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Kids to pack summer school; naked Philly bikers need to don masks; new infections reach pre-'pandemic' levels: Latest COVID-19 updates

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More children than ever could be in classrooms for summer school this year to make up for lost learning after U.S. school districts implemented online schooling programs during the pandemic that were often ineffective.

Across the U.S., more children than ever before could be in classrooms for summer school this year to make up for lost learning during the outbreak, which caused monumental disruptions in education.

School districts nationwide are expanding their summer programs and offering bonuses to get teachers to take part. Under the most recent federal pandemic relief package, the Biden administration is requiring states to devote billions of dollars to summer programs.

The U.S. Education Department said it is too early to know how many students will sign up. But the number is all but certain to exceed the estimated 3.3 million who went to mandatory or optional summer school in 2019 before the pandemic.

Aja Purnell-Mitchell let her three kids decide whether to go back to school during summer break. All wanted to go. Purnell-Mitchell saw a litany of positives in the decision.

“Getting them back into it, helping them socialize back with their friends, maybe meet some new people, and, of course, pick up the things that they lacked on Zoom,” the Durham County, North Carolina, mother said.

Also in the news:

►The University of Nebraska Medical Center will require faculty, staff and students to document whether they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning June 21. Documentation is required because medical students work with patients in clinics and hospital wards, the Omaha World-Herald reported Saturday.

►The Rev. James Altman, the Catholic priest in La Crosse, Wisconsin, who has been asked to resign because of his divisive remarks about politics and the pandemic, has raised more than $640,000 from conservative supporters to defend himself. Altman is refusing the bishop's demands that he step down.

►Starting June 9, vaccinated American tourists will be able to visit France sans quarantine, provided they show a negative PCR test upon arrival.

►One-third of the 559,000 jobs added to the U.S. economy in May happened at restaurants and bars, an encouraging sign for workers in the hard-hit leisure and hospitality industry.

►Retail chain Walmart says it will close its doors for the second year in a row on Thanksgiving Day as a "thank you to employees for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic."

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 597,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 173 million cases and over 3.7 million deaths. More than 138 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 41.6% of the population, according to the CDC.

📘 What we're reading: First in line, still no shot: Surprising number of hospital workers refuse vaccines.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Philly naked cyclists still need to mask up

You can leave your mask on – everything else comes off.

That's the plan so far for participants in this year's Philly Naked Bike Ride, scheduled to return Aug. 28 after it was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. The mask requirement is part of Philadelphia's previous coronavirus restrictions.

The city lifted most of them this week, citing increased vaccinations and decreased cases. But ride organizers say they haven’t talked since the changes were put into place, so for now they’re sticking with their initial mask guidance.

Ride participants usually gather in a park to undress before hopping on their bikes to promote body positivity and cycling safety and protest fossil fuel dependency.

States flush with cash as pandemic wanes

Amid coronavirus-induced shutdowns a year ago, governors and lawmakers in most states worried about the devastating impact the pandemic would have on the economy, some laying off workers and looking into canceling programs.

Now state coffers are overflowing – California is projecting a mind-blowing $75.7 billion budget surplus – leading legislatures to pass budgets with record spending, pouring money into schools, social programs, infrastructure and savings.

A report by the Pew Charitable Trusts said after an initial sharp drop in tax revenue, 29 states recovered to take in as much or more during the peak pandemic period of March 2020 through February 2021 than they did during the previous 12 months.

What led to the bounty?

The federal government sent billions of dollars to the states through a series of pandemic-relief packages, and billions more to households and businesses that, in turn, pumped money into the economy. In addition, state finances fared better than expected and consumer spending rebounded to shore up sales tax revenue. Plus, state income taxes were boosted by a strong stock market and high-wage earners who kept working remotely.

States are now looking at “a very promising fiscal and economic outlook over the next couple of years,” said Justin Theal, a state fiscal research officer at Pew.

U.S. pledges support, vaccines to virus-stricken Taiwan

Taiwan, one of the early success stories in the pandemic but now facing its worst surge of coronavirus cases, will receive 750,000 doses as part of the U.S. plan to share its vaccine bounty with the world.

Three U.S. senators visited the democratic, self-ruled island of 24 million people Sunday and pledged their support after Taiwan officials complained China is hindering its efforts to secure vaccines. The percentage of vaccinated people in Taiwan, which China claims as its own renegade territory, is in the low single digits.

"I'm here to tell you that the United States will not let you stand alone," Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois said at the airport after landing on a U.S. military transport plane. "We will be by your side to make sure the people of Taiwan have what they need to get to the other side of the pandemic and beyond."

New cases drop to levels last seen before pandemic declaration

New coronavirus cases nationwide are down to about 15,000 per day on average, while deaths have plummeted to around 430 a day – levels not seen since the World Health Organization made the pandemic declaration on March 11, 2020. New England, where more than 60% of residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, has seen some of the sharpest declines in hospitalizations, deaths and community spread.

“The past year and a half has been like going through a tornado or something terrible,” said Kerry LaBarbera, an ER nurse from Boston Medical Center. “You’re holding on for dear life, and then you get past it and it’s like, ‘What just happened?’”

Colorado health officials said hospitalization records show vaccines are preventing severe disease in the state, even as the pandemic continues to rage among unvaccinated individuals.

“We’ve taken a deep look at this," Dr. JP Valin, chief clinical officer at SCL Health, told Colorado Public Radio. “Ninety-five percent of the patients who have been hospitalized since February are unvaccinated."

California plans grand reopening, but emergency will remain

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he plans to maintain California's emergency declaration, but the state's long-awaited reopening is still planned for June 15. Newsom cites the continued spread of COVID-19 variants, as well as discrepancies in vaccination rates, as justification for keeping the state of emergency declaration in place.

"This disease has not been extinguished. It's not vanished; it's not taking the summer months off," Newsom said.

Newsom originally issued the state of emergency in March 2020, a power granted to him by the California Emergency Services Act. The crisis-intervention laws have also allowed Newsom to issue at least 58 executive orders, altering or suspending existing laws.

GOP aims to revive Fauci attacks after email trove released

With the release of a trove of Dr. Anthony Fauci's emails last week, political attacks on the nation’s top government infectious-disease expert have gone into overdrive. On conservative news channels, President Joe Biden’s pandemic adviser has been baselessly pilloried as a liar who misled the American people about the origins of COVID-19 to protect the Chinese government. There's no evidence of wrongdoing, but Republican calls for his resignation have grown louder, as have demands for new investigations into the origins of the virus.

The doctor’s newly released emails, which span the early days of the pandemic and were obtained by BuzzFeed News and The Washington Post, show no evidence of any kind of coverup about the origin of the virus. Indeed, many of the discussions reflect the science at the time. But many Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have seized on the emails as proof of a conspiracy to obscure the source of the virus.

“Given what we know now, I don’t know how anyone can have confidence that he should remain in a position of public trust and authority,” said Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a potential presidential hopeful who is calling for Fauci’s resignation and a full congressional inquiry.

New York to eliminate indoor mask rule for schools, camp

New York plans to eliminate its indoor mask rule Monday for schools and camps regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. Current CDC guidance for K-12 schools recommends requiring "consistent and correct use of well-fitting face masks with proper filtration by all students, teachers, and staff."

For youth camps, the CDC "strongly encourages mask use indoors for people who are not fully vaccinated" and says "people do not need to wear masks" outdoors, regardless of vaccination status.

In a letter to the head of the CDC, Dr. Howard Zucker, the state's health commissioner, said the state would encourage indoor mask use by unvaccinated students, campers and staff. But for consistency, the state would not require indoor masks in either schools or camps.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New COVID cases drop dramatically; summer school will be packed

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