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Confirmed virus cases hit 10 million as Poland, France vote

ROME — Worldwide confirmed coronavirus infections hit the 10 million mark Sunday as voters in Poland and France went to the polls for virus-delayed elections.

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.

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 to avoid further contagion.

“I didn’t go and vote the first time around because I am elderly and I got scared,” said Fanny Barouh as she voted in a Paris school.

While concern in the U.S. has focused on big states like Texas, Arizona and Florida reporting thousands of new cases a day, rural states are also seeing infection surges, including in Kansas, where livestock outnumber people.

The U.S. handling of the outbreak has drawn concern from abroad. The European Union seems almost certain to bar Americans from traveling to the bloc in the short term as it draws up new travel rules to be announced shortly.

The infection surges prompted Vice President Mike Pence to call off campaign events in Florida and Arizona, although he will still travel to those states and to Texas this week to meet with their Republican governors. Those three governors have come under criticism for aggressively reopening their economies after virus lockdowns despite increasing infections in their states.

After confirmed daily infections in the U.S. hit an all-time high of 40,000 on Friday, Texas and Florida reversed course and closed down bars in their states again. Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey reversed himself and allowed cities and counties to require face masks in public even though he hasn’t been seen wearing one.

“This is not a sprint, this is a marathon,” said Dr. Lisa Goldberg, director of the emergency department of Tucson Medical Center in Arizona. “In fact, it’s an ultra-marathon.”

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stressed that “the window is closing” for the U.S. to take action to effectively curb the coronavirus.

Azar pointed to a recent spike in infections, particularly in the South. He says people have “to act responsibly” by social distancing and wearing face masks, especially “in these hot zones.”

Speaking on NBC and CNN, Azar argued that the U.S. is in a better position than two months ago in fighting the virus because it is conducting more testing and has therapeutics available to treat COVID-19.

But he acknowledged that hospitalizations and deaths could increase in the next few weeks.

Globally, confirmed COVID-19 cases passed the 10 million mark and confirmed deaths neared half a million, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University, with the U.S., Brazil, Russia and India having the most cases. The U.S. also has the highest virus death toll in the world at over 125,000.

Experts say all those figures significantly undercount the true toll of the pandemic, due to limited testing and missed mild cases. U.S. government experts last week estimated the U.S. alone could have had 20 million cases.

Workplace infection worries increased after Tyson Foods announced that 371 employees at its chicken processing plant in the southwestern corner of Missouri have tested positive for COVID-19.

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.

Early voting starting amid spike in COVID-19 cases

The bars may be closed because of alarming spikes in coronavirus cases, but the polls are open starting Monday for early voting in the primary runoff election.

Election officials have made concerted efforts to try to ensure voters feel safe while exercising their rights to select leaders in the July 14 runoff election, McLennan County Elections Administrator Kathy Van Wolfe said.

“We are taking precautions,” Van Wolfe said. “We are trying to make sure the polling places are sanitary, and the poll workers will be wearing face masks and shields and gloves, and we are making sure we are social distancing in our polling places. We are trying to do what we can to make the voters feel safe.”

Early voting continues through July 10. Early voting locations will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Thursday. After Independence Day, early voting will resume from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, then from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 6 through July 10.

Republicans will choose between Pete Sessions and Renee Swann for District 17 U.S. Representative; and between Kristi DeCluitt and Thomas West for judge of 19th State District Court.

Democrats will select from MJ Hegar and Royce West for U.S. Senator; David Jaramillo and Rick Kennedy for District 17 U.S. Representative; and Chrysta Castaneda and Roberto R. “Beto” Alonzo for Railroad Commissioner.

There are changes this year to early voting locations. The most significant difference involves First Assembly of God Church, 6701 Bosque Blvd., which historically has been the busiest early voting location. It is not available for early voting this year, and will be replaced by the Waco High School Performing Arts Center, 2020 N. 42nd St., Van Wolfe said.

Signs will be placed at First Assembly of God Church directing voters to other early voting locations because it has been such a popular voting location. The church will be available for voting on Election Day, she said.

In Hewitt, voters normally cast early ballots at the city Public Safety Department. That building will not be used for the primary runoff, but the Hewitt City Hall and Library next door at 200 Patriot Court will take its place. Other early voting locations are the McLennan County Elections Office, 214 N. Fourth St.; the Waco Multi-Purpose Community Center, 1020 Elm Ave.; and the Robinson Community Center, 106 W. Lyndale Drive.

Voters will be able to keep the pens they use to sign in, and they also will receive pencils so they can use the eraser end to operate the selection wheel and buttons on voting machines. Poll workers will spray and wipe down the machines after each person votes, Van Wolfe said.

“We want everyone to come out and vote and we want everyone to feel safe in doing so,” she said.

Voters older than 65 or who are disabled can vote by mail. Applications can be obtained through the elections office and must be returned no later than Thursday.

Curbside voting also is available for anyone physically unable to go inside one of the voting locations.

The elections office produced a five-minute video that highlights health protocols and procedures that will be employed at the polling locations. Van Wofe recommends voters watch the video, which is available on the McLennan County Elections Office website and at wacotrib.com, before going to the polls.

Face coverings and social distancing are recommended, she said.

Sample ballots and a list of Election Day polling locations are available on the elections office website under July 14 runoff election.

On voting machines, poll watchers, photo IDs: A Q&A with local election officials

If Election 2020 leaves some voters wondering whether studying candidates and issues and braving the mounting complexities inherent in voting is truly worth it, no wonder. National stories regularly highlight voting irregularities in cities big and small. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill debate whether the nation’s voting systems are vulnerable to hacking and cyberattack, and from enemies foreign and domestic. And state legislators regularly make more and more demands on both bewildered voters and overworked poll workers. One unsuccessful bill in the last Texas Legislature would have penalized voters and poll workers for making simple mistakes, drawing strong opposition from the Texas Association of Elections Administrators. In this Tribune-Herald editorial board interview, longtime McLennan County Elections Administrator Kathy Van Wolfe and Assistant Elections Administrator Jared Goldsmith talk about voter fears of discovering their names have been purged from voter rolls, the confusion that typically accompanies primary elections versus general elections, the increasing presence of poll watchers in the sanctity of the polling place, and whether voter fraud is a local problem.

Baylor Mind-Body Lab to study music's potential in pain management

Doctors are not yet at the point of prescribing two songs and a symphony before bed, but a new study by a Baylor University lab is exploring the potential for integrating music into pain treatment therapies.

Baylor’s Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory recently secured a $97,000 National Endowment for the Arts research grant to look at the effect music can have on pain management and sleep for older adults.

The award, one of 15 grants announced this month by the national arts agency, will underwrite a two-year study in which 66 senior adults suffering from chronic low back pain will listen to music on a daily basis and record its effect, if any, on how they feel pain.

Lab director and Baylor psychology and neuroscience professor Gary Elkins said the study may provide some hard numbers for what many already believe: Listening to music can ease pain and stress.

“Music is known to be one of the ways people cope with stress and pain management,” Elkins said. “People listen to music to sleep better. There are even some hospitals with music therapists on their staffs, but there’s not been a lot of research, empirical research, done.”

He hopes the data collected from the study will provide an important next step for future exploration of how music can be used in medical therapies. As the nation addresses opioid addiction, nonpharmaceutical approaches to pain relief are getting more attention.

“Opioids are no longer the first line of intervention,” Elkins said. “We want to find out, does music work? and give some insight into how it works.”

Elkins, whose past research has explored the clinical and therapeutic uses of hypnosis, is joined by Baylor associate music professor Lesley McAllister and Baylor psychology and neuroscience professor Keith Sanford in the team overseeing the study. They bring special skills to the project, he said: McAllister’s grasp of music and Sanford’s experience in biostatistics.

Sanford also plays and composes music on the side.

“We were really excited to find a statistician who’s also a musician,” Elkins said.

The study will use seniors who daily score a 5 or higher on a 10-point pain chart and who have access to a computer. They will be asked to listen to music samples and record their pain levels before and after the music, among other things. They will submit their results from home via telehealth technology, a part of the study proposal that proved necessary with the COVID-19 pandemic severely limiting travel by and access to seniors.

The first round of the study will use Baylor Symphony Orchestra recordings as the music for listening purposes. In later weeks, participants will get to choose the music.

“Music is something that’s highly individualized,” Elkins said. “People know … that music can take them to a different place or give them a different feeling.”

Anyone interested in participating in the study, which starts in August, can call the Baylor Mind-Body Research Lab at 296-0824.

Trump's attacks seen undercutting confidence in 2020 vote

WASHINGTON — It was a startling declaration about one of the pillars of American democracy, all the more so given its source.

The president of the United States last week publicly predicted without evidence that the 2020 presidential election would be “the most corrupt election in the history of our country.”

“We cannot let this happen,” Donald Trump told an audience of young supporters at a Phoenix megachurch. “They want it to happen so badly.”

Just over four months before Election Day, the president is escalating his efforts to cast doubt on the integrity of the vote.

It’s a well-worn tactic for Trump, who in 2016 went after the very process that ultimately put him in the White House. He first attacked the Republican primaries (“rigged and boss controlled”) and then the general election, when he accused the media and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign of conspiring against him to undermine a free and fair election.

“The process is rigged. This whole election is being rigged,” he said that October when polls showed him trailing Clinton by double digits as he faced a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations.

Then, as now, election experts have repeatedly discredited his claims about widespread fraud in the voting process.

In a country with a history of peaceful political transition, a major-party candidate’s efforts to delegitimize an election amounted to a striking rupture of faith in American democracy. But to do the same as president, historians say, is unprecedented.

“Never,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley when asked whether any past U.S. president had ever used such language. “What you’re seeing is someone who’s an autocrat or a dictator in action.”

This year, Trump has seized on efforts across the country to expand the ability of people to vote by mail. It’s a movement that was spurred by the coronavirus, which has infected more than 2.4 million people in the U.S. and killed more than 125,000 nationwide. The virus is highly contagious and especially dangerous for older people, who typically vote in higher numbers and have been advised by federal health authorities to limit their interactions with others.

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting, even in states with all-mail votes. Trump and many members of his administration have themselves repeatedly voted via absentee ballots. But that hasn’t stopped Trump from accusing Democrats of trying to “rig the election by sending out tens of millions of mail-in ballots, using the China virus as the excuse for allowing people not to go to the polls.”

“People went to the polls and voted during World War I. They went to the polls and voted during World War II. We can safely go to the polls and vote during COVID-19,” he said in his Phoenix speech.

Trump’s complaints come as he has been lagging in both internal and public polls. The criticism is seen by some as part of a broader effort by Trump to depress turnout by making it harder for people, especially in cities, to vote safely, and to lay the groundwork for a potential challenge to the results in November if he loses. Trump and his campaign vociferously deny this.

Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University, said Trump may be trying to preempt the sting of a humiliation if he fails to win a second term. But Zelizer said Trump also appears to be “setting up the foundation for taking action.”

“What I do think is very realistic is a replay of 2000,” he said, referring to the legal saga in which the Supreme Court stepped in to resolve a dispute over which candidate had won Florida. Republican George W. Bush’s ultimate win in the state gave him a general election victory over Democrat Al Gore.

If this year’s election is close, Zelizer said, Trump could turn to the courts “and wage a political campaign to say this is being stolen and tie up efforts to count the votes.”

Brinkley was even more alarmist, questioning whether Trump would vacate the office if he lost.

“Trump is laying down his markers very clearly that he’s not going to leave the White House. I think that he’s just setting the stage,” Brinkley said, to say “’I’m not leaving. It was a fraudulent election.’”

Even barring such an extreme move, Brinkley said the president’s rhetoric undermines public confidence in the electoral system. “It creates mayhem and it breaks the heart of what a democracy is.”

Americans already have widespread concerns about the security and integrity of elections. A February poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that only about one-third have high confidence that votes in the 2020 election will be counted accurately.

Americans’ support for mail-in voting has jumped amid concerns over the virus, with 6 in 10 now saying they would support their state allowing people to vote by mail-in ballot without requiring a reason, according to an April survey. Democrats are far more likely to support it than Republicans, a partisan split that has emerged since 2018, suggesting Trump’s public campaign may be resonating with his GOP backers.

White House officials and Trump’s campaign say he has raised the issue because Democrats are trying to use the virus as an excuse to tilt voting rules their way.

“I think the president is only talking about this because Democrats have been going around to try to change rules in their favor under the guise of the virus. ... This isn’t a fight he picked,” said Trump campaign political adviser and senior counsel Justin Clark. “The coronavirus does not give us an excuse to radically alter our way of voting.”

Officials noted Trump has voiced support for the use of absentee ballots when voters have a legitimate reason, although he has not said whether that includes fear of contracting the virus.

“Imposing a new voting system in a hurried fashion ahead of November only exacerbates the real, underlying concerns about the security of voting by mail without the proper safeguards,” said White House spokesperson Sarah Matthews. “All Americans deserve an election system that is secure and President Trump is highlighting that Democrats’ plan for mass mail-in system would lead to fraud.”

But Wendy R. Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, said such concerns are “completely baseless,” according to study after study. While no system is immune to fraud, she said, expanded voting by mail is “clearly the safest and necessary response to a pandemic.”

Trump’s efforts to suggest otherwise are “extremely damaging to America, to our democracy, on multiple fronts,” she said, noting that foreign adversaries have long tried to undermine confidence in the American politician system.

“This,” she said, “is in some respects doing their work for them.”

Black candidates push race debate into GOP-held districts

COLUMBUS, Ind. — It was a scene Jeannine Lee Lake never would have imagined when she first ran against Greg Pence, Vice President Mike Pence’s brother, for a rural Indiana congressional seat two years ago: an almost entirely white crowd of more than 100 people marching silently in the Pences’ hometown this month, offering prayers for Black people killed by police and an end to systemic racism.

Leading them was Lake, who is in rematch against Pence. She is the only Black woman running for federal office in Indiana this fall.

The Democrat, who lost badly in 2018 and again faces long odds in the deeply conservative district, has spent much of the past few weeks at events such as the one in Columbus on Juneteenth. In communities across a district that is 93% white, Lake has talked about seeing her children pulled over by police and “harassed for no reason.” She has spoken the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people killed by police, telling crowds “we’re here to call for change.”

“In no way, shape or form is 2018 the same as the 2020 race in regard to the grassroots effort and the galvanization of the movement that is now Black Lives Matter,” said Lake, 50. “It’s just a total shift.”

The reenergized movement against racial inequality has amplified the voices of Black candidates, in some cases pushing the political debate over race into Republican-leaning areas. Democrats say they’ve seen a significant boost in fundraising and other engagement for candidates running on racial justice issues, and believe it could help the party flip some Republican-held districts in November.

Polls show usually broad bipartisan support for some change to the nation’s criminal justice system. But lawmakers in Washington are at an impasse after far-reaching federal legislation passed the Democrat-led House on Thursday over objections from Republicans. Pence voted no, saying he opposes changes to the qualified immunity system that shields officers from liability.

In Arkansas, Democratic state Sen. Joyce Elliott says she’s seeing new momentum in her bid to unseat GOP Rep. French Hill and become the state’s first Black woman elected to Congress. She began running digital ads shortly after Floyd’s death last month. In them, she spoke about her experience integrating a school in the 1960s where she and other Black students weren’t wanted.

It was the kind of fundraising appeal that typically would bring in about $1.50 for every $1 a congressional campaign spent on the ad buy. This ad cost Elliott’s campaign about $2,500 and raised $24,000 within one week, said Julia Ager, president of Sapphire Strategies, the digital firm for Elliott’s campaign. Other Black candidates are seeing a similar trend, she said.

“The environment is different, and that environment has created a boon of support,” Ager said. For people who are tired of inaction and want to see more Black people in Congress, “it seems like a clear place to direct money.”

Elliott, 69, has also been traveling to Black Lives Matter protests around the district, which includes Little Rock and its suburbs and has been represented by a Republican for more than a decade. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the kidney donor speaks to crowds from the back of a pickup truck, often to predominantly white audiences. She tells her story of overcoming adversity, mentioning the people in school who didn’t want her or other Black students there. At one recent event, the crowd gathered in the shadow of a Confederate statue, where the discussion turned to trying to have it removed.

After a lifetime of feeling like she had to “push, push, push,” Elliott said, “now it feels like this is a big warm embrace.”

Her campaign has been backed by EMILY’s List, which supports women in politics, and the Congressional Black Caucus PAC.

“I’m feeling now as if a door has opened,” Elliott said. “People can look at someone like me and say, ‘Why not Joyce Elliott? Isn’t she the right person for this moment?’”

In North Carolina, Democrats saw Pat Timmons-Goodson as a strong candidate for a newly redrawn congressional district held by Republican Rep. Richard Hudson even before the discussion over policing and racial inequality was reinvigorated.

Timmons-Goodson was the first Black woman on the Supreme Court of North Carolina and served on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, where she helped write recommendations on policing. In 2016, President Barack Obama nominated her to the federal court, though the nomination was among those blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans.

Timmons-Goodson received national attention during that debate, as the seat on the court was left vacant for years and became part of a national fight over the courts. But her campaign says support for her candidacy exploded in recent weeks. Timmons-Goodson reported fewer than 1,000 individual contributions for the first quarter of 2020. In the quarter that ends Tuesday, the campaign expects to report some 20,000 contributions.

Lake may have a tougher fight ahead in Indiana, but she’s had to order more campaign signs and more than doubled her ranks of campaign volunteers. Pence’s campaign largely ignores her bid.

Other Black activists tell Lake they’re considering running for office, too. Her campaign also is organizing “Candidates for Change” events, which will be held in more than half the district’s 19 counties and will focus on issues of policing, inequality and systemic racism — conversations that may not have occurred before in some places. Even as the pandemic has canceled much campaigning, the protests have gone on.

“I’m going to keep on going, as long as they do,” she said.