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Fast-spreading mutation helps common flu subtype escape immune response

Strains of a common subtype of influenza virus, H3N2, have almost universally acquired a mutation that effectively blocks antibodies from binding to a key viral protein, according to a study from researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The results have implications for flu vaccine design, according to the researchers. Current flu vaccines, which are “seasonal vaccines” designed to protect against recently circulating flu strains, induce antibody responses mostly against a different viral protein called hemagglutinin.

The new mutation, described in the study published online June 29 in PLOS Pathogens, was first detected in the 2014-2015 flu season in some H3N2 flu strains, and evidently is so good at boosting flu’s ability to spread that it is now present in virtually all circulating H3N2 strains. Recent flu seasons, in which H3N2 strains have featured prominently, have been relatively severe compared to historical averages.

The mutation alters a viral protein called neuraminidase, and the researchers found in their study that this alteration paradoxically reduces the ability of flu virus to replicate in a type of human nasal cell that it normally infects. However, the researchers also found evidence that the mutation more than compensates for this deficit by setting up a physical barrier that hinders antibodies from binding to neuraminidase.

“These findings tell us that flu vaccines focusing on the hemagglutinin protein are leaving the virus openings to evolve and evade other types of immunity,” says study senior author Andrew Pekosz, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Bloomberg School.

Every year, influenza viruses sicken millions of people around the world, killing several hundred thousands. The diversity of flu strains and their ability to mutate rapidly—two strains infecting the same host can even swap genes—have made flu viruses an especially difficult target for vaccine designers. Although scientists are working towards a universal vaccine that will protect long-term against most flu variants, current flu vaccines are designed to protect against only a short list of recently circulating strains. Any mutation that occurs in these circulating strains and appears to improve their ability to spread is naturally of interest to flu virologists.

The goal of the study was to understand better the workings of the new H3N2 mutation. Scientists have known that it alters the flu virus’s neuraminidase protein in a way that provides an attachment point, close to neuraminidase’s active site, for a sugar-like molecule called a glycan. But how the presence of a glycan at that location on the neuraminidase protein improves the virus’s ability to infect hosts and spread hasn’t been clear.

Pekosz and first author Harrison Powell, Ph.D., a graduate student in his laboratory at the time of the study, compared the growth, in laboratory cells, of typical H3N2 strains that have the glycan-attachment mutation to the growth of the same flu strains without the mutation. They found that the mutant versions grew markedly more slowly in human cells from the lining of the nasal passages—a cell type that a flu virus would initially infect.

The researchers found the likely reason for this slower growth: the glycan-attracting mutation hinders the activity of neuraminidase. The protein is known to serve as a crucial flu enzyme whose functions include clearing a path for the virus through airway mucus, and enhancing the release of new virus particles from infected cells.

It wasn’t entirely unexpected that the addition of a moderately bulky glycan molecule near the enzyme’s active site would have this effect. But it left unexplained how that would benefit the virus.

The scientists solved the mystery by showing that the glycan blocks antibodies that would otherwise bind to or near the active site of the neuraminidase enzyme.

Neuraminidase, especially its active site, is considered one of the most important targets for the immune response to a flu infection. It is also the target of flu drugs such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir). Thus it makes sense that a mutation protecting that target confers a net benefit to the virus, even if it means that the neuraminidase enzyme itself works less efficiently.

The finding highlights the potential for flu viruses to evade therapies, seasonal vaccines, and the ordinary immune response, Pekosz says, and points to the need for targeting multiple sites on the virus to reduce the chance that single mutations can confer such resistance.

The researchers have been following up their findings with studies of how the new mutation affects the severity of flu, how it has spread so rapidly among H3N2 strains, and how these altered flu strains have adapted with further mutations.

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Mom and baby share ‘good bacteria’ through breast milk

A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Manitoba has found that bacteria are shared and possibly transferred from a mother’s milk to her infant’s gut, and that breastfeeding directly at the breast best supports this process.

The research, published today in Cell Host & Microbe, found that certain bacteria, including Streptococcus and Veillonella, co-occur in mothers’ milk and their infants’ stool, and this co-occurrence is higher when infants nurse directly at the breast.

“Our study confirms that breast milk is a major driver of infant gut microbiota development,” said the study’s senior co-author Dr. Stuart Turvey, a professor in UBC’s department of pediatrics and investigator at BC Children’s Hospital. “We found that breastfeeding exclusivity and duration was strongly associated with a baby’s overall gut microbiota composition and that breast milk bacteria shape a baby’s gut microbiome to a similar degree as other known modifiers of the gut microbiota such as birth mode—meaning a cesarean-section or vaginal delivery.”

According to the researchers, this is the first study to evaluate the association of multiple breast milk feeding practices (mode, exclusivity, and duration), milk bacteria, and milk components with infant gut microbiota composition at multiple time points in a baby’s first year.

The researchers analyzed the microbiome of infants’ stool and their mothers’ breastmilk using 16S rRNA sequencing, a technique used to identify, classify and determine the abundance of microbes.

The 1,249 mother-baby pairs involved in the research are participating in the CHILD Cohort Study (CHILD), a world-leading birth cohort study in maternal, newborn and child health research. The findings build upon previous CHILD research that showed pumping breast milk is associated with differences in both milk microbiota composition and infant health.

“Uniquely, our study showed that while breast milk and the infant gut have distinct microbiota compositions, there are a few commonly shared bacteria that were more prevalent and abundant in breast milk of mothers who only nursed directly at the breast, while other bacteria showed dose-dependent associations with exclusive breastfeeding,” said the study’s senior co-author Brett Finlay, professor in the departments of biochemistry and molecular biology, and microbiology and immunology at UBC.

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Sleep: How to fall asleep quicker

Getting a good night’s sleep is as important as eating a balanced diet and staying active. The average adult needs between seven to nine hours of sleep. Any less, and you’ll find yourself feeling tired constantly during the day. Don’t worry, the NHS has a long list of tips on getting enough sleep.

How to fall asleep quicker

Set a bed-time

Bed-times aren’t just for little children, sleeping at a regular time can benefit adults too.

If you sleep at a similar time every night, your brain and internal body clock will be programmed to feel sleepy at this time.

You need between six and nine hours of sleep every night, so work out what time you need to wake up and set a schedule.

You should try and wake up at the same time every day, if possible.

Even if you feel like you need a lie in, this can disrupt your sleep routine and make it more difficult to sleep the following night.

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Wind down

Stop staring at screens until the moment you want to be asleep. You need to wind down before bed.

A warm but not hot bath will help your body to reach a temperature that is ideal for rest, and cause you to drift off soon after you slip into bed.

Stressful thoughts keeping you awake? Write a to-do list for the next day to organise your thoughts.

This will clear your mind of any distractions and let you relax in peace without worrying you will forget something.

Switch off Netflix and pick up a good book, or listen to a radio or a podcast.

These will all relax your mind by distracting it from all the worries you have.

Create a relaxing environment

Move around your room so that it is a relaxing environment.

According to the NHS, there’s a strong association in peoples minds between sleep and the bedroom, but certain things can weaken that association.

This includes TVs, gadgets, bright lights, noise, and an uncomfortable bed. Get rid of all these things.

Keep your room dark, quiet, tidy, and at a temperature between 18C and 24C.

No curtains? It’s time to fit some or get some blinds to keep the light out.

If you live on a noisy street, perhaps invest in double glazing or earplugs.

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Diet

What you consume affects your ability to sleep easily.

Cut down on caffeine – this means tea, coffee and energy drinks – in the evenings.

Caffeine consumed at any time of day will interrupt your sleep and prevents deep sleep.

Swap these beverages out for a warm, milky drink or a herbal tea.

Overeating or drinking too much alcohol is another insomnia culprit.

While alcohol or a big warm meal might make you feel sleepy initially, it may disrupt your sleep later on in the night.

Exercise

Exercising doesn’t just tire you out immediately after, a workout regime will help you to sleep.

Moderate and regular exercise, such as swimming or walking a few times a week, will help to relieve some tension built up over the day.

Don’t do a sweaty exercise routine before bed though, as this will keep you awake.

Stick to light yoga stretches just before bed to relax your muscles if you can’t sit still.

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U.S. House Reaffirms Commitment to Protecting Wild Horses and Burros


Today, we’re happy to share that the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations maintained critical protections for wild horses and burros in the FY21 Interior Appropriations bill. The approved language continues to call for more responsible and humane herd management by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  

Although the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act outlines strong federal protections for these iconic animals, each year they face the risk of being sold to slaughter or killed for population control. The committee helped to ensure that herds living on U.S. Forest Service and BLM lands will be protected for another year. 

The only permanent way to truly protect wild horses and burros is through sustained, humane management. For too long, the BLM has removed horses and burros from the range to control the population, rather than using available fertility control tools. Because of this disastrous strategy, a huge number of horses and burros live in federal off-range holding facilities—as well as larger herds on the range. To neutralize the growing threats to wild herds, the ASPCA and a diverse group of stakeholders endorse a proposal that focuses on more humane fertility control technologies to safely balance the population.

In response to our work, Congress allocated in the FY20 Interior Appropriations bill an additional $21 million to the Wild Horse and Burro Program and directed the agency to build a sustainable, non-lethal management program. Although support from outside stakeholders and Congress is important, the BLM bears the ultimate responsibility for protecting our iconic herds. Congress underscored this by conditioning the release of those additional funds on the BLM’s submission of a report detailing its plan to significantly shift its management strategy.

The BLM produced this report in May 2020, after Congress requested it in two consecutive fiscal years. The report was late and far from perfect—but it doesn’t request authority to use lethal population control methods, and it appears to follow a general framework similar to the ASPCA-endorsed proposal, including the potential increased use of fertility control over time. 

This year, the House Committee on Appropriations maintained the funding increase for the Wild Horse and Burro Program and provided an encouraging note in their accompanying report: “The Committee looks forward to working with the Bureau and the Senate as the appropriations process moves forward and fully expects to reach a successful outcome in terms of funding and implementation.”

Although this federal program still has a long way to go, we are encouraged that lawmakers continue to forge a brighter future for our nation’s iconic herds. 

You can help build this momentum by joining the ASPCA’s Horse Action Team to continue fighting for our nation’s wild horses and burros!

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Paula Abdul Opens Up About Living with Osteoarthritis: 'I'm Not Going to Let Pain Keep Me Down'


Paula Abdul will be the first to admit that she's put her body through a lot.

The Grammy-award winning performer, 58, has built a career on fast-paced choreography and impressive stunts, movements that have resulted in serious injuries, including a broken leg and back injury.

But about five years ago, Adbul noticed a new, strange pain in her joints during workouts and dress rehearsals.

"I knew something was wrong with my body," the former American Idol judge tells PEOPLE.

Abdul's doctor told her she had osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that can cause stiffness and pain. The common condition common affects more than 32.5 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The diagnosis came as a relief to Abdul.

"I kept thinking, at least it wasn’t something in my head," she tells PEOPLE. "There was a reason attached to what I was feeling."

If anything, she adds, "I just wish I had known [about the condition] earlier."

Teaming up with Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel for the launch of its over-the-counter offering, Abdul says she uses the gel on her ankles, knees and other joints when they feel tight.

"I'm not going to let pain keep me down," she says.

The singer also encourages other arthritis patients to stay active and says she likes to mix up her workout routine with low-impact strength exercises and online Zumba classes.

"Every day I try to wake up and think, ‘What can I do today that's going to make me happy?' " she says.

"Walking is very underrated. I’ll put on my AirPods and listen to Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake — and just sing at the top of my lungs and swing to the beat."

The California native also meditates every day and adheres to a low-alkaline, plant-based diet to help manage acidity and inflammation associated with her reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), a chronic pain that can occur post-injury or surgery.

Adbul is staying in shape for when she can return to her Forever Your Girl residency in Las Vegas, which has been postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

"We're in this for quite a while," she says. "So I'm just going to keep a positive outlook and have a good time getting to know myself better."

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The role of perineural networks in disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

Juan Nácher, professor at the Department of Cell Biology at the University of Valencia, has conducted research on the role of perineuronal networks (PNN) in the adult brain and their incidence in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, could facilitate new diagnostic tools or treatments for these diseases.

Inhibitory neurons that express parvalbumin (PV+) are crucial for the function of the prefrontal cortex and alterations have been found in these cells in different psychiatric disorders. The development and plasticity of the connectivity of these neurons is strongly regulated by specialized regions of the extracellular matrix (the molecules that occupy the spaces between neurons). These regions of the matrix are called perineural networks and particularly surround many PV+ neurons.

The team led by Juan Nácher has compared PV+ neurons with PNN or without PNN around. By digesting PNNs with a specific enzyme, the study revealed that these regions of the extracellular matrix markedly influence the connectivity and function of PV+ cells in the adult prefrontal cortex.

Specifically, the inhibitory connections received by these interneurons are particularly affected by the presence of PNN. The depletion of PNNs also affects the functioning of PV+ interneurons and alters gamma activity, a dependent oscillation of these cells.

The researchers studied the connectivity of PV+ neurons using immunohistochemistry and confocal microscopy. The synaptic connections these neurons receive and send have been analyzed by comparing cells surrounded and not surrounded by PNN, and also by analyzing the prefrontal cortex of animals that had PNN removed by a specific enzyme. Finally, the function of these cells was evaluated by studying the electrical brain rhythms in which they are involved.

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‘Aerosol boxes’ meant to protect COVID health teams might harm them: study

Aerosol boxes meant to protect health care workers when they intubate COVID-19 patients may actually increase their exposure to airborne virus particles, an Australian study warns.

Intubation is done when patients are placed on a ventilator.

Aerosol boxes have been touted as a quick, simple way to protect workers, but their effectiveness and safety were never clinically tested. No international guideline on personal protective equipment has endorsed their use.

Even though experts have raised concern that the devices may put health care workers at risk, they are in use worldwide.

In this study, researchers tested the effectiveness of five aerosol containment methods (aerosol box; sealed box with and without suction; vertical drape; and horizontal drape) compared with no intervention.

Volunteers held a bottle of harmless fluid just under their mouth, and coughed every 30 seconds. Detection devices were used to count different-sized airborne particles and assess particle spread for five minutes.

Compared with using no containment device, exposure to airborne particles of all sizes was higher when an aerosol box was used, the study found.

If COVID-19 particles act the same way as the fluid used in this simulation, the results suggest the aerosol box increases exposure to virus particles—in some cases by a factor of five times or more, according to findings published July 9 in the journal Anaesthesia.

The investigation was conducted by a team at Intensive Care and Anaesthesia Specialists at Eastern Health in Melbourne. Peter Chan and Joanna Simpson, who led the effort, said the research team was surprised by the findings.

“Spikes of airborne particles were clearly seen, coinciding with patient coughing. We believe that these represent particles escaping from the arm access holes in the aerosol box,” the researchers reported.

The race to provide protective equipment has resulted in a variety of devices, but evidence of their safety and effectiveness has been lacking, the study authors said.

“This study demonstrates that devices such as the aerosol box we tested—which is typical of designs used worldwide—confer minimal to no benefit in containing aerosols during an aerosol-generating procedure and may increase rather than decrease airborne particle exposure,” the authors concluded.

In a journal news release, Chan said if the aerosol box were sold as a product and regulated, it would probably need to be recalled immediately due to the potential infection risk for health care workers.

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Can big countries realistically eliminate COVID-19 without a vaccine? Four experts discuss

The UK should change its COVID-19 strategy to try to eliminate COVID-19 even without a vaccine rather than simply managing the disease, according to Independent SAGE, a group of scientists set up as an alternative to the government’s advisory body. New Zealand has effectively managed to eliminate the virus, but can states with much larger, denser populations that have experienced much bigger outbreaks hope to do the same? Or is it more realistic to accept that the disease is likely to continue to circulate at some level and plan for that? We asked four experts for their views.

Angharad Davies, Clinical Associate Professor in Microbiology, Swansea University

Elimination or near-elimination in the UK would require ambition and huge effort, organization, and resource but I believe it is possible.

The effort would mean accepting fewer freedoms in the medium term. Crucially, it would rely on trust in authority and willingness to comply with restrictions. The incentive would be that, if we achieved elimination, we could go back to a state closer to normal, and a healthier local economy even without a vaccine.

The effort would have to be sustained until then, and if no effective vaccine transpires—which is possible—then the question is how long this approach could justifiably continue in the face of a virus endemic globally.

Lakshmi Manoharan, Medical Epidemiologist, University of Oxford

Suppressing the virus to a low level before allowing economic and social activity to resume as normal is important. Doing otherwise will risk the possibility of the UK having to go in and out of lockdown numerous times. That would be more harmful for society and the economy, compared to implementing more stringent measures in the short term.

Recent studies have shown that the number of people with COVID-19 antibodies in coronavirus hotspots such as Wuhan and Spain is still low. This means that despite high numbers of cases and extensive community transmission, the majority of the population is still susceptible to the virus. Allowing economic and social life to resume while this is the case and in the absence of a vaccine may lead to a larger second wave of infection.

The emphasis should be on strong measures such as border quarantines and a robust test, trace and isolate system to reduce infection rates before relaxing economic measures, opening schools and allowing “air bridges.” We need to focus on reducing the amount of community transmission first, which allows for spread of infection into our most vulnerable populations.

Jimmy Whitworth, Professor of International Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

We need a sense of proportion in countries that have reduced the total mortality rate to normal levels, as the UK has now done, showing that the first peak of the epidemic has passed. Once the number of new cases is under good control (one new case a day for every million of population is reasonable) we can allow social and economic life to resume. We can also shift more attention to general physical and mental health.

We need to continue to maintain some physical distancing measures, combined with effective testing and contract tracing to prevent the inevitable clusters expanding into a second wave. But to try to eliminate all cases, and to sustain a zero-COVID state, would take enormous resources. This would produce diminishing returns as the number of cases goes down—and other aspects of life would suffer.

We have seen this with countries attempting polio elimination, where routine health services may suffer, and with malaria elimination where the cost of averting each case rapidly increases as the number of cases goes down.

Getting the number of cases down to manageable levels might eventually lead to zero cases temporarily, but we do not currently have effective measures to keep it at zero. In particular, border quarantines are not likely to be effective unless rigorously and universally applied with consequent disruption of all business travel, tourism and international trade.

Andrew Lee, Reader in Global Public Health, University of Sheffield

Elimination of COVID-19 in high-income countries is both possible and realistic. Ebola elimination was achieved in parts of Africa through disease control measures rather than a vaccine, including disease surveillance, infection control, changing social norms (for example around physical contact) and public communications.

This demonstrates elimination is possible even in low and middle-income countries with fewer resources. The key determinants, as with all infectious disease control programs, are the political and societal will to achieve this. Because it requires a multi-pronged approach, it needs resourcing, leadership and commitment to deliver. So the question becomes: “What are we prepared to pay or sacrifice to achieve this?”

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Bill Nye Shows How Face Masks Slow the Spread of Coronavirus: It's 'a Matter of Life or Death'


Bill Nye is breaking down why it’s so important to wear face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a fun TikTok video from the beloved science educator, Nye, 64, performed a simple experiment which illustrated why “people in the scientific community want you to wear a face mask while out in public.”

“Face masks like this one prevent particles from getting into the air and then into your respiratory system,” Nye said while holding up a surgical mask.

While seated in front of a lit candle, Nye tested out a few face coverings while explaining that “blocking the movement of air is an old trick.”

“Here’s a scarf, it blocks the movement of air around my throat, helps keep me warm,” he continued, holding up a knit scarf. “This scarf won awards in the Washington State Fair for both design and workmanship. It can block the movement of air, but only to a certain extent.”

Nye then proceeded to cover his mouth and nose with the scarf and then attempt to blow out the candle, which he was able to do quickly and easily.

Next, Nye held up a “homemade face mask," — the kind recommended for all Americans in daily life — made out of two layers of cloth and a pipe cleaner to help it fit the bridge of his nose.

“It blocks the movement of air very effectively,” he said, before trying unsuccessfully to blow out the candle directly in front of him. “If you’re wearing one of these, you’re protecting yourself and those around you.”

Nye also showed how well N95 respirator masks — which should be saved for frontline health care workers due to mass shortages — block out airflow.

No matter the mask, though, Nye emphasized that wearing one is vital to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

"The reason we want you to wear a mask is to protect you, sure. But the main reason why we want you to wear a mask is to protect me, from you, and the particles from your respiratory system, from getting into my respiratory system," he said. "Everybody, this is literally a matter of life or death, and when I say literally, I mean literally! Literally, a matter of life or death! So when you're out in public, please, wear a mask!"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has continually stressed the importance of wearing masks in public — which has been required in New York since April — posted Nye's video on his Twitter account, simply writing, “Listen to Bill Nye.”

Scientific research has proven that masks are one of the most effective tools in stopping the spread of COVID-19. The highly contagious virus can easily infect other people through respiratory droplets from coughs, sneezes or even just talking, if people are standing close together — and especially if they’re indoors.

Despite push-back from some Americans who don’t want to wear a mask, even amid a nationwide surge in new cases, last month, a study found that the risk of coronavirus transmission went down by 85 percent when people wore a mask.

While a tightly fitted respirator mask is best for protecting a person and anyone around them from spreading COVID-19, a nationwide shortage of those masks means they should be reserved for frontline workers.

However, a group of researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science recently found that sewn, multi-layered masks — like the ones readily available on Etsy and from many clothing brands — were the most effective, followed by cone-style non-sterile masks available at pharmacies. Folded homemade masks and bandanas were less effective, but still did their job in reducing the spread.

Without any mask, the droplets from a cough traveled more than 8 feet — past even the recommended 6 feet for social distancing. A bandana was the least effective mask of the four, reducing the distance to just 3 feet, and the quickly folded mask reduced the distance to 1 foot, 3 inches.

Meanwhile sewn, multi-layered masks were found to reduce respiratory droplets to just 2.5 inches, beating out the cone-style non-sterile masks, which led to 8 inches of spread.

Though the Centers for Disease Control said on April 3 that they recommend Americans wear a face mask whenever they are unable to distance from other people, the Trump administration has refrained from a nationwide mask mandate, leaving the decision up to individual states. Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia require them, and cities and counties within other states have mandated masks.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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Florida Sets a New Single-Day Record for Coronavirus Deaths as Overall Toll Exceeds 4,000


Florida set a new single-day record for COVID-19 deaths on Thursday as the state’s overall death toll surpassed 4,000.

The state reported 120 new COVID-19 deaths, more than two times the 7-day average and significantly higher than the state's previous record of 83 deaths from April 28. At least 4,008 people have died from the virus in Florida since the start of the outbreak in March, according to The New York Times’ database.

The jump in deaths comes after a month and a half of soaring COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations. Florida’s Department of Health reported 8,935 new cases on Thursday,  while the overall rate of positive tests is 19.6 percent, the highest the state has seen so far.

As of Tuesday, 56 hospitals in Florida have reached capacity in intensive care units, and an additional 35 hospital ICUs have 10 percent availability or less.

One day earlier, Texas also set its own single-day record for COVID-19 deaths, with 119, nearly double the 7-day average.

The national death rate is also now trending upwards for the first time since April, when New York was dealing with a major outbreak.

While President Donald Trump incorrectly asserted that the U.S. death rate was the lowest in the world on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Tuesday that it is a “false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death,” CNN reported.

According to health experts, as the case numbers soar, it is only a matter of time before the death rate increases as well. Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told PEOPLE on July 2 that the U.S. has gotten better at treating COVID-19, which should keep deaths lower, but that he still expects them to rise in the coming weeks.

“We have gotten better at treating patients and that's important. How much that has contributed is unclear, but in some cases, 70 to 80 percent of the people on a ventilator were dying early in the pandemic. Today, in many locations, that number is less than 20 or 30 percent,” Osterholm said. “We also now have younger people who are getting infected, and they pose a much lower risk of having serious illness or dying. So while the number of cases goes up, the number of people dying has gone down.”

“But,” he continued, “as more cases occur, the greater the likelihood is that older people will get infected, which then will again increase the number of deaths. So the number of deaths could rise substantially over the next two to three months.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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