As the U.S. nears 175,000 deaths due to the new coronavirus, the COVID-19 outbreak in the South is “beginning to turn the tide,” the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

CDC Director Robert Redfield credits mask wearing and social distancing measures in bringing under control the outbreak in the South in recent days, he told the the editor of the journal JAMA late Thursday. Redfield also said he expects the number of U.S. deaths due to COVID-19 to begin dropping as early as next week.

And in more positive news: Makers of a potential COVID-19 vaccine candidate reported strong results for an early-stage trial, showing that the experimental compound may be able to produce antibody levels high enough to prevent disease or at least reduce the seriousness of infection.

Some significant developments:

📈 Today’s numbers: Iowa, North Dakota and Guam set records for new cases in a week, while Nevada, Tennessee, and Puerto Rico had a record number of deaths in a week, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Thursday. The U.S. has 5.5 million confirmed infections and more than 174,000 deaths. Worldwide, there have been more than 794,000 deaths and 22.7 million cases, according to John Hopkins University data.

📰 What we’re reading: A new study adds to growing evidence that children may play a larger role in community spread of COVID-19 than previously thought. The study found that some children who tested positive had significantly higher levels of virus in their airways than hospitalized adults in intensive care units.

This file will be updated throughout the day. For updates in your inbox, subscribe to the Daily Briefing.

Delta banished SEAL who shot Bin Laden for not wearing a mask

The former Navy SEAL who claims he shot Osama Bin Laden in 2011 is now back in the news for another reason: being banned from flying Delta Air Lines.

Delta confirmed to USA TODAY on Friday that it banned Robert O’Neill from future flights after he tweeted a photo of himself going maskless on a flight, though he said he had it in his lap.

“I just got banned from @Delta for posting a picture. Wow,” O’Neill tweeted. He becomes part of a group of about 130 people who have been banished for the same reason.

– Jayme Deerwester

Food trucks pivot from downtowns to suburbs

Long seen as an urban treasure, food trucks are now being saved by the suburbs during the coronavirus pandemic. No longer able to depend on bustling city centers, these small businesses on wheels are venturing out to where people are working and spending most of their time – home. 

As food trucks hunt for customers that used to flock to them, they’re finding a captive audience thrilled to skip cooking dinner, sample new kinds of cuisines and mingle with neighbors on what feels like a night out while safely staying close to home.

“This is festival season, fun season. All the stuff we typically do as humans, we can’t do anymore,” said Matt Geller, president of the National Food Truck Association. “Walking out to a food truck is a taste of normalcy, and it feels really good.”

B.J. Lofback decided to pivot his Nashville-area food truck and restaurant away from labor-intensive Korean food and rebranded as Pinchy’s Lobster Co. selling lobster rolls.

Without his usual downtown Nashville lunchtimes and music events, he and other truckers began reaching out to homeowners associations in large subdivisions. “I’m hoping that even if a vaccine dropped tomorrow and herd immunity was accomplished tomorrow, I hope neighborhoods still have us out,” Lofback said.

– Associated Press

Hospitals hit financially by COVID-19 with $4 billion loss in Florida alone

Indicative of the financial strain that hospitals are seeing around the country, Florida hospitals say they have collectively lost nearly $4 billion in the past four months because of the coronavirus. Even with financial aid from the government, hospitals around the state said they are hemorrhaging money due to increased staffing costs, testing and other protective equipment, along with lost revenue from patients delaying care or canceling elective surgeries.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has financially shocked our health care system,” Florida Hospital Association’s Interim President Crystal Stickle said in a statement Friday.

The group represents over 200 hospitals, and estimated projected losses through August at $7.4 billion. The state health department reported Friday 4,684 new confirmed cases and 119 new deaths from the virus, though hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have also been declining over the past month. 

– Associated Press

Postmaster General DeJoy defends USPS changes at the Senate

The head of the U.S. Postal Service testified before the Senate on Friday as the agency faces increased scrutiny from lawmakers due to operational changes and service cuts they say could hinder the agency’s ability to handle an expected surge of mail-in ballots in the November elections.

President Donald Trump’s Postmaster General Louis DeJoy acknowledged delays in mail delivery Friday but defended the changes. “We all feel bad about the dip in our service,” he told Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who had asked about delays in deliveries of prescriptions to veterans. 

Despite criticism, DeJoy said changes at the agency were made to help restore the agency’s financial health and called it the Postal Service’s “sacred duty” to deliver election mail this November. 

Breaking with Trump, who has expressed opposition to voting by mail, DeJoy said he had voted by mail himself “for a number of years” and supported the practice. 

– Nicholas Wu

Empty mailboxes, missed rent:US Postal Service’s struggles have real-world impacts

One student’s harrowing back to school experience: ‘I just can’t do this’

Annie Gaughan was only on her second day at the University of Iowa’s campus when she tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to relocate to Currier Hall, the campus’ quarantine dorm. While the university claims to have spent months sanitizing academic buildings and residence halls, Gaughan said that care seemed to have been missing from the room she was given. She noticed rust on the sink and dust on the mattress. The next morning, she awoke to ants in her blankets.

While she wanted to go home, her parents, she said, are in a CDC-recognized high-risk category. So she booked a hotel room in Naperville, Illinois, traveling by bus, where she’s been for the past week.

“They are telling students and parents they are prepared for COVID, but they lied. They are not,” Gaughan wrote. “I really hope that the university transitions to online at this point because they are not prepared for students who test positive for COVID.”

– Zachary Oren Smith, Iowa City Press-Citizen

Pfizer, BioNTech share positive early data on vaccine candidate

Pfizer and BioNTech saw strong results in an early-stage trial for a candidate COVID-19 vaccine, the companies announced late Thursday. The companies had launched clinical trials with two candidate vaccines, releasing data on the other one earlier this month. Both appeared to be safe in the small number of healthy people who received the shots.

The new data, on a compound called BNT162b2, showed this candidate to be better than the other at triggering an immune response.

In adults under 55, BNT162b2 produced nearly four times the amount of neutralizing antibodies as a natural infection. In older adults, who are more vulnerable to a serious COVID-19 infection and have weaker immune systems, the candidate vaccine produced 1.6 times as many antibodies. Such high levels of antibodies suggest the vaccine will be effective at preventing disease or at least reducing the seriousness of infection. 

Last month, the companies launched a 30,000-person trial to test BNT162b2’s effectiveness, as well as safety in a larger, more diverse group. They have so far enrolled 11,000 volunteers in the trial, according to a company press release, and expect to have results as soon as October.

– Karen Weintraub

Hawaii unveils ‘resort bubble’ concept to hop between islands

Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced earlier this week that the state won’t reopen to tourism until at least October, which means its 14-day mandatory quarantine for both out-of-state and inter-island travelers (in Kauai, Hawaii, Maui and Kalawao counties) remains intact. But details have since emerged about a “resort bubble concept” for inter-island travelers.

The state calls the program an “enhanced movement quarantine” that each county can develop to give residents and visitors the ability to travel between islands without a 14-day quarantine.

Officials had been reviewing an idea that would allow tourists to roam freely on resorts while their movements are tracked via a wearable monitor to ensure they stay inside the boundaries of the facilities. The so-called “resort bubble” concept would keep the tourists within a “geofence” that tracks their movements, West Hawaii Today reported.

– David Oliver

More on face coverings: Woman, 6 children forced off plane 

Delta bans purported bin Laden killer for not wearing a mask

Delta Air Lines banned the former Navy SEAL who says he killed Osama bin Laden after the former SEAL removed his face mask during a flight. 

Robert O’Neill tweeted about the ban Thursday, and the airline confirmed the action. O’Neill posted a selfie of himself without a mask on while on a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Newark, New Jersey, prompting the ban.

Delta says more than 100 passengers have been banned for violating its rules around face coverings. All major airlines in the United States require masks to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. 

1 in 5 nursing homes were short on PPE, staff as virus surged this summer

One in five nursing homes in the United States had severe shortages of personal protective equipment this summer, a new study says, which also found that many facilities in the hardest hit areas struggled to retain staff.

The analysis of federal data published in the journal Health Affairs also found there was no improvement from May to July in the PPE shortages or staffing concerns. COVID-19 cases in the South, West and Midwest surged during that time period.

Terry Fulmer, president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, a nonprofit that works to improve care for older adults, called the study’s findings “a massive red flag.”

“We have had no coherent federal response,” Fulmer said. The findings come despite pledges from the Trump administration to help. “The federal government should really own this issue,” said study author David Grabowski.

South Korea reports highest new case daily count since March

The 324 new cases of the coronavirus that South Korea reported Friday is the highest daily case count the country has seen since March.

New COVID-19 cases in South Korea are surging around the Seoul metropolitan region, but the new cases Friday included positive tests in practically all of the country’s major cities. The government reimposed certain social distancing measures earlier this week to curb the new spread.

Friday was the eighth consecutive day that South Korea has reported a triple-digit daily increase, for an eight-day total of 1,900 infections.

Las Vegas bars won’t be opening for at least two weeks as cases surge

Las Vegans and tourists will have to wait at least two weeks to revisit their favorite watering holes. Nevada’s COVID-19 task force on Thursday voted to keep bars in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, closed with limits on how many people can eat together at restaurants. 

The task force wants to work with officials to enhance plans to increase compliance and enforcement to stem the spread of COVID-19, task force chairman Caleb Cage said. Bars were closed statewide in March and remained shuttered for 48 days before being allowed to reopen June 30. Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered bars in and around Las Vegas and Reno closed again on July 27 after coronavirus cases soared in those areas.

The Las Vegas area surpassed 1,000 total COVID-19 deaths for the first time as Nevada reported 38 more fatalities from the virus on Thursday — the third straight day that COVID deaths saw a large spike in the state’s daily numbers.

– Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette Journal

Some unemployed Mississippians will be eligible for $300 unemployment supplement

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday that eligible Mississippians would be able to receive an additional $300 a week in federal aid but not the $100 that was to be provided by the states as suggested by President Donald Trump.

“We will be able to use our current payment as the state’s $100 match,” he said. “We will see how it works for the next few weeks. I want everyone in Mississippi to know I am grateful to President Trump for stepping in.”

Reeves said the state cannot afford an additional weekly payment of $100 per recipient.

– Lici Beveridge, Mississippi Clarion Ledger

In-person classes began at Arizona State University this week

Thousands of students returned to Arizona State University on Thursday for the first day of the fall semester despite concerns from faculty and students and a shaky track record for universities in other states that have gone back to campus during the pandemic.

Officials at ASU say the campus has been fully stocked with hand sanitizer and many other precautions. Thursday was relatively quiet on campus.

Several high-profile campus outbreaks and last-minute announcements to go online-only have occurred in the past week, providing a warning sign of what could be to come for other colleges that reopen.

The University of Notre Dame suspended in-person classes for at least two weeks on Tuesday after the campus saw cases spike. And the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pivoted to remote learning a week after reopening as multiple clusters of COVID-19 infections were tied to student residences, including residence halls and fraternity houses.

– Rachel Leingang and Emily Wilder, Arizona Republic

Mets become 10th team to postpone game as two players test positive

The Thursday evening game between the New York Met and Miami Marlins was postponed after two Mets players tested positive for the coronavirus, Major League Baseball announced.

The Mets become the 10th team with a postponement related to COVID-19, meaning one-third of MLB teams have had a game pushed back.  

The Mets’ Friday game against the Yankees at Citi Field was also postponed, MLB said.

The Mets said they will fly back to New York on Thursday night “with recommended safety precautions in place,” with all members of the traveling party receiving testing. 

The team said the two members of the organization who tested positive will remain in Miami, as will those who were determined to be in close contact with them.  

– Gabe Lacques

CDC director: Starting to ‘turn the tide’ against new cases in the South

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said Thursday he thinks the outbreak in the South is coming under control.

“We are beginning to turn the tide on what I call the Southern outbreak in the nation,” he told the editor of the journal JAMA during a public interview late Thursday. 

He credited face masks, social distancing, hand-washing, closing bars and limiting indoor dining in restaurants for the shift. Though it’s not in the South, he cited Arizona as an example. 

“Arizona put that into play. Two to four weeks later, you really see that we can get control of this pandemic,” he said, noting that stores didn’t have to close, or people lock themselves in their homes. “Be smart about crowds, and we can get this outbreak under control.”

It does take time, though, he noted, adding he expects to see the number of deaths — which have been as high as 1,000 a day in recent weeks — falling as soon as next week, a month or more after the state introduced those public health measures.

– Karen Weintraub

More COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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Contributing: The Associated Press

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