- Ottawa says COVID-19 tracing app now in beta testing.
- Trump warming up to masks but political battles continue over their use.
- India becomes the 7th country to see over 30,000 COVID-19 deaths.
- Britain’s indoor mask rules go into effect.
- South Korea to begin allowing fans at pro sports stadiums, slowly.
The White House touted a coronavirus briefing on Thursday by Donald Trump as a discussion of a strategy to reopen U.S. schools, but some education experts were left underwhelmed.
Trump insisted that every school should be “actively making preparations to open.” Students need to be in school buildings to prevent learning setbacks, he said, and to access meal programs and mental health services.
Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made opening schools a key priority to restart the economy. Students need to return to the classroom so their parents can return to work, the president has said.
DeVos has echoed those sentiments and she erroneously told a conservative radio show last week that “kids are actually stoppers of the virus.”
Trump’s push has at times put him at odds with his own health officials. Earlier this month, he said school guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were too tough, prompting the agency to promise updated guidance.
“He’s provided no plan and no funding and has ignored the health experts,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s largest education unions. “Teachers won’t let him get away with it.”
The CDC on Thursday added new information to its website on opening schools, but it did not appear to remove any of its earlier suggestions. Much of the new material emphasized the importance of reopening schools.
The CDC updated guidance laid out a range of measures depending on the level of spread. If there’s minimal or moderate spread, it recommends physical distancing, masks and increased sanitation.
The agency allowed that in areas with substantive and uncontrolled spread, school closure is an “important consideration.”
“Plans for virtual learning should be in place in the event of a school closure,” the CDC said.
The Los Angeles and San Diego districts have already announced a plan to keep classes online this fall, while New York City’s schools plan to offer a mix of online and in-person instruction.
Many states said they urgently need funding to implement safety measures. A group of state education chiefs said in the spring U.S. schools would need more than $200 billion US to prepare for a fall reopening.
Trump on Thursday said he’s asking Congress to provide $105 billion in education funding as part of the next virus relief bill. It’s meant to help schools reduce class sizes, hire teachers, rearrange spaces and provide masks, he said.
Meanwhile, Trump has made his most unequivocal pitch for Americans to wear masks to slow the spread of the virus this week, but political battles over the face coverings are still taking place in the U.S.
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Republican attorney general Derek Schmidt of Kansas said he believes both counties and local school districts can exempt themselves from the governor’s order requiring schools to have staff and students wear masks because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly replied in a scathing statement, accusing him of creating “more hurdles and uncertainty” during the pandemic. Kelly issued her masks-in-schools order Monday, imposing rules that are stricter than guidelines set by the state board of education.
As well, a Georgia judge on Thursday ordered Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to enter mediation over the governor’s lawsuit aimed at stopping the city from enforcing its requirement that people wear masks in public.
The Republican governor’s office filed a lawsuit on July 16 against Bottoms and the Atlanta city council, arguing that local officials lack the legal authority to override Kemp’s orders. Should mediation fail, an emergency hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
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What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada
As of 7:30 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada has seen 112,671 confirmed coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 98,519 of those as recovered or resolved and a total of 5,244 still active. A CBC News tally based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting indicates that 8,908 Canadians have died.
The federal government says a smartphone app meant to warn users if they’ve been in close contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus is now in beta testing.
The app was supposed to be tried out in Ontario starting early this month, but the trial to look for bugs and other problems was delayed.
Now, the Canadian Digital Service — an agency that puts federal services online — is asking people to sign up for the app and try it out.
What’s happening in the rest of the world
Britain is requiring citizens to wear face coverings in shops effective Friday, joining a long list of countries that have made masks mandatory under some circumstances in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
After weeks of prevarication and days of confused messaging, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government laid down the mask edict on July 13 due to “growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus.”
Many European nations, including Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece, already required masks to be worn in enclosed spaces, but Britain had only made masks obligatory on public transit.
Those who flout the law can be fined up to 100 pounds ($170 Cdn) by police under public health laws.
Meanwhile, Johnson said Friday he thought the country would be through the coronavirus crisis by mid-2021.
“Whether it came from … a bat, a pangolin or however it emerged, it was a very, very nasty thing for the human race. And I think by the middle of next year we will be well on the way past it,” he told reporters.
France is reporting a sharp uptick in coronavirus cases, with more than 1,000 new infections on Thursday.
Health authorities say cases on the French mainland have surged by 66 per cent in the past three weeks, with a 26 per cent increase in the last week alone. Concerns about rising cases had already prompted the government to make mask-wearing mandatory in all indoor public spaces this week.
In their daily update on France’s outbreak that has already killed 30,182 people, health authorities said people aren’t taking as much care to physically distance and that “our recent habits have favoured the spread of the virus for several weeks now.”
India has surpassed 30,000 deaths and its COVID-19 fatalities are now sixth in the world.
The Health Ministry on Friday added 740 deaths due to COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, increasing the toll to 30,601. The total now exceeds France’s toll, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
India also registered a record 49,310 new cases. As cases surge, the Home Ministry advised all government offices, states and officials to avoid congregations for Aug. 15 Independence Day celebrations.
Major League Baseball held its Opening Day in the U.S. on Thursday for an abbreviated season, but fans were not present for precautionary reasons. In South Korea, baseball fans are to return to the stands beginning Sunday as health authorities outlined a phased process to bring back spectators in professional sports amid the pandemic.
Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho during a virus briefing on Friday also said fans will be allowed at professional soccer games starting on Aug. 1. However, professional golf tournaments will continue without galleries at least until late August, he said.
Both baseball and soccer teams will be initially allowed to sell only 10 per cent of the seats for each game to begin. Fans will also be screened for fevers and required to sit apart in the seats. They will be required to wear masks, banned from eating food and drinking beer, and discouraged from excessive shouting, singing and cheering during the game.
Stadium officials will also register fans with smartphone QR codes so that they could be easily located when needed.
Bolivia announced Thursday it was postponing its election for over a month to Oct. 18. The announcement comes as police and funeral homes have reported dealing with a surge of deaths in recent days, most likely owing to COVID-19.