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Trump threatens to pull tax exemption for schools, colleges

In his push to get schools and colleges to reopen this fall, President Trump is again taking aim at their finances, this time threatening their tax-exempt status.

Trump said on Twitter Friday that he was ordering the Treasury Department to reexamine the tax-exempt status of schools that he says provide “radical indoctrination” instead of education.

“Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education,” he tweeted. “Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status and/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!”

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The president did not explain what prompted the remark or which schools would be reviewed. But the threat is just one more that Trump has issued against schools as he ratchets up pressure to get them to reopen. Twice this week Trump threatened to cut federal funding for schools that don’t reopen, including in an earlier tweet on Friday.

It’s unclear, however, on what grounds Trump could have a school’s tax-exempt status terminated. It was also not clear what Trump meant by “radical indoctrination” or who would decide what type of activity that includes.

Previous guidance from the IRS lays out six types of activities that can jeopardize a nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt status, including political activity, lobbying, and straying from the organization’s stated purpose.

But ideology is not on the IRS’s list, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, which represents university presidents. Any review of a school’s status would have to follow previously established guidelines, he said.

“It’s always deeply troubling to have the president single out schools, colleges, or universities in a tweet,” Hartle said. “Having said that, I don’t think anything will come of this quickly.”

Associated Press

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Florida still struggling as cases hit record highs

MIAMI — Fighting a surge in coronavirus cases in the spring, Florida appeared to be “flattening the curve” as theme parks shuttered, sugar sand beaches closed, and residents heeded orders to stay home. Now, it’s almost as if that never happened.

Bars, restaurants, and gyms began reopening in May — critics said it was too soon — and weeks later, the state became one of the country’s virus hot spots, experiencing an alarming surge in cases. On Thursday, officials reported 120 deaths in one day, the highest number since the previous record of 113 in early May.

“We thought maybe we could keep this thing under wraps. And that worked for a little bit of time,” Dr. Jason Wilson, an emergency room physician at Tampa General Hospital, said during a conversation with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor that was livestreamed Wednesday on Facebook. “But eventually . . . it caught up to us.”

From Miami to Jacksonville and Tampa, hospitals in June and July have seen their numbers of coronavirus patients triple, with new patients outpacing those being discharged.

A record 435 newly hospitalized patients were reported Friday to have tested positive for the virus, including some who sought care for other reasons and aren’t necessarily symptomatic. There were 6,806 patients being treated for COVID-19 in Florida hospitals, according to a new tally that state officials started releasing Friday. Before that, available data only showed overall hospital occupancy and capacity, including noncoronavirus patients.

Hospital networks are scrambling to hire more health care workers to expand their COVID units.

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Last week, hospitals in several cities announced they would again halt or reduce nonemergency procedures to free up space.

Wilson and other health experts believe the spike was sparked in large part by young people who weren’t experiencing symptoms and were more likely to take fewer precautions while gathering at reopened bars and crowded beaches.

“We saw the floodgates open really for young people having what we call asymptomatic or presymptomatic spread,’’ he said. “Three weeks later, we are starting to see everyone else starting to get the virus as well.”

Associated Press

Michigan expands order requiring masks in public

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has toughened a requirement to wear masks during the pandemic, mandating businesses open to the public deny service or entry to customers who refuse to wear one.

The governor also expanded where people must have a face covering beyond indoor public spaces. Starting immediately, they must wear one outdoors if they cannot consistently keep 6 feet from non-household members. A mask is needed while using public transportation, a taxi, or a ride-sharing vehicle, with some exceptions.

“No shirts, no shoes, no mask — no service,” Whitmer wrote in an order. Violators will be subject to a misdemeanor fine.

Whitmer cited “stalled” progress in suppressing the virus. Cases have risen in Michigan and she said spotty compliance with her monthslong mask requirement is a “big part of the reason.”

Associated Press

More Latin American leaders test positive for virus

HAVANA — The pandemic is sweeping through the leadership of Latin America, with two more presidents and powerful officials testing positive this week for the coronavirus, adding a destabilizing new element to the region’s public health and economic crises.

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In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, 65, announced his illness Tuesday and is using it to publicly extol hydroxychloroquine, the unproven malaria drug that he’s been promoting as a treatment for COVID-19, and now takes himself.

Bolivian interim President Jeanine Añez, 53, made her own diagnosis public Thursday, throwing her already troubled political prospects into further doubt.

And in Venezuela, 57-year-old socialist party chief Diosdado Cabello said Thursday on Twitter that he, too, had tested positive, at least temporarily sidelining a larger-than-life figure considered the second-most-powerful person in the country.

Another powerful figure, Venezuela’s Oil Minister Tarek El Aissami, announced Friday that he has the bug.

An Associated Press review of official statements from public officials across Latin America found at least 42 confirmed cases of coronavirus in leaders ranging from presidents to mayors of major cities, along with dozens, likely hundreds, of officials from smaller cities and towns. In most cases, high-ranking officials recovered and are back at work. But several are still struggling with the disease.

Many leaders have used their diagnoses to call on the public to heighten precautions like social distancing and mask wearing.

But like Bolsonaro, some have drawn attention to unproven treatments with potentially harmful side effects.

associated press

Australia gets tough, with big fines on rule flouters

A large takeout order from a KFC in Australia led police to more than a dozen people hiding at a house party and more than $18,000 in COVID-19 fines, authorities said Friday.

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Chief Commissioner Shane Patton of the Victoria police announced the hefty fine at a news conference, saying that 16 people had broken virus restrictions by attending a surprise birthday at a home in Dandenong, a suburb of Melbourne.

Authorities in Victoria state recently imposed new lockdown orders, following a surge in cases, and have sought to enforce them with severe fines. Police said they were tipped off to the party after two ambulance workers inside a KFC in Dandenong noticed other customers placing an unusually large order.

“They saw two people in there, and they were ordering 20-odd meals at 1:30 this morning,” Patton said Friday. The pair spoke to employees at the store, and police were notified.

The officers obtained the registration of the vehicle used by those people, which they followed to a townhouse, Patton said.

Inside, they found two people asleep and 16 hiding in the backyard, garage, and under beds. Patton said that the meals were for a birthday party and that police issued 16 infringements.

Each fine was for about $1,150, said Belinda Batty, a media officer for the Victoria police.

“That is absolutely ridiculous, that type of behavior,” Patton added. “That’s $26,000 that birthday party is costing them. That’s a heck of a birthday party to recall, and they’ll remember that one for a long time.”

The infringements were among 60 fines issued to people over a 24-hour period for breaching the recent orders of the state’s chief health officer. Recipients of those fines included “four sex workers” at one address, Patton said, and drivers at checkpoints across the state. And there were almost 1,000 spot checks on people at homes, businesses, and public places across the state.

“This type of conduct, this type of blatant, obvious, deliberate disregard for the chief health officer’s guidelines, we will be enforcing,” the commissioner said.

Authorities around the world have struggled to enforce lockdown rules, and some countries, like Australia, have set financial penalties for breaking them.

In Sydney, residents have faced rules that threatened large fines and jail terms. In Israel, people have been fined for going more than 100 meters from their homes, and in the Philippines, security forces have been tasked with maintaining lockdown orders.

New York Times