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California Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out strict criteria Friday for school reopenings that makes it unlikely the vast majority of districts will have classroom instruction in the fall as the coronavirus pandemic surges. (July 17)

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As the global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic inches toward 600,000, the U.S. reported more than 71,000 new COVID-19 cases Friday, down from an all-time high of 77,000 the day before.

Several states and schools boards made announcements Friday about reopening plans.

Texas issued new rules that give local school districts more control over the decisions on start dates and on how long schools can teach students online. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said schools in counties with high infection rates must begin year with remote learning. And in Chicago, the mayor said that public schools will plan to start the year with a hybrid in-person and at-home learning model.

But many preliminary plans still have few details on how many COVID-19 cases would close schools.

Some recent developments: 

📈 Today’s stats: The U.S. surpassed 3.6 million cases and over 139,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been 14.1 million cases and more than 597,000 deaths.

📰 What we’re reading: Labs are performing more COVID-19 tests than ever, lab workers are strained and states are bidding against one another for the same, limited supplies. A lack of a federal plan is leading to testing delays.

Iran estimates up to 25M cases

Iran’s president Saturday estimated as many as 25 million Iranians could have been infected with the coronavirus since the outbreak’s beginning, and urged the public to take the pandemic seriously, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

President Hassan Rouhani cited a new Iranian Health Ministry study in offering the unprecedentedly high number of infections. Officials have not explained what the report’s estimates are based on and the study has not been made public. Rouhani also said he believes an additional 30 million-35 million people could be infected in coming months, again without citing the basis for his estimate. Iran’s population is around 81 million people.

Iran has seen the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with more than 270,000 confirmed cases and at least 13,979 deaths.

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– The Associated Press

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As churches reopen, outbreaks are sprouting

Almost 40 places of worship and religious events have been linked to more than 650 U.S. cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began, according to tracking by the New York Times. Along with the nationwide surge in infections that has followed the loosening of restrictions aimed at combating the virus, outbreaks connected to churches have sprouted at several spots.

Those include a Pentecostal church in northeastern Oregon tied to at least 236 positive tests; five flareups linked to churches in West Virginia, the largest one resulting in 51 infections; more than 50 cases stemming from an evangelical church outside San Antonio where the pastor allowed hugging again; a large worship service in Cleveland, Tennessee, that appears to have generated at least a dozen cases, including the pastor, who said he stopped counting after 12; a Christian camp in Missouri that had to shut down after 82 campers, counselors and staffers contracted the virus despite taking a number of precautions.

– Jorge L. Ortiz

California schools on ‘watch list’ must begin year with remote learning

School districts in California counties with elevated coronavirus transmission must begin the academic year with distance learning, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday.

The governor laid out guidelines for when schools will be allowed to reopen during a press conference Friday. Schools must remain closed until their county has been off the state’s “watch list” for 14 days, he said.

Thirty-two counties are currently on the state’s monitoring list because of concerning coronavirus transmission and hospitalization rates. Counties on the list face restrictions on reopening various segments of the economy.

— Rebecca Plevin, Palm Springs Desert Sun

30 days, no COVID-19 deaths in Vermont

In the last 30 days, there is only one U.S. state that has not seen a single COVID-19 related death: Vermont. 

Vermont’s neighbors — one of which, New York, was once considered the epicenter of the virus — have seen downward trends in reported cases and deaths. Still, New Hampshire reported 24 deaths in July, while Massachusetts and New York reported 326 and 357 deaths respectively so far this month.

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Vermont has remained steady at 56 deaths from COVID-19 since June 18, a trend Health Commissioner Mark Levine attributes to the vigilance of Vermonters as well as strict health protocols for those in long term care facilities, who account for 52% of the state’s fatalities. 

– Riley Board, Burlington Free Press

Texas gives school districts more leeway in reopening

Amid growing angst among parents and educators, the Texas Education Agency softened its stance on in-person instruction mandates as schools navigate around the coronavirus pandemic. The agency issued new rules Friday that give local school districts more control over the decisions on start dates and on how long schools can remain closed and teach students online.

The TEA’s new rules come a week after the agency laid out guidelines that required parents to choose between sending their children to school in person all the time or only being educated online, rather than any combination of the two.

The agency is extending the time districts can teach online without financial penalty, allowing districts to teach online for up to eight weeks, with the second four weeks requiring a waiver from the state.

– Melissa B. Taboada, Austin American-Statesman

What we’re reading

Chicago public schools plan hybrid reopening

Chicago Public Schools will plan to start the school year with a hybrid in-person and at-home learning model, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Friday.

The plan assigns students to “pods” of about 15 for in-person learning and staggers school start times to reduce transmission by limiting interactions between groups of students, said CPS CEO Janice Jackson. Younger students will spend more time at school, and older students will spend more time online, Jackson said. Most students will spend two days at school each week, with virtual lessons on Wednesdays as schools are disinfected. 

Schools will require face coverings, daily temperature checks, health screenings, and the district plans to hire about 400 additional custodians to execute cleaning and disinfection protocols, Jackson said.

Ousted Florida scientist files whistleblower complaint

Florida’s former top coronavirus data scientist filed a whistleblower complaint Thursday against the state’s Health Department, accusing the agency of firing her in retaliation for refusing to manipulate data to support the push to reopen Florida after months of quarantine.

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The complaint by former agency data manager Rebekah Jones targets Gov. Ron DeSantis directly.

“These efforts to falsify the numbers are a pattern and practice in Florida government that goes on to this day,” Jones’ attorney, Rick Johnson, said in a statement. “Ron DeSantis has routinely given false numbers to the press. His underlings at (the Health Department) follow his example and his direction.”

– Chris Persaud, The Palm Beach Post

Americans are defying travel bans

Not everyone is staying home this summer. Some travelers are shrugging off the resurgence of COVID-19 infections, ignoring the shutdowns and taking a vacation anyway.

Half of Americans plan to stay put this summer, according to a new survey by LuggageHero. But 31% have taken a domestic trip since lockdown restrictions were eased, and a remarkable 19% have traveled internationally. 

– Christopher Elliott

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? More than half of all states, including California and Michigan, have paused reopening plans or are taking steps to halt the spread of COVID-19. Here’s the list.

What went wrong in Florida? Two months after Gov. Ron DeSantis boasted about proving the experts wrong by flattening the curve and getting COVID-19 under control, Florida has become the state that other states don’t want to become.

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