical recommendations,” he said. Bolsonaro has repeatedly urged his citizens to return to work in an effort to avoid an economic crash. But Brazil has become a hot spot: more than 1.6 million confirmed cases and more than 65,000 deaths.

Bolsonaro celebrated the Fourth of July with U.S. Ambassador Todd Chapman, and photos from the event showed the men and their aides without masks. The U.S. Embassy said on Twitter Chapman is not showing any COVID-19 symptoms but would be tested.

Retailers to governors: Make masks mandatory in public everywhere

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents Target, Lowe’s, Walgreens and other major chains, has asked the nation’s governors to require all Americans to wear masks in public. The group, in a letter to the National Governors Association, said that fewer than half of U.S. states require face mask wearing in public. Inconsistent rules among states, and in some cases within states, have confused shoppers and prompted conflicts between customers and workers enforcing rules, the letter says.

“Retailers are alarmed with the instances of hostility and violence front-line employees are experiencing by a vocal minority of customers,” said RILA President Brian Dodge.

EPA loves its Lysol, says it’s effective against coronavirus

It turns out that spewing Lysol Disinfectant Spray all around your house might actually be a good idea, if you can find the stuff. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has formally approved Lysol Disinfectant Spray and Lysol Disinfectant Max Cover Mist as effective against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“EPA is committed to identifying new tools and providing accurate and up-to-date information to help the American public protect themselves and their families,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said.

Lysol may not be new, but it has been flying off shelves since the pandemic became a thing. But even Lysol maker Reckitt Benckiser realizes there are limits: After President Trump in April famously suggested injecting disinfectant, the company issued a press release emphasizing that “under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body.”

Maryland, New York companies close in on COVID-19 vaccines, drugs

Add Maryland’s Novavax to the list of biotechs winning payouts from the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed to pursue COVID-19 vaccines and medications. Novavax has claimed $1.6 billion to pursue its candidate, NVX CoV2373. The program aims to speed development of a COVID-19 vaccine by paying to manufacture several possible vaccines.

This will likely result in millions of doses of failed vaccines having to be thrown in the trash, Dr. Anthony Fauci says. But it will also mean that if one or more vaccines proves safe and effective, the public will have quick access to it. Novavax said if testing goes well, it hopes to deliver 100 million doses as early as late 2020.

New York state-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals said Tuesday that it has won a $450 million federal contract to manufacture and supply REGN-COV2, the company’s antibody cocktail that could begin rolling out “as early as end of summer.”

– Karen Weintraub

Texas joins Florida in surpassing 200,000 cases

Texas has surpassed 200,000 total COVID-19 cases, just 17 days after crossing the 100,000 threshold, a figure that took the state nearly four months to hit. The milestone came just days after Florida reached 200,000 cases. Both states have reported weeks of surging hospitalizations. In Texas, Gov. Gregg Abbott has closed bars, reduced restaurant occupancy, paused additional reopenings and issue a statewide order to wear a face covering in counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases.

Study: Most infections may be spread by people without symptoms

A majority of COVID-19 infections may be spread through “silent transmission” by people who have no symptoms or have not yet displayed them, a new study suggests. That could be crucial as states reopen their economies and schools, leaving isolation of infected individuals as the primary protocol curtailing transmission. 

In the absence of population-wide restrictions, isolation of infected individuals is key to curtailing transmission. That won’t work if most of the infections are being spread by people we don’t even know are infected.

“We found that the majority of incidences may be attributable to silent transmission from a combination of the presymptomatic stage and asymptomatic infections,” the study, published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” “Consequently, even if all symptomatic cases are isolated, a vast outbreak may nonetheless unfold.”

Miami-Dade shuts restaurants, gyms, some rentals; hospitalizations spike

Miami-Dade County Mayor Mayor Carlos Gimenez has signed an emergency order closing restaurants (except for takeout and delivery services), ballrooms, banquet facilities, party venues, gyms and fitness centers, and short-term rentals. Gimenez, citing a spike in the percent of positive COVID-19 tests and hospitalizations, said the closure are effective Wednesday.

“We want to ensure that our hospitals continue to have the staffing necessary to save lives,” the mayor said. Beaches, office buildings, retail stores and grooming services will remain open “for now,” the mayor said.

Fraud claims no barrier for companies seeking federal COVID contracts

Federal purchasers have rushed out more than $16 billion in coronavirus contracts ranging from masks and medical equipment to janitorial cleaning, video productions and even ferryboat services. A USA TODAY investigation of 15 of the largest and hardest-hit states found hundreds of millions of dollars in non-competitive awards went to vendors that have been accused of defrauding taxpayers. Nothing in federal law prohibits it as long as they are still considered “responsible” and aren’t suspended or debarred from doing business with the government. 

But under President Donald Trump, where federal contracting officials have seen their workload increase nearly fivefold, taxpayers are “particularly vulnerable because this administration has diluted the oversight functions,” Steven Schooner, who served as a career official in the Clinton administration procurement policy office, told USA TODAY.

 Josh Salman and Nick Penzenstadler

Dr. Anthony Fauci: US is ‘knee-deep’ in first wave of coronavirus cases

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday that the United States’ handle on the coronavirus outbreak is “really not good” and that action is needed to curb the spread. In an interview via Facebook Live, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said, “We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this. And I would say, this would not be considered a wave. It was a surge, or a resurgence of infections superimposed upon a baseline.”

New cases in the U.S. have reached record highs, climbing to around 50,000 a day. Fauci, speaking online with the National Institutes of Health, linked some of the surge in new cases to some cities and states that may have reopened too quickly. 

Savannah Behrmann

California State Capitol shuts down after outbreak

A coronavirus outbreak in the California Legislature has indefinitely delayed the state Assembly’s return to work from a scheduled summer recess. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s office confirmed five people who work in the Assembly have tested positive for the coronavirus. They include Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, who is believed to have contracted the virus while on the Assembly floor last month.

Rendon said Monday that the Assembly will stay in recess until further notice. He said the decision is to protect lawmakers, staff and the public. The Legislature shut down for nearly two months earlier this year during the pandemic.

Report: Caesars tells Las Vegas staff no mask, no job

Caesars Entertainment CEO Tony Rodio told employees in an email Monday that they could be fired for not wearing a face mask, KSNV reported. “We are working to achieve 100% compliance with guests, but we must take strong action if team members violate the rule to always wear their masks at work except when eating or drinking. Please take note, the failure to wear your mask at work will be grounds for termination,” the letter says.

Many Nevada casinos reopened June 4. Gov. Steve Sisolak then mandated face masks in public for residents and tourists on June 24. The state has over 22,000 confirmed cases  and 439 deaths as of Monday, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Royal Caribbean, Norwegian create panel to make cruising safe from virus

Two major cruise companies have created a joint task force to try to find comprehensive solutions to the industry’s most vexing problem: how to keep ship passengers and crew safe from the coronavirus. Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings together launched the “Healthy Sail Panel,” as it’s being called, with the goal of looking at every facet of safety, from whether ultraviolet lights can effectively kill the virus to how to improve meal service.

Some of the proposed changes might prove costly, such as whether to modify ships to promote social distancing. And such recommendations could smack into the evolving nature of how to best fight the coronavirus, including how soon a vaccine might be on the way.

– Chris Woodyard

FEMA denied requests for COVID-19 testing help, Phoenix mayor says

The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied multiple requests for a mega-COVID-19 testing site in Phoenix, according to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. She said her office asked FEMA to implement a large-scale, drive-thru testing site – as they’ve done in other cities, including Houston – multiple times since the earliest days of the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

She said her initial request came in April, but federal government officials told her that Phoenix’s case numbers were not high enough to merit that infrastructure. Now that Arizona has surpassed 100,000 known COVID-19 cases and is nearing 2,000 deaths, Gallego asked the federal government again. 

“They said they’re trying to get away from that type of testing site … and they don’t want to open any new ones,” Gallego said. A spokesperson for FEMA did not respond to a request for comment. 

– Jessica Boehm, Arizona Republic

MLB releases 2020 schedule, beginning with games on July 23

Major League Baseball announced its season schedule Monday, making official a 60-game season that will begin on July 23. Delayed more than three months by the coronavirus pandemic, MLB will attempt to become the first major sport to return to action with a pair nationally televised contests at 7:08 p.m. ET: the New York Yankees at the World Series-champion Washington Nationals and the San Francisco Giants at the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

All teams except the Yankees and National will be in action on July 24. Barring complications because of COVID-19, the regular season is set to conclude on Sept. 27. Here’s the schedule.

Kanye West’s Yeezy company received at least $2M in PPP coronavirus aid

Kanye West’s Yeezy brand borrowed at least $2 million from the government to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, according to government data. The streetwear brand Yeezy LLC was listed as being granted $2 million to $5 million from the Paycheck Protection Program meant to help small businesses keep workers employed during the COVID-19 induced shutdown. The revelation was made on Monday after the Small Business Association released a spreadsheet of all the companies that were granted more than $150,000 from the loan program. 

Kanye West, who recently said he’s running for president and previously claimed to be a billionaire, started the company in 2007. The spreadsheet showed that the fashion company out of La Palma, California, would use the forgivable loan to save 106 jobs. At the end of June, Yeezy and Gap announced a 10-year deal for  “Yeezy Gap” apparel line.  

– Dalvin Brown

FDA: Multiple brands of hand sanitizer recalled due to methanol risk

More than a dozen kinds of hand sanitizer should be avoided because they may contain methanol, a toxic substance when absorbed through skin or ingested. The Food and Drug Administration says many of the products have been voluntarily recalled with other products being recommended for recalls because they may contain the potentially fatal ingredient. All of the products in the FDA’s latest methanol update were produced in Mexico.

The FDA says it has “seen a sharp increase in hand sanitizer products that are labeled to contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol) but that have tested positive for methanol contamination.” The recalls come after the FDA warned consumers in June not to use nine kinds of hand sanitizers because they may contain the potentially fatal ingredient. Here’s the list.

Kelly Tyko

Florida schools must reopen in August for at least five days per week

An emergency order issued Monday by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran puts the onus on schools to reopen for in-person teaching in the upcoming term and establishes requirements for remote learning. Local health officials can override the commissioner’s directive if it is not safe to open schools because of COVID-19, but Monday’s announcement makes it clear that districts have to prepare to open their doors.

“All school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools in August at least five days per week for all students,” the announcement said.

– Ryan McKinnon, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

More on the coronavirus from USA TODAY

Where a face mask is required: Many governors are instituting or renewing orders requiring people to wear face coverings in public as cases continue to rise. Is your state on the list? See it here. 

Coronavirus Watch: We have a few ways for you to stay informed. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here, and come together and share the latest information about the coronavirus, coping with lifestyle changes and more by joining our Facebook group.

Where are states on reopening? Some are taking preemptive measures to postpone further phases of their reopening, while others have rolled back their phases to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. See the list.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19: California State Capitol outbreak; Florida to open schools

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