July 23 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Brad Lendon, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 12:09 a.m. ET, July 24, 2020
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9:56 a.m. ET, July 23, 2020

Georgia passes 150,000 total confirmed Covid-19 cases

From CNN’s Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 3,314 new cases yesterday, bringing the state total to at least 152,302 cases.

Georgia health officials also reported 81 new deaths, the second highest daily count recorded since the start of the pandemic. The total death toll for Georgia is now at least 3,335. 

There were 428 new Covid-19-related hospitalizations recorded on Wednesday. 

Hear more:

9:15 a.m. ET, July 23, 2020

Arizona emergency rooms are rationing coronavirus tests as cases surge, doctor says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Dr. Frank LoVecchio, an Arizona emergency room physician who works at a number of hospitals, said doctors are rationing Covid-19 tests due to testing problems.  

“We’re overwhelmed with regard to testing,” he said in an interview on CNN’s “New Day.” Many labs indicate a nine-day wait for testing results, which is “kind of ridiculous,” he said. 

“Sometimes there's no swabs, sometimes there's no reagent, sometimes the lab is backed up,” he said. “...Our country did not prioritize testing; our country did not streamline this. Other countries that streamlined testing did a little bit better.”

LoVecchio said that doctors are rationing tests in his emergency rooms. He said he would not give tests to people with very mild symptoms or, conversely, life-threatening symptoms, because it would not change the treatment. 

“I would still tell you to quarantine if you were stable. I would still admit you to the hospital if you were very, very sick,” he explained. “Some patients are getting discharged before their test is back,” he added. 

Watch more:

9:29 a.m. ET, July 23, 2020

Treasury secretary says there's no payroll tax cut in GOP stimulus bill

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond and Katie Lobosco

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stands after testifying in Washington, DC, on July 17.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stands after testifying in Washington, DC, on July 17. Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said a payroll tax cut will not be included in the forthcoming legislative package expected to be rolled out by Senate Republicans on Thursday. 

Mnuchin said the President's "priority for the moment is to get money into Americans quickly and one of the problems with the payroll tax cut is it takes time."

Pressed by CNN on whether it will be included in this bill, Mnuchin said: "Not in this, but we're going to come back again. There may be a CARES 5.0."

Some background: President Trump had been pushing Congress to include a payroll tax cut in the next economic relief package.

He unsuccessfully pressed for one earlier in the year, and renewed comments this week make it clear the policy remains a key White House priority. But a growing number of Republicans aren't in favor of the idea and most Democrats don't support it.

Payroll tax cuts have had mixed results in the past, and some economists argue that it's not the best way to boost the economy right now.

A payroll tax cut would reduce the amount taken out of workers' paychecks to fund federal programs including Social Security and Medicare.

Congress would have to decide how much to reduce the rate and how long the tax holiday would last.

Currently, workers pay about 7.65% of their wage and salary incomes. Employers match the amount while those who are self-employed pay both shares, though they get to deduct the employer portion.

9:28 a.m. ET, July 23, 2020

Birx and Fauci express concern about pandemic as Trump paints a rosy picture

From CNN's Betsy Klein

From left in background, Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci listen as President Donald Trump speaks at a coronavirus briefing in Washington, DC, on March 20.
From left in background, Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci listen as President Donald Trump speaks at a coronavirus briefing in Washington, DC, on March 20. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

As President Trump touts progress amid the coronavirus pandemic at scripted, on-message briefings this week, top members of the coronavirus task force are privately – and publicly – expressing concern about burgeoning outbreaks across the country.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that the US is “certainly not at the end of the game,” with a series of baseball metaphors.

“I'm not even sure we're halfway through. I mean, obviously, if you want to do a score I don't want to get too cute about it but certainly we are not winning the game right now, we are not leading it,” Fauci said.

And in audio obtained by journalism nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx privately told a group of state and local health officials about a concerning rise in cases in a series of cities, warning the officials to take mitigation action as soon as they see signs of percent positivity increasing.

“There are cities that are lagging behind and we have new increases in Miami, New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Jose, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Baltimore, so we’re tracking this very closely. We’re working with the state officials to make sure we’re responding together, but when you first see that increased test positivity, that is when to start the mitigation efforts,” she said during the Wednesday call.

Birx continued: “I know it may look small, and you may say that only went from five to five and a half, and we’re going to wait and see what happens. If you wait another three to four, even five, days, you’ll start to see a dramatic increase in cases. So finding and tracing those very early individuals is really critical.” 

Birx told the officials in places experiencing increased test positivity to “(make) sure they’re being aggressive about mitigation efforts,” noting that the administration provides governors with a weekly report with clear recommendations for mitigation. 

One such report, also obtained by CPI last week, recommended that 18 states in the task force-defined “red zone” for cases should roll back reopening measures amid surging cases. Those reports are not made publicly available.

Birx told the officials there are “small glimmers of decreasing test positivity in many of our metros in Texas and of course in Phoenix,” but the task force has “deep concerns about specific metros, of course in Florida, and spreading epidemic in California into the Central Valley.”

A White House spokesperson said Birx’s comments were in line with Trump’s briefing remarks on Wednesday.

“This doesn’t deviate from what the President said yesterday. The virus is still with us, we have some states and metros with significant outbreaks, and we must take this incredibly seriously,” deputy press secretary Judd Deere told CNN. 

But Trump cherry-picked some of the more hopeful aspects of the pandemic in his briefings, and declined to appear alongside his top public health officials, telling reporters that appearing solo at the podium was a “very concise way of doing it.”

9:11 a.m. ET, July 23, 2020

World's biggest movie theater chain postpones reopening again in the US 

From CNN’s Frank Pallotta

With summer blockbusters pushing back their release dates because of coronavirus, AMC Theatres is delaying its opening once again. 

The world's biggest movie theater chain is postponing the reopening of its US theaters to "mid-to-late August," the company said on Thursday.

AMC was set to have a phased reopening on July 15 with the hopes of being fully operational by July 24. That date was then pushed back to July 30 late last month. 

"This new timing reflects currently expected release dates for much anticipated blockbusters like Warner Bros.' Tenet and Disney's Mulan, as well as release dates for several other new movies coming to AMC's big screens," the company said in a release.

8:58 a.m. ET, July 23, 2020

Senate GOP set to unveil stimulus plan today. Here's what is expected in the package.

From CNN's Phil Mattingly, Lauren Fox and Ted Barrett

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell listens during a news conference in Washington, DC, on July 21.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell listens during a news conference in Washington, DC, on July 21. Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Key senators and White House negotiators said Wednesday they had reached a deal on a key piece of their stimulus package, setting the stage for the release of their long-awaited full proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told members he plans to unveil the package Thursday not as a single bill, but in pieces based on jurisdiction, GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri told reporters.

The agreement marks progress in what has been an unwieldy several days on Capitol Hill for Republicans, with splits on policy becoming public between Republican senators and the White House — and among Senate Republicans themselves.

What is expected in the plan: Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, announced the "fundamental agreement" on the funding piece of the GOP plan, which would include $105 billion for schools and additional billions in funds for testing.

Blunt, the chair of the health panel on the Appropriations Committee, said the appropriations agreement would include $105 billion for schools that would be divided as $70 billion for K-12, $30 billion for colleges and universities and $5 billion for governors to use at their discretion.

Of the $70 billion, $35 billion would be for all schools on a per capita basis and the remaining amount would be directed toward schools reopening and the costs associated with that.

Specific language will be included in the proposal to provide guidelines for how schools would qualify for the second pot of money, but the proposal would leave much of the decision making up to governors.

Additionally, the agreement includes funds for testing — a major sticking point between White House negotiators and their Senate GOP counterparts. The topline number would be $25 billion, which would comprise $16 billion in new funds and a commitment from the administration to designate for use the $9 billion in leftover funds.

Meadows said no final decisions had been made about what the GOP proposal would include on the extension of the federal enhancement of unemployment insurance or what has been decided on a payroll tax cut, which President Trump has made a priority in spite of resistance from a large number of Republican senators.

Read more about the plan here.

12:59 p.m. ET, July 23, 2020

Another 1.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week 

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe

Another 1.4 million Americans have filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week, according to the Department of Labor.

Four months after the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the health of Americans, their economy and their labor market, the upswing in economic data is tapering off.

A resurgence in infections and a rollback of reopening plans in several states is making it difficult for people to re-enter the labor force following the pandemic lockdown.

Continued claims — which count people who have applied for benefits for at least two consecutive weeks — slipped to 16.2 million, down by more than 1 million from the week prior.


8:50 a.m. ET, July 23, 2020

Trump is still 100% for schools opening, but school officials are running the other way

Analysis by CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

 A fleet of Broward County school buses are parked in a lot in Pembroke Pines, Florida, on July 21.
 A fleet of Broward County school buses are parked in a lot in Pembroke Pines, Florida, on July 21. Johnny Louis/Getty Images

This might be the most obvious thing in the world, but parents need to come to grips with the fact that their kids probably aren't going to be in classrooms this fall.

There will be exceptions, sure, in places where schools do open for normal hours or something close to it. There will be kids who go part-time (this is becoming known as the "hybrid" option). But it's becoming clear that a large portion of the country's kids won't be in class and parents need to start planning for that if they haven't already.

Trump didn't mention his recent demand that US schools open this fall, Covid-be-damned, at his first briefing on the coronavirus since April. But he said Wednesday that he "would like to see the schools open 100%" — and then immediately pivoted to the economy, which is why he wants schools to reopen.

As the Covid-19 surge continues, schools continue to announce plans for online-only learning this fall. On Tuesday, it was Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia and Montgomery County in Maryland that did an abrupt and simultaneous about-face to say public school students would not be brought back in-person.

Together those comprise a major chunk of the DC suburbs. Kids in the nation's capital won't know until July 31 if the city will offer any kind of in-person education this fall or whether it will be online.

On Wednesday, it was Clark County in Nevada reversing course from a hybrid model to distance learning. It was Seattle, too. In Kansas, the state board of education, split down the middle, blocked the governor's attempt to go online only to start the year, an exception proving the new rule.

Last week, it was California, where Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom declared schools couldn't offer in-person instruction until they met certain Covid criteria. Right now that ban applies to 90% of the state's kids.

There may not be an exhaustive database of the country's 13,000 school district plans, but the snapshot at Education Week is pretty darn good (and maddening to read).

It shows five of the nation's 10 largest districts will be distance learning this fall, which begins next month for most kids.

Or not. Some districts don't have a start date. Others are delaying into September. New York City's mayor has pledged to implement a hybrid model, but details are still in flux and the state's governor must sign off. He won't do that until August.

Read the full analysis:

8:27 a.m. ET, July 23, 2020

Miami mayor explains why he's doubling mask mandate fines

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez announced that the Florida city will increase its penalties for people not adhering to its mask mandate, raising the amount from $50 to $100 for first and second offenses. Violators could face arrest for third offenses. 

“We want to make sure people follow the rules. We're seeing some early evidence that the mask-in-public rule is working and we want to make sure it's being adopted universally in our population,” Suarez said on CNN’s “New Day.”

Suarez said that 39 officers this week will be dedicated solely to mask enforcement.

“We want to make sure that we're able to continue these gains so that we don't have to take more dramatic measures,” he said. 

Suarez said the situation in Miami has improved, so he isn't planning on implementing a stay-at-home order.

“Just a few days ago, we were at 60 new cases per day. …We're down to 20 new cases a day, which means that the remediation efforts that we've taken, including the mask-in-public rule, are working,” Suarez said.

“We're being patient and letting those remediation efforts take full effect before making any decisions,” he added. 

Suarez said that delays in testing are leading to further coronavirus spread, particularly in large households, contradicting the President, who called testing “overrated.”