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Trump steps back, done with being daily voice of coronavirus response

11 0 04 Jul 2020

WASHINGTON — As the country is hit with record numbers of coronavirus cases, some states are halting their reopenings and hospitals in hot spots are becoming overwhelmed, President Donald Trump has largely stayed in a place you don’t often find him: the sidelines.

The president’s lower profile is by design, a senior administration official said.

The latest hope among top aides is that by keeping Trump distanced from the day to day, the administration can depoliticize the virus response, the official said. Trump’s comments on everything from masks to taking an experimental drug have ignited controversy and drawn him into battles with Democrats and public health experts. One outside adviser said he has cautioned for months that there is only downside in having Trump as the public face of the response.

The president made only a few passing references to the surging number of cases this week, saying during a speech on the economy that there are “some areas where we’re putting out the flames or the fires and that’s working out well.” In an interview with Fox Business Network on Wednesday, Trump said of the virus, “I think that at some point that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.”

Instead, the president focused most of his firepower on defending monuments and military bases honoring Confederate leaders, touting the economy, making unsubstantiated allegations over mail-in voting and attacking the media. During a speech at Mount Rushmore on Friday, he attacked people who want to remove Confederate, patriarchal and colonial monuments as a threat to the country’s existence, only briefly mentioning the virus that has killed more than 129,000 Americans.

Behind the scenes, Trump has also taken a mostly hands-off approach. He is briefed at least once daily on the number of cases and latest efforts on a vaccine and treatment, but he hasn’t been attending the coronavirus task force meetings, traveling to the most affected states or strongly urging Americans to change their behavior.

Trump will likely give an update to the country on where things stand with the pandemic next week, but “he isn’t going to be the daily voice on this,” the senior administration official said. In his place, the White House is sending Vice President Mike Pence on the road to meet with governors and take questions from reporters while Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar do more media interviews.

It’s a stark contrast from the approach taken by past presidents who used times of crisis to present themselves as commanders in chief leading the country through disaster, like Presidents George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks and Barack Obama during the financial crisis.

Trump’s attempt to take center stage as cases surged in April backfired and led to sinking poll numbers as his freewheeling coronavirus press briefings spiraled off topic and turned into jousting sessions with reporters. After a briefing where he mused from the White House podium about whether bleach could be injected into the body to kill the virus, advisers said they were able to convince him to curtail the events.

Despite efforts by aides to highlight his response, like sending Trump to tour plants making protective equipment and ventilators, just 38 percent of Americans said they approve of his handling of the crisis while 58 percent disapprove, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released June 24. And Joe Biden has begun to step up his attacks on the president’s handling of the pandemic.

As the administration resumed coronavirus press briefings this week amid the spike in new infections, it moved the events out of the White House to make them appear less political and prevent Trump from making a cameo, officials said.

Now the administration is back to where it initially was in March, with Pence taking the lead in public and behind the scenes.

As Pence traveled Sunday to Texas to meet with the state’s governor about the staggering number of cases there, Trump stayed in Washington, making a trip to his Virginia golf course. Pence traveled Wednesday to Arizona, where the state reported a record number of infections and deaths, while Trump had no public events that day. On Thursday, Pence was in Florida urging younger residents to step up precautions as Trump gave a speech to business leaders in Washington, touching on the coronavirus to blame China for the pandemic and tout treatments.

“The president is in a ‘darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t’ position here. No matter what he says, it will be politicized,” said Seth Denson, president of GDP Advisors, who has been working with health care companies responding to the pandemic. “He’s in a no-win situation. Better to put those out there that seem to be more specific to the issue at hand.”

Trump erodes Americas foundation. This Fourth of July, I pledge to rebuild it.

9 0 04 Jul 2020

The Fourth of July commemorates a courageous, extraordinary day, when the architects of our nation laid the first stone in the foundation of American democracy. In the nearly two and a half centuries since, our Independence Day has come to stand not only for that timeless bedrock, but also for every brick, beam and pillar Americans have marched and bled to build atop it.

Our Independence Day has come to stand not only for that timeless bedrock, but also for every brick, beam and pillar Americans have marched and bled to build atop it.

Our democracy rose up from the ground when we ended slavery and ratified the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. It rose higher when women fought for suffrage — and won. It was fortified when a lawyer named Thurgood Marshall persuaded the Supreme Court to strike down “separate but equal” and blaze a trail for opportunity in Brown v. Board of Education. And when our nation opened its eyes to the viciousness of Bull Connor and the righteousness of the Freedom Riders — and responded with outrage, and a new Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act — we built it stronger still.

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Title IX. The Indian Self-Determination Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act. Marriage equality. DACA. Black Lives Matter. Brick by brick — and, all too often, against long odds and violent opposition — the American people have labored to expand the scope, strength and meaning of American democracy. There has always been a push and a pull between our founding ideals and the forces of inequality. But Independence Day is a celebration of our persistent march toward greater justice — the natural expansion of our founding notion from “all men are created equal” to “all people are created equal and should be treated equally throughout their lives.”

That pursuit of a more perfect union has been thrown off course in recent years — and no one bears more responsibility than President Donald Trump. Every day, he finds new ways to tarnish and dismantle our democracy — from baseless attacks on our voting rights to the use of military force against Americans protesting peacefully for racial justice. He has systematically gone after the guardrails of our democracy: the free press, the courts, and our fundamental belief that no one in America — not even the president — is above the law. He has made it clear time and again that he won’t hesitate to tear apart our most cherished democratic structures for an ounce of personal gain. And that corruption of our founding principles threatens everything this nation has worked so hard to build, blighting our ability not only to elevate our values, but also to lead the world.

Democracy, after all, is more than just the foundation of our society — it is the wellspring of our power. It is the defining American quality, the one which sustains our moral authority to keep the peace, drive progress, and marshal nations to work together to take on global threats. Rebuilding and expanding our democracy are essential to the long-term vitality of our nation. That’s why, as president, I will take immediate action to reverse the damage Donald Trump has done to our core democratic rights and institutions.

That starts by protecting our most sacred right: the right to vote. I will restore the Voting Rights Act — and fight to eliminate shameful barriers to voting that the Republicans have put up in recent years, ensuring that Americans in every neighborhood can participate in person or by mail on Election Day or during early voting windows. I will pursue new laws to safeguard our elections from malicious foreign actors. And I will seek to root out once and for all the corrupting influence of dark money by calling for a constitutional amendment to eliminate private dollars from federal elections.

To ensure that our democratic values are able to rise to new heights, I will take decisive steps to strengthen our foundation. That means immediately reversing Trump’s cruel and counterproductive asylum, travel ban, and family separation policies — and reaffirming our innate identity, reflected in our Constitution and emblazoned in the Statue of Liberty, as a nation of immigrants. It means fighting for — not conspiring against — the independence of our judiciary and the freedom of our press. It means rooting out systemic racism from every area of society it infects — from unfairly administered COVID-19 recovery funds, to laws that perpetuate racial wealth gaps, to health disparities, to housing policy, to policing, to our justice system and everywhere in between.

We must demonstrate to the world that the United States stands ready to lead again, not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. That example — of a broad and broadening commitment to democracy — can and must be the most powerful force of influence in the world. November’s election will decide whether we will leave the house of democracy built by generations of architects and activists to decay, or whether we will come together as one nation to build it up, stronger and higher than it has ever been before.

NBC News THINK has also offered the Trump campaign the opportunity to write an op-ed ahead of Election Day.

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Home Depots Fourth of July sale: Shop the 10 best deals

10 0 04 Jul 2020

Fourth of July sales are being offered by retailers big and small this weekend, but Home Depot’s sale is especially expansive. It features items that can upgrade your home workstation like desks, file cabinets and ergonomic chairs. Home Depot also has a variety of savings on outdoor items to help you enjoy the summer, with up to 50 percent off some patio furniture and up to $100 off select grills. Here are 10 can’t miss deals Home Depot is offering during its July 4th sale.

1. Dyson Cordless Stick Vacuum

This cordless vacuum is great to use in homes with pets, as its high suction power gets rid of hair or fur in even the hardest to reach places. It also transforms into a handheld vacuum for spot cleaning and you can use it to tidy up your car. The vacuum automatically changes its motor speed between carpet and hard floors.

2. ErgoMax Ergonomic Office Chair

Support your back while working from home with this ergonomic office chair. It has a headrest that helps posture and its height is adjustable. You can lock the back of the chair while tilting in different directions, as well as swivel around to reach different parts of your desk.

3. Hampton Bay 3-Piece Outdoor Patio Dining Set

Enjoy your meals alfresco this season while sitting at this comfortable dining set. It includes two bar-height chairs and a table, as well as covers to protect the cushions from bad weather. The chair cushions come in a variety of colors, like Chili, Graphite and Toffee.

4. Home Decorators Collection Desk with Wheels

This wood desk can fit your desktop comfortably, has a metal frame that gives it an industrial look and three draws that provide enough storage for your array of cables and portable chargers. There are also accent wheels on the legs of your new work from home desk.

5. Home Decorators Collection File Cabinet

The elegant design of this file cabinet makes it blend into any room of the house, so it’s not just a piece of furniture for your work station. It features four draws with plenty of storage, each of which can hold letter- and legal-sized documents.

6. Home Decorators Collection Linen Arm Chair

Relax in this plush armchair after a long day. It’s covered in soft linen fabric and has wheels on the feet so you can move it between rooms with ease. The chair features piping details and ball front legs, too.

7. Lifesmart Ceramic Grill and Smoker Value Bundle

Cook burgers or bake pizza outdoors throughout the summer with this grill and smoker combo. It has five cooking styles that users can choose from, including roasting and searing and is fueled by lump charcoal. The grill comes with a ceramic stone for convection cooking and baking, as well as a cover.

8. Progressive Furniture Distressed Nightstand

Store glasses, books and other items next to your bed in this nightstand for easy access. It has three draws that provide lots of space to organize your belongings and comes in two colors: Distressed Dark Grey and Gray Chalk.

9. Ring Outdoor Wi-Fi Cam Floodlight

Protect your home with this security camera that comes with built-in floodlights and a siren alarm. It starts recording as soon as motion is detected, and you get alerts on your phone or tablet to warn you. When you open the Ring app after receiving an alert, you can instantly see, hear and speak to whomever is on your property.

10. Sealy Premium Hybrid Pillow Top Mattress

Sealy’s supportive mattress is made with durable and breathable fabric that allows for a comfortable night’s sleep. The fabric also protects the mattress from common allergens like dust mites. The mattress has cool gel memory foam to help regulate body temperature and it comes in six sizes, ranging from twin to California king.

More shopping guides and recommendations

Catch up on the latest from NBC News Shopping guides and recommendations and download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.

Washington NFL team to do thorough review of name, opening door to change

9 0 04 Jul 2020

The Washington NFL team said Friday they will do a “thorough review” of the team’s name, which has long been condemned as an anti-Indigenous slur.

The news comes a day after FedEx, which owns the naming rights to the field where the team plays, requested that the team change its name.

“In light of recent events around our country and feedback from our community, the Washington Redskins are announcing the team will undergo a thorough review of the team’s name. This review formalizes the initial discussions the team has been having with the league in recent weeks,” the team said in a statement.

Team owner Dan Snyder said he wants to take into account the “proud tradition and history of the franchise” but also wants to include input from others including the organization, the community and the National Football League.

“This issue is of personal importance to me and I look forward to working closely with Dan Snyder to make sure we continue the mission of honoring and supporting Native Americans and our Military,” said head coach Ron Rivera in a statement.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that he is “supportive of this important step.”

PepsiCo, a partner of the team, said it had been in talks with the NFL and the team’s management for the past several weeks about the name.

“We believe it is time for a change. We are pleased to see the steps the team announced today, and we look forward to continued partnership,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

The announcement drew some reactions on social media. Sportswriter Adam Schefter, an NFL insider for ESPN, tweeted that “there’s no review if there’s no change coming.”

“Redskins on way out,” he added.

ESPN fantasy sports analyst Matthew Berry celebrated the news. “Great to hear and I’m happy the team is taking this important step. Will still be my team regardless of what they are called,” he tweeted.

The team has been under mounting pressure to change the name. Adweek reported earlier this week that 87 investment firms and shareholders worth $620 billion sent a letter urging PepsiCo, Nike and FedEx to cut ties with the football team unless it agreed to change its name.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser acknowledged last month that the team’s name has been a roadblock in getting the city its own stadium. The team’s home stadium is FedExField in Maryland.

“I think it’s past time for the team to deal with what offends so many people,” Bowser recently said on Washington radio station WTEM. “And this is a great franchise with a great history that’s beloved in Washington, and it deserves a name that reflects the affection that we’ve built for the team.”

In 2014, the U.S. Patent Office canceled several of the team’s trademarks, ruling that the name was “disparaging to Native Americans.” The team was able to get the trademark back after the Supreme Court struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks.

According to NPR, the word “redskin” was transformed into a derogatory reference for Native Americans. Initially, Native Americans used the word as a self-identifier during negotiations with the French, but it later became a slur after non-Indigenous colonizers began to use it in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Doha Madani contributed.

Trump denounces statue toppling during July Fourth celebration at Mount Rushmore

7 0 04 Jul 2020

President Donald Trump on Friday celebrated Independence Day by defiantly holding a rally at Mount Rushmore amid the pandemic, using the monument to decry protestors who have toppled Confederate, patriarchal and colonial monuments from coast to coast.

As much of the nation has turned against its unequal system of justice and its bitter history of racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Trump used the occasion to glorify American history’s heroes and excoriate demonstrators who have ripped statues from their pedestals.

His declaration of dependence on America’s polarizing history came as the country struggled with a surge of COVID-19 cases that reached the president’s inner circle.

As crowds in red, white and blue stood shoulder-to-shoulder outside the Mount Rushmore National Monument, Trump denounced the nation’s “cancel culture” that has aimed social media criticism at racists, the rich and misogynists.

Trump said this kind of criticism from the political left, which has cost some people their jobs and sent others to jail, was “designed to overthrow the American revolution.”

“This is the very definition of totalitarianism,” he said. “It has absolutely no place in the United States of America.”

Trump said of defund-the-police demonstrators, “They think the American people are soft.”

“Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders,” Trump said.

He also announced an executive order that will establish a park for national monuments, describing it as “the national garden of American heroes — a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live.”

Trump called out “social justice” protesters, who’ve enjoyed the support of a majority of Americans, saying, “They want to silence us, but we will not be silenced.”

“We support the courageous men and women of law enforcement,” Trump said. “We will never abolish the police or our great Second Amendment, which gives us the right to keep and bear arms.”

A Native American demonstration earlier in the day denounced the United States’ occupation of local Black Hills land that belonged to the Lakota people. Some want Mount Rushmore removed. Trump, they said, was also unwelcome.

A trio of passenger vans, some with wheels removed, was used as a blockade, but authorities cleared them with flatbed tow trucks before nightfall.

The president’s rally and fireworks show was expected to draw thousands as the coronavirus pandemic continued to reach new heights, and medical experts advised against gathering in crowds on the holiday weekend.

Organizers said the event would be limited to 7,500 people.

Kimberly Guilfoyle, senior Trump campaign official and girlfriend to Donald Trump Jr., tested positive for coronavirus, NBC News confirmed Friday night. Trump Jr. has tested negative. Neither traveled with the president to South Dakota for the event.

Earlier this week, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Trump ally, said she wouldn’t require social distancing at the rally.

The event, including fireworks, was held despite the risk of wildfire. The National Park Service explained in a 2011 statement, “The unacceptable risk of wildfire prompted the suspension of the fireworks for the 2010 and 2011 celebrations.”

In February, with support from Trump, the agency announced it was in the process of bringing fireworks back to the national memorial.

It was the first rally since Trump’s event in Tulsa on June 20 when only 6,200 supporters showed up to a venue that had room for more than 19,000, the Tulsa fire marshal said last month.

Mount Rushmore, which features the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln as a “shrine to democracy,” was completed nearly 79 years ago.

Noem said in 2018 that Trump once told her it was his dream to have his face carved into the monument.

Associated Press contributed.

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Trumps trying to end Obamacare but theres emerging evidence it could undo him

8 0 04 Jul 2020

WASHINGTON — Six days after President Donald Trump’s administration asked the Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare, voters in deeply red Oklahoma effectively voted to embrace the law by adopting its Medicaid expansion.

The narrow victory for Obamacare came in a state that Trump won by 36 points in 2016, highlighting a growing gap between the president and his own base on health care as he asks Americans to give him four more years. The tension comes as anxieties are rising amid a coronavirus resurgence that has forced some states to pause or roll back the reopening.

Oklahomans joined voters in other red states like Utah, Nebraska and Idaho in expanding Medicaid under the 2010 law, which the Supreme Court made optional. Trump does not appear in any danger of losing these states on Nov. 3, but Democrats intend to weaponize the issue elsewhere — in battleground states.

For Trump, health care could go from being a vulnerability to a fatal political wound. It was the top issue for voters in the 2018 elections and those who cited it preferred Democratic candidates by 52 points in House races, according to exit polls.

Joe Biden is hoping to replicate that this fall by criticizing Trump’s attempts to undo Obamacare’s protections for pre-existing conditions and expansion of Medicaid coverage for low-income people.

“He just keeps giving us more ammunition,” said Guy Cecil, the chair of the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA.

Obamacare enrollment surged by 46 percent in June, compared to the same time last year, according to a report by the Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly half a million consumers gained coverage through the law, which is one of the few options for people who lost their employer-based health care plans during the coronavirus pandemic.

The other option is COBRA, which allows Americans who lost their job to keep their employer-based plan by paying 102 percent of the cost. That is an unaffordable sum for many.

A Fox News poll taken mid-June found that 39 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of health care, while 53 percent disapprove. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that Biden has a 14-point lead over Trump among respondents asked which candidate would better handle health care.

The issue also could have implications for Republicans in competitive congressional races.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who faces a difficult re-election battle this fall, said the Trump administration’s attempt to eliminate the ACA in court was wrong on the law and the policy.

“Congress maintained important consumer protections in the ACA for people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, diabetes and heart disease,” she said. “The administration’s decision to submit this new brief is the wrong policy at the worst possible time as our nation is in the midst of a pandemic. The Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land, and it is the Department of Justice’s duty to defend it.”

Collins was a rare Republican who voted against the repeal of Obamacare in 2017. Other vulnerable GOP lawmakers like Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., supported it.

Republicans have successfully fought to eliminate several unpopular provisions in the law, such as the individual requirement for most people to buy coverage and taxes on medical devices and the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost plans.

Trump’s ongoing determination to eliminate the 2010 law is consistent with two driving forces in his presidency: Fight for his most passionate supporters and undo President Barack Obama’s initiatives. But while “Obamacare” continues to be viewed negatively by Republicans, the law’s remaining provisions are popular. Medicaid expansion proponents in red states have notably refrained from using the nickname for the Affordable Care Act.

The White House defended its attempts to roll back the ACA.

“A global pandemic does not change what Americans know: Obamacare has been an unlawful failure and further illustrates the need to focus on patient care,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said, arguing that the law has limited consumer choice of plans and providers and that Trump has fought to improve those issues. “The American people deserve for Congress to work on a bipartisan basis with the President to provide quality, affordable care.”

But the White House has not offered an alternative plan.

The replacement proposals that Trump endorsed in 2017, which fell short of passing the Republican-controlled Congress, would have rolled back Medicaid coverage and weakened protections for pre-existing conditions due to state waivers allowing insurers to charge people more for coverage on the basis of factors like health status.

“People, even Trump voters, want their Medicaid. Trump just wants applause from right-wing Twitter for taking it away,” said Democratic consultant Jesse Ferguson, who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “The 2020 election will be pretty simple: if you want more sick people without health care coughing on you, vote Trump.”

Cleveland Indians to determine best path forward on name

9 0 04 Jul 2020

The Cleveland Indians baseball team said Friday that it will “determine the best path forward with regard to our team name,” becoming the second sports team referencing Native Americans to make such a move.

Earlier Friday, the Washington’s NFL team said it would conduct a “thorough review” of the team’s name, which is a racial slur that has been long criticized.

Cleveland’s announcement comes a year after it dropped the Chief Wahoo logo, a racist caricature.

Both teams’ pledges come amid growing calls for racial justice and social equality following protests sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, which occurred when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck.

They also came on a day that Native Americans and others protested at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota ahead of President Trump’s visit for a July 4th weekend celebration. Protesters decried that the Black Hills, considered sacred land by the Lakota people, were taken against treaty agreements.

Cleveland’s team said in a statement that the organization recognizes its name is the most visible way it connects with fans and the community.

“We have had ongoing discussions organizationally on these issues,” it said. “The recent social unrest in our community and our country has only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice.”

“With that in mind, we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name,” it said.

In January 2018, Major League Baseball’s commissioner said Cleveland’s team would remove Chief Wahoo from its baseball caps and jerseys starting in the 2019 season.

At the time, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he told team owner Paul Dolan that it was time to mothball the cartoonish caricature that has appeared on players’ uniforms since 1948.

Dolan acknowledged that some fans had a longstanding attachment to the logo, but he ultimately agreed with the decision.

The team uses a “block C” as its main symbol.

The Associated Press contributed.

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In search for a coronavirus early warning system, scientists look to the sewers

7 0 03 Jul 2020

LONDON — Poop doesn’t lie.

That’s why scientists are looking at sewers running under the world’s cities and towns for information they hope will help to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Sewers are treasure troves of information, containing genetic material of COVID-19 shed by those with the virus in their fecal matter — even if they are asymptomatic.

A recent study has also shown that viral levels in wastewater correlated with clinically diagnosed new COVID-19 cases and might reflect disease prevalence before it’s reported by doctors, raising hopes that the sewage could become an early warning system — a canary in a coal mine of sorts — for new outbreaks.

A water company worker climbs down into a sewage pipe in London. Researchers hope that sewage testing can help conclusively quantify how many people in the population are shedding the coronavirus at any given point in time.picture alliance / Getty Images

In the United Kingdom, a group of researchers on Thursday launched a cross-country epidemiology surveillance program, dubbed N-WESP network, in what will become one of the biggest international undertakings looking into wastewater surveillance for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

They will be trying to develop models that would correlate viral RNA, the genetic material of the coronavirus, found in wastewater with the actual number of COVID-19 cases in the community that produced that wastewater in the first place.

“Once the science matures, which will hopefully be on the order of a few months, we will be helping to provide the methods that will be used to generate the data needed to inform decisions on lockdown,” said Andrew Singer, the project’s chief researcher and senior scientist at the U.K. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

The U.K. suffered the worst COVID-19 outbreak in Europe with more than 43,900 deaths and 313,000 cases, forcing millions of people into lockdown.

And British health authorities have been testing thousands of people every day to keep track of the virus’ spread as its economy reopens and lockdown restrictions are lifted. However, it’s usually people with symptoms or known exposure to confirmed cases that are screened. It is these asymptomatic people with no symptoms, who can still spread the virus, who are often missed.

An operations manager inside a London sewer. Researchers are starting to probe sewage in cities across England, Wales and Scotland so health officials can identify any possible coronavirus hot spots and move in with targeted restrictions in specific neighborhoods.Jack Taylor / Getty Images file

That’s where researchers hope sewage testing can come in, using virus genetic material to conclusively quantify how many people in the population are shedding the virus at any given point in time. While it can’t identify which specific individuals have the virus, it gives a more immediate snapshot of the epidemiological situation in a community based on its wastewater profile.

It’s a potentially low cost, anonymous and immediate mechanism for predicting local outbreaks, said Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern, a professor of chemistry with the University of Bath, one of the researchers involved in the project.

“Wastewater can be really useful in understanding where the virus is spreading even if we don’t necessarily see increased numbers of people in the hospitals, because this happens later and not everyone gets symptoms, so we can provide a truly comprehensive picture of community wide infection,” she added.

The team will probe sewage in cities across England, Wales and Scotland and look at individual nodes in their wastewater systems that feed different parts of the city. That way, health officials can identify any possible hot spots within the confines of that city and move in with targeted restrictions in specific neighborhoods.

“The cost-benefit is, if you catch it early, you don’t lose an entire city and therefore furlough an entire city,” Singer said.

The project will also look into whether the virus that ends up in the sewers could still be infectious, which can have repercussions for how sewage is handled.

“One of the very few positive things that could come out of COVID-19 is that we recognize that there is data within our wastewater, and that data can be a lifesaver,” Singer said.

But he said wastewater surveillance could pave the way for more effective tracing of other infectious diseases, not just COVID-19.

“If many countries develop this capacity and support it into the future, what is less likely to ever happen again is a pandemic spreading across the world for two months when no one knew it was happening,” he added.

William Schaffner, an infectious-diseases expert at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University, told NBC News wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 can help focus public health efforts after the pandemic dies down in the U.S.

“At the other end of the pandemic, as COVID-19 we hope will wane, it can also document the reduction and then elimination of the virus,” Schaffner said.

“At the moment, we have so much COVID-19, I think it would have a limited utility in the midst of an expanding epidemic, because we know the virus is everywhere, but as COVID-19 recedes, it would be interesting to detect hotspots.”