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President Donald Trump contradicted the government’s top health experts Wednesday, questioning the CDC director’s claim on the effectiveness of protective masks against the coronavirus — which the president recommends but almost never wears. (Sept. 16)

AP Domestic

As the race to find a coronavirus vaccine continues, federal health officials have already planned to distribute the vaccine within 24 hours of approval. 

However, a vaccine may not be available until next year, said Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday. Redfield also testified during a Senate panel that face masks are “the most important, powerful public health tool we have” — possibly even more effective than a vaccine.

President Donald Trump later contradicted Redfield’s comments and said, “I believe he was confused” by the questions asked about the virus.

Redfield responded on Twitter: “I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a #COVID19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life. The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds.”

Some significant developments:

  • New York City pushed back its start date for most students to return to elementary, middle and high school classrooms — again.
  • The Big Ten announced its plan to return on Oct. 24, reversing its August decision to postpone its fall football season. The NCAA said the men’s and women’s college basketball season can start on Nov. 25.
  • Hawaii’s pre-arrival testing program for out of state visitors will begin Oct. 15, Gov. David Ige announced.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to make an announcement on theme park reopenings “very, very shortly.”
  • A CDC report found the majority of children, teens and young adults who’ve died from COVID-19 are Hispanic, Black or Native American. 

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 6.6 million cases and 196,800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Globally, there have been more than 29.8 million cases and 941,000 fatalities.

📰 What we’re reading: The CDC has received widespread scrutiny for yielding to political pressure from the White House. These interviews and records provide the most extensive look yet at how the CDC, paralyzed by bureaucracy, failed to consistently perform its most basic job: giving public health authorities the guidance needed to save American lives during a pandemic.  

🗺️ Mapping coronavirus: Track the U.S. outbreak, state by state

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to The Daily Briefing newsletter.

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Without masks and a vaccine, we could reach Herd Immunity from COVID-19, but deaths would skyrocket. We break down the science of it.

USA TODAY

New York City delays first day of in-person classes — again

New York City has pushed back the first day of in-person classes for most of its elementary, middle and high school students, the second delay in a rocky return to the classroom for the nation’s largest school district.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that most students would continue online-only learning and transition to its planned hybrid model on Sept. 29 for elementary school students and on Oct. 1 for middle and high school students.

Pre-K and some students with special needs will return to the classroom Monday, the target return date, which had already been pushed back once.

New York’s plan to become the first major school district in the country to bring students back to the classroom in some capacity has faced criticism as some parents and teachers worry buildings aren’t safe, staffs aren’t large enough and testing capacity isn’t adequate. De Blasio says in-person classes will help ease the burden of juggling children and jobs for working parents.

‘Other than slavery,’ COVID-19 lockdowns are worst civil liberties infringement in US history, Barr says

Attorney General William Barr drew criticism after calling lockdown measures aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 the worst infringement on civil liberties other than slavery. 

Barr’s remark came during a Wednesday question and answer session at Hillsdale College when a moderator asked Barr about the constitutionality of the coronavirus restrictions. Barr suggested that instead of imposing lockdowns, states should have allowed businesses to try to “adapt” to new rules.

“But putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest,” Barr said. “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”

Barr’s reference to slavery in his denunciation of coronavirus restrictions outraged many on social media, such as Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who called an it “obscene comparison” and said, “Only an evil fool could talk that way.”

– William Cummings

Another 790,021 Americans file for unemployment

More than 790,000 Americans filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, as the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues to mount.

In a little more than six months, over 56 million workers have filed for benefits. The latest weekly tally has dipped significantly from the 6.2 million who filed first-time claims in March, when the economy ground to a virtual halt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

But the weekly volume of initial claims still hovered near what had previously been the all time high — roughly 1 million — on a non-seasonally adjusted basis during a recession in 1982.

– Charisse Jones

Dozens of Mass. high schoolers quarantining after positive test

After a Massachusetts high school student who tested positive for COVID-19 attended in-person classes, dozens of other students are under quarantine.

The student went to class Monday at Attleboro High School, and nurses said 30 students had close contact with them. “This unacceptable outcome was caused by delays in the reporting timeline, not a breakdown in our safety protocols,” Superintendent David Sawyer said.

Trump appointees shelved report on threats to voting rights during pandemic

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights spent months analyzing threats to minority voting rights during the coronavirus pandemic, coming up with what one commissioner called a “behemoth” set of recommendations. 

But no one will see them. Conservative commissioners recently appointed by President Donald Trump voted to shelve the report, its findings and recommendations, even commissioners’ statements.

The commissioner who led the research provided a glimpse of the report’s contents during an August meeting, noting it covers problems with in-person and mail-in balloting faced by voters of color, people with disabilities, and those with medical conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus.

The commission, an independent federal agency whose work has informed landmark civil rights laws, is made up of eight members. Trump’s appointments in May and August created a four-four split between conservatives and liberals. A move to release the voting-rights report failed in a tie.

“I am deeply dismayed that after months of work on a topic that is core to the commission’s congressional charge — and has been now for six decades — for the commission not to speak to this moment, which is unlike any other in terms of an effort to vote in the history of this country,” said Catherine Lhamon, the chair of the commission, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2016.

– Donovan Slack

More states see record week in virus cases, deaths

Six states set records for new cases in a week while four states had a record number of deaths in a week, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Wednesday. 

New case records were set in Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Record numbers of deaths were reported in Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Through last Wednesday, only Guam had recorded a new record in number of deaths in a week. And two weeks ago, only three states set new case records and two states set records in numbers of deaths.

– Mike Stucka

House to vote on measure condemning anti-Asian discrimination

The House is poised to pass a measure Thursday condemning anti-Asian bigotry and discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., the sponsor of the measure, told USA TODAY its passage would be “really important” to demonstrate to the Asian American community that it’s “wrong to discriminate against our community in light of the pandemic.”

Amid inflammatory political rhetoric blaming China for the pandemic from President Donald Trump and his allies, increased numbers of Asian Americans have reported harassment and even physical assaults.

– Nicholas Wu

Trump blames ‘blue states’ for overall coronavirus death toll in US

President Donald Trump blamed “blue states” for increasing the nation’s death rate from coronavirus, suggesting that if “you take the blue states out” of the equation the United States would be far more competitive with other countries. 

Trump has long blamed Democratic leaders for a variety of ills, including “Democrat-run” cities where protests against police have occasionally turned violent. But his remarks Wednesday were his most explicit politicization yet of the handling of COVID-19. It comes as Trump has been forced to defend metrics that indicate the U.S. has been in a worse position than many other nations dealing with the pandemic. 

The president, speaking to reporters at the White House, started off arguing that the United States was handling the virus well compared to other nations “despite the fact that the blue states had tremendous death rates.

“If you take the blue states out,” he continued, “we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at. We’re really at a very low level but some of the states — they were blue states, and blue-state management.”

– John Fritze and David Jackson

Hawaii to start pre-travel testing program for out-of-state visitors on Oct. 15

Hawaii officials announced the start of a pre-travel testing program that has been delayed twice due to a spike in coronavirus infections.

Starting Oct. 15, out-of-state travelers won’t need to quarantine for 14 days if they tested negative for the virus, Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday. Ige said travelers must get tested within 72 hours before arriving to Hawaii.

Kaiser Permanente and CVS will be conducting the tests.

India sees another record jump in cases

India has confirmed another record jump in coronavirus cases, logging 97,894 cases in the past 24 hours.

The Health Ministry said Thursday that the new cases raised the nation’s confirmed total to more than 5.1 million. It said 1,132 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 83,198.

At the current rate of infection, India is expected within weeks to surpass the 6.6 million reported cases in the United States, currently the country with the most reported infections.

Feds will distribute COVID-19 vaccine 24 hours after the first one is approved

The United States plans to begin distributing coronavirus vaccine within 24 hours of one being approved, federal officials said Wednesday.

It’s an audacious goal in an already franticly paced COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution program being overseen by the White House’s aptly-named Operation Warp Speed.

The goal is that 24 hours after a license or an Emergency Use Authorization is issued “we have vaccine moving to administration sites,”  Lt. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski, Operation Warp Speed deputy chief of supply, production and distribution, said on a media call Wednesday morning.

The initial rollout could begin as early as late this year or January. The announcement came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a 56-page “playbook” outlining details of how the vaccine will be distributed to medical providers nationally.

– Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub

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Big Ten football will begin Oct. 24, reversing August decision

Bowing to pressure from players, coaches and politicians, the Big Ten’s presidents decided Wednesday morning to move forward with an eight-game football season beginning on the weekend of Oct. 24, reversing their August decision to postpone the fall schedule and ending weeks of drama that spread from campuses all the way to the White House.

Citing new information presented by the league’s medical advisory board last weekend, including the imminent availability of rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 that can be administered on a daily basis, Big Ten presidents concluded they can safely conduct a football season, even as some of them struggle with infection rates on their own campuses. 

“From the onset of the pandemic, our highest priority has been the health and the safety of our students.  The new medical protocols and standards put into place by the Big Ten Return To Competition Task Force were pivotal in the decision to move forward with sports in the conference,” said Northwestern president Morton Schapiro, who chairs the Big Ten’s council of presidents and chancellors. 

– Dan Wolken

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy criticizes YouTube stars for mostly maskless events

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy slammed the YouTube stars Nelk Boys on Wednesday after a crowd of roughly 2,500 mostly maskless fans descended on Seaside Heights, New Jersey, for pop-up events touched off by the group’s appearance in the borough.

Murphy said the events in Seaside Heights Monday night, which were broken up by police, may be the most “extreme” and “egregious display of knucklehead behavior” the state has seen during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Crowds of revelers gathered outside the “Jersey Shore” house, made famous as the one-time home of cast members from the hit MTV reality series, where the Nelk Boys were staying to promote the debut of new merchandise. A short distance away, another group of about 1,000 fans gathered for a related car club show, police said.

“It’s exactly the type of situation we cannot have,” Murphy said at a coronavirus briefing in Trenton. “It was irresponsible from top to bottom in every respect. And these so-called influencers need to be taken to task.”

– Andrew J. Goudsward, Asbury Park Press

Database tracks coronavirus cases in Wisconsin schools

Within days of Wisconsin students’ return to K-12 classrooms, there were dozens of reports of COVID-19 cases among students and school employees.

Disease experts and education advocates have said it’s important to fully inform communities about transmission at schools, including sharing which schools have cases, how many cases there are and what’s being done about them.

Because state health and education officials aren’t naming schools or districts with known cases, journalists at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin are keeping track of them using this database.

To see if there are cases at schools near you, search here.

– USA TODAY Network-Wisconsin and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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Contributing: The Associated Press

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