Why you really should get your flu shot this year; New Zealand delays election; US nears 170K deaths

Elva Mankin

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called on House lawmakers to return this week to vote on a bill that would block the changes that the Trump administration has made to the U.S. Postal Service. 

Pelosi and other Democrats say the changes will cause a slowing of the flow of mail and potentially jeopardize the November election. Pelosi’s request comes after a testy few days over the Postal Service and whether it’s up to the test of handling an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots this year due to increased vote-by-mail eligibility amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile, public health officials are urging the public to get flu vaccines, saying they’re even more important than ever because of the COVID-19.

The flu shot isn’t always effective, but it’s much better than nothing. And it’s hard to know how the flu will interact with COVID-19.

Here are some significant developments:

  • The virtual Democratic Convention begins Monday, with the event taking place remotely. No crowds, little pageantry and entirely uncharted waters.  

  • Five months into the coronavirus pandemic, Michigan and Maryland top 100,000 cases.

  • New Zealand has delayed its election due to COVID; in the U.S., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants Congress back to deal with mail-in voting and the USPS.

  • Uh oh. Pepperoni is the latest American staple to be in short supply amid the pandemic. 🍕

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has 5.4 million confirmed infections and more than 170,000 deaths. Worldwide, there have been more than 775,000 deaths and more than 21 million cases, according to John Hopkins University data.

📰 What we’re reading: “But it comes down to the smell test and it’s really not a good look when you’re getting millions in government contracts on top of PPP money.”  Some contractors double-dipped government funds, receiving relief money and contracts.

The DNC and RNC may further complicate coronavirus stimulus talks

Bitter negotiations for a new coronavirus stimulus deal dissolved into an ugly blame game by the time lawmakers left Washington last week with no deal, no progress to report and no plans to return until September. By the end, the two sides refused to even meet.

The disaster of those failed discussions hangs over both parties as they shift their attention to two weeks of national political conventions, which likely push a deal until sometime well after Labor Day. 

That means that, while political leaders party, unemployed Americans will have to do without the bolstered benefits that have allowed them to make ends meet; cash-strapped state and local governments will be left in the lurch; and uncertainty will continue to linger over a series of executive orders made by President Donald Trump that aimed to offer some relief.

– Michael Collins, Christal Hayes and Nicholas Wu

Get your flu shot this year, health experts warn

Getting a flu vaccine this year is even more important because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The flu shot isn’t always effective, but it’s much better than nothing, said Dr. Sheila Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

Getting vaccinated can help keep the pressure off hospitals, too.

“The worst-case scenario is we have a very active flu season that overlaps with the respiratory infection of COVID-19,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a recent conversation with Cardiology Magazine. “Worst-case because that would really complicate matters from a diagnostic standpoint, from a therapeutic standpoint, and the standpoint of putting a lot of stress on the health care system.”

– Karen Weintraub

Report: Trump pushes for unproven COVID cure backed by MyPillow CEO

Axios reported Sunday that President Donald Trump wants the Food and Drug Administration to approve an extract from the oleander plant to be marketed as a dietary supplement or approved as a COVID-19 cure despite any evidence of the extract’s efficacy.

The report says that Trump showed supported for the extract’s approval in an Oval Office meeting in July. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and MyPillow founder and CEO Mike Lindell both have shown support for the extract, too, Axios reported, and Lindell recently invested in a company that makes the product.

Lindell is a vocal supporter of Trump and helped organize the White House meeting, Axios reported.

COVID-19 will hit colleges in the fall. So why open at all? Money is a factor.

Colleges that are reopening campuses this fall know they’re bringing a higher risk of coronavirus to their community. The questions aren’t really about if or when, but about how bad outbreaks could be.

With so much at stake, some are asking: Why take the risk at all? And in many cases, it comes back to money. 

For months, colleges and experts have warned another semester of remote courses could have disastrous effects on student enrollment and college budgets.

Colleges already lost billions of dollars when they pivoted to digital instruction in the spring, in the form of refunded room-and-board payments and expensive technology for online courses. Another semester — or year — of online courses could be even worse, especially for universities without large endowments. 

– Chris Quintana

The numbers: Maryland, Michigan hit 100,000 cases; Ohio new cases drop

As the United States reported 170,000 deaths, several states reached milestone numbers about five months into the pandemic, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data shows. 

Maryland reported its 100,000th case and Hawaii reported its 5,000th case, the data show. Hawaii and the Virgin Islands set records for new cases in a week, while North Dakota and Puerto Rico reported record numbers of deaths in a week.

Michigan also quietly surpassed 100,000 cases — when both confirmed and probable cases totaled 100,724 on Friday.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases in Ohio dropped to their lowest level in weeks on Sunday. Only 613 cases were reported Sunday afternoon, along with only two deaths.

– Mike Stucka, USA TODAY; Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press; Patrick Cooley, The Columbus Dispatch

Nancy Pelosi calls House lawmakers to vote on bill that blocks USPS changes

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the House to return into session later this week to vote on a bill that would prevent changes the Trump administration has made to the Postal Service, alterations Democrats say will cause a slowing of the flow of mail and potentially jeopardize the November election.

Pelosi, in a Sunday statement, said the “lives, livelihoods and the life of our American Democracy” are under threat from President Donald Trump, who last week said he opposed giving the Postal Service more money while at the same time acknowledging the lack of funding may hamper the office’s ability to process mail-in ballots. 

Pelosi wants the House to vote later this week on Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s Delivering for America Act, which prohibits changes to Postal Service operations in place on Jan. 1, 2020. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to reconvene the Republican-controlled Senate to act on Maloney’s bill. Pelosi did not specify when the House would return, but a senior Democratic aide said it’s likely lawmakers would vote Saturday. 

– William Cummings

Los Angeles school district launches COVID-19 testing, tracing program

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the country’s second-largest school district, is a launching a massive COVID-19 testing and tracing program Monday for all staff, students and their families “to help prepare for an eventual return to school campuses,” officials announced Sunday.

“The goal is to get students back to school as soon as possible while protecting the health and safety of all in the school community,” Superintendent Austin Buetner wrote in an opinion article in the Los Angeles Times.

The announcement comes two days before students begin the school year virtually.

New Zealand postpones elections due to new COVID-19 outbreak

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday chose to delay New Zealand’s national elections by four weeks as the country deals with a new coronavirus outbreak in its largest city. The election had been scheduled for Sept. 19 but will now be held on Oct. 17.

Under New Zealand law, Ardern had the option of delaying the election for up to about two months. Opposition parties had been requesting a delay after the virus outbreak in Auckland last week prompted the government to put the city into a two-week lockdown and halted election campaigning.

Ardern said she wouldn’t consider delaying the election again, no matter what was happening with any virus outbreaks. Opinion polling indicates Ardern’s liberal Labour Party is favored to win a second term in office.

Arizona schools open in-person instruction for some students Monday

Arizona schools are primarily opening virtually this month. But Gov. Doug Ducey has required that schools open physically in some capacity starting Monday for students with no other place to go. The criteria for students who qualify to take advantage of the in-person services are broad, and many districts and charter operators will open up their campuses to any student who needs a safe place to go.

But space is limited, and districts and charter school operators are prioritizing these services for students with disabilities, English-language learners, students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, children in foster care, students without reliable access to technology and students whose parents are essential workers.

The support is intended to provide students with a space to study, a reliable internet connection to access their virtual classes and adult supervision during normal school hours. The programs are expected to continue until schools reopen for in-person learning. 

Lorraine Longhi, The Arizona Republic

UNC Chapel Hill announces 4 ‘clusters’ of coronavirus cases on campus

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Sunday announced its fourth coronavirus “cluster” less than a week after the first day of fall classes for students. 

The university wrote in a Facebook post that a cluster is defined as five or more cases “that are deemed close proximity in location,” meaning a single residence hall or dwelling. The clusters were reported in multiple residence halls or apartments and a fraternity.

“The individuals in this cluster have been identified and are isolating and receiving medical monitoring,” UNC wrote Sunday.

Pepperoni is latest COVID-19 shortage

Small pizza shops across the nation are reporting higher prices for pepperoni,  according to Bloomberg, which found a South Dakota shop is paying $4.12 a pound compared to $2.87 in January 2019.

Emily, a New York City pizza shop, is paying $6 a pound, up from $4 earlier this year, chef and co-owner Matthew Hyland told Bloomberg. “It’s an American right to have pepperoni on pizza,” Hyland told Bloomberg.

The small pizza restaurants said they weren’t passing the higher costs along to customers at this time. According to Bloomberg, large pizza chains including Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars and Papa John’s haven’t experienced shortages or price increases as they buy ingredients with long-term contracts.

– Kelly Tyko

More COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 news: Trump and USPS, oleander ‘cure’; schools are reopening

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