US still facing uphill battle against coronavirus

Washington/Miami, Aug 1 (efe-epa).- The United States saw its death toll from Covid-19 climb past 153,000 Saturday as political leaders resumed negotiations on a new effort to ease the economic pain from the pandemic.

In July alone, fatalities rose 25,000 and the number of confirmed cases increased by 1.87 million to 4.57 million, more than a quarter of the global total, though the US accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population.

Against this alarming backdrop, President Donald Trump continues to call for schools to re-open across the country despite fears that the resumption of in-person learning will spur new outbreaks.

Though children under the age of 10 are less likely to become ill with coronavirus or spread the disease, the latest data indicate that adolescents – even those without symptoms – are as contagious as infected adults.

Here in Washington, attention is focused on talks between the congressional Democrats and the White House about a new pandemic relief bill after the expiration Friday of the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits that were part of the first stimulus package adopted in March.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, renewed discussions Saturday with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

The Democratic-controlled House has already passed a $3 trillion bill addressing jobless benefits as well as support for state and local governments struggling to meet the costs imposed by Covid-19 even as their revenues fall due to the economic slowdown.

After months of refusing to take up the House legislation, Senate Republicans put forward this week a $1 trillion proposal that covers some of the same territory while also including liability protection for businesses and schools that re-open amid the pandemic.

Trump agrees with the Democrats on extending the additional $600 in weekly jobless benefits, but does not favor more money for state local governments, expanding food stamps or providing help to renters and homeowners.

“We’re not close yet, but it was a productive discussion – now each side knows where they’re at,” Schumer said alongside Pelosi after three hours of discussions at the Capitol.

Meadows offered a similar take.

“We’re still a long ways apart and I don’t want to suggest that a deal is imminent because it is not,” he said. “There are still substantial differences, but we did make good progress.”

A major sticking point is that the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress want to pass a relatively narrow, short-term measure with a proviso to discuss a broader plan later, while the Democrats are seeking a comprehensive package, Mnuchin said.

“Millions are on the verge of eviction. People need resources in order to meet the needs of their families. This is not a usual discussion, because the urgency is so great,” Pelosi said.

A Republican bill that would have slashed the special jobless benefit to $200 a week was defeated Thursday in the Senate, which likewise rejected Schumer’s proposal to continue the $600 payments until the of the year.

Labor Department figures show that more than 17 million Americans are collecting unemployment benefits.

Hispanics make up more than 25,800 of Covid-19 fatalities in the US and the virus is responsible for one in every five deaths among Latinos, according to a story in The Washington Post based on an analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And as school officials, parents and teachers weigh the risks of having students in the classroom as they prepare for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, the CDC issued a report Friday about an outbreak at a children’s summer camp in Georgia.

The camp followed some – but not all – of the CDC’s recommendations for minimizing spread of Covid-19 and 44 percent of the 597 attendees tested positive for the virus.

“Correct and consistent use of cloth masks, rigorous cleaning and sanitizing, social distancing, and frequent hand washing strategies, which are recommended in CDC’s recently released guidance to reopen America’s schools, are critical to prevent transmission of the virus in settings involving children and are our greatest tools to prevent Covid-19,” the CDC said.

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