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Florida and Texas closing in on 10,000 COVID-19 deaths

California, the largest state in the nation and the first to exceed 600,000 coronavirus cases, is nearing 11,000 deaths, NBC News figures show.

Texas and Florida were rapidly closing in on 10,000 coronavirus deaths Friday, while President Donald Trump’s false claims about the progress of the pandemic were weaponized by Joe Biden.

The national death toll from the virus that has upended the way Americans live and wrecked the economy was 168,334 and climbing Friday, and the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases was nearing the 5.3 million mark, NBC News figures showed.

The U.S. continued to account for a quarter of the world’s more than 760,000 COVID-19 fatalities and nearly 21 million confirmed cases.

Florida eclipsed the 9,000 death mark two days after Gov. Ron DeSantis raised eyebrows by repeating an awkward metaphor that likened the state’s efforts to reopen schools in the middle of a pandemic to the 2011 Navy SEALs operation greenlighted by President Barack Obama that killed Osama Bin Laden.

"Martin County Superintendent Laurie Gaylord told me today that she viewed reopening her schools as a mission akin to a Navy SEAL operation," DeSantis said of his conversation, before continuing the comparison.

"Just as the SEALs surmounted obstacles to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, so, too, would the Martin County school system find a way to provide parents with a meaningful choice of in-person instruction or continued distance learning — all in, all the time."

Texas, which is also in the process of reopening its schools over the objections of many school officials, health experts and parents, had reported 9,836 coronavirus deaths as of Friday morning, the NBC News figures showed.

The U.S. has logged the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the last two weeks, most of them in Southern and Sun Belt states that began reopening in May and June at Trump’s urging, despite warnings from public health experts that the coronavirus was cresting.

Georgia, one of the last states to shut down and the first to reopen, reported 136 deaths Tuesday, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

California, the largest state in the nation and the first to exceed 600,000 coronavirus cases, is nearing 11,000 deaths, the NBC News figures show. It was the first to enact shelter-in-place rules. But Gov. Gavin Newsom, under pressure from business and other groups, began lifting restrictions in May and June after which the number of new cases and deaths started exploding.

Six weeks after Newsom reclosed large sections of the economy, however, there are signs that the state is getting a handle on the coronavirus and that the transmission rate is going down, The Los Angeles Times reported.

“While our gains might feel slow and our future remains fragile, our success over the last three weeks is real,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday. “We begin to see signs of light.”

In other developments:

  • Now that he has chosen Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate, Joe Biden is taking aim at the litany of erroneous claims Trump has made during the pandemic. Deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield released a memo listing 150 examples of the president “downplaying the threat posed by COVID-19.” “Simply put, Trump has regularly lied to the American people on matters of life-and-death,” she wrote. Among other things, Trump has touted “unproven and possibly dangerous treatments,” is guilty of “elevating racist rhetoric and disregarding advice from public health officials,” and suggested the virus would simply disappear one day. There was no immediate response from the Trump campaign to the Bedingfield broadside. But the Trump remarks she cites are well documented and have been reported by numerous news outlets.
  • A California megachurch is suing the state and Los Angeles County to stop officials from enforcing measures that prohibit large indoor gatherings during the pandemic. Grace Community Church is arguing that “the health orders violate the California Constitution," the Thomas More Society, whose attorneys are representing the church, say. Los Angeles County has filed a countersuit. Currently, places of worship in California are limited to 25 percent of building capacity or 100 attendees indoors, whichever is lower. Singing and chanting, which medical experts say is a prime way of spreading the virus, are also banned. Grace Community is not the first megachurch to land in a church-versus-state battle over coronavirus restrictions.
  • Charles Vallejo Jr. is a medical student following in the footsteps of his physician father and physician grandfather. He has buried them both. The coronavirus killed retired doctor Jorge Vallejo, 89, and Dr. Carlos Vallejo, 57, who practiced medicine in Miami Lakes, Florida. Charles Vallejo said he suspects his father contracted the virus while treating his patients who were in rehabilitation centers and nursing homes and inadvertently passed it on to his father at a birthday party. “The week before he got COVID, I was walking my dog and I saw my grandfather cutting a tree,” the surviving Vallejo told NBC News.
  • South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is urging her coronavirus-concerned constituents to put on their "positive pants."Noem said she got the idea for harnessing optimism to combat the pandemic from a bulletin board in a Sioux Falls fourth-grade classroom. "It said 'Put your positive pants on.' That message reminded me of a lesson that is often easy to forget: an optimistic outlook can be tremendously helpful when responding to life’s challenges," the Republican governor said. South Dakota does not mandate masks and of late it has struggled to contain the virus' spread. More than 8.6 percent of coronavirus tests administered in the state have come back positive, according to a rolling seven-day count by Johns Hopkins University on Friday. The World Health Organization's benchmark for business re-openings is 5 percent.
  • The twin shafts of light that symbolize the fallen Twin Towers and appear every year to commemorate the victims of 9/11 have been extinguished by the pandemic. The 9/11 Memorial said it was too risky to the crew that produces the “Tribute in Light,” which sends the beams upward into the night sky from dusk on Sept. 11 to dawn on Sept. 12 in lower Manhattan. “This incredibly difficult decision was reached in consultation with our partners after concluding the health risks during the pandemic were far too great for the large crew required to produce the annual Tribute in Light,” the 9/11 Memorial said in a statement.
Nigel Chiwaya contributed.