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World hits coronavirus milestones amid fears worse to come

The world surpassed two sobering coronavirus milestones Sunday — 500,000 confirmed deaths, 10 million confirmed cases — and hit another high mark for daily new infections as governments that attempted reopenings continued to backtrack and warn that worse news could be yet to come.

“COVID-19 has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, who allowed businesses to start reopening in early May but on Friday shut down bars and limited restaurant dining amid a spike in cases.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled back reopenings of bars in seven counties, including Los Angeles. He ordered them to close immediately and urged eight other counties to issue local health orders mandating the same.

More Florida beaches will be closing again to avoid further spread of the new coronavirus as officials try to tamp down on large gatherings amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said interactions among young people are driving the surge.

“Caution was thrown to the wind and so we are where we are," DeSantis said.

South Africa’s health minister warned that the country’s current surge of cases is expected to rapidly increase in the coming weeks and push hospitals to the limit. Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize said the current rise in infections has come from people who “moved back into the workplace.

New clusters of cases at a Swiss nightclub and in the central English city of Leicester showed that the virus was still circulating widely in Europe, though not with the rapidly growing infection rate seen in parts of the U.S., Latin America and India.

Poland and France, meanwhile, attempted a step toward normalcy as the held elections that had been delayed by the virus.

Wearing mandatory masks, social distancing in lines and carrying their own pens to sign voting registers, French voters cast ballots in a second round of municipal elections. Poles also wore masks and used hand sanitizer, and some in virus-hit areas were told to mail in their ballots.

In Texas, Abbott appeared with Vice President Mike Pence, who cut campaign events from upcoming visits to Florida and Arizona because of rising virus cases in those states.

Pence praised Abbott for both his decision to reopen the state, and to roll back the reopening plans.

“You flattened the curve here in Texas ... but about two weeks ago something changed,” Pence said.

Pence urged people to wear masks when unable to practice social distancing. He and Abbott wore face masks as they entered and left the room, taking them off while speaking to reporters.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, meanwhile, defended the fact that President Donald Trump has rarely worn a mask in public, saying he doesn’t have to follow his own administration’s guidance because as a leader of the free world he’s tested regularly and is in “very different circumstances than the rest of us.”

Addressing spikes in reported coronavirus cases in some states, Azar said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that people “have to take ownership” of their own behaviors by social distancing and wearing masks if possible.

A reported tally Sunday from Johns Hopkins University researchers said the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic had topped 500,00.

About 1 in 4 of those deaths – more than 125,000 – have been reported in the U.S. The country with the next highest death toll is Brazil, with more than 57,000, or about 1 in 9.

The true death toll from the virus, which first emerged in China late last year, is widely believed to be significantly higher. Experts say that especially early on, many victims died of COVID-19 without being tested for it.

To date, more than 10 million confirmed cases have been reported globally. About a quarter of them have been reported in the U.S.

The World Health Organization announced another daily record in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the world - topping over 189,000 in a single 24-hour period. The tally eclipses the previous record a week earlier at over 183,000 cases, showing case counts continue to progress worldwide.

Overall the U.S. still has far and away the most total cases. At more than 2,450,000 - roughly twice that of Brazil. The number of actual cases worldwide is much higher.

New York, once the nation’s pandemic epicenter, is now “on the exact opposite end,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in an interview with “Meet the Press.”

The state reported five new virus deaths Saturday, its lowest reported daily death toll since March 15. During the state’s peak pandemic in April, nearly 800 people were dying every day. New York still leads the nation in COVID-19 deaths with nearly 25,000.

In the state of Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee put a hold on plans to move counties to the fourth phase of his reopening plan as cases continue to increase. But in Hawaii, the city of Honolulu announced that campgrounds will reopen for the first time in three months with limited permits to ensure social distancing.

Britain’s government, meanwhile, is considering whether a local lockdown is needed for the central English city of Leicester amid reports about a spike in COVID-19 among its Asian community. It would be Britain’s first local lockdown.

“We have seen flare-ups across the country in recent weeks,” Home Secretary Priti Patel told the BBC on Sunday.

Africa’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to climb to a new high of more than 371,000, including 9,484 deaths, according to figures released Sunday by the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Teens’ orations judged outstanding
WATCH NOW: 2 East High School students reach top 30 in national speech contest

SIOUX CITY -- Max Braunstein took down all the posters in his bedroom before stacking one table on top of another table.

On top of the second table, the incoming East High School 12th grader placed a smartphone to record a prose performance piece he'd been reciting for much of the school year.

Braunstein was one of six East High School students who qualified to compete in the National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) Tournament, held June 14-20.

In any other year, Braunstein, along with his East classmates Carter Vanderloo, Whitney Lester, Clair Hendrich, Jacob Licht and Annabelle Helms, would need to travel in order to compete against some of the nation's top speech and debate students.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, this year's qualifying participants had to submit videos for judges to evaluate.

That actually turned out OK for a self-described perfectionist like Braunstein, who said he performed his prose piece, "YouTube Celebrity," at least 50 times before he had a take he liked.

"You can't do a retake when you're performing live for judges," he said.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Carter Vanderloo, an incoming senior at East High School, is shown performing an excerpt of "The Cost of Crazy," his oral interpretation entry in the National Speech & Debate Association's national competition. Vanderloo was a top 30 quarterfinalist in the competition.

On the other hand, you can't connect to an audience's energy when you're enacting a highly charged monologue in front of a computer camera. This is what East incoming 12th grader Carter Vanderloo discovered when he performed his oral interpretation piece, "The Cost of Crazy," in his bedroom. 

"I've done the piece often enough to know when I should pause for a laugh or pause for a dramatic effect," he said. "Still, it doesn't take the place of performing live in front of people."

Despite the unusual circumstances, Braunstein and Vanderloo wowed the judges. They were both top 30 quarterfinalists in the competition, which is a major achievement, according to Marissa Kuiken, an East drama and humanities teacher who coaches the team. 

"Out of the 140,000 students who are NSDA members, only 5,073 or around 4 percent qualify to compete at the national tournament," Kuiken explained. "Having six East students who qualify is extraordinary. Plus having Carter and Max finish in the top 30 in their categories."

In addition, East received an NSDA School of Honor Award, which is given to the top 50 speech schools in the country.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Carter Vanderloo, an incoming senior at East High School, is shown performing an excerpt of "The Cost of Crazy," his oral interpretation entry in the National Speech & Debate Association's national competition. Vanderloo was a top 30 quarterfinalist in the competition.

"This showcases the amazing dedication and talent of our students," Kuiken said. "I am proud to be their coach."

Braunstein said he was fortunate to connect with "YouTube Celebrity," a performance piece in which the main character hides his loneliness by creating a separate online celebrity.

Similarly, with "The Cost of Crazy," Vanderloo was able to examine the financial and emotional toll of mental illness.

"It is so important to choose material that you like," he said. "You'll be doing it over and over again."

Which is fine for Vanderloo, who has been involved with East's speech and debate program since he was a freshman. Braunstein was recruited for the team during his sophomore year.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Max Braunstein, an incoming senior at East High School, is shown performing an excerpt of "YouTube Celebrity," his prose entry in the National Speech & Debate Association's national competition. Braunstein was a top 30 quarterfinalist in the competition.

Kuiken said her speech and debate students are often high achievers in other classes and extracurricular activities.

"Being articulate and the ability to think on your feet certainly helps," she said. 

That will help Vanderloo, who is considering either becoming a premed or science major when he goes to college.

Braunstein is still undecided when it comes to college. He has more pressing things on his mind.

"Right now, I'm beginning to search for the perfect monologue to perform," he said. "The new school year will be here before we know it."

East High students share secret of speech success

SIOUX CITY -- More than 550 students representing 105 schools from 17 different states competed Dec. 14-15 at West Des Moines' Dowling Catholic High School's Paradigm, an annual contest that serves as a forerunner for the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions (NIETOC), one of the nation's most-challenging contests for speech, debate and oral interpretation.

Photos: East High robotics team qualifies for state

Miss. lawmakers vote to remove emblem from flag

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi lawmakers voted Sunday to surrender the Confederate battle emblem from their state flag, triggering raucous applause and cheers more than a century after white supremacist legislators adopted the design a generation after the South lost the Civil War.

Mississippi's House and Senate voted in succession Sunday afternoon to retire the flag, each chamber drawing broad bipartisan support for the historic decision. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill, and the state flag would lose its official status as soon as he signs the measure. He did not immediately signal when the signing would take place.

The state had faced mounting pressure to change its flag during the past month amid international protests against racial injustice in the United States. Cheering and applause erupted as lawmakers hugged each other in the Senate with final passage. Even those on the opposite side of the issue also hugged as an emotional day of debate drew to a close. Bells also could be heard ringing in the state capital city as passage of the measure was announced.

A commission would design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the Nov. 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will set a different design using the same guidelines, and that would be sent to voters later.

Mississippi has a 38% Black population — and the last state flag that incorporates the emblem widely seen as racist.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who is white, has pushed for five years to change the flag, saying that the Confederate symbol is offensive. The House passed the bill 91-23 Sunday afternoon, and the Senate passed it 37-14 later.

“How sweet it is to celebrate this on the Lord’s day,” Gunn said. "Many prayed to Him to bring us to this day. He has answered.”

Debate over changing the flag has arisen before, and in recent years an increasing number of cities and all the state’s public universities have taken it down on their own. But the issue has never garnered enough support in the conservative Republican-dominated Legislature or with recent governors.

That dynamic changed in a matter of weeks as an extraordinary and diverse coalition of political, business, religious groups and sports leaders pushed to change the flag.

At a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion in early June, thousands cheered as an organizer said the state needs to divorce itself from all Confederate symbols.

Religious groups — including the large and influential Mississippi Baptist Convention — said erasing the rebel emblem from the state flag is a moral imperative.

Business groups said the banner hinders economic development in one of the poorest states in the nation.

In a sports-crazy culture, the biggest blow might have happened when college sports leagues said Mississippi could lose postseason events if it continued flying the Confederate-themed flag. Nearly four dozen of Mississippi’s university athletic directors and coaches came to the Capitol to lobby for change.

“We need something that fulfills the purpose of being a state flag and that everybody in the state has a reason to be proud of,” said Mike Leach, football coach at Mississippi State University.

Many people who wanted to keep the emblem on the Mississippi flag said they see it as a symbol of heritage.

Legislators put the Confederate emblem on the upper left corner of Mississippi flag in 1894, as whites were squelching political power that African Americans gained after the Civil War.

Democratic state Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville, who is African American, said the state deserves a flag that will make all people proud. “Today is a history-making day in the state of Mississippi,” Simmons told colleagues before the Senate voted for passage. “Let’s vote today for the Mississippi of tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump on Sunday tweeted approvingly of a video showing one of his supporters chanting “white power," a racist slogan associated with white supremacists. He later deleted the tweet and the White House said the president had not heard “the one statement” on the video.

The video appeared to have been taken at The Villages, a Florida retirement community, and showed dueling demonstrations between Trump supporters and opponents.

“Thank you to the great people of The Villages,” Trump tweeted. Moments into the video clip he shared, a man driving a golf cart displaying pro-Trump signs and flags shouts 'white power." The video also shows anti-Trump protesters shouting “Nazi," “racist," and profanities at the Trump backers.

“There's no question'' that Trump should not have retweeted the video and "he should just take it down,” Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., told CNN's “State of the Union.” Scott is the only Black Republican in the Senate.

“I think it’s indefensible,” he added.

Shortly afterward, Trump deleted the tweet that shared the video. White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that “President Trump is a big fan of The Villages. He did not hear the one statement made on the video. What he did see was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters.”

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Siouxland advocate: Test Iowa not accessible to elderly, people with disabilities

SIOUX CITY -- With the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act looming, the executive director of the Disabilities Resource Center of Siouxland is calling on Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to make "easy fixes" to improve accessibility for the elderly and people with disabilities at Test Iowa COVID-19 testing sites.

Don Dew said it seems as if the public-private partnership, which seeks to drastically increase the rate of coronavirus testing in the state, was rolled out without much forethought for this population, which is at high risk of experiencing severe illness from the novel coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 23 percent of adults in Iowa have some type of disability, while the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 17.5 percent of the state's population was 65 years and older in 2019.  

"Gov. Reynolds has always answered that Test Iowa is only one tool in the toolbox. The fact is, every tool in the toolbox has to comply with federal regulations, including ADA," Dew said.

Test Iowa first debuted in Des Moines on April 25. Sites were also set up in Woodbury (Sioux City) and Crawford (Denison) counties in May and Buena Vista County (Storm Lake) in May and June.

Dew said people who have disabilities and the elderly often depend on public transportation to get from place to place, but Test Iowa doesn't allow individuals to walk up to its sites for appointments. Instead, individuals must remain in vehicles during testing. This is not the case at a COVID-19 testing site operated by Siouxland Community Health Center on its property. Patients who have a physician's order and walk up to the site are tested. 

Is Test Iowa as successful as governor boasts?

At a daily briefing last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds said about 15,000 Iowans have been tested at Test Iowa sites — which would put the daily test average far below the 3,000 promised when the program debuted in late April.

"If they have to go an hour to where the Test Iowa site is in public transportation, they can't roll down the window and do it. They won't allow that," Dew said of Test Iowa. "If you get dropped off, they're not going to test you."

Dew said the fact that Test Iowa requires test seekers to fill out an online health assessment in order to secure an appointment poses another roadblock for those who are elderly and/or disabled. Many of them lack internet access or could have difficulty using the site to complete the assessment because of a disability.

"By not being able to give them the test, it's actually harming this population of Iowans," Dew said. "We've tried to offer strategic plans to be able to test people that are in the elderly and disabled apartments -- going into the apartments themselves or keeping it outside of the apartments -- and they have not gone for that."

Pat Garrett, Reynolds' communications director, didn't respond to an email from The Journal seeking comment by press time. 

Mari Kaptain-Dahlen, CEO of Siouxland Community Health Center, said she and Dew worked together to craft an email, which they sent to the governor's office. In the email, they proposed that the health center could partner with Test Iowa to take testing out to different sites in the community to better serve the elderly and people with disabilities.

"We are working through that with the governor's office and trying to see if they would pay for the kits. There is time involved; and that's where our discussions are at this point," said Kaptain-Dahlen, who said she she was scheduled to further discuss the matter with Paige Thorson, Reynolds' deputy chief of staff. "We understand (Dew's) concerns and we want to make sure that people with disabilities can get tested. Right now, I'm hearing that the governor's office is willing to help us."

If accessibility doesn't improve at Test Iowa sites, Dew said he foresees a federal complaint being filed against the state. Earlier this month, Disability Rights Nebraska and several other Nebraska organizations filed a letter of complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights due to accessibility issues with TestNebraska.

"It's an issue that always seems to be an afterthought, when people with disabilities, especially ones who have preexisting conditions, are one of the primary people that are going to be hurt worse by a virus," Dew said. "They should've been at the forefront of planning and they weren't."

The coronavirus in March: 25 photos telling the story of COVID-19 in Siouxland

The coronavirus in March: 25 photos telling the story of COVID-19 in Siouxland