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Republicans back Trump amid ongoing coronavirus crisis

In other coronarvirus news: A Hong Kong COVID-19 survivor gets reinfected, and Ohio GOP seeks to impeach a Republican governor for COVID-19 crackdown.
Image: U.S. President Donald Trump makes an appearance at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte
Republican delegates await the arrival of President Donald Trump after voting to confirm him as the party's nominee on the first day of the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Aug. 24, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters

The Republicans on Monday will begin making the case that President Donald Trump deserves four more years in the White House while in the midst of a pandemic that has exposed more than 5.7 million people in the United States to COVID-19, taken more than 178,000 lives and wrecked the economy in less than seven months.

The Republican National Convention kicks off Monday as states in the South and the Sun Belt, most led by Republican governors loyal to Trump who reopened their states just as the pandemic was picking up steam, continue to amass most of the new coronavirus cases and deaths, according to the latest NBC News figures.

But there is also a sliver of good news for Trump in the latest COVID-19 calculations done by NBC News: For the first time since July 5, the number of new cases dipped nationwide below 40,000 Sunday.

And Team Trump will likely be buoyed by a new CBS poll which shows many Republicans still remain convinced America is better off since Trump took over despite the administration’s chaotic response to the COVID-19 crisis, the stalling recovery from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and the current 10.2 percent unemployment rate.

Still, about a thousand people per day have been dying in the U.S. from the coronavirus since the end of July, the NBC News figures show. Right now, the U.S. accounts for a little over a fifth of the world’s more than 800,000 fatalities and about a quarter of the 23 million plus confirmed cases across the globe.

Also, Trump has taken bipartisan heat for waiting nearly two months before declaring a national emergency March 13, for downplaying the danger and pushing false or misleading information about the progress of the pandemic. He frequently praises himself and his team for doing a "very good job" with the pandemic. But he has also undercut experts on his team like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"The President’s mixed messages throughout the pandemic have complicated chances for a unified national response,” Dr. Howard Koh, a Harvard University professor who was assistant secretary of health and human services during the administration of President Barack Obama, wrote in an email to NBC News. “Ideally, the White House could best leverage their office by hosting public briefings that feature the most qualified and trusted health officials – like Dr Fauci – who can speak about data and trends, update scientific developments and provide current health guidance for a concerned public.”

Asked to point to a specific moment where Trump could have prevented the pandemic from getting worse but didn’t, Koh noted the president’s initial reluctance to wear masks in public.

“There is still time for the President to consistently wear a mask in public and thereby send the message that all Americans should do so,” he said.

"Mr. Trump and his team have dug us into a crater with their slow-footed response to the pandemic," Alvin Tillery Jr., a political science professor at Northwestern University, said. "The president’s complete lack of discipline with his communications about the pandemic and his penchant to provide overly sunny appraisals rooted in nothing more than his own magical thinking has led to a situation where many Americans now believe that they should be “free” to scoff at the regulations that are the most likely to protect themselves and others until we get our case counts under control."

So why does Trump's base stick with him?

"We are living in hyperartisan times, and Mr. Trump’s base tends to consume news sources that were willing to assist in his attempts to downplay the significance of the virus at the beginning of the pandemic," Tillery said.

While the Trump administration has been pushing local school districts to reopen, there has been an explosion of new coronavirus cases on college campuses that has forced some like the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to send students home for the rest of the semester and others like the University of Notre Dame to go virtual for two weeks until, hopefully, the current crisis passes.

Down in Alabama, more than 200 students at Auburn University tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of classes, according to local reports. And the University of Alabama is so concerned about recent COVID-19 outbreaks, it barred students Monday from partying both on and off campus for the next two weeks.

Ohio State University, where classes are supposed to resume Tuesday, has also cracked down on students who hold big off-campus bashes, slapping 228 of them with interim suspensions, school spokesman Ben Johnson said.

In other coronavirus news:

  • The hope that persons who recover from COVID-19 might develop an immunity to the virus was undercut by a new report that a 33-year-old man in Hong Kong was infected for a second time. He was hospitalized the first time March 29 and discharged April 14, according to University of Hong Kong researchers. Four months later, after returning to Hong Kong from Spain via the United Kingdom, the man tested positive again Aug. 14 and was hospitalized for a second time. Why is this alarming? Because scientists searching for a cure have been working on treatments using antibodies from recovered coronavirus patients. Trump on Sunday announced an emergency authorization to begin using plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients on those still battling the virus. Scientists are not yet sure if the treatment is safe and effective.

  • A Georgia Institute of Technology fraternity was placed under quarantine over the weekend after at least 25 members tested positive for COVID-19. “All residents of the house have been tested and Georgia Tech is turning the house into an isolation location,” the school said in a statement. Several fraternities and at least one sorority at universities across the country have been shut down after mass coronavirus infections were reported after members took part in parties where there was no mask-wearing or social distancing.

  • Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who was praised early on for taking aggressive measures to combat the pandemic, is facing a revolt from archconservatives in his own party. Rep. John Becker, whose district includes Cincinnati, drafted 10 articles of impeachment accusing DeWine of, among other things, improperly shutting down the March presidential primary and numerous businesses while mandating an unpopular statewide mask mandate. “With deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 flattened, the Governor continues to press his boot on the throat of Ohio’s economy,” Becker said. But Ohio is not out of the woods. It has recorded 13,954 new cases in just the last two weeks, down slightly from the two weeks before that, NBC News figures show. And the broadside against DeWine comes just weeks after Ohio’s powerful House Speaker Larry Householder and other top Republicans in the state were arrested as part of an FBI investigation into a $60 million bribery scheme.
  • With the nation’s largest public school system three weeks away from reopening, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a new “outdoor learning” plan that will allow principals to hold classes in school yards and even on closed-off streets and in parks. “It’s great to be outdoors in general but we also know that the disease doesn’t spread the same outdoors,” the mayor said, adding that the approach will “open up a lot of wonderful possibilities for our kids and for our educators.” De Blasio said he would leave the details to individual principals, prompting some pushback from frustrated New York teachers. The mayor also said indoor dining and Broadway shows are coming back, but not until next year. “If folks miss the theater, if they miss indoor dining, those things will be back," de Blasio said. "They’ll be back next year at some point. I think that is overwhelmingly the case.”

  • Florida teachers opposed to Gov. Ron DeSantis' order to resume in-classroom teaching by the end of the month won a legal skirmish Monday. The state “essentially ignored the requirement for school safety” by insisting that teachers return to classrooms, Leon County Judge Charles Dodson declared and ruled in favor of the Florida Education Association’s legal challenge. The state was expected to appeal Dodson's ruling. DeSantis began pressuring teachers to return to school at the urging of Trump and as Florida was about to be hit with a wave of new coronavirus cases and deaths. Currently, Florida is behind California and Texas with more than 602,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases an in fifth place behind New York, New Jersey, California and Texas with 10,461 deaths, according to the latest NBC News figures.
Joe Murphy contributed.