Coronavirus updates: Las Vegas bars, breweries to reopen Sunday; Texas eases business restrictions; India reports 96K more cases in 24 hours

With the U.S. approaching 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and worldwide infections topping 30 million, Texas and Nevada are set to ease restrictions for some businesses beginning this weekend.

In Texas, which is close to becoming the second state with 700,000 cases, Gov. Greg Abbott is authorizing some businesses — including restaurants, retail stores, gyms and museums — to open up to 75% capacity starting Monday. Bars, however, must remain closed.

In Nevada, public health officials are allowing bars in and around Las Vegas to reopen on Sunday after being closed for six months.

Meanwhile, India is on track to pass the U.S. as the most infected country in the world. Health officials on Friday reported another 96,000 cases in the past 24 hours, pushing India’s total to 5.2 million.

Some significant developments:

  • Wynn Las Vegas reported almost 500 positive COVID-19 cases among employees since the resort reopened in June.
  • New York City pushed back its start date for most students to return to elementary, middle and high school classrooms – again.
  • Attorney General William Barr drew criticism Thursday after calling lockdown measures aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 the worst infringement on civil liberties other than slavery. 
  • More than 790,000 Americans filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 6.6 million cases and 197,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Globally, there have been more than 30 million cases and 946,000 fatalities.

📰 What we’re reading: Where are we on a COVID-19 vaccine? Experts say we’re over halfway there, but we need more data to make sure it will be safe.  

🗺️ 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.

Las Vegas bars, taprooms, breweries will be allowed to reopen on Sunday

After a six-month shutdown due to COVID-19, Nevada officials announced bars, taprooms and breweries can reopen Sunday night in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. Nevada’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force on Thursday unanimously approved the county’s plan to reopen drinking businesses throughout the Las Vegas Valley.

Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick told the task force that bar owners are committed to following health and safety protocols. State biostatistician Kyra Morgan revealed the COVID-19 positivity rate dropped from 8.6% to 7.8% between Monday and Thursday. The World Health Organization’s recommends that rate should be no higher than 5%.

– Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette Journal

Utah governor considers statewide mask mandate amid COVID-19 surge 

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he is considering a statewide mask mandate and planning expanded coronavirus testing in response to what he called an alarming spike of infections in the state.

The state counted 911 new confirmed cases on Thursday, a new record for any single day. The rolling average of daily new cases has increased by about 54% over the past two weeks, according to state data, and has jumped to 661 per day this week compared to 381 per day last week.

“We are taking this spike and the magnitude of it very seriously,” Herbert told reporters.

Herbert, a Republican, has urged residents to wear masks for months but has stopped short of implementing a statewide mandate. He has instead allowed counties to decide if they needed bans.

– Kaitlyn Bancroft, The Spectrum & Daily News (St. George, Utah)

India’s coronavirus case count increases by 96K over 24 hours

India’s coronavirus cases jumped by another 96,424 infections in the past 24 hours, showing little sign of leveling.

The Health Ministry on Friday raised the nation’s total past 5.21 million, or about 0.37% of its nearly 1.4 billion people. It said 1,174 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 84,372 fatalities, but experts say India’s death toll may be a significant undercount.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his birthday on Thursday made a fresh appeal to people to wear masks and maintain social distance as his government chalked out plans to handle big congregations expected during a major Hindu festival season beginning next month.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott relaxes limit restrictions on businesses; bars must stay closed

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that he would allow businesses to expand pandemic limits on capacity in most of the state, citing a decline in coronavirus hospitalizations.

The order allows businesses operating at 50% capacity to move to 75% starting Monday. That includes restaurants, retail, office buildings, manufacturing, gyms, libraries and museums. Bars remain closed under the order, although some have been able to reopen by selling more food than alcohol.

“Without vaccines available, containing COVID is a challenge, but Texans have already shown that they are up to that challenge,” Abbott said at a Capitol news conference. “As we go about the process to continue to contain COVID, we will also continue to work to open up Texas.”

And Abbott is allowing hospitals in much of the state to resume elective surgeries, effective immediately. Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities may resume visitations next Thursday, as long as there are no outbreaks at those facilities.

– Nicole Cobler, Austin-American Statesman

Survey: 751 Arizona teachers have resigned or retired since school began

There are fewer teachers than ever in Arizona classrooms, according to a new survey from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association. 

Just a few weeks into the school year, about 28% of teacher positions in the state remained vacant compared with 21% vacant last year, the data shows, which means about 3 in 10 classrooms are not led by a qualified teacher. Schools have had to fill those open positions with long-term substitute teachers or others without teaching qualifications. 

Teachers across the state have said COVID-19 adds to the pressure to quit, especially when faced with the threat of returning to the classroom amid the pandemic. Some medically vulnerable teachers are particularly worried about contracting the virus while around students. Arizona school districts had about 6,145 open positions this year — 1,728 remain vacant, compared with 1,443 in 2019. 

– Lily Altavena, Arizona Republic

Moderna says vaccine trial results could come in November

Moderna, one of the companies leading the effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, announced Thursday it could have enough clinical trial results as soon as November to confirm the effectiveness of its candidate vaccine.

Results of the vaccine’s effectiveness will be presented to an independent review committee after 53 people in the trial contract COVID-19, and again after 106 and 151 infections. Half the participants are getting a placebo and half the active vaccine, called mRNA-1273.

Statistically, if the vaccine is effective 75% of the time, it should take only 106 infections in both groups to prove its effectiveness, Dr. Jacqueline Miller, Moderna’s senior vice president of infectious disease development, told company investors on Thursday. ­­At that point, which will likely come in November, Moderna could apply for an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin distributing the vaccine.

The FDA has said a vaccine must be at least 50% effective to win federal approval, but the companies developing vaccines have said they are aiming for at least 60% and hopefully even higher effectiveness. Moderna had originally predicted that it might take until May 2021 to prove its vaccine’s effectiveness, but pushed up that timeline because participants joined quickly, the COVID-19 infection rate remained high around trial sites and the company was able to start the trial earlier than originally expected.

– Karen Weintraub

COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press

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