University suspends football practice due to cluster of COVID-19 cases

By MORGAN WINSOR, KARMA ALLEN and EMILY SHAPIRO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 783,000 people worldwide.

Over 22.2 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some national governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their outbreaks.

Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than 5.5 million diagnosed cases and at least 172,945 deaths.

Here’s how the news developed Wednesday. All times Eastern:

6:21 p.m.: UNC, NC State report clusters at fraternity, sorority houses

North Carolina State said Wednesday that it’s identified clusters of COVID-19 cases at two sorority houses. One sorority has seven positive cases and the other has six positive cases, the school said.

This comes one day after NC State said it identified a cluster of COVID-19 cases in off-campus housing.

The school said the state’s Department of Health defines a “cluster” as five or more cases.

“All students who test positive as part of these clusters will be isolated, and all residents of both [sorority] houses are being quarantined,” NC State said in a statement Wednesday. “Contact tracing has been initiated with direct communication to anyone known to have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced Wednesday that it’s identified two clusters of cases, one at a dorm and another at a fraternity house.

“The individuals in these clusters have been identified and are isolating and receiving medical monitoring,” the university said. “All residents in these living spaces will be provided access to additional information about the clusters and next steps. Contact tracing has been initiated with direct communication to anyone determined to have been a close contact with a positive individual.”

6 p.m.: White House report says testing in Georgia ‘must expand’

A White House report on COVID-19 in Georgia says the state’s “small gains are fragile and statewide progress will require continued, expanded, and stronger mitigation efforts, including in all open schools,” according to a copy of the report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The White House declined to comment on the report, which it did not release publicly, but officials did not dispute its accuracy.

The report, dated Sunday, noted that Georgia was “in the red zone for cases.”

“Georgia has seen early stability in new cases and a small decrease in test positivity over the past week, but a decline in tests performed,” the report reads. “Testing must expand.”

The report recommended “a statewide mask mandate for counties with 50 or more active cases to ensure consistent mask usage, as improvements are fragile,” and the continued closure of bars in counties with positivity rates on the rise, among other recommendations.

4:05 p.m.: Purdue University says attending party without masks, distancing is a punishable offense

Officials at Purdue University in Indiana have added a new clause to the student conduct policy that makes hosting or attending a party without masks or social distancing a punishable offense, as serious as cheating, theft or selling drugs.

The new rule applies to on and off-campus parties.

Purdue is set to begin the school year in-person next Monday.

2:05 p.m.: Cuomo says opening schools is ‘risky and problematic’

During a call with reporters, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said opening schools is “risky and problematic” as the beginning of the school year coincides with the beginning of flu season. He said the flu and COVID-19 will stress the state’s testing capacity.

“You put the flu season on top of COVID, this is a very difficult situation to deal with, and that’s going to be the second wave” Cuomo said. “Schools are doing temperature checks on the way in and they’re looking for symptomatic children. First, they don’t have to be symptomatic; they can be asymptomatic. And second, you’re in flu season — who doesn’t have sniffles or a cough?

Cuomo said the state is sending a letter to every county health department to ask how they are planning to conduct COVID-19 tests and flu tests simultaneously as labs have already deployed almost all of its testing capacity to COVID-19 testing.

“Now how do you do the flu test and the COVID tests at the same time?” Cuomo wondered. “We have deployed almost all of our lab capacity to do COVID tests … It will require a reduction on the number of COVID tests or a reduction in the turnaround time on COVID tests. And we already have issues in the turnaround time on the number of COVID tests.”

“Opening schools is risky and problematic — that happens in September. In September, the flu season starts,” he added.

1:55 p.m.: Appalachian State University suspends football practice due to cluster

Seven students and four teachers at North Carolina’s Appalachian State University tested positive for COVID-19 amid a suspected outbreak stemming from the school’s football team, officials said.

The university described it as a “cluster” associated with the university football team. By the state’s definition, a cluster is defined as a minimum of five cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period and plausible epidemiologic linkage between cases, according to the university.

The infected individual were instructed to recover in isolation. The university said it has also identified close contacts, who have been instructed to quarantine and who are being provided access to testing during their quarantine period, according to a statement.

Football practice was suspended in the wake of the announcement.

1:00 p.m.: New York positivity rate below 1% for 12 straight days

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state’s rate of positive tests had been below 1% for 12 straight days as officials cracked down on businesses and residents who failed to comply with strict health guidelines.

Of the 80,425 test results reported to New York State on Tuesday, only 0.78% were positive, the governor said. Overall, the state saw 631 additional coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide total to 427,202.

“The reason we’re doing well is because we’re being smart. If people’s behavior doesn’t remain disciplined, we’re going to have a problem and you’ll see the numbers change,” Cuomo said. “COVID is not over by any stretch of the imagination. We must protect our progress, both from the growing cases across the nation and lack of compliance within our state.”

11:28 a.m.: Florida’s coronavirus death toll crosses 10,000

The Florida Department of Health recorded an additional 174 coronavirus-related fatalities in the past 24 hours, bringing the statewide total to 10,067.

Florida had surpassed 9,000 total deaths just last Friday.

The Sunshine State has become one of the worst-hit areas in the United States in recent weeks as COVID-19 infections there rise. Florida’s Miami-Dade County has one of the highest tallies of confirmed cases in the nation, second only to California’s Los Angeles County, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

10:37 a.m.: US will allow pharmacists to administer vaccines for kids

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will now allow state-licensed pharmacists to order and administer vaccines to children ages 3 to 18.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced the move Wednesday, an amendment to the declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act.

“Today’s action means easier access to lifesaving vaccines for our children, as we seek to ensure immunization rates remain high during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Azar said in a statement. “The Trump administration has worked to allow pharmacists — alongside all of America’s heroic healthcare workers — to practice at the top of their license, empowering the public with more options to protect their health and well-being.”

There are several requirements in the small print. For example, the vaccine must be approved or licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the licensed pharmacist must complete a special training program.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it decided to expand access to childhood vaccines to avoid preventable diseases in children, additional strains on the health care system and any further increase in avoidable adverse health consequences — particularly if such complications coincide with an additional resurgence of COVID-19.

“As a pediatric critical care physician who has treated critically ill children suffering from vaccine preventable diseases, I know first-hand the devastation to the child — and to the family and community — of a death or severe brain damage that could have been avoided by a safe and effective vaccine,” Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health, said in a statement. “The cornerstone of public health, vaccines, makes these dreaded diseases preventable. As we expand options during the COVID-19 response, we are also reminding parents, grandparents and caretakers that there is no substitute for a critically important well-child visit with a pediatrician or other licensed primary care provider when available.”

9:19 a.m.: Iran’s coronavirus death toll tops 20,000

There were 168 additional coronavirus-related fatalities in Iran on Wednesday, bringing the country’s death toll past 20,000, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

It’s another grim milestone for the nation of 80 million people, which has the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the Middle East with more than 350,000 diagnosed cases.

Nevertheless, Iran still plans to hold university entrance exams for over one million students. The Islamic Republic is also preparing for mass commemorations at the end of the month for the ninth and tenth days of Muharram, which marks the start of the Islamic New Year.

7:15 a.m.: Pope warns against vaccine priority for the rich

Pope Francis said Wednesday that a COVID-19 vaccine should be “for everyone” and not made a priority for the rich.

“How sad it would be if for the COVID-19 vaccine priority is given to the richest,” Francis said during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It would be sad,” he added, “if the vaccine became property of such and such nation and not universal for everyone.”

The pope noted how COVID-19 “has uncovered the plight of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world.”

“The pandemic is a crisis. You don’t come out of it the same — either better or worse,” he said. “We must come out better.”

6:34 a.m.: India records 1,092 more deaths

India’s health ministry recorded 1,092 additional coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the nationwide toll to 52,889.

The latest single-day rise in fatalities is lower than India’s record of 2,003 deaths reported on June 16.

The country of 1.3 billion people has the world’s fourth-highest death toll from COVID-19, behind the United States, Brazil and Mexico, according to a real-time tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

More than 2.7 million people in India have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began — the third-highest count in the world.

5:39 a.m.: ‘We are not seeing a surge in community cases,’ says New Zealand PM

New Zealand reported six new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, five of which were locally transmitted and are linked to a cluster of cases in the country’s most populous city.

The national total now stands at 1,299 cases, 96 of which are active, according to data published on the health ministry’s website.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the latest figures were “encouraging.”

“At this stage, we are not seeing a surge in community cases,” Ardern said at a press conference Wednesday. “We have not seen any new cases outside of that identified Auckland cluster.”

Health officials are still investigating how the outbreak in Auckland started after the country went 102 days without any local transmission. The new cluster of cases was discovered there last week, prompting authorities to impose a two-week lockdown in the region and to reschedule national elections.

4:45 a.m.: France will require face masks in offices starting next month

France’s labor ministry announced Tuesday that face masks will be required in enclosed shared office spaces starting Sept. 1, citing an “upsurge” in COVID-19 cases.

Mask will not be mandatory in individual offices so long as only one person is present, the ministry said.

The wearing of face masks is already compulsory in public indoor spaces across France. Several cities, including Paris and Marseille, have imposed mask requirements in some outdoor areas, such as popular beaches.

There were 2,238 new cases of COVID-19 identified in France on Tuesday, according to the health ministry, which is requiring on-the-spot tests for travelers coming from over a dozen nations with active virus circulation, including the United States.

3:50 a.m.: US reports more than 1,300 new deaths in a single day

There were 44,813 new cases of COVID-19 identified in the United States on Tuesday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Tuesday’s tally is well below the country’s record set on July 16, when 77,255 new cases were identified in a 24-hour reporting period.

An additional 1,324 coronavirus-related deaths were also recorded Tuesday — a nearly threefold increase from the previous day but still under the record 2,666 new deaths that were reported on April 17.

A total of 5,482,602 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 171,823 of them have died, according to Johns Hopkins. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.

By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country’s cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up and crossing 70,000 for the first time in mid-July.

While week-over-week comparisons show that the nationwide number of new cases has continued to decrease in recent weeks, the number of new deaths has increased, according to an internal memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, obtained by ABC News on Tuesday night.

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