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COVID-19 widespread testing is crucial to fighting the pandemic, but is there enough testing? The answer is in the positivity rates.

USA TODAY

An ambitious effort to learn more about the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota has been shut down amid claims of harassment and ethnic slurs, while the latest effort in North Carolina to make voting easier during the pandemic is facing a court challenge.

“We found that our white teams had a very different experience, a much more positive experience, but I think from our perspective it’s ridiculous for us to contemplate” using  only white surveyors, Dan Huff, assistant state health commissioner, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The re-election committee of President Donald Trump is among groups that have filed suit claiming North Carolina’s new rules – allowing mail-in absentee ballots with deficient information to be fixed without need for a new ballot – “undermine protections” that make voting safe in the state. North Carolina and other states expect a major surge in absentee voting for the Nov. 3 election amid the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 1 million voters in North Carolina already had requested an absentee ballot.

Some significant developments:

  • Wisconsin on Saturday hit a record for coronavirus cases reported in a single day. The state has seen some of the nation’s fastest coronavirus spread over the last two weeks.
  • London police clashed with demonstrators protesting virus restrictions on Saturday as the government tries to stem a sharp rise in infections there.
  • Areas with high numbers of Black and non-white Latino residents had higher infection rates than mostly white communities, a study on herd immunity found.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has reported more than 7 million cases and 204,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Globally, there have been almost 33 million cases and almost 1 million fatalities.

📰 What we’re reading: Rapid, cheap home tests were supposed to help get the spread of the virus under control. But no company has been cleared to sell tests directly yet.

🗺️ 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.

WHO: People will probably start getting vaccinated in mid-2021

Mass vaccinations for COVID-19 aren’t likely before next summer, World Health Organization Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said Sunday. Swaminathan said the ideal vaccine would protect at least 70% of those who are vaccinated, but that a minimum standard is 50%. The ideal vaccine would require only one shot and last for several years, she said. Most of what she said parallels predictions made by Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top U.S. experts.

“By the time people start getting the vaccine… it would be somewhere in the middle of 2021,” she said. 

Quiet, locked-down San Francisco a turn-on for sparrows

A new study found that sparrows in San Francisco altered their birdsong to sound more appealing to mates after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the city. The study, published Thursday in peer-reviewed journal Science, analyzed the birdsong of the white-crowned sparrow, a bird common in the San Francisco Bay Area. The birds, as a result of a quieter city, began singing more quietly, hitting lower notes and improving their vocal performance. Elizabeth Derryberry, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Tennessee, told AFP that the birds “sounded better, they sounded sexier” to mates.

Joshua Bote

100,000 aviation workers could face layoff in coming days

As many as 19,000 American Airlines employees face layoff within days unless federal lawmakers extend a payroll support program that expires Thursday, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said Sunday. That number could expand to 100,000 “aviation professionals” across the industry, Parker warned on CBS’s Face the Nation. Previous stimulus packages have provided loans and the payroll program to airlines, but negotiations on a new package have stalled in Congress.

“Back in March we all thought demand would be back and we wouldn’t need support at this time,” Parker said. “Unfortunately that is not the case.

Maryland man sentenced to year in jail for throwing parties during ban

A Maryland man who held at least two large parties in March is facing a year in prison after being convicted on two counts of failure to comply with Gov. Larry Hogan’s emergency order banning large gatherings. Police responding to a report of a large party at Shawn Marshall Myers’ home on March 22. He eventually agreed to end the party, but police were summoned again five days later. Officers again told Myers, 42, to disband the party, but Myers claimed he and his guests had the right to congregate and directed his guests to stay.

“Officers tried to reason with Myers and obtain his cooperation to no avail,” and he was arrested, prosecutors said. He was convicted and sentenced Friday.

Minnesota pulls plug on door-to-door survey citing harassment, ethnic slurs

The CDC and the Minnesota Health Department have halted a door-to-door COVID-19 testing survey because of multiple incidents of residents “intimidating and shouting racial and ethnic slurs” at state and federal public health survey teams, the state Health Department says. In one incident in the town of Eitzen, a survey team at one home was blocked by two cars and threatened by three men including one with a gun, according to state health officials.

Frustration with the state’s pandemic response “is totally understandable,” Dr. Ruth Lynfield, state epidemiologist, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “That is distinctly different than taking out frustration on another human being who is trying to help and is especially galling when there is a taint of racism.”

Economists call for lockdown in France to ‘save Christmas’

Two Nobel Prize-winning economists are lobbying for nationwide lockdown for the first three weeks of December to “save Christmas” by allowing families to gather without fear of spreading the virus. Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee said people should be encouraged to holiday shop in November. France is struggling with a rising tide of infections, and hospitals in the Paris and Marseille regions are delaying some scheduled operations to free up space for COVID-19 patients. Restaurants and bars in Marseille are beginning a one-week shutdown, but Health Minister Olivier Veran says there is no plan for a nationwide lockdown now or in December.

Wisconsin cases, hospitalizations balloon – and it’s not just young people

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin is climbing at an alarming rate: The state health department reported another single-day record of new cases on Saturday. The 2,817 positive cases made up 22.4% test results reported by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services – anything over 5% is considered high. The average number of new daily cases over the last seven days was higher than ever Saturday at 2,012. Hospitalizations are also rising. And the increasing numbers aren’t just about young people returning to schools, experts say.

“The surges are in Green Bay, in northeastern Wisconsin, and there’s a little evidence of an uptick in Milwaukee,” Ajay Sethi, an epidemiology professor at the University of Wisconsin, told The Atlantic. “A lot of these counties are where older individuals live, on average.”

Natalie Brophy

Trump, GOP challenge North Carolina’s effort to make voting easier

President Donald Trump’s campaign committee and the Republican National Committee have sued to block North Carolina election officials from enforcing rule changes that could boost the number of ballots counted in the presidential battleground state. The suit claims a new system adopted by the State Board of Elections will allow for absentee ballots to be cast late and without proper witness verification, “which invites fraud, coercion, theft, and otherwise illegitimate voting.” 

“While touted as allowing greater access to voters during the current pandemic … the actual effect is to undermine protections that help ensure the upcoming election will be … secure, fair, and credible,” the suit says.

Northern tier states see rise in cases

A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Saturday shows six states set records for new cases in the latest seven-day per while two states had a record number of deaths in a week. New case records were set in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Record numbers of deaths were reported in Missouri and North Dakota.

Michael Stucka

Despite concerns, China pushes emergency use of vaccine

Thousands of people have been given Chinese vaccines before final regulatory approval for general use – an unusual move that raises ethical and safety questions. Chinese companies earlier drew attention for giving the vaccine to their top executives and leading researchers before human trials to test their safety and efficacy had even begun. In recent months, they have injected a far larger number under an emergency use designation approved in June, and that number appears poised to rise. A Chinese health official said Friday that China, which has largely eradicated the disease, needs to take steps to prevent it from coming back.

Woman held against her will in quarantine, Guam judge finds

A Superior Court judge in Guam has determined that the Department of Public Health and Social Services did not follow the law when quarantining travelers after multiple passengers filed legal action against the government’s quarantine policy.

After hearing from people held in the facility, Superior Court of Guam Judge Elyze Iriarte determined some passengers did not quarantine voluntarily, and the department held one woman against her will.

“For at least 10 days, she was confined against her will without a meaningful and prompt opportunity to be heard regarding such confinement and not advised of her right to counsel,” Iriarte wrote in her decision to release the woman and her children from the government facility.

newly updated quarantine policy says everyone entering the island by land or sea is subject to a 14-day quarantine, and all passengers go to a government of Guam facility unless “the individual qualified for quarantine at an approved rental lodging or personal residence as authorized by (Public Health).” 

– Jasmine Stole Weiss, Pacific Daily News

After 7 months, Michigan movie theaters to reopen in two weeks 

Michigan’s movie theaters and other venues can reopen in two weeks after nearly seven months of closure during the coronavirus pandemic, and the limit on how many people can attend funerals and other indoor events is being raised.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also issued an order Friday requiring the vast majority of students to wear masks in classrooms as of Oct. 5 and mandating that public and private schools publish information on coronavirus cases.

Indoor cinemas, performance venues, arcades, bingo halls, bowling centers, indoor climbing facilities and trampoline parks can reopen starting Oct. 9. A 10-person cap on indoor events has been revised to instead allow 20 people per 1,000 square feet or 20% of fixed seating capacity, up to a maximum of 500 people.

US is nowhere near herd immunity, study finds

By the end of July, about 9% of American adults had been exposed to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to a new study of dialysis patients, the largest yet looking for evidence of the disease in people’s blood.

That data shows the American public is a long way from achieving “herd immunity” – having enough infections to prevent further spread of the virus. 

The infection rates varied from essentially zero in some states that avoided infection by mid-summer, to more than one-third of residents in parts of New York hard-hit in the spring.

The new study, published in The Lancet, is in line with previous, smaller studies, and also showed areas with high numbers of Black and non-white Latino residents had higher infection rates than mostly white communities.

– Karen Weintraub

Public health experts ask Pfizer not to seek vaccine OK until late November

More than 60 public health experts have called on the pharmaceutical company Pfizer not to seek approval for its coronavirus vaccine until it has followed trial participants for at least two months after their second dose, according to one of the signators.

“To be successful, the public needs to have the utmost trust in the vaccine and the science behind it,” the letter said, according to Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine who posted the letter Saturday on Twitter.

The Washington Post reports that Pfizer said in a statement that it shared the writers’ “commitment to rigorous safety standards” but did not directly respond to their request. Pfizer, along with other pharmaceutical companies, signed a pledge earlier this month not to cut corners on a coronavirus vaccine. The letter said the submission of an application before that standard would “would severely erode public trust”  and “prolong the pandemic, with disastrous consequences.” President Donald Trump has repeatedly said a vaccine would be available by Election Day, Nov. 3, or sooner.

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COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press

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