US marks 160,000 Covid-19 deaths as economic relief talks break down

Women in masks walk along College Avenue in downtown Athens, Georgia early last month. (AP pic)

NEW YORK: More than 160,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the US, according to a Reuters tally on Friday, as talks over an economic relief bill broke down between Democrats in Congress and the White House.

The grim milestone, which includes 10,000 deaths nationwide in the past nine days, comes as Americans and their political leaders remain divided over such issues as reopening schools, testing, business closures and mask orders.

“Elected leaders need to begin to address this crisis as a public health rather than a political issue,” said Dr Melanie Thompson, an internist in Atlanta.

“Federal and state governments should subsidise access to serial rapid testing for schools and all senior living facilities. Congress needs to provide a financial safety net for the most vulnerable, including our essential workers,” Thompson said.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said they will advise President Donald Trump to deliver relief by executive order to Americans suffering from the pandemic.

Talks with top Democrats in Congress broke down on Friday. Democrats said they agreed to reduce their US$3.4 trillion proposal but Republicans would not agree to more than double their US$1 trillion counter-offer.

Covid-19 infections are rising in 20 US states, according to a Reuters analysis, as the centre of the outbreak shifts from sunbelt states such as California, Florida and Texas to the Midwest.

Motorcycle rally draws thousands

Roughly 100,000 people were expected to descend on Sturgis, South Dakota this weekend for the annual 10-day motorcycle rally there, prompting concerns that the popular event could touch off a fresh wave of the illness.

City officials in Anchorage, Alaska on Friday won a court ruling in favour of a ban on indoor restaurant dining after suing one eatery that defied an emergency order prohibiting the practice

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker partially rolled back plans to reopen the state’s economy, reducing the maximum number allowed at outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50.

School reopenings remained a divisive issue nationwide. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday some 700 districts in the state could reopen classrooms, but urged them to consult with teachers, students and parents.

New York school districts can opt for remote learning, in-class learning or some hybrid of the two. Safety plans for reopened classrooms must be approved by the state’s Department of Health, Cuomo said.

“If you look at our infection rate we are probably in the best situation in the country right now,” Cuomo told reporters. “If anybody can open schools, we can open schools.”

In New York City, where 1.1 million children attend the country’s largest network of public schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said student attendance will be limited to between one and three days each week.

Chicago Public Schools, which make up the country’s third-largest school district, reversed course this week, saying students would stick with remote learning when the school year begins.

Some states, including Florida and Iowa, are mandating schools provide at least some in-person learning, while the governors of South Carolina and Missouri have recommended all classrooms reopen.

Los Angeles, home to the nation’s second-largest school district, has said students will remain home for the start of the new term.

Texas had initially called for schools to reopen but has since allowed districts to apply for waivers as the state grapples with a rising caseload.

The Houston Independent School District has said that the school year will begin virtually on Sept 8, but will shift to in-person learning on Oct 19.