MARIETTA, GA — Patrick Key taught art for 23 years at Cobb County Elementary School in suburban Atlanta. Always helpful, the dedicated educator would do anything asked of him, his colleagues remember.
Key died of the coronavirus on Christmas Day after a 41-day battle, his obituary states. His final wish: for people to wear a mask and protect themselves and others from the deadly virus that has claimed the lives of Key and more than 428,000 other Americans.
Key was "passionate" about wearing a mask during the pandemic, his family and friends remember.
"In lieu of flowers, please buy and wear a mask to protect others and yourself in honor of him," the obituary reads.
But when a colleague sought to honor Key with the gesture at a school board meeting a week ago, the request was ignored by people in powerful positions.
District employee Jennifer Susko asked for a moment of silence, and for everyone to put on a face mask, in honor of Key while speaking during the public comment portion of the board meeting, according to a USA Today report.
Two board members and the superintendent did not put masks on as Susko made the request, the report states.
It was a move that drew the ire of both Susko and Priscella Key, Key's wife, also a Cobb County teacher.
Priscella Key called it "very disappointing, painful and insulting," according to USA Today.
A spokesperson for the district said the board members had been following the district's mask policy and were "intentionally spaced to allow for social distancing" at the meeting, according to the report.
As many as 90,000 Americans are projected to die from the coronavirus in the next four weeks. That's the projection made by the Biden administration's coronavirus response team made during its first daily briefing on the pandemic Wednesday afternoon.
If accurate, that would mean that the virus's death toll in the United States would surpass 500,000 before the end of February.
Wednesday's briefing was conducted virtually, rather than in person at the White House, to allow for questions from health journalists and to maintain a set timing no matter the situation in the West Wing, The Associated Press reported.
It featured Jeff Zients, the Biden administration's coordinator for pandemic response; his deputy, Andy Slavitt; Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert; Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of Biden's COVID-19 equality task force; and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The White House respects and will follow the science, and the scientists will speak independently," Slavitt said.
The White House briefings return came a day after a lawmaker in Georgia was removed from the State House in Atlanta for not agreeing to coronavirus testing protocols, The New York Times reported. Republican Rep. David Clark was asked to leave by Rep. David Ralston, another Republican, after Clark refused to take a test, the Times reported.
Clark told The Times he was upset about the ability of members of the State House to be tested while many Americans are unable to get a test, citing that as a reason for not getting the required test.
"I don't know about y'all, but I've been to too many funerals — and I'm tired of going to them," Ralston said after ordering Clark removed, according to The Times.
Lower virus numbers have led to some states lifting coronavirus-related restrictions — such as California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom abruptly lifted the state's regional stay-at-home order earlier this week.
Other states are taking a more-cautious approach to reopening as the more-contagious coronavirus variants identified first in the United Kingdom and South Africa become increasingly found in the United States.
As Michigan's coronavirus rate dropped to the nation's fifth-lowest over the last two weeks, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said bars and restaurants can welcome indoor customers next week for the first time in 2 1/2 months, according to the AP. But they will be under a 10 p.m. curfew and will be limited to 25 percent of capacity, or half of what was allowed the last time she loosened their restrictions, in June.
The state previously authorized the resumption of in-person classes at high schools and the partial reopening of movie theaters.
"We're in a stronger position because we've taken this pause," Whitmer said. "But we are also very mindful of the fact that this variant is now here in Michigan. It poses a real threat."
The United Kingdom variant has led to at least one death in New Jersey, state officials there confirmed on Wednesday. The person who died with the variant had "significant underlying conditions," New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.
The nationwide push to reopen schools for in-person learning got a boost this week, when a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researcher wrote in a JAMA Network journal that preventing the spread of the virus in schools is possible with widespread mask-wearing and social distancing. But the same report says restrictions on indoor dining are among the ways to keep community spread low.
Data shows "that schools were not associated with accelerating community transmission," according to the report authored by Margaret A. Honein of the CDC.
At least 4,064 deaths and 154,704 new cases of coronavirus were reported in the United States on Wednesday, according to a Washington Post database. The Post's reporting shows that over the past week, new daily cases have fallen 16.9 percent, new daily deaths have risen 6.9 percent and COVID-19-related hospitalizations have fallen 12.3 percent.
Currently, 107,444 people are hospitalized with a coronavirus-related illness in the United States, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
As of Thursday, 40 states and U.S. territories remained above the positive testing rate recommended by the World Health Organization to safely reopen. To safely reopen, the WHO recommends states remain at 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days.
As of Thursday morning, the United States had reported more than 25.6 million cases and more than 429,300 deaths from COVID-19-related illnesses, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.