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Trump calls for 'big, focused' virus-aid bill

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | November 15, 2020 at 3:56 a.m.
Cars line up Saturday at a covid-19 testing site at Tropical Park in Miami. More photos at arkansasonline.com/1115covid/. (AP/Wilfredo Lee)

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump renewed a push for lawmakers to proceed with fresh stimulus to sustain the U.S. recovery as the coronavirus spreads at a record pace across the world's largest economy.

"Congress must now do a Covid Relief Bill," Trump tweeted Saturday while traveling via motorcade to his golf course in Virginia, without offering details. "Make it big and focused. Get it done!"

The comment echoed his call more than a month ago to "go big" on the relief negotiations.

Trump appeared to step back from negotiations on a new stimulus last week, leaving it to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to revive long-stalled talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

As the the pandemic's toll continues to escalate, Trump noted on Friday that he wouldn't support a lockdown as several states are beginning to bring back some of the restrictions first imposed during the spring.

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In El Paso County, Texas, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said in a news release late Friday that he was unhappy with a state appeals court ruling overturning his order closing nonessential businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but he won't appeal it.

"Unfortunately, I don't believe it would be fruitful to continue to pursue litigation options, but I wholeheartedly intend to use my legal authority to do everything possible to save as many lives as I can," Samaniego said in the statement.

Earlier Friday, the state's 8th Court of Appeals in El Paso ruled against the order closing nonessential businesses, including gyms and salons, sending the case back to a district judge who had upheld it with instructions to halt the shutdown.

State Attorney General Ken Paxton sued to overturn the order Samaniego issued in October, despite a surge that has overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes in the border city of El Paso. Like many states, Texas has been struggling to control the coronavirus, and on Wednesday it became the nation's first state to pass the 1 million mark in confirmed cases of covid-19 since the pandemic began.

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Samaniego said he would work with business leaders and health officials to develop ways to protect public health and the economy.

The county health department on Saturday reported 1,512 new covid-19 cases, a seven-day average of 1,437 new cases per day and a total of 72,238 cases since the pandemic began. There were 15 additional deaths for a total of 756 and 1,091 people hospitalized with the virus.

Additionally, the Texas health department on Saturday reported totals of 1,014,160 virus cases and 19,740 deaths, increases of 8.989 cases and 150 additional deaths. There were 7,151 people hospitalized due to the virus, 68 more than Friday, according to the department.

The coronavirus is blamed for over 10.8 million confirmed infections and more than 245,000 deaths in the U.S., according to a count by Johns Hopkins University. Deaths have climbed to about 1,000 a day on average.

NORTH DAKOTA ORDER

In North Dakota, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum issued an executive order requiring people to wear masks in an effort to stem a coronavirus surge that is among the worst in the U.S. and that threatens to overwhelm the state's hospitals.

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Gov. Doug Burgum's executive order Friday night came hours before the state recorded new daily records for hospitalizations and infections. Throughout the pandemic, the former software executive had been leaving it to individuals to take personal responsibility for slowing the spread of the virus, beseeching the public during his weekly news briefings to wear masks but emphasizing a "light touch" by government.

But in a video message announcing his new restrictions, which took effect Saturday and will remain in effect until Dec. 13, a somber Burgum said, "Our situation has changed, and we must change with it."

In a news release, he said the state's doctors and nurses "need our help, and they need it now."

After a spring in which North Dakota had relatively few covid-19 cases, the disease spread rapidly over the summer and has only picked up steam since. As of Saturday, there were only 18 free intensive care unit beds and 178 non-ICU beds in hospitals throughout the state.

Health care professionals and some community leaders had been pleading for months with Burgum to impose such restrictions. On a tour of Bismarck, N.D., last month, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, described the state's mask use and covid-19 protocols as the worst she had seen anywhere in the country.

Under the order, people throughout the state must wear face coverings inside businesses and indoor public settings, as well as in outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn't possible. It includes exceptions for children under age 5, individuals with a medical or mental health condition or disability that makes it unreasonable to wear a mask, and religious services.

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MISSISSIPPI WARNING

In Mississippi, health officials are warning that schools and extracurricular activities could turn into hot spots as coronavirus cases in the state continue to rise.

Several high school sports teams have had to cancel or postpone games due to infections in recent weeks. More than 9,000 students and almost 800 teachers were quarantined for coronavirus exposure in Mississippi earlier this month, according to the state Department of Health. Since the start of the school year, about 4,500 students have tested positive for the virus.

"The schools have become one of the bigger issues this week," State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said during an online conversation Friday hosted by the Mississippi State Medical Association. "When we look at what's going on in the schools, now is not the time to change our course. We need to continue to do those things that we did early on to make sure that we prevent transmission in those settings."

While students and staff members are generally safe during learning time in classrooms, infections are occurring during other hours, such as when people are participating in after school activities, gathering for lunch or socializing in school hallways, Byers said.

Byers said it's important that schools stick to the Health Department's guidelines for in-person learning during the pandemic. He said he has seen some schools talking about no longer mandating that students quarantine if they are exposed to the virus and instead making it a parent's decision whether or not a child stays home.

"That's not going to work for us," Byers said.

Information for this article was contributed by Jeff Kearns of Bloomberg News; by Alexander Jaffe, James MacPherson and staff members of The Associated Press; and by Leah Willingham of Report for America.

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